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:
- 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...
- Common Tongue: The Commedia and the 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.