Dante Alighieri – The Italian Poet

Durante degli Alighieri, better known as Dante, was an Italian who revolutionised poetry during the Late Middle Ages. He was born in Florence, in approximately 1265. At the age of 12, Dante was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, and the proposal was sealed in a ceremony. Even though he fulfilled his promise and married Gemma, Dante never mentioned his wife in any of his poems. At the age of nine, he met and fell in love with Beatrice Portnari (Bice), who featured frequently in his sonnets.

After meeting Beatrice, and falling in love at first sight, Dante was not frequently in her presence until after the age of 18. He would pass her regularly and they would exchange greetings in the street. Despite his love for Beatrice, the pair never became more than casual acquaintances. This unrequited love became the motivation behind his life and poetry. His expression of his feelings was unique and Dante depicted Beatrice as semi-divine in his poems, where she watches over and provides him with spiritual guidance. After her death in 1290, Dante found solace by merging himself into the study of Latin Literature. 

The poet also possessed a great passion for politics, and enrolled in the Apothecaries’ Guild so that he could play an active political role. He expressed his dedication to the Guelphs, by fighting in the Battle of Campaldino on June 11, 1289. Even though his political accomplishments were not noteworthy, Dante held various offices over a period of several years. After the war the Guelph followers divided and Dante became a part of the White Guelphs. He was fined a significant sum after the Black Guelphs rose to power. He was also exiled for a period of two years, which would become permanent if he did not pay the fine. As his assets had been seized, and he refused to admit to his guilt, Dante never returned to Florence. He remained in exile for the remainder of his life and died in Ravenna in 1321, at the age of 56. After his death, Florence regretted the poet’s lifelong exile and made repeated requests for his remains to be shipped back to the place of his birth.

Dante’s greatest work is The Divine Comedy which, despite the name, is an incredibly serious piece. It was written during his exile and describes his journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. The poem became a significant factor in establishing of the Italian language as a literary one, during a period when most recognised work was written in Latin. His aim was to influence readers in Italy, including laymen, the clergy and other poets. By creating a poem of philosophical purpose and epic structure, Dante was successful in proving that Italian could be used to create legendary writing. The poem features many of Dante’s associates, and Beatrice is the ultimate symbol of salvation. Dante’s other famous works include: Convivo (The Banquet) and La Vita Nuova (The New Life) – the story of his love for Beatrice.

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