The New Student's Reference Work/Dante Alighieri

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2280122The New Student's Reference Work — Dante Alighieri

Dante (dăn'tē̇), Alighieri, the great poet of Italy, was born in 1265, in a house in the Place of St. Martin at Florence, which is still pointed out. As with many other great men, a halo of legend surrounds his early life; but he himself, in his New Life, tells the earliest known facts. When only nine years old, he met the Beatrice of his later poems and formed a passion for her from which he never swerved. It, indeed, influenced the whole course of his life. Dante took part in the military and political affairs of his time, when the fierce conflicts of the Guelphs and Ghibellines were tearing Florence to pieces. He rose to high office and was sent on an embassy to the pope at Rome in 1301, when the victory of the more extreme party at home resulted in the banishment of the leaders of the opposite party, Dante included; and later they were condemned to be buried alive, if caught. The remainder of the poet's life was spent in exile. He traveled about a good deal, living in Verona, Tuscany, Romagna and, finally, Ravenna, where he died on September 14, 1321, and was buried. The great work of Dante is the Divine Comedy, made up of three parts, giving a vision of Hell, of Purgatory and of Heaven. In it Dante gives a complete view of the highest culture and knowledge of the age on philosophy, history, classical literature, physical science, morals and religion; all this is expressed in the noblest and most exquisite poetry. This work really made the Italian language, which before was rude and unformed. No work in the world probably, except the Bible, has given rise to so much literature. It was copied in 600 different manuscripts, and about 300 printed editions have been issued; it has been more than 300 times translated into foreign languages; and unnumbered introductions, essays and commentaries have been written on or about it. Dante had not been in his grave 20 years before Italy instinctively recognized that this was her great man. About 50 years after Dante's death a public lectureship on the Divine Comedy was established at Florence, to which Boccaccio was first appointed. Another of Dante's works is the Banquet. Dante, as Boccaccio relates, was of moderate stature, stooping when he walked, slow and dignified both in gait and speech, reserved and silent in habit; but, when he spoke, keen and eloquent. He was devoted to music and painting. Boccaccio calls him "that singular splendor of the Italian race"; Carlyle: "the voice of ten silent centuries." See translations by Cary, Wright, Longfellow and Parsons-Norton. For life, character and works, see A Shadow of Dante, by Maria Francesca Rossetti.