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Dante Alighieri

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Author Biography

Learn more about Dante Alighieri's life and the personal experiences that inspired his epic poem Inferno in Course Hero's video study guide.

Dante Alighieri | Biography


Dante Alighieri was born c. May 21–June 20, 1265, in the Italian city-state of Florence. When Dante was just seven, his mother died and his father took a new wife. Dante was betrothed to Gemma di Manetto Donati at the age of 12, and they married when he was about 20 years old. However, the real love of Dante's young life was another woman, Beatrice Portinari. The exact nature of Dante's love for Beatrice is unclear, but scholars believe Dante loved her from afar, with little contact. Dante claimed to have met her only twice in his life with nine years passing between the two meetings. She died about five years after his marriage. The poems Dante wrote to her were collected into a book called Vita Nuova, or The New Life. Like The Divine Comedy, this book of verse was written in Italian, which was unusual at the time. Most poetry was written in Latin. By writing in Italian, Dante indicated he wanted his works to be available to a wider audience, not just the educated elite. In The Divine Comedy, Beatrice is instrumental in sending Virgil to guide Dante back to the true path, and she becomes his guide once he reaches Heaven.

Dante's family was part of the complex political scene of Florence dominated by the tension between the Guelphs, who supported the Pope in an ongoing struggle for power with the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Ghibellines, who supported the emperor. Dante became more involved in these political tensions after he fought in the 1289 Battle of Campaldino, in which the Guelphs were victorious over the Ghibellines. However, further fracturing of the Guelphs led to Dante's exile from Florence and the seizure of all of his property and money. Once a well-respected poet and a prominent citizen, he became a wandering outcast who felt betrayed and disillusioned by Florentine politics. Although he regarded his exile bitterly, he lived comfortably in Verona and then Ravenna, two other Italian cities, and he wrote The Divine Comedy, an allegorical poem rich with symbolism, philosophy, theology, and moral teaching. Interestingly, the setting of The Divine Comedy is the year 1300, before his exile began.

Inferno is the first of the three volumes of The Divine Comedy to be written. After its publication, poets and critics alike grappled with The Divine Comedy, and by the time of Dante's death, a growing body of literary criticism began to accumulate. Besides breaking language conventions and introducing a new poetic form to the world, The Divine Comedy continues to be recognized as one of the major works of literature for its poetic excellence. Its artful use of image, figurative language, irony, humor, and other literary elements is among the best poetry has to offer. Dante died on September 13 or 14, 1321, in Ravenna.

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