In the Pen Portrait series posted here the practise has been to give the year of birth and death. But in this case I have supplied the place names to indicate the turbulent times this sublime poet lived. It was his lot to wander from place to place and die in an altogether city than his place of birth.
Dante was not a troublesome meddler but a man of passion and his single work Divine Comedy holds much more merit than all those petty political ideas the Italian factions of the medieval period dabbled in. Dante is one of the greatest poets in the Italian language; with the comic story-teller Boccaccio and the poet Petrarch, he forms the classic trio of Italian authors. Dante Alighieri was born in the city-state Florence in 1265.
However, only little is known about his life.
While in Bologna in 1285 he produced his first important work, “La vita nuova” (“New Life”), which is the finest example of Dolce Stil Nuovo, a contemporary Florentine poetic style written in Volgare, the colloquial dialect. Due to the force of his language and his lyrical intensity, it is an important example of European poetry.
From 1285 until 1301, Dante is documented to have held various political offices in his hometown of Florence, though he was banned in 1302. He spent the rest of his life in exile. Around 1307, Dante began work on his epic masterpiece “La divina Commedia” (“The Divine Comedy”), which he finished in 1321, shortly before his death. With images of high density, the poem describes the journey of the first person narrator through hell (L’inferno), purgatory (Il purgatorio), and paradise (Il paradiso), during which he meets the souls of long dead mythological and historical figures.
This amazing work, which can only be read and understood with extensive knowledge of the political, scientific, and philosophical discours of Dante’s time, can be interpreted in accordance with the medieval teaching of the fourfold exegesis, the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogic (mystical allusions to heaven and the afterlife.)
Notably, he was one of the first authors to write in the vernacular Tuscan, rather than Latin, and thus had a defining effect on what Italian is today: before his work, Italian was usually only spoken, and hence was divided into many different dialects, without a coherent literary language. Dante used the melodic vowel word-endings of many Italian words in the rhyme scheme “terza rime,” in which first and the third lines of each triplet end in the same vowel sound.
His Poetic Muse
Petrarch had his inspiration in Laura and Dante owed much of his creative dynamics to Beatrice in the il Paradiso.
He first saw the woman, or rather the child, who was to become the poetic love of his life when he was almost nine years old and she was some months younger. In fact, Beatrice married another man, Simone di’ Bardi, and died when Dante was 25, so their relationship existed almost entirely in Dante’s imagination, but she nonetheless plays an extremely important role in his poetry. Dante attributed all the heavenly virtues to her soul and imagined, in his masterpiece The Divine Comedy, that she was his guardian angel who alternately berated and encouraged him on his search for salvation.
Politics as well as love deeply influenced Dante’s literary and emotional life. Renaissance Florence was a thriving, but not a peaceful city: different opposing factions continually struggled for dominance there. The Guelfs and the Ghibellines were the two major factions, and in fact that division was important in all of Italy and other countries as well. The Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor were political rivals for much of this time period, and in general the Guelfs were in favor of the Pope, while the Ghibellines supported Imperial power. By 1289 in the battle of Campaldino the Ghibellines largely disappeared from Florence. Peace, however, did not ensue. Instead, the Guelf party divided between the Whites and the Blacks (Dante was a White Guelf). The Whites were more opposed to Papal power than the Blacks, and tended to favor the emperor, so in fact the preoccupations of the White Guelfs were much like those of the defeated Ghibellines. In this divisive atmosphere Dante rose to a position of leadership. in 1302, while he was in Rome on a diplomatic mission to the Pope, the Blacks in Florence seized power with the help of the French (and pro-Pope) Charles of Valois. The Blacks exiled Dante, confiscating his goods and condemning him to be burned if he should return to Florence.(Ack: http://www.alighieri-dante.com, www.http://www.gradesaver.com/author/dante-alighieri)