Dante Alighieri

Dafato Team | Jun 26, 2022

Table of Content

Summary

Dante Alighieri, or Alighiero, baptized Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri and also known by the single name Dante, of the Alighieri family (Florence, between May 14 and June 13, 1265 - Ravenna, night between September 13 and 14, 1321), was an Italian poet, writer and politician.

The name "Dante," according to the testimony of Jacopo Alighieri, is a hypocoristic of Durante; in documents it was followed by the patronymic Alagherii or the gentilizium de Alagheriis, while the variant "Alighieri" became established only with the advent of Boccaccio.

He is considered the father of the Italian language; his fame is due to the authorship of the Comedia, which became famous as the Divine Comedy and is universally considered the greatest work written in the Italian language and one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature. An expression of medieval culture, filtered through the lyricism of the Dolce stil novo, the Commedia is also an allegorical vehicle of human salvation, which is embodied in touching on the dramas of the damned, purgatorial punishments and heavenly glories, allowing Dante to offer readers a glimpse of morality and ethics.

An important linguist, political theorist and philosopher, Dante ranged within human knowledge, profoundly marking the Italian literature of the following centuries and Western culture itself, so much so that he was nicknamed the "Sommo Poeta" or, par excellence, the "Poet." Dante, whose remains lie at the tomb in Ravenna built in 1780 by Camillo Morigia, has become one of the symbols of Italy in the world, thanks to the name of the main body of the spread of the Italian language, the Dante Alighieri Society, while critical and philological studies are kept alive by the Dante Society.

Origins

Dante's date of birth is not known exactly, although it is usually given as around 1265. This dating is derived on the basis of some autobiographical allusions given in the Vita Nova and in the cantica of the Inferno, which begins with the very famous verse Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. Since the middle of man's life is, for Dante, the thirty-fifth year of life and since the imaginary journey takes place in 1300, it would consequently date back to 1265. In addition to the critics' lucubrations, there comes in support of this hypothesis a contemporary of Dante, the Florentine historian Giovanni Villani who, in his Nova Cronica, reports that "this Dante died in exile of the commune of Florence at the age of about 56 years": evidence that would confirm this idea. Some verses in Paradise also suggest that he was born under the sign of Gemini, thus sometime between May 14 and June 13.

However, if the day of his birth is unknown, the day of his baptism is certain: March 27, 1266, on Holy Saturday. On that day all those born that year were brought to the sacred font for a solemn collective ceremony. Dante was baptized with the name Durante, later syncopated into Dante, in memory of a Ghibelline relative. Pregnant with classical references is the legend narrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in Il Trattatello in laude di Dante regarding the poet's birth: according to Boccaccio, Dante's mother, shortly before giving birth to him, had a vision and dreamed that she was under a very tall laurel tree, in the middle of a vast meadow with a gushing spring together with the newly born Dante and that she saw the baby reach out his little hand toward the foliage, eat the berries and transform into a magnificent peacock.

Dante belonged to the Alighieri family, a family of secondary importance within the Florentine social elite that had achieved economic affluence in the last two centuries. Although Dante claims that his family descended from the ancient Romans, the most distant relative he names is his great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida degli Elisei, a Florentine who lived around 1100 and was a knight in the Second Crusade following Emperor Conrad III.

As Arnaldo D'Addario points out in Dante's Encyclopedia Dantesca, the Alighieri family (which took that appellation from the family of Cacciaguida's wife) moved from a meritocratic noble status to a wealthy, but less socially prestigious, bourgeois one. Dante's paternal grandfather, Bellincione, was in fact a commoner, and a commoner married Dante's sister. Bellincione's son (and Dante's father), Aleghiero or Alighiero di Bellincione, was in the profession of compsor (money-changer), by which he managed to provide a dignified decorum for his large family. Thanks to the discovery of two parchments preserved in the Diocesan Archives of Lucca, however, we learn that Dante's father would also have been a moneylender (giving rise to the tussle between Alighieri and his friend Forese Donati), deriving enrichment through his position as a judicial procurator at the court of Florence. He was also a Guelph, but without political ambitions: this is why the Ghibellines did not exile him after the Battle of Montaperti, as they did other Guelphs, judging him to be a non-threatening opponent.

Dante's mother was named Bella degli Abati, daughter of Durante Scolaro and a member of a prominent local Ghibelline family. Her son Dante never mentioned her in his writings, with the result that we possess very little biographical information about her. Bella died when Dante was five or six years old, and Alighiero soon remarried, perhaps between 1275 and 1278, to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. Out of this marriage were born Francesco and Tana Alighieri (Gaetana) and perhaps also-but she may also have been Bella degli Abati's daughter-another daughter remembered by Boccaccio as the wife of the Florentine bandit Leone Poggi and mother of his friend Andrea Poggi. It is believed that Dante alludes to her in Vita nuova (Vita nova) XXIII, 11-12, calling her a "young and gentle woman of propinquissima sanguinitade congiunta."

Intellectual training

Of Dante's education not much is known. In all likelihood he followed the educational iter proper to the period, which was based on training with a grammarian (also known by the name of doctor puerorum, probably) with whom he first learned the rudiments of linguistics, and then landed on the study of the liberal arts, the pillar of medieval education: arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy on the one hand (dialectic, grammar and rhetoric on the other (trivium). As can be deduced from Convivio II, 12, 2-4, the importance of Latin as a vehicle of knowledge was fundamental to the student's education, since the ratio studiorum was essentially based on reading Cicero and Virgil on the one hand and medieval Latin on the other (Arrigo da Settimello, in particular).

The official education was then accompanied by "informal" contacts with cultural stimuli coming now from high city circles, now from direct contact with foreign travelers and merchants who imported, in Tuscany, the philosophical and literary novelties of their respective countries of origin. Dante had the good fortune to meet, in the 1980s, the Florentine politician and scholar Ser Brunetto Latini, who had just returned from a long stay in France both as ambassador of the Republic and as a political exile. Ser Brunetto's actual influence on the young Dante has been the subject of study by Francesco Mazzoni. Both philologists, in their studies, sought to frame the legacy of the author of the Tresor on the young fellow citizen's intellectual formation. Dante, for his part, movedly recalled the figure of Latini in the Commedia, remarking on his humanity and the affection he received:

From these verses, Dante clearly expressed his appreciation of literature understood in its "civic" sense, in the sense of civic utility. Indeed, the community in which the poet lives will cherish his memory even after his death. Umberto Bosco and Giovanni Reggio, moreover, point out the similarity between Dante's message and the one manifested by Brunetto in the Tresor, as reflected in the Tuscan vulgarization of the work made by Bono Giamboni.

