Pope Boniface VIII: Circle 8, Inferno 19
Boniface, for Dante, is personal and public enemy number one. Benedetto Caetani, a talented and ambitious scholar of canon law, rose quickly through the ranks of the church and was elected pope, as Boniface VIII, soon after the abdication of Pope Celestine V in 1294. (There were rumors that Boniface had intimidated Celestine into abdicating so he could become pope himself.) Boniface's pontificate was marked by a consolidation and expansion of church power, based on the view--expressed in a papal bull (Unam sanctam)--that the pope was not only the spiritual head of Christendom but also superior to the emperor in the secular, temporal realm. Dante, by contrast, firmly held that the pope and emperor should be co-equals with a balance of power between the pope's spiritual authority and the emperor's secular authority. Boniface's political ambitions directly affected Dante when the pope--under the false pretense of peace-making--sent Charles of Valois, a French prince, to Florence; Charles' intervention allowed the black guelphs to overthrow the ruling white guelphs, whose leaders--including Dante, in Rome at the time to argue Florence's case before Boniface--were sentenced to exile. Dante now settles his score with Boniface in the Divine Comedy by damning the pope even before his death in 1303 (the journey takes place in 1300): in the pit of the simonists, Pope Nicholas III, who can see the future (like all the damned), mistakenly assumes that Dante is Boniface come before his time (Inf. 19.49-63).