No one, not even me, thinks me worthy of this journey."
Durante degli Alighieri (c.1265-1321), known as Dante, was an Italian poet, principally known for writing The Divine Comedy. Born in Florence to a family of minor nobility, Dante spent the first half of his life involved in the politics of Florence, rising to one of the Priors of the city in 1300. After his exile from the city in 1302, however, Dante turned to writing in response to the political strife which plagued Italy.
The Commedia (1308-21) occupied most of his later life, and it is on this that Dante has gained his reputation as the greatest poet in the Italian language, though he was also famous for his earlier poems, some of which have survived in various collections, and others of which are known only by references to them, by Dante and others. Much of Dante's poetry was focused on Beatrice, whom he claims to have only met twice, at the ages of nine and eighteen. Like Petrarch's Laura, however, this was as much of a conceit of Courtly Love as a real love, though what actually happened can never be known. Despite his life-long idolisation of Beatrice, Dante was married, to Gemma Donati, and had children. None are mentioned in any of Dante's writings.
Dante in exile was deeply concerned with the progress of Emperor Henry VII and his doomed struggle with the Papacy and Italian towns. Dante hoped that Henry would help restore him and his faction to Florence; after Henry's early death, Dante became ever more disillusioned with politics, and lost hope of ever returning to Florence. Extremely proud, he even refused an offer of amnesty due to it requiring an admission of guilt, which he would not accept. After nearly twenty years of exile, Dante died of malaria in Ravenna. The city of Florence has sought the return of his body almost ever since.
His works include, but are not limited to:
- La Vita Nuova – Dante’s first book of poetry, an ordered set of poems and (slightly pedantic) prose detailing his love for Beatrice. The leading figure in a group of Florentine poets in writing in the 'sweet new style' (dolce stile nova, a term coined by Dante years later in Purgatorio XXIV), Dante was famous for these poems while he was still a young man. Key in the development and codification of Courtly Love.
- The Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia) - A three-part epic poem in terza rima, detailing his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Vast and complex, it stands as one of the greatest works of literature ever produced. Divine was added (by Boccaccio) as a later compliment to the poem.
- Convivio – A philosophical work set up as a discussion over a meal. Unusual in its combination of prose and poetry. Unfinished. The Commedia takes up some of its themes.
- De vulgaria eloquentia – A defence of the use of the vernacular in literary works, written, ironically, in Latin. Dante stopped writing it at some point – the Commedia can be seen as a continuation, and proof, of the argument.
- Monarchia - A treatise on the independence of the Holy Roman Emperor from the Pope, seeking to refute papal claims to the contrary. Dante argues for an all-powerful emperor who would act as arbiter between lesser rulers.
- Epistolae – 10 letters of Dante have survived, most of them public letters about political issues. The most well-known is that to Can Grande, sometime patron of Dante, which dedicates the Paradiso to him, and explains how the Commedia is to be read. note
Dante's work provides examples of...
- Abhorrent Admirer: The narrator of La Vita Nuova spend nine years pining after his lady, but when he treated to talk to her for the second time, she refused to even speak to him thanks to all the gossip hurting his good name. The narrator spends the rest of his lady's life content with being spurned while capturing her beauty in verse.
- Accomplice by Inaction: The ninth poem of La Vita Nuova accuses those who see the poet struck to death by beauty of sinning if they do not comfort the poet in his weakness.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Many of the poems in La Vita Nuova address Love as if it were a man, one who forced Beatrice to take the poet's heart and lorded over the poet for most of his life. There's a significant segment of Dante's commentary dedicated to establishing that he has the Artistic License to speak in such a fantastical way by citing writers like Virgil and Ovid.
- As the Good Book Says...: Before mentioning Beatrice's death for the first time, Dante quotes the opening line Book of Lamentations to set the extreme desolation of the world sans his lady.
- Blasphemous Praise: According to La Vita Nuova, Beatrice's beauty is so great that even an angel admits to God's face that Heaven is flawed for the lack of her.
- Catapult Nightmare: The poet awakens from his fever dream and immediately screams Beatrice's name in fear, although anyone besides Dante would have a hard time discerning the name between his sobs.
- Color Motif: La Vita Nuova makes use of red to represent love, most strikingly in the crimson dress Beatrice wears when she first meets Dante and when she appears to him posthumously.
- Common Tongue: The Commedia and La Vita Nuova are some of the first major works in Italian, rather than Latin familiar to the learned.
- Classical Tongue: Dante's philosophical tracts and letters are generally in Latin, the dominant language used among men of learning and culture. Ironically, this includes De vulgaria eloquentia, which is about how the Tuscan vernacular language is worthy to be used for poetry.
- Death Seeker: A fever causes the poet of La Vita Nuova such misery that he prays for death. His despair of life only grows worse as he hallucinates an apocalypse brought upon by the death of his love.
- Die or Fly: Beatrice in La Vita Nuova is said to make any who look upon her experience the joy of Heaven on Earth or kill them where they stand. This is exaggerated, of course, but beyond poetic license, Dante does tend either to enter into a state of radical bliss or despair depending on how his encounters with Beatrice go.
- The End of the World as We Know It: Upon realizing his lover's mortality in La Vita Nuova, the poet has a nightmare where the entire world falls apart upon her death. The sun goes black, the stars begin to cry, birds drop from the sky, and the whole earth quakes, in a scene right out of the Book of Revelation.
- Faux Symbolism: After defending his use of personified emotions, Dante makes it clear that using such symbolic devices without any deeper meaning is a shameful thing and that his friends know plenty of poets who write in such a "stupid manner."
