Other Epicureans: Dante Alighieri's Friend and Late Foe - Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti & Manente Degli Uberti

  • In my search for little-known Epicureans throughout history, some of the first and most enigmatic I had come across were the ones who had crossed paths with Dante Alighieri.

    Introducing: Manente Degli Uberti, commonly known as Farinata Degli Uberti

    A 13th century aristocrat who was the military leader of the Ghibelline Faction (supported the HRE over the papacy) within Florence, he was often accused of being a heretic. Though we have little information about his philosophy, his ideas, or anything else aside from his military accomplishments in retaking Florence and single-handedly, prevented its razing. It's still worth mentioning him, since the time period in which Epicurean Philosophy is perhaps at its most misunderstood, was during the middle ages prior to the re-discovery of De Rerum Natura.

    In fact, 19 years after his death, an Inquisition led by the Franciscans investigated the claims of his "heresy" and they exhumed the corpse of him & his wife, and submitted them both to a posthumous execution. Later, he is found within Canto X of the Divine Comedy within the sixth circle alongside Epicurus & his followers. Boccaccio wrote in a commentary on Dante, about why Farinata was included in the Divine Comedy and the actions of the Inquisition:

    "He was of the opinion of Epicurus, that the soul dies with the body, and maintained that human happiness consisted in temporal pleasures; but he did not follow these in the way that Epicurus did, that is by making long fasts to have afterwards pleasure in eating dry bread*; but was fond of good and delicate viands, and ate them without waiting to be hungry; and for this sin he is damned as a Heretic in this place."

    * While this definitely isn't close to describing the life & actions of Epicurus, we have to give Boccaccio the benefit of the doubt here, as this was the middle ages and Epicureanism was nothing but a shadow of itself until Poggio Bracciolini re-discovered Lucretius.

    Secondly, we have a banker and the father of a close friend of Dante: Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti

    Cavalcante was a wealthy Guelph-aligned banker and alleged Epicurean Philosopher, whose son Guido Cavalcanti was actually a close friend of Dante. Not much else is known at all about him other than that he shows up in Canto X of the Divine Comedy in the sixth circle of hell. What's noteworthy about him is that his son, Guido; the famous poet and friend of Dante, was arranged in a marriage with the daughter of Farinata Degli Uberti.

    I've always been meaning to make a thread about these two, and now that my living situation is a bit more stable, I think I can put in the time to share some more of my findings.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Good stuff, Charles! That whole scene from the tenth canto is simply bizarre. Actually that reminds me of one of my favorite specimen of "famous last words";


    "All right, then, I'll say it: Dante makes me sick." — Lope Félix de Vega Carpio (1562—1635), Spanish dramatist and poet. On being informed he was about to die.

  • I came across something that might interest you, Charles; although it's likely you've already found it yourself.

    In a footnote to the Loeb edition of Lucretius there was mention of an influence upon Byron's Childe Harold, which I went to read. (We read passages from this work in college, but I could remember nothing). Byron adapts Lucretius' description of Mars vanquished by Venus (IV:LI), and then goes on to panegyrize several Italian renaissance figures—Angelo, Alfieri, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Petrarch. He then praises the "bard of prose...he of the Hundred Tales of Love".

    This turns out to have been a reference to Boccaccio and his Decameron. I knew the title but had never read it. Upon reading the wikipedia article I found reference to your Guido Cavalcanti!

    This is a roundabout way of saying that the ninth story of the Decameron touches on Cavalcanti, and is worth a look.