Dante was born in
Republic of Florence, present-day Italy. The exact date of his birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from autobiographic allusions in the
Divine Comedy. Its first section, the
Inferno, begins, "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita" ("Midway upon the journey of our life"), implying that Dante was around 35 years old, since the average lifespan according to the Bible (Psalm 89:10, Vulgate) is 70 years; and since his imaginary travel to the nether world took place in 1300, he was most probably born around 1265. Some verses of the Paradiso section of the Divine Comedy also provide a possible clue that he was born under the sign of
Gemini: "As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed, from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious" (XXII 151–154). In 1265, the sun was in Gemini between approximately May 11 and June 11 (Julian calendar).
Portrait of Dante, from a fresco in the Palazzo dei Giudici, Florence
Dante claimed that his family descended from the ancient Romans (Inferno, XV, 76), but the earliest relative he could mention by name was
Cacciaguida degli Elisei (Paradiso, XV, 135), born no earlier than about 1100. Dante's father, Alaghiero
Alighiero di Bellincione, was a White
Guelph who suffered no reprisals after the
Ghibellines won the
Battle of Montaperti in the middle of the 13th century. This suggests that Alighiero or his family may have enjoyed some protective prestige and status, although some suggest that the politically inactive Alighiero was of such low standing that he was not considered worth exiling.
Dante's family had loyalties to the Guelphs, a political alliance that supported the
Papacy and which was involved in complex opposition to the Ghibellines, who were backed by the
Holy Roman Emperor. The poet's mother was Bella, likely a member of the Abati family.
 She died when Dante was not yet ten years old, and Alighiero soon married again, to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. It is uncertain whether he really married her, since widowers were socially limited in such matters, but this woman definitely bore him two children, Dante's half-brother Francesco and half-sister Tana (Gaetana). When Dante was 12, he was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, daughter of Manetto Donati, member of the powerful Donati family.
 Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common and involved a formal ceremony, including contracts signed before a
notary. But by this time Dante had fallen in love with another,
Beatrice Portinari (known also as Bice), whom he first met when he was only nine. Years after his marriage to Gemma he claims to have met Beatrice again; he wrote several sonnets to Beatrice but never mentioned Gemma in any of his poems. The exact date of his marriage is not known: the only certain information is that, before his exile in 1301, he had three children (Pietro, Jacopo and Antonia).
Dante in Verona
, by Antonio Cotti
Dante fought with the Guelph cavalry at the
Battle of Campaldino (June 11, 1289).
 This victory brought about a reformation of the
Florentine constitution. To take any part in public life, one had to enroll in one of the city's many commercial or artisan guilds, so Dante entered the Physicians' and Apothecaries' Guild. In the following years, his name is occasionally recorded as speaking or voting in the various councils of the republic. A substantial portion of minutes from such meetings in the years 1298–1300 was lost, however, so the true extent of Dante's participation in the city's councils is uncertain.
Gemma bore Dante several children. Although several others subsequently claimed to be his offspring, it is likely that only
Jacopo, Pietro, Giovanni and Antonia were his actual children. Antonia later became a nun, taking the name Sister Beatrice.
Education and poetry
||This section needs additional citations for
verification. (December 2015)
Not much is known about Dante's education; he presumably studied at home or in a chapter school attached to a church or monastery in Florence. It is known that he studied
Tuscan poetry and that he admired the compositions of the Bolognese poet
Guido Guinizelli—whom in Purgatorio XXVI he characterized as his "father"—at a time when the
Sicilian school (Scuola poetica Siciliana), a cultural group from
Sicily, was becoming known in Tuscany. His interests brought him to discover the
Provençal poetry of the
troubadours, such as
Arnaut Daniel, and the Latin writers of
classical antiquity, including
Ovid and especially
Statue of Dante at the
Dante said he first met
Beatrice Portinari, daughter of
Folco Portinari, at age nine, and claimed to have fallen in love with her "
at first sight", apparently without even talking with her. He saw her frequently after age 18, often exchanging greetings in the street, but never knew her well. In effect, he set an example of so-called
courtly love, a phenomenon developed in French and Provençal poetry of prior centuries. Dante's experience of such love was typical, but his expression of it was unique. It was in the name of this love that Dante left his imprint on the
dolce stil novo (sweet new style, a term which Dante himself coined), and he would join other contemporary poets and writers in exploring never-before-emphasized aspects of love (Amore). Love for Beatrice (as
Petrarch would show for Laura somewhat differently) would be his reason for poetry and for living, together with political passions. In many of his poems, she is depicted as semi-divine, watching over him constantly and providing spiritual instruction, sometimes harshly. When Beatrice died in 1290, Dante sought refuge in Latin literature. The
Convivio chronicles his having read
De consolatione philosophiae and Cicero's
De Amicitia. He then dedicated himself to philosophical studies at religious schools like the Dominican one in
Santa Maria Novella. He took part in the disputes that the two principal
mendicant orders (
Dominican) publicly or indirectly held in Florence, the former explaining the doctrines of the mystics and of St.
