Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Was a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His “Divine Comedy” (Divina Commedia), originally called “Comedìa” and later christened Divina by Boccaccio, is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. In the late Middle Ages, the overwhelming majority of poetry was written in Latin, and therefore accessible only to affluent and educated audiences. In “De vulgari eloquentia” (On Eloquence in the Vernacular), however, Dante defended use of the vernacular in literature.

At 20 years old, he married Gemma Di Manetto Donati, belonging to a side branch of a large noble family, from which he will have four children. In 1292, two years after Beatrice’s death from puerperal complications, Dante began to write “La Vita Nuova”. At the same time, he engages in the turbulent political life of that time, imagining in the person of the “Holy Roman Empire” King the myth of a possible political unity.

While Dante was at Rome, summoned by Pope Boniface VIII, the “black Guelphs” faction took political power in Florence. Dante is prohibited from entering the city and is sentenced to a sharp fine. Not having the required amount, Alighieri is sentenced to death if he will ever return to Florence. Convinced that he was deceived, Dante will reserve a special place to Pope Boniface VIII in one of the “Inferno” circles from “The Divine Comedy”.

“The Divine Comedy” describes Dante’s journey through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. He is first guided by the Roman poet Virgil and then by Beatrice, the subject of his love and of another of his works, “La Vita Nuova”. While the vision of the Inferno is vivid for most modern readers, the theological niceties presented in the other books require a certain amount of patience and knowledge to appreciate. “Purgatorio” is arguably the most lyrical of the three, referencing more contemporary poets and artists than “Inferno”. “Paradiso” is the most heavily theological, and the one in which, many scholars have argued, the “Divine Comedy”‘s most beautiful and mystic passages appear.

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