When was Dante born?

I recently attended a lecture by astrologer Joseph Crane entitled “Why Did Dante Put Astrologers in Hell?” in which he mentioned that Dante was probably born around 28 May 1265 prior to sunrise when Gemini was rising in Florence, Italy.  Unfortunately, we have no record of the actual date of Dante’s birth, though it is fairly certain that he was born in 1265 AD.  A few years ago I had attempted to rectify Dante’s chart but set the project aside due to lack of time.  Joseph Crane’s lecture set me to thinking again about the issue.

Dante reading from his Commedia.

Dante reading from his Commedia.

In addition to Joseph’s recent book on Dante, another useful reference is Time and the Crystal: Studies in Dante’s Rime Petrose by Robert Durling and Ronald Martinez.  Like Joseph Crane, these authors point out that in the Paradiso Dante tells us he was born with the sun in Gemini and Mars in Leo.  According to Boccaccio, Dante told a friend in Ravenna that he was born during the month of May.  Because Mars entered Leo on 27 May 1265 at 6:09 AM LMT, we can deduce that Dante was born during the 5-day period between 6:09 AM on 27 May and the end of May in 1265 AD.  The Gregorian calendar was not invented yet, so all dates are in the Old Style Julian calendar.  During this time the sun lay between 12 Gemini 37 and 17 Gemini 08 as of midnight May 31st.  If May 31st extended till sunrise the next day, then Dante’s Sun could be as late at 17 Gemini 18.  We can be reasonably confident that Dante had the following positions in his natal chart:

  • Sun in Gemini (between 12 Gem 37 and 17 Gem 18).
  • Moon in Libra, Scorpio or Sagittarius (between about 26 Libra and 22 Sagittarius).
  • Mercury in Gemini (between 4 Gemi 42 Rx and 3 Gem 20 Rx).
  • Venus in Cancer (between 17 Can 36 and 23 Can 11).
  • Mars in Leo (between 0 Leo 0 and 2 Leo 50).
  • Jupiter in Taurus (between 27 Tau 33 and 28 Tau 38).
  • Saturn in Gemini (between 2 Gem 59 and 3 Gem 36).
  • Uranus in Taurus (between 3 Tau 37 and 3 Tau 40).
  • Neptune in Leo (between 8 Leo 59 and 9 Leo 06).
  • Pluto in Sagittarius (between 20 Sag 22 Rx and 20 Sag 15 Rx).

Durling and Martinez pay special attention to a passage by Dante that begins “Io son venuto…”:

I have come to the point of the wheel [horoscope] where the horizon gives birth at sunset to the twinned heaven [Gemini] and the star of love [Venus] is kept from us by the sun’s ray that straddles her so transversely that she is veiled; and that the planet that strengthens the frost [Saturn] shows itself to us entirely along the great arc where each of the seven casts little shadow [Tropic of Cancer]…

The authors time this chart to sunset on 24 December 1296 (when there was a Sun/Venus conjunction) and argue that Dante picks this moment because it bears a special relationship to his natal chart.  Dante appears quite conversant with astrology as were other members of the educated class of his time.  One could reasonably argue that by saying “I have come to the point of the wheel” Dante is referring metaphorically to the progression of his natal Sun in Gemini to the point of the wheel at which the setting sun on 24 December 1296 would be involved in the configuration described in his stanza.

A problem with this argument is that medieval astrologers would regard Venus as highly fortified being cazimi or “in the heart of the sun” on 24 Dec 1296.  Venus would not be truly weakened and “kept from us” until it became 17′ of arc distant from the sun one day later on 25 December 1296 (or during a few days after this date).  In addition, the new moon during this period (the darkest night of the year when Saturn would be able to “show itself entirely”) occurred around 3:32 AM on 26 December 1296 around 11 hours after sunset.  For these reasons I believe Dante is referring to the period after sunset on 25 December.

If such is the case, then we can use the position of the Sun on 25 Dec 1296 at sunset (4:30:05 PM LMT) to deduce the position of the sun in his natal chart.   The Sun at sunset that day was at 12 Capricorn 15′ (RA =282 deg 19′) and the ASC was at 12 Cancer 15′ (RA = 103 deg 20′).  The Sun occupied 12 Cancer 15′ on 27 June 1265 AD, so Dante must have been born about 31 days prior to this date.

We believe that Dante was born in May 1265 so that in December 1296 about 31.5 years had elapsed.  Thirty-one days prior to 27 June 1265 was 27 May 1256, an approximate date of birth.  If we subtract 31.5 from the RA of the ASC on 25 Dec 1296 we get  103 deg 20′ – 31 deg 30′ = 71 deg 50′, which corresponds to the Sun at 13 Gemini 15′ and a time close to midnight on 27 May 1265.  Thus, Dante was most likely looking in an ephemeris for May 27 or May 28 of 1265 for the astrological data for his date of birth.  This argument suggests that Dante was most likely born between mid-day on May 27 and mid-day on May 28 (though it is possible he was born as late at May 31st).  A May 28th date is consistent with chart rectified by Joseph Crane mentioned at the start of this post.