Bonaventure, the latter expounding on the theories of St.
At 18, Dante met
Cino da Pistoia and soon after
Brunetto Latini; together they became the leaders of the dolce stil novo. Brunetto later received special mention in the Divine Comedy (Inferno, XV, 28) for what he had taught Dante: Nor speaking less on that account I go With Ser Brunetto, and I ask who are his most known and most eminent companions. Some fifty poetical commentaries by Dante are known (the so-called
Rime, rhymes), others being included in the later Vita Nuova and Convivio. Other studies are reported, or deduced from Vita Nuova or the Comedy, regarding painting and music.
Illustration for Purgatory
) by Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré
Illustration for Paradiso
(of The Divine Comedy
) by Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré
Illustration for Paradiso
(of The Divine Comedy
) by Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré
Florence and politics
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verification. (December 2015)
Dante, like most Florentines of his day, was embroiled in the
Guelph–Ghibelline conflict. He fought in the
Battle of Campaldino (June 11, 1289), with the Florentine Guelphs against
 then in 1294 he was among the escorts of
Charles Martel of Anjou (grandson of
Charles I of Naples, more commonly called Charles of Anjou) while he was in Florence. To further his political career, he became a pharmacist. He did not intend to practice as one, but a law issued in 1295 required nobles aspiring to public office to be enrolled in one of the Corporazioni delle Arti e dei Mestieri, so Dante obtained admission to the Apothecaries' Guild. This profession was not inappropriate, since at that time books were sold from apothecaries' shops. As a politician he accomplished little, but held various offices over some years in a city rife with political unrest.
After defeating the Ghibellines, the Guelphs divided into two factions: the White Guelphs (Guelfi Bianchi)—Dante's party, led by Vieri dei Cerchi—and the Black Guelphs (Guelfi Neri), led by
Corso Donati. Although the split was along family lines at first, ideological differences arose based on opposing views of the papal role in Florentine affairs, with the Blacks supporting the Pope and the Whites wanting more freedom from Rome. The Whites took power first and expelled the Blacks. In response,
Pope Boniface VIII planned a military occupation of Florence. In 1301,
Charles of Valois, brother of King
Philip IV of France, was expected to visit Florence because the Pope had appointed him peacemaker for
Tuscany. But the city's government had treated the Pope's ambassadors badly a few weeks before, seeking independence from papal influence. It was believed that Charles had received other unofficial instructions, so the council sent a delegation to Rome to ascertain the Pope's intentions. Dante was one of the delegates.
Exile and death
Pope Boniface quickly dismissed the other delegates and asked Dante alone to remain in Rome. At the same time (November 1, 1301), Charles of Valois entered Florence with the Black Guelphs, who in the next six days destroyed much of the city and killed many of their enemies. A new Black Guelph government was installed, and
Cante de' Gabrielli da
Gubbio was appointed
podestà of the city. In March 1302, Dante, a White Guelph by affiliation, along with the
Gherardini family, was condemned to exile for two years and ordered to pay a large fine.
 Dante was accused of corruption and financial wrongdoing by the Black Guelphs for the time that Dante was serving as city prior (Florence's highest position) for two months in 1300.
 The poet was still in Rome in 1302 where the Pope, who had backed the Black Guelphs, had "suggested" that Dante stay. Florence under the Black Guelphs therefore considered Dante an absconder.
