Mappa antica della Germania

Various German personalities appear in the Divine Comedy, almost all of them connected to the imperial politics of the Hapsburgs whom Dante criticises unreservedly, throwing into the faces of the emperors of his time – especially Rudolph and his son Albert I – the thoughtlessness which they, overcome by the worry of consolidating German sovereignty, showed towards the problems of Italy, abandoned like a wild mare without anyone to lead it.  His invective is especially severe against Albert I of Hapsburg, emperor from 1298 to 1308, for whom Dante invoked divine retribution designed as much to make an impression on his successor as to induce him to pay more heed to the fate of Italy, “the empire’s garden”.

L'imperatore Alberto I di Asburgo

We reproduce the extract (Purg., VI, 97-105) in the original and in the German translation by Karl Streckfuß.

O Alberto tedesco ch’abbandoni
costei ch’è fatta indomita e selvaggia,
e dovresti inforcar li suoi arcioni,
giusto giudicio da le stelle caggia
sovra ‘l tuo sangue, e sia novo e aperto,
tal che ‘l tuo successor temenza n’aggia!
Ch’avete tu e ‘l tuo padre sofferto,
per cupidigia di costà distretti,
che ‘l giardin de lo ‘mperio sia diserto.

O deutscher Albrecht, der dies Tier verlassen,
Das drum nun tobt in ungezähmter Wut,
Statt mit den Schenkeln kräftig es zu fassen,
Gerechtes Strafgericht fall’ auf dein Blut
Vom Sternenzelt, auch sei es neu und offen,
Dann ist dein Folger wohl auf seiner Hut.
Was hat dich und den Vater schon betroffen,
Weil ihr, verödend diese Gartenau’n,
Nach jenseits nur gestellt das gier’ge Hoffen.

Here are the same lines in the English version of Allen Mandelbaum:

O German Albert, you who have abandoned
that steed become recalcitrant and savage,
you who should ride astride its saddlebows-
upon your blood may the just judgment of
the stars descend with signs so strange and plain
that your successor has to feel its terror!
For both you and your father, in your greed
for lands that lay more close at hand, allowed
the garden of the Empire to be gutted.

Lauingen, on the Danube river

The sole German personality outside politics amongst those cited in the Divine Comedy is Saint Albert the Great, the famous philosopher and theologian of the thirteenth century, born in the Bavarian town of Lauingen in 1206 and dead in 1280 in Cologne, in whose university he taught for a long time and where he was rector while his pupil Thomas Aquinas was his assistant and “second teacher”.   Dante meets Albert the Great in the heaven of the Sun (Par., X, 97-99) and it is Thomas Aquinas himself who presents him to him as his master:

Saint Albertus Magnus, theologist and philosopher, was a professor at the University of Cologne

Questi che m’è a destra più vicino,
frate e maestro fummi, ed esso Alberto
è di Cologna, e io Thomas d’Aquino.

The Rhine river in flood at Cologne, xylography of 1499

Verses which sound like this in Streckfuß’s German translation:

Man hieß mich Thomas von Aquin auf Erden,
Und meines Meisters, meines Bruders Schein,
Albrechts von Köln, sieh rechts hier heller werden.

Here are the same lines in the English version of Allen Mandelbaum:

He who is nearest on my right was both
my brother and my teacher: from Cologne,
Albert, and I am Thomas of Aquino.

As a geographic entity, Germany – which Dante called Lamagna – is cited only in the twentieth canto of Hell (verses 61-63), as a reference point to indicate the location of Lake Garda situated at the foot of those mountains which mark the boundary with Germany immediately above Tyrol (“Tiralli”).

These verses are reproduced in the original and in Hermann Gmelin’s German version.

Suso in Italia bella giace un laco,
a piè de l’Alpe che serra Lamagna
sovra Tiralli, c’ ha nome Benaco.

Es liegt im schönen Land Italien droben
Ein See am fuß der Alpen, die das deutsche
Land bei Tirol umziehn, der heißt Benacus.

Here are the same lines in the English version of Allen Mandelbaum:

High up, in lovely Italy, beneath
the Alps that shut in Germany above
Tirolo, lies a lake known as Benaco.

Cologne on the Rhine river - a print of 1531