Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Overview
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante (IT: /'dante/; ˈdænti; ˈdɑːnteɪ; 1265–1321), was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature...

)
.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Dante Alighieri'
Start a new discussion about 'Dante Alighieri'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Recent Discussions
Quotations

Love hath so long possessed me for his ownAnd made his lordship so familiar.

La Vita Nuova (1293)

Behold a God more powerful than I who comes to rule over me.

La Vita Nuova (1293)

Love with delight discourses in my mindUpon my lady's admirable gifts...Beyond the range of human intellect.

Il Convivio, Trattato Terzo, line 1 :Various translations have been used in this section.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,Che la diritta via era smarrita.

When I had journeyed half of our life's way,I found myself within a shadowed forest,for I had lost the path that does not stray.

E come quei che con lena affannata,uscito fuor del pelago a la riva,si volge a l'acqua perigliosa e guata.

And just as he who, with exhausted breath,having escaped from the sea to shore,turns to the perilous waters and gazes.

Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate.

All hope abandon, ye who enter in.

Qui si convien lasciare ogne sospetto;ogne viltà convien che qui sia morta.

Here one must leave behind all hesistation;here every cowardice must meet its death.

Questo misero modotegnon l'anime triste di coloroche visser sanza 'nfamia e sanza lodo.

This miserable state is borne by the wretched souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

Caccianli i ciel per non esser men belli,né lo profondo inferno li riceve,ch'alcuna gloria i rei avrebber d'elli.

Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out, but even Hell itself would not receive them for fear the wicked there might glory over them.
Encyclopedia
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante (IT: /'dante/; ˈdænti; ˈdɑːnteɪ; 1265–1321), was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature...

)
. His Divine Comedy, originally called and later called by Boccaccio, is considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 and a masterpiece of world literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

.

In Italy he is known as ("the Supreme Poet") or just . Dante, Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

, and Boccaccio are also known as "the three fountains" or "the three crowns". Dante is also called the "Father of the Italian language".

Life


Dante was born in Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. The exact date of Dante's birth is not known, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from autobiographic allusions in La Divina Commedia, "the Inferno
Inferno (Dante)
Inferno is the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through what is largely the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as...

" (Halfway through the journey we are living, implying that Dante was around 35 years old, as the average lifespan according to the Bible (Psalms 89:10, Vulgate) is 70 years; and as the imaginary travel took place in 1300, Dante must have been born around 1265). Some verses of the Paradiso section of the Divine Comedy also provide a possible clue that he was born under the sign of Gemini
Gemini (astrology)
Gemini is the third astrological sign in the Zodiac, which spans the Zodiac between the 60th and 89th degree of celestial longitude. Generally, the Sun transits this area of the zodiac between May 21 to June 20 each year...

: "As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious" (XXII 151-154). In 1265 the Sun was in Gemini approximately during the period 11 May to 11 June.


Dante claimed that his family descended from the ancient Romans (Inferno, XV, 76), but the earliest relative he could mention by name was Cacciaguida
Cacciaguida
Cacciaguida degli Elisei was an Italian crusader, the great-great-grandfather of Dante Alighieri.Little is known about his life. He was born in Florence, and two documents from 1189 and 1201 mention his existence; all other details of his biography are those from his most famous descendant's works...

 degli Elisei (Paradiso, XV, 135), of no earlier than about 1100. Dante's father, Alaghiero or Alighiero di Bellincione, was a White Guelph
Guelphs and Ghibellines
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states...

 who suffered no reprisals after the Ghibellines won the Battle of Montaperti
Battle of Montaperti
The Battle of Montaperti was fought on September 4, 1260, between Florence and Siena in Tuscany as part of the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines...

 in the middle of the 13th century. This suggests that Alighiero or his family enjoyed some protective prestige and status, although some suggest that the politically inactive Alighiero was of such low standing that he was not considered worth exiling.

Dante's family had loyalties to the Guelphs
Guelphs and Ghibellines
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states...

, a political alliance that supported the Papacy and which was involved in complex opposition to the Ghibellines
Guelphs and Ghibellines
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states...

, who were backed by the Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

. The poet's mother was Bella, likely a member of the Abati family. She died when Dante was not yet ten years old, and Alighiero soon married again, to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. It is uncertain whether he really married her, as widowers had social limitations in these matters, but this woman definitely bore two children, Dante's half-brother Francesco and half-sister Tana (Gaetana). When Dante was 12, he was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, daughter of Manetto Donati, member of the powerful Donati family. Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common and involved a formal ceremony, including contracts signed before a notary
Notary public
A notary public in the common law world is a public officer constituted by law to serve the public in non-contentious matters usually concerned with estates, deeds, powers-of-attorney, and foreign and international business...

