Life of Dante Alighieri
a. Born in Florence, Italy in 1265
b. Was from a low-aristocratic family - not too wealthy
c. Met Beatrice and fell in love at age 9
d. Father (who was a merchant) died when Dante was 18,
(mother died when Dante was 9)
* Same year his father died, he married Gemma Donati
(arranged marriage)
* they had four children
e. Beatrice dies when he is 25, and he writes Vita Nuova (new
life) for her in 1292
a. There were two main political parties in Italy at that time
A. Guelphs supported the Pope and later divided into two parties
1. Black Guelphs were staunch supporters of the Pope and his ultimate
2. White Guelphs believed that the Pope shouldn't hold too much power
B. Ghibellines were supporters of imperial power (like Frederick II)
1. The Ghibellines were thrown out of Florence in the late 13th century .
III. Dante Middle Aged
a. Dante sided with the White Guelphs
i. His wife came from a dominate Black Guelph family
b. Dante became heavily involved in politics and was one of the six magistrates of Florence
i. He traveled with the other magistrates to see Pope Boniface VIII and discuss the pressures he had been putting on Florence
1. The Pope threatened to excommunicate them
ii. While Dante was visiting, the Black Guelphs took control of Florence and accused Dante of committing crimes against the
Pope, disturbing the peace, and fraud.
1. Dante didn't show up to the trial and was banished from Florence - death by burning upon return.
2. He moved his family to Verona, Italy in 1302
IV. Later in life
a. Dante started writing The Divine Comedy around 1306 and finished around 1314.
b. he died of an illness in 1321 – never to return to Florence ( Died in Ravenna Italy, 50 years of age)
Notes on The Divine Comedy
 This poem by Dante is divided into three sections with around 33-34 cantos (short poetic chapters) each.
o Inferno is about Dante’s trip to hell
o Purgatorio is Dante’s trip to purgatory (like a waiting place between heaven and hell)
o Paradiso is Dante’s trip to heaven
The whole Comedy takes place over Easter –
o from Good Friday (celebrating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ) when Dante goes to hell,
o through the three days of Christ in the grave when Dante goes to purgatory,
o and ending with Easter day (the day Christ rose from the grave) when Dante goes to heaven.
Main Characters you need to know:
o Dante (also the actual writer) is the main character that goes through all the adventures
 Symbol of every human and their journey
o Virgil (the historical writer of the Aeneid) is Dante’s mentor, hero, and guide through hell.
 Symbol of human reasoning and classical learning
o Beatrice (the girl Dante loved as a young man) is an angel and guides Dante through purgatory and heaven (because Virgil
lives in hell and can’t go there).
 Symbol of faith and God’s love
The Divine Comedy is an allegory – the characters, setting, plot have hidden, symbolic meanings.
The Divine Comedy is a poem written in terza rima – a meter that Dante created; it has three line stanzas (symbolic of trinity),
and a rhyme scheme of aba bcb cdc…also he used feminine endings on the second to last syllable of each line. These things
made it very difficult to translate – but put the Tuscan language on the map!
Terms to know (The Divine Comedy)
Simoniacs/Simony– those who sell church favors (like indulgences, relics, positions of power given for money or favors)
Avarice/Avaricious – greed
Prodigal/Prodigality – extravagant wastefulness, spendthrift
Slothful – lazy, aversion to work
Glutton – overindulgence in anything, consuming immoderate amounts of food/drink
Limbo – the abode of souls who cannot go to heaven because of circumstances beyond their control, and they don’t really deserve
to go to hell either.
Heresy – an opinion/doctorine in conflict with established religious beliefs.
Blasphemy – a contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God.
Usury – those who lend money at an exorbitant rate and take advantage of others financially.
Incontinence – not able to control oneself, unrestrained.
Malice – hate; a desire to harm others and see them suffer.
Pander/panderer- one who leads another person astray (into sin).
Papacy – the office and jurisdiction of the Pope.
Contrapasso – the punishment fits the crime (sin).