WHO’S DANTE ALIGHIERI?

Italian poet, man of letters, politician, scholar of philosophy and theology, Dante Alighieri (Florence 1265 – Ravenna 1321) represents an entire culture, the culture that took shape starting in the twelfth century when, in the wake of new ideas and learning coming from the Graeco-Byzantine and Arab worlds, the Latin West acquired knowledge hitherto unknown, reworking and adapting it in original ways. Dante’s artistry, thanks to which he is considered the father of the Italian language, ranges from the production of poetry, such as the Rime, to philosophy, with the Convivio and the Quaestio de aqua et terra, to treatises on politics, like De Monarchia, or linguistic-literary matters, like De vulgari eloquentia. But the work that ensured lasting fame for Dante is the Divine Comedy, which is the description of the journey he made through the three kingdoms of the afterlife; with this work, the poet left through the centuries an indelible imprint on the collective imagination concerning the situation of souls in Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.

Both the man Dante and his work are closely tied to the events of his life; his encounter with Beatrice and her untimely death, the political misfortune of exile from Florence, and his expectations for a political and social renewal are the themes essential to an understanding of this historical figure. But it was not only the desire for the woman he loved and for his city, both of which he lost, that guided Dante’s poetic and literary work: in the face of the political situation of his time and the corruption rife in the Roman Catholic Church in constant struggle with temporal powers, Dante can be considered one of the most important voices that were raised between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to stigmatize the times. But there is more: if Dante can be considered a ‘universal writer,’ this is because he did not speak only to his own generation but to all mankind, so that all people, now as then, can undertake (just as he did himself) a course of redemption, and this is why the Divine Comedy, translated countless times into other languages, remains one of the most read, studied, and commentated literary texts in the world.