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The Father of the Italian language
Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante


   In Italy he is called il Sommo Poeta ("the Supreme Poet") and il Poeta. He, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are also called "the three fountains" and "the three crowns". Dante is also called "the Father of the Italian language".

   Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante, 1265–1321, was a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy, originally called Comedìa and later called Divina by Boccaccio, is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

   Dante claimed that his family descended from the ancient Romans (Inferno, XV, 76), but the earliest relative he could mention by name was Cacciaguida degli Elisei (Paradiso, XV, 135), born no earlier than about 1100. 

   The Divine Comedy is a literary reaction to the bitterly contested politics of medieval Florence,  written in the early fourteenth century. Florence, the richest of the Italian city-states and possibly all of Europe at that time, was divided between two political parties – the Blacks (who supported the Pope) and the Whites (who didn’t). When Pope Boniface VIII schemed with the Blacks to seize power over Florence in a military coup, Dante was exiled. His hatred of the Pope can be seen throughout his Divine Comedy.

   The Divine Comedy is Dante's fictional account of himself traveling through the three divine realms: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Not surprisingly, in this story Dante puts his enemies in Hell; the Inferno is heavily populated with corrupt Florentine politicians characterized as sinners.


   But more than just a means to get payback, the Divine Comedy is the first Italian epic work of poetry that is not in church Latin but in the vernacular – the language of the common people – the Florentine dialect of Italian. So Dante played a major role in standardizing the Italian language, coining new words and paving the way for major works of literature written in the vernacular. In other words, Dante’s a big kahuna* among poets.


   Kahuna is a Hawaiian word and it means,  priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister, expert in any profession. 



Politics,  Exile and Death

   Dante, like most Florentines of his day, was embroiled in the Guelph–Ghibelline conflict. He fought in the Battle of Campaldino (June 11, 1289), with the Florentine Guelphs against Arezzo Ghibellines; then in 1294 he was among the escorts of Charles Martel of Anjou (grandson of Charles I of Naples, more commonly called Charles of Anjou) while he was in Florence. 

   After defeating the Ghibellines, the Guelphs divided into two factions: the White Guelphs (Guelfi Bianchi)—Dante's party, led by Vieri dei Cerchi—and the Black Guelphs (Guelfi Neri), led by Corso Donati. Although the split was along family lines at first, ideological differences arose based on opposing views of the papal role in Florentine affairs, with the Blacks supporting the Pope and the Whites wanting more freedom from Rome. 
   The Whites took power first and expelled the Blacks. In response, Pope Boniface VIII planned a military occupation of Florence. 

   In 1301, Charles of Valois, brother of King Philip IV of France, was expected to visit Florence because the Pope had appointed him peacemaker for Tuscany. But the city's government had treated the Pope's ambassadors badly a few weeks before, seeking independence from papal influence. It was believed that Charles had received other unofficial instructions, so the council sent a delegation to Rome to ascertain the Pope's intentions. Dante was one of the delegates.

   Pope Boniface quickly dismissed the other delegates and asked Dante alone to remain in Rome. At the same time (November 1, 1301), Charles of Valois entered Florence with the Black Guelphs, who in the next six days destroyed much of the city and killed many of their enemies. A new Black Guelph government was installed, and Cante de' Gabrielli da Gubbio was appointed podestà of the city. 

   Dante was condemned to exile for two years and ordered to pay a large fine. The poet was still in Rome where the Pope had "suggested" he stay, and was therefore considered an absconder. He did not pay the fine, in part because he believed he was not guilty and in part because all his assets in Florence had been seized by the Black Guelphs. He was condemned to perpetual exile, and if he returned to Florence without paying the fine, he could be burned at the stake. (The city council of Florence finally passed a motion rescinding Dante's sentence in June 2008.)

   In 1310, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg marched into Italy at the head of 5,000 troops. Dante saw in him a new Charlemagne who would restore the office of the Holy Roman Emperor to its former glory and also retake Florence from the Black Guelphs. He wrote to Henry and several Italian princes, demanding that they destroy the Black Guelphs. Mixing religion and private concerns in his writings, he invoked the worst anger of God against his city and suggested several particular targets that were also his personal enemies. It was during this time that he wrote De Monarchia, proposing a universal monarchy under Henry VII.

