Skip to comments.Discovering Dante's Damsel In Distress
Posted on 12/01/2003 1:16:10 PM PST by blam
Discovering Dante's Damsel in Distress
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
A Majolica Jug: Missing Link?
Dec. 1, 2003 A 14th century jug unearthed in a Tuscan castle might shed new light on one of the most touching and mysterious female figures in Dante's Divine Comedy, according to Italian archaeologists.
Legend has always linked Castel di Pietra, a castle near the village of Gavorrano in the Tuscan Maremma, with the sad fate of Pia dei Tolomei, a lady supposedly imprisoned there and then murdered by her jealous husband.
"Do thou remember me who am the Pia/ Siena made me, unmade me Maremma/ He knoweth it, who had encircled first/ espousing me, my finger with his gem:" Ever since Dante had Pia pronounce these words in the fifth chant of the Purgatory, no reader has been able to resist the dramatic appeal of the story. Ezra Pound, Thomas S. Eliot and Marguerite Yourcenar mentioned the unlucky lady in their works; composer Gaetano Donizetti wrote an opera based on her story and poet and pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicted her in a painting.
On TV: Read about researchers working in the field
Pia is supposed to have belonged to the Sienese family of the Tolomei, and to have been the wife of Nello dei Pannocchieschi, governor of Volterra in 1277 and Lucca in 1313. According to Dante's commentators, Nello murdered Pia at the end of 1300 either because of jealousy or because he wanted to marry Countess Margherita Aldobrandeschi, with whom he had a love affair.
Yet evidence of Pia's historical identity has never been found and no records exist of her in Nello's family history.
Now archaeologists digging at Castel di Pietra, which was the Pannocchieschi's family stronghold, might have found the missing link.
"We have found a majolica jug bearing the coat of arms of the Tolomei family. This should not be considered the conclusive evidence of Pia's existence but it shows some link between the Tolomei and the Pannocchieschi family which was not historically documented," archaeologist Carlo Citter from Siena University told Discovery News.
The jug was found in the castle dump with other ceramics.
"It could have been part of Pia's trousseau and thrown there after Pia's death or it could have simply been bought by the Pannocchieschi. We would need to carry out more research and an accurate dating of the jug. Our work so far has focused on the castle and the excavation," Citter said.
Digging deeper in the area, Citter's team found Etruscan items and even remains of a prehistoric cave.
Built in a strategic position, the castle had its golden age between the 11th and 13th centuries under the Aldobrandeschi and later, the Pannocchieschi families. As the Pannocchieschi's dominion ceased in the 14th century, the castle began to decline. Today, only ruins of it remain.
"This sounds like a very interesting discovery. If confirmed obviously we would need to see if the artifact is from the right period, it might indeed add support to the belief, already widespread among scholars, that there is a historical basis of some kind for almost all those characters in the Divine Comedy who are not taken directly from literature, the Bible or classical mythology," Dante scholar Steven Botterill, of University of California, Berkeley, told Discovery News.
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