Dante Alighieri
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Dante (born Durante) Alighieri, the greatest of Italian poets, was born at Florence in 1265 in the quarter of San Martino al Vescovo. His own statement in the "Paradiso" (xxii, 112-117) that he was born when the sun was in Gemini, fixes his birthday between May 18 and June 17, 1265.

poet

born in Florence
1265

He was descended from an ancient family, but from one which at any rate for several generations had belonged to the burgher and not to the knightly class. His biographers have attempted on very slight grounds to deduce his origin from the Frangipani, one of the oldest senatorial families of Rome. We can affirm with greater certainty that he was connected with the Elisei who took part in the building of Florence under Charles the Great.

Dante himself does not, with the exception of a few obscure and scattered allusions, carry his ancestry beyond the warrior Cacciaguida, whom he met in the sphere of Mars (Par. xv. 87, foil.). Of Cacciaguidas family nothing is known. The name, as he told Dante (Par. XV. 139, 5), was given him at his baptism; it has a Teutonic ring. The family may well have sprung from one of the barons who, as Villani tells us, remained behind Otto I. It has been noted that the phrase Tonde venner quivi (xvi. 44) seems to imply that they were not Florentines. He further tells his descendant that he was born in the year 1106 (or, if another reading of xvi, 37, 38 be adopted, in 1091), and that he married an Aldighieri from the valley of the Po. Here the German strain appears unmistakably; the name Aldighiero (Aldiger) being purely Teutonic. He also mentions two brothers, Moronte and Eliseo, and that he accompanied the emperor Conrad III upon his crusade into the Holy Land, where he died (1147) among the infidels. From Eliseo was probably descended the branch of the Elisei; from Aldighiero, son of Cacciaguida, the branch of the Alighieri.

Bellincione, son of Aldighiero, was the grandfather of Dante. His father was a second Aldighiero, a lawyer of some reputation. By his first wife, Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffli, this Aldighiero had a son Francesco; by his second, Donna Bella, whose family name is not known, Dante and a daughter. Thus the family of Dante held a most respectable position among the citizens of his beloved city; but had it been reckoned in the very first rank they could not have remained in Florence after the defeat of the Guelphs at Montaperti in 1260. It is clear, however, that Dante's mother at least did so remain, for Dante was born in Florence in 1265. The heads of the Guelph party did not return till 1267.

Dante was born under the sign of the twins, the glorious stars pregnant with virtue, to whom he owes his genius such as it is. Astrologers considered this constellation as favorable to literature and science, and Brunetto Latini, the philosopher and diplomatist, his instructor, tells him in the Inferno (xv. 25, foil.) that, if he follows its guidance, he cannot fail to reach the harbour of fame. Boccaccio relates that before his birth his mother dreamed that she lay under a wry lofty laurel, growing in a green meadow, by a very clear fountain, when she felt the pangs of childbirth, that her child, feeding on the berries which fell from the laurel, and on the waters of the fountain, in a very short time became a shepherd, and attempted to reach the leaves of the laurel, the fruit of which had nurtured him, that, trying to obtain them he fell, and rose up, no longer a man, but in the guise of a peacock.

We know little of Dante's boyhood except that he was a hard student and was profoundly influenced by Brunetto Latini. Boccaccio tells us that he became very familiar with Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Statius, and all other famous poets. From the age of eighteen he, like most cultivated young men of that age, wrote poetry assiduously, in the philosophical amatory style of which his friend, older by many years than himself, Guido Cavalcanti, was a great exponent, and of which Dante regarded Guido Guinicelli of Bologna as the master (Purg. XXVi. 97, 8). Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo, writing a hundred years or more after his death, says that by study of philosophy, of theology, astrology, arithmetic and geometry, by reading of history, by the turning over many curious books, watching and sweating in his studies, he acquired the science which he was to adorn and explain in his verses. Of Brunetto Latini Dante himself speaks with the most loving gratitude and affection, though he does not hesitate to brand his vices with infamy. Under such guidance Dante became master of all the science of his age at a time when it was not impossible to know all that could be known.

He had some knowledge of drawing; at any rate he tells us that on the anniversary of the death of Beatrice he drew an angel on a tablet. He was an intimate friend of Giotto, who has immortalized his youthful lineaments in the chapel of the Bargello, and who is recorded to have drawn from his friends inspiration the allegories of Virtue and Vice which fringe the frescoes of the Scrovegni Chapel at Padua. Nor was he less sensible to the delights of music. Milton had not a keener ear for the loud uplifted angel trumpets and the immortal harps of golden wires of the cherubim and seraphim; and the English poet was proud to compare his own friendship with Henry Lawes with that between Dante and Casella, met in the milder shades of purgatory.

Of his companions the most intimate and sympathetic were the lawyer-poet Cino of Pistoia, Lapo Gianni, Guido Cavalcanti and others, similarly gifted and dowered with like tastes, who moved in the lively and acute society of Florence, and felt with him the first warm flush of the new spirit which was soon to pass over Europe. He has written no sweeter or more melodious lines than those in which he expresses the wish that he, with Guido and Lapo, might be wafted by enchantment over the sea wheresoever they might list, shielded from tempest and foul weather, in such contentment that they should wish to live always in one mind, and that the good enchanter should bring Monna Vanna and Monna Bice and that other lady into their barque, where they should for ever discourse of love and be for ever happy. It is a wonderful thing (says Leonardo Bruni) that, though he studied without intermission, it would not have appeared to anyone that he studied, from his joyous mien and youthful conversation.

Like Milton he was trained in the strictest academical education which the age afforded; but Dante lived under a warmer sun and brighter skies, and found in the rich variety and gaiety of his early life a defence against the withering misfortunes of his later years. Milton felt too early the chill breath of Puritanism, and the serious musing on the experience of life, which saddened the verse of both poets, deepened in his case rather into grave and desponding melancholy, than into the fierce scorn and invective which disillusion wrung from Dante.

We must now consider the political circumstances in which lay the activity of Dantes manhood. From 1115, the year of the death of Matilda countess of Tuscany, to 1215, Florence enjoyed a nearly uninterrupted peace. Attached to the Guelph party, it remained undivided against itself. But in 1215 a private feud between the families of Buondelmonte and Uberti introduced into the city the horrors of civil war. Villani (lib. v. cap. 38) relates how Buondelmonte de Buondelmonti, a noble youth of Florence, being engaged to marry a lady of the house of Amidei, allied himself instead to a Donati, and how Buondelmonte was attacked and killed by the Amidei and Uberti at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio, close by the pilaster which bears the image of Mars. The death of Messer Buondelmonte was the occasion and beginning of the accursed parties of Guelphs and Ghibellines in Florence. Of the seventy-two families then in Florence thirty-nine became Guelph under the leadership of the Buondelmonte and the rest Ghibelline under the Uberti. The strife of parties was for a while allayed by the war against Pisa in 1222, and the constant struggles against Siena; but in 1248 Frederick II. sent into the city his natural son Frederick of Antioch, with 1600 German knights. The Guelphs were driven away from the town, and took refuge, part in Montevarchi, part in Capraia. The Ghibellines, masters of Florence, behaved with great severity, and destroyed the towers and palaces of the Guelph nobles. At last the people became impatient. They rose in rebellion, reduced the powers of the podest, elected a captain of the people to manage the internal affairs of the city, with a council of twelve, established a more democratic constitution, and, encouraged by the death of Frederick II. in December 1250, recalled the exiled Guelphs. Manfred, the bastard son of Frederick, pursued the policy of his father. He stimulated the Ghibelline Uberti to rebel against their position of subjection. A rising of the vanquished party was put down by the people, in July 1258 the Ghibellines were expelled from the town, and the towers of the Uberti razed to the ground. The exiles betook themselves to the friendly city of Siena. Manfred sent them a reinforcement of German horse, under his kinsman Count Giordano Lancia. The Florentines, after vainly demanding their surrender, despatched an army against them. On the 4th of September 1260 was fought the great battle of Montaperti, which dyed the Arbia red, and in which the Guelphs were entirely defeated. The hand which held the banner of the republic was sundered by the sword of a traitor (Inf. xxxii. 106). For the first time in the history of Florence the Carroccio was taken. Florence lay at the mercy of her enemies. A parliament was held at Empoli, in which the deputies of Siena, Pisa, Arezzo and other Tuscan towns consulted on the best means of securing their new war power. They voted that the accursed Guelph city should be blotted out. But Farinata degli Uberti stood up in their midst, bold and defiant as when he stood erect among the sepulchres of hell, and said that if, from the whole number of the Florentines, he alone should remain, he would not suffer, whilst he could wield a sword, that his country would be destroyed, and that, if it were necessary to die a thousand times for her, a thousand times would he be ready to encounter death.

Help came to the Guelphs from an unexpected quarter. Clement IV., elected pope in 1265, offered the crown of Apulia and Sicily to Charles of Anjou. The French prince, passing rapidly through Lombardy, Romagna and the Marches, reached Rome by way of Spoleto, was crowned on the 6th of January 1266, and on the 23rd of February defeated and killed Manfred at Benevento. In such a storm of conflict did Dante first see the light. In 1267 the Guelphs were recalled, but instead of settling down in peace with their opponents they summoned Charles of Anjou to vengeance, and the Ghibellines were driven out. The meteor passage of Conradin gave hope to the imperial party, which was quenched when the head of the fair-haired boy fell on the scaffold at Naples. Pope after pope tried in vain to make peace. Gregory X. placed the rebellious city under an interdict; in 1278 Cardinal Latini by order of Nicholas III. effected a truce, which lasted for four years. The city was to be governed by a committee of fourteen buonomini, on which the Guelphs were to have a small majority. in 1282 the constitution of Florence received the final form which it retained till the collapse of freedom. From the three arti maggiori were chosen six priors, in whose hands was placed the government of the republic.

Before the end of the century, seven greater arts were recognized, including the speziali, druggists and dealers in all manner of oriental goods, and in books among whom Dante afterwards enrolled himself. They remained in office for two months, and during that time lived and shared a common table in the public palace. We shall see what influence this office had upon the fate of Dante. The success of the Sicilian Vespers (March 1282), the death of Charles of Anjou (January 1285), and of Martin IV in the following March, roused again the courage of the Ghibellines. They entered Arezzo, where the Ghibellines at present had the upper hand, and threatened to drive out the Guelphs from Tuscany. Skirmishes and raids, of which Villani and Bruni have left accounts, went on through the winter of 1288-1289, forming a prelude to the great battle of Campaldino in the following summer. Then it was that Dante saw horsemen moving camp and commencing the assault, and holding muster, and the march of foragers, the shock of tournaments, and race of jousts, now with trumpets and now with bells, with drums and castle signals, with native things and foreign (Inf. xxii. I, foil.).

