Biography of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Dante at the foot of the city of Florence. Domenico de Michelino, (1465).

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence at the end of the month of may of 1265. They were times of war. The death of the Emperor Federico II of Sicily (1250) caused not only the dismemberment of a burgeoning poetic school but it was - above all - a resurgence in the positions of the supporters of imperial (Ghibellines) and defenders of the domain of the Papacy (Guelphs). For various reasons, bloody clashes broke out in 1248. The remote reason was - apparently - the death of a Buondelmonti, unfaithful husband of an Amidei. September 4, 1260 the Ghibellines of Florence and Siena, led by the Uberti and aided by Manfredo - illegitimate son of Federico II - imposed their power in Monteaperti on the Guelphs of Tuscany. The Guelphs fled terrified from Florence: death and the looting was systematic and relentless in the city of the Arno.

The family of Dante stayed in the City despite the dangers lurking to the Guelphs. And in Florence the poet, was born five years after the disaster of Monteaperti. But fortune, which has always been fickle, wanted the Ghibellines were defeated just one year later in Benevento: Manfredo King was defeated and found death during the battle. Carlos of Anjou, the Papal ambitions paladin, managed to assert itself with an army of Provençal, languedocianos and French. This time it was the river Calore witness combat, 26 February 1266. The body of Manfredo appeared two days later and was buried under a high pile of stones that deposited the Angevins beside the bridge of Benevento. The Pope, whereas such burial as a great honor, ordered that they only him and take him beyond the boundaries of the Kingdom with the candles turned off, as reo's excommunication.

The persecution which the Guelphs held was as relentless as the of the Ghibellines some years earlier. They blanketed the deprivation of property and banishment orders issued against the supporters of imperial power.

Any hope of change was annihilated two years later, when the town army, commanded by the heirs of the Hohenstaufen, was exterminated in Tagliacozzo (1268): their bosses were publicly beheaded in Naples, with the exception of the Infante D. Enrique of Castile, brother and enemy of Alfonso X, which was not released until 1294.

The continuous humiliations inflicted by the supporters of the different trends to the contrary erroneus kept from Florence increasingly more peace. Dante was thirteen years old and her mother had already died, leaving him a reminder that continually reappears in the Commedia, where the maternal image protects, cares for and feeds the child.

According to Boccaccio, our poet's childhood was spent with abundant signs of the future glory of his wit: after eight years, devoted himself to learning the letters and the Liberal Arts, emphasizing admirably. However, it should be noted that cultural activity in Florence was not comparable in any way to the Bologna, Arezzo and Siena, that had two separate universities: the shortage of teachers of grammar in the city of Dante seems no doubt and the preparation of the child was far from being good, as with difficulty I got to read Boethius and Cicero to the twenty-five yearsaccustomed as he was to the biblical ecclesiastical latin. Furthermore, his studies must have been the usual medieval school and read authors were, no doubt, the program of the Trivium, accompanied by verses of the most famous vulgar poets: some troubadours Provencal and French, Sicilian and siculo-toscanos.

In the month of may 1274 first saw Beatrice, daughter of Folco Portinari: girl was eight years and nine Dante. In the Vita Nuova occupies prominently this first meeting and through this book can be reconstructed the activity that Dante developed between the first meeting and nine years later, 1283, in which Beatriz saw again. Without a doubt, he continued his studies at the school and, possibly, began to practice the art of poetry and frequenting the company of the Florentine poets more in vogue, famosi trovatori in quello tempo. The family also prepared his marriage with Gemma Donati (9 January 1277), with whom he married in 1285.

La Vita Nuova was perhaps written in 1294 or very little time before. Beatriz had died the night of June 8, 1290. The feelings of the poet are revealed in this book, which is closed with a mysterious episode: a year after the death of his beloved, while he was handed over to the memory, saw a young and beautiful woman who seemed capable of all compassion. The face of the lady has the color of pearls, like the Beatriz, and his caring attitude makes that remembrance of the beloved cloud slightly. But the poet does not seek a new passion, but the consolation; You will slowly forgetting the past sufferings, until the day in which the figure of Beatrice reappears with all its strength and with the same look that was the first time he saw it: Dante repents and returns to the sad memory. Is when the poet, willing to contemplate the beloved in the glory, is comforted with an admirable, such an extraordinary vision that the writer decides to leave his work until the moment in which to be able to speak of Beatriz telling her things that have not been those of any woman.

