l HellDante 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. It is thought that while in Northern Italy Dante wrote DeVulgari Eloquentia(Concerning the Common Speech) and the unfinishedConvivio(Banquet) He probably also began The Divine Comedy around 1307.Dante once again became engulfed in politics around 1310 with thearrival of Henry VII King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor.
Henry wanted tobring all of Italy together, Dante supported him in this endeavor. He wrote tomany Italian princes and political leaders asking them to welcome Henry, Dantethought this would end the continuing feuds between Italy’s cities. SomeFlorentines started a movement against Henry that spread throughout Italy, whenHenry finally acted his movement failed miserably.
Henry died in 1313 and thisobviously brought Dante’s hopes to an end. During this time Dante probablywrote De Monarchia(On Monarchy)Final Years: Dante was invited to return to Florence in 1316, however, he was to betreated as a pardoned criminal. Dante refused these terms and continued to livein exile. He spent his last days in Ravenna, dying there on September 13 or 14in 1321. In the last years of his life Dante wrote Quaestion de Acqua etTerra(Question of Water and of Earth) and two Latin eclogues.Florence During Dante’s Time:Dante lived in Florence around the year 1300. The population then wasaround 90,000 people in the city itself and 80,000 in the surrounding ruralareas.
The city was run by the following public officials: The mayor, thepublic defender, the chief of justice, the captain of the guard, the taxassessor, the official in charge of regulations concerning women’s ornaments,the administrator of the trade regulations, the official in charge of the woolguild, the ecclesiastical officials, and the grand inquisitor. Florence was abustling city and the center of Italian culture during this time period and onthrough the Renaissance.His Works:His first important work was La vita nuova(The New Life), written notthat long after Beatrice’s death. It chronicled, in the form of sonnets woventogether with prose, his love for her, his premonition of her death, her actualdeath and his commitment that he would write a work that would be a worthymonument for her. While remaining in relative obscurity when compared to TheDivine Comedy, The New Life is considered a great work, it was of a new format,the finest work of the “new sweet style”1 of contemporary Florentine vernacularpoetry. It is considered to be one of the greatest works of European verse ever,Dante portrays his subject using “lofty idealism”1 and suggests a “spiritualsignifigance”1.
De Vulgari Eloquentia(Concerning Common Speech) was written around 1305.It is basically an argument for the Italian Language, it defends vernacular andit acts basically a justification for Dante’s writing in vernacular.Convivio(Banquet) was written between 1304 and 1307 and was intended tobe a series of fifteen books, on all the knowledge of the time. The first bookwas to be an introduction, and the other fourteen were to take the form ofcommentary on fourteen poems of Dante, sadly however only four books werefinished.De Monarchia(On Monarchy) is a book of Dante’s philosophy, including theneed for a supranational Holy Roman Emperor and the need for complete separationof church and state.Quaestio de Acqua et Terra(The Question of Water and of Earth) writtennear the end of Dante’s life was a fairly minor work, it basically concernedwhether or not the water at any point on the surface of the planet was higherthan the land. Quite an important topic indeed..
.Dante’s crowning achievement, The Divine Comedy takes readers on adescent into hell. Dante’s strong religious background sets the backdrop forthis terrifying journey.
Readers look onward as human forms are condemned, andas humans are lifted into paradise. This work is often misunderstood, the storyis told that Dante was once walking down the street when he saw that two girlsshrank away from him. One spoke to the other, “Did you see him? He’s the onewho comes and goes to Hell and brings back news of the damned who live there”The other one answered, “Ah, that’s why his complexion is so dark. The smokemust have blackened him” Many people during his time viewed him as a sorcereror a mystic.
This work can be interpreted on many levels, according to one source the”literal, allegorical, moral, and mystical”1. It’s meaning varies upon thereader, one person may see a beautiful piece of literature, while another maysee a frightening glimpse into their future. Some may denounce The DivineComedy as heresy, while others still may embrace it and welcome it’s lessonsinto their lives.
It is a story of hellish torment, and eternal paradise, it isa love story, it is the story of man who becomes lost in the forest of life andfinds his way by means of strong guiding forces(the poet Virgil, Beatrice, TheDeity). It is the story of coming once again into life and embracing it forwhat is, a journey through darkness, and an emergence into light, be that fieryred, or divine white.Sources:1.
Infopedia 2.0 Copyright 1996 Softkey Multimedia, Inc.2. Dante Chronology Copyright 1995 ILT3. Dante, His Life, His Times, His Works Copyright 1968Arnoldo Mondadori-Milano Translated From Italian by Giuseppini T.
Salvadori and Bernice L. Lewis4. Volume XI The Chronicle by Giovanni Villani