Dionigi I Agricola, re del Portogallo dal 1279 al 1325

We must assume that Dante’s knowledge of Portugal was slight.  The Poet only speaks of it at one point of the Divine Comedy in the place which includes – ungenerously – among the bad Christian European monarchs the king Denis the Farmer (Dom Diniz o Lavrador) who reigned over Portugal from 1279 to 1325.

In reality King Denis was an enlightened monarch who boosted the economy and agriculture, favoured the arts and cultural activity, and in 1290 founded the Lisbon General Academy, subsequently transferred to Coimbra.  Nonetheless, the Portuguese monarch is one of the sixteen reigning Christian Europeans included by Dante (without a specific reason) in the harsh invective of the celestial Eagle, possibly because he was too involved in economic affairs.  One of the first commentators of the Divine Comedy (the Florentine notary, Andrea Lancia, author of the so-called Ottimo commento, a contemporary of Dante and therefore also of King Denis) explains the matter by saying that the Portuguese monarch was “entirely dedicated to accumulating wealth” and conducted his life “like a merchant”.

But it is more likely that Dante wanted to taint by implication the innocent King Denis of Portugal with the same misdeed attributed to the hated king of France, Philippe Le Bel, who had been behind the suppression of the Knights Templar whose property he confiscated.  In fact, after the suppression of that order of knights the king of Portugal had attempted in a secular way to appropriate their property for the Crown and, having failed to do so, had instituted a new national order of a religious and military nature in 1319 (“Warriors for Jesus Christ”) to which that property had been assigned.

[1]

In any case, whatever the reason, Dante condemned the Portuguese monarch and declared that he too, on the day of universal judgment, would see his name inscribed with his misdeeds in the great eternal book of divine justice.  And thus Dante also involves King Denis – just like his Norwegian colleague Hakon (also condemned for no specific reason) – in the rhetorical question uttered by the celestial Eagle: “whatever will the non-Christians (li Perse) be able to say to them when they see what has been written in that volume?”.

Here are the verses which concern King Denis of Portugal (Paradise XIX, 112-114 and 139-140):

Che poran dir li Perse a’ vostri regi,
come vedranno quel volume aperto
nel qual si scrivon tutti suoi dispregi?
………………
E quel di Portogallo e di Norvegia
lì si conosceranno…

The same verses have been translated thus into Portuguese by Vasco Graça Moura:

Os Persas que dirão a vossos régios
senhores, quando virem livro aberto
onde se escrevem deles sacrilégios?
………………
E o de Portugal e o de Noruega
Lá se conhecerão…

And here is how the same verses have been translated into English by John Ciardi:

What shall the Persians say to your kings there
when the Great Book is opened and they see
the sum of their depravities laid bare?
………………
There shall be marked for all men to behold
Norway’s king and Portugal’s…

 


[1] Vasco Graça Moura, A Divina Comedia de Dante Alighieri, Bertrand, Lisbon 1997, p. 765, note 139.  See P. Palumbo in Enciclopedia dantesca, vol II, p. 460; vol IV, p. 610.  In order to do justice to king Denis the Farmer we remind that the Portuguese national poet Luís de Camões (1524-1580), in his masterpiece Os Lusíadas, magnifies the enlightened reign of this king with these words (III, 96):  «Eis depois vem Dinis, que bem parece / Do bravo Afonso estirpe nobre e dina, / Com quem a fama grande se escurece / Da liberalidade Alexandrina. / Com este o Reino próspero florece / (Alcançada já a paz áurea divina) / Em constituições, leis e costumes, / Na terra já tranquila claros lumes».

Lisbona del Settecento