Dante Alighieri Books

Easton Press Dante Alighieri books:
The Divine Comedy - 1978

Franklin Library Dante Alighieri books:
The Divine Comedy - 100 Greatest Books of All Time - 1977
The Divine Comedy - Great Books of the Western World - 1978

Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieri biography
Dante Alighieri, (1265-1321), was an Italian poet, and one of the greatest poets of the Western world, born in Florence into a family of the lower nobility. Dante's mother died in his childhood and his father when he was eighteen. The most significant event of his childhood, according to his own account, was his meeting at the age of nine, Beatrice, the woman whom he loved, ad whom he exalted, first in the Vita Nuova, and later in his greatest work, The Divine Comedy. Scholars have identified Beatrice with the Florentine noblewoman Bice Portinari.

Little is actually known about Dante's education, although his works encompassed nearly all the learning of time. It seems relatively certain that Dante studied for some time with the Florentine philosopher and rhetorician Brunetto Latini. About 1285 Dante is known to have been in Bologna, and he may have studied at the University there. In 1289 he was with the Guelph army of Florence at the battle of Campaldino, in which the Florentines triumphed decisively over the Ghibelline armies of Pisa and Arezzo. Around this time Dante married Gemma Donati, daughter of a prominent Guelph family of Florence.

Dante's first important work, Vita Nuove was written shortly after the death of Beatrice. It is composed of sonnets and canzoni woven together with a prose commentary. The work narrates the course of Dante's love for Beatrice, his premonition of her death in a dream, her actual death, and his ultimate resolve to write a work which would be a worthy monument to her memory. The Vita Nuova clearly exhibits the influence of the love poetry of the Provencal troubadours and represents the finest work of new Flourentine vernacular poetry. However, it transcends the Provencal tradition in that it not only idealizes but spiritualizes the object of the poet's love. The Vita Nuova, in its sustained intensity of feeling, is one of the greatest verse sequences in European literature.

During the next few years Dante was active in the turbulent political life of Florence. Records dating from 1295 indicate that he held several local offices in that year. He was sent on a diplomatic mission to San Gimignano in 1300 and later the same year was elected one of the six priors of Florence, a post in which he served from June 15 to August 15. The rivalry between the to factions within the Guelph party of Florence, the Blacks who saw in the pope an ally against imperial power, and the Whites who were determined to remain equally independent of both pope and Holy Roman emperor, became intense during Dante's tenure. At his urging, the leaders of both factions were exiled in order to preserve peace in the city. However, through the influence of Pope Boniface VIII, the leaders of the Blacks returned to Florence in 1301 and seized power. In 1302 they banned Dante from the city for a period of two years and fined him heavily in absentia. Failing to make payment, he was condemned to death should he ever return to Florence.

Dante's exile was spent partly in Verona and partly in other northern Italian cities. His political beliefs underwent a pronounced conversion during this period. Eventually embraced the cause of the Ghibellines, he hoped for the unification of Europe under the reign of an enlightened emperor.

During the early years of his exile Dante produced two important woks in Latin, the unfinished Convivio and De Vulgari Eloquentia. The former was intended to be a digest, in fifteen books, of all the knowledge of time. The first book was to be an introductory and the other fourteen books were to take the form of commentary on fourteen poems by Dante. Only the first four books were completed. De Vulgari Eloquentia is a treatise on the uses and advantages of the Italian language. It defends the vernacular as a literary medium, attempts to establish certain criteria of good usage in written Italian, and concludes with a section devoted to criticism of Italian poetry.

Dante's political hopes were strongly aroused by the arrival in Italy in 1310 of the German King and Holy Roman emperor Henry VII, known also as Henry of Luxembourg. Henry's purpose was to bring Italy under his sovereignty in fact as well as in name. In a feverish burst of political activity, Dante wrote to many Italian princes and political leaders urging them to look upon Henry's suzerainty as a means of resolving the bitter strife prevalent among and within Italian cities. Henry's death in Sienna in 1313 brought Dante's hopes to an abrupt end. The Latin treatise De Monarchia, written probably during the period of Henry's stay in Italy, is an exposition of Dante's political philosophy, and also of complete separation of Church and state.

