Dante and the Action of Light upon Plants

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IN the history of vegetable physiology, sufficient importance has not been given to Dante's observations upon the action of solar light and heat upon plants, and to the ideas upon this action that existed in Italy in the fourteenth century. Sachs, in his “Geschichte der Botanik,”ignores Dante and Pier de' Crescenzi completely; observing in a general way: “Of the importance of Light and Heat for the nourishment and the growth of plants, next to nothing is to be found in the authors that wrote before the last decades of the seventeenth century; although certainly the action of these agents must have been known from the oldest times, in plant culture and in several special circumstances.”1 P. A. Saccardo also, in his “Primato degl' Italiani nella Botanica,” does not take any notice of the observations and opinions of Dante and of Pier de' Crescenzi on light action.


  1. 1

    Sachs, "Gesch. der Botanik," p. 387.

  2. 2

    J. P. Richter, "The Literary Work of Leonardo da Vinci." (London, 1883.)

  3. 3

    L. Magalotti, "Lettere Scientifiche ed Erudite" (Venezia, 1740), Lettera v. See also Redi's observations in 1686 on this letter: F. Redi, Opere. (Napoli, 1778), Tomo v. p. 134.

  4. 4

    Gius. Del Papa, "Trattati varî fatti in diverse Occasioni" (Firenze, 1734), p. 58; and "Delia Natura dell' Umido e del Secco" (Firenze, 1690), p. 174.

  5. 5

    Lavoisier, "Traité de Chimie, présenté dans un ordre nouveau et d'après les découvertes modernes" (Paris, 1789), i. p. 201.

  6. 6

    J. Senebier, "Exp. sur l'Action de la Lumière Solaire" (Genève, 1788), p. 442.

  7. 7

    Joa Raius, "Historia Plantarum," (Londini, 1686), vol. i. libr. i. p. 15.

  8. 8

    G. Carradori, "Sopra la distruzione del color verde operata dalla luce in alcuni Vegetabili viventi," Giornale di Fisica di Brugnatelli, vol. iii. 1809.

  9. 9

    "Purg." xviii. 54.

  10. 10

    "Paradiso," xii. 86, Cary 's translation

  11. 11

    "Paradiso," xxvii. 124. Cary 's Translation.

  12. 12

    "Inferno," ii. 127.

  13. 13

    Per de Crescenzi, "Trattato dell' Agricoltura," libr. ii. cap. 5.

  14. 14

    Id., libr. ii. cap. 4.

  15. 15

    Id., libr. ii. cap. 6.

  16. 16

    Id., libr. ii. cap. 25.

  17. 17

    Pier dei Crescenzi, libr. xi. cap. 14.

  18. 18

    Julius v. Sachs, "Lectures on the Physiology of Plants," trans, by H. Marshall Ward (Oxford, 1887), p. 198.

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GIGLIOLI, I. Dante and the Action of Light upon Plants. Nature 59, 417–420 (1899) doi:10.1038/059417a0

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