Dante, in the aftermath of the death of his beloved Beatrice (sometime between 1291 and 1294

Some critics believe that Dante stayed in Bologna. Giulio Ferroni, too, believes Dante's presence in the city of Bologna to be certain: "A Bolognese memorial of the notary Enrichetto delle Querce attests (in a local linguistic form) the sonnet Non mi poriano già mai fare ammenda: the circumstance is considered an almost certain indication of Dante's presence in Bologna before this date." Both believe that Dante studied at the University of Bologna, but there is no evidence for this.

Instead, it is very likely that Dante stayed in Bologna between the summers of 1286 and 1287, where he met Bartolomeo da Bologna, to whose theological interpretation of the Empireo Dante partly adheres. Regarding the Parisian sojourn, however, there are several doubts: in a passage from Paradiso, (Che, reading in the Vico de li Strami, silogizzò invidïosi veri), Dante alludes to the Rue du Fouarre, where the Sorbonne lectures were held. This has led some commentators to think, purely conjecturally, that Dante may have actually traveled to Paris between 1309 and 1310.

Dante also had the opportunity to participate in the lively literary culture revolving around vernacular lyricism. In the 1360s, the first influences of the "Sicilian School," a poetic movement that arose around the court of Frederick II of Swabia and reworked the love themes of Provençal lyric poetry, arrived in Tuscany. The Tuscan literati, being influenced by the lyrics of Giacomo da Lentini and Guido delle Colonne, developed a lyricism oriented both toward courtly love but also toward politics and civic engagement. Guittone d'Arezzo and Bonaggiunta Orbicciani, that is, the main exponents of the so-called Siculo-Tuscan school, had a follower in the figure of the Florentine Chiaro Davanzati, who imported the new poetic code within the walls of his city. It was precisely in Florence, however, that a number of young poets (led by the noble Guido Cavalcanti) expressed their dissent from the stylistic and linguistic complexity of the Siculo-Tuscans, advocating instead a sweeter and gentler lyricism: the dolce stil novo.

Dante found himself in the midst of this literary debate: in his early works the link (albeit tenuous) with both the Tuscan poetry of Guittone and Bonagiunta and with the more bluntly Occitan poetry is evident. Soon, however, the young man became bound to the dictates of Stilnovist poetics, a change favored by his friendship with the older Cavalcanti.

Marriage to Gemma Donati

When Dante was twelve years old, in 1277, his marriage to Gemma, daughter of Messer Manetto Donati, was arranged, whom he subsequently married at the age of twenty in 1285. To contract marriages at such an early age was quite common at that time; it was done in a major ceremony, requiring formal acts signed before a notary. The family to which Gemma belonged - the Donati - was one of the most important in late medieval Florence and later became the point of reference for the political side opposite to the poet's, namely the Black Guelphs.

The marriage between the two was not supposed to be a very happy one, according to the tradition collected by Boccaccio and made its own later in the 19th century by Vittorio Imbriani. In fact, Dante did not write a single verse to his wife, while there is no record of her actual presence at her husband's side during his exile. Be that as it may, the union generated two sons and a daughter: Jacopo, Pietro, Antonia and a possible fourth, Giovanni. Of the three certain ones, Pietro was a judge in Verona and the only one who continued the Alighieri lineage, as Jacopo chose to follow an ecclesiastical career, while Antonia became a nun under the name of Sister Beatrice, apparently in the Olivetan convent in Ravenna.

Political and military engagements

Shortly after his marriage, Dante began to participate as a knight in some of the military campaigns that Florence was conducting against its external enemies, including Arezzo (Battle of Campaldino, June 11, 1289) and Pisa (Taking of Caprona, August 16, 1289). Later, in 1294, he would be part of the delegation of knights who escorted Charles Martel of Anjou (son of Charles II of Anjou), who was meanwhile in Florence. Political activity took Dante from the early 1290s, in a period as convulsive as ever for the Republic. In 1293 Giano Della Bella's Ordinamenti di Giustizia came into effect, which excluded the ancient nobility from politics and allowed the bourgeoisie to obtain roles in the Republic, as long as they were enrolled in an Arte. Dante, as a nobleman, was excluded from city politics until July 6, 1295, when the Temperaments were enacted, laws that restored the right of nobles to hold institutional roles as long as they registered in the Arts. Dante, therefore, enrolled in the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries.

The exact series of his political offices is not known, as the minutes of the assemblies have been lost. However, through other sources, it has been possible to reconstruct much of his activity: he was in the Council of the People from November 1295 to April 1296; he was in the group of "Savi," which in December 1296 renewed the rules for the election of the priors, the highest representatives of each Arte who would occupy, for a bimonth, the most important institutional role in the Republic; from May to December 1296 he was a member of the Council of the Hundred. He was sometimes sent in the capacity of ambassador, as in May 1300 to San Gimignano. Meanwhile, within the Florentine Guelph party, a very serious split occurred between the group headed by the Donati, proponents of a conservative and aristocratic policy (Black Guelphs), and the one instead advocating a moderately popular policy (White Guelphs), headed by the Cerchi family. The split, which was also due to political and economic reasons (the Donati, exponents of the ancient nobility, had been outclassed in power by the Cerchi, considered by the former to be parvenus), generated an internecine war from which Dante did not escape by siding, moderately, with the White Guelphs.

