A primer on Dante and his name

In honour of my love Dante’s 696th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m rerunning the first half of my post from 5 April 2016. Dante is my next-greatest literary idol, after only Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn.

Fresco of Dante Alighieri (May/June 1265–13/14 September 1321), by Andrea del Castagno

Dante Alighieri, né Durante degli Alighieri, was one of the greatest writers of all time, and the greatest writer of the Italian language. His choice to write in Italian instead of Latin was a huge influence on those writers who came after him. Because of this, he’s been called the Father of the Italian Language.

Dante was born in Florence, to a pro-Guelph family. His mother, Bella, died before he was 10, and his father remarried quickly. At age 12, Dante was betrothed to Gemma Donati, though he’d been in love with Beatrice Portinari since age nine. Beatrice remained the only woman in his heart, and he never mentioned Gemma in any of his poetry. Indeed, you’d never guess he had a wife from reading La Vita Nuova, the autobiographical work documenting his love for Beatrice.

Dante’s father died when he was a teenager, and Brunetto Latini became his guardian. In 1285, aged about 20, Dante married Gemma and had four children with her. On 11 June 1289, he fought in the Battle of Campaldino with the Guelph cavalry. The Guelphs were victorious over the Ghibellines, but then the Guelphs split into two factions, and Dante’s faction, the White Guelphs, got in lots of trouble with the Black Guelphs.

Dante in Exile, by Domenico Peterlini

To make a long story short, Dante was condemned to perpetual exile in March 1302, and risked being burnt at the stake if he returned to his belovèd Florence. He’d initially only been condemned to two years of exile and a huge fine, but Dante refused to pay. Not only did he feel he weren’t guilty, but all his assets had been seized by the Black Guelphs. In June 2008, Florence’s city council finally rescinded Dante’s sentence.

Recent reconstruction of Dante’s face reveals he didn’t have that famous aquiline nose after all. His nose was probably hooked, but it was pudgy and crooked, not pointy and straight.

Dante now rests in a tomb in Ravenna, in spite of repeated pleas from Florence to return the bones of one of their greatest native sons. The empty tomb in Florence, still waiting for him, bears the inscription Onorate l’altissimo poeta (Honour the most exalted poet), from Canto IV of Inferno. The next line, L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartite (His spirit, which had left us, returns), is hauntingly absent.

Dante is a Medieval short form of Durante, the Italian form of the Late Latin name Durans, which means “enduring.”

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A to Z Reflections 2016

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

This was my third year doing A to Z with this blog, and my fifth year doing it overall. As always, writing posts ahead of time was essential, though this year, I let it wait till March. Thankfully, I managed to get them all done by the end of March. However, I’d already had my list of names in mind for awhile, so I wasn’t making up my list last-minute as well.

As mentioned on my main blog, problems encountered with other blogs included:

Captchas.

Blogs without an ability to leave comments.

Blogs requiring a unique-to-the-blogger commenting service. Sorry, I won’t waste my time going through that whole rigamarole just to leave one comment. The only exception I made was for a blog with a really offensive, hurtful, ableist meme that couldn’t go unchallenged.

Comment moderation. That kind of slows down networking and conversation.

Blogs that quit participating early, or hadn’t posted anything in months, even several years.

People who only signed up to try to pimp their business, and aren’t bloggers at all.

Difficulty finding the actual blog part of a website, or the A to Z posts in particular.

Super-long posts. I’m well aware some folks may find my own posts too long, but I’ve come to learn how to make my average post about 400–800 words over the years. Once in awhile, I may have a post going up to 1,000 words. But when you start climbing well above 1,500 words, unless you have a scholarly-natured blog and aren’t a lay blogger (e.g., Science-Based Medicine), you should really consider either cutting it down or dividing it into several posts.

