Toynbee "Cavalcanti, Guido"
famous Florentine poet, son of Cavalcante, his mother being (probably) a lady of the house of the Conti Guidi, he was born probably c. 1255--but in any case not later than 1259--while still a youth (in 1267) he was betrothed by his father to Beatrice degli Uberti, daughter of the famous Farinata, at the time when an attempt was made to conciliate the feuds in Florence by means of matrimonial alliances between members of the opposing factions (see below). In 1280 Guido acted as one of the sureties of the peace arranged by the Cardinal Latino. From 1283 dates his friendship with D. (V.N. iii. 14). In 1284 he was a member, together with Brunetto Latini and Dino Compagni, of the Grand Council. He was an ardent Guelph, and when the Guelph party in Florence split up into Bianchi and Neri, headed respectively by the Cerchi and the Donati, he threw in his lot with the former and distinguished himself by the violence of his opposition to the Donati, and especially to Corso Donati, by whom, as Dino Compagni relates ({Compagni i. 20}), he was nicknamed 'Cavicchia' [see I. Del Lungo's note]. Between 1292 and 1296 Guido set out on a pilgrimage to Compostela in Galicia, but he got no further on his way than Toulouse, whence he appears to have turned back to N¿s. While he was on this journey Corso Donati made an attempt to assassinate him, in retaliation for which Guido on his return attacked Corso in the streets of Florence, receiving a wound in the affray (Dino Compagni, i. 20). In the summer of 1300, during D.'s priorate (June-Aug.), it was decided (June 24), in order to put an end to the disturbances caused by the continued hostilities between the two factions, to banish the leaders of both sides, the Neri being sent to Castel della Pieve, the Bianchi (Guido being among them) to Sarzana in Lunigiana; among those who approved this decision were Dante, in his capacity as prior, and Dino Compagni who formed one of the council ('I Signori, isdegnati, ebbono consiglio di pi¿ cittadini, e io Dino fui uno di quelli', {Compagni i. 21}). It thus came about that D. was instrumental in sending his own friend into exile and as it proved, to his death; for though the exiles were recalled very shortly after, so that Guido spent only a few weeks at Sarzana, he never recovered from the effects of the malarious climate of the place, and died in Florence at the end of Aug. in that same year; he was buried in the cemetery of Santa Reparata on Aug. 29, as is attested by an entry in the official records still preserved in Florence (the Registro of Santa Reparata). In recording his exile and death, Villani says of him:

. . . questa parte (i bianchi) vi stette meno a' confini, che furono revocati per lo infermo luogo, e tornonne malato Guido Cavalcanti, onde mor¿ e di lui fu grande dammaggio, perocch¿ra come filosofo, virtudioso uomo in pi¿ cose, se non ch'era troppo tenero ['touchy'] e stizzoso. ({Vilanni viii. 42.})

The betrothal of Guido Cavalcanti to the daughter of Farinata degli Uberti, and the other matrimonial alliances projected at the same time, are recorded by Villani under the year 1267:

. . . per trattato di pace, il Gennaio vegnente il popolo rimise in Firenze i guelfi e' ghibellini, e feciono fare tra loro pi¿ matrimoni e parentadi, intra li quali questi furono i maggiorenti; che messer Bonaccorso Bellincioni degli Adimari diede per moglie a messer Forese suo figliuolo la figliuola del conte Guido Novello, e messer Bindo suo fratello tolse una degli Ubaldini, e messer Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti diede per moglie a Guido suo figliuolo la figliuola di messer Farinata degli Uberti, e messer Simone Donati diede la figliuola a messer Azzolino di messer Farinata degli Uberti. ({Villani vii. 15.})

