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Things Even A Lot Of History Buffs Don't Know About Dante Alighieri

You may not have heard of Dante Alighieri, but you probably recognize him by his first name and his most famous work: Dante's Inferno. The Inferno is actually part of a very complex, symbol-filled poem called the Divine Comedy. Most people know that the Inferno concerns the conditions and tortures that occur in hell, but did you know that the other two parts of the Divine Comedy take the reader through Purgatory and Paradise?

Of all of Dante Alghieri's works, his greatest and most notable masterpiece is the Divine Comedy. It has influenced religion, politics, literature, and even pop culture. But just who was Dante Alighieri and why was he so obsessed with writing about the horrors of hell? Read on below to discover fascinating facts about Dante Alighieri and to learn about the struggles he faced throughout his life that shaped his works. 

  • Dante Influenced Every Generation Of Writers After Him

    Authors from his own time to even the 21st century have claimed Dante as an influence on their work. From Boccaccio to the Renaissance poets, Dante Alighieri shaped minds and perspectives. Even the famous poet, T.S. Eliot, wrote in the 20th century, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them, there is no third.”

  • The Muse In The Divine Comedy, Beatrice, Is Based On A Woman Dante Admired

    Most scholars believe that the Florentine woman named Bice di Folco Portinari was the inspiration behind Beatrice in the Divine Comedy. The Beatrice who appears in Dante's work symbolizes purity and beauty. The Dante character in the Divine Comedy meets Beatrice during his visit to Purgatorio and they ascend together to Paradise.

    The historical Beatrice was born to a prominent family in Florence, just like Dante. She and Dante may plausibly have met and played together as children. When she was older, she married a man named Simone de Bardi, a very powerful Florentine. Within three years, she died at the age of 24. 

  • Dante Included His Real-Life Enemies In His Work, Placing Them In Hell

    The grand scale of truth and profound questions in the Divine Comedy spread like wildfire across Italy, Europe, and eventually the world. It is viewed today as one of the greatest works of world literature. However, it is also very much a personal tale of Dante Alighieri. Dante puts himself in the work as a character. Throughout his journey through hell and purgatory, he introduces a variety of evildoers and describes their hideous punishments.

    Some of these individuals are from the classical world, both real and mythological, long renowned for their wickedness. Others are Dante's own contemporaries, people who had personally committed acts against him. He even mentioned Pope Boniface VIII in his work (who was his public nemesis), writing about how a place was reserved for him in lowest depths of hell. In some ways, it is fair to say that the Divine Comedy is a revenge piece. How delighted Dante must have been to learn how quickly the work became popular and widely read! Talk about poetic justice. 

  • Dante Was The First Person To Use The Terza Rima

    Even if you've never heard the words terza rima, you will probably recognize an example of the poetic rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of three lines, typically in iambic pentameter. Another name for this type of poetry is "chain rhyme," since it consists of interlocking rhymes. The pattern goes like this: ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, etc. Dante Alighieri was the first person to use it. 

    A classic example from the start of Inferno demonstrates the ease and beauty of the terza rima. Go ahead, read it out loud. You will feel the rhyme sequence.

    Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
    mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
    ché la diritta via era smarrita.

    Here is the same passage translated to English:

    Midway upon the journey of our life
    I found myself within a forest dark,
    For the straightforward pathway had been lost.