. Dante had by this time fallen in love with another, Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice "Bice" di Folco Portinari was a Florentine woman known as the muse of the poet Dante Alighieri. Beatrice was the principal inspiration for Dante's Vita Nuova, and also appears as his guide in the Divine Comedy in the last book, Paradiso, and in the last four canti of Purgatorio...

 (known also as Bice), whom he first met when he was nine years old. Years after his marriage to Gemma, he claims to have met Beatrice again; although he wrote several sonnets to Beatrice, he never mentioned his wife Gemma in any of his poems. The exact date of his marriage is not known: the only certain information is that, before his exile in 1301 Dante had already three sons (Pietro, Iacopo and Antonia).

Dante fought with the Guelph cavalry at the Battle of Campaldino
Battle of Campaldino
The Battle of Campaldino was a battle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines on 11 June 1289. Mixed bands of pro-papal Guelf forces of Florence and allies, Pistoia, Lucca, Siena and Prato, all loosely commanded by the paid condottiero Amerigo di Narbona with his own professional following, met a...

 (June 11, 1289). This victory brought forth a reformation of the Florentine
Republic of Florence
The Republic of Florence , or the Florentine Republic, was a city-state that was centered on the city of Florence, located in modern Tuscany, Italy. The republic was founded in 1115, when the Florentine people rebelled against the Margraviate of Tuscany upon Margravine Matilda's death. The...

 constitution. To take any part in public life, one had to be enrolled in one of the city's many commercial or artisan guilds, so Dante entered the guild of physicians and apothecaries. In the following years, his name is occasionally found recorded as speaking or voting in the various councils of the republic. A substantial portion of minutes from such meetings from 1298-1300 were lost during World War II, however, and consequently the true extent of Dante's participation in the city's councils is somewhat uncertain.

Dante had several children with Gemma. As often happens with significant figures, many people subsequently claimed to be Dante's offspring; however, it is likely that Jacopo
Jacopo Alighieri
Jacopo Alighieri was an Italian poet, the son of Dante Alighieri, whom he followed in his exile. Jacopo's most famous work is his sixty-chapter Dottrinale.-Biography:...

, Pietro, Giovanni and Antonia were truly his children. Antonia later became a nun with the name of Sister Beatrice.

Education and poetry


Not much is known about Dante's education, and it is presumed he studied at home or in a chapter school attached to a church or monastery in Florence. It is known that he studied Tuscan
Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

 poetry, at a time when the Sicilian School
Sicilian School
The Sicilian School was a small community of Sicilian, and to a lesser extent, mainland Italian poets gathered around Frederick II, most of them belonging to his court, the Magna Curia. Headed by Giacomo da Lentini, they produced more than three-hundred poems of courtly love between 1230 and 1266,...

 (Scuola poetica Siciliana), a cultural group from Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, was becoming known in Tuscany. His interests brought him to discover the Provençal poetry of the troubadours and the Latin poetry of classical antiquity, including Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, and especially Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

.


Dante claims to have first met Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice "Bice" di Folco Portinari was a Florentine woman known as the muse of the poet Dante Alighieri. Beatrice was the principal inspiration for Dante's Vita Nuova, and also appears as his guide in the Divine Comedy in the last book, Paradiso, and in the last four canti of Purgatorio...

, daughter of Folco Portinari
Folco Portinari
Folco Portinari was an Italian banker.Born at Portico di Romagna, near Forlì, he was later prior of Florence in 1282. He was the father of Beatrice Portinari, the woman largely identified as the character loved by Dante and mentioned in several of his works...

, at age nine, and claims to have fallen in love "at first sight", apparently without even speaking to her. He saw her frequently after age 18, often exchanging greetings in the street, but he never knew her well; he effectively set the example for so-called courtly love
Courtly love
Courtly love was a medieval European conception of nobly and chivalrously expressing love and admiration. Generally, courtly love was secret and between members of the nobility. It was also generally not practiced between husband and wife....