- Fever Dream Episode: A poem from La Vita Nuova begins with Dante begging for death as some women wake him up from a fever-induced nightmare. The middle and end of the poem are the poet detailing his nightmare, where Beatrice died and ascended to Heaven while all the Earth was left in chaotic mourning.
- Genre-Busting: La Vita Nuova switches between large prose sections that provide background to the poetic sections, which in themselves take on genres like romance sonnet, Grief Song, prayerful ballad, and even a visionary apocalypse canzone.
- Girl Watching: La Vita Nuova is all about a few times Dante saw the most beautiful woman in the world from a distance and wrote poetry trying to capture her beauty.
- Gossip Evolution: Dante writes a lot of poetry about a pretty women he doesn't really care about to throw people off the trail for his real love, Beatrice. Problem is, he writes so much cover poetry that Florence's gossipers make Dante out to be lusting after his defense. Hearing these rumors about his licentiousness, Beatrice refuses even to say hello to her secret admirer.
- Grief Song: La Vita Nuova includes a three-part canzone written immediately after Beatrice's death. It mentions a lot about crying.
- Heart Trauma: A rare positive example; a dream where Beatrice eats the poet's heart marks the beginning of his love for her and his quest to capture her beauty in any of the dozens of poems in La Vita Nuova.
- Horrifying Hero: Once he's in mourning, the poet of La Vita Nuova scares off all men who see him because his face is as dead as a ghost's.
- In Medias Res: The Fever Dream Episode of La Vita Nuova opens with Dante being awoken from his nightmare, while the rest of the poem details what he actually hallucinated.
- Internal Monologue: In the aftermath of Lord Love's vision, La Vita Nuova portrays an argument between voices in Dante's head about whether to submit to Love or to resist him. The internal argument forces Dante to constantly start, scrap, and re-start his poetry until he prays to Mercy herself.
- Keeping Secrets Sucks: Dante's attempts to keep the prying eyes of Florence from knowing which woman he's in love with ends up ruining his chances with her. Turns out, pretending to love other ladies makes you look like a medieval whore, something Beatrice in no way wants to associate with much to Dante's secret misery.
- Killed Offscreen: The story of how Beatrice's passed from Earth to Heaven is left unsung in Dante's poetry, because he didn't feel he could do the subject justice.
- Longing Look: When the poet of La Vita Nuova is having a bit of a panic attack, he notices a young woman looking at him compassionately from a window. The poet is moved to tear by this look and even begins to feel Love in his soul for the first time since his lady's death.
- Love at First Sight: La Vita Nuova begins with Dante seeing Beatrice for the first time. Every part of his being s cried in praise of her as Love took control of Dante, never to let go of him for as long as Beatrice was on Earth.
- Love Potion: In La Vita Nuova, Dante admits that if his speech could fully communicate the worth of his lady, it would turn any of his listeners into lovers.
- Meaningful Name: In La Vita Nuova, the poet's muse is named Beatrice, a fact known to all who meet her because they realize their beatitude by contemplating her beauty. Yes, Dante goes so far to say that his lady's beauty offers a glimpse of the eternal beatitude of Heaven, a praise that only becomes more apt after she passed into that world.
- Mistaken Declaration of Love: People mistake Dante's longing poems for a declaration of love to an attractive woman that the poet doesn't really know that well. He's actually quite happy with the mistake, since it means no one will know who he really is in love with and he can continue with his writing without drawing suspicion.
- The Mourning After: According to La Vita Nuova, it takes a year after Beatrice's death for Dante to even think about other women. Even then, one dream about his lost Lenore is enough to make him repent of writing poetry for any other women and dedicate his life to offer her praise never written before.
- No Antagonist: Whatever conflict there is in La Vita Nuova is driven by the narrator's fears, passions, and weaknesses. He has only himself to blame when his lady refuses to speak to him, when he mistakes base attractions for love, and when he finds himself unable to handle the death of the most beautiful woman on Earth.
- Prophetic Name: Love admits to Dante that Lady Giovanna was only given that name and her nickname, Primavera, to foreshadow the role she would play in coming before Beatrice on that early spring morning that Dante would see her again.
- Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: Giovanna from La Vita Nuova is named so because, like how John (Giovanni) the Baptist came before Christ, she appears just before Beatrice when Dante first sees her in adulthood.
- The Scottish Trope: Most of the poems in La Vita Nuova go out of their way not to mention Beatrice's name to keep his love for her a secret. The only time he writes down her name is in the poem he makes to mourn her death and in the last poem of the collection, when he sees her in a vision.
- Temporary Love Interest: About a year after Beatrice's death, the poet of La Vita Nuova begins to write sonnet about another beautiful woman, only to have a vision of Beatrice that makes him realize his attraction to the new woman was a vain and shallow imitation of Love.
- Time Skip: La Vita Nuova begins with a brief prose section about Beatrice and Dante's first meeting in 1274 before segueing into Dante's poetry about her written from 1283 to 1293. The poet explains that he didn't want to go much into his youth since stories about kids tend to sound like tall tales.
- Trying Not to Cry: The poet of La Vita Nuova is overwhelmed by a Longing Look of pity from a beautiful woman and is barely able to hide away before bursting into tears.
- Virgin in a White Dress: In La Vita Nuova, Beatrice is seen dressed in pure white when she first greets Dante, a moment surrounded by assurances of her benevolence and predestined beatitude in Heaven. The next time Beatrice is seen in white is five years later, when a white veil shrouds her corpse after her soul was taken by a legion of angels to Heaven.