Dante Alighieri, one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages,
was born in Florence, Italy on June 5, 1265. He was born to a
middle-class Florentine family. At an early age he began to write poetry
and became fascinated with lyrics. During his adolescence, Dante fell in
love with a beautiful girl named Beatrice Portinari. He saw her only
twice but she provided much inspiration for his literary masterpieces.
Her death at a young age left him grief-stricken. His first book, La
Vita Nuova, was written about her. Sometime before 1294, Dante married
Gemma Donati. They had four children.
Dante was active in the political and military life of Florence.
He entered the army as a youth and held several important positions in
the Florence government during the 1290's. During his life, Florence was
divided politically between Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Guelphs
supported the church and liked to keep things as they were, unlike the
Ghibellines. The Ghibellines were mostly supporters of the German
emperor and at the time Dante was born, were relieved of their power.
When this change took place, the Guelphs for whom Dante's family was
associated took power. Although born into a Guelph family, Dante became
more neutral later in life realizing that the church was corrupt,
believing it should only be involved in spiritual affairs.
At the turn of the century, Dante rose from city councilman to
ambassador of Florence. His career ended in 1301 when the Black Guelph
and their French allies seized control of the city. They took Dante's
possessions and sentenced him to be permanently banished from Florence,
threatening the death penalty upon him if he returned.
Dante spent most of his time in exile writing new pieces of
literature. It is believed that around 1307 he interrupts his unfinished
work, Convivio, a reflection of his love poetry philosophy of the Roman
tradition, to begin The Comedy (later known as The Divine Comedy). He
writes a book called De Vulgari Eloquentia explaining his idea to combine
a number of Italian dialects to create a new national language. In 1310
he writes De Monarchia presenting Dante's case for a one-ruler world
Among his works, his reputation rests on his last work, The
Divine Comedy. He began writing it somewhere between 1307-1314 and
finished it only a short while before his death in 1321, while in exile.
In this work, Dante introduces his invention of the terza rima, or
three-line stanza as well as himself as a character.
The Inferno is the first of three parts of Dante's epic poem, The
Divine Comedy, which depicts an imaginary journey through Hell,
Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante is the hero, who loses his way in the
"dark woods" and journeys to nine regions arranged around the wall of a
huge funnel in nine concentric circles representing Hell. He is led by
the ghost of Virgil, the Roman poet, who has come to rescue Dante from
the dark forest and lead him through the realms of the afterlife. The