, a phenomenon developed in French and Provençal poetry of the preceding centuries. Dante's experience of such love was typical, but his expression of it was unique. It was in the name of this love that Dante gave his imprint to the Dolce Stil Novo
Dolce Stil Novo
Dolce Stil Novo , or stilnovismo, is the name given to the most important literary movement of 13th century in Italy. Influenced by both Sicilian and Tuscan poetry, its main theme is Love . Gentilezza and Amore are indeed topoi in the major works of the period...

(Sweet New Style, a term which Dante himself coined) and would join other contemporary poets and writers in exploring the themes of Love (Amore), which had never been so emphasized before. Love for Beatrice (as in a different manner Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

 would show for his Laura) would apparently be the reason for poetry and for living, together with political passions. In many of his poems, she is depicted as semi-divine, watching over him constantly and providing spiritual instruction, sometimes harshly. When Beatrice died in 1290, Dante sought refuge in Latin literature. The Convivio
Convivio
Convivio is a work written by Dante Alighieri roughly between 1304 and 1307. It contains details of the author's growing interest in philosophy, particularly in reference to the works of Cicero and Boethius...

reveals that he had read Boethius's
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, commonly called Boethius was a philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius, was consul in 487 after...

 De consolatione philosophiae
Consolation of Philosophy
Consolation of Philosophy is a philosophical work by Boethius, written around the year 524. It has been described as the single most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity, and is also the last great Western work that can be called Classical.-...

and Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

's De amicitia
Laelius de Amicitia
Laelius de Amicitia — or simply De Amicitia — is a treatise on friendship by the Roman statesman and author Marcus Tullius Cicero.-Summary:...

. He then dedicated himself to philosophical studies at religious schools like the Dominican one in Santa Maria Novella. He took part in the disputes that the two principal mendicant orders (Franciscan
Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

 and Dominican
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

) publicly or indirectly held in Florence, the former explaining the doctrine of the mystics and of Saint Bonaventure
Bonaventure
Saint Bonaventure, O.F.M., , born John of Fidanza , was an Italian medieval scholastic theologian and philosopher. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also a Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the...

, the latter presenting Saint Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

' theories.

At 18, Dante met Guido Cavalcanti
Guido Cavalcanti
Guido Cavalcanti was a Florentine poet, as well as an intellectual influence on his best friend, Dante. His poems in their original Italian are available on Wikisource .-Historical background:...

, Lapo Gianni
Lapo Gianni
Lapo Gianni was an Italian poet who lived in Florence in the 13th-14th centuries. He was a member of the Florentine circle of the Italian movement called Dolce Stil Novo, and was probably a notary....

, Cino da Pistoia
Cino da Pistoia
Cino da Pistoia was an Italian jurist and poet.He was born in Pistoia, Tuscany. His full name was Guittoncino dei Sinibaldi de Candia Pistoia or, Latinised as Cinus de Sighibuldis, his father was from a noble man from the House of Sinibaldi and his mother a noble lady of the House of Candia Pistoia...

 and soon after Brunetto Latini
Brunetto Latini
Brunetto Latini was an Italian philosopher, scholar and statesman.-Life:...

; together they became the leaders of the Dolce Stil Novo. Brunetto later received a special mention in the Divine Comedy (Inferno, XV, 28), for what he had taught Dante.
Nor speaking less on that account, I go With Ser Brunetto, and I ask who are His most known and most eminent companions. Some fifty poetical components by Dante are known (the so-called Rime, rhymes), others being included in the later Vita Nuova and Convivio. Other studies are reported, or deduced from Vita Nuova or the Comedy, regarding painting and music.

Florence and politics


Dante, like most Florentines of his day, was embroiled in the Guelph-Ghibelline
Guelphs and Ghibellines
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states...

 conflict. He fought in the Battle of Campaldino
Battle of Campaldino
The Battle of Campaldino was a battle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines on 11 June 1289. Mixed bands of pro-papal Guelf forces of Florence and allies, Pistoia, Lucca, Siena and Prato, all loosely commanded by the paid condottiero Amerigo di Narbona with his own professional following, met a...

 (June 11, 1289), with the Florentine Guelphs against Arezzo
Arezzo
Arezzo is a city and comune in Central Italy, capital of the province of the same name, located in Tuscany. Arezzo is about 80 km southeast of Florence, at an elevation of 296 m above sea level. In 2011 the population was about 100,000....

 Ghibellines, then in 1294 he was among the escorts of Charles Martel of Anjou
Charles Martel of Anjou
Charles Martel of the Angevin dynasty, also known as Charles I Martel, was the eldest son of king Charles II of Naples and Maria of Hungary, the daughter of King Stephen V of Hungary....

