Dante's life dates

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Berlin · 2020  Uwe Topper topper

Correcting the chronological situation of Italian poet Dante


Italian Renaissance dates and Central European ones are not compatible. The Italian dates should be augmented by 150 to 200 years in order to match Central European ones which are used commonly now. This phenomenon is shown on the person of Dante and some of his contemporaries. The mechanism of the shift is so far not clear. It is supposedly due to a different chronology based on different eras.


Dante's life dates
Michelangelo discusses the date of Dante
Dante and his contemporaries

The first article on this website concerning the dates of Dante (in 2007) continued the corresponding chapter of my book "Kalendersprung" (2006) by stating:
"The early Renaissance dates in Italy cannot simply be compared to the AD dates of our common era, the distortions and anachronisms are too conspicuous. The educated people of Northern Italy, in Florence, Padua, Venice, etc., may have used their particular chronological era before the Vatican Incarnation years were introduced. This older Italian chronology may have operated with numbers between 200 and 400 years. This may indicate a new start to count bygone years." Instead of a year, say 250, it would have to be 1250 (this is generally accepted), but apart from adding 1000 an additional 150 to 200 years would have to be added in order to equal current years AD. Dante's life dates would have to be shifted from the supposed (1)265 – (1)321 to roughly 1450 – 1510 AD.
In a second article here, I presented Jean Hardouin's doubts about Dante's dates, where the famous Jesuit rejuvenates Dante's Divine Comedy by at least 90 years. In some parts he even gets near to 1500 (my position).
In my new book "Jahrkreuz" (2016) I mention a few additional references for an attempted redating, like this: "In canto 29 of Paradise (115-126) Beatrice speaks of the indulgence, which fills the preachers' hoods and is rewarded with unmarked money - with remuneration calculated for the future. This is an indulgence idea which, according to the church, was introduced at the earliest in 1477 AD."

After his labyrinthine hikes through Hell and Purgatory, where he met only pagan figures, Dante finally experiences heavenly realms and asks a god to utter the first chant: “Apollo the happy god of Delphi”. Can we imagine such an invocation in the time of the scholastics? This sounds rather like Antiquity reborn, a real Renaissance, which north of the Alps is located around 1500!

Dante's Renaissance-style marble tomb was allegedly designed for a 'secondary burial' in 1483, but is said to have fallen into disrepair and only came to light in 1865 on the supposed 600th birthday when his bones were 'found' in a small wooden box in a Franciscan monastery in Ravenna. We remember: Garibaldi had just united Italy and in 1865 made Florence the capital; there they created a national poet and celebrated his 600th birthday. This corresponds to other processes in the new national states of Europe.

DanteBotticelliThis is how Botticelli saw the poet Dante

Please look again at the representations great Renaissance artists created portraying Dante! Those are lifelike portraits, as if Dante was sitting model himself. Ideal images of persons who have long since died look different.
Sandro Botticelli painted Dante in 1495 as a man in the prime of his years, in profile, very lively, like from nature.
Giotto painted Dante at a very young age ("1335", fresco in a chapel; Dante would have been dead since 14 years). He was recognized by Dante as innovator of the art of painting (in Purgatorium XI, 94-96):
"Among the painters, Cimabue said
he was the first. Now Giotto has all the fame,
so that the glory of the other is completely obscured."

DanteGiottoDante painted by Giotto as young man

Even Albrecht Duerer, so I suggest, has once reproduced a portrait of Dante. Famous are Duerer's woodcuts illustrating the Revelation of St. John. Five among them show the face of St. John, on four neatly the same in profile or from the front; the one on the title page is supposed to have been added later, it looks only a bit different, but shows the same facial type. Just one, the face of the seer at the end of the work, page XVI, looks completely different. To my astonishment, it strongly resembles the well known face of Dante. I suppose that Duerer herewith intended an homage to Dante, and that means : to a famous contemporary in neighbouring Italy, where Duerer had himself been received with honors (see the article "When did Dante live?").

