(from Paget Toynbee's Dictionary)
Lectures and Information

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 (probably in the latter part of May), in the quarter of San Martino al Vescovo. Judging from his allusions in the D. C. and from the position of their house in the heart of the city, the Alighieri would seem to have been a family of modest means. They belonged to the Guelph party; the poet has Farinata affirm that D.'s ancestors were fierce adversaries of the Ghibellines and twice suffered exile in consequence; but no mention of his maggiori appears anywhere in the records of those struggles. Indeed, nothing is known of any of D.'s ancestors further back than his great-great-grandfather, Cacciaguida, who (probably) was knighted by the Emperor Conrad III, as he himself relates ([Par. xv. 139-141]) [Cacciaguida: Currado_1]. D.'s father and greatgrandfather were both named Alighiero, this name being derived from Cacciaguida's wife, Aldighiera degli Aldighieri [Alighieri]. His father, who may have been a judge and a notary, married twice, D. being the son of his first wife, Bella; by his second wife, Lapa, he had another son, Francesco, and a daughter, Tana. The family of D.'s mother is not known; it has been conjectured that she was the daughter of Durante di Scolaio degli Abbati, in which case D.'s Christian name was probably derived from his maternal grandfather. D. himself married (c. 1283) Gemma di Manetto Donati, by whom he had three children, two sons, Pietro and Jacopo (both of whom wrote commentaries on the D.C.) and a daughter Antonia, probably to be identified with a Sister Beatrice, a nun in the convent of Santo Stefano degli Olivi at Ravenna; and it is possible that one who appears as a witness in a document of Oct. 21, 1308 in Lucca as Johannes filius Dantis Alagherii de Florentia was their brother. [Table XXII.] When D. was exiled from Florence, Gemma and his children did not accompany him, and it is probable that he never saw Gemma again; he makes no mention of her in any of his works. There is no evidence to support the conjecture that he lived on bad terms with Gemma while they were together.

Little is known of D.'s early years, beyond the episode of his love, at the age of 9, for Beatrice, commonly supposed to be Beatrice Portinari (d. 1290), the story of which is told in the Vita Nuova [Beatrice_1]. The statements of the old biographers that D.'s 'master' (in the ordinary sense of the word) was Brunetto Latini (who was well over 50 when D. was born), and that he studied before the year 1300 at Bologna and Padua, have little or no evidence to support them. He is said, on doubtful authority, to have fought on the Guelph side at the battle of Campaldino (June 11, 1289) [Campaldino]. He himself records ([Inf. xxi. 94-96]) that he was present (probably as a spectator) at the capitulation of the Pisan garrison of Caprona two months later. [Caprona].

Since no one could participate in the government of Florence (certain offices excepted) without belonging to one of the arti or guilds, D. enrolled himself (probably in the late summer of 1295, but certainly before Nov. 1) in the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries (Arte dei Medeci e Speziali). On July 6, 1295, he gave his opinion as to certain proposed modifications of the 'Ordinamenti di Giustizia' [Giano della Bella]: on Dec. 14 of the same year he took part in the bimonthly election of priors; from May to Sept. 1296 he was a member of the Consiglio dei Cento, and in 1297 served on another council, and contnued to have a role in the government of the city from July 1298 to Feb. 1301. In the spring of 1300, he went as ambassador to San Gimignano, where he delivered a speech in discharge of his office on May 7; and that same year he was elected to serve as one of the priors, for the two months from June 15 to Aug. 15, this being one of the highest offices in the Republic of Florence. During his priorate it was decided to banish from Florence the leaders of the Neri and Bianchi factions, among the latter being D.'s friend, Guido Cavalcanti [Cavalcanti, Guido]. At this time the city was in a state of ferment, owing to the feuds between these two factions, the former of whom, the Neri, were the partisans of Boniface VIII, and were clamouring for Charles of Valois as his representative, while the Bianchi, to which faction D. belonged, were bitteriy opposed both to Boniface and to Charles. In the midst of these troubles we find D. (who had voted, April 13, 1301, in the Consiglio delle Capitudini delle Dodici Arti Maggiori) entrusted with the charge (April 28, 1301) of superintending the works on the street of San Procolo; and from April to Sept. of that year he again served on the Consiglio dei Cento. In Oct. 1301, in order to appeal for a change in papal policy towards the city and to protest the machinations of the Neri, the Bianchi sent an embassy to Rome, of which, according to Dino Compagni (ii. 25), D. was a member. During their absence, however, Charles of Valois entered Florence (Nov. 1, 1301); and, soon after, the podestà Canto de' Gabrielli of Gubbio, pronounced a sentence, under date Jan. 27, 1301/2, against D. and others, who had been summoned and had failed to appear, on a charge of pecuniary malversation in office and of having conspired against the pope, and the admission into the city of his representative, Charles of Valois, and against the peace of the city of Florence, and of the Guelph party (the penalty being a fine of 5,000 florins and restitution of the monies illegally exacted; payment was to be made within three days of the promulgation of the sentence, in default of which all goods were to be forfeited and destroyed). In addition to the fine the delinquents were sentenced to banishment from Tuscany for two years, and to perpetual deprivation from office in the Commonwealth of Florence, their names to that end being recorded in the book of the Statutes of the People, as peculators and malversators in office:

Hec sunt condempnationes sive condempnationum sententie facte, late et promulgate per nobilem et potentem militem d. Cantem de Gabriellibus de Eugubio, honorabilem potestatem civitatis Florentie, super infrascriptis excessibus et delictis contra infrascriptos homines et personas, . . . D. Palmerium de Altovitis de sextu Burgi 
Dante Alleghieri de sextu Sancti Petri Maioris Lippum Becche de sextu Ultrarni Orlanduccium Orlandi de sextu porte Domus, contra quos processum est per inquisitionem ex offitio nostro et curie nostre factam super eo et ex eo, quod ad aures nostras et curie nostre notitiam, fama publica referente, pervenit, quod predicti, dum ipsi vel aliquis eorum existentes essent in offitio prioratus vel non existentes vel ipso offitio prioratus deposito, temporibus in inquisitione contentis, commiserunt per se vel alium baractarias, lucra illicita, iniquas extorsiones in pecunia vel in rebus. . . .Et quod commiserint vel commicti fecerint fraudem vel baractariam in pecunia vel rebus comunis Florentie, vel quod darentur sive expenderentur contra summnum pontificem et d. Karolum pro resistentia sui adventus vel contra statum pacificum civitatis Florentie et partis guelforum. . . .Qui d. Palmerius  
Dante Orlanduccius et Lippus citati et requisiti fuerunt legiptime per nuntios comunis Florentie, ut certo termino, iam elapso, coram nobis et nostra curia comparere deberent ac venire ipsi et quilibet ipsorum ad parendum mandatis nostris et ad se defendendum et excusandum ab inquisitione premissa, et non venerunt, . . . Idcirco ipsos d. Palmerium, Dante, Orlanduccium et Lippum, et ipsorum quemlibet, ut sate messis iuxta qualitatem seminis fructum percipiant, et iuxta merita commissa per ipsos dignis meritorum retributionibus munerentur, propter ipsorum contumaciam habitos pro confessis, secundum formam iuris, statutorum comunis et populi civitatis Florentie, ordinamentorum iustitie, reformationum, et ex vigore nostri arbitrii, in libr. quinque milibus flor. par. pro quolibet, . . . et quod restituant extorta inlicite probantibus illud legiptime; et quod, si non solverint condempnationem infra tertiam diem, a die sententie computandam, omnia bona talis non solventis publicentur, vastentur et destruantur, et vastata et destructa remaneant in comuni; et si solverint condempnationem predictam ipsi vel ipsorum aliquis, [talis solvens] nicchilominus stare debeat extra provinciam Tuscie ad confines duobus annis; et ut predictorum d. Palmerii, Dante, Lippi et Orlanduccii perpetua fiat memoria, eorum nomina scribantur in statutis populi; et tamquam falsarii et baracterii nullo tempore possint habere aliquod offitium vel benefitium pro comuni vel a comuni Florentie in civitate, comitatu vel districtu vel alibi, sive condempnationem solverint sive non; in hiis scriptis sententialiter condempnamus. Computato bampno in condempnatione presenti. (R. Piattoli, CDD, pp. 103-107.)

This sentence having been disregarded, on March 10 in the same year (1302) a second severer sentence was pronounced against D., Palmieri, Lippo, and Orlanduccio, together with eleven others, condemning them to be burned alive should they at any time fall into the hands of the Republic: '. . . si quis predictorum ullo tempore in fortiam dicti comunis pervenerit, talis perveniens ingne comburatur sic quod moriatur, . . .' (R. Piattoli, CDD, p. 109).

