Dante Alighieri in summary: life and works of the author of the Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieriborn in Florence In the 1265 and died at Ravenna In the 1321, is the most important and famous author of Italian literature (it is no coincidence that he is also called the “Great Poet”) and is considered one of the fathers of the Italian language. He was a poet and writer of works both in Latin and in the vernacular, but also a politician, a fact that made his life rather tormented to the point of forcing him to live in exile for more than twenty years. He was one of the poets of Dolce Stil Novo and in his verses he expressed love, purely spiritual, for Beatrice. He was also one of the first men of letters to understand the potential of vulgar language (“predecessor” of Italian). He is famous above all as the author of “Divine” Comedythe famous poem which, in one hundred songs, tells the journey through the three realms of the Underworld: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

The life of Dante Alighieri: youth and political career

Dante was born in Florence, almost certainly in the year 1265. His family, that of the Alighieri, was noble, but did not belong to the most powerful aristocratic elite. As a young man, Dante studied with private tutors and had the opportunity to attend Brunetto Latini, a poet and scholar of great fame. He was also involved in the political struggles which took place in Florence. The citizenry was divided between the factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, who – schematizing a more complex situation – had different positions regarding which of the two highest political authorities of medieval Europe should prevail over the other: the pope, supported by the Guelphs, or the emperor, in whose favor the Ghibellines. The Guelphs were in turn divided into two factions: black and white. Dante belonged to the White Guelphs. In his youth he participated in some military campaigns and later entered politics: he was part of an important magistracy, the Council of the Captain of the People, and in 1300 he was appointed for two months prior (political representative of the arts and corporations).

Dante in a fresco by Luca Signorelli

The exile

In 1301, when Pope Boniface VIII asked Charles III of Valois to intervene in Florence, Dante was part of aembassy sent to Rome to convince the pontiff to desist from his intentions. The mission, however, failed: while the poet was in Rome, Charles occupied Florence and favored the rise to power of the black Guelphs, who started a persecution against the whites.

Dante was sentenced to death in absentia and was unable to return to his city, remaining exile for the rest of his life. He lived for a period at various courts in central Italy and in 1313 he moved to Verona, guest of Cangrande della Scala, the lord of the city. In 1318 he moved to Ravennawhere he died in 1321.

Dante's tomb in Ravenna (credits ThePhotografer)

Beatrice and the Dolce stil novo

Dante was one of the main authors of Dolce Stil Novoa poetic current based on the concept of“spiritual” love, in which the beloved woman had the function of intermediary between earth and heaven. The woman Dante loved was Beatrice (almost certainly to be identified with Bice Portinari, three years younger than him). It was a purely spiritual love, which pushed the poet to make Beatrice his inspiring muse. Dante, however, got married to another woman, Gemma Donatiwith whom he had three (or perhaps four) children.

Dante and Beatrice (painting by H. Holiday, 1883)

The divine” Comedy

The work for which Dante is best known is the Comedy (this was the title given to it by the author; the adjective “Divine” was added later), written in the years of exile (approximately between 1304 and 1321) and considered the greatest masterpiece of Italian literature.

The figure of Charon, illustrated by Gustavo Doré

The Comedy tells the journey into the Underworld made by the poet. The work is divided into 100 songs, each of which is composed of a number of hendecasyllables (lines of eleven syllables) between 115 and 160 in alternating triplets with chained rhyme. The first canto serves as an introduction, the other ninety-nine make up the three cantos into which the work is divided: Hell, Purgatory and Paradiseeach composed of 33 songs.

In the first two cantos Dante is accompanied by Virgilthe famous Latin poet author ofAeneid, in the last from Beatrice. Crossing the three realms of the Underworld, the poet converses with numerous personagesexposing his conceptions of politics, literature, philosophy and life.

There Comedy is known throughout the world and has had a influence huge on Italian culture. Some verses have entered the collective imagination of the country: the incipit (In the middle of our life's journey), the last verse of Inferno (And then we went out to see the stars again) and many others.

If Dante had not existed, the Italian language and our conception of the Middle Ages would certainly be different.

Dante's other works

Dante was the author of works both in Latin (language used by scholars), both in vulgar, the language of the people, from which modern Italian derives. Among the best known works in the vernacular it should be mentioned The new life, a prosimeter (i.e. a work partly in poetry and partly in prose), which collects lyrics dedicated to love and Beatrice. Other poems by Dante were included in the collection of Rhymes. Also very important is a philosophical writing, the Conviviocomposed of four treatises, one of which is introductory and three dedicated to the love of philosophy, the happiness it gives to men and the nature of nobility.

Among the works in Latin, the political treatise is particularly important De Monarchiain which Dante argued that temporal power should be administered by the emperor and not by the Church.

Dante and the Italian language

At Dante's time it had already existed for several centuries literature in the vernacularbut the Florentine poet was among the main promoters of the “new” language, to which he dedicated one of his most famous works, the De Vulgari Eloquentia, to highlight its potential and beauty. For this reason, and for the great importance of his works, Dante is considered the father of the Italian language.