In the year 1300, Dante was elected one of the seven priors for the bimonthly period June 15-August 15. Despite belonging to the Guelph party, he always sought to oppose the interference of his arch enemy Pope Boniface VIII, whom the poet glimpsed as the supreme emblem of the Church's moral decadence. With the arrival of Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta, sent by the pontiff as a peacemaker (but actually dispatched to downsize the power of the White Guelphs, at that time in full ascendancy over the Blacks), Dante succeeded in thwarting his actions. Also during his priory, Dante approved the serious measure by which eight members of the Black Guelphs and seven of the White Guelphs were exiled in an attempt to restore peace within the state, including Guido Cavalcanti, who was shortly to die in Sarzana. This measure had serious repercussions on the development of future events: not only did it turn out to be an unnecessary provision (the Black Guelphs stalled before leaving for Umbria, the place destined for their confinement), but it risked a coup d'état by the Black Guelphs themselves, thanks to the secret support of Cardinal d'Acquasparta. Moreover, the measure drew on its proponents (including Dante himself) both the hatred of the black party and the distrust of the white "friends": the former, of course, because of the wound inflicted; the latter, because of the blow given to their party by one of its own members. Meanwhile, relations between Boniface and the white government deteriorated further from September, when the new priors (who succeeded the college of which Dante was a member) immediately revoked the ban on the whites, showing their partisanship and thus giving the papal legate Cardinal d'Acquasparta a way to hurl the anathema on Florence. With the dispatch of Charles of Valois to Florence, sent by the pope as a new peacemaker (but de facto conqueror) in place of Cardinal d'Acquasparta, the Republic sent to Rome, in an attempt to distract the pope from his hegemonic aims, an ambassadorship of which Dante was an essential part, accompanied by Maso Minerbetti and Corazza da Signa.

The beginning of exile (1301-1304)

Dante was then in Rome, apparently restrained beyond measure by Boniface VIII, when Charles of Valois, at the first city upheaval, took pretext to put Florence to the sword with a coup d'état. On Nov. 9, 1301, the conquerors imposed as podestà Cante Gabrielli da Gubbio, who belonged to the Black Guelph faction of his native city and thus began a policy of systematic persecution of white-sided politicians hostile to the pope, a fact that eventually resulted in their killing or expulsion from Florence. With two successive condemnations, that of January 27 and that of March 10, 1302, which also affected numerous members of the Cerchi families, the poet was sentenced, in absentia, to be burned at the stake and to have his houses destroyed. From that time on, Dante never saw his homeland again.

After the unsuccessful attempted coups in 1302, Dante, as captain of the exiles' army, organized with Scarpetta Ordelaffi, leader of the Ghibelline party and lord of Forli (with whom Dante had taken refuge), a new attempt to return to Florence. However, the venture was ill-fated: the podestà of Florence, Fulcieri da Calboli (another Forlivese, an enemy of the Ordelaffi), managed to prevail in the battle of Castel Pulciano. Having also failed the diplomatic action, in the summer of 1304, of Cardinal Niccolò da Prato, papal legate of Pope Benedict XI (on whom Dante had pinned many hopes), on July 20 of that year the Whites, gathered at the Lastra, a locality a few kilometers from Florence, decided to undertake a new military attack against the Blacks. Dante, deeming it correct to wait for a politically more favorable moment, took sides against yet another armed struggle, finding himself outnumbered to the point that the most intransigent formulated suspicions of treason about him; therefore, he decided not to participate in the battle and to distance himself from the group. As predicted by himself, the Battle of Lastra was a complete failure with the death of four hundred men among Ghibellines and Whites. The prophetic message comes to us from Cacciaguida:

The first phase of the exile (1304-1310)

Dante was, after the Battle of the Lastra, a guest of several courts and families in Romagna, including the Ordelaffi themselves. The stay in Forlì did not last long, as the exile moved first to Bologna (1305), then to Padua in 1306 and finally to the Marca Trevigiana. From here, Dante was called to Lunigiana by Moroello Malaspina (that of Giovagallo, since several members of the family bore this name), with whom the poet perhaps came into contact thanks to a mutual friend, the poet Cino da Pistoia. In Lunigiana (a region to which he arrived in the spring of 1306), Dante had the opportunity to negotiate the diplomatic mission for a peace settlement between the Malaspina and the bishop-count of Luni, Antonio Nuvolone da Camilla (1297 - 1307). As plenipotentiary procurator of the Malaspina, Dante succeeded in getting both sides to sign the peace of Castelnuovo on October 6, 1306, a success that earned him the esteem and gratitude of his patrons. Malaspina hospitality is celebrated in Canto VIII of the Purgatorio, where at the end of the poem Dante formulates to the figure of Corrado Malaspina the Younger the praise of the household:

In 1307, after leaving Lunigiana, Dante moved to Casentino, where he was a guest of the Counts Guidi, counts of Battifolle and lords of Poppi, with whom he began to draft the cantica of Inferno.

The Descent of Henry VII (1310-1313)

The stay in Casentino lasted a very short time: between 1308 and 1310, in fact, it can be assumed that the poet resided first in Lucca and then in Paris, although it is not possible to evaluate with certainty the transalpine sojourn as previously exposed. Dante, more likely, was in Forli in 1310, where he received news in October of the descent of the new emperor Arrigo VII into Italy. Dante looked forward to that expedition with great hope, as he saw in it not only the end of Italy's political anarchy, but also the concrete possibility of finally returning to Florence. Indeed, the emperor was greeted by Italian Ghibellines and Guelph political outcasts, a combination that pushed the poet closer to the Italian imperial faction headed by the Scaligeri of Verona. Dante, who was writing De Monarchia between 1308 and 1311, manifested his open imperial sympathies, hurling a violent letter against the Florentines on March 31, 1311, and going so far as to meet the emperor himself in a private conversation, based on what he said in the epistle addressed to Arrigo VII. It is not surprising, therefore, that Ugo Foscolo would go so far as to describe Dante as a Ghibelline:

Dante's dream of a Renovatio Imperii was shattered on August 24, 1313, when the emperor passed away, suddenly, in Buonconvento. If the violent death of Corso Donati on October 6, 1308, at the hands of Rossellino Della Tosa (the most intransigent exponent of the Black Guelphs) had already dashed Dante's hopes, the emperor's death dealt a mortal blow to the poet's attempts to return to Florence for good.

