Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Dante Plaques

A year in Florence would have seemed incomplete without reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. I knew I’d read the 14,233 line poem as soon as I was offered a fellowship at the European University Institute, based in Fiesole, just outside Florence.

The poem isn’t exactly an easy read with some translations making it much harder than others. I found Mark Musa’s The Portable Dante (Penguin Classics) to be the clearest, not least thanks to the very helpful introduction. What also helped was discovering the book The Dante Plaques: A Florentine itinerary from the Divine Comedy, which is a guide to the 34 Dante plaques put up by the Commune of Florence in 1907 (after a decision to do so was made in 1900). Written by Foresto Niccolai and translated by Mark Roberts, the book was invaluable as I tracked down the plaques that are scattered around central Florence. The plaques show lines from the poem that refer to real places or Florentines, with the latter being a mix of famous families, men and women that Dante either condemned or saluted. 

I tried to post a picture on my Instagram of each plaque as I reached the part of the poem the plaque displays a quote from. For each plaque I quoted the English translation of the lines as shown in the Niccolai/Roberts book. With each photo I provided a short text giving details of the plaque’s location, and providing some context to explain what was going on in the canto from which the lines shown are taken. While the Niccolai/Roberts book provided invaluable material about who is being referred to in the plaques, I did find myself wanting more information about the cantos from which the lines are taken. I’ve tried to provide a little more context to each quote. I soon gave up trying to post pictures of the plaques as I read the poem because the lines quoted on the plaques are not evenly distributed through the poem. 

I've put the complete set of photos and text into a single document which you can find below. I hope it helps others understand the Divine Comedy, Dante, and his beloved Florence.  

You can find the photos on my Instagram.