   In Florence, Baldo d'Aguglione pardoned most of the White Guelphs in exile and allowed them to return. However, Dante had gone too far in his violent letters to Arrigo (Henry VII) and his sentence was not revoked.

   In 1312 Henry assaulted Florence and defeated the Black Guelphs, but there is no evidence that Dante was involved. Some say he refused to participate in the assault on his city by a foreigner; others suggest that he had become unpopular with the White Guelphs too, and that any trace of his passage had carefully been removed. Henry VII died (from a fever) in 1313, and with him any hope for Dante to see Florence again. He returned to Verona, where Cangrande I della Scala allowed him to live in certain security and, presumably, in a fair degree of prosperity. Cangrande was admitted to Dante's Paradise (Paradiso, XVII, 76).


   In 1315, Florence was forced by Uguccione della Faggiuola (the military officer controlling the town) to grant an amnesty to those in exile, including Dante. But for this, Florence required public penance in addition to a heavy fine. Dante refused, preferring to remain in exile. When Uguccione defeated Florence, Dante's death sentence was commuted to house arrest on condition that he go to Florence to swear he would never enter the town again. He refused to go, and his death sentence was confirmed and extended to his sons. He still hoped late in life that he might be invited back to Florence on honorable terms. For Dante, exile was nearly a form of death, stripping him of much of his identity and his heritage. He addressed the pain of exile in Paradiso, XVII (55–60), where Cacciaguida, his great-great-grandfather, warns him what to expect:



... Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta ...                   You shall leave everything you love most:
più caramente; e questo è quello strale           this is the arrow that the bow of exile
che l'arco de lo essilio pria saetta.                   shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
Tu proverai sì come sa di sale                          of others' bread, how salty it is, and know
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle                   how hard a path it is for one who goes
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale ...           ascending and descending others' stairs ...

As for the hope of returning to Florence, he describes it as if he had already accepted its impossibility (in Paradiso, XXV, 1–9):

Se mai continga che 'l poema sacro           If it ever comes to pass that the sacred poem
al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra,      to which both heaven and earth have set their hand
sì che m'ha fatto per molti anni macro,     so as to have made me lean for many years
vinca la crudeltà che fuor mi serra            should overcome the cruelty that bars me
del bello ovile ov'io dormi' agnello,           from the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb,
nimico ai lupi che li danno guerra;            an enemy to the wolves that make war on it,
con altra voce omai, con altro vello          with another voice now and other fleece
ritornerò poeta, e in sul fonte                    I shall return a poet and at the font
del mio battesmo prenderò 'l cappello ...   of my baptism take the laurel crown ...

   Prince Guido Novello da Polenta invited him to Ravenna in 1318, and he accepted. He finished Paradiso, and died in 1321 (aged 56) while returning to Ravenna from a diplomatic mission to Venice, possibly of malaria contracted there. He was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore (later called San Francesco). Bernardo Bembo, praetor of Venice, erected a tomb for him in 1483.


Poet, writer, political thinker.  Dante was a Medieval Italian poet and philosopher 
whose poetic trilogy,  The Divine Comedy, 
made an indelible impression 
on both literature and theology.



INFERNO   by Dante Alighieri

   Inferno opens on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300. Traveling through a dark wood, Dante Alighieri has lost his path and now wanders fearfully through the forest. The sun shines down on a mountain above him, and he attempts to climb up to it but finds his way blocked by three beasts—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Frightened and helpless, Dante returns to the dark wood. Here he encounters the ghost of Virgil, the great Roman poet, who has come to guide Dante back to his path, to the top of the mountain. Virgil says that their path will take them through Hell and that they will eventually reach Heaven, where Dante’s beloved Beatrice awaits. He adds that it was Beatrice, along with two other holy women, who, seeing Dante lost in the wood, sent Virgil to guide him.




Virgil and Dante goes to Hell

   Virgil leads Dante through the gates of Hell, marked by the haunting inscription: “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE”  

They enter the outlying region of Hell, the Ante-Inferno, where the souls who in life could not commit to either good or evil now must run in a futile chase after a blank banner, day after day, while hornets bite them and worms lap their blood. 