The last few years

In the aftermath of the emperor's sudden death, Dante accepted Cangrande della Scala's invitation to reside at his court in Verona. Dante had previously had the opportunity to reside in the Venetian city, in those years at the height of its power. Petrocchi, as outlined first in his essay Itinerari danteschi and then in Dante's Life recalls how Dante had already been a guest, for a few months between 1303 and 1304, at Bartolomeo della Scala, Cangrande's older brother. When Bartolomeo later died in March 1304, Dante was forced to leave Verona because his successor, Alboino, was not on good terms with the poet. When Alboino died in 1312, his brother Cangrande, among the leaders of the Italian Ghibellines and Dante's protector (as well as friend), became his successor. It was because of this bond that Cangrande called the Florentine exile and his sons to himself, giving them security and protection from the various enemies they had made over the years. Such was the friendship and esteem between the two men that Dante extolled his generous patron in a panegyric in the cantica of Paradise - composed for the most part during his stay in Verona - by the mouth of his ancestor Cacciaguida:

In 2018, a new letter, probably written by Dante himself in August 1312 and sent by Cangrande to the new emperor Henry VII, was discovered by Paolo Pellegrini, a professor at the University of Verona; it would substantially change the date of the poet's stay in Verona, bringing forward his arrival to 1312, and would rule out the hypotheses that wanted Dante in Pisa or Lunigiana between 1312 and 1316.

Dante, for reasons still unknown, moved away from Verona and landed, in 1318, in Ravenna, at the court of Guido Novello da Polenta. Critics have tried to understand the causes of Dante's departure from the Scaliger city, given the excellent relations between Dante and Cangrande. Augusto Torre hypothesized a political mission to Ravenna, entrusted to him by his patron himself; others put the causes in a momentary crisis between Dante and Cangrande, or in the attraction of being part of a court of literati including the lord himself (i.e., Guido Novello), who professed to be one. However, relations with Verona did not cease altogether, as evidenced by Dante's presence in the Venetian city on January 20, 1320, to discuss the Quaestio de aqua et terra, his last Latin work.

The last three years of his life were spent relatively quiet in the city of Romagna, during which Dante created a literary coterie attended by his sons Pietro and Jacopo and a number of young local men of letters, including Pieraccio Tedaldi and Giovanni Quirini. On behalf of the lord of Ravenna he carried out occasional political ambassadorships, such as the one that took him to Venice. At the time, the lagoon city was in friction with Guido Novello because of constant attacks on its ships by Ravenna galleys, and the doge, enraged, allied himself with Forli to wage war against Guido Novello; the latter, knowing full well that he did not have the necessary means to deal with such an invasion, asked Dante to intercede for him before the Venetian Senate. Scholars have wondered why Guido Novello thought of the more than 50-year-old poet as his representative: some believe that Dante was chosen for that mission because he was a friend of the Ordelaffi, lords of Forlì, and therefore could more easily find a way to settle the differences in the field.

Death and funerals

Dante's ambassadorship had a good effect for the safety of Ravenna, but it was fatal for the poet who, on his return from the lagoon city, contracted malaria while passing through the marshy Comacchio Valleys. The fevers quickly led the 56-year-old poet to his death, which occurred in Ravenna on the night of September 13-14, 1321. The funeral, with great pomp, was held in the church of San Pier Maggiore (now San Francesco) in Ravenna, in the presence of the city's highest authorities and his sons. Dante's sudden death caused widespread regret in the literary world, as demonstrated by Cino da Pistoia in his song Su per la costa, Amor, de l'alto monte.

Dante's "tombs"

Dante initially found burial in a marble urn placed in the church where the funeral was held. When the city of Ravenna later came under the control of the Serenissima, the podestà Bernardo Bembo (father of the far more famous Pietro) ordered the architect Pietro Lombardi, in 1483, to create a great monument to adorn the poet's tomb. When the city returned, at the beginning of the 16th century, to the States of the Church, the papal legates neglected the fate of Dante's tomb, which soon fell into disrepair. Over the next two centuries, only two attempts were made to remedy the tomb's disastrous condition: the first was in 1692, when the cardinal legate for Romagne Domenico Maria Corsi and the prolegate Giovanni Salviati, both from noble Florentine families, arranged to restore it. Although only a few decades had passed, the memorial was ruined due to the uplifting of the ground beneath the church, which prompted Cardinal Legate Luigi Valenti Gonzaga to commission architect Camillo Morigia in 1780 to design the neoclassical temple still visible today.

The troubled fortunes of the remains

Dante's mortal remains were the subject of diatribes between the people of Ravenna and the Florentines as early as a few decades after his death, when the author of The Comedy was "rediscovered" by his fellow citizens thanks to the propaganda operated by Boccaccio. If the Florentines claimed the remains as fellow citizens of the deceased (as early as 1429 the Commune demanded the return of the remains from the Da Polenta), the people of Ravenna wanted them to remain in the place where the poet died, believing that the Florentines did not deserve the remains of a man they had despised in life. To save the poet's remains from possible removal by Florence (a risk that became a reality under the Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII) they removed the bones from the tomb made by Pietro Lombardi, hiding them in a secret place and then effectively making Morigia's monument a cenotaph. When in 1810 Napoleon ordered the suppression of religious orders, the friars, who from generation to generation had been handed down the location of the remains, decided to hide them in a walled door of the adjoining oratory of the Braccioforte quadrangle. The remains remained there until 1865, when a mason, intent on restoring the convent on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the poet's birth, accidentally discovered under a walled door a small wooden box bearing Latin inscriptions signed by a certain friar Antonio Santi (1677), which reported that Dante's bones were contained in the box. Indeed, an almost intact skeleton was found inside the box; it was then arranged to reopen the urn in the Morigia temple, which was found empty, except for three phalanges, which turned out to match the remains found under the walled-in door, certifying its actual authenticity. The corpse was reassembled, displayed for a few months in a crystal urn and then rehumed inside the Morigia temple, in a walnut chest protected by a lead hood. In Dante's tomb, under a small altar is the epigraph in Latin verses dictated by Bernardo da Canaccio at the behest of Guido Novello, but not engraved until 1357:

The true face of Dante

As can be clearly seen from the various paintings dedicated to him, the poet's face was very angular, with a grim face and the very famous aquiline nose, as depicted in Botticelli's painting placed in the introductory section. It was Giovanni Boccaccio, in his Trattatello in laude di Dante, who provided this physical description:

The role of the vernacular and the "civil" perspective of literature

The role of the vernacular language, defined by Dante in De Vulgari as Hec est nostra vera prima locutio ("our first true language," in Italian translation), was fundamental to the development of his literary program. With Dante, in fact, the vernacular assumed the status of a cultured and literary language, thanks to the Florentine poet's iron will to find a common linguistic vehicle among Italians, at least among rulers. He will, in the first passages of De Vulgari, clearly expose his preference for colloquial and mother tongue over the feigned and artificial Latin language:

The purpose of Dante's vernacular literary production is in fact to be usable by the reading public, seeking to break down the wall between the educated classes (accustomed to interacting with each other in Latin) and the more popular ones, so that the latter could also learn philosophical and moral content that had hitherto been relegated to the academic environment. There is thus a vision of literature understood as a tool in the service of society, as will be set forth programmatically in the Convivio:

Dante's choice to use the vernacular language to write some of his works may have been greatly influenced by the works of Andrea da Grosseto, a thirteenth-century scholar who used the vernacular language he spoke, the Grosseto dialect of the time, to translate prosaic works into Latin, such as the treatises of Albertano da Brescia.