 Dante did not pay the fine, in part because he believed he was not guilty and in part because all his assets in Florence had been seized by the Black Guelphs. He was condemned to perpetual exile; if he returned to Florence without paying the fine, he could have been burned at the stake. (In June 2008, nearly seven centuries after his death, the city council of Florence passed a motion rescinding Dante's sentence.)
Dante's tomb exterior and interior in
, built in 1780
He took part in several attempts by the White Guelphs to regain power, but these failed due to treachery. Dante, bitter at the treatment he received from his enemies, also grew disgusted with the infighting and ineffectiveness of his erstwhile allies and vowed to become a party of one. He went to
Verona as a guest of
Bartolomeo I della Scala, then moved to
Liguria. Later he is supposed to have lived in
Lucca with a woman called Gentucca, who made his stay comfortable (and was later gratefully mentioned in Purgatorio, XXIV, 37). Some speculative sources claim he visited Paris between 1308 and 1310, and other sources even less trustworthy took him to
Oxford: these claims, first occurring in
Boccaccio's book on Dante several decades after his death, seem inspired by readers who were impressed with the poet's wide learning and erudition. Evidently, Dante's command of philosophy and his literary interests deepened in exile and when he was no longer busy with the day-to-day business of Florentine domestic politics, and this is evidenced in his prose writings in this period, but there is no real evidence that he ever left Italy. Dante's Immensa Dei dilectione testante to Henry VII of Luxembourg confirms his residence "beneath the springs of Arno, near Tuscany" in March 1311.
In 1310, Holy Roman Emperor
Henry VII of
Luxembourg marched into Italy at the head of 5,000 troops. Dante saw in him a new
Charlemagne who would restore the office of the Holy Roman Emperor to its former glory and also retake Florence from the Black Guelphs. He wrote to Henry and several Italian princes, demanding that they destroy the Black Guelphs. Mixing religion and private concerns in his writings, he invoked the worst anger of God against his city and suggested several particular targets that were also his personal enemies. It was during this time that he wrote
De Monarchia, proposing a
universal monarchy under Henry VII.
At some point during his exile, he conceived of the Comedy, but the date is uncertain. The work is much more assured and on a larger scale than anything he had produced in Florence; it is likely he would have undertaken such a work only after he realized his political ambitions, which had been central to him up to his banishment, had been halted for some time, possibly forever. It is also noticeable that Beatrice has returned to his imagination with renewed force and with a wider meaning than in the Vita Nuova; in Convivio (written c.1304–07) he had declared that the memory of this youthful romance belonged to the past.
An early outside indication that the poem was under way is a notice by Francesco da Barberino, tucked into his Documenti d'Amore (Lessons of Love), written probably in 1314 or early 1315. Speaking of Virgil, Francesco notes in appreciative words that Dante followed the Roman classic in a poem called "Comedy" and that the setting of this poem (or part of it) was the underworld; i.e., hell.
 The brief note gives no incontestable indication that he himself had seen or read even the Inferno or that this part had been published at the time, but it indicates composition was well under way and that the sketching of the poem might have begun some years before. (It has been suggested that a knowledge of Dante's work also underlies some of the illuminations in Francesco da Barberino's earlier Officiolum [c. 1305–08], a manuscript that came to light only in 2003.
) We know that the Inferno had been published by 1317; this is established by quoted lines interspersed in the margins of contemporary dated records from
Bologna, but there is no certainty as to whether the three parts of the poem were each published in full or, rather, a few cantos at a time. Paradiso seems to have been published posthumously.
In Florence, Baldo d'Aguglione pardoned most of the White Guelphs in exile and allowed them to return. However, Dante had gone too far in his violent letters to Arrigo (Henry VII) and his sentence was not revoked.
In 1312 Henry assaulted Florence and defeated the Black Guelphs, but there is no evidence that Dante was involved. Some say he refused to participate in the assault on his city by a foreigner; others suggest that he had become unpopular with the White Guelphs, too, and that any trace of his passage had carefully been removed. Henry VII died (from a fever) in 1313, and with him any hope for Dante to see Florence again. He returned to Verona, where
Cangrande I della Scala allowed him to live in certain security and, presumably, in a fair degree of prosperity. Cangrande was admitted to Dante's Paradise (Paradiso, XVII, 76).
