1265: Dante Alighieri born
Poet, writer, political thinker, philosopher Dante Alighieri was born on May 21, 1265 in Florence Italy. Dante was born into a family very active within the Florentine political scene and his married at the age of 12 into an arranged marriage. Around 1290 Dante’s wife died unexpectedly and in 1302 he fell out of favor with the Florentine political scene and was exiled for life.
Dante is best know for the epic poem The Divine Comedy, which is considered the greatest work of literature composed in Italian, and has him sees as the father of modern Italian.
The Divine Comedy is an allegory of human life presented as a visionary trip through the Christian afterlife, written as a warning to a corrupt society to steer itself to the path of righteousness: “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity.” The poem is written in the first person (from the poet’s perspective) and follows Dante’s journey through the three Christian realms of the dead: hell, purgatory, and finally heaven, and is a philosophical Christian version of mankind’s eternal fate.
The Roman poet Virgil guides Dante through hell (Inferno) and purgatory (Purgatorio), while Beatrice guides him through heaven (Paradiso). The journey lasts from the night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300 (placing it before Dante’s factual exile from Florence, which looms throughout the Inferno and serves as an undercurrent to the poet’s journey).
Dante’s Divine Comedy has flourished for more than 650 years and has been considered a major work since Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a biography of Dante in 1373. (By 1400, at least 12 commentaries had already been written on the poem’s meaning and significance.) The work is a major part of the Western canon, and T.S. Eliot, who was greatly influenced by Dante, put Dante in a class with only one other poet of the modern world, Shakespeare, saying that they ”divide the modern world between them. There is no third.”