Dante Alighieri is hailed as one of the most important Italian authors of all times and has been a major influence in Western culture. His epic poem, La commedia or Divine Comedy is still read and studied today. He is also known for leading the movement to break free of the old standards of publishing works in Latin and instead publishing them in the vernacular language.
He was born in 1265 in Florence, Italy to a notable family with modest wealth. At twelve years old he was betrothed to Gemma di Manetto Donati but was in love with another girl, Beatrice Portinari, who he would continue to write about including love poems in La Vita Nuova.
Dante studied many subjects that included painting, poetry, and music. He took an apprenticeship with Brunetto Latini, a celebrated poet and prose writer, who helped to expand his knowledge of literature and rhetoric. In addition, he also was mentored by Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni and Cino da Pistoia who became the leaders of the style Dolce Stil Novo – personal and political passions were the themes behind the poetry. In 1287 he enrolled in University but enlisted in the Florentine Army in 1289.
In 1302, Dante was exiled from Florence since he was a prominent voice for an opposing political party that lost during the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict. This time would be the start of his most productive and artistic period of writing.
- Divine Comedy – this describes Dante’s journey through inferno (hell), purgatorio (purgatory), and paradiso (paradise). This work would become the cornerstone in establishing Italian as an established literary language since most literary works were produced in Latin. It is for this that he is said to be one of the forerunners of the renaissance. It has been praised and critiqued by many scholars.
- Convivo (The Banquet) – this is an encyclopedia (it is 4 books in total) of knowledge on philosophy, politics, linguistics, science, and history.
- Monarchia – This is a treatise of political philosophy on secular and religious power. This work was banned by the Catholic Church.
- La Vita Nuova (The New Life) – this story is about his love for Beatrice Portinari. He uses a sweet new style in his poetry that relates the feeling of love with spiritual revelation.
Dante Alighieri has had a huge influence on many other writers and is considered one the greatest writers to have ever lived. T.S. Elliot once wrote, “ Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.”