Pagina:Baretti - Prefazioni e polemiche.djvu/108

As soon as their Republic was settled, they turned their minds to the cultivation of arts and letters; assisting themselves with that little learning that was then creeping among the Sicilians and Provengals, which consisted in a few notions of laws and poetry.

Accursio and Brunetto Latini early among their citizens gave the first blow to ignorance. The Muses began to free themselves from their rusty shackles in the schools of these two men. Many other Florentines, putting their helping hand to the work, brightened a little the face of reason; but Dante appeared (i) and like a morning-sun, almost dispersed the mists that hovered for so many ages over the Parnassean mountain.

This man was of a very noble and rich family of Florence, called Alighieri. He was of an haughty and inflexible disposition and obtained very early, both in the field and in the magistracy, the most eminent posts of the new commonwealth, which in his time was engaged in a war against most of its neighbours (2).

He was, while yet a youth, one of the principal leaders of the Fiorentine troops, and not contented with commanding them, he exposed himself bravely in ali encounters with the enemies like a common soldier, and with his own hand killed many of their men. But seeing himself endowed with ali the literature of his time, as well sacred as profane, very well skilled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; having capacity enough to be leader of his countrymen and a supreme degree of courage accompanied by uncommon strength and agility of body, he not only despised his fellow-citizens and the most venerable members of the Republic, but made little account of any of his contemporaries.

He one day in the counsel (so the Florentines then called their Senate) gave a too lively proof of his frequently expressed contempt for others and high opinion of himself. It being debated amongst them whom they should send embassador to Rome on a very important occasion, the senators proposed Dante for

(i) Dante was born in Florence in the year 1265. (2) See Machiavelli ’s Hístory of Florence.