Afterword to Lasciate Ogne Speranza?
Assuming that the historical facts underlying this story aren't generally known, I'll venture to embark on a short history lesson:
At the beginning of the 14th century (called Trecento in Italian), the Italian peninsula was deeply divided, both geographically and politically: the North belonged to the Holy German Empire, the centre, called the Patrimonium Petri, to the Church. The Kingdom of Naples in the South tried, mostly successfully, to be independent from the Empire, and Sicily was a fief of the Kingdom of Aragon (Spain). Of the two great political factions, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, the latter were mostly on the side of the Empire, while the former supported the Church, which at the time did not lack worldly aspirations. Civil strife was the normal state of affairs; local potentates and cities warred with each other in varying and shifting formations. Internal political quarrels within the cities often lead to the banishment of members of the losing faction, and around 1300 Italy was virtually teeming with exiles of both the Guelf and Ghibelline persuasions. The poet Dante Alighieri, author of the famous Divina Commedia, was one such exile, starting out as a Guelf, then becoming a Ghibelline, and ending up as 'a party unto himself'.
In the year 1310, the newly elected King of the Romans, Henry of Luxemburg (in Italy translated as Arrigo) crossed the Alps to be crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and to create order in this bloody chaos. Unfortunately, being inexperienced in the ways of Italian politics, he soon became an instrument in the hands of unscrupulous local leaders. Though many of his adherents, among them Dante, insisted that he should start his lofty mission by conquering Florence, the ringleader of the Guelf resistance against the imperial Ghibellines, Arrigo didn't listen. He managed to get himself crowned, but not long afterwards he also managed to antagonise the Pope by turning his imperial wrath against the papal protégé Robert d'Anjou, King of Naples and the figurehead of the Guelfs. The emperor started a military campaign to subdue King Robert, sparing no one who dared to thwart his majesty. But before he could even reach the Kingdom of Naples he died of malaria in Buonconvento in Southern Tuscany. His ashes were entombed in the Cathedral of Pisa, where the effigy sculpted by Tino da Camaino can still be seen today. (Maglor's contribution to the tomb has to remain conjecture...)
Dante's hopes to return to his beloved yet much-criticised Florence foundered on Arrigo's failure. Refusing to meet the humiliating terms of the city council he was promptly condemned to death, to be burned at the stake if he should be apprehended on Florentine territory. His exile lasted until his death in 1321, and even his remains never made it to Florence. His treatise De Monarchia, a defence of imperial authority as co-equal to the authority of the Church, acquired a temporary place of honour on the Catholic Index. His Divine Comedy achieved world fame, though on the Amazon.com list of the top-100 books of the second millennium CE, The Lord of the Rings eclipsed it...
The idea to bring Maglor and the poet of the Comedy together in a story was inspired by the theme of hope versus despair found in both Tolkien and Dante, their preoccupation with death; their ideas about messianic kingship; their frequent mentioning of stars; the fact that Dante was the greatest poet of his time and Maglor one of the greatest singers in the Tolkien-universe; and finally, by Tolkien's not entirely untroubled relationship with the Italian poet. In an interview for the Daily Telegraph he had said: 'Dante doesn't attract me. He's full of spite and malice. I don't care for his petty relations with petty people in petty cities.' Faced with his own harsh verdict in the draft of this interview, he pulled on the brakes and commented: 'My reference to Dante was outrageous. I do not seriously dream of being measured against Dante, a supreme poet... I was for a while a member of the Oxford Dante Society... It remains true that I found the "pettiness" that I spoke of a sad blemish in places.'
I, on my part, could not resist the temptation to bring this poetic genius from the Primary World together with one of Tolkien's sub-created poetic geniuses for the Maglor-in-history challenge at HASA.
Notes to Chapters 1 & 2
(1)Quoted partly from Tolkien's Letter to Charlotte and Dennis Plimmer, 2/8/1967.
(2)The foundations for the Leaning Tower of Pisa were laid in the second half of 12th century; the last parts were added around 1350.
(3)To wit: ambar (Quenya).
(4)Old name for China.
(5)Educated medievals who knew their Aristotle and Ptolemy were aware of the fact that the world wasn't flat.
(6)A (rough) reference to the layout of Dante's Paradiso.
(8)First lines of 1st Canto of Inferno. The feeble attempts to translate the Italian original are mine. The use of the term 'straight road' is intentional.
(9)Ruler of Verona from 1311-1329.
(10)Beginning of the 3rd Canto of Inferno. Translation, see note 6. 'Find no pity': readers are free to interpret this as an allusion to the Curse of Mandos: 'There long shall ye abide... and find little pity though all whom ye have slain shall entreat for you.' (QS, Ch. 9)
(11)'Full of spite and malice' are Tolkien's words: see Letter to Charlotte and Dennis Plimmer, 2/8/1967.
(12)Poet: from Greek poiètes, 'maker'. Text in italics taken from Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories (NB: to my best knowledge the idea of Man creating in the Creator's image dates back to the Renaissance Dante scholar Christoforo Landino).
(13)The last lines of Inferno.
(14)Headman of town watch.
(15)'Maybe thou shalt find Valinor. Maybe even thou shalt find it.' Quenya, from Galadriel's Lament, Fellowship of the Ring (with slight alteration from the original Valimar into Valinor).
Final remarks:If Maglor admits to Dante that he has murdered but not that he has betrayed his own relatives, it is because in Dante's Inferno and medieval theology in general, the latter is a worse sin than the former. Dante's physical appearance is based on Giovanni Boccaccio's Dante biography Trattatello. It seems there are reasons to doubt the veracity of this tract, but as I like the contrast between a tall elf and a small man, I've followed Boccaccio.