Dante Alighieri

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Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an Italian poet best known as the author of The Divine Comedy, an epic poem in three parts (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Pardiso) which relates the Christian view of man's purpose by tracing the journey of a man through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. It is generally considered one of the greatest works of literature and, being written in the Italian vernacular language, marks Dante as one of the chief figures in the development the Italian literary language.

Dante was born of noble ancestry in 1265 in Florence during a time of political strife between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. In Florence, as elsewhere, factions had developed around this struggle, with the Guelphs supporting the Papacy and the Ghibellines the Empire. Dante's family were Guelphs and, from 1270, that faction gained the ascendency in Florence.

As a 12 year old boy, Dante was betrothed to Gemma Donati, and their marriage was concluded in 1285. However, his real love - a spiritual love - and the inspiration of his life and poetry, was Beatrice, who was the main subject of his La Vita Nuova, a collection of verse and prose essays published in 1293, a few years after the death of Beatrice. Beatrice would also figure prominently in the Divine Comedy.

A few years later, beginning in 1295, Dante became active in Florentine politics. The city's ruling Guelphs had, by this time, split into two factions, the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs. When the Black Guelphs gained control of Florence in the early 1300s, Dante, as a member of the White party, was sent into exile. Eventually he found his way to Ravenna where he lived for the rest of his life, dying in 1321.

It was while in exile that Dante composed some of his most important works, inclluding his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy. During these years he also wrote De vulgari eloquentia (Concerning Vernacular Eloquence), a theoretical discussion of the Italian literary language, and De monarchia (On Monarchy), a Latin language composition on Medieval political theory.

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