Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet and is often referred to as the “Father of the Italian Language.” He is most well-known for his work The Divine Comedy, in which he is led through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, learning important lessons about life and the afterlife along the way.
Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet who was crucial in popularizing the Italian vernacular in literature. Up until Dante’s works, most poets and writers wrote in Latin; Dante gave the Italians a high style in their own language to read and write in. Dante was born in 1265 in Florence to a very politically connected family. He was betrothed to a girl named Gemma at 12 years old, but he had already fallen in love with Beatrice Portinari, who would later become the subject and starring role in many of Dante’s works.
Dante’s family was loyal to the White Guelphs, who were loyal to the Pope; the Black Guelphs were loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor. After an uprising in Florence in 1301 by the Black Guelphs, Dante and other loyalists to the Pope were exiled. There is melancholy for his old home, as he mentions it frequently in his best-known work The Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy is separated into three sections: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). Dante initially sets out on this allegorical journey guided by the poet Virgil in order to find his way back to moral righteousness. He travels through the nine circles of Hell, and it is his description of fire, brimstone, eternal torture, and Satan as a bat-like creature that has greatly influenced most modern depictions of Hell and Satan.
After he emerges from Hell, he walks through Purgatory, which explores the seven deadly sins. He is then led by his long-lost love Beatrice through Paradise, where he meets several saints and then God himself. He ends his journey by finally melding his soul back to righteousness with an understanding of God’s divinity.
The Divine Comedy was not only a work of art in its allegory and descriptions, it also showcased the creation of the poetic terza rima, a set of three lines with a set rhyme scheme written in hendecasyllable (lines of 11 syllables each). Never before had a poet written so extensively in terza rima, and the end result was beautiful rhythm and sound when the poem is read aloud.
Dante died in exile in Ravenna in 1321, never having returned to his beloved Florence.
Be sure to check out the teacher guide on Dante's Inferno!
“Here one must leave behind all hesitation; here every cowardice must meet its death.”
“Consider your origin; you were not born to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.”
“A great flame follows a little spark.”
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