Guido Cavalcanti was an Italian poet of the thirteenth century. Guido Cavalcanti, son of Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, was born in Florence around the year 1258 in a noble white Guelph family, which had its houses near Orsanmichele, and which was among the most powerful in the city. In 1260 Cavalcante, father of the poet, was sent into exile following the defeat of Montaperti. Six years later, following the defeat of the Ghibellines in the Battle of Benevento, which occurred in 1266, the Cavalcanti reacquired the pre-eminent social and political position in Florence. In 1267 Guido was promised to marry Bice, daughter of Farinata degli Uberti, head of the Ghibelline faction. From Bice, Guido will have his sons Tancia and Andrea.
In 1280 Guido was among the signatories of the peace between Guelphs and Ghibellines and four years later he was seated in the General Council of the City of Florence together with Brunetto Latini and Dino Compagni. According to the historian Dino Compagni at this point he would have embarked on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. A very mysterious pilgrimage, if one considers the fame of an atheist and unbeliever of the poet. The minor poet Niccola Muscia, however, gives us an important testimony through a sonnet. On 24 June 1300, Dante Alighieri, prior of Florence, was forced to banish his friend and teacher Guido with the leaders of the black and white factions following new clashes. Cavalcanti then goes to Sarzana and it is thought that it was then that he wrote the famous ballad Because I never hope to return. On 19 August he was sentenced for the aggravation of his health conditions (he may have contracted malaria). On 29 August he died, a few days after returning to Florence, probably from malaria he had taken into exile.
It is remembered - as well as for his compositions - to have been mentioned by Dante (of which he was a friend with Lapo Gianni) in the famous ninth sonnet of the Rime Guido, i 'I wish you and Lapo and me. Dante also recalls this in the Divine Comedy (Inferno, canto X and Purgatorio, canto XI) and in the De vulgari eloquentia, while Boccaccio mentions it in the Commentary on the Divine Comedy and in a short story by the Decameron.
His personality, aristocratically disdainful, emerges from the memory that contemporary writers have left behind: from the chroniclers Dino Compagni and Giovanni Villani to novellieri such as Boccaccio and Franco Sacchetti. Read the portrait of Dino Compagni:
«A kind young man, son of Messer Cavalcante Cavalcanti, noble knight, courteous and daring but disdainful and lonely and intent on studying»
Cavalcanti was known for his atheism, as witnessed by Dante (Inf. X, 63), Boccaccio (Decameron VI, 9): "It was said to the vulgar people that these speculations were only to find if they could find that God was not" ), Filippo Villani (De civitate Florentie famosis civibus). His heterodoxy was among other things revealed in the great doctrinal song Donna me prays, certainly the most arduous and committed text, even on the conceptual level, of all the stylistic poem, in which radical current characters of Averroistic aristotelism are found.
The episode narrated by Boccaccio of a kind of playful assault by a brigade of young Florentines on horseback, the "meditative" Guido, who dodged their company, is famous and significant. The same episode will be taken by Italo Calvino in the "American Lessons", in which the thirteenth-century poet, with the agile leap he accomplished, became an emblem of lightness.