DANTE, Alighieri

Born: between May 15 and June 15, 1265, in Florence, Italy

Died: September 13 or 14, 1321, in Ravenna

Dante's writing is noted for its lofty thought and fluent verse. He chose to write in the common language of the time rather than in Latin which was the generally accepted language of preference for proper written works. Many consider Dante to be the greatest Italian poet to ever live, but in addition, he was a notable writer of prose, a politically active thinker, a moral philosopher and a literary theorist.

Dante was born into a bourgeois family of noble ancestry in Florence, Italy. His mother died when he was a few months old and although his father remarried, he died when Dante was only eighteen.

Italy's political arena was in a state of tumult when Dante entered. In addition to being a poet, he was a warrior and an active politician and it was perhaps the latter activity that had the greatest impact on his life.

He acted as an ambassador to San Gimignano and later was employed in the service of Pope Boniface VIII in 1301. Unfortunately, many of those that held power in Florence opposed the Pope, and Dante was fined and exiled in 1302. When he did not return to Florence to face the charges against him, he was sentenced to death. Despite offers by subsequent governments in Florence to clear his name, Dante never returned to Florence.

While in exile, Dante wrote The Divine Comedy, for which he is best known. It is comprised of three sections describing a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante's journey is an allegory for humanity's progress on earth and its progression toward God. While the doctrines expressed in The Divine Comedy are not necessarily compelling in today's world, the lyrical quality, timing and rhythm of Dante's work allow it to endure several hundred years later.

Much of the inspiration for Dante's writing came from Beatrice Portinari, a girl he first met when they were both young children in Florence. Despite his passionate admiration and affection for Beatrice, they didn't develop a lasting relationship. Dante was married to Gemma Donati in a pre-arranged marriage shortly after his father's death. They had at least two sons and a daughter.

Dante chose to write in the language of the day, Italian, despite the fact that much of his inspiration was foreign to his home country. While his work was instrumental in establishing the Italian language as a language suitable for literature, Dante continued to draw ideas and inspiration from ancient Greek authors such as Virgil.

Many of Dante's remaining years were spent traveling since he had been exiled from Florence. The pardons he had been offered by the government of Florence still forced him to acknowledge guilt for his crimes and, on principle, he refused to return without full restoration of his dignity and honor. He lectured in Verona and Ravenna where he fell ill and died.