   Dante witnesses their suffering with repugnance and pity. The ferryman Charon then takes him and his guide across the river Acheron, the real border of Hell. 


   The First Circle of Hell, Limbo, houses pagans, including Virgil and many of the other great writers and poets of antiquity, who died without knowing of Christ. After meeting Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, Dante continues into the Second Circle of Hell, reserved for the sin of Lust. 


   At the border of the Second Circle, the monster Minos lurks, assigning condemned souls to their punishments. He curls his tail around himself a certain number of times, indicating the number of the circle to which the soul must go. Inside the Second Circle, Dante watches as the souls of the Lustful swirl about in a terrible storm; Dante meets Francesca, who tells him the story of her doomed love affair with Paolo da Rimini, her husband’s brother; the relationship has landed both in Hell.


   In the Third Circle of Hell, the Gluttonous must lie in mud and endure a rain of filth and excrement. 

   In the Fourth Circle, the Avaricious and the Prodigal are made to charge at one another with giant boulders. 


   The Fifth Circle of Hell contains the river Styx, a swampy, fetid cesspool in which the Wrathful spend eternity struggling with one another; the Sullen lie bound beneath the Styx’s waters, choking on the mud. Dante glimpses Filippo Argenti, a former political enemy of his, and watches in delight as other souls tear the man to pieces.

Virgil and Dante next proceed to the walls of the city of Dis, a city contained within the larger region of Hell. The demons who guard the gates refuse to open them for Virgil, and an angelic messenger arrives from Heaven to force the gates open before Dante. 

   The Sixth Circle of Hell houses the Heretics, and there Dante encounters a rival political leader named Farinata. 


   A deep valley leads into the First Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where those who were violent toward others spend eternity in a river of boiling blood. Virgil and Dante meet a group of Centaurs, creatures who are half man, half horse. One of them, Nessus, takes them into the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where they encounter those who were violent toward themselves (the Suicides). These souls must endure eternity in the form of trees. Dante there speaks with Pier della Vigna. 

Going deeper into the Seventh Circle of Hell, the travelers find those who were violent toward God (the Blasphemers); Dante meets his old patron, Brunetto Latini, walking among the souls of those who were violent toward Nature (the Sodomites) on a desert of burning sand. They also encounter the Usurers, those who were violent toward Art.

   The monster Geryon transports Virgil and Dante across a great abyss to the Eighth Circle of Hell, known as Malebolge, or “evil pockets” (or “pouches”);  the term refers to the circle’s division into various pockets separated by great folds of earth.


In the First Pouch, the Panderers and the Seducers receive lashings from whips; in the second, the Flatterers must lie in a river of human feces. The Simoniacs in the Third Pouch hang upside down in baptismal fonts while their feet burn with fire. 

   In the Fourth Pouch are the Astrologists or Diviners, forced to walk with their heads on backward, a sight that moves Dante to great pity. 


In the Fifth Pouch, the Barrators (those who accepted bribes) steep in pitch while demons tear them apart. 

The Hypocrites in the Sixth Pouch must forever walk in circles, wearing heavy robes made of lead. Caiphas, the priest who confirmed Jesus’ death sentence, lies crucified on the ground; the other sinners tread on him as they walk. 

   In the horrifying Seventh Pouch, the Thieves sit trapped in a pit of vipers, becoming vipers themselves when bitten; to regain their form, they must bite another thief in turn.


In the Eighth Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell, Dante speaks to Ulysses, the great hero of Homer’s epics, now doomed to an eternity among those guilty of Spiritual Theft (the False Counselors) for his role in executing the ruse of the Trojan Horse. 

   In the Ninth Pouch, the souls of Sowers of Scandal and Schism walk in a circle, constantly afflicted by wounds that open and close repeatedly. 


In the Tenth Pouch, the Falsifiers suffer from horrible plagues and diseases.