Of Guido's poems, which consist of canzoni, sonnets, and ballate, some didactic, some purely lyrical, a large number has been preserved; the most famous of the didactic poems is the canzone (Donna me prega, perch'io voglio dire) on the nature of love which is twice quoted by D. (V.E. II. xii. 3, V.E. II. xii 8) and was the subject of numerous commentaries, among them being one (in Italian) by Aegidius Romanus [Egidio_2], and another (in Latin) by the physician Dino del Garbo [included in the ed. by G. Favati cited below]; the sonnets are for the most part amatory, many of them being addressed to Dante, Gianni Alfani, and Guido Orlandi; the ballate are the least artificial of his poems. Guido Cavalcanti belongs, with Dante, Lapo Gianni, Dino Frescobaldi, Gianni Alfani, etc., to the school of il dolce stil novo, which superseded that of Guido Guinizelli--the Guido whom his namesake eclipsed as a poet in the vulgar tongue, according to D.'s estimate:

. . . ha tolto l'uno a l'altro Guido
la gloria de la lingua . . .
([Purg. xi. 97-98].)

[See G. Cavalcanti, Le Rime, ed. by G. Favati (Milano, Napoli, 1957).]

In the D. C., Guido is mentioned in the conversation between D. and Cavalcante in Circle VI of Hell, where the latter refers to him as mio figlio and asks why he is not with D., [Inf. x. 60]; D. in his reply refers to him as Guido vostro and, indicating Virgil, hints that Guido 'held him in disdain' ([Inf. x. 61-63]); D. having used the past tense (ebbe a disdegno), Cavalcante assumes that his son is dead, and asks D., non viv'elli ancora? ([Inf. x. 67-69]); D. does not reply, but subsequently bids Farinata tell Cavalcante that Guido is still alive, il suo nato e co' vivi ancor congiunto ([Inf. x. 109-114]) [Cavalcanti, Cavalcante]; he is mentioned again (by Oderisi in Circle I of Purgatory) as l'uno Guido, whose fame as an Italian poet should eclipse that of l'altro Guido (i.e. Guido Guinizelli), and who in his turn should perhaps be eclipsed by another contemporary poet (i.e. according to some, by D. himself), [Purg. xi. 97-99]. [Guido_4.]

In the Vita Nuova, which is dedicated to Guido Cavalcanti (V.N. xxx. 3), D. several times refers to him as his most intimate friend, quelli cui io chiamo primo de li miei amici, V.N. iii. 14; mio primo amico, V.N. xxiv. 3, 6, V.N. xxv. 10, V.N. xxx. 3, V.N. xxxii. 1; he includes him among the famous poets of the day, and mentions that G. was one of those to whom he sent his sonnet A ciascun'alma presa e gentil core, to which G. replied, and which D. says was the beginning of their friendship:

A questo sonetto fue risposto da molti . . . tra li quali fue risponditore quelli cui io chiamo primo de li miei amici, e disse allora uno sonetto, lo quale comincia: Vedeste, al mio parere, onne valore. E questo fue quasi lo principio de l'amist¿ra lui e me, quando elli seppe che io era quelli che li avea cio mandato. (V.N. iii. 14.)

To him D. addressed a sonnet referring to G.'s love for a lady of the name of Giovanna (Rime lii):

Guido, i' vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io
fossimo presi per incantamento
e messi in un vasel, ch'ad ogni vento
per mare andasse al voler vostro e mio; . . .
E monna Vanna e monna Lagia poi . . .
con noi ponesse il buono incantatore:
e quivi ragionar sempre d'amore . . .

In the De vulgari eloquentia Guido is several times mentioned; he is referred to as Guido forentinus, V.E. I. xiii. 3; V.E. II. xii. 8; Guido Cavalcantis, V.E. II. vi. 6; Guido de Florentia, V.E. II. xii. 3; his poems quoted, Poi che de doglia cor conven ch'io porti, V.E. II. vi. 6; Donna me prega perch'io voglio dire, V.E. II. xii. 3, 8; he, like D. himself and Lapo, rejected the Florentine dialect in his poems, V.E. I. xiii. 3; composed canzoni in the most illustrious style, V.E. II. vi. 6; wrote stanzas of eleven-syllabled lines, V.E. II. xii. 3; employed three-syllabled lines in his canzone on the nature of love, V.E. II. xii. 8.