 (grandson of Charles I of Naples, more commonly called Charles of Anjou) while he was in Florence. To further his political career, he became a pharmacist. He did not intend to actually practice as one, but a law issued in 1295 required that nobles who wanted public office had to be enrolled in one of the Corporazioni delle Arti e dei Mestieri, so Dante obtained admission to the apothecaries' guild. This profession was not entirely inapt, since at that time books were sold from apothecaries' shops. As a politician, he accomplished little, but he held various offices over a number of years in a city undergoing political unrest.
After defeating the Ghibellines, the Guelphs divided into two factions: the White Guelphs (Guelfi Bianchi) — Dante's party, led by Vieri dei Cerchi — and the Black Guelphs (Guelfi Neri), led by Corso Donati
Corso Donati
Corso Donati was a leader of the Black Guelph faction in 13th- and early 14th- century Florence.-Bologna and Pistoia:In the late thirteenth century, power in Florence and the other Tuscan cities was divided between the Podestà, an outsider who served as chief magistrate, and the guildmasters; Corso...

. Although initially the split was along family lines, ideological differences rose based on opposing views of the papal role in Florentine affairs, with the Blacks supporting the Pope and the Whites wanting more freedom from Rome. Initially the Whites were in power and expelled the Blacks. In response, Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII , born Benedetto Gaetani, was Pope of the Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303. Today, Boniface VIII is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in the Eighth circle of Hell in his Divina Commedia, among the Simonists.- Biography :Gaetani was born in 1235 in...

 planned a military occupation of Florence. In 1301, Charles of Valois
Charles of Valois
Charles of Valois was the fourth son of Philip III of France and Isabella of Aragon. His mother was a daughter of James I of Aragon and Yolande of Hungary. He was a member of the House of Capet and founded the House of Valois...

, brother of King Philip IV of France
Philip IV of France
Philip the Fair was, as Philip IV, King of France from 1285 until his death. He was the husband of Joan I of Navarre, by virtue of which he was, as Philip I, King of Navarre and Count of Champagne from 1284 to 1305.-Youth:A member of the House of Capet, Philip was born at the Palace of...

, was expected to visit Florence because the Pope had appointed him peacemaker for Tuscany
Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

. But the city's government had treated the Pope's ambassadors badly a few weeks before, seeking independence from papal influence. It was believed that Charles of Valois would eventually have received other unofficial instructions. So the council sent a delegation to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 to ascertain the Pope's intentions. Dante was one of the delegates.

Exile and death


Boniface quickly dismissed the other delegates and asked Dante alone to remain in Rome. At the same time (November 1, 1301), Charles of Valois entered Florence with the Black Guelphs, who in the next six days destroyed much of the city and killed many of their enemies. A new Black Guelph government was installed and Cante de' Gabrielli
Cante de' Gabrielli
Cante de' Gabrielli da Gubbio was an Italian nobleman and condottiero.-Biography:Cante was born in Gubbio to a powerful Guelph feudal family. He held several high offices as Podestà in a number of cities in Tuscany and Umbria and was lord of Gubbio, Cantiano and other castles...

 da Gubbio
Gubbio
Gubbio is a town and comune in the far northeastern part of the Italian province of Perugia . It is located on the lowest slope of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apennines. See also Mount Ingino Christmas Tree.-History:...

 was appointed podestà
Podestà
Podestà is the name given to certain high officials in many Italian cities, since the later Middle Ages, mainly as Chief magistrate of a city state , but also as a local administrator, the representative of the Emperor.The term derives from the Latin word potestas, meaning power...

of the city. Dante was condemned to exile for two years and ordered to pay a large fine. The poet was still in Rome where the Pope had "suggested" he stay and was therefore considered an absconder. He did not pay the fine in part because he believed he was not guilty and in part because all his assets in Florence had been seized by the Black Guelphs. He was condemned to perpetual exile, and if he returned to Florence without paying the fine, he could be burned at the stake. (The city council of Florence finally passed a motion rescinding Dante's sentence in June 2008.)

He took part in several attempts by the White Guelphs to regain power, but these failed due to treachery. Dante, bitter at the treatment he received from his enemies, also grew disgusted with the infighting and ineffectiveness of his erstwhile allies and vowed to become a party of one. Dante went to Verona as a guest of Bartolomeo I della Scala
Bartolomeo I della Scala
Bartolomeo I della Scala was lord of Verona from 1301, a member of the Scaliger family.The son of Alberto I della Scala, Bartolomeo succeeded him after his death in 1301. He had married in 1291 Constance of Hohenstaufen, daughter of Corrado d'Antiochia.Bartolomeo died in 1304. His brother Alboino...