Having narrowed the date down to the last five days in May and probably May 27 or 28 of 1265 AD, we must next ask what sign was rising at the time of Dante’s birth.  In his writings Dante indicates that in his birth he was strongly under the influence of Mercury (literature) and Saturn (melancholy).   For this reason many astrologers (including Joseph Crane who is mentioned above) believe that Dante has Mercury and Saturn in Gemini rising near the ASC.  Another possibility is that Dante has these planets near the MC, a hypothesis I would like to explore further.  As a “child of Mercury,” Dante could well be born with a Gemini or Virgo ASC.  A strong argument, however, can be made for a Virgo Ascendant.  The timeline of Dante’s life at shmoop.com is useful for rectification.

A key date in Dante’s life is 8 June 1290 when his beloved Beatrice died and he entered a period of profound melancholy, which is ruled by Saturn.  Since we have established that Dante was born between 27 May and 31 May, we can ascertain the position of Saturn 25 days after his birth.  Between 21 June and 25 June of the year of his birth, Saturn passed from  6 Gemini 09′ to 6 Gemini 37′.  If his natal MC lies within this range, then Saturn would conjoin his MC by secondary progression at the time Beatrice died, leaving Dante so despondent.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Dante has an MC of about 6 Gemini 20′ at the middle of this range.  Such an MC would give his a Virgo ASC.  In fact, the middle decan of Virgo (Chaldean ruler Venus) would be just rising.  This decan is often associated with literary ability and interest in the arts.

If Dante were born at 11:24:40 AM LMT on 28 May 1265, he would have an MC of 6 Gemini 16 and an ASC of 10 Virgo 19.  Furthermore, Saturn by secondary progression would cross his MC at the beginning of June 1290 when Beatrice died.  This chart has much to commend it:

Dante rectified chart for 28 May 1265.

Dante rectified chart for 28 May 1265.

The primary directions of this rectified chart work well with key dates in Dante’s life.  For example, using the Naibod measure, Placidus semi-arc, direct and converse, and no latitude:

Mother dies (Dante between 5 and 8 years old depending on the source):

  • pd MC -conjunct Saturn in Oct 1268
  • pd Sun square ASC, Feb 1269
  • pd ASC square Mercury, Dec 1271
  • pd Saturn square ASC, Jan 1273

Falls in love with Beatrice, love at first sight 1 May 1274:

  • pd ASC trine Uranus, March 1274
  • pd Jupiter conjunct MC, May 1274
  • pd Uranus trine ASC,  June 1274
  • pd ASC sextile Venus June 1274

Beatrice dies, 8 June 1290.   Dante is devastated and reincarnates Beatrice later in his work as a divine guide in his Commedia:

  • pd ASC sextile Mars, Jan 1290
  • pd ASC trine Pluto, March 1290
  • pd ASC trine Mercury, March 1290
  • pd Saturn trine ASC Aug 1290

Dante exiled from Florence, 10 March 1302:

  • pd MC conjunct Uranus, 22 Feb 1302
  • pd Uranus square ASC, Dec 1302

Dante begins to write the Commedia, known in English as the Divine Comedy, 1308:

  • pd ASC sextile Mercury. Feb 1308

Dante contracts a fever in Venice (Aug 1321) and dies in September 1321:

  • pd Mars square ASC, July 1321
  • pd ASC square Mars, September 1321
  • pd ASC conjunct Uranus, Feb 1322

As a final check, I looked for some recent history about Dante.  It turns out that Dante’s skeleton was discovered in a coffin in a church wall in Ravenna on 27 May 1865.  I must emphasize that I only came across the “discovery” chart after having done all the work of rectification and took the close similarity to be a confirmation that my rectification was in the right ballpark.   A noon chart for the discovery of his bones after 600 years is placed around the rectified chart below:

Dante's skeleton found on 27 May 1865 in Ravenna, Italy.  The chart of the discovery appears has much in common with the rectified natal chart.

Dante’s skeleton found on 27 May 1865 in Ravenna, Italy. The chart of the discovery has much in common with the rectified natal chart.  The angles are almost the same.  The “discovery” sun lies on the rectified MC.  The “discovery” Mars lies in early Leo as does Mars in the rectified chart.  (Dante’s birth date is old style and the discovery of his bone is in the new style calendar.  His skeleton was found just in time for his 600th birthday!)

About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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