Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (May/June 1265 – September 13/14, 1321) was a Florentine poet. His greatest work, La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy), was the greatest literary statement produced in the medieval period, and the basis of the modern Italian language.

Early life and family

Dante was born in 1265 and he tells us he was born under the sign of Gemini, placing his birthday in May or June. He was born into the prominent Alighieri family of Florence, with loyalties to the Guelfs, a political alliance involved in complex opposition to the Ghibellines; Guelfs themselves were divided into White Guelfs (pro-imperial) and Black Guelfs. Dante (a White Guelf) pretended that his family descended from the ancient Romans (Inferno, XV, 76), but the earliest relative he can mention by name is Cacciaguida degli Elisei (Paradiso, XV, 135), of no earlier than about 1100.

His father, Alighiero di Bellincione, was a White Guelf, but suffered no reprisals after the Ghibellines won the battle of Montaperti, and this safety reveals a certain personal or family prestige.

Dante's mother was Donna Bella degli Abati; "Bella" stands for Gabriella, but also means "beautiful", while Abati (the name of a powerful family) means friars; a really curious name. She died when Dante was 5 or 6 years old, and Alighiero soon married Miss Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. (It is uncertain whether he really married her, as widowers had social limitations in these matters.) This woman definitely bore two children, Dante's brother Francesco and sister Tana (Gaetana).

When Dante was 12, in 1277, he was promised in marriage to Gemma, daughter of Messer Manetto Donati. Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common, and was an important ceremony, requiring formal deeds signed before a notary. Dante had several sons with Gemma. As often happens with famous people, many children pretended to be Dante's offspring; however, it is likely that Jacopo, Pietro, and Antonia were truly his children. Antonia became a nun with the name of Sister Beatrice. Another man, Giovanni, claimed to be his son and was in exile with Dante, but some doubts were advanced about his claim.

Education and poetry

Not much is known about Dante's education, and it is presumed he studied at home. We know he studied Tuscan poetry, at a time when the Sicilian School (Scuola poetica siciliana), a cultural group from Sicily, was becoming known in Tuscany. His interests brought him to discover Provençal minstrels and poets, and Latin culture (with an obvious particular devotion to Virgil).

Dante Alighieri from Raphael's )

"Dante Alighieri on the Web" (http://www.greatdante.net), about his life, time, and (complete) work.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dante/)

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