   Virgil and Dante proceed to the Ninth Circle of Hell through the Giants’ Well, which leads to a massive drop to Cocytus, a great frozen lake. The giant Antaeus picks Virgil and Dante up and sets them down at the bottom of the well, in the lowest region of Hell. 


   In Caina, the First Ring of the Ninth Circle of Hell, those who betrayed their kin stand frozen up to their necks in the lake’s ice. 


   In Antenora, the Second Ring, those who betrayed their country and party stand frozen up to their heads; here Dante meets Count Ugolino, who spends eternity gnawing on the head of the man who imprisoned him in life. 


   In Ptolomea, the Third Ring, those who betrayed their guests spend eternity lying on their backs in the frozen lake, their tears making blocks of ice over their eyes. 


   Dante next follows Virgil into Judecca, the Fourth Ring of the Ninth Circle of Hell and the lowest depth. Here, those who betrayed their benefactors spend eternity in complete icy submersion.


   A huge, mist-shrouded form lurks ahead, and Dante approaches it. It is the three-headed giant Lucifer, plunged waist-deep into the ice. His body pierces the center of the Earth, where he fell when God hurled him down from Heaven. Each of Lucifer’s mouths chews one of history’s three greatest sinners: Judas, the betrayer of Christ, and Cassius and Brutus, the betrayers of Julius Caesar. Virgil leads Dante on a climb down Lucifer’s massive form, holding on to his frozen tufts of hair. Eventually, the poets reach the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and travel from there out of Hell and back onto Earth. They emerge from Hell on Easter morning, just before sunrise.

______________________________________





*  Dante was born in Florence, Italy.  The exact date of birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265.

   Dante's father, Alaghiero or Alighiero di Bellincione, was a White Guelph who suffered no reprisals after the Ghibellines won the Battle of Montaperti in the middle of the 13th century. This suggests that Alighiero or his family enjoyed some protective prestige and status, although some suggest that the politically inactive Alighiero was of such low standing that he was not considered worth exiling.[citation needed]
Dante's family had loyalties to the Guelphs, a political alliance that supported the Papacy and which was involved in complex opposition to the Ghibellines, who were backed by the Holy Roman Emperor. 

   The poet's mother was Bella, likely a member of the Abati family.  She died when Dante was not yet ten years old, and Alighiero soon married again, to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. It is uncertain whether he really married her, since widowers were socially limited in such matters, but this woman definitely bore him two children, Dante's half-brother Francesco and half-sister Tana (Gaetana). 

   When Dante was 12, he was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, daughter of Manetto Donati, member of the powerful Donati family. Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common and involved a formal ceremony, including contracts signed before a notary. But by this time Dante had fallen in love with another, Beatrice Portinari (known also as Bice), whom he first met when he was only nine. Years after his marriage to Gemma he claims to have met Beatrice again; he wrote several sonnets to Beatrice but never mentioned Gemma in any of his poems. The exact date of his marriage is not known: the only certain information is that, before his exile in 1301, he had three children (Pietro, Jacopo and Antonia).
Dante fought with the Guelph cavalry at the Battle of Campaldino (June 11, 1289). This victory brought about a reformation of the Florentine constitution. To take any part in public life, one had to enroll in one of the city's many commercial or artisan guilds, so Dante entered the Physicians' and Apothecaries' Guild. In the following years, his name is occasionally recorded as speaking or voting in the various councils of the republic. A substantial portion of minutes from such meetings in the years 1298–1300 was lost during World War II, however, so the true extent of Dante's participation in the city's councils is uncertain.

   Gemma bore Dante several children. Although several others subsequently claimed to be his offspring, it is likely that only Jacopo, Pietro, Giovanni and Antonia were his actual children. Antonia later became a nun, taking the name Sister Beatrice.


   To further his political career, he became a pharmacist. He did not intend to practice as one, but a law issued in 1295 required nobles aspiring to public office to be enrolled in one of the Corporazioni delle Arti e dei Mestieri, so Dante obtained admission to the Apothecaries' Guild. This profession was not inappropriate, since at that time books were sold from apothecaries' shops. As a politician he accomplished little, but held various offices over some years in a city rife with political unrest.