In 1316 the city of Florence invited Dante to return, but the terms offered him were those generally reserved for pardoned criminals. Dante rejected the invitation, maintaining that he never would return unless given full dignity and honor. He continued to live in exile, spending his last years in Ravenna, where he died and was buried.

Among the minor works written during the last years of his life are the Quaestio de Acqua et Terra and two Latin eclogues. The former is a cosmological treatise dealing with a question of great concern to contemporary savant, whether the surface of the sea or any body of water is higher at any point than the surface of the earth. The two eclogues are modeled after those of Roman Poet Virgil.

The body of Dante's poetry includes also a number of sonnets and canzoni which are among the greatest examples of those forms in Italian literature.

Dante's masterwork, the Divine Comedy, was started probably in 1306 or 1307, but the date of its completion in unknown. It is an allegorical narrative of the poet's imaginary journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise, and of his meeting with various mythological, historical, and contemporary persons in those three realms. Dane is conducted through hell and purgatory by Virgil and through paradise by Beatrice. His journey is climaxed by a vision of God and by a complete blending of his own will with the divine will. Many themes found elsewhere in Dante's writing come to fruition in the Divine Comedy, including his political beliefs and his view of love as an ennobling emotion that leads on from mere carnal desire to an all embracing yearning for God. In dramatic, poetic, and intellectual force, the Divine Comedy is regarded as one of the greatest works in the history of literature.

The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy or La Commedia Divina is an epic poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and one of the greatest of all works of literature. It was begun around 1307 and finished probably about 1321, the year of Dante's death. The Divine Comedy is an account of Dante's imaginary journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven. Its three main sections are correspondingly named L'Inferno, il Purgatorio, and il Paradiso. Dante is guided through hell and purgatory by the Roman poet Virgil, who is, to Dante, the symbol of reason. The woman he loved, Beatrice, whom he regards as both a manifestation and an instrument of the divine will, is his guide through heaven.

Each section contains thirty-three cantos, or divisions, except for the first section, which has, in addition, a canto serving as a general instruction. The poem is written in tersarima, and was the first composition of high artistic merit in this popular verse form. Dante intended the poem to be a popular work for his contemporaries, and wrote it in Italian rather than Latin, the language in which medieval works of literature were often composed. He named the poem La Commedia (The Comedy) because it ends happily, in heaven; the adjective divine was first added to the title in an edition of the poem which appeared in 1555.

The narrative action of The Divine Comedy forms part of the philosophical and theological arguments which it expounds. The incidents which occur during the course of the journey are important, not in themselves, but rather as illustrations of most readily perceptible theme of the poem, the workings of divine justice.

The Divine Comedy may be interpreted in many ways. Dante himself states, in a letter to the Veronese nobleman Can Grande della Scala (1291-1329), that it has four levels of meaning, the literal, allegorical, moral, and analogical, or mystical. Indeed, the greatness of his work rests on its multiplicity of meaning even more than on its masterfully poetic and dramatic qualities. It is supreme as a dramatization of medieval Christian theology; but even beyond the framework, Dante's imaginary voyage can be understood as an allegory of the purification of man's soul and his achievement of inner peace through the guidance of reason and love.

By the15th century many Italian cities had established professorships for the study of work; in the centuries following the invention of printing, almost four hundred Italian editions were published; some of the editions were illustrated by such artist as Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, John Flaxman, and Gustave Dore. The Italian composer Gioacchino Antonio Rossini and the German composer Robert Schumann set parts of the poem to music. It has been translated into mare than twenty-five languages. A notable English translation of The Divine Comedy was made in 1867 by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The work has been translated in whole or in part in the 20th century by the British poet Laurence Binyon, the British writer Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957), the American poet John Ciardi, and others.

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