AUTHORS (1265–1321); FLORENCE, ITALY
Born in Florence, Italy, in 1265, Dante Alighieri—his full name was Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri, but he's better known simply as Dante—is considered one of the most important poets in history. His masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is still a staple at universities and in scholarly circles, and it remains one of the preeminent pieces of religious literature from Medieval times.
1. Dante’s Divine Comedy is a massive narrative poem.
The Divine Comedy chronicles Dante’s journey through hell, where he is guided by the Italian poet Virgil and a woman named Beatrice through nine concentric circles of the afterlife, all based on different sins. The first circle is Limbo, the region for those who cannot go to heaven simply because they have not been baptized, or were born before Jesus Christ.
The entire poem totals 14,233 lines, longer than The Odyssey (12,110 lines) but shorter than The Iliad (15,693 lines). For this poem, Dante notably used the terza rima style, which is when stanzas are split into three lines, with the first and third lines ending in a rhyme and the second line rhyming with the first and third lines of the following stanzas (aba, bcb, cdc … yzy, z).
2. The Divine Comedy is split up into three books: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.
Dante worked on The Divine Comedy—originally just titled The Comedy—from around 1308 to 1321, the year of his death. The epic poem is split up into three parts (called cantiche), and each section contains 33 cantos, which are basically subdivisions for epic poems. (There is also one extra canto in Inferno that serves as an introduction, so the total is 100.) Interestingly, the word stars finishes the last rhyme in each of these parts.
3. Dante’s Inferno put popes in hell.
When writing Inferno, Dante basically allowed himself to play god, by sentencing fictionalized versions of his earthly enemies to an eternity of damnation in the hell he created for his epic poem. Two famous figures that gained his ire were Pope Nicholas III and Pope Boniface VIII, whose notorious tenure was marked by his interference in foreign affairs as he attempted to grow the power of the Catholic Church. In Inferno, Dante comes across Pope Nicholas in Hell's eighth circle, which is designated for the act of simony (the buying or selling of religious privileges).
In this circle, sinners are buried in the ground headfirst, and as Dante is walking through, the submerged Nicholas mistakes him for Pope Boniface. Once the mistaken identity gets cleared up, Nicholas reveals to Dante that Boniface is due to replace him in the burial hole once he dies (in this world, the damned can see into the future). Boniface was partly responsible for Dante's real-world exile, so being banished to hell, even a fictional one, was part of the writer's revenge.
4. Dante’s death mask, which is on display in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, probably isn’t real.
The death mask of Dante that’s housed in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio gained notoriety recently for being a key plot point in author Dan Brown’s book, and its subsequent movie adaptation, Inferno. But recent studies suggest that the mask in question isn’t the genuine article; more than likely, it was carved in 1483 by Pietro and Tullio Lombardo, more than 160 years after Dante’s death.
5. Dante Alighieri is considered the father of the Italian language.
By choosing to write his works primarily in the local Tuscan dialect—the vernacular of his home region—rather than the much more common Latin, Dante helped establish the language we now know as Italian as being capable of expressing great art and poetry. The impact of his work was so immense that Italian would go on to become the preeminent literary language throughout western Europe for centuries, and because of this, Dante is often referred to as the "father of the Italian language." Even today, there are still Dante Alighieri Societies found across the globe, with a mission to promote the Italian language and culture.
6. Dante was exiled and handed a death sentence in Florence in the early 14th century. The sentence was only lifted in 2008.
In 1302, Dante found himself the victim of what historians have deemed "trumped-up charges" of embezzlement, opposition to the pope, and more by the Florentine government. When he refused to appear to answer for his crimes and pay a fine, it was decided that should he ever step foot in Florence again, he would be burned alive. As a result, Dante spent his remaining years as a wanderer, a lifestyle that afforded him the inspiration to write The Divine Comedy. In 2008, Florence’s city council voted to symbolically revoke Dante’s death sentence in the city and restore his honor.
7. Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli painted a map of hell based on The Divine Comedy.
Hell has been the subject of countless artistic interpretations over the centuries, but one of the most long-lasting and influential came from Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell painting, based on The Divine Comedy, which is currently located in the Vatican Library. Botticelli’s painting is just one part of a larger illustrated manuscript he created based on the poem, 92 pages of which still survive.
Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell.
The Divine Comedy is perhaps most famous for its depictions of the different circles of Hell, each one detailing different punishments that go along with the most heinous sins. The circles include:
- First Circle: Limbo
- Second Circle: Lust
- Third Circle: Gluttony
- Fourth Circle: Greed
- Fifth Circle: Anger
- Sixth Circle: Heresy
- Seventh Circle: Violence
- Eighth Circle: Fraud
- Ninth Circle: Treachery
Famous quotes and Lines From Dante’s The Divine Comedy:
- "All hope abandon, ye who enter here."
- "The more a thing is perfect, the more it feels pleasure and pain."
- "O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?"
- "Consider your origin. You were not formed to live like brutes but to follow virtue and knowledge."
- "There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery"
Famous Dante Poems:
- The Divine Comedy
- "Love and The Gentle Heart"
- "There Is A Gentle Thought"
- "Sestina of the Lady Pietra degli Scrovigni"
- "La Vita Nuova"
- "Sonnet: Beauty of Her Face"