A brief introduction to Dante Alighieri life and works
Dante Alighieri, the greatest Italian poet through the ages, was born in Florence on June (?) 1265 into the bosom of a wealthy family. He was son of the notary Alighiero de Bellincione, supporter of the Guelph’s reason, and of Gabriella degli Abati who died in Dante’s childhood.
It is said that when he was nine years old he met for the first time Beatrice di Folco Portinari who was eight, in the neighbouring of the Church of Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi, close to his father’s home. Dante and Beatrice met each other sometimes in their youth, but it seems that they just interchanged some polite greetings. Nevertheless, Beatrice Portinari turn into the true love of his life, becoming his sole poetical muse. Beatrice married Simone dei Bardi in 1287 and died in 1290.
The 11th June 1289, Dante combated as cavalryman in the Battle of Campaldino joined to the Florentine Guelphs (followers of the Papacy), conducted by Guillaume de Dufort and Amerigo di Narbona, against the Ghibellines (followers of the Empire) regrouped in Arezzo and conducted by Guglielmino degli Ubertini. The Ghibelline army, quite less numerous than the Guelph’s one, was defeated.
In 1302, after intense struggles between White and Black Guelphs - the two factions in which the Guelphs were divided at the time - the Black Guelphs, headed by Corso Donati, took the control of Florence and all the White Guelphs, headed by Vieri dei Cerchi (the faction to which Dante pertained) were expelled from the Florentine territorial area, being condemned to death penalty whenever they would return.
In 1291, Dante had married Gemma di Manetto to whom he was matrimonial engaged since he was twelve years old, according to his father’s choice. It is believed that they had five children, four males and a female, who took the veil under the religious name of Sister Beatrice.
During Dante’s banishment his wife kept on residing in Florence. He could never return to his birthplace and died in Ravenna on the 13th or 14th September 1321.
It is believed that Dante Alghieri studied at home with only some well-known tutors of the age, receiving a careful education with special dwell on sciences, as well as a full immersion into Latin and Greek cultures and Tuscan poetry. Since the adolescence he was particularly devoted to Virgil and Aristotle.
Afterwards, Dante was enlisted in the “Academy of Physics and Apothecia” of Florence. In 1295, he registered himself into the “Corporation of Physicians and Apothecaries” of Florence, which consented him to be active as a diplomatic and magistrate.
When Dante was 18 years old ca. he met some young Tuscan poets who would became renowned literates in future: Guido Cavalcanti (1250-1300), Cino da Pistoia (surname of Cino dei Sighibuldi da Pistoia, 1270-1336) and Lapo Gianni (born in the second half of the 13th century and death in 1329 ca.) Afterwards, Dante was introduced as well to the philosopher Brunetto Latini (1220-1294). With Cavalcanti he improved the technical dominion of poetry and from Latini he received a solid philosophical instruction.
When Dante was and advanced pupil of Latini he met Francesco da Barberino (surname of Francesco di Neri di Ranguccio, 1264-1348) a well-known poet and thinker of his age, as well as a notary, who at the time was also a pupil of Latini. By this way, a long and sincere friendship started between both the fellow students.
They all became close friends of him. Some of them met Dante again during their respective banishments or interchanged correspondence with him about literature and philosophy subjects, except of those who were died before the exile of Dante.
Furthermore than the most celebrated Dante Alighieri, those poets can probably be considered as the vanguard exponents of the “Dolce Stil Novo” (“New Sweet Style”).
The main literary and philosophical works by Dante Alghieri are:
- Vita Nuova (The New Life) from 1293/4: an autobiographical opera were Dante recalls his love for Beatrice Portinari.
- Il Fiore (The Flower): from uncertain date of composition. It is only known that this is an early Dante’s book of poems: it contains 232 sonnets. They are considered the most complete expression of comic-realistic art of Dante’s youth.
- Detto d’amore (1300): is a ditto, a lyric poetic book with a totality of 462 verses.
- De vulgari eloquentia, from 1304 to 1307 ca: a Latin essay on the utilization and defence of vernacular language in poetry.
- Il Convivio (The Banquet) from 1304 ca: a philosophical essay including some canzone (lyrics).
- Rime Petrose (uncertain date of composition): a cycle of 25 lyrics dedicated to a missing beloved.
- La Monarchia (The Monarchy) from 1310 to1314: a political essay revealing the ideological crisis of Dante who from a moderate White Guelph became a defender of the Ghibellines’ reason.
- Epistole (The Epistles): an anthology of 12 letters (the sole ones which have been found) written during his banishment to some illustrious politic and religious personages, as well as to a few friends of him.
- Le Egloghe (The Ecoglues) from 1320: is composed of two eclogues written in Latin to satisfy the interest of Giovanni del Virgilio, a prestigious Latinist of Bolonia.
- Quaestio de situ et forma aquae et terre (1321): a treatise on physics written in Latin.
- La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) written from 1307 to 1321: without any doubt it can be considered as the column which holds the modernization and the subsequent development of the European literary tradition. The Divine Comedy is composed of one hundred “chants” in vernacular poetry, divided into an opening “chant” and three parts of thirty three “chants” each: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.
“La Divina Commedia” represents many episodes of the ancient Roman history, mythology and its consequent cosmology and, more specially, all the medieval cosmology through the representation of his own soul. As well as the angelology and the theology, the medieval cosmology is based on the system of S. Thomas Aquinas; nevertheless the poet thought that the Church of his age was disloyal to the teaching of the Bible and the Evangel.
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