Dante Alighieri

About the Author

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265, into a noble but impoverished Guelph family; his father was the notary Alighiero di Bellincione Alighieri. When he was just nine years old, he met Beatrice for the first time (thought by some to be Bice Portinari), who was to be his spiritual muse. She was the inspiration for his Vita nuova (New Life), a series of love poetry and prose links completed four years after her death in 1290.

Dante was educated in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, literature and theology and was a pupil of the great orator and politician Brunetto Latini (c.1210–94), who later became the subject of an encounter in Inferno. In around 1285 Dante married Gemma Donati, a distant relative, by whom he had two sons and two daughters. In order to be able to assume a role in public life, Dante enrolled in the guild of physicians and apothecaries, and  proved a success in politics, rising to become one of the municipal priors of Florence by 1300.

At the end of the thirteenth century the Guelph party split into two factions, Blacks and Whites. Dante was on the side of the Whites, the more constitutional faction who were initially dominant in Florence, but when the Blacks seized power by French intervention in 1301, he was dismissed from office and, along with the rest of the Whites, was permanently banished from the Republic. After a few initial attempts to make common cause with other exiles against Florence, Dante eventually abandoned politics and devoted himself to writing. In the early years of the fourteenth century he wrote odes (canzoni), one of which depicted Justice and her children as outcasts, and glorified his own banishment.      

In 1309, Dante turned once more to politics, filled with optimism at the appointment of a new emperor Henry VII, who he hoped would be able to resolve the situation in Florence. He wrote his political essay De Monarchia (‘On Monarchy’), which held that both temporal and spiritual government was necessary. Dante’s hopes came to nothing, and in 1317 he finally settled in Ravenna. Here he was to complete his greatest work, Divina commedia (The Divine Comedy), an epic poem in three parts: ‘Paradiso’, ‘Purgatorio’, and ‘Inferno’, which laid out, in the form of an allegory, Dante’s entire philosophy of life. Divina Commedia has come to be hailed as one of the greatest works of literature of all time, and has earned Dante his reputation as the master of pre-Rennaisance literature and the founder of Italian poetry. Dante died and was buried in Ravenna 1321.

Books by the author