On the 11th of June 1289, at Campaldino near Poppi, in the Casentino, the Ghibellines were utterly defeated. They never again recovered their hold on Florence, but the violence of faction survived under other names. In a letter quoted, though not at first hand, by Leonardo Bruni, which is not now extant, Dante is said to mention that he himself fought with distinction at Campaldino. He was present shortly afterwards at the battle of Caprona (Inf. xxi. 95, foil.), and returned in September 1289 to his studies and his love. His peace was of short duration. On the 9th of June 1290 died Beatrice, whose mortal love had guided him for thirteen years, and whose immortal spirit purified his later life, and revealed to him the mysteries of Paradise.

Dante had first met Beatrice Portinari at the house of her father Folco on May-day 1274. In his own words, "already nine times after my birth the heaven of light had returned as it were to the same point, when there appeared to my eyes the glorious lady of my mind, who was by many called Beatrice who knew not what to call her. She had already been so long in this life that already in. its time the starry heaven had moved towards the east the twelfth part of a degree, so that she appeared to me about the beginning of her ninth year, and I saw her about the end of my ninth year. Her dress on that day was of a most noble color, a subdued and goodly crimson., girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited with her tender age. At that moment I saw most truly that the spirit of life which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the heart began to tremble so violently that the least pulses of my body shook therewith; and in trembing it said these words, 'Ecce deus fortior me qui veniens dominabitur mihi.'"

In the Vita Nuova is written the story of his passion from its commencement to within a year after the lady's death (June 9th, 1290). He saw Beatrice only once or twice, and she probably knew little of him. She married Simone de Bardi. But the worship of her lover was stronger for the remoteness of its subject. The last chapter of the Vita Nuova relates how, after the lapse of a year, "it was given. me to behold a wonderful vision, wherein I saw things which determined me to say nothing further of this blessed one until such time as I could discourse more worthily concerning her. And to this end I labor all I can, as she in truth knoweth. Therefore if it be His pleasure through whom is the life of all things that my life continue with me a few years, it is my hope that I shall yet write concerning her what hath not before been written of any woman. After the which may it seem good unto Him who is the master of grace that my spirit should go hence to behold the glory of its lady, to wit, of that blessed Beatrice who now gloriously gazes on the countenance of Him qui est per omnia saecula benedictus."

In the Convito he resumes the story of his life. "When I had lost the first delight of my soul (that is, Beatrice) I remained so pierced with sadness that no comforts availed me anything, yet after some time my mind, desirous of health, sought to return to the method by which other disconsolate ones had found consolation, and I set myself to read that little-known book of Boetius in which he consoled himself when a prisoner and an exile. And hearing that Tully had written another work, in which, treating of friendship, he had given words of consolation to Laelius, I set myself to read that also."

He so far recovered from the shock of his loss that in 1292 he married Gemma, daughter of Manetto Donati, a connection of the celebrated Corso Donati, afterwards Dante's bitter foe. It is possible that she is the lady mentioned in the Vita Nuova as sitting full of pity at her window and comforting Dante for his sorrow. By this wife he had two sons and two daughters, and although he never mentions her in the Divina Commedia, and although she did not accompany him into exile, there is no reason to suppose that she was other than a good wife, or that the union was otherwise than happy. Certain it is that he spares the memory of Corso in his great poem, and speaks kindly of his kinsmen Piccarda and Forese.

In 1293 Giano della Beila, a man of old family who had thrown in his lot with the people, induced the commonwealth to adopt the so-called Ordinances of Justice, a severely democratic constitution, by which among other things it was enacted that no man. of noble family, even though engaged in trade, could hold office as prior. Two years later Giano was banished, but the ordinances remained in force, though the grandi recovered much of their power.

Dante now began to take an active part in politics. He was inscribed in the arte of the Medici and Speziali, which made him eligible as one of the six priori to whom the government of the city was entrusted in 1282. Documents still existing in the archives of Florence show that he took part in the deliberations of the several councils of the city in 1295, 1296, 1300 and 1301. The notice in the last year is of some importance. The pope had demanded a contingent of 100 Florentine knights to serve against his enemies, the Colonna family. On. the 19th of June we read in the contemporary report of the debate on this question in the Council of a Hundred: Dantes Alagherius consuluit quod de servitio faciendo Domino Fapae nihil fieret. Other instances of his invariable opposition to Boniface occur. Filelfo says that he served on fourteen embassies, a statement not only unsupported by evidence, but impossible in itself. Filelfo does not mention the only embassy in which we know for certain that Dante was engaged, that to the town of San Gemignano in May 1300. From the 15th of June to the 15th of August 1300 he held the office of prior, which was the source of all the miseries of his life. The spirit of faction had again broken out in Florence. The two rival families were the Cerchi and the Donati, the first of great wealth but recent origin, the last of ancient ancestry but poor. A quarrel had arisen in Pistoia between the two branches of the Cancellieri, the Bianchi and Neri, the Whites and the Blacks. The quarrel spread to Florence, the Donati took the side of the Blacks, the Cerchi of the Whites. Pope Boniface was asked to mediate, and sent Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta to maintain peace. He arrived just as Dante entered upon his office as prior. The cardinal effected nothing, but Dante and his colleagues banished the heads of the rival parties in different directions to a distance from the capital. The Blacks were sent to Citta della Pieve in the Tuscan mountains; the Whites, among whom was Dante's dearest friend Guido Cavalcanti, to Serrezzano in the unhealthy Maremma.

After the expiration of Dante's office both parties returned, Guido Cavalcanti so ill with fever that he shortly afterwards died. At a meeting held in the church of the Holy Trinity the Whites were denounced as Ghibellines, enemies of the pope. The Blacks sought for vengeance. Their leader, Corso Donati, hastened to Rome, and persuaded Boniface VIII to send for Charles of Valois, brother of the French king, Philip the Fair, to act as peacemaker. The priors sent at the end of September four ambassadors to the pope, one of whom, according to the chronicler Dino, was Dante. There are, however, improbabilities in the story, and the passage quoted in support of it bears marks of later interpolation. He never again saw the towers of his native city. Charles of Valois, after visiting the pope at Anagni, retraced his steps to Florence, entering the city on All Saints Day and taking up his abode in the Oltr'Arno. Corso Donati, who had been banished a second time, returned in force and summoned the Blacks to arms. The prisons were broken open, the podest driven from the town, the Cerchi confined within their houses, a third of the city was destroyed with fire and sword.

By the help of Charles the Blacks were victorious. They appointed Cante de Gabrielli of Gubbio as podest, a man devoted to their interests. More than 600 Whites were condemned to exile and cast as beggars upon the world. On the 27th of January 1302, Dante, with four others of the White party, was charged before the podest, Cante de Gabrielli, with baratteria, or corrupt jobbery and peculation when in office, and, not appearing, condemned to pay a fine of 5000 lire of small florins. If the money was not paid within three days their property was to be destroyed and laid waste; if they did pay the fine they were to be exiled for two years from Tuscany; in any case thy were never again to hold office in the republic. The charge in Dante's case was obviously preposterous, though ingeniously devised; for he was known to be at the time in somewhat straitened circumstances, and had recently been in control of certain public works. But of all sins, that of barratry was one of the most hateful to him. No doubt the papal finger may be traced in the affair. On the 10th of March Dante and fourteen others were condemned to be burned alive if they should come into the power of the republic. Similar sentences were passed in September 1311 and October 1315. The sentence was not formally reversed till 1494, under the government of the Medici.

Leonardo Bruni, who accepts the story of the embassy to Rome, states that Dante received the news of his banishment in that city, and at once joined the other exiles at Siena. How he escaped arrest in the papal states is not explained. The exiles met first at Gargonza, a castle between Siena and Arezzo, and then at Arezzo itself. They joined themselves to the Ghibellines, to which party the podest Uguccione della Faggiuola belonged. The Ghibellines, however, were divided amongst themselves, and the more strict Ghibellines were not disposed to favor the cause of the White Guelphs. On the 8th of June 1302, however, a meeting was held at San Godenzo, a place in the Florentine territory, Dante's presence at which is proved by documentary evidence, and an alliance was there made with the powerful Ghibelline clan of the Ubaldini. The exiles remained at Arezzo till the summer of 1304. In September 1303 the fleur-de-lis had entered Anagni, and Christ had a second time been made prisoner in the person of his vicar. At the instigation of Philip the Fair, William of Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna had entered the papal palace at Anagni, and had insulted and, it is said, even beaten the aged pontiff under his own roof. Boniface did not survive the insult long, but died in the following month. He was succeeded by Benedict XI., and in March the cardinal da Prato came to Florence, sent by the new pope to make peace. The people received him with enthusiasm; ambassadors came to him from the Whites; and he did his best to reconcile the two parties. But the Blacks resisted all his efforts. He shook the dust from off his feet, and departed, leaving the city under an interdict. Foiled by the calumnies and machinations of the one party, the cardinal gave his countenance to the other. It happened that Corso Donati and the heads of the Black party were absent at Pistoia. Da Prato advised the Whites to attack Florence, deprived of its heads and impaired by a recent fire. An army was collected of 16,000 foot and 9000 horse. Communications were opened with the Ghibellines of Bologna and Romagna, and a futile attempt was made to enter Florence from Lastra, the failure of which further disorganized the party. Dante had, however, already separated from the ill-conditioned and foolish company of common party-politicians, who rejected his counsels of wisdom, and had learnt that he must henceforth form a party by himself. In. 1303 he had left Arezzo and gone to Forli in Romagna, of which city Scarpetta degli Ordelaffi was lord. To him, according to Flavius Blondus the historian (d. before 1484), a native of the place, Dante acted for a time as secretary.