Of D.'s movements from this time on, little is known for certain. In 1302 he was at San Godenzo in the Mugello at a meeting of the Bianchi, and the next year at Forlì, where he served at one point as an aide to Scarpetta Ordelaffi.

On July 20, 1304, the exiled Bianchi, having been disappointed in their hopes of a peaceable return to Florence, through the mediation of the Cardinal Niccolò da Prato, the legate of Benedict XI, made an abortive attempt, in concert with the Pistoians, to effect an entry into the city. From this attempt D. seems to have held aloof, and about this time, dissatisfied with the proceedings of his companions in exile, la compagnia malvagia e scempia ([Par. xvii. 62]), he separated himself from them, and took refuge at Verona, with one of the Scaligers (probably Bartolomeo della Scala), but did not remain there long. [Lombardo_1.]

It is impossible to follow D.'s wanderings, which, as he records in a passage in the Convivio (quoted above), led him almost everywhere in Italy. We know that on Oct. 6, 1306, he was at Sarzana in Lunigiana as agent for the Malaspini, his host on this occasion being Franceschino Malaspina [Malaspina]. [See R. Piattoli, CDD, pp. 116-117.] How long he remained in Lunigiana (some say not beyond the summer of 1307), and whether, as some of the biographers maintain, he went thence to the Casentino and Forlì, and returned again to Lunigiana on his way to Paris, it is difficult to decide. That he visited Paris during his exile we learn from the explicit statements of Villani:

. . . colla detta parte bianca fu cacciato e sbandito di Firenze, e andossene allo studio a Bologna, e poi a Parigi. ({Villani. ix. 136}.)

and Boccaccio:

. . . poi ch' egli vide da ogni parte chiudersi la via alla tornata, e più di dì in dì divenire vana la sua speranza, non solamente Toscana, ma tutta Italia abbandonata, passati i monti che quella dividono dalle province di Gallia, come poté, se n'andò a Parigi. (Vita di Dante.)

From a phrase of Boccaccio in a Latin poem addressed to Petrarch, in which he mentions 'Parisios demum extremosque Britannos' among the places visited by D., it has been assumed that D. went to England and Giovanni Serravalle, in a commentary on the D. C. written at the beginning of cent. xv, goes the length of stating that he studied at Oxford:

Dilexit theologiam sacram, in qua diu studuit tam in Oxoniis in regno Anglie, quam Parisius in regno Francie.

In the absence, however, of more trustworthy evidence, the fact of this alleged visit to England must be regarded as extremely doubtful.

It seems certain that he was in Italy between Sept. 1310, and Jan. 1310/11, when he wrote the letter Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile ({Epist. v}) to the princes and peoples of Italy on the advent of the Emperor Henry VII into Italy; and he was undoubtedly in Tuscany (probably as the guest of Guido Novello of Battifolle at Poppi) when his terrible Letter to the Florentines ({Epist. vi}), headed Dantes Alagherii florentinus et exul inmeritus scelestissimis Florentinis intrinsecis, and dated Scriptum pridie Kalendas Apriles in finibus Tuscie sub fontem Sarni, faustissimi cursus Henrici Cesaris ad Ytaliam anno primo (i.e. Mar. 31, 1311), was written, as well as that dated Scriptum in Tuscia sub fonte Sarni xv. Kalendas Maias, divi Henrici faustissimi cursus ad Ytaliam anno primo (i.e. April 16, 1311), and addressed to the emperor himself ({Epist. vii}), who was at the time besieging Cremona, urging him to crush first the viper Florence, as the root of all the evils of Italy.

In this same year (Sept. 2) was issued the decree, known as the 'Riforma di Messer Baldo d'Aguglione', granting pardon to a portion of the Florentine exiles, but expressly excepting certain others, D. (specifically, D.'s children) among them, by name; his exclusion was doubtless due to the above letters and to his active sympathy with the imperial cause [Aguglione]. [See R. Piattoli, CDD, pp. 132-144.] From this time until nearly a year after the death of Henry VII at Buonconvento (Aug. 24, 1313), by which D.'s last hope of return to Florence was extinguished, nothing whatever is known of his movements. Some time after June 14, 1314, when the city of Lucca fell into the hands of the Ghibelline captain, Uguccione della Faggiuola ({Villani. ix. 60}), D. appears to have been there; and it may have been at this time that he was shown hospitality by a certain Lucchese lady named Gentucca, but about the nature of his relations with her we have no means of knowing [Gentucca]. The supposition that he subsequently stayed at Gubbio, Fonte Avellana, and Udine, has little evidence to support it.