Poetics

With this happy expression, literary critic Gianfranco Contini has identified Dante's extraordinary versatility within the Rime in being able to use multiple linguistic registers with ease and harmonic grace. As expounded earlier, Dante manifests an open curiosity for the "genetic" structure of the Italians' mother tongue, focusing on the expressions of everyday speech, the more or less refined mottos and jokes. This tendency to frame the textual richness of the mother tongue drives the Florentine scholar to create a colorful fresco hitherto never created in Italian vernacular lyricism, as lucidly exposed by Giulio Ferroni:

As Guglielmo Barucci points out, "We are therefore not faced with a progressive evolution of Dante's style, but with the co-presence-even in the same period-of different forms and styles." The ability with which Dante moves, within the Rime, from amorous to political themes, from moral to burlesque, will find supreme refinement within the Commedia, succeeding in calibrating the stylistic tripartition called Rota Vergilii, according to which a given subject must correspond to a given stylistic register. In the Commedia, in which the three canticles correspond to the three styles "humble," "middling," and "sublime," the rigid theoretical tripartition wanes in front of the writer's narrative needs, so that within the Inferno (which should correspond to the lowest style), we find passages and places of the highest stylistic and dramatic stature, such as the encounter with Francesca da Rimini and Ulysses. The multilingualism, according to a more strictly lexical analysis, is also affected by the numerous idioms with which the literary language of the time was infused: in fact, Latinisms, Gallicisms and, of course, Florentine vernacular are found there.

Dante played a fundamental role in bringing vernacular lyricism to new achievements, not only from a technical-linguistic point of view, but also from a purely content-oriented one. The spiritualization of the figure of the beloved Beatrice and the vaguely historical framework in which the love affair is set, determined the birth of quite particular traits within Stilnovism. The presence of the idealized figure of the beloved woman (the so-called angel woman) is a recurring topos in Lapo Gianni, Guido Cavalcanti, and Cino da Pistoia, but in Dante it takes on a more historicized dimension than that of the other rhyming writers. Dante's production, because of its philosophical depth can only be compared with that of his master Cavalcanti, with respect to whom the divergence consists in the different conception of love. If Beatrice is the angel who works Dante's spiritual conversion on Earth and gives him heavenly bliss, Cavalcanti's beloved woman, on the other hand, is the harbinger of suffering, pain that will progressively distance man from that divine catharsis theorized by Alighieri. Another achievement of Dante is to have been able to bring out psychological introspection and autobiography: practically unknown in the Middle Ages, these two dimensions already look to Petrarch and, further still, to humanistic literature. Dante thus is the first among Italian literati to "split" between the self understood as character and the other self understood as the narrator of his own affairs. Thus Contini, picking up the thread traced by the American scholar Charles Singleton, speaks of Dante's poetic and narrative operation:

Thus De Sanctis, the father of Italian literary historiography, wrote about the poet's beloved woman, Beatrice. Although attempts are still being made today to understand what Dante's love for Beatrice Portinari (presumed historical identification of the Vita Nova's Beatrice) really consisted of, one can only conclude with certainty the importance this love had for Italian literary culture. It was in the name of this love that Dante put his stamp on the Dolce stil novo, opening its "second poetic phase" (in which he manifested his full originality from past models) and leading poets and writers to discover the themes of love in a way never before emphasized. His love for Beatrice (as in a different way Francesco Petrarch will show for his Laura) will be the starting point for the formulation of his poetic manifesto, a new conception of courtly love sublimated by his intense religious sensibility (the Marian cult with lauds arrived at Dante through the pauperistic currents of the thirteenth century, from the Franciscans onward) and, therefore, deprived of the sensual and carnal elements typical of Provençal lyric poetry. Such poetic formulation, culminating in the poem of praise, will land, after the death of the "earthly" Beatrice, first in the philosophical quest (the Pitiful Woman) and then in the theological one (the apparition in a dream of Beatrice that urges Dante to return to her after the philosophical misguidance, a criticism that will become harsher in Purgatorio, XXX). Such allegorization of the beloved, understood as a vehicle of salvation, definitively marks the detachment from the love theme and pushes Dante toward true wisdom, that is, dazzling and impenetrable light that envelops God in Paradise. Beatrice is thus confirmed in that salvific role typical of angels, bringing not only to the beloved but to all men that bliss mentioned earlier.

Maintaining an allegorical function, Dante places a numerological value on the figure of Beatrice. It is in fact at the age of nine that he first meets her, then in the ninth hour a subsequent encounter takes place. Of her he will also say, "she does not suffer herself to be in any other number but nine." Dante has Beatrice die on June 9 (although it is actually the 8th), writing about it, "the perfect number was fulfilled."