From Forli Dante probably went to Bartolommeo della Scala, lord of Verona, where the country of the great Lombard gave him his first refuge and his first hospitable reception. Can Grande, to whom he afterwards dedicated the Paradiso, was then a boy. Bartolommeo died in 1304, and it is possible that Dante may have remained in Verona till his death. We must consider, if we would understand the real nature of Dante's Ghibellinism, that he had been born and bred a Guelph; but he saw that the conditions of the time were altered, and that other dangers menaced the welfare of his country. There was no fear now that Florence, Siena, Pisa, Arezzo should be razed to the ground in order that the castle of the lord might overlook the humble cottages of his contented subjects; but there was danger lest Italy should be torn in sunder by its own jealousies and passions, and lest the fair domain bounded by the sea and the Alps should never properly assert the force of its individuality, and should present a contemptible contrast to a united France and a confederated Germany. Sick with petty quarrels and dissensions, Dante strained his eyes towards the hills for the appearance of a universal monarch, raised above the jars of faction and the spur of ambition, under whom each country, each city, each man, might, under the institutions best suited to it, lead the life and do the work for which it was best fitted. United in spiritual harmony with the vicar of Christ, he should show for the first time to the world an example of a government where the strongest force and the highest wisdom were interpenetrated by all that God had given. to the world of piety and justice. In this sense and in no other was Dante a Ghibelline. The vision was never realized the hope was never fulfilled. Not till 500 years later did Italy become united and the greyhound of deliverance chase from city to city the wolf of cupidity. But is it possible to say that the dream did not work its own realization, or to deny that the high ideal of the poet, after inspiring a few minds as lofty as his own, has become embodied in the constitution of a state which acknowledges no stronger bond of union than a common worship of the exiles indignant and impassioned verse?

It is very difficult to determine with exactness the order and the place of Dante's wanderings. Many cities and castles in Italy have claimed the honor of giving him shelter, or of being for a time the home of his inspired muse. He certainly spent some time with Count Guido Salvatico in the Casentino near the sources of the Arno, probably in the castle of Porciano, and with Uguccione in the castle of Faggiuola in the mountains of Urbino. After this he is said to have visited the university of Bologna; and in August I306 we find him at Padua. Cardinal Napoleon Orsini, the legate of the French pope Clement V, had put Bologna under a ban, dissolved the university and driven the professors to the northern. city. In May or June 1307 the same cardinal collected the Whites at Arezzo and tried to induce the Florentines to recall them. The name of Dante is found attached to a document signed by the Whites in the church of St Gaudenzio in the Mugello. This enterprise came to nothing. Dante retired to the castle of Moroello Malespina in the Lunigiana, where the marble ridges of the mountains of Carrara descend in precipitous slopes to the Gulf of Spezzia. From this time till the arrival of the emperor Henry VII in Italy, October 1310, all is uncertain. His old enemy Corso Donati had at last allied himself with Uguccione della Faggiuola, the leader of the Ghibellines. Dante thought it possible that this might lead to his return. But in 1308 Corso was declared a traitor, attacked in his house, put to flight and killed. Dante lost his last hope. He left Tuscany, and went to Can Grande della Scala at Verona. From this place it is thought that he visited the university of Paris (5309), studied in the rue du Fouarre and went on into the Low Countries. That he ever crossed the Channel or went to Oxford, or himself saw where the heart of Henry, son of Richard, earl of Cornwall, murdered by his cousin Guy of Montfort in 1271, was still venerated on the Thames, may safely be disbelieved. The only evidence for it is in the Commentary of John of Serravalle, bishop of Fermo, who lived a century later, had no special opportunity of knowing, and was writing for the benefit of two English bishops.

The election in 1308 of Henry of Luxemburg as emperor stirred again his hopes of a deliverer. At the end of 1310, in a letter to the princes and people of Italy, he proclaimed the coming of the saviour; at Milan he did personal homage to his sovereign. The Florentines made every preparation to resist the emperor. Dante wrote from the Casentino a letter dated the 31st of March 1311, in which he rebuked them for their stubbornness and obstinacy. Henry still lingered in Lombardy at the siege of Cremona, when Dante, on the 16th of April 1311, in a celebrated epistle, upbraided his delay, argued that the crown of Italy was to be won on the Arno rather than on the Po, and urged the tarrying emperor to hew the rebellious Florentines like Agag in pieces before the Lord. Henry was as deaf to this exhortation as the Florentines themselves. After reducing Lombardy he passed from Genoa to Pisa, and on the 29th of June 1312 was crowned by some cardinals in the church of St John Lateran at Rome; the Vatican being in the hands of his adversary King Robert of Naples. Then at length he moved towards Tuscany by way of Umbria. Leaving Cortona and Arezzo, he reached Florence on the 19th of September. He did not dare to attack it, but returned in November to Pisa. In the summer of the following year he prepared to invade the kingdom of Naples; but in the neighborhood of Siena he caught a fever and died at the monastery of Buonconvento, on the 24th of August 1313. He lies in the Campo Santo of Pisa; and the hopes of Dante and his party were buried in his grave.

After the death of the emperor Henry (Bruni tells us) Dante passed the rest of his life as an exile, sojourning in various places throughout Lombardy, Tuscany and the Romagna, under the protection of various lords, until at length he retired to Ravenna, where he ended his life. Very little can be added to this meagre story. There is reason for supposing that he stayed at Gubbio with Bosone dei Rafaelli, and tradition assigns him a cell in the monastery of Sta Croce di Fonte Avellana in the same district, situated on the slopes of Catria, one of the highest peaks of the Apennines in that region. After the death of the French pope, Clement V, he addressed a letter, dated the 14th of July 1314, to the cardinals in conclave, urging them to elect an Italian pope. About this time he came to Lucca, then lately conquered by his friend Uguccione. Here he completed the last cantos of the Purgatory, which he dedicated to Uguccione, and here he must have become acquainted with Gentucca, whose name had been whispered to him by her countryman on the slopes of the Mountain of Purification (Purg. xxiv. 37). That the intimacy between the world-worn poet and the young married lady (who is thought to be identifiable with Gentucca Morla, wife of one Cosciorino Fondora) was other than blameless, is quite incredible. In August 1315 was fought the battle of Monte Catini, a day of humiliation and mourning for the Guelphs. Uguccione made but little use of his victory; and the Florentines marked their vengeance on his adviser by condemning Dante yet once again to death if he ever should come into their power. In the beginning of the following year Uguccione lost both his cities of Pisa and Lucca. At this time Dante was offered an opportunity of returning to Florence. The conditions given to the exiles were that they should pay a fine and walk in the dress of humiliation to the church of St. John, and there do penance for their offences. Dante refused to tolerate this shame; and the letter is still extant in which he declines to enter Florence except with honor, secure that the means of life will not fail him, and that in any corner of the world he will be able to gaze at the sun and the stars, and meditate on the sweetest truths of philosophy. He preferred to take refuge with his most illustrious protector Can Grande della Scala of Verona, then a young man of twenty-five, rich, liberal and the favored head of the Ghibelline party. His name has been immortalized by an eloquent panegyric in the seventeenth canto of the Paradiso. Whilst on a visit at the court of Verona he maintained, on the 20th of January 1320, the philosophical thesis De aqua et terra, on the levels of land and water, which is included in his minor works. The last three years of his life were spent at Ravenna, under the protection of Guido da Polenta. In his service Dante undertook an embassy to the Venetians. He failed in the object of his mission, and, returning disheartened and broken in spirit through the unhealthy lagoons, caught a fever and died in Ravenna on the 14th of September 1321. His bones still repose there. His doom of exile has been reversed by the union of Italy, which has made the city of his birth and the various cities of his wanderings cothponent members of a common country. His son Piero, who wrote a commentary on the Divina Commedia, settled as a lawyer in Verona, and died in 1364. His daughter Beatrice lived as a nun in Ravenna, dying at some time between 350 (when Boccaccio brought her a present of ten gold crowns from a Florentine gild) and 1370. His direct line became extinct in 1509.

Dante's Works

Of Dante's works, that by which he is known to all the educated world, and in virtue of which he holds his place as one of the half-dozen greatest writers of all Commedia. time, is of course the Commedia. (The epithet divina, it may be noted, was not given to the poem by its author, nor does it appear on a title-page until 1555, in the edition of Ludovico Dolce, printed by Giolito; though it is applied to the poet himself as early as 1512.) The poem is absolutely unique in literature; it may safely be said that at no other epoch of the world's history could such a work have been produced. Dante was steeped in all the learning, which in its way was considerable, of his time; he had read the Summa Theologica of Aquinas, the Trsor of his master Brunetto, and other encyclopaedic works available in that age; he was familiar with all that was then known of the Latin classical and postclassical authors. Further, he was a deep and original political thinker, who had himself borne a prominent part in practical politics. He was born into a generation in which almost every man of education habitually wrote verse, as indeed their predecessors had been doing for the last fifty years. Vernacular poetry had come late into Italy, and had hitherto, save for a few didactic or devotional treatises hitched into rough rhyme, been exclusively lyric in form. Amatory at first, later, chiefly in the hands of Guittone of Arezzo and Guido Cavalcanti, taking an ethical and metaphysical tone, it had never fully shaken off the Provenal influence under which it had started, and of which Dante himself shows considerable traces.

The age also was unique, though the two great events which made the 15th century a turning-point in the world's history the invention of printing and the discovery of the new world (to which might perhaps be added the intrusion of Islam into Europe) were still far in the future. But the age was essentially one of great men; of free thought and free speech; of brilliant and daring action, whether for good or evil. It is easy to understand how Dante's bitterest scorn is reserved for those sorry souls who lived without infamy and without renown, displeasing to God and to His enemies.

The time was thus propitious for the production of a great imaginative work, and the man was ready who should produce it. It called for a prophet, and the prophet said, Here am I. Dante, says an acute writer, is not, as Homer is, the father of poetry springing in the freshness and simplicity of childhood out of the arms of mother earth; he is rather, like Noah, the father of a second poetical world, to whom he pours forth his prophetic song fraught with the wisdom and the experience of the old world. Thus the Commedia, though often classed for want of a better description among epic poems, is totally different in method and construction from all other poems of that kind. Its hero is the narrator himself; the incidents do not modify the course of the story; the place of episodes is taken by theological or metaphysical disquisitions; the world through which the poet takes his readers is peopled, not with characters of heroic story, but with men and women known personally or by repute to him and those for whom he wrote. Its aim is not to delight, but to reprove, to rebuke, to exhort; to form men's characters by teaching them what courses of life will meet with reward, what with penalty, hereafter; to put into verse, as the poet says, things difficult to think. For such new matter a new vehicle was needed. We have Bembo's authority for believing that the terza rima surpassed, if at all, only by the ancient hexameter, as a measure equally adaptable to sustained narrative, to debate, to fierce invective, to clear-cut picture and to trenchant epigram, was first employed by Dante.

The action of the Commedia opens in the early morning of the Thursday before Easter, in the year 1300. The poet finds himself lost in a forest, escaping from which he has his way barred by a wolf, a lion and a leopard. All this, like the rest of the poem, is highly symbolical. This branch of the subject is too vast to be entered on at any length here; but so far as this passage is concerned it may be said that it seems to indicate that at this period of his life, about the age of thirty-five, Dante went through some experience akin to what is now called conversion. Having led up till then the ordinary life of a cultivated Florentine of good family; taking his part in public affairs, military and civil, as an hereditary member of the predominant Guelph party; dallying in prose which with all its beauty and passion is full of the conceits familiar to the 13th century, and in verse which save for the excellence of its execution differs in no way from that of his predecessors, with the memory of his lost love; studying more seriously, perhaps, than most of his associates; possibly travelling a little, gradually or suddenly he became convinced that all was not well with him, and that not by leading, however blamelessly, the active life could he save his soul.