During the period of his exile Dante corresponded with Dominican theologian Fr. Nicholas Brunacci OP [1240–1322] who had been a student of
Thomas Aquinas at the Santa Sabina studium in Rome, and later at Paris.
 and of
Albert the Great at the Cologne studium.
 Brunacci became lector at the Santa Sabina studium, forerunner of the
Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and later served in the
In 1315, Florence was forced by
Uguccione della Faggiuola (the military officer controlling the town) to grant an amnesty to those in exile, including Dante. But for this, Florence required public penance in addition to a heavy fine. Dante refused, preferring to remain in exile. When Uguccione defeated Florence, Dante's death sentence was commuted to house arrest on condition that he go to Florence to swear he would never enter the town again. He refused to go, and his death sentence was confirmed and extended to his sons. He still hoped late in life that he might be invited back to Florence on honorable terms. For Dante, exile was nearly a form of death, stripping him of much of his identity and his heritage. He addressed the pain of exile in Paradiso, XVII (55–60), where Cacciaguida, his great-great-grandfather, warns him what to expect:
... Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta
più caramente; e questo è quello strale
che l'arco de lo essilio pria saetta.
Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale ...
... You shall leave everything you love most:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
of others' bread, how salty it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
ascending and descending others' stairs ...
As for the hope of returning to Florence, he describes it as if he had already accepted its impossibility (in Paradiso, XXV, 1–9):
Se mai continga che 'l poema sacro
al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra,
sì che m'ha fatto per molti anni macro,
vinca la crudeltà che fuor mi serra
del bello ovile ov'io dormi' agnello,
nimico ai lupi che li danno guerra;
con altra voce omai, con altro vello
ritornerò poeta, e in sul fonte
del mio battesmo prenderò 'l cappello ...
If it ever comes to pass that the sacred poem
to which both heaven and earth have set their hand
so as to have made me lean for many years
should overcome the cruelty that bars me
from the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb,
an enemy to the wolves that make war on it,
with another voice now and other fleece
I shall return a poet and at the font
of my baptism take the
laurel crown ...
Alighieri accepted Prince
Guido Novello da Polenta's invitation to
Ravenna in 1318. He finished Paradiso, and died in 1321 (aged 56) while returning to Ravenna from a diplomatic mission to Venice, possibly of
malaria contracted there. He was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore (later called San Francesco). Bernardo Bembo,
Venice, erected a tomb for him in 1483.
On the grave, some verses of Bernardo Canaccio, a friend of Dante, dedicated to Florence:
parvi Florentia mater amoris
Florence, mother of little love
The first formal biography of Dante was the Vita di Dante (also known as Trattatello in laude di Dante), written after 1348 by
 Although several statements and episodes of it have been deemed unreliable on the basis of modern research, an earlier account of Dante's life and works had been included in the
Nuova Cronica of the Florentine chronicler
Florence eventually came to regret Dante's exile, and the city made repeated requests for the return of his remains. The custodians of the body in Ravenna refused, at one point going so far as to conceal the bones in a false wall of the monastery. Nonetheless, a tomb was built for him in Florence in 1829, in the
Basilica of Santa Croce. That
tomb has been empty ever since, with Dante's body remaining in Ravenna, far from the land he had loved so dearly. The front of his tomb in Florence reads Onorate l'altissimo poeta—which roughly translates as "Honor the most exalted poet". The phrase is a quote from the fourth canto of the Inferno, depicting Virgil's welcome as he returns among the great ancient poets spending eternity in limbo. The ensuing line, L'ombra sua torna, ch'era dipartita ("his spirit, which had left us, returns"), is poignantly absent from the empty tomb.
On April 30, 1921, in honor of the 600th anniversary of Dante's death, Pope
Benedict XV promulgated an encyclical named
In praeclara summorum, calling him one "of the many celebrated geniuses of whom the Catholic faith can boast" and the "pride and glory of humanity".
In 2007, a reconstruction of Dante's face was undertaken in a collaborative project. Artists from Pisa University and engineers at the University of Bologna at
Forlì constructed the model, portraying Dante's features as somewhat different from what was once thought.
In 2008, the Municipality of Florence officially apologized for expelling Dante 700 years earlier.
A celebration was held in 2015 for the 750th anniversary of his birth.