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Dante 1265–1321

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(Full name Dante Alighieri) Italian poet, prose writer, and philosopher.

Regarded as one of the finest poets that Italy has ever produced, Dante is also celebrated as a major influence in Western culture. His masterpiece, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) is universally known as one of the great poems of world literature. Divided into three sections—Inferno, Purgatorio, and ParadisoThe Divine Comedy presents an encyclopedic overview of the mores, attitudes, beliefs, philosophies, as pirations, and material aspects of the medieval world. More than a summa of medieval life, however, Dante's poem is a superb work of fiction with poignant dramatic episodes and unforgettable characters. Dante's verse collection entitled Vita Nuova (The New Life), though not of the stature of The Divine Comedy, is well known for its exaltation of Beatrice, an idealized figure who inspired love poetry imbued with a fervent religious undertone.

Biographical Information

Dante was born in Florence in 1265. Little is known about his early education, but scholars surmise that he received formal instruction in grammar, language, and philosophy at one of the Franciscan schools in the city. At the age of nine he purportedly glimpsed Beatrice, a girl eight years old, and that encounter was to affect his life dramatically. Struck by her beauty, he fell in love. Nine years later he saw her again, and when she greeted him, his love was confirmed. (Whether Beatrice really existed and whether her factual existence matters have been topics of some debate; she is generally identified as Beatrice Portinari.) During his teens, Dante demonstrated a keen interest in literature and undertook an apprenticeship with Brunetto Latini, a celebrated poet and prose writer of vernacular Italian, who expanded Dante's knowledge of literature and rhetoric. Associating with a circle of respected Florentine poets, Dante befriended Guido Cavalcanti, and the poet helped Dante refine his literary skills. In 1283 Dante inherited a modest family fortune from his parents, both of whom died during his childhood but took care to pre-arrange his marriage to Gemma Donati in 1285. In 1287 Dante enrolled in the University of Bologna, but by 1289 he enlisted in the Florentine army and took part in the Battle of Campaidino. The death of Beatrice Portinari in 1290 proved to be a turning point in Dante's life, ultimately inspiring his Christian devotion and poetry, most notably as the ideal lady who leads him to redemption in The Divine Comedy. Stricken with grief,

he committed himself to the study of philosophical works of Boethius, Cicero, and Aristotle, and earnestly wrote poetry, establishing his own poetic voice in innovative canzoni, or lyrical poems. Dante also became increasingly active in perilous Florentine politics, aligning himself with the White Guelfs. The Black Guelfs, supported by papal forces, staged a coup in 1301 and established themselves as absolute rulers. Prominent Whites, including Dante, were stripped of their possessions and banished from the city. Dante never returned, spending his remaining years in Verona and later in Ravenna, where he died in 1321.

Major Works

Written in commemoration of Beatrice's death, The New Life reflects Dante's first effort to depict her as an abstract model of love and beauty. In this collection of early canzoni, Dante uses a refreshing and innovative approach, or stil nuovo, in love poetry that equates the love experience with a divine and mystical spiritual revelation. Il Convivo (The Banquet), is another collection of canzoni, accompanied by extensive prose commentary, that further develops the poet's use of the stil nuovo. An unfinished Latin tract, De Vulgari Eloquentia (Eloquence in the Vernacular Tongue) is a theoretical discussion of the origin of Italian dialects and literary language and examines how they relate to the composition of...

(The entire section contains 64560 words.)

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Dante World Literature Analysis