Durante degli Alighieri, popularly known as Dante, was a chief Italian poet during the middle ages. Born in Florence, he spent a large portion of his life in exile. Apart from being a poet, he was actively involved in politics too. His epic poem titled "Divine Comedy", originally named as "Commedia" and later named as "Divina by Boccaccio" is regarded as one of the greatest literary work created in the Italian language and a masterpiece in the world of literature. He is greatly admired for his divine depth of his spiritual vision and also for the range of his intellectual accomplishments. In Italy, he is regarded as "The Supreme Poet" and "Father of the Italian language." Also Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are together known as "the three fountains" or "the three crowns".
Dante Alighieri Childhood & Early Life
Dante was born on May/June c.1265 in Florence. The actual birth date of Dante is still unknown. His year of birth is analyzed from the autobiographic allusions in La Divina Commedia. Also as the sun was in Gemini so he must be born around the period of 11th May to 11th June. Dante declared that his family ancestry belonged to the ancient Romans. His father was Alighiero di Bellincione, who did not had to face any reprisals after the Ghibellines won the Battle of Montaperti in the mid 13th century which hints that his father or the family possessed some protective power and reputation. But some also say that the Alighiero was not into the politics and was of such lower status that he wasn’t considered worth expelling. The family of Dante enjoyed the loyalties to the Guelphs, which was a political bond that backed the Papacy and was also indulged in complicated opposition to the Ghibellines, who were supported by the Holy Roman Emperor. Dante’s mother was Bella degli Abati. She passed away when Dante was not even ten years old. After the death of his mother, Dante’s father remarried Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. It is still unclear that he actually married her, but she surely gave birth to two children; brother Francesco and sister Tana (Gaetana).
When Dante was just 12, he was committed in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati who was a daughter of Manetto Donati, member of the influential Donati family as during this period promising marriage at a small age was usual and involved a formal ceremony. The ceremony included signing of a contract before a notary. However, Dante was deeply attracted to Beatrice Portinari and wrote numerous poems dedicated to her. In 1289, Dante took part in the Battle of Campaldino and fought with the Guelph cavalry. The victory of the same invited forward the reformation of the Florentine constitution. To participate in any public events, one was supposed to become a member of one of the city’s several commercial or artisan guilds. Therefore, Dante enrolled in the association of physicians and apothecaries. In the following years, his name was traced recorded as speaking or voting in the different councils of the republic. An important part of minutes from these meetings (1298-1300) had gone missing while the Second World War was going on.
Education & Poetry
Nothing much is known about Dante’s education, but it is assumed that he was educated at home or in a chapter school that was affiliated to a church or monastery in Florence. Dante studied Tuscan poetry at the same time when a cultural association from Sicily known as Sicilian School was gaining popularity in Tuscany. Dante’s deep interest led him to uncover the Occitan poetry of the troubadours and also the Latin poetry of classical antiquity such as Cicero, Ovid, and particularly, Virgil. According to Dante, he first met Beatrice Portinari, daughter of Folco Portinari when he was of nine years and fell in love. Although he never talked to her openly and only exchanged greetings, it was in the name of this hidden love that Dante offered his impression to the “Dolce Stil Novo.” Later, Dante with various contemporary poets and writers explored this new theme of love, which was earlier quite unpopular.
Dante wrote most of his works considering Beatrice. In some poems, she was showcased as semi-divine, looking over him continuously and offering spiritual instructions. In 1290, Beatrice passed away and Dante preferred to get involve in Latin literature. Dante’s work “The Convivio” suggests that he had gone through Boethius's “De consolatione philosophiae” and Cicero's “De amicitia.” Later, he devoted his life in studying philosophy at religious schools such as the Dominican one in “Santa Maria Novella.” He also participated in the conflicts that the two principal mendicant orders (Franciscan and Dominican) publicly or indirectly took place in Florence, the former detailed on the doctrine of the mystics and of Saint Bonaventure, while the latter explained the Saint Thomas Aquinas' theories. When Dante was 18, he acquainted with Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni, Cino da Pistoia and later Brunetto Latini. All of them together served as the leaders of the “Dolce Stil Novo.” Dante’s around 50 political components are known and others are included in the afterwards “Vita Nuova and Convivio.”
