by Alyssa Granacki
The parallels between Dante’s Comedy and the Tesoretto are quite obvious, but Dante also would have been familiar with Brunetto Latini’s Trésor. Latini wrote Li Livres dou Trésor in the mid 1260s in French, participating in another medieval phenomenon – producing encyclopedic works. Although Latini later repurposed some of this content in the Tesoretto, the Trésor also circulated widely in Italy. The work was translated into the Italian vernacular as early as the 14th century, but Dante would have known the original in French. In fact, some scholars argue Dante places Latini in hell for his choice to write in French rather than Italian. The work frequently circulated with other French texts as in the Ashburham 125 manuscript (pictured below).
The Trésor consists of three books, covering a variety of topics, including history, religion, the natural world, philosophy, ethics, and politics. As a repository of the culture that surrounded Dante, it offers unique insight into his intellectual formation.The first book of Latini’s Trésor among many topics contains notes on astronomy and the universe. In one Italian manuscript form the fourteenth century, these topics are vividly illustrated.
Several figures, historical and literary, appear in both Brunetto’s and Dante’s works. For example, Latini offers chapters on Aeneas (I.33-34) and Frederick II (I.95-98) whom Dante references in the Inferno. In his discussion of the natural world, Latini provides a spectacular bestiary with descriptions of seventy different animals (I.130-199). In fact, Latini’s description of the Manticore (I.192) – a beast with a man’s face, a lion’s body, and the tale of a Scorpion – echoes Dante’s description of Geryon (Inf.XVII.1-27). In book two, Latini translates the Ethics of Aristotle into French. Virgil will quote Ethics in the Comedy (Inf.XI.79-80), and Dante’s Convivio is firmly rooted in Aristotelian logic.
A rich discussion of vices and virtues, including capital sins, follows Latini’s translation of Aristotle’s Ethics. Dante’s own judgment of such vices and virtues will be imagined in the Comedy. The third and final book, which contains a robust discussion of politics, would also have been a formative text for Dante, who, like Latini, was involved in the Florentine government. Both men supported the Guelph faction of Florentine politics. Latini even warns Dante in the Inferno (XV.61-78) about the history of the discord between the Ghibellines and the Guelphs, which resulted in Latini’s exile and would ultimately be the cause of Dante’s.
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