Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321

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					                Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321

Stanza noun : a division of a poem consisting of a series of lines arranged together in a
usually recurring pattern of meter and rhyme

Symbolism noun 1 : the art or practice of using symbols, especially by investing things
with symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or
sensuous representations: as a: artistic imitation or invention that is a method of
revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states b: the
use of conventional or traditional signs in the representation of divine beings and spirits
2 : a system of symbols or representations

Metaphor noun1: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one
kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between
them (as in drowning in money); broadly : figurative language—compare SIMILE 2 : an
object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor : SYMBOL

Parse verb : 1a to resolve (as a sentence) into component parts of speech and describe
them grammatically by stating the part of speech and explaining the inflection and
syntactical relationships 2 : to examine in a minute way : analyze critically vi 1 : to give
a grammatical description of a word or a group of words 2 : to admit of being parsed

His Life

Like the troubadours who preceded him, but were also his contemporaries, Dante
Alighieri, whom the world knows now simply as “Dante,” harbored an idealized vision of
love. Dante’s vision of love involved a girl named Beatrice Portinari. Beatrice was born
in 1266, a year after Dante. She died young—in 1290. Her death caused Dante a great
deal of grief.

Dante was born in Florence, Italy. After studying in the Italian cities of Bologna and
Padua, as well as Paris, France, Dante returned to Florence and became involved in the
political and military life of the city. During the 1290s, as Dante rose to important
positions in the Florentine government, he became involved in a political dispute already
in progress between two groups, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.

The Guelphs, who did not favor Dante, won the struggle and gained control of Florence
in 1301. The next year, in 1302, the Guelphs banished Dante to Ravenna under pain of
execution if he returned to Florence. Dante spent the rest of his life in Ravenna, where he
died in 1321. From 1308 to just before his death, Dante worked on his masterpiece, The
Divine Comedy.
His Work

Although he wrote in other forms—notably, and given his biography, unsurprisingly,
some essays on politics—Dante was first and foremost a poet. His masterwork, The
Divine Comedy, is still enormously influential and regarded as one of the greatest epic
poems (ranking with Homer’s Odyssey) ever written. The poems were written in a form
Dante invented called terza rima (in English, triple rhyme). In the terza rima form the
first and third lines of each stanza rhyme with the middle line of the previous stanza.

The Divine Comedy consists of three books: Purgatorio, Paradiso, and Inferno. As part of
our History of Hip-Hop Unit Plan, we will read the first three pages of Inferno. The poem
and its symbolism—its metaphors—are fairly easy to understand. However, don’t make
the mistake of thinking this is an easy poem to read or, perhaps in a larger sense,
understand: many college History, English or Italian professors have made entire
scholarly careers of parsing Dante’s poem. We’ll try to make some sense of Inferno in
our own way.