That would be the origin of the Commedia, although Dante would take fifteen years to deliver on its promise. Intense years in the life of Dante: the poet has just thirty years and, literally, has already passed the most relevant movements of your environment: it has left behind the imitations of the Sicilians, the siculo-toscanos (especially of Guittone D'arezzo) experiments and has distanced itself from the stilnovisti, although it continues to maintain relationship with Guido Cavalcanti and Cino da Pistoia.

Certainly, our author is unhappy and considers these years following the death of Beatriz as those walked you straight road. They are the years of the misdeeds of his life, judging by the criticisms that Beatriz (in purgatory XXX and XXXI), addressed to you although it is difficult to know whether the errors were moral, intellectual or otherwise. It is a period of ten years, between the death of the beloved (1290) and the start of his visit to hell, possibly located on 25 March the year 1300.

War and civil strife continued Meanwhile in Florence. The same Dante must take part in the siege of Poggio Santa Cecilia (1286-1287) and in the battle of Campaldino and Caprona (1289). It will appear later, registered as a member of the Guild of doctors and representative of his city in embassies and other diplomatic missions (1295-1301).

In Pistoia the Guelphs had divided into two sides, whites and blacks, division that did not hesitate to reach Florence. Dante, committed to both sides, does not take sides openly by none of them. Times were difficult and increasingly with the arbitrariness of Bonifacio VIII and the papal policy of supporting Florentine Lords, especially the turbulent Corso Donati, ringleader of the black Guelphs and distant relative of the wife of Dante is complicated. It wasn't in the war between the two erroneus and Dante - already strongly committed to the policy of the white - come as Ambassador to San Gimignano in search of support. Shortly after it is chosen as one of the six priors who were to govern Florence during two months, short time which would inevitably mark the twenty years of life that were, according to the same Dante in a missing letter: "all the evils and my disadvantages in the infamous election of my Priory had its cause and principle". Indeed, were only two months, but full of turmoil and difficulties: a street brawl confronted a group of nobles with some members of the village. The result was the banishment of fifteen ringleaders of the nobility - Guelphs black and white-with their families; among them was Guido Cavalcanti, who would die shortly after (1300). When the six following priors took possession of his office, the first thing they did was to suspend the order of banishment (perhaps to allow the funeral of Cavalcanti), that did not mean, at all, the pacification of spirits in Florence.

In any case, Dante continued to play political roles of some relief, more and more engaged with the White Guelphs against the pretensions of Bonifacio VIII, which will become the maximum detractor, as well is in the Commedia. It is possible that the antagonism was due to ideological reasons or to have their home at the intransigence of the own Dante, or - according to fame is from old, that was caused by the retention of object Dante went as Ambassador to Rome in autumn of 1301, while the rest of the members of the Embassy were released to return to Florence, in which Carlos de Valois had entered on behalf of the Pope to make peace between the sides involved in the dispute: the black Guelphs who were outcasts - with Corso Donati front - were theft, destruction, murder and pillage for five days, after which banished the survivors targets. Dante was one of them: two-year exile order was given January 27, 1302, accused of embezzlement of public funds, at the same time who was sentenced to pay a fine of five thousand guilders. To the no-show in Florence to fulfill the punishment, was revised its ruling two months later: he was sentenced to death at the stake and his goods were confiscated (10 March 1302). Dante is not already returned to his city.

The political situation made the Guelphs white, exiled from Florence in 1302, is allied with their former enemies the Ghibellines, also exiled, to be able to neutralize - at least partly - the papal claims over the city. Little could the weapons and Dante, bitter and defeated, began to distance himself from his political companions to restart in exile literary activity which had almost abandoned for several years. It was the month of July 1304. Arezzo was born Francesco Petrarca, son of a white friend guelfo of Dante, who had also been banished in 1302.

Little is known of the following years. Boccaccio alludes to an incessant traveller activity:

"He, beyond what I expected, several years back from Verona (where had gone on their first flight, in search of Messer Alberto della Scala, which was received with kindness), was with honor and appropriately enough, according to time and its possibilities, ora with count Salvático in Casentino, prays with the Marquis Morruello Malespina in Lunigiana", prays with the of the Faggiuola in the neighbouring mountains to Urbino. Then moved to Bologna where shortly after he went to Padua and from there returned to Verona. [75] but once saw that closed it the way back everywhere and that every day was more vain hope, not only left Tuscany, but all Italy, and past the mountains that separate it from the province of Gaul, as he could, he went to Paris; and there he surrendered completely to the study of philosophy and theology, recovering for what perhaps had left him the other sciences because of the impediments that had".[Boccaccio, life of Dante, chap. V, 74-75. Trad. C. Alvar, Madrid, Alianza, 1995].