The strong vein of mysticism, found in so many of the deepest thinkers of that age, and conspicuous in Dante's mind, no doubt played its part. His efforts to free himself from the forest of worldly cares were impeded by the temptations of the world cupidity (including ambition), the pride of life and the lusts of the flesh, symbolized by the three beasts. But a helper is at hand. Virgil appears and explains that he has a commission from three ladies on high to guide him. The ladies are the Blessed Virgin, St. Lucy (whom for some reason never yet explained Dante seems to have regarded as in a special sense his protector) and Beatrice. In Virgil we are apparently intended to see the symbol of what Dante calls philosophy, what we should rather call natural religion; Beatrice standing for theology, or rather revealed religion.

Under Virgil's escort Dante is led through the two lower realms of the next world, Hell and Purgatory; meeting on the way with many persons illustrious or notorious in recent or remoter times, as well as many well enough known then in Tuscany and the neighboring states; but who, without the immortality, often unenviable, that the poet has conferred on them, would long ago have been forgotten. Popes, kings, emperors, poets and warriors, Florentine citizens of all degrees, are there found; some doomed to hopeless punishment, others expiating their offences in milder torments, and looking forward to deliverance in due time. It is remarkable to notice how rarely, if ever, Dante allows political sympathy or antagonism to influence him in his distribution of judgment. Hell is conceived as a vast conical hollow, reaching to the centre of the earth. It has three great divisions, corresponding to Aristotle's three classes of vices, incontinence, brutishness and malice. The first are outside the walls of the city of Dis; the second, among whom are included unbelievers, tyrants, suicides, unnatural offenders, usurers, are within; the first apparently on the same level as those without, the rest separated from them by a steep descent of broken rocks. (It should be said that many Dante scholars hold that Aristotle's brutishness has no place in Dante's scheme; but the symmetry of the arrangement, the special reference made to that division, and certain expressions used elsewhere by Dante, seem to make it probable that he would here, as in most other cases, have followed his master in philosophy.) The sinners by malice, which includes all forms of fraud or treachery, are divided from the last by a yet more formidable barrier. They lie at the bottom of a pit, the depth of which is not stated, with vertical sides, and accessible only by supernatural means; a monster named Geryon bearing the poets down on his back. The torments here are of a more terrible, often of a loathsome character. Ignominy is added to pain, and the nature of Dante's demeanour towards the sinners changes from pity to hatred. At the very bottom of the pit is Lucifer, immovably fixed in ice; climbing down his limbs they reach the centre of the earth, whence a cranny conducts them back to the surface, at the foot of the purgatorial mountain, which they reach as Easter Day is dawning.

Before the actual Purgatory is attained they have to climb for the latter half of the day and rest at night. The occupants of this outer region are those who have delayed repentance till death was upon them. They include many of the most famous men of the last thirty years. In the morning the gate is opened, and Purgatory proper is entered. This is divided into seven terraces, corresponding to the seven deadly sins, which encircle the mountain and have to be reached by a series of steep climbs, compared by Dante in one instance to the path from Florence to Samminiato. The penalties are not degrading, but rather tests of patience or endurance; and in several cases Dante has to bear a share in them as he passes.

On the summit is the Earthly Paradise. Here Beatrice appears, in a mystical pageant; Virgil departs, leaving Dante in her charge. By her he is led through the various spheres of which, according to both the astronomy and the theology of the time, Heaven is composed, to the supreme Heaven, or Empyrean, the seat of the Godhead. For one moment there is granted him the intuitive vision of the Deity, and the comprehension of all mysteries, which is the ultimate goal of mystical theology; his will is wholly blended with that of God, and the poem ends.

The Convito, or Banquet, also called Convivio (Bembo uses the first form, Trissino the other), is the work of Dante's manhood, as the Vita Nuova is the work of his youth. It consists, Convito, in the form in which it has come down to us, of an introduction and three treatises, each forming an elaborate commentary in a long canzone. It was intended, if completed, to have comprised commentaries on eleven more canzoni, making fourteen in all, and in this shape would have formed a tesoro or handbook of universal knowledge, such as Brunetto Latini and others have left to us. It is perhaps the least well known of Dante's Italian works, but crabbed and unattractive as it is in many parts, it is well worth reading, and contains many passages of great beauty and elevation. Indeed a knowledge of it is quite indispensable to the full understanding of the Divina Commedia and the De Monarchia. The time of its composition is uncertain. As it stands it has very much the look of being the contents of note-books partially arranged. Dante mentions princes as living who died in 1309; he does not mention Henry VII as emperor, who succeeded in 1310. There are some passages which seem to have been inserted at a later date. The canzoni upon which the commentary is written were probably composed between 1292 and 1300, when he was seeking in philosophy consolation for the loss of Beatrice. The Convito was first printed in Florence by Buonaccorsi in 1490. It has never been adequately edited.

The Vita Nuova (Young Life or New Life, for both significations seem to be intended) contains the history of his love for Beatrice. He describes how he met Beatrice as a child, himself a child, how he often sought her glance, how she once greeted him in the street, how he feigned a false love to hide his true love, how he fell ill and saw in a dream the death and transfiguration of his beloved, how she died, and how his health failed from sorrow, how the tender compassion of another lady nearly won his heart from its first affection, how Beatrice appeared to him in a vision and reclaimed his heart, and how at last he saw a vision which induced him to devote himself to study that he might be more fit to glorify her who gazes on the face of God for ever. This simple story is interspersed with sonnets, ballads and canzoni, arranged with a remarkable symmetry, to which Professor Charles Eliot Norton was the first to draw attention, chiefly written. at the time to emphasize some mood of his changing passion. After each of these, in nearly every case, follows an. explanation in prose, which is intended to make the thought and argument intelligible to those to whom the language of poetry was not familiar. The whole has a somewhat artificial air, in spite of its undoubted beauty; showing that Dante was still under the influence of the Dugentisti, many of whose conceits he reproduces. The book was probably completed by 1300. It was first printed by Sermartelli in Florence, 1576.

Besides the smaller poems contained in the Vita Nuova and Convito there are a considerable number of canzoni, ballate and sonnetti bearing the poet's name. Of these many undoubtedly are genuine, others as undoubtedly spurious. Some which have been preserved under the name of Dante belong to Dante de Maiano, a poet of a harsher style; others which bear the name of Aldighiero are referable to Dante's sons Jacopo or Pietro, or to his grandsons; others may be ascribed to Dante's contemporaries and predecessors Cino da Pistoia and others. Those which are genuine secure Dante a place among lyrical poets scarcely if at all inferior to that of Petrarch. Most of these were printed in Sonetti e canzoni (Giunta, 1527). The best edition of the Canzoniere of Dante is that by Fraticelli published by Barbra at Florence. His collection includes seventy-eight genuine poems, eight doubtful and fifty-four spurious. To these are added an Italian paraphrase of the seven penitential psalms in terza rima, and a similar paraphrase of the Credo, the seven sacraments, the ten commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Ave Maria.

The Latin treatise De monarchia, in three books, contains the mature statement of Dante's political ideas. In it he propounds - the theory that the supremacy of the emperor is derived D;,monar~ from the supremacy of the Roman people over the world, which was given to them direct from God. As the emperor is intended to assure their earthly happiness, so does their spiritual welfare depend upon the pope, to whom the emperor is to do honor as to the first-born of the Father. The date of its publication is almost universally admitted to be the time of the descent of Henry VII into Italy, between 1310 and 1313, although its composition may have been in hand from a much earlier period. The book was first printed by Oporinus at Basel in 559, and placed on the Index of forbidden books.

The treatise De vulgari eloquentia, in two books, also in. Latin, is mentioned in the Convito. Its object was first to establish the Vu1= Italian language as a literary tongue, and to distinguish the noble or "courtly" speech which might become the eloquent property of the whole nation, at once a bond of internal unity and a line of demarcation against external nations, from the local dialects peculiar to different districts; and secondly, to lay down rules for poetical composition in the language so established. The work was intended to be in four books, but only two are extant. The first of these deals with the language, the second with the style and with the composition of the canzone. The third was probably intended to continue this subject, and the fourth was destined to the laws of the ballata and sonetto. It contains much acute criticism of poetry and poetic diction. This work was first published in the Italian translation of Trissino at Vicenza in 1529. The original Latin was not published till 1577 at Paris by Jacopo Corbinelli, one of the Italians who were brought from Florence by Catherine de Medici, from a manuscript now preserved at Grenoble. The work was probably left unfinished in consequence of Dante's death.

Boccaccio mentions in his life of Dante that he wrote two eclogues in Latin in answer to Johannes de Virgilio, who invited him to come from Ravenna and compose Eclogues a great work in the Latin language. The most interesting passage in the work is that in the first poem, where he expresses his hope that when he has finished the three parts of his great poem his grey hairs may be crowned with laurel on the banks of the Arno. Although the Latin of these poems is superior to that of his prose works, we may feel thankful that Dante composed the great work of his life in his own vernacular. The versification, however, is good, and there are pleasant touches of gentle humour. The Eclogues have been edited by Messrs. Wicksteed and Gardiner (Dante and Giovanni del Virgilio, London, 1902).

A treatise De aqua et terra has come down to us, which Dante tells us was delivered at Mantua in January 1320 (perhaps 1321) as a solution of the question which was being at that time much discussed whether in any place on the earth's surface water is higher than the earth. It was first published at Venice in 1508, by an. ecclesiastic named Moncetti, from a manuscript which he alleged to be in his possession, but which no one seems to have seen. Its genuineness is accordingly very doubtful; but Dr. Moore has from internal evidence made out a very strong case for it.

The Letters of Dante are among the most important materials for his biography. Giovanni Villani mentions three as specially remarkable - one to the government of Florence, in which he complains of undeserved exile; another to the emperor Henry VII, when he lingered too long at the siege of Brescia; and a third to the Italian cardinals to urge them to the election of an Italian pope after the death of Clement V. The first of these letters has not come down to us, the two last are extant. Besides these we have one addressed to the cardinal da Prato, one to a Florentine friend refusing the base conditions of return from exile, one to the princes and lords of Italy to prepare them for the coming of Henry of Luxembourg, another to the Florentines reproaching them with the rejection of the emperor, and a long letter to Can Grande della Scala, containing directions for interpreting the Divina Commedia, with especial reference to the Paradiso. Of less importance are the letters to the nephews of Count Alessandro da Romena, to the marquis Moroello Malespina, to Cino da Pistoia and to Guido da Polenta. The genuineness of all the letters has at one time or another been impugned; but the more important are now generally accepted. They have been translated by Mr C. S. Latham, ed. by Mr G. R. Carpenter (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 1891).