Post recap:

Averroes and Arachne (23 views)
Beatrice and Brunetto (16 views)
Cornelia and Cerberus (17 views)
Dante and Deianira (14 views)
Electra and Empedocles (9 views)
Francesca and Frederick (7 views)
Ghisolabella and Geryon (21 views)
Horace and Helen (11 views)
Icarus and Iphigenia (27 views)
Judith and Justinian (8 views)
Kadmos and Kalliope (17 views)
Lavinia and Leander (10 views)
Matilda and Manfred (7 views)
Nimrod and Niobe (16 views)
Ovid and Oenone (20 views)
Plutus and Piccarda (10 views)
Quintina and Quirinus (10 views)
Rachav and Rechovoam (9 views)
Statius and Semiramis (16 views)
Tiresias and Tomyris (14 views)
Ulysses and Urania (6 views)
Virgil and Veronica (7 views)
Wenceslaus and Wren (8 views)
Xanthippe and Xerxes (11 views)
Yelikonida and Yulian (6 views)
Zita and Zeno (11 views)

I already think I know what my theme next year will be. Thankfully, since my decision last summer to blacklist the persistently negative commenter I was having problems with for so long, my mind has been much more at ease when I get a comment notification for this blog. Seriously, it’s freaking rude to only ever comment on someone’s blog to tell the blogger her opinion is ridiculous, be a know-it-all, or just generally passively-aggressively berate someone for daring to express one’s opinions on one’s own blog. I had a sick feeling in my stomach every time I saw this commenter’s name, since I knew I was about to read yet another chutzpahdik comment.

Zita and Zeno

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Saint Zita of Lucca (ca. 1212–27 April 1272), by Arnould de Vuez, Copyright Velvet

Santa Zita is mentioned in Canto XXI of Inferno, though of course not as a resident of Hell. Since she lived in Tuscany, I can only imagine Dante venerated her as much as just about everyone else.

Zita was born in the village of Monsagrati in Tuscany, near Lucca, and became a servant in the Fatinelli home at age twelve. She wasn’t treated very nicely, by either her masters or fellow servants, but she continued to keep a cheerful countenance and kind heart. Eventually, she became head of all the home’s affairs, and her uninterrupted piety moved the Fatinellis to become religious. She viewed her terrible treatment as penance assigned by God. By the time of her death, the Fatinellis almost worshipped her.

About 150 miracles were attributed to her, and she was discovered to be an incorruptible when she was exhumed in 1580. In 1696, she was canonized. The people of Lucca loved her, and a popular cult grew up around her. Eventually, other parts of Europe began venerating her too.

Zita means “little girl” in Tuscan Italian.

Zeno of Citium (ca. 334–262 BCE)

The Zeno who appears in The Divine Comedy (Canto IV, Inferno) is Zeno of Citium, not Zeno of Elea. This Zeno appears among the righteous non-Christians stuck in Limbo, and founded the Stoic school made famous by Seneca. He formulated his philosophy while studying with Crates of Thebes, a Cynic, and also studied with several Platonists and Megarians.

Zeno hailed from Cyprus, and was probably of Phoenician descent. Starting about 300 BCE, he taught in Athens. Initially, his followers were called Zenonians, but eventually came to be called Stoics, after the Stoa Poikile (Painted Porch), where Zeno taught. Many people admired him, among them frequent visitor King Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedonia. Zeno was offered Athenian citizenship, but he declined it out of loyalty to his homeland.

Zeno is the Latin form of the Greek name Zenon, which in turn derives from Zeus. The name Zeus is related to Dyeus, the name of an old Indo–European god, which probably means “sky” or “shine.”

Xanthippe and Xerxes

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Xanthippe Pours Water over Socrates, by Luca Giordano

Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, has unfortunately been assigned a very negative, nasty reputation which I’m inclined to believe is as false as the bad reputations given to women like Queen Jezebel and Countess Erzsébet Báthory.

Xanthippe was probably much younger than Socrates, possibly up to 40 years younger. They had three sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. It’s believed she came from a very prominent family, since names with the hippos element often belonged to people of aristocratic descent. It was also the custom to name the first son after the more illustrious grandfather, and her first son was named for her father instead of Socrates’s father.

Xanthippe is the feminine form of Xanthippos, which means “yellow horse,” from the elements xanthos (yellow) and hippos (horse). It’s come to be slang for a shrewish, naggy woman, thanks to the reputation assigned to Xanthippe thousands of years ago. Even if she were argumentative, so freaking what? If she’d been a man, no one would’ve made such a huge, scandalous deal out of it! The name is still used in Greece, though usually with the spelling Xanthippi.