   He took part in several attempts by the White Guelphs to regain power, but these failed due to treachery. Dante, bitter at the treatment he received from his enemies, also grew disgusted with the infighting and ineffectiveness of his erstwhile allies and vowed to become a party of one. He went to Verona as a guest of Bartolomeo I della Scala, then moved to Sarzana in Liguria. Later he is supposed to have lived in Lucca with a woman called Gentucca, who made his stay comfortable (and was later gratefully mentioned in Purgatorio, XXIV, 37). 

   Some speculative sources claim he visited Paris between 1308 and 1310, and other sources even less trustworthy took him to Oxford: these claims, first occurring in Boccaccio's book on Dante several decades after his death, seem inspired by readers who were impressed with the poet's wide learning and erudition. Evidently, Dante's command of philosophy and his literary interests deepened in exile and when he was no longer busy with the day-to-day business of Florentine domestic politics, and this is evidenced in his prose writings in this period, but there is no real evidence that he ever left Italy. Dante's Immensa Dei dilectione testante to Henry VII of Luxembourg confirms his residence "beneath the springs of Arno, near Tuscany" in March 1311.


   At some point during his exile, he conceived of the Comedy, but the date is uncertain. The work is much more assured and on a larger scale than anything he had produced in Florence; it is likely he would have undertaken such a work only after he realized his political ambitions, which had been central to him up to his banishment, had been halted for some time, possibly forever. It is also noticeable that Beatrice has returned to his imagination with renewed force and with a wider meaning than in the Vita Nuova; in Convivio (written c.1304–07) he had declared that the memory of this youthful romance belonged to the past.

   Florence eventually came to regret Dante's exile, and the city made repeated requests for the return of his remains. The custodians of the body in Ravenna refused, at one point going so far as to conceal the bones in a false wall of the monastery. Nonetheless, a tomb was built for him in Florence in 1829, in the basilica of Santa Croce. That tomb has been empty ever since, with Dante's body remaining in Ravenna, far from the land he had loved so dearly. The front of his tomb in Florence reads Onorate l'altissimo poeta—which roughly translates as "Honor the most exalted poet." The phrase is a quote from the fourth canto of the Inferno, depicting Virgil's welcome as he returns among the great ancient poets spending eternity in limbo. The ensuing line, L'ombra sua torna, ch'era dipartita ("his spirit, which had left us, returns"), is poignantly absent from the empty tomb.

   In 2007, a reconstruction of Dante's face was undertaken in a collaborative project. Artists from Pisa University and engineers at the University of Bologna at Forli constructed the model, portraying Dante's features as somewhat different from what was once thought.
__________________________

   Inferno,  Dante's Inferno, widely hailed as one of the great classics of Western literature, details Dante's journey through the nine circles of Hell. The voyage begins during Easter week in the year 1300, the descent through Hell starting on Good Friday. After meeting his guide, the eminent Roman poet Virgil, in a mythical dark wood, the two poets begin their descent through a baleful world of doleful shades, horrifying tortures, and unending lamentation.

   PurgatoryAs Dante explains in the opening lines of the canticle, Purgatory is the place in which "the human spirit purges himself, and climbing to Heaven makes himself worthy." Dante's Purgatory consists of an island mountain, the only piece of land in the southern hemisphere. Divided into three sections, Antepurgatory, Purgatory proper, and the Earthly Paradise, the lower slopes are reserved for souls whose penance was delayed. The upper part of the mountain consists of seven terraces, each of which corresponds to one of the seven capital sins. Atop the mountain Dante locates, Eden, the Earthly Paradise, the place where the pilgrim is reunited with Beatrice, the woman who inspired the poem.

   Paradise, 
The third realm of the afterlife details Dante's voyage through the nine spheres of Paradise. Following medieval cosmology, Dante's presentation of the planetary system broadly follows the Ptolemaic geometric model. Beatrice guides Dante successively through the nine spheres, each of which carries a heavenly body which orbits the earth: in succession they include the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Fixed Stars. The voyage culminates in a vision of God in the Empyrean, the realm of pure light.
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sourses:
www.shmoop.com
www.wikipedia.org
http://www.dante.net/
http://www.worldofdante.org/#nogo


 Utopia 

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