The Starlings of Santa Maria Novella

Joseph Luzzi

In Inferno 5, the celebrated canto of Paolo and Francesca, Dante describes the lustful sinners – “che sommettono la ragione al talento,” “who sacrificed reason to desire” – as buffeted like starlings in a storm:

E come li stornei ne portan l’ali
nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena,
così quel fiato li spiriti mali.

As, in cold weather, the wings of the starlings
bear them up in wide, dense flocks,
so does that blast propel the wicked spirits.
(trans. Hollander)

Dante’s lines recall some of the most famous birds in Florence. As many visitors to the city know, each day around dusk flocks of starlings descend on the gardens of the majestic Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, not far from the not-so-majestic Fascist-era train station and its subterranean shopping malls.

Here’s my photo of the scene:


Notice that swirling line of black specks above Santa Maria Novella? Those are the starlings. The…

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