Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in Florence to a family of noble lineage. His father made a living through property rental and moneylending. His mother, Bella degli Abati, died when he was seven years old, and his father also died when he was young, before 1283. Dante found father figures in his mentor Bruno Latini, and in Guido Cavalcanti, both of whom shaped Dante’s early cultural development.
Dante was betrothed to his wife, Gemma Donati, when he was 12 years old, although he had fallen in love with another girl named Beatrice Portinari. He married Gemma Donati in 1285 but Beatrice became his muse, even after her death at the age of 24 in 1290. His early 1292 work, La Vita Nuova, was a tribute to his love for Beatrice.
During his lifetime two powerful supranational institutions that had been prominent features of the medieval world, the Catholic Church and the empire, collapsed. These two entities faced challenges in the developing urban centers, as well as in the autonomous national state.
Dante recognized the importance of these two events and dedicated his works to understanding the ambiguous connections between these two great powers, through the use of metaphor or historical examples in the form of allegory and other literary devices.
In his writing Dante wished to communicate philosophical and theological ideas to as many people as possible, unlike most contemporary scriptures, in which truth is mysteriously encrypted. The Comedy was written in Italian instead of Latin, as Dante intended to exalt the use of this vernacular language in literature. The Comedy successfully proved the ability of the Italian language in the hands of a skilled poet-theologian, for the language managed to express its complex ideas.
Dante’s magnum opus was originally known as the Comedy (Commedia) even though it also contains elements of tragedy and satire. Dante explores the depths of human actions and emotion in this Christian epic. The poem has a ternary structure, which highlights the importance of the number 3, associated with the theological concept of the Trinity. He began writing the epic in 1307 or 1308. In the Venetian edition of 1555, the work became known as the Divine Comedy, as it is commonly referred to today.
|Dante's Inferno Map|
This relates to Dante’s view of his work as the “sacred poem.” The poem, with over 14,000 lines of verse, tells of a pilgrim’s fictional journey from hell to purgatory to paradise, in the year 1300. The pilgrim descends to Hell on Good Friday, only to leave it on Easter Sunday to reach Purgatory. Three days later he passes through the Earthly Paradise, before rising up to the limits of the universe to witness ethereal Godly visions.