Dante's Poetry of Insult
presented by Fabian Alfie, Department of French & Italian
Words are like daggers and Dante knew how to throw them.
Dante engaged in an exchange of poetry (a tenzone) with a distant in-law, Forese Donati. They wrote six sonnets to each other comprised purely of insults. In his poems, Dante depicts Forese’s wife as suffering a cold because he keeps her poorly covered at night; he describes Forese as a terrible glutton, whose excesses cause him to rob passers-by on the streets; and he depicts the entire Donati family as thieves. Forese takes none of this sitting down, of course, but accuses Dante, and the whole Alighieri clan, of behaving in ways unseemly to a medieval nobleman— cowardice, deception, and money-lending. Ultimately, this exchange exemplifies the debates surrounding nobility and poses the question, “Are you and your family really noble?”