The Earliest Lives of Dante (Smith 1901)/Life of Dante (Villani)






(before 1348 — ca. 1404)



It came to pass that the Venetians, confident in their strength and power, unjustly declared war on Guido [the Lord of Ravenna], and gathering together their forces on land and sea, proudly made ready for his overthrow. This affair hastened the death of the poet; for death, in truth, visits even the illustrious. Since Guido was occupied by this great crisis in his affairs, and placed little confidence in his own powers, he deemed that the name and eloquence of Dante would be able to turn aside the impending ruin. He assigned to him, therefore, in the capacity of envoy, the duty of seeking peace.

The poet gladly accepted the charge, and after he had overcome the many obstacles that were laid in his way, arrived, with some solicitude, at Venice. But the Venetians, who were little trained in eloquence, feared the man, lest they should be shaken in their proud purpose by his persuasiveness, wherein the poet, as they had learned, was exceedingly effective. Though Dante begged again and again that he might announce his mission, they refused to give him audience. And when the poet, being denied a hearing, petitioned for carriage back to Ravenna by sea, since he was afflicted with fever, they, laboring under still greater folly, utterly refused his request.

It seems that the Venetians had granted to the admiral of their naval force the full powers of peace and war, and feared that, if they allowed Dante a safe return by sea, he of himself would be able to turn the admiral whither he wished. Surely on this illustrious city the shame of its mad folly will rest for ever, for it is manifest that this great republic was laboring under the veriest fickleness, in that she feared lest his persuasiveness should move her from that course whereon she had deliberately decided; and, what is baser still, in that she wished to banish eloquence from her city. With great inconvenience the poet, therefore, though ill with fever, made the journey to Ravenna by land, where, a few days after his arrival, he died, and was honored with a public funeral.