By shifting Dante into modern Renaissance years, his contemporaries like Petrarch and Boccaccio (1313-1375) would also have to be transferred.
In honor of Petrarch's 700th birthday, a marvellous exhibition of works of his time was held in Berlin ("Triumph of Love", December 2004 to January 2005), which I visited. I found my opinion confirmed in almost every exhibit. For example like this: Petrarch's reception in Central Europe (north of the Alps) did not occur before (our) 16th century. The first dictionary of the new Italian language appeared in the 16th century, etc.
Gundolf (“Caesar”) also places Machiavelli and Petrarch side by side like contemporaries. Petrarch is still a real pagan, Christianity still seems to be unimportant (pp. 105, 108 ...). Enea Silvio (Pope Pius II from 1458-64) is Petrarch's pupil. Of course, one could profess to be an intellectual student of a long-dead philosopher or poet. But I suspect that we are talking about contemporaries, as numerous similar comparisons are found in literature.
The relationships between Dante and the early 16th century are numerous. In Inferno he describes the tremendous flow of pilgrims and the large amount of money in Rome in the jubilee year (today placed at 1300), which can only apply to 1450 or 1500 because of the lack of buildings in Rome at the proposed time. Another example: in the first canto of Hell, the leg wound is emphasized, which is considered a symbol of sin or ignorance; in a picture attributed to the painter Hieronymus Bosch ("Adoration of the Kings") the wound is depicted and is related to Luther, who maintained such a wound on his thigh for years for the outflow of toxic substances. In general, the poetic pictures of the Last Judgment by Dante and the ones painted by Bosch are so similar in intellectual history that they should belong to the same time.

I may cite a personal but typical assessment by a history expert of first ranking, Jacob Burckhardt from Bale, „Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien“ (in German, first in 1860, here quoted from Phaidon ed., Vienna). On p. 238 he discusses the famous "triumphal procession" as representations in words and pictures, which were especially beautiful in Florence, belonging to the utmost a Renaissance prince could afford. "Dante portrays the 'trionfo' of Beatrice" with figures of the Revelation of St. John "in such a way that one is almost forced to assume the real early occurrence of such features. This is mainly revealed by the car on which Beatrice is riding and which would not be necessary in the visionary marvellous landscape, it may be called surprising.“ Burckhardt knows very well that in those times allocated to Dante by the false dates, the triumphal car procession comes much too early, it is rather unthinkable. That is why he expresses himself so mysteriously: "almost forced to assume the real early occurrence. This is revealed ... it would not be necessary, yet is surprising."
Burckhardt generally has a clear and open way of saying things, here he circumscribes his knowledge that such carriage processions begin with the wedding car at the earliest, and he gives an example as an illustration: the wedding of the Duke of Urbino, Montefeltro, and his wife Sforza (1460 ), which he calls the “transition to the triunfo”. The actual triumphal moves then appear about 20 years later.
Why does Burckhardt even mention this anachronism in Dante's comedy (Purgatorium 29,43-30)? He could have ignored it. It seems to me that other historians of his time had noticed the same discrepancy, and so he responded to their amazement, which had seized himself. Since he only uses primary literature in the notes, one cannot expect him to quote his colleagues here. It wouldn't help either, because Burckhardt's instinct for the Renaissance is so fine that his astonishment is enough to lead us to further pondering.
Or this: Dante's stile of beginning the text in the first person is said to be unusual for his time. Or rather for the time designed for him, not for the Renaissance where the person can put oneself into the foreground.

And last not least: It is obvious that Christianity is only now gaining acceptance in Italy in Dante's time, as Dante himself put it. He can be called a missionary of the pure kind, i.e. Reformation type. Dante poses as opponent of the Church, he calls her "a whore". Calling the church a whore is a typical expression of the Reformation.

Michelangelo discusses the date of Dante

The real date of the setting of the Divine Comedy has triggered many suggestions and conjectures. Most common is the statement, that Dante refers to Easter time of 1300. Yet if one transfers this date into our common reckoning, Anno Domini (after Christ), there are unavoidable discrepancies as soon as one goes into detail. The celestial clock does not agree with the simple equation: 1300 (Italian) = 1300 AD.
The figure which indirectly is leading to 1300 is mentioned only once in the Comedy, here is the passage (Hell XXI, 112):

"It was yesterday, just five hours later,
thousand two hundred sixty-six years
passed exactly since the rock split open."