, then moved to Sarzana
Sarzana
Sarzana is a town and comune in the Province of La Spezia, of Liguria, Italy, 15 km east of Spezia, on the railway to Pisa, at the point where the railway to Parma diverges to the north...

 in Liguria
Liguria
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy, the third smallest of the Italian regions. Its capital is Genoa. It is a popular region with tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque little towns, and good food.-Geography:...

. Later, he is supposed to have lived in Lucca
Lucca
Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany, central Italy, situated on the river Serchio in a fertile plainnear the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Lucca...

 with a lady called Gentucca, who made his stay comfortable (and was later gratefully mentioned in Purgatorio, XXIV, 37). Some speculative sources claim he visited Paris between 1308 and 1310 and others, even less trustworthy, take him to Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

: these claims, first occurring in Boccaccio's book on Dante several decades after his death, seem inspired by readers being impressed with the poet's wide learning and erudition. Evidently Dante's command of philosophy and his literary interests deepened in exile, when he was no longer busy with the day-to-day business of Florentine domestic politics, and this is evidenced in his prose writings in this period, but there is no real indication that he ever left Italy. Despite these years of disputed whereabouts, Dante's Immensa Dei dilectione testante to Henry VII of Luxembourg confirms his residence "beneath the springs of Arno, near Tuscany" in March of 1311.
In 1310, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII
Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor
Henry VII was the King of Germany from 1308 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1312. He was the first emperor of the House of Luxembourg...

 of Luxembourg
Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

 marched 5,000 troops into Italy. Dante saw in him a new Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 who would restore the office of the Holy Roman Emperor to its former glory and also re-take Florence from the Black Guelphs. He wrote to Henry and several Italian princes, demanding that they destroy the Black Guelphs. Mixing religion and private concerns, he invoked the worst anger of God against his city and suggested several particular targets that coincided with his personal enemies. It was during this time that he wrote De Monarchia
De Monarchia
De Monarchia is a treatise on secular and religious power by Dante Alighieri. With this Latin text, the poet intervened in one of the most controversial subjects of his period: the relationship between secular authority and religious authority...

, proposing a universal monarchy
Universal Monarchy
A Universal Monarchy is a concept and a political situation where one monarchy is deemed to have either sole rule over everywhere or to have a special supremacy over all other states .-Concept:Universal Monarchy is differentiated from ordinary monarchy in...

 under Henry VII.

At some point during his exile, he conceived of the Comedy, but the date cannot be specified. The work is much more assured, and on a larger scale, than anything he had produced in Florence, and it is likely that he would have undertaken such a work only after he realized that his personal political ambitions, which had been central to him up to his banishment, would have to be put on hold for some time, possibly forever. It is also noticeable that Beatrice has returned to his imagination with renewed force and with a wider meaning than in the Vita Nuova; in Convivio (written c.1304-07) he had declared that the memory of this youthful romance belonged to the past. One of the earliest outside indications that the poem was under way is a notice by the law professor Francesco da Barberino, tucked into his I Documenti d'Amore (Lessons of Love) and written probably in 1314 or early 1315: speaking of Virgil, da Barberino notes in appreciative words that Dante followed the Roman classic in a poem called the Comedy, and that the setting of this poem (or part of it) was the underworld, that is, Hell. The brief note gives no incontestable indication that he himself had seen or read even Inferno, or that this part had been published at the time, but it indicates that composition was well under way and that the sketching of the poem may likely have begun some years before. We know that Inferno had been published by 1317; this is established by quoted lines interspersed in the margins of contemporary dated records from Bologna
Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

, but there is no certainty whether the three parts of the poem were published each part in full or a few cantos at a time. Paradiso seems to have been published posthumously.

In Florence, Baldo d'Aguglione pardoned most of the White Guelphs in exile and allowed them to return; however, Dante had gone too far in his violent letters to Arrigo (Henry VII), and the sentence on him was not recalled.

