Study Guide

Dante Alighieri Poetry

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Dante never went back to Florence. He spent the next twenty years of his life moving throughout Italy, writing and keeping an eye on Florentine politics. His family did not join him for more than a decade. While in exile, Dante re-focused on his life's true calling—his poetry.

While lodging in Lucca, Dante began composing an essay entitled De Vulgari Eloquentia. The essay detailed the fractured state of the Italian language (there were fourteen dialects spoken across the country) and stressed the need for a common vernacular language. It was written in Latin, the language of the educated elite. From then on, however, Dante's greatest works would be composed in Italian.

Pope Boniface died in 1303, but his death did nothing to lift Dante's sentence. In 1306, Dante began writing a long poem entitled Convivio ("Banquet"). It was akin to a poetic resume, intended to remind Florentines of all that he had achieved and to introduce his new identity as a poet. An even more mature adult replaced the young man of Vita Nuova. Instead of total devotion to love, the new poet sought wisdom as his goal. After reminding Florentine readers of how much he had accomplished, Convivio asked for forgiveness from Florence's Whites and Blacks. Unfortuately, no such clemency was offered to Dante. With no end to his exile in sight, Dante began writing the poem that would make him famous—Commedia, or Comedy.

"Comedy" did not mean that the poem was intended to be funny. Dante used the word "comedy" to indicate that his story had a happy ending—his meeting with God—rather than a sad ending, which would have made it a tragedy. He also didn't dub his own work "Divine." Two hundred years after his death, an unknown author added the word to the title to give the trilogy the title we use today—the Divine Comedy.

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