Florence and Politics
Similar to most of theFlorentines of his time, Dante too was involved in the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict. After fighting in the battle of Campaldino in 1289, he played the role of one of the guards of Charles Martel of Anjou in 1294. Later, he became a pharmacist, but never attempted to actually practicing. He opted for the same because of a law issued in 1295, according to which all those nobles who wanted to become a member of the public office had to be enrolled in any of the Corporazioni delle Arti e dei Mestieri. Thus, Dante got admitted to the apothecaries' guild. This work was not completely unsuitable for him as books were sold from apothecaries' shops at that time. Though he achieved very little as a politician, he held numerous offices over many years in a city ongoing political trouble. After winning over the Ghibellines, the Guelphs got divided into two parts: the White Guelphs (Guelfi Bianchi) which was a Dante's party, led by Vieri dei Cerchi and the Black Guelphs (Guelfi Neri), led by Corso Donati. Although the split initially was along the family lines, but ideological differences also fired up because of the contrast views of the papal role in Florentine affairs. While the Blacks were with the pope, the Whites demanded more freedom from the Rome. In the starting, Whites were dominant and threw out the Blacks. In reaction, Pope Boniface VIII devised a military occupation of Florence. Charles de Valois, brother of Philip the Fair king of France in 1301 was assumed to be visiting Florence as the Pope had enrolled him peacemaker for Tuscany but the government of the city had behaved badly with the Pope's ambassadors some weeks earlier, demanding freedom from papal power. It is said that Charles de Valois, by the course of time, obtained other unofficial instructions. Therefore, the council guarded a delegation to Rome to confirm the Pope’s intentions. Dante was one of the representatives.
Boniface shortly ordered other delegates to leave and asked only Dante to stay in Rome. During the same time period in 1301, Charles de Valois came in Florence accompanied with Black Guelphs. They executing most of their foes, demolished almost the entire city in the following week. Afterwards a new Black Guelph government was established and Messer Cante de' Gabrielli da Gubbio was enrolled as Podestà of Florence. Dante was convicted to expel for two years and ordered to pay a huge amount of fine. He resided in Rome only as per the orders of the Pope and was soon regarded as an absconder. Also, Dante did not pay the fine as according to him he was innocent. As such, all his fortunes in Florence had been abducted by the Black Guelphs. He was punished with a never ending exile and in case he moved back to Florence without the payment of the fine, he could be burned at the stake. Dante participated in numerous efforts by the White Guelphs to redeem power but all of them failed because of the treachery. He was now harsh at the bad treatment by his enemies, also became disgusted with the infighting and ineffectiveness of his previous bonds and swore to become a party of one. He visited Verona as a guest of Bartolomeo I della Scala and later went to Sarzana in Liguria. Afterwards, Dante was supposed to have resided in Lucca with a woman named Gentucca, who made his stay quite comfortable. Believing some source, he even went to Paris between the years 1308 and 1310. Some sources also reveal that he visited Oxford. Apparently his command of philosophy and his literary interests enhanced immensely in exile, when most of the time he remained free with the daily business of Florentine domestic politics and this proved in his prose works in this time. Also, there is no certain hint that he ever left Italy or not. In spite of these years of disputed places, his “Immensa Dei dilectione testante to Henry VII” of Luxembourg confirms Dante’s residence “beneath the springs of Arno, near Tuscany”.
In 1310, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg came with 5000 troops into Italy. He noticed in him a new Charlemagne who would return back the office of the Holy Roman Emperor to its previous glory and also regain Florence from the Black Guelphs. He communicated to Henry and many other Italian prices through writings, appealing that they destroy the Black Guelphs. Blending religion and personal concerns, he requested the worst anger of God against his city and considered numerous specific targets that coexisted with his personal foes. During this time period only he wrote “De Monarchia,” suggesting a universal monarchy under Henry VII. During the time of his exile, Dante gave rise to “The Comedy.” This work of Dante was very much promising and was on a larger level in comparison than anything created in Florence. Also Beatrice was back in the memory of Dante with a new force and with advanced meaning. One of the initial outside clues that the poem was under way is an observation by the professor of law Francesco da Barberino, wrapped into his “I Documenti d'Amore” and was written likely in 1314 or in early 1315. But there is no clear indication of the fact that this work had been published at that time. It is known that “Inferno” had been published by the year 1317. Baldo d'Aguglione, in Florence released many White Guelphs in exile and permitted them to move back. As Dante went quite ahead with his numerous violent letters to Arrigo (Henry VII), his sentence wasn’t taken back. In 1312, Henry attacked Florence and won over the Black Guelphs. Dante moved back to Verona, where Cangrande I della Scala permitted him to reside under some security and certainly with a good amount of prosperity. Cangrande was enrolled to “Dante's Paradise”. Florence was forced in 1315 by “Uguccione della Faggiuola” to pardon people in exile which include Dante too but Florence demanded that with the payment of some amount of money. Dante denied the same and chose to stay in exile itself. After Uguccione defeated Florence, the death sentence of Dante was reduced to house arrest, on a condition that he must go to Florence to pledge that he would never step in the town again but he refused. Dante’s death sentence was confirmed and his sons were informed of the same. In 1318, Prince Guido Novello da Polenta offered him to come to Ravenna, which he accepted. In the following years he completed his “The Paradiso.”
At the age of 12, Dante was committed in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati. Dante had several children with Gemma. Probably Jacopo, Pietro, Giovanni and Antonia were really his offspring. Antonia later became a nun with the name of Sister Beatrice.
When he was returning back to Ravenna from a diplomatic mission to Venice, Dante died probably suffering from malaria on September 14, 1321. He was interred in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore. In his remembrance, Florence built a tomb in 1829. The front of this tomb reads Onorate l'altissimo poeta which roughly means “honour the most exalted poet”.