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Dante's Inferno

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Dante's Inferno

Dante Alighieri, one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages,

was born in Florence, Italy on June 5, 1265. He was born to a

middle-class Florentine family. At an early age he began to write poetry

and became fascinated with lyrics. During his adolescence, Dante fell in

love with a beautiful girl named Beatrice Portinari. He saw her only

twice but she provided much inspiration for his literary masterpieces.

Her death at a young age left him grief-stricken. His first book, La

Vita Nuova, was written about her. Sometime before 1294, Dante married

Gemma Donati. They had four children.

Dante was active in the political and military life of Florence.

He entered the army as a youth and held several important positions in

the Florence government during the 1290's. During his life, Florence was

divided politically between Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Guelphs

supported the church and liked to keep things as they were, unlike the

Ghibellines. The Ghibellines were mostly supporters of the German

emperor and at the time Dante was born, were relieved of their power.

When this change took place, the Guelphs for whom Dante's family was

associated took power. Although born into a Guelph family, Dante became

more neutral later in life realizing that the church was corrupt,

believing it should only be involved in spiritual affairs.

At the turn of the century, Dante rose from city councilman to

ambassador of Florence. His career ended in 1301 when the Black Guelph

and their French allies seized control of the city. They took Dante's

possessions and sentenced him to be permanently banished from Florence,

threatening the death penalty upon him if he returned.

Dante spent most of his time in exile writing new pieces of

literature. It is believed that around 1307 he interrupts his unfinished

work, Convivio, a reflection of his love poetry philosophy of the Roman

tradition, to begin The Comedy (later known as The Divine Comedy). He

writes a book called De Vulgari Eloquentia explaining his idea to combine

a number of Italian dialects to create a new national language. In 1310

he writes De Monarchia presenting Dante's case for a one-ruler world

order.

Among his works, his reputation rests on his last work, The

Divine Comedy. He began writing it somewhere between 1307-1314 and

finished it only a short while before his death in 1321, while in exile.

In this work, Dante introduces his invention of the terza rima, or

three-line stanza as well as himself as a character.

The Inferno is the first of three parts of Dante's epic poem, The

Divine Comedy, which depicts an imaginary journey through Hell,

Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante is the hero, who loses his way in the

"dark woods" and journeys to nine regions arranged around the wall of a

huge funnel in nine concentric circles representing Hell. He is led by

the ghost of Virgil, the Roman poet, who has come to rescue Dante from

the dark forest and lead him through the realms of the afterlife. The

first circle they enter is Limbo, which consists of heathen and the

unbaptized, who led decent lives. The second through the fifth circles

are for the lustful, gluttonous, prodigal, and wrathful. The sixth

circle is where heretics are punished. The seventh circle is devoted to

the punishment of violence. The eighth is devoted to those guilty of

fraud and the ninth for those who betrayed others. In the last section,

Satan remains imprisoned in a frozen lake.

The journey is difficult and full of revelations, disappointment

and questions, but they persevere. The end of their journey leads Dante

and Virgil to the bottom of Hell. Lucifer is seen in all his ugliness

and they are drawn towards Heaven. They emerge to the surface, rising

above the ugliness of sin and journey towards their goal as they catch

sight of the stars shining in the heavens. Their journey begins on Good

Friday and they emerge from Hell on the day of Resurrection, Easter

Sunday on the underside of the world, in the hemisphere of water at the

foot of Mount Purgatory.

Dante's vision expresses his personal experience, through images

to convey his interpretation of the nature of human existence. He writes

in the first person so the reader can identify and deeply understand the

truths he wished to share about the meaning of life and man's

relationship with the Creator.

Dante is remembered as a great thinker and one of the

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