was a Florentine poet. His greatest work, The Divine Comedy, is considered
the greatest literary statement produced in Europe in the medieval period,
and the basis of the modern Italian language. The essence of Dante's
philosophy is that all virtues and all vices proceed from love. Dante
may be said to have made Italian poetry, and to have stamped the mark
of his lofty and commanding personality upon all modern literature.
born in circa
May 29, 1265 – died, September 14, 1321. He says he was
born under the sign of Gemini, placing his birthday in May or June.
His own statement in the "Paradiso" (xxii, 112-117) that he
was born when the sun was in Gemini, fixes his birthday between 18 May
and 17 June.
He was born into
the prominent Alighieri family of Florence, and Dante asserted his family
descended from the ancient Romans (but the earliest relative he can
mention by name is of no earlier a date than about 1100). Dante's mother
died when Dante was 5 or 6 years old, and his father soon married, or
at least bore two children, Dante's half-brother Francesco and sister
When Dante was 12,
in 1277, he was promised in marriage to Gemma, daughter of Messer Manetto
Donati. Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common, and
was an important ceremony, requiring formal deeds signed before a notary.
Dante had several sons with Gemma. While uncertain, it seems there were
just three children, Jacopo, Pietro, and Antonia
Not much is known
about Dante's education, and it is presumed he studied at home. We know
he studied Tuscan poetry, His interests brought him to discover Provençal
minstrels and poets, and Latin culture (with an obvious particular devotion
to Virgil). When
18, he met others and with them became leaders of Dolce Stil Nuovo (The
Sweet New Style).
When he was nine
years old he met Beatrice Portinari, the daughter of Folco Portinari,
with whom he fell in love "at first sight", and apparently
without even having spoken to her. He saw her frequently after age 18,
often exchanging greetings in the street, but he never knew her well.
It is hard to decipher of what this love consisted, but something extremely
important for Italian culture was happening: as it is in the sign of
this love that Dante gave his imprint to the Stil Novo and would lead
poets and writers to discover the themes of Love (Amore), which had
never been so emphasized before. Love for Beatrice (as in a different
manner Petrarca would show for his Laura) would apparently be the reason
for poetry and for living, together with political passions.
After the death
of Beatrice in 1290, he plunged into intense study of classical philosophy
and Provençal poetry. This woman, thought to have been Beatrice
Portinari, was Dante’s acknowledged source of spiritual inspiration.
Dante married Gemma
Donati, had three children, and was active (1295–1300) as councilman,
elector, and prior of Florence. In the complex politics of Florence,
he found himself increasingly opposed to the temporal power of Pope
Boniface VIII, and he eventually allied himself with the White Guelphs.
After the victory of the Black Guelphs he was dispossessed and banished
(1302). Exile made Dante a citizen of all Italy; he served various princes,
but supported Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII as the potential savior of
a united Italy. He died at the court of Guido da Polenta in Ravenna,
where he is buried.
few years before his exile Dante had married Gemma di Manetto Donati,
a distant kinswoman of Corso, by whom he had four children. He never
saw his wife again; but his sons, Pietro and Jacopo, and one of his
daughters, Beatrice, joined him in later years.
he made common cause with his fellow-exiles at Siena, Arezzo, and Forli,
in attempting to win his way back to Florence with the aid of Ghibelline
arms. Dante's name occurs in a document of 8 June, 1302 among the exiled
Bianchi who at San Godenzo in the Apennines were forming an alliance
with the Ubaldini to make war upon the Florentine Republic; but, in
a similar agreement signed at Bologna on 18 June, 1303, he no longer
appears among them. Between these two dates he had made his resolution
to form a party by himself (Par., xvii, 61-68), and had sought refuge
in the hospitality of Bartolommeo della Scala, the lord of Verona, where
he first saw Can Grande della Scala, Bartolommeo's younger brother,
then a boy of fourteen years, who became the hero of his later days.
now withdrew from all active participation in politics.
denunciation of the ecclesiastical corruption of his times, and his
condemnation of most of the contemporary popes (including the canonized
Celestine V) to hell have led to some questioning as to the poet's attitude
towards the Church.
as the outstanding figure of Italian letters rests mainly on the Divine
Comedy, a long vernacular poem in 100 cantos (more than 14,000 lines)
composed during his exile. Dante entitled it Commedia; the adjective
Divina was added in the 16th cent. It recounts the tale of the poet’s
journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and is divided accordingly
into three parts.
A magnificent synthesis
of the medieval outlook, the Divine Comedy pictures a changeless universe
ordered by God; its allegorical theme is the gradual revelation of God
to the pilgrim. It is also a religious dialogue on the gradations of
earthly sin and piety as well as on such topics as predestination and
classical philosophy. The symbolism is complex yet highly rational;
the verse is musical; and the entire work is one of great imagination.
Through his masterpiece Dante established Tuscan as the literary language
of Italy, surpassed all previous Italian writers, and gave rise to a