Several of the early commentators suppose that Guido Cavalcanti and D. himself are the two persons referred to by Ciacco (in Circle III of Hell) who, in speaking of the corrupt state of Florence, says Giusti son due, e non vi sono intesi, i.e. there are two just citizens, but no heed is paid to them, [Inf. vi. 73]. Thus Boccaccio says:

Quali questi due si sieno, sarebbe grave lo indovinare; nondimeno sono alcuni li quali donde che egli sel traggano, che voglion dire essere stato l'uno l'autor medesimo, e l'altro Guido Cavalcanti, il quale era d'una medesima setta con lui.

Similarly Benvenuto:

. . . autor loquitur de se et Guidone Cavalcante, qui de rei veritate tempore illo erant duo oculi Florentiae, sed autor non exprimit nomen, sed relinquit intelligi iudicio prudentum. De se enim nullus sapiens dubitabit.

Others think D. and Dino Compagni are intended [Compagni, Dino]; while Vellutello has no doubt that the reference is to two pious Florentines, Barduccio and Giovanni da Vispignano, whose saintly reputations are recorded by Villani ({Vilanni x. 175}) [Barduccio].

The meaning of D.'s expression with regard to Guido that 'perchance he held Virgil in disdain' ([Inf. x. 63]) has been much disputed. The early commentators explain that Guido preferred philosophy to poetry; e.g. Boccaccio says:

. . . percioch¿a filosofia gli pareva, si come ella ¿da molto pi¿ che la poesia, ebbe ¿degno Virgilio e gli altri poeti.

Some think the reason was political, and that Guido, who was a Guelph, was in antagonism with Virgil as the poet of the Roman Empire; but it now seems unlikely that a satisfactory interpretation of Guido's disdain for Virgil will be reached until the latter's meaning in the allegory of the poem has been more precisely determined. [See C. S. Singleton, DS, i and ii; and 'Guido's Disdain', MLN, lxxvii (1962), 49-65.] [Virgilio.]

Of Guido's character we have, besides the account of Villani quoted above, that of his friend and poetical correspondent, Dino Compagni, who describes him in his chronicle as

'uno giovane gentile . . . cortese e ardito, ma sdegnoso e solitario e intento allo studio' ({Compagni i. 20}).

Boccaccio in his Comento says of him:

[Fu] uomo costumatissimo e ricco e d'alto ingegno, e seppe molte leggiadre cose fare meglio che alcun nostro cittadino; e oltre a ci¿ fu nel suo tempo reputato ottimo loico e buon filosofo, e fu singularissimo amico dell'autore, si come esso medesimo mostra nella sua Vita Nuova, e fu buon dicitore in rima.

And in the Decameron:

. . . fu un de' miglior loici che avesse il mondo al suo tempo ed ottimo filosofo naturale, s¿u egli leggiadrissimo e costumato e parlante uom molto, ed ogni cosa che far volle ed a gentil uom pertenente, seppe meglio che altro uom fare, e con questo era ricchissimo, ed a chiedere a lingua sapeva onorare cui nell'animo gli capeva che il valesse. . . .alcuna volta speculando molto astratto dagli uomini divenia; e per ci¿ che egli alquanto tenea dell'oppinione degli epicurei, si diceva tra la gente volgare che queste sue speculazioni erano solo in cercare se trovar si potesse che Iddio non fosse. ({Decameron ,vi. 9.})

Benvenuto says of him, 'fuit alter oculus Florentiae tempore Dantis'.

Two stories of Guido have been preserved, the one by Boccaccio ({Decam. vi. 9}), the other by Sacchetti ({Nov. 68}).

[For the biography, see I. Del Lungo, SPD, pp. 3 ff.; and M. Barbi, 'Guido Cavalcanti e Dante di fronte al governo popolare', SD, i. (1920), 101-111.]

©Oxford University Press 1968. From A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante by Paget Toynbee (1968) by permission of Oxford University Press