After the success of the Ghibellines at Montecatini (Aug. 29, 1315), when under the leadership of Uguccione della Faggiuola they completely defeated the Florentines and Tuscan Guelphs ({Villani. ix. 71, 72}), a last sentence was pronounced against D., his sons being included in the sentence. By this decree, which is dated Nov. 6, 1315, he and those named with him are branded as Ghibellines and rebels, and condemned, if captured, to be beheaded on the place of public execution:

Nos Ranierius vicarius antedictus, pro tribunali sedentes ad bancum iuris in pallatio comunis Florentie, hec banna et exbandimenta sententialiter damus et proferrimus in hiis scriptis prout inferius continetur:

De sextu porte Sancti Petri civitatis Florentie. Omnes de domo de Portinariis, exceptis Manetto, Folchetto . . . et omnes de domo de Giochis, excepto Lanberto Lapi et Philippo Gherardi . . . Dantem Adhegherii et ff., contra quos omnes et singulos superius nominatos . . . processimus per inquisitionem, quod . . . tanquam ghibellinos et rebelles comunis et populi civitatis Florentie et status partis guelfe, spreverunt nostra banna et precepta, . . . etiam multa alia et diversa malleficia commiserunt et perpetraverunt contra bonum statum comunis Florentie et partis guelfe, . . . si quo tempore ipsi vel aliquis predictorum, ut dictum est, in nostram vel comunis Florentie fortiam devenerint, . . . ducantur ad locum iustitie, et ibi eisdem capud a spatulis amputetur ita quod penutus moriantur. (R. Piattoli, CDD, pp. 155-156.)

Not long after this, in 1316, Count Guido of Battifolle, King Robert's vicar in Florence, proclaimed an amnesty, and granted permission to the exiles to return to Florence under certain degrading conditions, viz. the payment of a fine, and the performance of penance in the Baptistery. This offer, of which many appear to have availed themselves, was scornfully rejected by D., who wrote to a friend in Florence:

Is this, then, the glorious recall of Dante Alighieri to his native city, after the miseries of nearly fifteen years of exile? . . . No! This is not the way for me to return to my country. If another can be found that does not derogate from the fame and honour of Dante, that will I take with no lagging steps. But if by no such way Florence may be entered, then will I enter Florence never. What! Can I not everywhere behold the sun and stars? Can I not under any sky meditate on the most precious truths, without first rendering myself inglorious, nay ignominius, in the eyes of the people and city of Florence? At least bread will not fail me! ({Epist. xii. 5-9.})

After paying a second visit to Verona, where he was the guest of Can Grande (at what particular time it is impossible to decide), D., on the invitation of Guido Novello da Polenta, went to Ravenna. In the spring of 1321 Guido sent him on an embassy to Venice, where he appears to have fallen ill; on his return to Ravenna he grew worse, and died on Sept. 14 (so Boccaccio, on [Inf. i. 1]; Villani says, 'del mese di Luglio', {Villani. ix. 136}) of that year, aged 56 years and 4 months. At Ravenna he was buried, and there 'by the upbraiding shore' his remains still rest, every effort on the part of the Florentines to secure 'the metaphorical ashes of the man of whom she had threatened to make literal cinders if she could catch him alive' having been in vain. The following inscription, said to have heen composed by D. himself on his deathbed, is placed upon the sarcophagus which now holds his remains:

Iura Monarchiae, Superos, Phlegethonta Lacusque 
lustrando cecini, voluerunt Fata quousque: 
sed quia pars cessit melioribus hospita castris, 
auctoremque suum petiit felicior astris, 
hic clauldor Dantes, patriis extorris ab oris 
quem genuit parvi Florentia mater amoris.