In 1312, Henry assaulted Florence and defeated the Black Guelphs, but there is no evidence that Dante was involved. Some say he refused to participate in the assault on his city by a foreigner; others suggest that he had become unpopular with the White Guelphs too and that any trace of his passage had carefully been removed. In 1313, Henry VII died (from fever), and with him any hope for Dante to see Florence again. He returned to Verona, where Cangrande I della Scala
Cangrande I della Scala
Cangrande della Scala was an Italian nobleman, the most celebrated of the della Scala family which ruled Verona from 1277 until 1387. Now perhaps best known as the leading patron of the poet Dante Alighieri, Cangrande was in his own day chiefly acclaimed as a successful warrior and autocrat...

 allowed him to live in a certain security and, presumably, in a fair amount of prosperity. Cangrande was admitted to Dante's Paradise (Paradiso, XVII, 76).

In 1315, Florence was forced by Uguccione della Faggiuola
Uguccione della Faggiuola
Uguccione della Faggiuola was an Italian condottiero, and chief magistrate of Pisa, Lucca and Forlì .-Biography:...

 (the military officer controlling the town) to grant an amnesty to people in exile, including Dante. But Florence required that as well as paying a steep sum of money, these exiles would do public penance
Penance
Penance is repentance of sins as well as the proper name of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Anglican Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation/Confession. It also plays a part in non-sacramental confession among Lutherans and other Protestants...

. Dante refused, preferring to remain in exile. When Uguccione defeated Florence, Dante's death sentence was commuted to house arrest, on condition that he go to Florence to swear that he would never enter the town again. Dante refused to go. His death sentence was confirmed and extended to his sons. Dante still hoped late in life that he might be invited back to Florence on honorable terms. For Dante, exile was nearly a form of death, stripping him of much of his identity and his heritage. He addresses the pain of exile in Paradiso, XVII (55-60), where Cacciaguida, his great-great-grandfather, warns him what to expect:
... Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta ... You shall leave everything you love most:
più caramente; e questo è quello strale this is the arrow that the bow of exile
che l'arco de lo essilio pria saetta. shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
Tu proverai sì come sa di sale of others' bread, how salty it is, and know
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle how hard a path it is for one who goes
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale ... ascending and descending others' stairs ...


As for the hope of returning to Florence, he describes it as if he had already accepted its impossibility, (Paradiso, XXV, 1–9):
Se mai continga che 'l poema sacro If it ever come to pass that the sacred poem
al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra, to which both heaven and earth have set their hand
sì che m'ha fatto per molti anni macro, so as to have made me lean for many years
vinca la crudeltà che fuor mi serra should overcome the cruelty that bars me
del bello ovile ov'io dormi' agnello, from the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb,
nimico ai lupi che li danno guerra; an enemy to the wolves that make war on it,
con altra voce omai, con altro vello with another voice now and other fleece
ritornerò poeta, e in sul fonte I shall return a poet and at the font
del mio battesmo prenderò 'l cappello ... of my baptism take the laurel crown
Laurel wreath
A laurel wreath is a circular wreath made of interlocking branches and leaves of the bay laurel , an aromatic broadleaf evergreen. In Greek mythology, Apollo is represented wearing a laurel wreath on his head...

 ...

Prince Guido Novello da Polenta invited him to Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

 in 1318, and he accepted. He finished the Paradiso, and died in 1321 (at the age of 56) while returning to Ravenna from a diplomatic mission to Venice, possibly of malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 contracted there. Dante was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore (later called San Francesco). Bernardo Bembo, praetor
Praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

 of Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 in 1483, took care of his remains by building a better tomb.


On the grave, some verses of Bernardo Canaccio, a friend of Dante, dedicated to Florence:
parvi Florentia mater amoris
"Florence, mother of little love"


The first formal biography of Dante was the Vita di Dante (also known as Trattatello in laude di Dante) written after 1348 by Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, a friend, student, and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular...

; several statements and episodes of it are seen as unreliable by modern research. However, an earlier account of Dante's life and works had been included in the Nuova Cronica
Nuova Cronica
The Nuova Cronica or New Chronicles is a 14th century history of Florence created in a year-by-year linear format and written by the Florentine banker and official Giovanni Villani...

of the Florentine chronicler Giovanni Villani
Giovanni Villani
Giovanni Villani was an Italian banker, official, diplomat and chronicler from Florence who wrote the Nuova Cronica on the history of Florence. He was a leading statesman of Florence but later gained an unsavory reputation and served time in prison as a result of the bankruptcy of a trading and...

.

