The real Sordello, so far as we have authentic facts about his life, hardly seems to justify these idealizations, though he was the most famous of the Italian troubadours. About 1220 he was in a tavern brawl in Florence; and in 1226, while at the court of Richard of Bonifazio in Verona, he abducted his master’s wife, Cunizza, at the instigation of her brother, Ezzelino da Romano. The scandal resulted in his flight (1229) to Provence, where he seems to have remained for some time. He entered the service of Charles of Anjou, and probably accompanied him (1265) on his Naples expedition; in 1266 he was a prisoner in Naples. The last documentary mention of him is in 1269, and he is supposed to have died in Provence. His appearance in Purgatory among the spirits of those who, though redeemed, were prevented from making a final confession and reconciliation by sudden death, suggests that he was murdered, although this may be Dante’s own conjecture.
His didactic poem, L’ensenhamen d’onor, and his love songs and satirical pieces have little in common with Dante’s presentation, but the invective against negligent princes which Dante puts into his mouth in the 7th canto of the Purgatorio is more adequately paralleled in his sirventes-planh (1237) on the death of his patron Blacatz, where he invites the princes of Christendom to feed on the heart of the hero.
Sordello is briefly referred to in Samuel Beckett’s 1951 novels Molloy and Malone Dies. Ezra Pound also references him in the Cantos. Numerous references occur in Roberto Bolano’s novella By Night in Chile.