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Brunetto Latini (c. 1220 - 1294, he would sign his name Burnectus Latinus in Latin and Burnecto Latino in Italian) was an Italian philosopher, scholar and statesman.

Life

Brunetto Latini was born in Florencemarker in 1220, the son of Buonaccorso Latini. He belonged to the Guelphmarker party. He was a notary and a man of learning, much respected by his fellow citizens and famed for his skill as an orator. He expounded the writings of Cicero as guidance in public affairs.

He was of sufficient stature to be sent to Sevillemarker on an embassy to Alfonso el Sabio of Castile to seek help for Florence against the Sienese; the mission was unsuccessful. On his return from Spainmarker, travelling along the Pass of Roncesvallesmarker, he describes meeting a student from Bolognamarker astride a bay mule, who told him of the defeat of the Guelphs at the Battle of Montapertimarker. As a result, Latini was exiled from his native city. He took refuge for some years (1260-1266) in France.

In 1266, he returned to Tuscany and for some twenty years held successive high offices. Giovanni Villani says that he was a great philosopher and a consummate master of rhetoric, not only in knowing how to speak well, but how to write well. He was the author of various works in prose and verse. He died in 1294.

Works

While in France, he wrote his Italian Tesoretto and in French his prose Li Livres dou Trésor, both summaries of the encyclopaedic knowledge of the day (the Italian 13th-century translation known as Tesoro was misattributed to Bono Giamboni). He also translated into Italian the Rettorica and three Orations by Cicero. The Italian translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is often misattributed to Brunetto Latini: it is a work of Taddeo Alderotti instead.

The Divine Comedy

Latini was not Dante Alighieri's schoolmaster, but he is called maestro (master) to indicate spiritual indebtness and Dante immortalized him in the Divine Comedy (see Inferno, XV.82-87). The picture of Latini instructing Dante has led commentators to assume that he was in some sense his tutor. This is unlikely but that there was an intellectual and affectionate bond between the elderly man and the young poet is clear. It was perhaps Latini who induced Dante to read Cicero and Boethius, after the death of Beatrice. It is also possible that Latini was Dante’s guardian after the death of his father.

Canto XV

Dante places Latini within the third ring of the Seventh Circle with the Sodomites. Dante writes: "clerks and great and famous scholars, defiled in the world by one and the same sin" presumably the unspeakable one of sodomy. Dante's treatment of Latini is commendatory beyond almost any other figure in the 'Inferno'. He calls the poet a radiance among men and speaks with gratitude of that sweet image, gentle and paternal, / you were to me in the world when hour by hour / you taught me how man makes himself eternal.

The portrait of Latini is drawn with love, pathos and a dignity that is more compelling given the squalor of the punishment. Latini asks first, humbly, if he may keep him company, letting his group run on. Dante offers to sit down with him but that would only increase Latini’s penalty; he and the other souls are doomed to keep moving aimlessly round the arena. Dante addresses him with the respectful pronoun voi; Latini uses the informal tu, as was no doubt their custom when they spoke together in Florencemarker.

Latini proceeds in obscure imagery to foretell Dante's future. The malicious ingrates who of old descended from Fiesole, will be his enemies. They are reputed blind, avaricious, envious and proud. Let him beware, he warns, not to be stained by them.

Sodomites

According to John D. Sinclair, Dante respected Latini immensely but nonetheless felt it necessary to place him with the sodomites since, according to Sinclair, this sin of Latini's was well known in Florencemarker at the time. The squalor of Latini’s sin and penalty is nevertheless painful for Dante to visualise.

Other critics point to the fact that, outside of the Divine Comedy, Latini is nowhere else accused of sodomy - and indeed condemns it in the Tesoretto. Some therefore have suggested perhaps that Latini is placed in Canto XV for being violent against art and against his vernacular (Latini wrote in French instead of Florentinemarker, which Dante championed as a literary language in De Vulgari Eloquentia) or perhaps also to demonstrate and underline that even the greatest of men may be guilty of private sins. Neither objection rules out the possibility that he was guilty of the sin himself; and given the setting and context, it is difficult to see that there can be any doubt.

Images

Many of the characters in Dante's Inferno are also mentioned in the legal and diplomatic documents Brunetto Latini wrote in Latin. There is a portrait of Latini in the Bargello in Florencemarker, once reputed to be by Giotto, beside the one of Dante. In a wood engraving, Gustave Doré envisages the same scene from Inferno XV, 1861.

External links



References

  • [77370]: Website on Brunetto Latino
  • Barbara Reynolds, Dante: The poet, the political thinker, the man, New York, 2006



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