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The Core Curriculum


1265 CE – 1321 CE

  Dante by Luca Signorelli, c. late 15th Century. (Wikimedia Commons) Dante by Luca Signorelli, c. late 15th Century. (Wikimedia Commons) Dante Alighieri, poet, politician, and intellectual, was born in Florence under the sign of Gemini in 1265.  While much of his early life remains a mystery, we know from Dante’s autobiographical Vita nuova (New Life) that he encountered Beatrice, his poetic muse, when he was only 9 years old.  Dante began writing love poetry as a youth of about 18, a practice that would continue even in his later life (his last lyric production is datable to about 1308) when he was already in the midst of writing the Divine Comedy.  He claims that his love for Beatrice inspired his early poetry, and that he found his beatitude in the poetry that praised her.  Beatrice's early death in 1290 had a profound impact on Dante, and would play a key role in the writing of the Divine Comedy where she is reconfigured as a divine agent of his salvation.   His family was of moderate means, but in 1285 Dante married Gemma Donati, a member of one of the most important noble families of Florence.  Dante was deeply involved in Florentine politics until his expulsion in 1301.  He fought in the battle of Campaldino in 1289 in which the Florentine Guelphs (supporters of the pope, who were later divided into White and Black factions) triumphed over the Ghibelline supporters of the emperor, and held political office in the White Guelph government of the city.  The political maneuvering of Pope Boniface VIII and the return of Black Guelphs to power led to Dante being exiled from Florence.  He traveled from court to court, from Verona to Lunigiana to Ravenna, always hoping to return to his beloved Florence but never destined to do so.  It was during his exile that he wrote the Divine Comedy as well as a philosophical treatise Convivio and a treatise on vernacular eloquence De vulgari eloquentia.  Dante died in exile in the city of Ravenna in 1321, leaving behind his wife Gemma and their three sons and one daughter. 


Written by Akash Kumar, Italian Department, Columbia University


Works Consulted:

Cambridge Companion to Dante. Rachel Jacoff, ed. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge  University Press, 2007; Gorni, Guglielmo. Dante. Storia di un visionario. Bari: Laterza, 2008

The Cambridge History of Italian Literature. Peter Brand and Lino Pertile, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996