King Xerxes I (519–465 BCE), Copyright Mbmrock

King Xerxes I was the son of King Darius the Great and Queen Atossa, and is believed to have been King Achashverosh of the Book of Esther, since Achashverosh “translates” as Xerxes. He ruled the Persian Empire at its height, and conquered even more land than his father.

Xerxes is mentioned in Canto XXVIII of Purgatorio:

Three paces the stream parted me from her [Matilda];
But Hellespont, where Xerxes bridged the strait
That still makes human vaunt wear a bridle,
Endured not from Leander keener hate,
‘Twixt Sestos and Abydos full in foam,
Than this from me, because it closed the gate.

Xerxes is mentioned again in Canto VIII of Paradiso, as one of a list of different types of professions. I’ve been passionately in love with Dante for 12 years now, but even I have to admit the dated translation I have often makes it kind of hard to understand what’s going on or being said at first reading!

Xerxes is the Greek form of Khshayarsha, which means “ruler over heroes.”

Virgil and Veronica

V

Publius Vergilius Maro (15 October 70–21 September 19 BCE)

Virgil, Dante’s idol, is his guide through Hell and most of Purgatory. He appears right in Canto I of Inferno, shortly after the book begins. Dante is initially rather frightened to see this shadowy figure, but ecstatic once he realizes who it is. Virgil then comforts him and promises to guide him on the amazing otherworldly journey he’s about to undertake.

While I was rushing on my downward course
Suddenly on my sight there seemed to start
One who appeared from a long distance hoarse.
When I beheld him in that great desert
“Have pity on me!” I cried out to his face,
“Whatsoever—shade or very man—you are.”
He answered me: “Not man; man once I was.
My parents both were of the Lombard name,
Of Mantua by their country and by their race.
Sub Julio I was born, though late I came:
In Rome the good Augustus shone on me,
In the time of the false gods of lying fame.
Poet was I, and sang of that just son
Of old Anchises, who came out from Troy
After the burning of proud Ilion.
But you, why do you turn back so annoyed?
Why don’t you climb the Mount Delectable
The cause and the beginning of all joy?”

Virgil derives from the Roman family name Vergilius, which is of unknown meaning. During the Late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, Vergilius morphed into Virgilius. This happened either because of a false etymology with the Latin word virgo (virgin) and Virgil’s excessive modesty, or an analogy between the Latin word virga (wand) and the prophetic, magical powers attributed to Virgil during the Middle Ages. Though I tend to prefer the authentic forms of names, I far prefer Virgil to Vergil. The E spelling looks kind of ugly to me.

Virgil was of course the author of The Aeneid, Latin’s greatest epic, about legendary hero Aeneas escaping Troy at the end of the Trojan War, having many adventures, and eventually founding Rome. He worked on the book during his final 11 years. I’m long overdue to revisit this book, with a better, more updated translation. Virgil also wrote The Ecologues and The Georgics.

Bearing of the Cross with St. Veronica, by Lucas van Leyden

Saint Veronica was said to have wiped Jesus’s face with her handkerchief, towel, or veil on the Via Dolorosa, and when he gave it back to her, it bore the image of his face. Every year in Rome, this artifact was exhibited at Easter and New Year. This incident is mentioned in Canto XXXI of Paradiso.

The story of Veronica wiping Jesus’s face isn’t mentioned in the Bible itself. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus identifies Veronica as the woman who was healed when touching Jesus’s hem on the Via Dolorosa.

Veronica is an alternate Latin form of the Macedonian name Berenike (Berenice), which means “bringing victory,” from the elements phero (to bring) and nike (victory). The original Greek form is Pherenike. The spelling was influenced by the Latin phrase vera icon, “true image.” It only became popular as an English name in the 19th century.

Veronika is the spelling used in most of Eastern and Central Europe; Weronika is the Polish version; Verónica is the Spanish form; Véronique is the French form; and Verônica is Portuguese.