This relates to the hour of Jesus' death, which is plausible in the context. The expression 'the burst rock in the way' can refer to the death of Jesus (Matt. 27, 52). In any case, it was interpreted as follows: Yesterday 5 hours and 1266 years ago, Jesus died.
The five hours mentioned are explained this way: The sun is already up one hour on Saturday morning; "yesterday" refers to Good Friday. The time of death of Jesus is generally accepted at noon (sixth hour); "yesterday and five hours later" aims at the exact time of Jesus' death, Friday at 12 noon.
If one adds the lifespan of Jesus, 34 years (one of the figures given for his age), to the 1266 then the (AD) year 1300 results, exactly the alleged first year of jubilation of the church.
This year falls within the lifetime intended for Dante. He is said to have started his "Comedy" in 1307. The fact that Dante transferred his epic into the past (possibly by seven years) is condescended by most authors, because in this way some of his statements could be regarded as prophecies.
The number 1266 corresponds to the traditional year of birth of Dante. "May or June 1265" is also mentioned for his birth, but due to the fluctuating definition of the beginning of the year, the number is lower or higher by one, depending on where the statement is made (Florence, Pisa or other).
This also applies to the moment the epic was written: Dante would have been 35 years old at the time of the Comedy. He does not say this himself, but says that it was in the middle of his life that he made the journey (which is not true if he only lived until 1321).
Nevertheless, the number 1266 is too unusual, it must have a meaning. It sounds like a sacred number, because it is very close to Joachim of Fiore's sacred number 1260, which he took from the revelation of St. John (12, 14): According to conventional calculations, three and a half times (years) correspond to 42 months (30 days), that is 1260 days. The number three and a half times is contained in Daniel (7, 25 and 12, 7). Joachim (allegedly) thus referred to the end of time, which would have to occur in 1260 AD.

With the determination that Dante's journey was undertaken 1266 years after Jesus' death, a time interval is calculated for Jesus' day of death, a calculation that belongs in the realm of theology. We would have to say today: The trip happened 520 years before our current year. With this we circumnavigate the theological question about the historical Jesus and aim at a cosmic situation that is astronomically predictable (regarding full moon, rising of Venus etc). It would lead to 1499 in our actual chronology. (How I get there, I shall show below.)

On the astronomical question for the Comedy there exists a discussion of Michelangelo and three friends in 1546. The manuscript was discovered in the Vatican in 1845 and edited for the first time in 1859. It may have been invented in that same 19th century, but this is not decisive for us because the arguments developped therein are valid any time. There is a German translation from 1968 (Frommel-Haverkorn) to which I refer at length in my article Dantes Zeitstellung (in German). Here I just resume the most important points:

Nearly the whole discussion among the four friends runs around this question: when was the day of full moon when Dante started his way through Hell and Purgatory to Paradise?

One outcome of the talk, although most indications are confusing, is this one: Michelangelo and his friends consider Dante's astronomical indications, especially the position of the moon, to be incontestable.
An important argument against is this: Dante could have been wrong. At least, that he did not look at the sky, but used known data. On the other hand, it is sure: Nowhere in the dialogues is there question of a calculation or a calendar mode, the Comedy always speaks of observed sky events.

Michelangelo argues therefore this way (I quote his words in dialogue, p.57, abbreviated here):
"Dante describes in canto XX (124-126) ... another morning that is undoubtedly the morning of Saturday before Easter ...:
But come along with me now, because Cain with the thorns
Already stands in the middle of both halves of the sky,
To dive into the sea near Seville."
Then Michelangelo explains, long and wide, how the position of the sun and the position of the moon in opposition belong together in relation to the horizon.
(Cain is the eternal penitent in the moon, the man with the bundle of twigs on his shoulder; here it is only a metaphor for the full moon. Seville is supposed to mean: on the far western horizon, but visible.)
Michelangelo further quotes the subsequent terzine (127-129) from the Comedy:
"And yesterday was already full moon;
You must remember, because sometimes
She aided you in the deep forest."
So it is important (Michelangelo continues) to point out the following: When Virgil said to Dante: 'But come with me ... etc.', the sun was still below the horizon, otherwise he would not have mentioned the terzine: 'And yesterday was full moon etc.' like talked into the wind without any justification."
All of this would be senseless banter if it weren't for the actually witnessed situation of the heavenly bodies, for both, Dante and Michelangelo.

