Brunetto Latini Icon
Brunetto Latini: Circle 7, Inferno 15
One of the most important figures in Dante's life and in the Divine Comedy, Brunetto Latini is featured among the sodomites in one of the central cantos of the Inferno. Although the poet imagines Brunetto in hell, Dante-character and Brunetto show great affection and respect for one another during their encounter in Inferno 15.
Brunetto (c. 1220 - 1294) was a prominent guelph who spent many years living in exile in Spain and France--where he composed his encyclopedic work, Trésor ("Treasure": Inf. 15.119-20)--before returning to Florence in 1266 and assuming positions of great responsibility in the commune and region (notary, scribe, consul, prior). Such was Brunetto's reputation that chroniclers of the time praised him as the "initiator and master in refining the Florentines." While Brunetto's own writings--in terms of quality and significance--are far inferior to Dante's, he was perhaps the most influential promoter in the Middle Ages of the essential idea (derived from the Roman writer Cicero) that eloquence--in both oral and written forms--is beneficial to society only when combined with wisdom.
We understand from this episode that Brunetto played a major--if informal--part in Dante's education, most likely as a mentor through his example of using erudition and intelligence in the service of the city. Apart from the reputed frequency of sexual relations among males in this time and place, there is no independent documentation to explain Brunetto's appearance in Dante's poem among the sodomites. Brunetto was married with three--perhaps four--children. Many modern scholarly discussions of Dante's Brunetto either posit a substitute vice for the sexual one--linguistic perversion, unnatural political affiliations, a quasi-Manichean heresy--or emphasize a symbolic form of sodomy over the literal act (e.g., rhetorical perversion, a failed theory of knowledge, a proto-humanist pursuit of immortality).