After the end of the amorous experience, Dante focused more and more on a poetry characterized by philosophical-political reflection, which would take on harsh and suffering traits in the rhymes of the second half of the 1890s, also called the "petrose" rhymes, as they centered on the figure of a certain "petra woman," completely antithetical to the "women who have intellect of Love." In fact, as Salvatore Guglielmino and Hermann Grosser report, Dante's poetry lost that sweetness and gracefulness proper to the lyricism of the Vita nova, to take on harsh and difficult connotations:

Literary sources and models

Dante had a deep love for classical antiquity and its culture: evidence of this is his devotion to Virgil, his very high respect for Caesar, and the many Greek and Latin sources he used in constructing the imaginary world of the Comedy (and of which the citation of "li spiriti magni" in If IV are an explicit reference of the authors on which Dante's culture rested). In the Comedy, the poet glorifies the moral and intellectual elite of the ancient world in Limbo, a pleasant and pleasant place at the gates of Hell where the righteous who died without baptism live, yet without feeling sorrow for their lack of bliss. Contrary to what Petrarch and Boccaccio will do, Dante proved himself to be a man still fully bound to the medieval man's view of Greek and Latin civilization, as he framed the latter within the salvation history advocated by Christianity, a certainty based on the medieval doctrine of exegesis known as the four senses (literal, symbolic, allegorical and anagogical) by which the Christian message was sought to be identified in ancient authors. Virgil is seen by Dante not in his historical and cultural dimension as a Latin intellectual of the Augustan age, but in his prophetic-soteriological one: it was he, in fact, who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ in the 4th Egloga of the Eclogues and thus was glorified by medieval Christians. In addition to this mythical dimension of the figure of Virgil, Dante looked to him as a supreme literary and moral model, as evidenced in the Poem's proem:

Dante was greatly influenced by the world around him, drawing inspiration both from the artistic dimension in the strict sense (busts, bas-reliefs, and frescoes in churches) and from what he could see in his daily life. Barbara Reynolds reports on how

The episodes of Malacoda, Barbariccia, and the masnada appearing in If XXI, XXII, and XXIII, therefore, are not ascribable only to the poet's personal imagination, but are drawn, in their powerful and degrading iconographic caricature, from what the poet could glimpse in churches and

Fundamental influence was also that exerted by literary production belonging to Christianity and, to some degree, also to the Islamic religion. The Bible is undoubtedly the book on which Dante drew the most: echoes of it can be found, in addition to the many in the Commedia, in the Vita nova (for example, the episode of Beatrice's death traces that of Christ on Calvary) and in the De vulgari eloquentia (the episode of the tower of Babel as the origin of languages, found in Book I). In addition to strictly sacred production, Dante also drew on medieval religious production, taking his cue, for example, from the fifth-century Visio sancti Pauli, a work narrating the ascension of the apostle of the Gentiles to the third heaven of Paradise. In addition to Christian literary sources, Dante would have come into possession, based on what philologist Maria Corti has written, of the Book of the Ladder, an Arabic eschatological work translated into Castilian, Old French and Latin on behalf of King Alfonso X.

A concrete example is found in the Islamic concept of the spirit of life (rūh al hayāh), which is regarded as "air" that comes out of the cavity of the heart. Dante in this regard writes, "...spirit of life, which dwells in the most secret chamber of the heart."

Spanish historian Asín Palacios expressed all of Dante's views on his Islamic knowledge in the text Islamic Eschatology in the Divine Comedy.

The role of philosophy in Dante's production

As mentioned already in the biographical section Dante, after Beatrice's death, immersed himself in the study of philosophy. From the Convivio we know that Dante had read Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae and Cicero's De amicitia and that he then began to take part in the philosophical disputes that the two main religious orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) publicly or indirectly held in Florence, the one explaining the doctrine of the mystics and St. Bonaventure, the other presenting the theories of St. Thomas Aquinas. Critic Bruno Nardi highlights the salient features of Dante's philosophical thought, which, while having a basis in Thomism, also has other aspects including an obvious influence of Neoplatonism (e.g., from Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the angelic hierarchies of Paradise). Despite the Platonic school influences, Dante was more influenced by Aristotle, which in the second half of the 13th century reached its apogee in medieval Europe.

Dante's poetic production was influenced by two Aristotelian works in particular: the Physics and the Nicomachean Ethics. The Stagira philosopher's description of the natural world, alongside the medical tradition dating back to Galen, was the main source that Dante and Cavalcanti drew on for the elaboration of the so-called "doctrine of spirits." Through the commentaries compiled by Averroes, Dante asserted that the functioning of the human body was due to the presence of various spirits in certain organs, from which feelings then arose corresponding to the stimulus from outside. In the presence of Beatrice, such spirits would go into turmoil, arousing violent emotional reactions in Dante and even assuming, as in the case below, a will of their own, made effective through the rhetorical figure of prosopopoeia:

Even more significant was Aristotle's influence within the Comedy, where the presence of the "Nicomachean Ethics," as well as the Physics, made itself felt. From the latter, Dante accepted the cosmological structure of Creation (a structure also deeply indebted to the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy), later adapting it to the Christian faith; from the "Ethics," on the other hand, he took his cue for the orderly and rational organization of his otherworld, dividing it into various subunits (circles in Hell, frames in Purgatory and heavens in Paradise) where to place certain categories of souls according to guilt

In the political sphere, Dante believes with Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas that the state has a rational and natural foundation, based on hierarchical ties that can provide stability and internal order. Nardi goes on to add that "while recognizing that the general scheme of his metaphysics is that of Christian scholasticism, it is certain that he included in it certain characteristic particulars, such as the mediated production of the lower world and that around the origin of the human soul resulting from the concurrence of the creative act with the work of nature."

Several authors have dealt with the esoteric aspects of Dante's works perhaps brought about by his now established membership in the sect of the Faithful of Love. The very outline and contents of the Divine Comedy would bring out clear references. Of considerable importance in this respect are Guenon's work, The Esotericism of Dante and Luigi Valli's text, The Secret Language of Dante and the Faithful of Love.

Since the 19th century, several authors have argued that Dante may have been a heretical Christian. These include Ugo Foscolo and Eugène Aroux. More recently Maria Soresina has advanced the hypothesis that it was Catharism that was Dante's heresy.

The Flower and Said of Love

Two poetic works in the vernacular with similar subject matter, vocabulary and style and placed in a chronological period from 1283 to 1287 have been attributed with some certainty to Dante by 20th-century critics, especially since the work of Dante philologist Gianfranco Contini.

The Rhymes

The Rime are a collection put together and ordered by modern editors, bringing together the whole of Dante's lyrical production from his youthful trials to those of his mature years (the earliest are dated around 1284) divided between Rime giovanili and Rime dell'esilio to distinguish two groups of lyric poetry that are quite distinct in tone and subject matter. The Rime giovanili comprise compositions that reflect the various trends in courtly lyricism of the time, Guittonian, Guinizellian and Cavalcantian, moving from amorous themes to playful tenzonas with a veiledly erotic-playful background with Forese Donati and Dante da Maiano.