The editor emphasizes this terzine and notes (p. 21):
"According to the church calendar, full moon was in the night of April 7, that is, the night from Thursday to Friday. In the Easter cycle, this corresponds to the night when Christ prays on the Mount of Olives and is captured ..."
So here the editor goes back to an ecclesiastical date but it does not harmonize with the astronomical date because full moon in April 1300 AD was on April 5 (night from Tuesday to Wednesday), while Michelangelo explains: it was yesterday night, from Wednesday to Thursday.
Referring to an ideal time would be the simplest solution, although still insufficient.
Nowhere did the friends rely on the ecclesiastical-calendar situation in 1300 AD. It would also be unthinkable for my imagination. They should have referred to 1499 AD (= Italian 1300), because then the date is true for full moon.
The same applies for the Morningstar: "Venus was under the sign of Pisces, although according to the calculations of the time it was under the sign of Aquarius," says Michelangelo (p. 67). In order to use the position of Venus to determine the days in question concerning the year, the following statement quoted by Michelangelo (p. 87) should also be considered (Purgatory 27, 94-96):
"At the hour, I think, there on the mountain from the east
For the first time Venus shines
that always glows with fiery love."
According to Michelangelo, the day should be Wednesday morning after Easter (April 13, 1300). Michelangelo explains in the further course of the conversation that the entire period of Dante's trip lasted a whole week, whereby the time in Paradise cannot be counted because there is no time measure in our sense. In fact, the rising of Venus in Pisces as described by Dante for that day is correct in Eastertime 1499 AD.

Dante and his contemporaries

How wrongly the Italian humanists assessed their distance from the Roman classical period and the end of antiquity, has been plausibly presented by the authors F. u. U. Siepe in two articles in 1998 (review here). They based their idea on quotations from Renaissance authors: In the 15th and 16th centuries it was believed in Italy, that roughly 700 (depending on the author 600 to 800) years have passed since the fall of Rome. At best, this brings us to the year 1000 AD, at the most to the year 1100, where we place the Crusades today; there is no glimmer of Renaissance yet. If you want to write the year 1300 as Dante does, you would have to insert another 2-3 centuries. And if this year 1300 (Italian) was now equalled to the year 1499 (AD) as I propose here, then another 200 years have to be added.
In other words: All these estimates of the assumed but never really calculated distance between Imperial Rome and the Reformation are so imprecise and without any foundation that they have to be rejected immediately.

In addition to the person Dante, this shift can also be shown on other people of his time. I had briefly mentioned Petrarch for Dante's immediate environment. So far, I could not detect any en-bloque shift in the entire history. The shift can only be carried out on individuals, occasionally on groups of people, since the two chronological strands (Italian and German) were largely set up independently of one another and only adjusted to one another quite late (and poorly).

As a prime example, I also mentioned (Jahrkreuz, 2016, p.203) the astronomers from the Paris School of the 13th century, who - based on the observation data they transmitted - can only be classified uncertainly which speaks against their ascertained life data in the 13th century. These are Campanus de Novare (1261-64) and a whole series of astronomers: John of Sicily (1291), Wilhelm of St. Cloud (1290-92), Pierre de St. Omer (1294), G. Marchionis (1310) and Profatius (a Hebrew, 1300-1306) (literature on this: Poulle, Hugonard-Roche, Morelon in Rashed ed., vol. I p. 320 ff).
According to our current knowledge, the years mentioned for those French astronomers can only be evaluated relatively. Their dates are merely valid within their own chronological system; if dated "absolutely" they should be 150 to 200 years closer to us, as can be inferred from some - albeit contradictory - calendar dates in their texts.
In a particularly blatant case, I had struggled long time until I came across the solution in the person of Regiomontanus. There is lore of a translator of Arabic astronomical texts at the court of the Wisigoths in Toledo, Gerard of Cremona from northern Italy. His life is generally given the key brackets 1114-1187, and an extensive translation work is credited to him, reflected in the Toledan tables.
There was e.g. the question of whether Gerard of Cremona had translated Hermes' script from Arabic into Latin, or whether it was Ficinus ("1463") who created a Latin translation based on a Greek source, which would be three centuries later. It is unthinkable that the contemporaries of Ficinus would have argued about it. And the explanation is simple: Gerard was a contemporary of the astronomers of the late 15th century!
I quote from my recent book (Jahrkreuz 2016, p. 250):
"Regiomontanus was terribly upset about the many mistakes in these (Toledan) Tables. He may have been killed, as Rico gossipped, by the sons of Jorge de Trevisonda (George of Trapzunt), as the Italian Tiraboschi writes that Regiomontanus is angry with Gerard of Cremona by describing his theory of planetary movements as nonsensical ("deliramenta" = foolishness.) Gerard, who is today considered one of the Toledan translators a century before Alfons (the Wise), lived in the time of Regiomontanus, a fact I already suspected. The Toledan Cremonense has to advance over three hundred years. To distinguish the two Gerards today, the opponent of Regiomontanus is also called Gerardo da Sabbioneta (an Italian town not far from Cremona). At least for Rico (vol. III, p. XXXV, editor of the works of Alfonso) this Gerard of Cremona clearly lived as a doctor and mathematician in Italy in the 15th century and was a contemporary of Regiomontanus." Gerard of Sabbioneta is buried in Cremona (the Cremonense is said to have died in Toledo).
We called this artificial repetition of persons "doubles", Heinsohn said: alter-ego.