Eventually, Florence came to regret Dante's exile, and made repeated requests for the return of his remains. The custodians of the body at Ravenna refused to comply, at one point going so far as to conceal the bones in a false wall of the monastery. Nevertheless, in 1829, a tomb was built for him in Florence in the basilica of Santa Croce
Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze
The Basilica di Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, Italy, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 metres south east of the Duomo. The site, when first chosen, was in marshland outside the city walls...

. That tomb has been empty
Cenotaph
A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάφιον = kenotaphion...

 ever since, with Dante's body remaining in Ravenna, far from the land he loved so dearly. The front of his tomb in Florence reads Onorate l'altissimo poeta—which roughly translates as "Honour the most exalted poet". The phrase is a quote from the fourth canto of the Inferno, depicting Virgil's welcome as he returns among the great ancient poets spending eternity in Limbo. The continuation of the line, L'ombra sua torna, ch'era dipartita ("his spirit, which had left us, returns"), is poignantly absent from the empty tomb.

In 2007, a reconstruction of Dante's face was completed in a collaborative project. Artists from Pisa University and engineers at the University of Bologna at Forli completed the revealing model, which indicated that Dante's features were somewhat different than was once thought.

Works

See also Works by Dante Alighieri.

The Divine Comedy describes Dante's journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso), guided first by the Roman poet Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 and then by Beatrice
Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice "Bice" di Folco Portinari was a Florentine woman known as the muse of the poet Dante Alighieri. Beatrice was the principal inspiration for Dante's Vita Nuova, and also appears as his guide in the Divine Comedy in the last book, Paradiso, and in the last four canti of Purgatorio...

, the subject of his love and of another of his works, La Vita Nuova
La Vita Nuova
La Vita Nuova is a medieval text written by Dante Alighieri in 1295. It is an expression of the medieval genre of courtly love in a prosimetrum style, a combination of both prose and verse...

. While the vision of Hell, the Inferno, is vivid for modern readers, the theological niceties presented in the other books require a certain amount of patience and knowledge to appreciate. Purgatorio, the most lyrical and human of the three, also has the most poets in it; Paradiso, the most heavily theological, has the most beautiful and ecstatic mystic passages in which Dante tries to describe what he confesses he is unable to convey (e.g., when Dante looks into the face of God: "all'alta fantasia qui mancò possa"—"at this high moment, ability failed my capacity to describe," Paradiso, XXXIII, 142).


By its serious purpose, its literary stature and the range—both stylistically and in subject matter—of its content, the Comedy soon became a cornerstone in the evolution of Italian as an established literary language. Dante was more aware than most earlier Italian writers of the variety of Italian dialects and of the need to create a literature beyond the limits of Latin writing at the time, and a unified literary language; in that sense he is a forerunner of the renaissance with its effort to create vernacular literature in competition with earlier classical writers. Dante's in-depth knowledge (within the realms of the time) of Roman antiquity and his evident admiration for some aspects of pagan Rome also point forward to the 15th century. Ironically, while he was widely honoured in the centuries after his death, the Comedy slipped out of fashion among men of letters: too medieval, too rough and tragical and not stylistically refined in the respects that the high and late renaissance came to demand of literature.

He wrote the Comedy in a language he called "Italian", in some sense an amalgamated literary language mostly based on the regional dialect of Tuscany, with some elements of Latin and of the other regional dialects. The aim was to deliberately reach a readership throughout Italy, both laymen, clergymen and other poets. By creating a poem of epic structure and philosophic purpose, he established that the Italian language
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 was suitable for the highest sort of expression. In French, Italian is sometimes nicknamed la langue de Dante. Publishing in the vernacular language marked Dante as one of the first (among others such as Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 and Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, a friend, student, and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular...

) to break free from standards of publishing in only Latin (the language of liturgy
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

, history, and scholarship in general, but often also of lyric poetry). This break set a precedent and allowed more literature to be published for a wider audience—setting the stage for greater levels of literacy in the future. However, unlike Boccaccio, Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

 or Ariosto, Dante didn't really become an author read all over Europe until the romantic era. To the romantics, Dante, like Homer and Shakespeare, was a prime example of the "original genius" who sets his own rules, creates persons of overpowering stature and depth and goes far beyond any imitation of the patterns of earlier masters and who, in turn, cannot really be imitated. Throughout the 19th century, Dante's reputation grew and solidified, and by the time of the 1865 jubilee, he had become solidly established as one of the greatest literary icons of the Western world.
Readers often cannot understand how such a serious work may be called a "comedy". In Dante's time, all serious scholarly works were written in Latin (a tradition that would persist for several hundred years more, until the waning years of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

