Sapia Salvani

Sapia Salvani (Siena, c. 1210 – Colle di Val d'Elsa, c. 1278) was a Sienese noblewoman.[1] In Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, she is placed among the envious souls of Purgatory for having rejoiced when her fellow Sienese townspeople, led by her nephew Provenzan Salvani, lost to the Florentine Guelphs at the Battle of Colle Val d'Elsa.[2]

Dante and Virgil meeting Sapia in Purgatory, as illustrated by Gustave Doré


Sapia was born into the powerful Ghibelline Salvani family around 1210.[3][2] Around 1230, she married Ghinibaldo Saracini (also known as Viviano Saracini), lord of Castiglioncello, to whom she mothered five children.[4][2] In 1265, Sapia and her husband funded the creation of the hospital Santa Maria dei Pellegrini, located near Castiglioncello, on the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route to Rome.[1][5] She was widowed by 1268.[4]

On June 17, 1269, Sapia witnessed the Battle of Colle Val d'Elsa from the family castle of Castiglioncello.[5][4] It is said she prayed for the downfall of the Sienese and was elated when it came true.[6] Sienese forces fought against Florentine forces, ending in the defeat of the Sienese and the death of her nephew, Provenzan Salvani, who was decapitated and his head paraded around the city on a stake.

After the battle, Sapia donated much of her wealth to the hospital she founded with her husband.[1][4] Though her exact date of death is unknown, she was last mentioned in 1274 when she made a donation to that hospital.[4] She must have died before 1289, as that is the date of death of Pietro Pettinaio, who, according to Dante's Divine Comedy, prayed for her soul's advancement through Purgatory.[7][4]

In Dante's Divine ComedyEdit

Sapia appears as a character in Canto XIII of Purgatorio, the second canticle of Dante's Divine Comedy. She is located on the terrace of envy, where envious souls are punished by being dressed in rough sacks the color of rocks and having their eyes sewn shut with wire.[2]

While Dante and Virgil walk through this terrace, Dante stops to ask about the condition of the souls there. Sapia responds by telling of her life, most notably her sinful expression of gratitude when her kinsfolk fell to the Florentines. She expresses her elation at witnessing the defeat of her townsfolk by comparing herself to a blackbird who sings about springtime prematurely:[8][6]

my heart filled with such boundless joy
that recklessly I turned my face to God,
crying: "Now I do not fear you any more,"
as the blackbird said after a glint of sunshine.

— Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio 13.120-123

Sapia notes that though she has not been dead long, the prayers of "Pier the Comb-Seller" (normally identified with Pietro Pettinaio) have moved her through Ante-Purgatory and the terrace of pride rather quickly. She is able to discern that Dante is not yet among the dead souls, and so asks him to pray for her soul's quick advancement through Purgatory and for Dante to return to Tuscany and restore her honor among her still prideful kinsfolk.[8][dead link]


  1. ^ a b c "The Princeton Dante Project (2.0) - Commentary Purg XIII 109-111". Retrieved 2021-04-01.
  2. ^ a b c d "Dante's Purgatorio - Terrace 2: Envy". Retrieved 2021-04-01.
  3. ^ "The Princeton Dante Project (2.0) - Commentary Purg XIII 112-123". Retrieved 2021-04-01.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Singleton, Charles (1991). Purgatorio: Italian Text, Translation, and Commentary. Princeton University Press. p. 280. ISBN 978-0691019109.
  5. ^ a b Paget Jackson Toynbee (1898). A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. unknown library. The Clarendon Press.
  6. ^ a b Carroll, John (1906). Prisoners of Hope: An Exposition of Dante's Purgatorio. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 196. ISBN 978-1298704115.
  7. ^ "The Princeton Dante Project (2.0) - Commentary Purg XIII 124-129". Retrieved 2021-04-01.
  8. ^ a b "The Princeton Dante Project (2.0) -". Retrieved 2021-04-01.