Florentine Politics (1300-2): Circle 3, Inferno 6
Spring of 1300 is the approximate fictional date of the journey: we know Dante, born in 1265, is at the "half-way point" of life--age 35 based on the conventional life-cycle of 70 years--when the poem opens (Inf. 1.1). At this time, Florence was politically divided between two rival factions known as white and black guelphs. Ciacco (Inf. 6.64-72) provides the first of several important prophecies in the poem of the struggle between these two groups that will result in Dante's permanent exile from Florence (from 1302 until his death in 1321). The white guelphs--the "party of the woods" because of the rural origins of the Cerchi, their leading clan--were in charge in May 1300, when violent skirmishes broke out between the two parties. Although ring-leaders from both parties were punished by banishment (Dante, a white guelph, was part of the city government that made this decision), by spring of the following year (1301) most of the white guelphs had returned while leading black guelphs were forced to remain in exile. However, the tables were soon turned so that by 1302 ("within three suns" from the riots of 1300) six hundred leading white guelphs (Dante among them) were forced into exile. The black guelphs prevailed because they were supported by Charles of Valois, a French prince sent by Pope Boniface VIII ("one who tacks his sails") ostensibly to bring peace to Florence but actually to instigate the violent overthrow of the white guelph leadership.