Dante Alighieri: A Poetic Descent into Metaphorical Hell”Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”Only through a journey into hell can we hope to attain paradise..
.His Early Life:Dante Alighieri was born under the sign of Gemini, he was thought to beborn on May 29, but this is not certain. He was born in Florence, the son ofAlighiero II, his family was one of lower nobility. His mother died when he wasa child and his father when he was eighteen. According to him, the mostprofound event in his youth was when in 1274 he met Beatrice, whom scholarsbelieve to be Beatrice Portinari, a noble woman. It really matter’s not who shewas, for he saw her infrequently and never spoke to her. Nevertheless shebecame the focus of his love, and after her death she became his muse.
She is afocal point in his works, including La vita nuova(The New Life) and La divinacommedia(The Divine Comedy). Dante’s education remains an unknown, however hiswriting skill and knowledge make it evident that he was well schooled. It isthought that he attended Florentine schools but also continued learning on hisown. He seemed to be influenced greatly by Brunetto Latini, who has a largepart in The Divine Comedy. His early writings attracted the attention of GuidoCavalcanti, a popular Italian poet of the day, as Dante’s skill became moredefined the two became friends. It is also thought that Dante studied at theuniversity in Bologna around the year 1285.He became involved in some political altercations, he joined the Guelphs,as opposed to the Chibellines, and he was involved in a battle and emergedvictorious.
It was around this time, 1290, that Beatrice died, after she diedhe began studying philosophy, he read the works of Boethius and Cicero. He soonafter married Gemma Donati, a member of a noble Florentine Guelph family. Heattempted to settle down and forget Beatrice, however he became more and moreengulfed in the party scene, he discovered the pleasure of banquets, and wasseen engaged in public rhyming contests. These contests were a sort of poeticinsult contest that often decayed into vulgarity.
Thankfully, this period didnot last long, in 1295, Dante suddenly became very interested in the politicalsituation in Florence.His Adult Life:In the year 1295 he held several local offices, he was then elected tobe one of the six magistrates of Florence, however, he held this position onlytwo months. Dante, from 1295 to 1297, was part of the Special Council of thePeople, he also took part in the campaign for the prior, and was a member of theCouncil of the One Hundred. The political situation in Florence at the time wasvery turbulent, the two feuding factions within the Guelph party in Florence,the Cerchi and the Donati or the Whites and The Blacks were both vying for power.
The Blacks, or Donati, were of noble birth and lineage but were not exceedinglyrich, and they saw the pope as an ally against imperial power. The Whites, orCerchi, were not of noble lineage, but had made a vast fortune trading andwished to become a part of the aristocracy, they wished to remain independent ofall control, papal or imperial. After a particularly violent skirmish theleaders of both parties were exiled in order to provide peace, however, PopeBoniface VIII helped the leaders of the Black return. These Blacks seized powerand banned Dante from the city for two years and imposed upon him heavy fines,he did not pay the fines, and they said he would be killed should he ever returnto Florence.Dante’s immediate response was a desire to join with the other exilesand organize, they would retake the city by force.
The exiled people were moreconcerned with their own interests than retaking Florence, the movement nevereven really got underway. There were a few isolated skirmishes, called the Warsof Mugello, but they were all unsuccessful. Dante was disgusted by the utterlack of motivation in his companions, and he decided to go his own way.
Dante spent time in Northern Italy and in Verona, he made his way toParis around 1307, there he joined the Ghibellines, hoping to unite all ofEurope under the reign of an “enlightened emperor”1. There are no certainrecords documenting Dante’s travels so most of the information on this period ismere speculation.