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poet best known for his Divine Comedy
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265, into a notable family of modest means. His mother died when he was 7, and his father when he was about 18. He received an excellent education in classical and religious subjects, most likely in Bologna, Padua, and Paris.
Many of Dante's literary works were inspired by a beautiful girl named Beatrice Portinari. He only saw her twice, once when he was 9 and again nine years later, but was still grief-stricken when she died in 1290. Despite his grief, he married Gemma Donati (to whom had been betrothed at 12) sometime before 1294; the couple had at least three children.
Dante was active in the political and military life of Florence. He entered the army as a youth and held several important government positions in the 1290's, during which time he also worked as a pharmacist, philosopher, and poet. Like many Florentines, he became involved in the rivalry between the Guelphs (supporters of the Papacy) and the Ghibellines (supporters of the German emperor), who were fighting for control of Tuscany. As had his family, Dante sided with the Guelphs, who eventually gained control of Florence. The Guelphs themselves soon split into two factions, but this time Dante found himself on the losing side. Dante was exiled by the winning faction in 1302, and threatened with death if he ever returned. After spending a few years wandering Italy, he settled in Ravena, where he died in 1321.
The best known of Dante's early works is La Vita Nuova (The New Life). Written about 1293, it is a collection of 31 poems with prose comments describing his love for Beatrice.
About 1303 and 1304, Dante wrote De Vulgari Eloquentia (On Writing in the Italian Language). This work in Latin prose stresses the importance of writing in a common Italian language, rather than in Latin or a minor dialect. Dante hoped that the Italians would develop a national literary language to help unite the country.
Il Convivo (The Banquet), 1304-1307, is an unfinished work in Italian consisting of three odes, with long, detailed comments on each. The work is filled with his wide knowledge of philosophy and science.
De Monarchia (On Monarchy), written about 1313, is a long essay in Latin prose that calls for a state in the form of the Holy Roman Empire to join with the church in guiding people to a better life on earth and joy in heaven.
The work for which Dante is best known, La Commedia (Divine Comedy) was begun about 1300 and completed just before his death. The poem's main theme is life after death, and Dante himself is the chief character. It is divided into three main sections -- the Inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradisio (Paradise). Dante called the work simply Commedia (Comedy) because it ends happily; later generations added the word Divine. The poem follows his own allegorical journey through the afterlife, guided first by Roman poet Virgil and, toward the end, by Beatrice. Written in vernacular Latin instead of the more then-acceptable Latin or Greek, La Commedia reached a very wide audience, quite possibly making Dante the most widely read author of his day.
This page was last updated on 01/24/2017.