) and works written in any other language were assumed to be more trivial in nature.
Furthermore, the word "comedy
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

", in the classical sense, refers to works which reflect belief in an ordered universe, in which events not only tended towards a happy or "amusing" ending, but an ending influenced by a Providential will that orders all things to an ultimate good. By this meaning of the word, as Dante himself wrote in a letter to Cangrande I della Scala
Cangrande I della Scala
Cangrande della Scala was an Italian nobleman, the most celebrated of the della Scala family which ruled Verona from 1277 until 1387. Now perhaps best known as the leading patron of the poet Dante Alighieri, Cangrande was in his own day chiefly acclaimed as a successful warrior and autocrat...

, the progression of the pilgrimage from Hell to Paradise is the paradigmatic expression of comedy, since the work begins with the pilgrim's moral confusion and ends with the vision of God.

Dante's other works include the Convivio
Convivio
Convivio is a work written by Dante Alighieri roughly between 1304 and 1307. It contains details of the author's growing interest in philosophy, particularly in reference to the works of Cicero and Boethius...

("The Banquet") a collection of his longest poems with an (unfinished) allegorical commentary; Monarchia, a summary treatise of political philosophy in Latin, which was condemned and burned after Dante's death by the Papal Legate Bertrando del Poggetto, which argues for the necessity of a universal or global monarchy in order to establish universal peace in this life, and this monarchy's relationship to the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 as guide to eternal peace; De vulgari eloquentia
De vulgari eloquentia
De vulgari eloquentia is the title of an essay by Dante Alighieri, written in Latin and initially meant to consist of four books, but abandoned in the middle of the second. It was probably composed shortly after Dante went into exile; internal evidence points to a date between 1302 and 1305...

("On the Eloquence of Vernacular"), on vernacular literature, partly inspired by the Razos de trobar of Raimon Vidal de Bezaudun
Raimon Vidal de Bezaudun
Raimon Vidal de Bezaudu was a Catalan troubadour from Besalù. He is famous for authoring the first poetical tract in a Romance language , the Razós de trobar...

; and, La Vita Nuova
La Vita Nuova
La Vita Nuova is a medieval text written by Dante Alighieri in 1295. It is an expression of the medieval genre of courtly love in a prosimetrum style, a combination of both prose and verse...

("The New Life"), the story of his love for Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice Portinari
Beatrice "Bice" di Folco Portinari was a Florentine woman known as the muse of the poet Dante Alighieri. Beatrice was the principal inspiration for Dante's Vita Nuova, and also appears as his guide in the Divine Comedy in the last book, Paradiso, and in the last four canti of Purgatorio...

, who also served as the ultimate symbol of salvation in the Comedy. The Vita Nuova contains many of Dante's love poems in Tuscan, which was not unprecedented; the vernacular had been regularly used for lyric works before, during all the thirteenth century. One of the most famous poems is Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare, which many Italians can recite by heart. However, Dante's commentary on his own work is also in the vernacular—both in the Vita Nuova and in the Convivio—instead of the Latin that was almost universally used. References to Divina Commedia are in the format (book, canto, verse), e.g., (Inferno, XV, 76).

Sources

  • Gardner, Edmund Garratt
    Edmund Garratt Gardner
    Edmund Garratt Gardner FBA was an English scholar and writer, specializing in Italian history and literature. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he was regarded as one of the foremost British Dante scholars.-Career:...

     (1921). Dante, London, Pub. for the British academy by H. Milford, Oxford University Press.
  • Hede, Jesper. (2007). Reading Dante: The Pursuit of Meaning. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
  • Scott, John A. (1996). Dante's Political Purgatory, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Seung, T. K.
    T. K. Seung
    T. K. Seung is a Korean American philosopher and literary critic. His academic interests cut across diverse philosophical and literary subjects, including ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, cultural hermeneutics, and ancient Chinese philosophy....

    (1962). The Fragile Leaves of the Sibyl: Dante's Master Plan. Westminster, MD: Newman Press.
  • Toynbee, Paget (1898) A Dictionary of the Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. London, The Clarendon Press.
  • Whiting, Mary Bradford (1922). Dante the Man and the Poet. Cambridge, England. W. Heffer & Sons, ltd.
  • Allitt, John Stewart. (2011). Dante, il Pellegrino, Villa di Serio (BG), Edizioni Villadiseriane (in Italian).

External links