DANTE ALIGHIERI
 
(1265–1321)
 

 


 

 


DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy.

   He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come.

    Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at Verona and from c.1316 lived at Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia, which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.


Best collected edn. of Opere by the Società Dantesca Italiana, ed. M. Barbi, E. G. Parodi and others (Florence, 1921; appendix, 1922; 2nd edn., 1960). Crit. edn. of Vita nuova by D. De Robertis (Milan and Naples, 1980); of Rime (Canzoni) by G. Contini (Turin, 1939; 2nd edn., 1946); Eng. tr. and comm. by K. Foster and P. Boyde, Dante’s Lyric Poetry (2 vols., Oxford, 1967); De Vulgari Eloquentia ed. A. Marigo (Florence: Nuova Edizione diretta da M. Barbi, 6; 1938; 2nd edn. by P. G. Ricci: Edizione sotto auspici della Fondazione Giorgio Cini, 6; 1957); Convivio ed. F. Brambilla Ageno (Florence: Edizione Nationale delle Opere di Dante, 3; 3 vols., 1995); De Monarchia ed. P. G. Ricci (Verona: Edizione Nazionale, 5; 1965) and, with Eng. tr., by P. Shaw (Cambridge Medieval Classics, 4; 1995); Il Fiore and Il Detto d’Amore ed. G. Contini (Milan: Edizione Nazionale, 8; 1984); Letters ed. P. Toynbee (Oxford, 1920; 2nd edn., 1966); and Eclogues ed. P. H. Wicksteed and E. G. Gardner (London, 1902). Edns., with comm. by D. De Robertis and others, of all minor works in Opere Minori (La Letteratura Italiana, Storia e Testi, 5; 2 vols. in 3, Milan and Naples [1979–88]). A. Solerti (ed.), Le vite di Dante, Petrarca e Boccaccio (Storia Litteraria d’Italia; Milan, 1904), pp. 3–236. E. Moore, Studies in Dante (4 series, Oxford, 1896–1917); P. Toynbee, Dante Alighieri (1900; 4th edn., 1910); N. Zingarelli, Dante (Storia Litteraria d’Italia, 1903; rev. edn., 2 vols., Milan, 1944); K. Vossler, Die Göttliche Komödie (4 pts., Heidelberg, 1907–10; Eng. tr., 2 vols., 1929); B. Croce, La poesia di Dante (Bari, 1921; Eng. tr., 1922); B. Nardi, Saggi di filosofia dantesca (Milan, 1930; 2nd edn., Florence, 1967); id., Dante e la cultura medievale (Bari, 1942); id., Nel mondo di Dante (1944); E. Gilson, Dante et la philosophie (1939; Eng. tr., 1948); U. Cosmo, Guida a Dante (Turin, 1947; Eng. tr., Oxford, 1950); C. S. Singleton, Dante Studies (2 vols., Cambridge, Mass., 1954–8); U. Limentani (ed.), The Mind of Dante (Cambridge, 1965); K. Foster, OP, The Two Dantes, and other Studies [1977]; P. Boyde, Dante, Philomythes and Philosopher (Cambridge, 1981); J. Freccero, Dante: The Poetics of Conversion, ed. R. Jacoff (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1986). Introduction by G. [A.] Holmes, Dante (Past Masters; Oxford, 1980). P. Toynbee, A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante (Oxford, 1898; rev. by C. S. Singleton, 1968). Enciclopedia Dantesca (5 vols., Rome, 1970–6, + Appendix, 1978). See also bibl. to divina commedia.



Divina Commedia, La. The name commonly given to Dante’s sacred poem describing his vision of the three realms of the world to come, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Dante himself may have described the trilogy as a comedy; the epithet divine is a later addition. The poem describes a vision in which Dante travels for a week at Easter 1300, from a dark forest on this side of the world down through Hell to Satan at the centre of the Earth and up the seven terraces of the mount of Purgatory, an island in the Antipodes opposite Jerusalem, to its summit, the Earthly Paradise, where Adam and Eve were created. So far Virgil has been his guide, but now he meets Beatrice, who conducts him through the nine planetary and stellar spheres to the Empyrean, where St Bernard of Clairvaux takes her place. St Bernard presents Dante to the Blessed Virgin Mary, at whose intercession the poet is granted a glimpse of the Beatific Vision.

The date, purpose and detailed interpretation of the poem are widely disputed. Dante may have begun writing in 1305 or possibly not until after 1310. The work was circulated in batches of Cantos before its completion and is mentioned early in 1314. The fictional date, 1300 means that many subsequent events are presented as prophecies, though some prophecies seem to remain unfulfilled. Virgil is commonly said to represent Natural Reason and Beatrice Faith, Revelation, Theology, or the Church, though it is clear that she is also the Florentine girl, jealous of the honours Dante has paid to other women. St Bernard is not merely a symbol but a man who in contemplation has been granted a glimpse of the Beatific Vision. The poem is not just a version of scholasticism; it interprets a personal vision and a story of individual salvation in which Dante claims the rare privilege of the vision of God’s Essence in this life. He accepts the authority of the Church and the office of the Pope, however severe his comments on the persons of individual popes and other churchmen whom he depicts in Hell. The poem has survived in a large number of MSS, been the subject of commentaries from an early date, widely translated and has exercised a deep influence, esp. on 19th-cent. English literature and art (e.g. on drawings of W. Blake).

Edns. of Dante’s collected works are listed s.v. Crit. edn. of Divina Commedia, with introd., by G. Petrocchi (Opere di Dante Alighieri, Edizione Nazionale, 7; 4 vols., 1966–7). Eng. trs. incl. those of D. L. Sayers (Harmondsworth, 1949–62), G. L. Bickersteth (Aberdeen, 1955), and in prose, with comm., by J. D. Sinclair (3 vols., London, 1939–46; rev. edn., 1948), and, with best comm. in Eng., by C. S. Singleton (Bollingen Series, 80; 6 vols., Princeton, NJ [1970–5]; vols. 1–2, Inferno, also pub. London, 1971). Comm. in Ital. by N. Sapegno (3 vols., Florence, 1955–7) and U. Bosco and G. Reggio (3 vols., ibid., 1979). R. Hollander, Allegory in Dante’s Commedia (Princeton, NJ, 1969); P. Armour, The Door of Purgatory: A Study of Multiple Symbolism in Dante’s Purgatorio (Oxford, 1983). E. H. Wilkins and T. G. Bergin, A Concordance to the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1965).

 


 

BVM Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ital. Italian.

 


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