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Florentine philosopher and statesman, born at Florence, c. 1210; the son of Buonaccorso Latini, died 1294.
A notary by profession. Brunetto shared in the revolution of 1250, by which the Ghibelline power in Florence was overthrown, and a Guelph democratic government established In 1260, he was sent by the Commune as ambassador to Alfonso X of Castile, to implore his aid against King Manfred and the Ghibellines, and he has left us in his "Tesoretto", (II, 27-50), a dramatic account of how, on his return journey, he met a scholar from Bologna who told him that the Guelphs had been defeated at Montaperti and expelled from Florence. Brunetto took refuge at Paris, where a generous fellow-countryman enabled him to pursue his studies while carrying on his profession of notary. To this unnamed friend he now dedicated his "Trésor". After the Guelph triumph of 1266 and the establishment of a new democratic constitution, Brunetto returned to Florence, where he held various offices, including that of secretary to the Commune, took an active and honoured part in Florentine politics, and was influential in the counsels of the Republic. Himself a man of great eloquence, he introduced the art of oratory and the systematic study of political science into Florentine public life. He was buried in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Among the individuals who had come under his influence was the young Dante Alighieri , and, in one of the most pathetic episodes of the "Inferno" (canto XV) Dante finds the sage, who had taught him "how man makes himself eternal ", among the sinners against nature.
Brunetto's chief work, "Li Livres dou Trésor" is a kind of encyclopedia in which he "treats of all things that pertain to mortals". It was written in French prose during his exile, and translated into Italian by a contemporary, Bono Giamboni. Mainly a compilation from St. Isidore of Seville and other writers, it includes compendiums of Aristotle's "Ethics" and Cicero's treatise on rhetoric. The most interesting portion is the last, "On the Government of Cities", in which the author deals with the political life of his own times. The "Tesoretto", written before the "Trésor", is an allegorical didactic poem in Italian, which undoubtedly influenced Dante. Brunetto finds himself astray in a wood, speaks with Nature in her secret places, reaches the realm of the Virtues, wanders into the flowery meadow of Love, from which he is delivered by Ovid. He confesses his sins to a friar and resolves to amend his life, after which he ascends Olympus and begins to hold converse with Ptolemy. It has recently been shown that the "Tesoretto" was probably dedicated to Guido Guerra, the Florentine soldier and politician who shares Brunetto's terrible fate in Dante's Inferno. Brunetto also wrote the "Favolello", a pleasant letter in Italian verse to Rustico di Filippo on friends and friendship. The other poems ascribed to him, with the possible exception of one canzone, are spurious.