SHARE
COPY LINK

CULTURE

Dante Day: How Italy is celebrating its national poet

Dante Alighieri, the giant of world literature who wrote the Divine Comedy, was commemorated on Thursday for Italy's national 'Dantedi' (Dante Day), in the year that marks 700 years since his death.

Dante Day: How Italy is celebrating its national poet
Dante was celebrated across Italy on 'Dante Day', March 25th. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

March 25th was picked last year to celebrate the man known to Italians as the “supreme poet” because most scholars believe that his fictional journey through hell, purgatory and heaven – as told in the Divine Comedy – starts on this day.

READ ALSO: Dante’s last laugh: Why Italy’s national poet isn’t buried where you think he is

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said that the “universality” of that masterpiece kept Dante relevant in the modern world.

“The Comedy still attracts us, fascinates us, makes us wonder today because it talks about us, about the deepest essence of man, made up of weaknesses, failings, nobility and generosity,” Mattarella said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

Dante is credited with helping create the Italian language by using the Tuscan vernacular of his time, rather than Latin, to write his most famous poem, which he completed shortly before his death in 1321.

READ ALSO: Ten strange things you never knew about Dante

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Despite restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 106,000 people in Italy, the country is planning hundreds of readings, exhibitions and other events to honour Dante over the course of 2021.

In his hometown of Florence, the Uffizi Galleries unveiled a 22-metre-high art installation in the shape of a tree in Piazza Signoria. Created by artist Giuseppe Penone, the sculpture “forces us to look upwards, hoping, dreaming and building”, said Mayor Dario Nardella.

Giuseppe Penone’s sculpture in central Florence was inaugurated on Dantedì 2021. Photo: Adriana Urbano

It also recalls one of Dante’s best-loved verses: “e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle”, “and thence we came forth to see again the stars”, a message of hope amid the third wave of coronavirus infections in Italy.

In other celebrations, Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni, star of Life is Beautiful, read the 25th Canto from Dante’s Paradise on Thursday, in a live-streamed event from the presidential palace in Rome.

In the northeastern city of Ravenna, there was a reading of Dante’s works next to his tomb, where a flame burns all year round, fuelled by oil from the hills in the writer’s native Tuscany.

READ ALSO: Italian lawyers seek justice for Dante – 700 years after his death

Later this year in Florence, lawyer Alessandro Traversi is planning a summit of legal experts to symbolically rehabilitate the poet and conclusively prove that he was unfairly banished from his city.

Dante was exiled from Florence in January 1302, after finding himself on the losing side of a feud between the city’s “White” and “Black” political factions, and sentenced to death if he tried to return.

As well as lawyers, judges and historians, Traversi has invited the descendants of the poet and of the judge who exiled him, Cante de’ Gabrielli, to his conference on May 21st. Unlike their medieval ancestors, the two descendants – Count Sperello di Serego Alighieri, an astronomer, and Antoine de Gabrielli, a French business consultant – are friends.

Despite the lockdown restrictions this year, March 25th was a day of festivities for Italy. Not only did the country honour Dante, the country also celebrated the ‘floating city’ of Venice as it turned 1,600 years old.

Adriana Urbano contributed to this report from Florence.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CULTURE

Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

SHOW COMMENTS