Sometimes it is not so obvious: "The allotted year of the manuscripts skip the notorious interval of three centuries and have to be moved again to the beginning of the Renaissance. I already (1999, p.76) had to postpone by a few centuries (the astronomer) Ibn Yunus from AD 1008. His Hakimi Tables appear at Al-Tusi's "250" years later."

Here is another point for the inadequate calculation:
Isaac Argyrus (14th century), highly valued by Christoph Marx, (ref. chapter 16 of the Greek edition, as quoted in Scaliger) set the shift of the Alexandrian lunar cycle in the Easter calendar amounting to two days, which is too low according to today's chronology, because one day shift is calculated in the late 15th century (and today) to be 310 (or 304) years. Since Nicea (Alexandrian definition) it would have to be 3 to 4 days for Argyrus, later it was assumed to be 5 days (by Cusanus and still by pope Gregory XIII). Argyrus thus calculated back to the ancient borderline only 600 years, although around a millennium (according to today's calculation) would have been better.

What happened? Why was there no continued tracking of years? It is claimed but difficult to prove. And why is this break and this lack of tradition ignored widely? Well, Chr. Marx gave an answer: the last big jerk (LGR) about 650 years ago cleared the table. The knowledge of history before this event is broken, distorted, missing.

One would have to formulate the question regarding the Italian chronology as follows: How were the Italian years, which seem 200 years early today, determined at that time and when was that?
How come did Dante's lifetime slip into the 13th/14th century (1265-1321)?
Perhaps because Dante's great-great-grandfather took part in the 2nd crusade around 1100 and thus obtained his data from an oriental chronology?
There must be a general new beginning justifying the use of the Italian chronology.


Burckhardt, Jacob (1860): Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (here quoted from Phaidon ed., Vienna)
Frommel-Haverkorn van Reijsewejk, Joke (1968): Gespräche mit Michelangelo, von Donato Gianotti. Eingel. und hrg. v. Joke Frommel-Haverkorn (Castrum Peregrini 84/85, Amsterdam)
Gundolf, Friedrich (1904): Cäsar in der deutschen Litteratur (Berlin)
Poulle, Hugonard-Roche, Morelon in Roshdi ed., vol. I p. 320 ff.
Rashed, Roshdi (1997): Histoire des sciences arabes (Seuil, Paris)
Rico y Sinobas, Manuel (1863-67): Los libros del saber de astronomia de Alfonso X el Sabio (5 vol., Madrid)
Siepe, Ursula und Franz (1998): „Wußte Ghiberti von der ‚Phantomzeit‘? Beobachtungen zur Geschichtsschreibung der frühen Renaissance“ in Zeitensprünge 2-98, S. 305-319 (review here)
Topper, Uwe (1999): Die Große Aktion (Tübingen)
(2006): Kalendersprung (Tübingen)
(2016): Jahrkreuz (Tübingen)

Uwe Topper, Berlin, May 2020

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