Dante's reputation has passed through many vicissitudes, and much trouble has been spent by critics in comparing him with other poets of established fame. Read and commented upon with more admiration than intelligence in the Italian universities in the generation immediately succeeding his death, his name became obscured as the sun of the Renaissance rose higher towards its meridian., In the 16th century he was held inferior to Petrarch; in the 17th and first half of the 18th he was almost universally neglected. His fame is now fully vindicated. Translations and commentaries issue from every press in Europe and America, and many studies for separate points are appearing every year.

Authorities:

It would be impossible here to give anything like a complete account even of the editions of Dante's works; still more of the books which have been written to elucidate the Commedia as a whole, or particular points in it. The section Dante in the British Museum catalogue down to 1887 occupies twenty-nine folio pages; the supplement, to 1900, as many more. The catalogue of the Fiske collection, in Cornell University library, is in two quarto volumes and covers 606 pages. A few of the more important editions and of the more valuable commentaries and aids may, however, be recorded.

Editions:

The Commedia was first printed by John Numeister at Foligno, in April 1472. Two other editions followed in the same year: one at Jesi (Federicus Veronensis), and Mantua (Georgius et Paulus Teutonici). These, together with a Naples edition of about 1477 (Francesco del Tuppo), were included by Lord Vernon in Le Prime Quattro Edizioni (1858). Another Neapolitan edition, without printer's name, is dated 1477, and in the same year Wendelin of Spires published the first Venetian edition. Milan followed in 1478 with that known from the name of its editor as the Nido beatine. In 1481 appeared the first Florentine edition (Nicolo and Lorenzo della Magna) with the commentary of Cristoforo Landino, and a series of copper engravings ascribed to Baccio Baldini, varying in number in different copies from two to twenty; a sumptuous and very carelessly printed volume. Venice supplied most of the editions for many years to come. Altogether twelve existed by the end of the century. In 1502 Aldus produced the first pocket edition in his new italic type, probably cut from the handwriting of his friend Bembo. A second edition of this is dated 1515. The firm of Giunta at Florence printed the poem in a small volume with cuts, in 1506; and for the rest of the 16th century edition follows edition, to the number of about thirty in all. The most noteworthy commentaries are those of Alessandro Vellutello (Venice, 1544), and Bernardo Daniello (Venice, 1568), both of Lucca. The Cruscan Academicians edited the text in 1595. The first edition with woodcuts is that of Boninus de Boninis (Brescia, 1487). Bernardino Benali followed at Venice in 1491, and from that time onward few if any of the folio editions are without them. The 17th century produced three (or perhaps four) small, shabby and inaccurate editions. In 1716 a revival of interest in Dante had set in, and before 1800 some score of editions had appeared, the best-known being those of G. A. Volpi (Padua, 1727), Pompeo Venturi (Venice, 1739) and Baldassare Lombardi (Rome, 1791).

Commentaries:

The Commedia began to be the subject of commentaries as soon as, if not before, the author was in his grave. One known as the Anonimo until in 1881 Dr. Moore identified its writer as Graziolo de Bambaglioli, was in course of writing in 1324. It was published by Lord Vernon, to whose munificence we owe the accessibility of most of the earlier commentaries, in 1848. That of Jacopo della Lana is thought to have been composed before 1340. It was printed in the Venice and Milan editions of 1477, and 5478 respectively. The so-called Ottimo Comento (Pisa, 1837) is of about the same date. It embodies parts of Lanas, but is largely an independent work. Witte ascribes it to Andrea della Lancia, a Florentine notary. Dante's sons Pietro and Jacopo also commented on their father's poem. Their works were published, again at Lord Vernon's expense, in 1845 and 1848. Boccaccio lectures on the Commedia, cut short at Inf. xvii. 17 by his death in 1375, are accessible in various forms. His work was achieved by his disciple Benvenuto Rambaldi of Imola (d. C. 1390). Benvenuto's commentary, written in Latin, genial in temper, and often acute, was popular from the first. Extracts from it were used as notes in many manuscripts. Much of it was printed by Muratori in his Antiquitates Italicae; but the entire work was first published in 1887 by Mr William Warren Vernon, with the aid of Sir James Lacaita. No greater boon has ever been offered to students of Dante. Another early annotator who must not be overlooked is Francesco da Buti of Pisa, who lectured in that city towards the close... [unfinished]

Source:

  • 1911 Encyclopedia - http://72.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DA/DANTE.htm (no longer on line) and http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Dante

Dante Alighieri

Italian poet, born at Florence, 1265; died at Ravenna, Italy, 14 September, 1321. His own statement in the "Paradiso" (xxii, 112-117) that he was born when the sun was in Gemini, fixes his birthday between 18 May and 17 June.

He was the son of Alighiero di Bellincione Alighieri, a notary belonging to an ancient but decadent Guelph family, by his first wife, Bella, who was possibly a daughter of Durante di Scolaio Abati, a Ghibelline noble. A few months after the poet's birth, the victory of Charles of Anjou over King Manfred at Benevento (26 February, 1266) ended the power of the empire in Italy, placed a French dynasty upon the throne of Naples, and secured the predominance of the Guelphs in Tuscany. Dante thus grew up amidst the triumphs of the Florentine democracy, in which he took some share fighting in the front rank of the Guelph cavalry at the battle of Campaldino (11 June, 1289), when the Tuscan Ghibellines were defeated by the forces of the Guelph league, of which Florence was the head. This victory was followed by a reformation of the Florentine constitution, associated with the name of Giano della Bella, a great-hearted noble who had joined the people. By the Ordinances of Justice (1293) all nobles and magnates were more strictly excluded from the government, and subjected to severe penalties for offences against plebeians. To take any part in public life, it was necessary to be enrolled in one or other of the "Arts" (the guilds in which the burghers and artisans were banded together), and accordingly Dante matriculated in the guild of physicians and apothecaries. On 6 July, 1295, he spoke in the General Council of the Commune in favour of some modification in the Ordinances of Justice after which his name is frequently found recorded as speaking or voting in the various councils of the republic.

Already Dante had written his first book, the "Vita Nuova", or "New Life", an exquisite medley of lyrical verse and poetic prose, telling the story of his love for Beatrice, whom he had first seen at the end of his ninth year. Beatrice, who was probably the daughter of Folco Portinari, and wife of Simone de' Bardi, died in June, 1290, and the "Vita Nuova" was completed about the year 1294. Dante's love for her was purely spiritual and mystical, the amor amicitiae defined by St. Thomas Aquinas: "That which is loved in love of friendship is loved simply and for its own sake". Its resemblance to the chivalrous worship that the troubadours offered to married women is merely superficial. The book is dedicated to the Florentine poet, Guido Cavalcanti, whom Dante calls "the first of my friends", and ends with the promise of writing concerning Beatrice "what has never before been written of any woman".

At the beginning of 1300 the papal jubilee was proclaimed by Boniface VIII. It is doubtful whether Dante was among the pilgrims who flocked to Rome. Florence was in a disastrous condition, the ruling Guelph party having split into two factions, known as Bianchi and Neri, "Whites" and "Blacks", which were led by Vieri de' Cerchi and Corso Donati, respectively. Roughly speaking, the Bianchi were the constitutional party, supporting the burgher government and the Ordinances of Justice; the Neri, at once more turbulent and more aristocratic, relied on the support of the populace, and were strengthened by the favour of the pope, who disliked and mistrusted the recent developments of the democratic policy of the republic. The discovery of a plot on the part of certain Florentines in the papal service (18 April) and a collision between the two factions, in which blood was shed (1 May), brought things to a crisis. On 7 May Dante was sent on an unimportant embassy to San Gemignano. Shortly after his return he was elected one of the six priors who for two months, together with the gonfaloniere, formed the Signoria, the chief magistracy of the republic. His term of office was from 15 June to 15 August. Together with his colleagues. he confirmed the anti-Papal measures of his predecessors, banished the leaders of both factions, and offered such opposition to the papal legate, Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta, that the latter returned to Rome and laid Florence under an interdict. Guido Cavalcanti had been among the exiled Bianchi; having contracted a fatal illness at Sarzana, he was allowed, together with the rest of his faction, to return to Florence, where he died at the end of August. This, however, was after Dante's term of office had ended. Enraged at this partial treatment, Corso Donati, in understanding with his adherents in Florence, appealed to the pope, who decided to send a French prince, Charles of Valois, with an armed force, as peacemaker. We find Dante, in 1301, prominent among the ruling Bianchi in Florence. On 19 June, in the Council of the Hundred, he returned his famous answer, Nihil fiat, to the proposed grant of soldiers to the pope, which the Cardinal of Acquasparta had demanded by letter. After 28 September he is lost sight of. He is said to have been sent on a mission to the pope at the beginning of October, but this is disputed. On 1 November Charles of Valois entered Florence with his troops, and restored the Neri to power. Corso Donati and his friends returned in triumph, and were fully revenged on their opponents. Dante was one of the first victims. On a trumped-up charge of hostility to the Church and corrupt practices, he was sentenced (27 January, 1302), together with four others, to a heavy fine and perpetual exclusion from office. On 10 March, together with fifteen others, he was further condemned, as contumacious, to be burned to death, should he ever come into the power of the Commune. At the beginning of April the whole of the White faction were driven out of Florence.

A few years before his exile Dante had married Gemma di Manetto Donati, a distant kinswoman of Corso, by whom he had four children. He never saw his wife again; but his sons, Pietro and Jacopo, and one of his daughters, Beatrice, joined him in later years. At first, he made common cause with his fellow-exiles at Siena, Arezzo, and Forli, in attempting to win his way back to Florence with the aid of Ghibelline arms. Dante's name occurs in a document of 8 June, 1302 among the exiled Bianchi who at San Godenzo in the Apennines were forming an alliance with the Ubaldini to make war upon the Florentine Republic; but, in a similar agreement signed at Bologna on 18 June, 1303, he no longer appears among them. Between these two dates he had made his resolution to form a party by himself (Par., xvii, 61-68), and had sought refuge in the hospitality of Bartolommeo della Scala, the lord of Verona, where he first saw Can Grande della Scala, Bartolommeo's younger brother, then a boy of fourteen years, who became the hero of his later days.

