|Dino Compagni anima i fiorentini alla concordia (Antonio Pucinelli, 1856)|
He served his city as a council member and a Prior, and he had, in fact, been one of the men who helped shape Florence's governing priorate, in the 1280s. He served his guild and his confraternity as an officer, and was only the third man in Florence to hold the city's high office of Gonfaloniere, or Standard-Bearer of Justice. He was one of the men whose duty it was to implement the anti-magnate laws that so enraged the nobles in 1293 (the Ordinances of Justice), and he was an eloquent, if not always successful, peacemaker. The painting above shows Dino attempting to reconcile two warring factions in a dramatic meeting he had convened in the Baptistery in 1301.
His political career had its ups and downs. He shared Dante's party affiliation (the White Guelfs), and he very nearly shared Dante's fate - exile from Florence for life - when Florentine politics surged against them both and the Black Guelfs took the ascendancy. The only thing that protected Dino was that he was serving as one of the city's six Priors at the time (and was forced to resign early, while a priorate of the opposite political persuasion was put in place instead), and a law protected him from judicial proceedings for a year after serving in that office. Dante too had been a Prior, but unfortunately for him he had served a little more than a year previously, and so the poet was caught up in the political rancor and vindictiveness that followed the upheavals of 1301.
Dino's history of Florence, shown above, is probably the book I lose the most in my research. You may think this is a typo, and that I meant use the most, but while it is certainly a book I use frequently, I did mean lose. I don't know why, but I simply cannot keep track of this book. I keep finding it, after long searching, buried under a pile of papers someplace. Fortunately it is available online, both in Italian and in an earlier English translation. But I need my copy, which is heavily annotated, and it seems determined to escape. (By the way, any quotes from Dino in this post will be from this version of the book, which is Daniel Bornstein's excellent translation. Assuming I can find it.)
Dino's Cronica begins (after a brief prologue detailing the events of 1216 that are the subject of my first novel) in the year 1280 and extends through 1312, ending on a note of combined exasperation and hope - Dino believed that the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry of Luxembourg, who was then in Italy, would come to Florence and make peace at last, and Dante, from his exile, shared that hope.
Here's Dino's blockbuster ending: "Such is our troubled city! Such are our citizens, obstinate in evil-doing! And what is done one day is condemned the next. Wise men used to say: 'A wise man does nothing which he regrets.' In that city and among those citizens, there is no act so praiseworthy that it is not considered to be the opposite and blamed. There men kill one another and evil is not punished by the laws, for if the evildoer has friends and money to spend he is freed from the crime he committed." There is something disturblingly modern about all of that.
He finishes with this: "Oh wicked citizens, who have corrupted and spoiled the whole world with bad practices and illicit profits! You are the ones who have brought every bad habit into the world. Now the world is beginning to turn against you: the emperor and his forces will seize and plunder you by sea and by land."
But Henry died near Siena in 1313, before he got as far as Florence, so it was not to be. Dino, having little choice, retired from politics and turned his attentions back to his business activities.
We don't know Dino's year of birth, but the various guesses suggest that he was born between 1246 and 1255, which would make him approximately 10-19 years older than Dante. He was a Florentine, not of a noble family (though his mother was a daughter of Manetto Scali, a family of some importance), but fairly prosperous. He was an amateur poet who does not seem to have impressed anyone much with his efforts; he addressed a sonnet to Guido Cavalcanti, Dante's "first friend," a nobleman and a poet himself. (In this sonnet he suggests that Guido and his class give up their pretensions to nobility [and with them the violence and turbulence of their peers] and embrace the social values of merchants and guildsmen. It is a bit difficult to imagine the likes of Guido reading this and saying, "Oh, right! Great idea! I'll get right on that.")
|Emblem of Por Santa Maria (at Orsanmichele)|
Dino's confraternity was that of the Madonna of Orsanmichele, founded in 1291. Orsanmichele, which had been the city's grain market for some years, had an image of the Virgin Mary on a pillar, and when that image was perceived to work miracles, beginning in the early 1290s, the confraternity was formed. Confraternities, or lay religious brotherhoods, abounded in Florence and in other Italian cities in the 1300s, and by the late 1200s many were already in place. Some of them involved penitential self-flagellation among the members, but Orsanmichele and others were laudesi companies, which means that the members gathered in the evening at a church or shrine and sang songs in praise of the Virgin. Confraternities provided many benefits for their members: help during illness, financial assistance, funeral rites and regalia, help for widows and orphans of members, and more. Many filled a role as charitable institutions. Dante's father-in-law, messer Manetto Donati, was an officer of Orsanmichele, as was Dino.
Dino, though a White Guelf, had family connections with the Blacks by marriage. Filippa, his first wife, received a bequest from Andrea da Cerreto, a former Ghibelline turned Black Guelf. Andrea was, in fact, one of the Priors who replaced Dino and his colleagues in November of 1301. And Dino's second wife, Francesca, came from a Black Guelf family, including some who were prominent in the party. This was not at all an unusual situation for Florentines of the time. Many a house was divided between the parties.
|Giano della Bella|
Incidentally, Dino gives us something much better than that dry summary of Giano's political fortunes. Dino's account is rich with descriptions of Giano and his wife fleeing the mob across rooftops, of the people dragging kindling up to the palace of the podesta' to burn the door, and of prominent Florentines breaking into cabinets in the public buildings and destroying legal documents pertaining to cases brought against them. Passions ran high, and the people on the streets were manipulated by both sides.
|Charles of Valois|
So Charles entered the city in November of 1301, other Black partisans from nearby cities came as well, and within a few days Corso Donati, leader of the Black faction and exiled at the time, forced his way back into the city, wreaking havoc as he came. He opened the prisons (see picture below), and his men ran roughshod over the city. And Charles, who you will recall favored the Black party, did not stop him. Dino and his fellow Priors rang the city's bells to summon the populace, but "the people were too dismayed to assemble. Not a single armed man, on horse or on foot, came forth from the Cerchi household." (The Cerchi, remember, were the leaders of the White Guelfs.)
Dino on Charles of Valois: "Oh good King Louis who was so God-fearing, where is the good faith of the royal house of France, now brought low by bad counsel, not fearing dishonor? Oh wicked counselors, you have made the offspring of such high royalty not a soldier but an assassin, one who imprisons citizens wrongly, breaks faith, and belies the name of the royal house of France!"
And Dino, not sparing himself or his fellow Priors: "And so we wasted time, since we did not dare to shut the doors and stop listening to these citizens - even though we distrusted such false promises and thought that they were cloaking their malice with lying words. We sought to make peace with them when we should have been sharpening our swords."
|Corso Donati returns to Florence|
And more: "Kinship and friendship were worth nothing, new marriages were worth nothing; every friend became an enemy; brother abandoned brother; son abandoned father."
And all of this was presaged by, of all things, Halley's Comet. Dino: "That evening a miraculous sign appeared in the sky: a vermilion cross over the palace of the Priors. ...This cross remained for as long as it takes a horse to run two laps. The people who saw this - and I saw it clearly - could understand that God was firmly set against our tormented city."
|Henry of Luxembourg|
Medieval Florence is rich in stories, and those of us who want to tell them owe a great debt to Dino Compagni, Florentine, political man, chronicler, and reporter. He told it the way he saw it, and we are all the richer for his efforts.
|Dino's Florence (and Dante's)|