Vita Nova

The Vita Nova can be considered Dante's autobiographical "novel," in which he celebrates his love for Beatrice, presented with all the characteristics proper to Dante's Stylnovism. A narrative of the Poet's spiritual life and poetic evolution, rendered as an exemplum, the Vita nova is a prosimeter (a piece characterized by the alternation of prose and verse) and is structured in forty-two (or thirty-one) prose chapters linked in a homogeneous story, which explains a series of poetic texts composed at different times, among which the song-manifesto Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore and the famous sonnet Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare are of particular relevance. According to most scholars, for the form of the prosimeter, Dante was inspired by the Provençal razos (and Severinus Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae. The work is devoted to his love for Beatrice and was probably composed between 1292 and 1293. The composition of the rhymes can be traced, according to the chronology Dante provides, between 1283 as reflected in the sonnet A ciascun alma presa and after June 1291, the anniversary of Beatrice's death. To establish with some certainty the date of the composition of the book in its organic whole, critics have lately been inclined to make use of 1300, a date that cannot be surpassed, which corresponds to the death of the addressee Guido Cavalcanti: "This first friend of mine to whom I write this" (Vita nova, XXX, 3). This work had a particular fortune in the United States, where it was translated by philosopher and man of letters Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Convivio

The Convivio (written between 1303 and 1308) from the Latin convivium, meaning "banquet" (of wisdom), is the first of Dante's works written immediately after his forced departure from Florence and is the great manifesto of the "civil" purpose that literature should have in human consortium. The work consists of a commentary on various doctrinal songs placed at the incipit, a veritable encyclopedia of the most important knowledge for those who wish to devote themselves to public and civil activity without having completed regular studies. It is therefore written in the vernacular to be precisely understood by those who have not previously had the opportunity to study Latin. The incipit of the Convivio makes it clear that the author is a great connoisseur and follower of Aristotle; in fact, he is referred to as "Lo Filosofo." The incipit here explains to whom this work is addressed and to whom it is not: only those who could not know science should have access to it. These were prevented by two kinds of reasons:

Dante considers blessed the few who can partake of the table of science, where the "bread of angels" is eaten, and wretched those who are content to eat the food of sheep. Dante does not sit at the table, but he has fled from those who eat the pastume and gathered what falls from the table of the elect to create another banquet. The author will set up a banquet and serve a meal (the verse compositions) accompanied by the bread (the prose) necessary to assimilate its essence. Only those who had been prevented by family and civic care will be invited to sit, while the lazy ones would be at their feet to pick up the crumbs.

De vulgari eloquentia

Contemporary with the Convivio, the De vulgari eloquentia is a Latin treatise written by Dante between 1303 and 1304. Consisting of a full first book and 14 chapters in the second book, it was originally intended to comprise four books. Although it addressed the subject of the vernacular language, it was written in Latin because the interlocutors Dante addressed belonged to the cultural elite of the time, who, strong in the tradition of classical literature, considered Latin undoubtedly superior to any vernacular, but also to give the vernacular language greater dignity: Latin was in fact only used to write about law, religion and international treaties, that is, subjects of the utmost importance. Dante launched into an impassioned defense of the vernacular, saying that it deserved to become an illustrious language capable of rivaling if not equaling the language of Virgil, arguing, however, that in order to become a language capable of dealing with important topics the vernacular had to be:

By such terms he meant the absolute dignity of the vernacular also as a literary language, no longer as an exclusively popular language. After admitting the great dignity of illustrious Sicilian, the first literary language assumed to national dignity, he reviews all the other Italian vernaculars, finding in the one some, in the other others qualities that added together should constitute the Italian language. Dante sees in Italian the panthera redolens of the medieval bestiaries, an animal that attracts its prey (here the writer) with its irresistible scent, which Dante senses in all regional vernaculars, and in particular in Sicilian, but without ever being able to see it materialize: indeed, an Italian language usable in all its registers, by all strata of the population of the Italic peninsula, is still lacking. In order to make it reappear, it was therefore necessary to draw on the works of the Italian literati who had appeared so far, thus attempting to delineate a common linguistic and literary canon.

De Monarchia

The work was composed on the occasion of Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg's descent into Italy between 1310 and 1313. It consists of three books and is the summa of Dante's political thought. In the first Dante affirms the need for a universal and autonomous empire, and recognizes this empire as the only form of government capable of guaranteeing unity and peace. In the second he recognizes the legitimacy of the right of empire by the Romans. In the third book Dante demonstrates that the authority of the monarch is a divine will, and therefore depends on God: it is not subject to the authority of the pontiff; at the same time, however, the emperor must show respect to the pontiff, the Vicar of God on Earth. Dante's position is in more ways than one original, since it is decisively opposed to the political tradition narrated by the Donation of Constantine: the De Monarchia is as much at odds with the proponents of the hierocratic conception as it is with the supporters of the political and religious autonomy of national sovereigns with respect to the emperor and the pope.

Comedy

The Comedy-the original title of the work: later Giovanni Boccaccio attributed the adjective "Divine" to Dante's poem-is the Florentine poet's masterpiece and is considered the most important literary record of medieval civilization as well as one of the greatest works of universal literature. It is called a "comedia" in that it is written in a "comic" style, that is, not courtly. Another interpretation is based on the fact that the poem begins with situations filled with pain and fear and ends with the peace and sublimity of the vision of God. Dante began work on the work around 1300 (a jubilee year, so much so that he dates his journey into the Dark Woods to April 7 of that year) and continued it throughout the rest of his life, publishing the cantica as he completed them. There are records of manuscript copies of Inferno around 1313, while Purgatorio was published within the next two years. Paradise, begun perhaps in 1316, was published as the cantos were completed in the last years of the poet's life. The poem is divided into three books or cantiche, each consisting of 33 cantos (except for Inferno, which has 34, as the first serves as a proem to the entire poem) and to which the three styles of the Rota Vergilii correspond; each canto consists of tercets of endecasyllables (the Dantean terzine).