Dante now withdrew from all active participation in politics. In one of his odes written at this time, the "Canzone of the Three Ladies" (Canz. xx), he finds himself visited in his banishment by Justice and her spiritual children, outcasts even as he, and declares that, since such are his companions in misfortune, he counts his exile an honour. His literary work at this epoch centres round his rime, or lyrical poems, more particularly round a series of fourteen canzoni or odes, amatory in form, but partly allegorical and didactic in meaning, a splendid group of poems which connect the "Vita Nuova" with the "Divina Commedia". Early in 1304 he seems to have gone to Bologna. Here he began, but left unfinished, a Latin treatise, "De Vulgari Eloquentia", in which he attempts to discover the ideal Italian language, the noblest form of the vernacular, and then to show how it should be employed in the composition of lyrical poetry. Even in its unfinished state it is a most illuminating book to all who wish to understand the metrical form of the Italian canzone. On 10 March, 1306, the Florentine exiles were expelled from Bologna. In August we find Dante at Padua, and some weeks later in Lunigiana, where, on 6 October he acted as the representative of the Marquess Franceschino Malaspina in making peace between his family and the Bishop of Luni. About this time (1306-08) he began the "Convivio", or "Banquet" in Italian prose, a kind of popularization of Scholastic philosophy in the form of a commentary upon his fourteen odes already mentioned. Only four of the fifteen projected treatises were actually written, an introduction and three commentaries. In allegorical fashion they tell us how Dante became the lover of Philosophy, that mystical lady whose soul is love and whose body is wisdom, she "whose true abode is in the most secret place of the Divine Mind".

All certain traces of Dante are now lost for some years. He is said to have gone to Paris some time between 1307 and 1309, but this is open to question. In November, 1308, Henry of Luxemburg was elected emperor as Henry VII. In him Dante saw a possible healer of the wounds of Italy, a renovator of Christendom, a new "Lamb of God" (the expression is the poet's) who would take away the sins of the world. This drew him back again into the tempestuous sea of politics and the life of action. It was probably in 1309, in anticipation of the emperor's coming to Italy, that Dante wrote his famous work on the monarchy, "De Monarchiâ", in three books. Fearing lest he "should one day be convicted of the charge of the buried talent", and desirous of "keeping vigil for the good of the world", he proceeds successively to show that such a single supreme temporal monarchy as the empire is necessary for the well-being of the world, that the Roman people acquired universal sovereign sway by Divine right, and that the authority of the emperor is not dependent upon the pope, but descends upon him directly from the fountain of universal authority which is God. Man is ordained for two ends: blessedness of this life, which consists in the exercise of his natural powers and is figured in the terrestrial paradise; blessedness of life eternal, which consists in the fruition of the Divine aspect in the celestial paradise to which man's natural powers cannot ascend without the aid of the Divine light. To these two ends man must come by diverse means: "For to the first we attain by the teachings of philosophy, following them by acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues. To the second by spiritual teachings, which transcend human reason, as we follow them by acting according to the theological virtues." But, although these ends and means are made plain to us by human reason and by revelation, men in their cupidity would reject them, were not they restrained by bit and rein. "Wherefore man had need of a twofold directive power according to his twofold end, to wit, the Supreme Pontiff, to lead the human race in accordance with things revealed, to eternal life; and the Emperor, to direct the human race to temporal felicity in accordance with the teachings of philosophy." It is therefore the special duty of the emperor to establish freedom and peace "on this threshing floor of mortality". Mr. Wicksteed (whose translation is quoted) aptly notes that in the, "De Monarchiâ" "we first find in its full maturity the general conception of the nature of man, of government, and of human destiny, which was afterwards transfigured, without being transformed, into the framework of the Sacred Poem".

The emperor arrived in Italy in September, 1310. Dante had already announced this new sunrise for the nations in an enthusiastic letter to the princes and peoples of Italy (Epist. v). He paid homage to Henry in Milan, early in 1311, and was much gratified by his reception. He then passed into the Casentino, probably on some imperial mission. Thence, on 31 March, he wrote to the Florentine Government (Epist. vi), "the most wicked Florentines within", denouncing them in unmeasured language for their opposition to the emperor, and, on 16 April, to Henry (Epist. vii), rebuking him for his delay, urging him to proceed at once against the rebellious city, "this dire plague which is named Florence". By a decree of 2 September (the reform of Baldo d'Aguglione), Dante is included in the list of those who are permanently excepted from all amnesty and grace by the commune of Florence. In the spring of 1312 he seems to have gone with the other exiles to join the emperor at Pisa, and it was there that Petrarch, then a child in his eighth year, saw his great predecessor for the only time. Reverence for his fatherland, Leonardo Bruni tells us, kept Dante from accompanying the imperial army that vainly besieged Florence in September and October; nor do we know what became of him in the disintegration of his party on the emperor's death in the following August, 1313. A vague tradition makes him take refuge in the convent of Santa Croce di Fonte Avellana near Gubbio. It was possibly from thence that, after the death of Clement V, in 1314, he wrote his noble letter to the Italian cardinals (Epist. viii), crying aloud with the voice of Jeremias, urging them to restore the papacy to Rome.

A little later, Dante was at Lucca under the protection of Uguccione della Faggiuola, a Ghibelline soldier who had temporarily made himself lord of that city. Probably in consequence of his association with Uguccione the Florentines renewed the sentence of death against the poet (6 Nov. 1315), his two sons being included in the condemnation. In 1316 several decrees of amnesty were passed, and (although Dante was undoubtedly excluded under a provision of 2 June) some attempt was made to get it extended to him. The poet's answer was his famous letter to an unnamed Florentine friend (Epist. ix), absolutely refusing to return to his country under shameful conditions. He now went again to Verona, where he found his ideal of knightly manhood realized in Can Grande della Scala, who was ruling a large portion of Eastern Lombardy as imperial vicar, and in whom he doubtless saw a possible future deliverer of Italy. It is a plausible theory, dating from the fifteenth century, that identifies Can Grande with the "Veltro", or greyhound, the hero whose advent is prophesied at the beginning of the "Inferno", who is to effectuate the imperial ideals of the "De Monarchiâ", and succeed where Henry of Luxemburg had failed.

In 1317 (according to the more probable chronology) Dante settled at Ravenna, at the invitation of Guido Novello da Polenta. Here he completed the "Divina Commedia". From Ravenna he wrote the striking letter to Can Grande (Epist. x), dedicating the "Paradiso" to him, commenting upon its first canto, and explaining the intention and allegorical meaning of the whole poem. A letter in verse (1319) from Giovanni del Virgilio, a lecturer in Latin at the University of Bologna, remonstrating with him for treating such lofty themes in the vernacular, inviting him to come and receive the laurel crown in that City, led Dante to compose his first "Eclogue" a delightful poem in pastoral Latin hexameters, full of human kindness and gentle humour. In it Dante expresses his unalterable resolution to receive the laurel from Florence alone, and proposes to win his correspondent to an appreciation of vernacular poetry by the gift of ten cantos of the "Paradiso". A second "Eclogue" was sent to Giovanni after Dante's death, but it is doubtful whether it was really composed by the poet. This correspondence shows that in 1319 the "Inferno" and "Purgatorio" were already generally known while the "Paradiso" was still unfinished. This was now sent in installments to Can Grande, as completed, between 1319 and 1321. If the "Quaestio de Aqua et Terra" is authentic, Dante was at Verona on 20 January, 1320, where he delivered a discourse on the relative position of earth and water on the surface of the globe; but, although the authenticity of this treatise has recently found strenuous defenders, it must still be regarded as doubtful. In July, 1321, Dante went on an embassy from Guido da Polenta to Venice. Two months later he died, at Ravenna, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and was buried in the church of San Francesco in that city. The whole of the "Divina Commedia" had been published, with the exception of the last thirteen cantos of the "Paradiso", which were afterwards discovered by his son Jacopo and forwarded by him to Can Grande.

The "Divina Commedia" is an allegory of human life, in the form of a vision of the world beyond the grave, written avowedly with the object of converting a corrupt society to righteousness: "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity". It is composed of a hundred cantos, written in the measure known as terza rima, with its normally hendecasyllabic lines and closely linked rhymes, which Dante so modified from the popular poetry of his day that it may be regarded as his own invention. He is relating, nearly twenty years after the event, a vision which was granted to him (for his own salvation when leading a sinful life) during the year of jubilee, 1300, in which for seven days (beginning on the morning of Good Friday) he passed through hell, purgatory, and paradise, spoke with the souls in each realm, and heard what the Providence of God had in store for himself and to world. The framework of the poem presents the dual scheme of the "De Monarchiâ" transfigured. Virgil, representing human philosophy acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues, guides Dante by the light of natural reason from the dark wood of alienation from God (where the beasts of lust pride, and avarice drive man back from ascending the Mountain of the Lord), through hell and purgatory to the earthly paradise, the state of temporal felicity, when spiritual liberty has been regained by the purgatorial pains. Beatrice, representing Divine philosophy illuminated by revelation, leads him thence, up through the nine moving heavens of intellectual preparation, into the true paradise, the spaceless and timeless empyrean, in which the blessedness of eternal life is found in the fruition of the sight of God. There her place is taken by St. Bernard, type of the loving contemplation in which the eternal life of the soul consists, who commends him to the Blessed Virgin, at whose intercession he obtains a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, the poem closing with all powers of knowing and loving fulfilled and consumed in the union of the understanding with the Divine Essence, the will made one with the Divine Will, "the Love that moves the sun and the other stars".

The sacred poem, the last book of the Middle Ages, sums up the knowledge and intellectual attainment of the centuries that passed between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance; it gives a complete picture of Catholicism in the thirteenth century in Italy. In the "Inferno", Dante's style is chiefly influenced by Virgil, and, in a lesser degree, by Lucan. The heir in poetry of the great achievement of St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas in christianizing Aristotle, his ethical scheme and metaphysics are mainly Aristotelean while his machinery is still that of popular medieval tradition. It is doubtful whether he had direct acquaintance with any other account of a visit to the spirit world, save that in the sixth book of the "Æneid". But over all this vast field his dramatic sense played at will, picturing human nature in its essentials, laying bare the secrets of the heart with a hand as sure as that of Shakespeare. Himself the victim of persecution and injustice, burning with zeal for the reformation and renovation of the world, Dante's impartiality is, in the main, sublime. He is the man (to adopt his own phrase) to whom Truth appeals from her immutable throne, as such, he relentlessly condemns the "dear and kind paternal image" of Brunetto Latini to hell, though from him he had learned "how man makes himself eternal" while he places Constantine, to whose donation he ascribes the corruption of the Church and the ruin of the world in paradise. The pity and terror of certain episodes in the "Inferno" — the fruitless magnanimity of Farinata degli Uberti, the fatal love of Francesca da Rimini, the fall of Guido da Montefeltro, the doom of Count Ugolino — reach the utmost heights of tragedy.