They are many data difficult to accept, because some of their protectors were black Guelphs and others, Ghibellines; the trip to France is not indisputable... In short, there is nothing safe about the activity of the poet in the years following the exile. Which in any case seems certain is that in those years began writing the De vulgari eloquentia and the Convivio, its two main treaties prior to the Commedia, both unfinished.

Verona was the place where Dante had his residence for longer, in the years of hope and the disappointment. When Enrique VII was elected Emperor in 1308, reborn the hopes of the Ghibellines and the White Guelphs, who saw in him the possible peacemaker, or even more, the support they needed against the growing power papal. So it seemed to promise him his career: just a few months after his election, he was crowned King of Germany in Aachen (6 January 1309), and immediately set out to enter Italy, both to visit imperial cities as to receive the solemn investiture. However, their claims were deferred systematically by the various intrigues and it took two years to be crowned King of the Romans (Milan, 6 January 1311) and another two years in be anointed Emperor in Rome (27 June 1313). They were many cities that denied recognition, among others, which were the bulwark of the black Guelphs or which depended more directly of the Papacy: Brescia, Cremona, Padua, Rome and Naples, the main Tuscan cities, and especially Florence. Came new airs of war and the hope that the emperor would get to impose their authority to the Pope (or what was the same, reduce French influence in Italian politics, which would culminate with the transfer of the papal headquarters to Avignon in 1309). But the sudden death of Enrique VII near Siena, August 24, 1313, sank the hopes of much of the White Guelphs and the Ghibellines.

Dante was in full maturity according to Boccaccio describes it - and coincides with the existing iconography-.

East our poet was of medium height, and, when he reached middle age, was something curved and their walk was serious and quiet, was always honestisimos cloths, dressed in clothing that suited his maturity." His face was long, aquiline nose, larger than small eyes, large jaws, and bottom lip mounted on the above; swarthy, with thick, black, curly hair, always with the melancholic and pensive face hair and beard.

In your home and public Customs was admirably orderly and sober, and in all, courteous and polite than anyone else. In the food and drink was very frugal, both because he did it at appropriate times, as because it transferred does not limit the need to take it; and had no more interest in that than anything else: they praised the delicate things and generally fed with standard meals, decrying those that spent part of their application in having selected things and do to prepare very diligently, and claimed that these such didn't eat to live, but rather living to eat. No one was more vigilant than in studies and in any other concerns that punzase you; This stop so much that several times the woman and her family is hurt, until, accustomed to their customs, import them.

Rarely spoke, if it was not to ask, and in these, with firmness and voice appropriate to the subject matter of which spoke; However, where there was asked, it was elocuentisimo easy Word, and with optimal and speedy pronunciation.

Much delighted with music and songs in his youth and was a friend of all those which were good singers and musicians at that time, and he frequented them; attracted by this delight he composed many things that Nice and masterful annotated, covering all them.

Similarly he liked being only and away from the people, so that their arguments were not interrupted him; and if you ever came to him one that please him much, as he was among the people, if you wondered by something, not answered which had asked until you reach a positive or negative result: so happened many times when they asked him to remain at the table, on the road with coworkers or anywhere else.

It was hard to their studies, on the occasions when it was to make them, in such a way that no news that heard could do to abandon them.

This poet was also worthy of admiration, very strong memory and keen intellect abilities... It was of great wit and subtle imagination, as connoisseurs put more shows his works that my letters. He was very eager to honors and pumps, perhaps more than it would be for him called ínclita virtue. But what? Life is so humble that it is not reached by the sweetness of the glory?"[Boccaccio, Dante life, chap. VIII; trad. C. Alvar, loc. CIT]

Verona was one of the places that had been received with joy the arrival of the emperor. He was Lord of the city Cangrande della Scala, who was appointed imperial vicar (1311) and excommunicated by the Pope in 1318. From that same year, became captain general of the Ghibelline League, getting subjected much of the North of Italy. Verona had spend several years, Dante from 1312 to 1318, precisely the years in which wrote the largest part of the Commedia, whose Paradiso dedicated to Cangrande in a well known and important Epistle (the 13th) that praises her protector and explains the different levels of interpretation of the poem (in addition to allude to the same Lord of the city wide. XVII, 76 et seq.). The fame of Dante was already consolidated since spread (1314) Inferno and Purgatory (1315-1316).

