ROME, March 16 (Xinhua) -- It would be hard to look back over the centuries of Italy's rich cultural history and reach a consensus over who was the nation's greatest painter, sculptor, or composer. But the most important Italian writer? That's much easier: Dante.
This year marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, the Tuscan-born writer, poet, and philosopher. And despite the limitations from the coronavirus pandemic, the country is pulling out all the stops to commemorate the event, as it did last year for the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance master painter Raphael and the quincentennial of iconic Leonardo da Vinci's death in 2019.
Most of the commemorative events will take place later in the year, closer to the actual anniversary of Dante's death on Sept. 14.
But the first major event on the calendar will take place next Monday -- the date established as "Dantedi" ("Dante Day)" in Italy -- when Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni, known for his periodic televised performances from Dante's greatest work, the epic poem "Divine Comedy," will recite a song from the poem from the Quirinal Palace with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in attendance.
All told, there will be more than 500 initiatives in more than 100 locations across Italy over the course of the year, including the start of work on a Museum of the Italian Language in Florence, dedicated to Dante; a series of exhibits, workshops, readings, and other events under the "Dante2021" banner; the release of a documentary film on Dante's life; an exhibit of acclaimed photos by Massimo Sestini showing spots important in the poet's life; and free tours of the parts of Florence that appear in Dante's works, set up by the city's "Dante 700" organizing committee.
On Sept. 14, the "Viva Dante" (Dante Lives) initiative will start to have performers perpetually read from "Divine Comedy" around the clock, and the year will close with three special symphonic performances led by maestro Riccardo Muti in Verona, Ravenna, and Florence.
Aside from the literary merit of "Divine Comedy" -- it is considered by critics and historians to be the pre-eminent work in Italian and one of the greatest works in the western literary canon -- it is significant because it was written in Italian, uncommon in the 14th century when Latin was still the language of learned people. As such, it is considered to be a "unifying" work by Italians.
That is a point made by Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini, who said earlier this month that Dante's work "helps us feel we are a national community, giving us confidence during a difficult time for our country struggling with the pandemic."
But according to Claudio Marazzini, president of Crusca Academy, the top authority on the Italian language and the organizer of multiple events connected to the anniversary, the anniversary of Dante's death is important for many reasons that go beyond his role in legitimizing the Italian language centuries ago.
Marazzini noted that large-scale celebrations for writers are less common than for artists or composers because literature is more difficult to understand and it requires a deep familiarity with the language. He said that Dante is one of a small handful of writers -- William Shakespeare in English and Miguel de Cervantes in Spanish come to mind -- who merit such treatment.
"Dante is one of the most important literary figures in any country," Marazzini told Xinhua. "As with most timeless works of literature, it gives us a window into the writer's time, in this case, Medieval Italy. But it also teaches us about ourselves."
Amid the challenges of the pandemic, a focus on Dante is particularly adept, according to Domenico De Martino, artistic director of the Dante2021 commemorations in Ravenna, where Dante is buried. Though the great writer died a quarter-century before the bubonic plague began ravaging the Italian peninsula, he lived in a time where outbreaks of disease were common.
"Life was fragile in Dante's time, and that is evident in his work," De Martino said in an interview. "He was 56 when he died, which meant he was an old man for that time. Obviously, we are better off now than people then despite the current challenges. But I think Dante helps us look at the fragility we may face with a different perspective." Enditem