Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Thomas Aquinas finished the greatest theological synthesis of Latin Christendom, his monumental Summa Theologica, in 1274. Dante Alighieri, finished the greatest literary synthesis of Latin Christendom, his Divine Comedy, in 1321.

Dante was born in Florence around 1265, the same year that Thomas Aquinas began writing his great Summa.

Dante was 9 years old when he first saw Beatrice Portinari who was a year younger. He immediately and forever became infatuated with her even though he rarely saw her afterward.

As a teenager, Dante became familiar with the poetry of troubadours from Provence with its emphasis on courtly and one-sided “love.” He also appreciated the Roman poet Virgil (70 BC-AD 19) and essayist Cicero (106-43 BC).

After Dante turned 18, he saw Beatrice again and his infatuation for her intensely deepened. Still he never exchanged more than public greetings with her and she never knew of his feelings.

Dante married Gemma Donati around 1285. Beatice married another man in 1287.

On June 11, 1289, Dante fought as part of the Florentine cavalry in a brief battle near Poppi, a city about 25 miles (40 km) east of Florence. Afterward, his participation in Florentine municipal politics increased significantly.

Beatrice died in 1290. In response, Dante buried himself in classical philosophy, especially The Consolation of Philosophy (524) by Boethius (480-524) and On Friendship (44 BC) by Cicero. He also wrote poems inspired by Beatrice and published them in a collection of his poetry and prose, entitled The New Life, in 1295.

In 1301, Florentine rulers sent Dante and other delegates 175 miles (280 km) southeast to Rome to speak with the pope about his plans for Florence. While they were speaking, the brother of the king of France, at the pope’s request, led an army against Florence and took control of the city on the pope’s behalf. The new Florentine rulers ordered Dante to remain in exile and to pay a large fine. When Dante later wrote about Hell in his Divine Comedy, the pope and Dante’s Florentine enemies all found unhappy places there.

Dante then lived in various cities, which may have included Verona, Bologna, and Padua, but certainly, in the end, Ravenna. In 1311, Henry 7th, Holy Roman Emperor, led an army of 5,000 soldiers into Latinia. Dante wrote Of Monarchy shortly afterward in support of a peace only possible through the unification of Latinian municipal states under the rule of the emperor rather than the pope.

Around this time, and perhaps as early as 1308, Dante started writing what would become his only work of world-historical significance: The Divine Comedy. In 1318, Dante accepted an invitation from the ruler of Ravenna to live there. He finished his Comedy and shortly thereafter died on 9 September 9, 1321, and was buried in Ravenna.

The structure of The Divine Comedy was deeply influenced by the theology of Thomas Aquinas. The book describes Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. On this journey he is guided first by Virgil and then by Beatrice. Surprisingly, Dante did not write the poem in Latin but in the regional Florentine dialect of Italian. Because of the poem’s range, depth, and beauty, Dante’s dialect became the normative expression of the Italian language. The poem is called a comedy because of its profoundly happy ending: Dante’s vision of God.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.