Dante Alighieri is considered the father of the Italian language and one of the greatest authors of universal literature. His fame is mainly due to his authorship of The Divine Comedy, universally considered the greatest work written in the Italian language and one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature.
An important linguist, political theorist and philosopher, profoundly influenced by classical culture (as demonstrated by the very frequent references to Greek and Latin literature and philosophy in his works), Dante ranged between different styles and subjects, profoundly marking Italian literature in the following centuries and western culture itself, so much so that he was nicknamed the 'Sommo Poeta' or, par excellence, the 'Poet'.
Dante was born in 1265 in Florence into a family belonging to the minor Florentine nobility. He was orphaned at an early age by his mother Bella (around 1275) and lost his father Alighiero di Bellincione before 1283.
In 1274, while still a child, he first met Bice di Folco Portinari, Beatrice, whom he loved until her death in 1290.
In 1285, he married Gemma di Manetto Donati, who bore him three children.
His political activity began around 1290 and continued, in 1295, with his membership of the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries; later, he joined the “Council of 100” and the “Special Council of Captains of the People”, until his appointment as Prior. Dante also held diplomatic posts, serving as Ambassador to several Italian cities.
At that time, the Florentines were politically divided into two opposing factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines: Dante was a supporter of the Guelphs. Later, the Guelph side split into Whites and Blacks and Dante sided (albeit moderately) with the Whites. In 1301, while he was in Rome for political reasons related to his task as Ambassador to Pope Boniface VIII, the Neri gained power, accused Dante of corruption and in March 1302 sentenced him to death in absentia.
Following the conviction, Dante remained in exile for the rest of his life, devoting himself to a very intense intellectual activity.
He spent the last years of his life in Ravenna, as a guest of important local families, and he also held political offices. During a diplomatic trip, he contracted malaria, which brought him to the end of his days: he died in Ravenna, aged only 56, on the night between 13 and 14 September 1321.
The Comedy - the work's original title (only later did Giovanni Boccaccio attribute the adjective 'Divine' to Dante's poem, which has since become universally known as the 'Divine Comedy') - is the Florentine poet's masterpiece and is considered the most important literary testimony of medieval civilisation, as well as one of the greatest works of universal literature. It is defined as a 'comedia' because it is written in a 'comic', i.e. not courtly, style.
The Commedia tells of an imaginary journey into the three realms of the afterlife – Inferno (Hell), Purgatory and Paradise, in which the good and evil of the earthly world are projected - a trip undertaken by the poet himself, as a 'symbol' of humanity, under the guidance of reason and faith. Dante is accompanied in both Inferno and Purgatory by his master, the great Latin poet Virgil; in Paradise, he is accompanied first by his beloved Beatrice, and then by Saint Bernard. The tortuous and arduous path of Dante, whose language becomes more and more complex the further he ascends towards Paradise, represents, metaphorically, the difficult journey of man in his effort to rise above the temptations of the earthly world, in order to tend towards God.
Dante began working on his masterpiece around 1300 and continued it throughout the rest of his life, publishing the "Cantiche" as he completed them. The poem is divided into three books or "Cantiche", each consisting of 33 "cantos" (except for Inferno, which has 34 "cantos", since the first one serves as a proem to the entire poem); each "canto" consists of tercets of endecasyllables (the so-called 'Dantesque terzine'). There are manuscript copies of the Inferno dating from around 1313, while the Purgatorio was published in the following two years. The Paradiso, begun perhaps in 1316, was published as the "cantos" were completed, in the last years of the poet's life.
His Rhymes (Rime), at least 50 in number, belong mainly to the initial years of his production (1280/1290), while others were composed later and are influenced by the Siculo-Tuscan school, and in particular by the lyricism of Guittone, G. Guinizelli and G. Cavalcanti.
The death of Beatrice (1290) caused a profound religious crisis in Dante, which determined the completion of his youthful education, undertaken under the guidance of Brunetto Latini.
The Vita Nova was composed by him in the interval between 1292 and 1293 and comprises 31 lyric poems that narrate of his beloved woman, Beatrice, strongly idealised and destined to guide the supreme Poet also in the journey of the Commedia.