The "Purgatorio", perhaps the most artistically perfect of the three canticles, owes less to the beauty of the separate episodes. Dante's conception of purgatory as a lofty mountain, rising out of the ocean in the southern hemisphere, and leading up to the Garden of Eden, the necessary preparation for winning back the earthly paradise, and with it all the prerogatives lost by man at the fall of Adam, seems peculiar to him; nor do we find elsewhere the purifying process carried on beneath the sun and stars, with the beauty of transfigured nature only eclipsed by the splendour of the angelic custodians of the seven terraces. The meeting with Beatrice on the banks of Lethe, with Dante's personal confession of an unworthy past, completes the story of the "Vita Nuova" after the bitter experiences and disillusions of a lifetime.

The essence of Dante's philosophy is that all virtues and all vices proceed from love. The "Purgatorio" shows how love is to be set in order, the "Paradiso" shows how it is rendered perfect in successive stages of illumination, until it attains to union with the Divine Love. The whole structure and spiritual arrangement of Dante's paradise, in which groups of saints make a temporary appearance in the lower spheres in token of the "many mansions", is closely dependent upon the teachings of the Pseudo-Dionysius and St. Bernard concerning the different offices of the nine orders of angels. It is doubtful whether he knew the "Celestial Hierarchy" of Dionysius at first hand, in the translation of Scotus Erigena; but St. Bernard's "De Consideratione" certainly influenced him profoundly. Dante's debt to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church has not yet been investigated with the fullness of research that has been devoted to elucidating his knowledge of the classical writers. His theology is mainly that of St. Thomas Aquinas, though he occasionally (as when treating of primal matter and of the nature of the celestial intelligences) departs from the teaching of the Angelical Doctor. On particular points, the influence of St. Gregory, St. Isidore, St. Anselm, and St. Bonaventure may be traced; that of Boethius is marked and deep throughout. His mysticism is professedly based upon St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and Richard of St. Victor, while in many places it curiously anticipates that of St. John of the Cross. Mr. Wicksteed speaks of "many instances in which Dante gives a spiritual turn to the physical speculations of the Greeks". Even in the "Paradiso" the authority of Aristotle is, next to that of the Scriptures, supreme; and it is noteworthy that, when questioned by St. John upon charity, Dante appeals first of all to the Stagirite (in the "Metaphysics") as showing us the cause for loving God for Himself and above all things (Par., xxvi, 37-39). The harmonious fusion of the loftiest mysticism with direct transcripts from nature and the homely circumstance of daily life, all handled with poetic passion and the most consummate art, gives the "Divina Commedia" its unique character. The closing canto is the crown of the whole work sense and music are wedded in perfect harmony; the most profound mystery of faith is there set forth in supreme song with a vivid clearness and illuminating precision that can never be surpassed.

Dante's vehement denunciation of the ecclesiastical corruption of his times, and his condemnation of most of the contemporary popes (including the canonized Celestine V) to hell have led to some questioning as to the poet's attitude towards the Church. Even in the fourteenth century attempts were made to find heresy in the "Divina Commedia", and the "De Monarchiâ" was burned at Bologna by order of a papal legate. In more recent times Dante has been hailed as a precursor of the Reformation. His theological position as an orthodox Catholic has been amply and repeatedly vindicated, recently and most notably by Dr. Moore, who declares that "there is no trace in his writings of doubt or dissatisfaction respecting any part of the teaching of the Church in matters of doctrine authoritatively laid down". A strenuous opponent of the political aims of the popes of his own day, the beautiful episodes of Casella and Manfred in the "Purgatorio", no less than the closing chapter of the "De Monarchiâ" itself, bear witness to Dante's reverence for the spiritual power of the papacy, which he accepts as of Divine origin. Not the least striking testimony to his orthodoxy is the part played by the Blessed Virgin in the sacred poem from the beginning to the end. It is, as it were, the working out in inspired poetry of the sentence of Richard of St. Victor: "Through Mary not only is the light of grace given to man on earth but even the vision of God vouchsafed to souls in Heaven."

Our earliest account of the life and works of Dante is contained in a chapter in the "Croniche Fiorentine" of Giovanni Villani (d. 1348), who speaks of the poet as "our neighbour". There are six commentaries extant on the "Divina Commedia", in whole or in part, composed within ten years of the poet's death. Three of these by Graziolo de' Bambaglioli, then chancellor of the commune of Bologna; an unidentified Florentine known as Selmi's Anonimo, and Fra Guido da Pisa, a Carmelite extend to the "Inferno" alone; those by Jacopo Alighieri, the poet's second son, Jacopo della Lana of Bologna, and the author of the "Ottimo Commento" deal with the entire poem. Graziolo appears as the first defender of Dante's orthodoxy (then fiercely assailed in Bologna); the author of the "Ottimo" (plausibly identified with a Florentine notary and poet, Andrea Lancia) professes to have actually spoken with Dante, and gives us various interesting details concerning his life. About 1340 Dante's elder son, Pietro Alighieri, set himself to elucidate his father's work; two versions of his Latin commentary have been preserved, the later containing additions which (if really his) are of considerable importance. Some time after 1348, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the first formal life of Dante, the "Trattatello in laude di Dante", the authority of which once much derided, has been largely rehabilitated by more recent research. His commentary on the "Inferno" is the substance of lectures delivered at Florence in 1373. A few years later came the commentaries of Benvenuto da Imola and Francesco Buti, which were originally delivered as lectures at Bologna and Pisa respectively. Benvenuto's is a living book, full of humour and actuality as well as learning. The little "Life" by Leonardo Bruni (d. 1444), the famous chancellor of the Florentine Republic, which supplements Boccaccio's work with fresh information and quotes letters of the poet other than those which are now known and the slighter notice by Filippo Villani (c. 1404), who is the first commentator who refers in explicit terms to the "Letter to Can Grande", bring the first age of Dante interpretation to an appropriate close. The title of father of modern Dante scholarship unquestionably belongs to Karl Witte (1800-83), whose labours set students of the nineteenth century on the right path both in interpretation and in textual research. More recently, mainly through the influence of G.A. Scartazzini (d. 1901), a wave of excessive scepticism swept over the field, by which the traditional events of Dante's life were regarded as little better than fables and the majority of his letters and even some of his minor works were declared to be spurious. This has now happily abated. The most pressing needs of Dante scholarship today are more textual study of the "Divina Commedia", a closer and more thorough acquaintance with every aspect of the minor works and a fuller investigation of Dante's position with regard to the great philosophies of the Middle Ages; such as will justify or restate the pregnant opening of the epitaph that Giovanni del Virgilio composed for his tomb: Theologus Dantes, nullius dogmatis expers quod foveat claro philosophia sinu ("Dante the theologian, skilled in every branch of knowledge that philosophy may cherish in her illustrious bosom").

Dante may be said to have made Italian poetry, and to have stamped the mark of his lofty and commanding personality upon all modern literature. It can even be claimed that his works have had a direct share in shaping the aspirations and destinies of his native country. His influence upon English literature begins with the poetry of Chaucer, who hails him worthily in the "Monkes Tale", and refers his readers to him as "the grete poete of Itaille that highte Dant". Eclipsed for a while in Tudor times by the greater popularity of Petrarch, he was afterwards ignored or contemned from the Restoration until the end of the eighteenth century. The first complete translation of the "Divina Commedia" into English, the work of an Irishman, Henry Boyd, was published in 1802 (that of the "Inferno" having been issued in 1785). Dante came again into his heritage among us with the great flood of noble poetry that the beginning of the nineteenth century witnessed. The eloquent tributes rendered to him by Shelley (in "Epipsychidion", the "Triumph of Life", and "A Defence of Poetry") and by Byron (especially in the "Prophecy of Dante") as after them by Browning and Tennyson, need not be repeated here. Through Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites, he has been a fruitful influence in art no less than in letters. In the interpretation and criticism of Dante, English-speaking scholars at present stand second only to the Italians.

Never, perhaps, has Dante's fame stood so high as at the present day, when he is universally recognized as ranking with Homer, Æschylus, Sophocles, and Shakespeare, among the few supreme poets of the world. It has been well observed that his inspiration resembles that of the Hebrew prophet more than that of the poet as ordinarily understood. His influence moreover, is by no means confined to mere literature. A distinguished Unitarian divine has pointed out that the modern cult of Dante is "a sign of enlarging and deepening spiritual perception as well as literary appreciation", and that it is one of the chief indications of "the renewed hold which the later Middle Ages have gained upon modern Europe" (Wicksteed, "The Religion of Time and of Eternity"). The poet's own son Pietro Alighieri, declared that, if the Faith were extinguished, Dante would restore it, and it is noteworthy today that many serious non-Catholic students of life and letters owe a totally different conception of the Catholic religion to the study of the "Divina Commedia". The power of the sacred poem in popularizing Catholic theology and Catholic philosophy, and rendering it acceptable, or at least intelligible to non-Catholics, is at the present day almost incalculable.

The place of honour among Dante societies belongs unquestionably and in every sense to the "Societa Dantesca Italiana", an admirably conducted association with its headquarters at Florence, which welcomes foreign students among its members, and is distinguished for its high and liberal scholarship. In addition to courses of lectures delivered under its auspices in various Italian cities, it publishes a quarterly "Bulletino", a survey of contemporary Dante literature, and has begun a series of critical editions of the minor works. Of these latter, volumes dealing with the "De Vulgari Eloquentia" and the "Vita Nuova", by Pio Rajna and Michele Barbi respectively, have already appeared, and may be truly said to mark an epoch in the critical and textual study of Dante's Latin and Italian writings alike. The association known as the "Dante Alighieri", on the other hand, is essentially a national and political society, and is only indirectly concerned with the poet whose name it bears. Of Dante societies other than Italian, the "American Dante Society" of Cambridge, Massachusetts, stands first in importance. The small but distinguished "Oxford Dante Society" does work of a high order of scholarship. The "Dante Society of London" is noteworthy for its large number of members, and publishes its sessional lectures in volume form; but its aims appear to be social rather than scholarly.

Source:

  • Catholic Encyclopedia - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04628a.htm

The greatest Italian poet and one of the most important writers of European literature. Dante is best known for the epic poem COMMEDIA, c. 1310-14, later named LA DIVINA COMMEDIA. It has profoundly affected not only the religious imagination but all subsequent allegorical creation of imaginary worlds in literature. Dante spent much of his life traveling from one city to another. This had perhaps more to do with the restless times than his wandering character or fixation on the Odyssey. However, his Commedia can also be called a spiritual travel book.

