Rime contains all Dante’s lyrics not included in La Vita Nuova or Il Convivio, grouped together according to themes that evidence a different poetic style on the part of the author. Thus we have the ‘early lyrics’ reflecting the influence of Guittone d’Arezzo, the ‘stil novo’ poems whose model is the poetry of Guinizelli and Cavalcanti, the ‘rime nove’ (new rhymes) in which Dante moves away from the stil novo model, the lyrics of the literary dispute with Forese in a realistic-comic vein, the doctrinal canzoni (songs), and finally the so-called ‘petrose’ (stony) rhymes characterized by a harsh style and dedicated to the cruel lady Pietra (rock).
La Vita Nuova
Datable between 1294 and 1296, La Vita Nuova is a prosimetrum with thirty-one lyrics alternating with prose in the forty-two chapters (or thirty-two in the Guglielmo Gorni edition) that make it up. This work, autobiographical in nature, revolves around the figure of Beatrice and the love that Dante has nourished for her from their first encounter to the wondrous vision that would convince the poet to speak of his beloved lady as no man had ever done before.
Written between 1304 and 1307-1308, the Convivio consists of only four treatises of the fifteen Dante had planned to write, the first an introduction and the other three written in prosimetrum form. A veritable philosophical treatise, the Convivio was written in the vulgate language so that it could be used by everyone who, even though desiring knowledge, did not have access to the culture of the learned. The themes treated in the comments on the songs are the love of philosophy, the happiness this gives men, and finally, the nature of nobility.
De vulgari eloquentia
Aimed at a restricted group of intellectuals, this work extolling the use of an illustrious vulgate as a common language was written by Dante in Latin. De vulgari eloquentia was composed between 1303 and 1305 and, like the Convivio, is an unfinished work, since it breaks off at chapter XIV of the second of the four books originally intended.
Written in Latin, the work was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Church. In this treatise, Dante expounds his political doctrine on the necessity of a temporal power pertaining to the emperor and not to ecclesiastics. The date of its composition is still an open question; an internal reference to the text of Paradiso has led some to the conclusion that it was written between 1313 and 1318 or even between 1320 and 1321. But supposing that the reference was added by the author later, the hypothesis has been advanced that it was composed on the occasion of Emperor Henry VII’s arrival in Italy, between 1311 and 1313.
Of the countless epistles written by Dante, which Filelfo says he personally had in hand, only thirteen have survived to our day. Among them, the most important is Epistle XIII, in which Dante dedicates the third canticle of the Divine Comedy to Cangrande della Scala and illustrates the subject of his great poem (man’s soul in the afterlife) and its purpose (to point out to mankind the path to eternal happiness).
This is a poetic correspondence which Dante exchanged with Giovanni del Virgilio, who had asked Dante to write an epic poem in Latin so as to extend his glory also among intellectuals. With his first eclogue Dante answers that he would not give up his way of making poetry, and in the second he bids farewell to del Virgilio, who had invited him to his home. Many doubts have been raised by scholars on the authenticity of the eclogues that Dante was supposed to have written between 1320 and the final months of his life.
The work, which was given this title in 1881 by its first publisher Fernand Castets, has divided scholars over the question of whether it could really be attributed to Dante. It comprises 232 sonnets summarizing the Roman de la Rose, especially the theme of the political battle that pitted the secular clergy against the mendicant orders in the second half of the thirteenth century.
This has been attributed to the same author of Il Fiore, which authoritative Dante scholars like Parodi and Contini have recognized as Dante’s work. The Detto d’Amore has come down to us in fragmentary form, with 480 lines that, on the model of the Roman de la Rose, make up a small treatise on courtly love.
Quaestio de aqua et terra
Recognized as Dante’s work, the Quaestio de aqua et terra is a treatise written adopting the structure of the philosophical quaestio used by the Scholastics. The theme of the work was presented by Dante in Verona in 1320; it is a discussion of the reasons why the earth is not completely covered by water but presents inhabitable masses of dry land.