Portrait of Dante courtesy of Adrian Fletcher. Florence at the time of Dante contained c. 100,000 people compared with today 400,000or more today.
Dante Alighieri was born into a lower noble family of Florence, central Italy, probably on May 29, 1265 AD. His mother died when he was a child and his father died when Dante was 18 years old. At the age of nine he fell in love with Beatrice Portinari who was only eight years old. Although he only knew her by a few chance meetings, she became his inspirational love for the rest of his life. Shortly after his father's death Dante married Gemma Donati with whom he had four children. In 1289 Dante participated as a cavalryman in the battle of Campaldino. In Purgatorio Dante speaks to Buonconte, a soul whose body was not found and inquired what had happened to him. Buonconte tells him that wounded he had made his way to the Casentino border along the Archiano stream where --
Wounded in the throat, fleeing on foot,
and dripping blood across the plain.
'There I lost sight and speech.
I ended on the name of Mary and there I fell,
and only my flesh remained."
(Purgatorio, Canto 5.94-102)
In spite of the fact that he participated in the battle he reflects on the perversity of war "O blind cupidity and insane anger, / which goad us on so much in our short life, / then steep us in such grief eternally!" (Inferno XII.49-51). Dante lived during a very violent period in history, and it is this chivalric love of warfare driven by a "blind cupidity" or love for violence, and "insane anger'' at the expense of other's lives, that he so detests.
Dante was involved in the political life of Florence. He was a member of the white faction of the Guelph Party and for two months was elected one of the six members who ruled the republic. This party refused to grant soldier to the Pope, as a consequence Charles of Valois entered Florence with his troops and restored the blacks to power. In 1302 Dante was falsely accused of hostility to the Pope and corrupt practices, fined and banished from office and from Florence under penalty of death by burning. As he left Florence he must have looked upon the Duomo which was now being completed for the last time since he would never see his beloved Florence again. He wrote:
"Since it was the pleasure of the citizens of the most beautiful and famous daughter of Rome, Florence, to cast me out of her sweet bosom--where I was born and bred up to the pinnacle of my life, and where, with her good will, I desire with all my heart to rest my weary mind and to complete the span of time that is given to me--I have traveled like a stranger, almost like a beggar, through virtually all the regions to which this tongue of ours extends, displaying against my will the wound of fortune for which the wounded one is often unjustly accustomed to be held accountable." (Convio, Canto I,iii,4)
In 1319, Dante was invited by Guido Novello da Polenta, Lord of Ravanna, to settle there which he did. Here he completed the Divine Comedy of which the Paradiso is the third book. His works sums up the knowledge and intellectual achievements from the Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance and ranks one of the great classics of the world.
Once day, the Lord of Ravenna sent Dante as ambassador to Venice. Soon after his returned from Venice, Dante fell ill and died on Sept. 13 or 14, 1321.
His tomb is in Ravenna. The Florentines would like Dante's body to lie in his beloved city of Florence but the Ravenise have always refused to part with his remains.