"It were a shameful thing if one should rhyme under the semblance of metaphor or rhetorical similitude, and afterwards, being questioned thereof, should be unable to rid his words of such semblance, unto their right understanding."

(from Vita Nuova, c. 1293)

Dante Alighieri was born into a Florentine family of noble ancestry. Little is known about Dante's childhood. His mother, Bella degli Abati, died when he was seven years old. His father, Alighiero II, made his living by money-lending and renting of property. After the death of his wife he remarried, but died in the early 1280s, before the future poet reached manhood. Brunetto Latini, a man of letters and a politician, became a father figure for Dante, but later in his Commedia Dante placed Latini in Hell, into the seventh circle, among those who were guilty of "violence against nature" - sodomy.

Dante received a thorough education in both classical and Christian literature. At the age of 12 he was promised to his future wife, Gemma Donati. Dante had already fallen in love with another girl whom he called Beatrice. She was 9 years old. Years later Dante met Beatrice again. He had become interested in writing verse, and although he wrote several sonnets to Beatrice, he never mentioned his wife Gemma in any of his poems. One of his early sonnets Dante sent to the poet Guido Cavalcanti, which started their friendship. Dante also dedicated his first book to Cavalcanti. The work, LA VITA NUOVA (1292), celebrated Dante's love for Beatrice. The nature of his love had its roots in the medieval concept of "courtly love" and the idealization of women. According to another theory, Beatrice was actually a symbol of 'Santa Sapienza', which united secret societies of the day. Harold Bloom in The Western Canon (1994) sees Beatrice as Dante's greatest muse, his invention, who saved him "by giving him his greatest image for poetry, and he saved her from oblivion, little as she may have wanted such salvation."

Dante married in 1285 Gemma Donati but his ideal lady and inspiration for his poetry was Beatrice Portinari. She married Simone dei Bardi in 1287; she was his second wife. When Dante was asked why he still continued unhappily to love her, he answered: "Ladies, the end of my love was indeed the greeting of this lady, of whom you are perhaps thinking, and in that greeting lay my beatitude, for it was the end of all my desires. But because it pleased her to deny it to me, my Lord Love in his mercy has placed all my beatitude in that which cannot fail me." Beatrice died in June 1290, at the age of 24. After Beatrice's death, Dante withdrew into intense study and began composing poems dedicated to her memory. From Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae and the writings of Thomas Aquinas he found much consolation and intellectual stimulation.

In 1289 in the Florentine army Dante participated in a battle against the Arentines. He also entered politics and joined the White (Bianchi) Guelphs, one of the rival factions within the Guelph party. In 1295 he entered the Guild of member Apothecaries, to which philosophers could belong, and which opened for him the doors to public office. Dante served the commune in various councils and was ambassador to San Gimignano in 1300 and then to Rome. In June 1300 he was elected a prior, and the following year he was appointed superintendent of roads and road repair.

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

When the Black (Neri) Guelphs, who had the pope's support, ascended to power, Dante was exiled. The White Guelphs were condemned to death by burning should they ever be caught again in Florence. They soon made an alliance with the Ghibelline party and attempted several unsuccessful attacks on Florence. The White Guelphs'hopes ended with the death (1313) of the emperor Henry VII, who they had hoped would reunite Germany and Italy. On November 1, 1301, Charles of Valois entered Florence with two thousand horsemen and a new set of priors was elected. Dante was charged with financial corruption in January 1302 and some months later he was condemned to death by burning. "The blame will fall upon the injured side / As always," Dante wrote later. Gemma Donati, by whom Dante had two sons and one or two daughters, did not accompany the poet into exile. In Commedia Dante repeatedly condemns the Popes for their involvement in politics. Pope Boniface VIII had invited Charles of Valois to Italy. Dante argued in Monarchia, that there should be one supreme ruler, the Emperor, not the Pope, as during the reign of Augustus.

After 1302 Dante never saw his home town again, but found shelter in various Italian cities and with such rulers as Ordelaffi of Forli, the Scaligeri of Verona, and the Malaspina of Lunigiana. Dante lived his remaining years in the courts of the northern Italy princes. During his exile, he started to write his Commedia, a long story-poem through the three worlds of the afterlife, under the patronage of the Ghibelline leaders. About 1320 Dante made his final home in Ravenna, where he died on the night of September 13-14, 1321. His body was brought to the church of San Francisco. Shortly after he died, Dante was accused of Averroism and his book, De Monarchia, was burned by the order of Pope John XXII. Franciscan monks hid Dante's remains, when Pope Leo X decided in 1519 to deliver them in Florence to Michelangelo, who planned to construct a glorious tomb. Again in 1677 Dante's remains were moved, and in 1865 construction workers rediscovered them accidentally.

"How bitter another's bread is, thou shalt know
By tasting it; and how hard to the feet
Another's stairs are, up and down to go."

(from The Divine Comedy)

Dante's years of exile 1301- 1321 were productive. He wrote DE VULGARI ELOQUENTIA (1304-07), a treatise on his native language. In it he urged that the courtly Italian, used for amatory lyrics, be enriched with the best from every spoken dialect and established as a serious literary language. Thus the created language would be a way to unify the separated Italian territories. This treatise was one of the first medieval investigations of political philosophy, bringing forth the idea for a world government. IL CONVIVIO was a collection of verse written between 1306 and 1308, QUAESTIO DE AQUA ET TERRA a scholastic treatise on physics. Thirteen Latin EPISTLES included both personal and political letters.

La divina commedia was completed just before the poet's death. He probably started to write it in 1307. The Purgatorio was written in Verona, where he stayed more or less continuously from late 1312 to mid-1318. In Ravenna he wrote the final phases of the Paradiso. By the time the first two parts of the Comedy had been sent in circulation, Dante was being acclaimed through much of Tuscany as its greatest poet. Dante's idea was to make the world of his poem a mirror of the world of the Christian God of his era. He thought that Thomas Aquinas had effected the final reconciliation between Aristotle's philosophy and Christian faith. Commedia was Dante's tribute to this system.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) delivered the first public lectures of the "divino poeta" and compiled in the early 1350s the first biography of Dante. In it Boccaccio wrote: "Our poet was of middle height; his face was long, his nose was aquiline, his jaw large, and his under lip protruding somewhat beyond the upper. His eyes rather large than small; his hair and beard thick, crisp, and black, and his countenance sad and pensive. His gait was grave and gentlemanlike, and his bearing, in public or private, wonderfully composed and polished. In meat and drink he was most temperate." When a splendid edition of Dante's poem was published in 1555, the adjective "divine" was applied to the poem's title, and thus the work, originally simply named Commedia, became La divina commedia. It is a narrative poem in terza rima containing 14 233 lines organized into 100 cantos approximately 142 lines each.

Written in the first person, it tells of the poet's journey through the realm of the afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The Roman poet Virgil (Vergilius) is the guide through the Inferno and Purgatorio. Dante greets Virgil as "my master and my author". Beatrice, the personification of pure love, has been sent to rescue Dante. She finally leads Dante to Paradiso. Dante is then able to gaze upon the supreme radiance of God. He ends his pilgrimage into vision of "'the Love which moves the sun and the other stars." The dual allegory of Commedia - the progress of the soul toward Heaven, and the anguish of humankind on Earth - would later be echoed by John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress (1678-84).

Commedia's most popular translation into English was made by Henry Cary (1772-1884), who issued The Inferno first, and later the complete work. A separate translation of The Inferno by Warwick Chipman (1961) is considered closer to the style and approach of Dante. - Gustave Doré's (1832-1883) illustrated text of Inferno (1861) is among the most famous editions.

For further reading:

  • Dante by R.W.B. Lewis (2001);
  • Dante's Aesthetics of Being by Warren Ginsberg (1999);
  • Dante and the Victorians by Alice Milbank (1999);
  • Dante and the Knot of Body and Soul by Marianne Shapiro (1998);
  • Dante, ed. by Jeremy Tanbling (1998);
  • Dante Alighieri by Ricardo Quinones (1998);
  • Dante's Modern Afterlife, ed. by Nick Havely (1996);
  • Dante Now by Theodore J. Cachey (1996);
  • Dante's Interpretive Journey by William France (1996);
  • Dante's Inferno, ed. by Harold Bloom (1996);
  • Dante by Michael Caesar (1995);
  • Dante's Vision and the Circle of Knowledge by Giuseppe Mazzotta (1993);
  • Vita di Dante by Giorgio Petrocchi (1983);
  • Dante the Maker by William Anderson (1980);
  • Vita di Dante by Piero Bargellini (1964);
  • Aids to the Study of Dante by Charles Allen Disnmore (1903).

Museums:

Casa di Dante, Via San Margheri, Florence - site of Dantes birth, reconstructed as a Dante museum in 1895. - Baptistery of San Giovanni, Piazza San Giovanni, Florence - inspiration for Dante's poetry and where he was baptized.

Note:

The Russian Nobel writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn used Dante's epic poem in his novel The First Circle (1968). The intellectuals of the novel are like sages of the Commedia, they are not consigned to Hell but God cannot admit them to Paradise. -

Selected works:

  • LA VITA NUOVA, c. 1293 - The New Life - Uusi elämä
  • IL CONVIVIO, 1307 (unfinished) - Dante's Convivio
  • DE VULGARI ELOQUENTIA, 1304-07 - Concerning Vernacular Eloquence
  • LA DIVINA COMMEDIA, c. 1310-14 - Inferno (finished before 1316), Purgatorio (finished before 1320), Paradiso, (finished before 1321) - The Divine Comedy (trans. by Henry Longfellow) - Jumalainen näytelmä (suom. Eino Leino 1912-14 ja Elina Vaara 1963) - film Dante's Inferno (1935), dir. by Harry Lachman, starring Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor, sets by Willy Pogany, inspired by Gustave Doré
  • DE MONARCHIA, c. 1313 - On Monarchy
  • ECLOGUES, 1319
  • QUAESTIO DE SITU AQUE ET TERRE, 1320
  • RIME, 1943 (ed. by Daniele Mattalia; Gianfranco Contini in 1946; Michele Barbi and Francesco Maggini in 1956)
  • OPERE, 1944
  • The Portable Dante, 1947 (ed. by Paolo Milano)
  • LE OPERE DI DANTE, 1960
  • Letters, 1966
  • Dante's Lyric Poetry, 1967 (2 vols.)

Sources:

  • http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dante.htm

See also:


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Created: Tuesday, June 10, 2008. Last Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012
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