To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
This chapter describes and discusses the narrative structure of the poem showing how crucial it is in the generation of its poetry. Dante’s journey through the other world is twofold. There is the physical, psychological and moral journey accomplished by Dante the character, and the metaphorical journey in which Dante the narrator recounts his experience and the challenges associated with the sharing of it. The former is divided into topographical spaces (Hell, Purgatory, Paradise) which are in their turn subdivided into smaller sites (circles and sub-circles in Hell, terraces in Purgatory, heavens in Paradise) and the latter into books (the three canticles), which are in their turn subdivided into chapters (the hundred cantos), and these into stanzas (tercets). Dante’s autobiographical, multifaceted identity (pilgrim, exile, prophet, character, narrator, author) gives the poem its unity, intensity and coherence. The chapter studies the way in which the poet integrates the narrative and textual journeys, how episodes and themes are apportioned their spaces, and how all characters, including Dante, interact with each other and with the reader to elicit reactions that vary according to the poet’s narrative strategy and moral purpose.
Dante did not have an easy life. The loss of his mother when he was still a child, and of his father ten years later, which compelled him to take charge of his family when he was barely eighteen; his early, prearranged marriage, admittedly not unusual at the time; the addition of his three or four children to a household that could only count on a modest income; the death of Beatrice in 1290, and that of Guido Cavalcanti (b. 1250/59) ten years later in circumstances for which Dante could feel partly responsible; the bitter disappointment of his political career in Florence; the unspeakable offence of the trial in absentia, and the wound of the capital sentence, extended eventually to his children; the twenty years of exile, spent wandering from court to court without a permanent home for himself and his wife and children; finally, his own death of malaria when he was fifty-six (not young for the fourteenth century, but not old either): this definitely looks like a difficult life. What is astonishing is that, despite the many obstacles, Dante was able to write a body of work that placed him permanently at the forefront not only of Italian literature, but also of Italian language and philosophical studies. There is no doubt that the difficulties he encountered in life stimulated his work as a writer; indeed it can be argued that we owe his masterpiece, the Commedia, to his experiences as a politician and his exile. Dante's writing is quintessentially autobiographical, which is not all that unusual in the Trecento. What distinguishes Dante's work is the way in which historical events, poetic autobiography, and reflection on poetry are inextricably interwoven in it. From its very inception, Dante's poetry appears to be a self-conscious elaboration of personal experiences, where the lines between dreams, imaginings, and real events are blurred and crossed. This procedure was conventional among Dante's circle of friends and correspondents; however, the coherence and originality with which he developed it made him unique. Its first, but already mature and refined, result is the Vita nova, probably begun in 1292 but certainly written after Beatrice's death in 1290, and before 1295.
Dante's lyric production spans twenty-five years, from the early 1280s to 1306–07, when he began to compose his major poem.
In the past seven centuries Dante has become world renowned, with his works translated into multiple languages and read by people of all ages and cultural backgrounds. This volume brings together interdisciplinary essays by leading, international scholars to provide a comprehensive account of the historical, cultural and intellectual context in which Dante lived and worked: from the economic, social and political scene to the feel of daily life; from education and religion to the administration of justice; from medicine to philosophy and science; from classical antiquity to popular culture; and from the dramatic transformation of urban spaces to the explosion of visual arts and music. This book, while locating Dante in relation to each of these topics, offers readers a clear and reliable idea of what life was like for Dante as an outstanding poet and intellectual in the Italy of the late Middle Ages.
The idea for this book came to us as it comes to every university teacher when preparing a list of secondary readings for a course on Dante. One needs to offer a context, namely, an idea of the cultural, historical, intellectual, and geographical conditions in which Dante lived and wrote. What was happening in Florence around the year 1300, and why was Dante banished? Who were the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, and the Whites and the Blacks? And why were the empire and the Church always at loggerheads? How could the Church be so wealthy when St Francis was so poor? There are also trickier questions that one must be ready to answer – questions concerning vernacular and Latin; genre, language, and style; poetry, philosophy, and theology; religion, heresy, and orthodoxy. And questions concerning everyday life: rich and poor; immigration, the expansion of cities, forms of government, and social change; public health, justice, and injustice; literate and illiterate audiences; the condition of women (Dante does not spare them his invectives, yet he is also sensitive to issues of what today we would term gender difference); not to mention family life, lust, and love (why does Dante write so much about Beatrice, and not a word about his wife Gemma?). Answers do exist, but students, and we their teachers, must extract them from scores of scholarly volumes, each dealing with individual aspects of the economy, society, politics, religion, philosophy, art, literature, and music of the time, just to mention the most obvious subjects the knowledge of which would help facilitate an understanding and an enjoyment of Dante's works. In short, there is no single volume, as far as we are aware, either in English or in Italian, that offers a comprehensive overview of the material, cultural, and intellectual world in which Dante became Dante. This book aims to fill this lacuna by providing original essays on a broad array of facets of life in central and northern Italy at the time of Dante Alighieri, roughly between the middle of the thirteenth and the middle of the fourteenth centuries.
Yet despite the range of Dante in Context, its treatment of the late medieval Italian world cannot but be partial and fragmentary. There are issues, such as literature written in Latin in the post-classical age, and especially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, that might have merited chapters of their own.
Very little is known with certainty about the life of Dante Alighieri. We do not have a single line, word, or signature written by him; nor do we have a single book or manuscript or object that belonged to him. The Casa di Dante that is shown to tourists in Florence was largely built in the early twentieth century in the area of the city where we know that the Alighieri had their houses in the thirteenth century. Archival documents concerning Dante are very rare too, except for the short period when he served in the Florentine government. Of the little we know about him, most is gleaned from indirect references scattered throughout his works, and hardly any of it is corroborated by independent sources. We must be even more cautious with Giovanni Boccaccio's (1313–75) Life of Dante, which is largely a fictional work, written around the middle of the fourteenth century.
Dante Alighieri was born into a modest Guelph family under the sign of Gemini, towards the end of May 1265, in the parish of San Martino del Vescovo in Florence, between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. He was probably baptized with the name of Durante, which later was shortened to Dante. We know that he was the only child of Alighiero di Bellincione degli Alighieri (d. before 1283) and Bella, probably the daughter of Durante degli Abati. Dante's mother died between 1270 and 1273, and his father married Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi, of a very modest background, who bore him two children, Francesco and Tana (shortened from Gaetana). Documents mention another sister, though we do not know whether she was Bella's or Lapa's daughter.
The Alighieri were minor Florentine nobility who had seen their social status and economic position considerably reduced in the course of the previous two centuries. Dante's great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida (c.1091–c.1148) was knighted by Emperor Conrad III (1093–1152) and followed him to the Holy Land where he died fighting (Par. XV, 139–48). His immediate descendants were aristocrats who married into other families of similar social standing. However, Dante's grandfather and father clearly belong to a different, more modest social class of small businessmen and landowners. Bellincione, Dante's grandfather, was an active Guelph who was banished twice from Florence between 1248 and 1251 and again from 1260 to 1267.