Dante Alighieri was the first and best Italian poet and wrote mainly on love and religion. His Divine Comedy is considered the greatest book of the last millennium. George Steiner said, "Dante’s totality of poet form and philosophic thought, of local universality and language, remains unrivaled. At a time where the notion of culture and of European culture in particular, is somewhat in doubt, Dante is the sovereign underwriter. His are the solutions beyond logic” (Twito 5).
On June 5, 1265 Dante was born Durante Alighieri, Dante was a nickname, in Florence, Italy. His family was of decayed nobility with some pretensions to power (Giles 1). He was taught the classics and scholastic Christian literature, and wrote much poetry when he was young, consisting mainly of love lyrics in the style of Guido Guinizelli and Guido Cavalcanti. This style that used poetical art not only to speak about love, but to celebrate it, he called Stilnovo which means “new style” (Giles 2).
He fell in love with a woman named Beatrice, who was also called Bice di Folco Portinarti by some, whom he met only twice in 1274 and 1283 at the age of nine and eighteen respectively. His love was a transformation of courtly love popularized by the Provencal literature of minstrels, troubadours, and the such. To Dante, Beatrice symbolized divine grace and supreme beauty. He wrote La Vita Nuova about her, and she was his guide through Purgatory in La Divina Commedia (Auerbach 1). Because Beatrice died in 1290, Dante married Gemma di Manetto Donati even though he didn’t completely love her. They had between three and seven children together (Giles 1).
Dante, who was in the Guelph party, was deeply involved in the issues and events of his day, which reflected in his writing. He was a member of the Florentine cavalry that routed the Ghibellines at Campaldio in 1289. In 1300 he became one of the six priors, or governors, of Florence (Mojana 56). At the beginning of the thirteenth century, political life was factionalized into the Ghibellines, who represented the old imperial aristocracy, and the Guelphs, a party that was originally bourgeois and looked to the pope as a political power rather than a spiritual leader. At the beginning of the 14th century, the Guelphs held most councils in Italy. The Guelfi split into two groups, t...
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...s to understand or accept” (Benfell 7). 1
Dante’s life spanned the troubled years of the late Middle Ages. He influenced Longfellow, Tennyson, Victor Hugo, and T.S. Elliot (Benfell 15). Dante’s vision was born not so much from a literary intent as from an authentic experience of action and thought, illuminated in a moment of grace. Along with William Shakespeare, he is one of the towering figures of western literature (Cooksey 35).
Auerbach, Erich. “Dante Alighieri.” Grolier Encyclopedia Online 11 Oct 2000 Available: http://go.grolier.com
Benfell, V. Stanley. “Prophetic Madness: The Bible in Inferno.” MLIV Jan 1995: v110 n1 p195 Online Internet Oct 00 Available: http://rac.galegroup.com/itar/infomark/199/241.htm
Cooksey, Tina. “The Divine Comedy: Hell, Purgatory, Heaven.” Library Journal 1Sep. 1997: 181-183
Giles, Mary E. “Dante Alighieri.” Great Thinkers of the Western World 1999 ed.
Lansing, Richard H. “Dante Alighieri.” World Book 1999 ed.
Mojana, Beeky M. “Dante” Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. 1987 ed.
Twito, Dao Dante Alighieri on the Web 8 May 1997 Online Internet 9 Oct 2000 Available: http://www.geocities.com/1kurio/
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