The Comedy tends toward a broad and dramatic representation of reality, far removed from pedantic medieval didactic poetry, but imbued with a new Christian spirituality that is mixed with the poet's political passion and literary interests. It tells of an imaginary journey into the three realms of the afterlife, into which the good and evil of the earthly world are projected, made by the poet himself, as a "symbol" of humanity, under the guidance of reason and faith. The tortuous and arduous path of Dante, whose language becomes more and more complex the higher he ascends toward Paradise, also represents, under metaphor, the difficult process of linguistic maturation of the illustrious vernacular, which emancipates itself from the narrow municipal boundaries to make the Florentine vernacular rise above the other variants of the Italian vernacular, while enriching it with their contact. Dante is accompanied in both Hell and Purgatory by his master Virgil; in Paradise by Beatrice and, finally, by St. Bernard.

The Epistles and Epistle XIII to Cangrande della Scala

Prominent roles are played by the 13 Epistles written by Dante during his years of exile. Among the main epistles, focused mainly on political issues (relating to the descent of Arrigo VII) and religious issues (letter addressed to the Italian cardinals gathered, in 1314, to elect a successor to Clement V). Epistola XIII to Cangrande della Scala, dating from the years between 1316 and 1320, is the last and most relevant of the currently preserved epistles (although its authenticity is partly doubted). It contains the dedication of the Paradiso to the lord of Verona, as well as important indications for reading the Commedia: the subject (the condition of souls after death), the plurality of senses, the title (which derives from the fact that it begins bitterly and sadly and ends with a happy ending), and the purpose of the work, which is not only speculative but practical since it aims to remove the living from their state of misery and bring them to happiness.

Eglogues

The Eglogues are two compositions of a bucolic nature written in Latin between 1319 and 1321 in Ravenna, part of a correspondence with Giovanni del Virgilio, a Bolognese intellectual, whose two compositions end up as Egloga I and Egloga III, while Dante's are Egloga II and Egloga IV. The correspondence

The Quaestio de aqua et terra

The philosophical discussion continued until the end of the poet's life. On January 20, 1320, Dante went to Verona again to discuss, in the church of St. Helena, the structure of the cosmos according to the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cornerstones, which, at that time, were already a privileged object of study for the composition of Paradise. Dante, here, argues how the Earth was at the center of the universe, surrounded by the sublunar world (composed of earth, water, air and fire) and how water is above the terrestrial sphere. Hence, the philosophical treatment characterized by disputatio with opponents.

In Italy

Dante had an almost immediate resonance and fame in Italy. As early as the second half of the 14th century, Boccaccio began a veritable spread of the Dante cult, culminating first in the composition of the Trattatello in laude di Dante and then in the Esposizioni sopra la commedia. Boccaccio's legacy was taken up, during the phase of early humanism, by the Chancellor of the Florentine Republic Leonardo Bruni, who composed the Life of Dante Alighieri (1436) and contributed to the persistence of the Dante myth in the generations of Florentine literati (Agnolo Poliziano, Lorenzo de' Medici and Luigi Pulci) and artists (Sandro Botticelli) of the second half of the 15th century. However, the Dantesque parable began to wane from 1525, when Cardinal Pietro Bembo, in Prose della volgar lingua, established the superiority of Petrarch in poetry and Boccaccio for prose. This canon would exclude the Dante of the Commedia as a difficult imitator, leading to its decline (despite the impassioned defenses of first Michelangelo and then Giambattista Vico) that would persist throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, due in part to the placing of the De Monarchia on the Index. Only with the Romantic and Risorgimento ages did Dante regain a prominent role as a symbol of Italian-ness and the loneliness proper to the Romantic hero. The high literary value of the Commedia, consecrated by De Sanctis in his Storia della letteratura italiana and later reconfirmed by Carducci, Pascoli and Benedetto Croce, will find passionate scholars and devotees in the 20th century in Gianfranco Contini, Umberto Bosco, Natalino Sapegno, Giorgio Petrocchi, Maria Corti and, in recent years, in Marco Santagata.

Also in the twentieth century and in the year two thousand, various pontiffs have dedicated thoughts of esteem for Alighieri: Benedict XV, Paul VI, and John Paul II have remembered him for his very high artistic moral value; Benedict XVI for theological finesse; Pope Francis for the soteriological value of the Comedy.

In the world

Between the 15th century and the 21st century, Dante experienced alternating phases in the remaining countries of the world, influenced by historical and cultural factors depending on the geographical regions they belonged to:

Throughout the 20th century, the figure of Dante was the subject of numerous initiatives so that he would be disseminated to the general public. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy, Milano Films made the first two feature films dedicated to Inferno, works that elicited both positive and negative reactions (the latter due to the presence of erotic elements).

In the following decades, national Dante celebrations, such as the six hundredth anniversary of his death in 1921 and the seven hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1965, raised awareness among the Italian people about the legacy of the Supreme Poet, thanks in part to the television scripted Life of Dante, made in 1965 to mark the seven hundredth anniversary. During the second half of the twentieth century, awareness-raising efforts also made use of the issuance of lira depicting Dante's face (as well as Disney comics inspired by Inferno).

Thanks to television, the dissemination of Dante's work reached an increasingly wide audience: Vittorio Gassman, Vittorio Sermonti and Roberto Benigni recited verses from the Comedy at public events. In the rest of the world, however, Dante has inspired the making of some films (such as Seven) and some manga (such as the works of Gō Nagai) and video games (including Dante's Inferno).

Characters and places from Inferno were chosen by the International Astronomical Union to name geological formations on the surface of Io, Jupiter's satellite. In addition, in 1998 the portrait of Dante Alighieri painted by Raffaello Sanzio was chosen as the national face of the Italian 2-euro coin, and in 2015, two commemorative 2-euro coins were minted to mark the 750th anniversary of his birth, one Italian and the other San Marino.

In 2020, the Italian Republic established March 25 as the date to annually commemorate the figure of Dante; this national day was named Dantedì.

The bibliography on Dante's life and work is endless; normally, the first research tool is the Enciclopedia dantesca, from the Istituto dell'Enciclopedia italiana Treccani, Rome, 1970-1978, which can also be consulted online. Computer resources can also be used, primarily the bibliography that can be consulted on the Società Dantesca Italiana website. For the printed bibliography, see the entry Bibliography on Dante. In this place, we point out the bibliography used for the scientific writing of the entry:

Sources

  1. Dante Alighieri
  2. Dante Alighieri