SAN BENEDETTO IN ALPE, LAND OF DANTE
by Massimo Ragazzini,
The following article was published in "Annali Romagna 2020",
supplement to the Libro Aperto,
a cultural magazine edited by Antonio Patuelli.
The places enshrined in Dante’s legacy, principally Florence and Ravenna, have been preparing for some time now to organize conferences and events in 2021, the 700th anniversary of the poet's death.
Already, the celebrations for the six hundred years in 1921 were significant despite being held during a critical moment in Italian history. The initiatives of 2021 will certainly be even more numerous and of a much greater impact. There has been exponential improvement in the level of education and, consequently, widespread awareness regarding the Divine Comedy. In recent years, effective dissemination of Dante’s work in such notable initiatives, at a more cultivated level, as Vittorio Sermonti's books and public readings, as well as Roberto Benigni’s televised recitals, reached a wider segment of the population.
The year 2021 also marks the one hundred and sixtieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy and the two celebrations will find instances of convergence. In fact, our national unity finds its first “reason for being” in our common language. It is known that Dante is rightly considered the bearer of Italy's literary and linguistic identity. As the father of the Italian language, Dante can also be considered one of the fathers of the nation.
In 2021 international attention towards Dante will be very substantial. Dantist Pantaleo Palmieri reminds us that the Divine Comedy "is a constituent of European literary culture".
Among the events scheduled for 2021, the third edition of the International Dante Congress will be held in Ravenna, promoted by the University of Bologna in collaboration with the Municipality of Ravenna and with the patronage of literary and linguistic institutions involved in the study and promotion of Dante's work.
The anniversary will also be an opportunity for the territories and communities in which Dante's memory is alive to become better known and valued.
San Benedetto in Alpe, noted for the verses of the Divine Comedy on the waterfall of Acquacheta, cannot miss the appointment in 2021.
Dante resided in Romagna for many years, after his city, Florence, exiled him in 1302, and died in Ravenna in 1321. His life was therefore spent mainly between Tuscany and Romagna.
Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912, one of the major Italian poets born in Romagna ed.) writes that Romagna "offered, after Tuscany, the greatest source of names and of deeds to the divine poet". According to Pascoli, the length of this stay supports the hypothesis, albeit criticized by many Dantists, that not only the last song, Paradise, but much of the Comedy was inspired by and written in Romagna.
Pascoli supports his thesis with an argument that is not without logic: "Romagna is not mentioned in Convivio (…) In the book of eloquence [the Convivio -ed.], amongst the other vernaculars, the one of Romagna is referred (...) not as one would do when living in the middle of it but rather as hearsay".
In the Comedy, Romagna occupies an essential part, which shows which and how much knowledge Dante had acquired of the places, families and individuals of that region. All the cities and castles of a certain importance, such as Forlì, Ravenna, Cesena, Rimini, Faenza, Bagnacavallo, Bertinoro, Castrocaro, Cervia, Marcabò, San Leo, Verrucchio, Cunio, are mentioned there, as Corrado Ricci observes; as well as the main rivers such as the Reno, Rubicone, Santerno, Lamone, Acquacheta/Montone, Savio; and the noble families of the Anastasis, the Traversari, the Manfredi, the Malatesta, the Paulucci de 'Calboli, the da Polenta, the Ordelaffi, the Pagani, the Onesti, for some of whom he describes the coats of arms and their businesses. There is also mention of Guido del Duca, Pietro Traversari, Pier Damiano, Pietro degli Onesti, Guido and Giovanna da Montefeltro, Arrigo Mainardi, Ranieri and Fulcieri de 'Calboli, Ugolino de' Fantoli, by Federico Tignoso, Lizio di Valbona and many others.
Mainly due to the abundance of such references, compared with "none or very little mention and knowledge of Romagna in previous works", Pascoli deduces that Dante "wrote the Comedia, for the most part, while living in Romagna".
Whatever the place where he wrote the famous verses of Hell (which first evoke and then describe the waterfall of Acquacheta), Dante's presence in San Benedetto is likely, as confirmed by the precise description of the place and its location on the road that led from San Godenzo to Romagna. Probably the transit occurred after the sentencing to exile imposed on him in March 1302. The observation of the landscape represented by Dante suggests that the poet saw the waterfall when the stream was swollen, therefore after the rains that had increased it in power as to make it 'frightening' (perhaps in the autumn-winter; which would completely coincide with the arrival of Dante in Forlì at the court of Scarpetta degli Ordelaffi, between the end of 1302 and the beginning of the following year).
The poet, on the edge of the "steep slope" that leads to Malebolge (Inf. XVI 94-105), compares the roar of the water of the "fall" of the Acquacheta to the noisy and deafening waterfall of the Flegetonte, the river that separates the seventh from the eighth circle of hell.
The passage was dark and difficult for many exegetes and editors to understand, also "for an approximate knowledge of the places mentioned there". Verse 102 in particular (where it must be said for a thousand) has been the subject of multiple reading hypotheses, starting with the oldest commentators on Dante's work.
The border between the Tuscan municipality of San Godenzo and the Romagna municipality of Portico and San Benedetto does not follow the natural line of the ridge but cuts the waterfall along the overflow line. It can be assumed that this particularity originates from the ancient medieval border between the properties of the Abbey of San Godenzo and those of the Abbey of San Benedetto in Alpe. The Acquacheta, located between the two lands where most of the poet's life was spent, can therefore be considered emblematic of Dante's journey. And it is for this reason that conferences and events on the poet are frequent in San Benedetto in Alpe.
The most recent was in December 2016, when a large audience attended the Dante spectacle with actor Ivano Marescotti, preceded by the institutional greeting of the mayor of Portico and San Benedetto and by a presentation of the enhancement program of the Benedictine Abbey.
The conference sponsored by the municipal administration in November 2015 was also very successful with the intervention of well-known scholars and literary critics, including Pantaleo Palmieri and Quinto Cappelli, to commemorate the seven hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the poet. A few years earlier, in October 2005, a "Study Day" was held on the upper Montone valley called by the Deputation of homeland history for the provinces of Romagna. The study presented there by the historian of literature Marco Veglia had as its theme the critical analysis of the different interpretations given over the centuries to the verses of Hell on Acquacheta.
Among the celebratory events of the last century, the most significant for the number of participants was the "Dante meeting" at the Acquacheta in September 1934, organized by the prefect commissioner of Portico and San Benedetto Gilberto Bernabei, mayor of Modigliana from 1956 to 1990 and president of the Academy of the Incamminati.
There is therefore more than one valid reason for the institutions and cultural associations to return to celebrate Dante in 2021 also in San Benedetto in Alpe.