It is possible that fame to open the doors of the Court of Guido Novello da Polenta (or Guido the younger), poet and protector of artists in Ravenna, where he spent the last years of his life, honored and respected by your host and other members of his entourage, possibly taking up the Chair of rhetoric and poetry. There, finally, go beside the poet his sons Pietro and Jacopo, and perhaps also her daughter Antonia (which profesaría as a nun with the name of Beatrice). Dante had passed fifty, it was prestigious and diplomatic experienced poet: not surprising that Guido of Polenta is used by as an Ambassador sometimes delicate, to relieve tension or reduce hostilities; such was the case with Venice, where was sent on behalf of Ravenna and where should contract a fever (maybe malaria) that they would end their life 13 or September 14, 1321, just completed the Commedia, so much so that many came to think that it had been left unfinished, as attested by Boccaccio, although its tendency to fabulation and the construction of new situations is well known for:

"Had been the custom that when I had finished six or eight or more songs, or less, would send until no one else saw them, were where they were, to Messer Cane della Scala, he reverenced more than to any other man; and, after having been seen by him, he made copies for those who wanted them. Having submitted in this way all edges except the last thirteen, and having them made, although still not had commanded them is, without giving news to no one that would let them, he died. After searching those who stayed, sons and disciples, on several occasions, and for months, between all of his writings, if his work had given him purpose, and not found in any way edges missing, his friends already lamenting because Dios enough not had lent it to the world to put an end to what little remained of his work and not finding themLet look desperate.Iacopo and Pietro, sons of Dante, both poets, persuaded by some of his friends, were to supplement the work of father to the extent of their posibiidades, so that it does not remain unfinished; then, appeared to Iacopo, which was much more applied therein that his brother, a wonderful vision, which not only moved it from the estulta presumption, but it also showed him where were the thirteen songs that were missing from the Divine Comedy, and who had failed to find".[Boccaccio, Dante's life, chapter XIV, 183-189; trad. C. Alvar, loc. CIT]


Dante wrote in verse and prose, in Italian and latin. His juvenile works include collection of poetic compositions (Rime) which basically highlights the search of new expressive ways, leading from siculo-toscanos models to the Dolce Stil Novo and the rapid overcoming of this school: the variety of records and the wealth of themes of his poetry have been considered as the first stepneeded to reach the Divine Comedy. La Vita Nuova is located between 1294 and 1295, and is, without doubt, the text that best represents the ideals of the young Dante: attached to the guidelines of the Stil Novo, on the other hand, is a reflection of linguistic and aesthetic concerns of the author, who says his own poems. Finally, it is the prelude to the comedy, reflection of the process of maturation and the level achieved in very short time.

Linguistic and aesthetic concerns is manifest in two treatises: the Convivio, written in latin and the De vulgari eloquentia, in Italian. They are possibly contemporary (h. 1304-1307) and were drawn up in the aftermath of the political failure; they were unfinished with the beginning of the comedy. In both texts reflected desire of Dante's acquiring fame of Sage, philosopher among his contemporaries and, thereby, recover lost political and social position. To carry out its purpose reflects on his own work and the language, which does not prevent you making a wide digression on the Empire, the first testimony of the political thinking of the author, thoroughly expressed later in the monarchy (of difficult dating, Enrique VII-related) and in the same comedy. This set should add the Epistles and a couple of texts written in old age, which are linked to their educational experience: it is the Quaestio de aqua et terra and the two Latino Eclogae, in correspondence with el Virgilio de Giovanni.

La Vita nuova

See VIta Nuova.

La Commedia

See Commedia.

El Dolce Stil Novo

See Dolce Stil Novo.


Dante encyclopedia. 6 vols. 2nd ed. Rome, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1984.

MERCURI, r.-Comedia di Dante Alighieri, in A. Asor Rosa, Italian Letteratura. Le Opere, I. Turin, Einaudi, 1992.

MINEO, N-Dante, in C. Muscetta, Italian letteratura. Storia e testi, I, 2. Bari, Laterza, 1970 (1989, with updated bibliography).

RAGNI, E-and ESPOSITO, e. -bibliography Analytics degli scritti his Dante 1950-1970. 4 vols. Florence, 1990.