(b. c. May 21–June 20, 1265, Florence, Italy—d. Sept. 13/14, 1321, Ravenna)
Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker who is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy).
Public Career and Exile
Dante was of noble ancestry, and his life was shaped by the conflict between the papal and imperial partisans called, respectively, Guelfs and Ghibellines. When an opposing political faction within the Guelfs (Dante’s party) gained ascendancy in Florence, he was called in January 1302 to appear before the new government and, failing to do so, was condemned for crimes he had not committed. Again failing to appear some weeks later, Dante and others within his party were condemned to be burned to death. He soon after went into exile and never again returned to Florence. His great friendship with the poet Guido Cavalcanti shaped Dante’s later career. More important, however, was Beatrice, a fi gure in whom Dante created one of the most celebrated fi ctionalized women in all of literature. La vita nuova ( c. 1293; The New Life ) tells a simple story: Dante’s fi rst sight of Beatrice when both are nine years of age, her salutation when they are 18, Dante’s expedients to conceal his love for her, the crisis experienced when Beatrice withholds her greeting, Dante’s anguish that she is making light of him, his determination to rise above anguish and sing only of his lady’s virtues, anticipations of her death, and fi nally the death of Beatrice, Dante’s mourning, the temptation of the sympathetic donna gentile (a young woman who temporarily replaces Beatrice), Beatrice’s final triumph and apotheosis, and, in the last chapter, Dante’s determination to write at some later time about her “that which has never been written of any woman.” Yet with all of this apparently autobiographical purpose, the Vita nuova is strangely impersonal. The circumstances it sets down are markedly devoid of any historical facts or descriptive detail (thus making it pointless to engage in too much debate as to the exact historical identity of Beatrice). Vita nuova is the first of two collections of verse that Dante made in his lifetime, the other being the Il convivio (c. 1304–07; The Banquet). Each is a prosimetrum, that is, a work composed of verse and prose. In each case the prose is a device for binding together poems composed over about a 10 year period. The Vita nuova brought together Dante’s poetic efforts from before 1283 to roughly 1292–93; the Convivio, a bulkier and more ambitious work, contains Dante’s most important poetic compositions from just prior to 1294 to the time of The Divine Comedy. The Convivio was among the works he wrote during his difficult years of exile. In it Dante’s mature political and philosophical system is nearly complete. He makes his first stirring defense of the imperial tradition and, more specifically, of the Roman Empire. He introduces the crucial concept of horme, that is, of an innate desire that prompts the soul to return to God. The soul, however, requires proper education through examples and doctrine; otherwise it can become misdirected toward worldly aims and society torn apart by its destructive power. Through the Convivio Dante felt able to explain the chaos into which Italy had been plunged, and it moved him, in hopes of remedying these conditions, to take up the epic task of The Divine Comedy. During this time Dante also began work on the unfinished De vulgari eloquentia (c. 1304–07; Concerning Vernacular Eloquence), a companion piece to the Convivio; written in Latin, it is primarily a practical treatise in the art of poetry based upon an elevated poetic language and is one of the first great Renaissance defenses of vernacular Italian. De monarchia (c. 1313; On Monarchy), one of Dante’s greatest polemical treatises, expands the political arguments of the Convivio.
In this long poetic work , Dante describing the three domains of the life to come, Inferno ( Hell ) , Purgatory ( Place between Hell and paradise), Paradise. Begun c.1307, it was completed shortly before his death in 1321. The poet is guided by Virgil through the circles of hell to the rim of purgatory, and in company with Beatrice is granted a glimpse of the beatific vision.
o, such as a sevenfold division of Paradise, although this is not unique to the Kitab al Miraj.
Some “superficial similarities” of the Divine Comedy to the Resalat Al-Ghufran or Epistle of Forgiveness of Al-Ma’arri have also been mentioned in this debate. The Resalat Al-Ghufran describes the journey of the poet in the realms of the afterlife and includes dialogue with people in Heaven and Hell, although, unlike the Kitab al Miraj, there is little description of these locations, and it is unlikely that Dante borrowed from this work.
Although the Divine Comedy is primarily a religious poem, discussing sin, virtue, and theology, Dante also discusses several elements of the science of his day (this mixture of science with poetry has received both praise and blame over the centuries). The Purgatorio repeatedly refers to the implications of a spherical Earth, such as the different stars visible in the southern hemisphere, the altered position of the sun, and the various timezones of the Earth. For example, at sunset in Purgatory it is midnight at the Ebro (a river in Spain), dawn in Jerusalem, and noon on the River Ganges
In his final years Dante was received honourably in many noble houses in the north of Italy, most notably by Guido Novello da Polenta, the nephew of the remarkable Francesca, in Ravenna. There, at his death, Dante was given an honourable burial attended by the leading men of letters of the time, and the funeral oration was delivered by Guido himself.