His contemporary, Giovanni Villani, gives the following account of him:

Questo Dante fu onorevole e antico cittadino di Firenze di porta san Piero, e nostro vicino; e 'l suo esilio di Firenze fu per cagione che quando messer Carlo di Valos della casa di Francia venne in Firenze l'anno 1301, e caccionne la parte bianca. . . .Il detto Dante era de' maggiori governatori della nostra città, e di quella parte, bene che fosse guelfo; e però sanza altra colpa colla detta parte bianca fu cacciato e sbandito di Firenze, e andossene allo studio a Bologna, e poi a Parigi, e in più parti del mondo. Questi fu grande letterato quasi in ogni scienza, tutto fosse laico, fu sommo poeta e filosafo, e rettorico perfetto tanto in dittare e versificare, come in aringa parlare nobilissimo dicitore, in rima sommo, col più pulito e bello stile che mai fosse in nostra lingua infino al suo tempo e più innanzi. . . .Questo Dante per lo suo savere fu alquanto presuntuoso e schifo e isdegnoso, e quasi a guisa di filosafo mal grazioso non bene sapea conversare co' laici; ma per l'altre sue virtudi e scienza e valore di tanto cittadino, ne pare che si convenga di dargli perpetua memoria in questa nostra cronica, con tutto che le sue nobili opere lasciateci in iscrittura facciano di lui vero testimonio e onorabile fama alla nostra cittade. ({Villani. ix. 136}.)

His person and habits are thus described by Boccaccio:

Fu adunque questo nostro poeta di mediocre statura, e poi che alla matura età fu pervenuto, andò alquanto curvetto, ed era il suo andare grave e mansueto, di onestissimi panni sempre vestito in quello abito ch'era alla sua maturità convenevole. Il suo volto fu lungo, e il naso aquilino, e gli occhi anzi grossi che piccioli, le mascelle grandi, e dal labbro di sotto era quel di sopra avanzato; e il colore era bruno, e i capelli e la barba spessi, neri e crespi, e sempre nella faccia maninconico e pensoso. . . .

Ne' costumi domestichi e pubblici mirabilmente fu ordinato e composto, e in tutti più che alcun altro cortese e civile. Nel cibo e nel poto fu modestissimo. . . .

Niuno altro fu più vigilante di lui e negli studi e in qualunque altra sollecitudine il pugnesse. . . .

Rade volte, se non domandato, parlava, e quelle pensatamente e con voce conveniente alla materia di che diceva; non pertanto, laddove si richiedeva, eloquentissimo fu e facondo, e con ottima e pronta prolazione.

Sommamente si dilettò in suoni e in canti nella sua giovanezza, e a ciascuno che a que' tempi era ottimo cantatore o sonatore fu amico e ebbe sua usanza. . . .

Dilettossi d'essere solitario e rimoto dalle genti, accioché le sue contemplazioni non gli fossero interrotte. . . .

Ne' suoi studi fu assiduissimo, quanto a quel tempo che ad essi si disponea. . . .

Fu ancora questo poeta di maravigliosa capacità, e di memoria fermissima e di perspicace intelletto. . . .

Vaghissimo fu e d'onore e di pompa e per avventura più che alla sua inclita virtù non si sarebbe richiesto. (Vita di Dante.)

Works. Besides the Divina Commedia [Comedia], D. wrote in Italian the Vita Nuova, which tells the story of his love for Beatrice [Vita Nuova]; the Convivio (incomplete), a philosophical commentary on three of his canzoni [Convivio]; and a number of lyrical poems, which have been collected together under the title of Rime or Canzoniere [Canzoniere].

In Latin he wrote the De vulgari eloquentia (incomplete), a treatise in two books on Italian as a literary language [Eloquentia, De Vulgari]; the Monarchia, a treatise in three books on the nature and necessity of a universal temporal monarchy, coexistent with the spiritual sovereignty of the pope [Monarchia]; sundry Epistles, chiefly political [Epistole dantesche]; and two Eclogues [Egloghe_2]. He is also credited with the authorship of the Questio de aqua et terra, a scientific inquiry as to the relative levels of land and water on the surface of the globe [Questio de Aqua et Terra].

[For the biography of D., and further bibliography, see M.Barbi, Dante (Firenze, 1940); N. Zingarelli, La vita, i tempi e le opere di Dante (Milano, 1931), 2 vols.; and R. Piattoli, CDD, which contains all the known documents, from 1189 to 1371, in chronological order, from archives or other sources concerning the descendants of Cacciaguida.]



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