The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

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I am the way into the city of woe. I am the way to a forsaken people. I am the way into eternal sorrow. Sacred justice moved my architect. I was raised here by divine omnipotence, Primordial love, and ultimate intellect. Only those elements time cannot wear Were made before me, and beyond the time I stand. Abandon all hope ye who enter here(Aligheri). No matter what walk of the world your mortal existence appears from, no matter the language of which you speak, the color of your skin or even the level of education you have; you have heard of the famous Dante Alighieri in some way, shape or form. Dante’s life and works resound through our lives long after his death and his words echo in our speech more than most will ever realize.

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Dante Alighieri was born on May 21, 1265, in Florence Italy from his mother Bella degli Abati and father Alighiero di Bellincione. Dante was born into a family whom not only was very upfront about their beliefs on anything and everything but was also born into a family with strong political ties and influence, leading him into a very political lifestyle that equally influenced his everyday decisions as well as his writings. Dante’s mother died only a few years after her son’s birth and at the age of only 12 young Dante was set into an arranged marriage to the daughter of a family friend, Gemma Donati. However, the marriage was never meant to be as young Dante was madly in love with another young woman, Beatrice Portinari, who would later become his muse and main backbone of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Dante and Beatrice met when Beatrice was only nine years of age and Dante apparently experienced love at first sight when he met her. They were acquainted for many years but Dante’s love went unrequited by the young woman and he could love her only from afar. Beatrice died unexpectedly in 1290 effectively breaking Dante’s heart and five years later Dante published Vita Nuova (The New Life) which details his tragic love for the now departed Beatrice.

Around the time of Beatrice’s death, Dante began to immerse himself in the study of philosophy and the machinations of the Florentine political scene. Florence at this time and age was a tumultuous city, with political factions that remained in constant war with each other, Dante held a number of political posts in these factions and was widely viewed for his political influence. In 1302, however, he fell out of favor and was exiled for life by the leaders of the Black Guelphs (among them, Corso Donati, a distant relative of Dante’s wife), the political faction in power at the time and who were in league with Pope Boniface VIII(Sitar). Dante may have been driven out of Florence, but this would be the beginning of his most productive artistic period.

After Dante was chased out of Florence he spent his time traveling and writing, during this time he wrote and completed one of his most famous works, The Divine Comedy. As well as during his exile he removed himself completely from the political scene as he no longer wished to be a part of the lifestyle he had been forced to leave behind. In 1304, Dante travels to Bologna where he began his Latin treatise De Vulgari Eloquentia (Eloquent Vernacular), in which he urged that courtly Italian, used for amatory writing, be enriched with aspects of every spoken dialect in order to establish Italian as a serious literary language(Kane). The work was unfortunately never completed and will remain a remnant of what could have been. In March 1306, Florentine exiles were expelled from Bologna, and Dante was forced out once more from a place he called home(Kane). Before long he ended up in Padua before his whereabouts were lost for a few years. There are reports he possibly was around Paris but nothing of those has been fully set in stone.

In 1308, Henry of Luxembourg was elected emperor as Henry VII. Full of optimism about the changes this election could bring to Italy Dante wrote his famous work on the monarchy, “De Monarchia, in three books, in which he claims that the authority of the emperor is not dependent on the pope but descends upon him directly from God(Kane). However, this optimism was short-lived as enemies of the monarchy quickly gained ground and found new strength threatening his power and ascension to the throne. Dante learned that most of these enemies were actually members of the Florentine government, Dante’s former home, and he was quick to call out their actions which in turn had him permanently banned from the city. Around this time,

The Divine Comedy is a story about human life shown as a trip through the Christian afterlife. Dante wrote the book as a warning against the corruption of society that slowly was steering itself into destruction. The poetic work of The Divine Comedy was written in a first-person narrative and follows Dante’s own journey through the Christian realms of the dead: Hell, Purgatory and finally Heaven. The famous poet Virgil guides Dante through Hell and Purgatory, while Beatrice guides him through Heaven(Kane). The journey lasts from Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300 (placing it before Dante’s factual exile from Florence, which looms throughout the Inferno and serves as an undercurrent to the poet’s journey)(Phillips).

Dante’s Divine Comedy has thrived through the ages, remaining a popular work for more than six hundred and fifty years and has been considered a major work of writing. Dante himself is revered by poets, authors, and people for his works and there was even a biography written on this great author by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1373(Sanders). The work is a major part of the Western canon, and T.S. Eliot, who was greatly influenced by Dante, put Dante in a class with only one other poet of the modern world, Shakespeare, saying that they divide the modern world between them. There is no third(Kane). Dante’s works will continue to influence the world now and for many hundreds of years in the future and we will continue to pass on his story and works for many years to come.

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