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Biography: Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri, Italy's greatest poet, Felon for grafting, and exiled from Florence. Otherwise, Dante would have been burned at the stake. Dante writer of "The Divine Comedy" which include the "Inferno," "Pugatory," and "Paradiso."
After the death of Beatrice, Dante began studying philosophy, and increased his political involvement in Florence. Dante held a number of political offices during a volatile political period. In 1302, Dante was exiled by the leaders of the Black Guelphs. The Guelphs were the political faction in power at that time. Dante was a convicted felony for "grafting." If Dante returned to Florence, he would have been burned at the stake.
Dante's work on "The Comedy," later entitled "The Divine Comedy," commenced after his exile. "The Comedy" consists of three books: "Inferno," "Purgatorio," and "Paradiso." In approximately 1314, Dante completes "Inferno" which is an allegorical journey through Hell. Until Dante's sudden illness in 1321, he roamed amongst various courts throughout Italy, writing and occasionally lecturing.
Dante's writing of "The Comedy" reflects the politics of the day in the Late-thirteenth-century in Florence. The power struggle in Florence effected Italy and most of Europe, from the twelfth to fourteenth century. The power struggle was between the state and church. The representative of the church was the pope, and the representative of the state was the Holy Roman Emperor.
In Florence, Guelph party, which supported the papacy, and the Ghibelline party, which supported imperial power, represented those loyalties. In 1250, the last powerful Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II died. Subsequently, the Guelphs came to power in Florence. By 1290, the Guelphs divided into two factions. The two factions include the Whites and the Blacks. The Whites supported the independence of Florence from strict papal control. The Blacks supported the pope to restore their power. Dante was part of the Whites party.
In 1301, under the direction of Pope Boniface VIII, the Blacks were able to retain control of Florence. Subsequently, Dante exultation from Florence commenced. Dante's dislike for Pope Boniface VIII was vehement. The pope and a multitude of other opposing characters each have a special place in Hell in Dante's "Inferno." The "Inferno" is an intensely personal and political for it was written out of anguish of a man who saw his life blighted by the injustice and corruption of his times.
The "Inferno" is a historical political allegory by a writer that could handle Aristotle, Ovid, Virgil and Thomas Aquinas with ease and skillful dexterity. Not only was Dante able to interpret and apply famous writers with unbridled skill, but this poem was written in vernacular language so the common people could understand. Shortly before the death of Dante, the "Inferno" within a few years had achieved a reputation tinged with supernatural awe. Therefore, the "Inferno" stands as the greatest medieval poem written for the people.
Critics, over seven centuries, have praise for the poetic beauty of the "Inferno." The poetic beauty of this piece is unmatched in form and content by any other medieval poem. The vernacular language used was Dante's native dialect of Tuscan. The use of Tuscan rather than Latin helped to unify the Italian language, which is rooted in Tuscan more than any other Italian dialect.
The problem with writing the piece in Latin is most people did not know how to read Latin, excluding the papacy. Thus, by writing the "Inferno" in Tuscan the work was readable by scores more people. No one considered the vernacular Tuscan capable of poetic expression of the caliber represented in the "Inferno."
The folly of writing in the vernacular language is Dante's reason for entitling his masterpiece "The Comedy." In the sixteenth century, the additive adjective of "Divine" was included in the title to acknowledge the religious nature of the work. After the sixteenth century the title became "The Divine Comedy."
Dante's choice of the title "The Comedy" does not mean the poem is intended to be humorous, but rather the title refers to one of the two classical styles. There are two classical styles, comedy and tragedy. Tragedy was high art, and the style used for epics. The tragedy plot line flowed from a promising beginning to a destructive end. Comedy was low art, and the style of grotesque caricatures. The comedy plot line flowed from an unhappy beginning to a happy end.
Thus, the title "The Comedy" is appropriate for two reasons. The poem is written in the vernacular Tuscan dialect, which is appropriate for only a comedy. The other reason is the plot line reflects that of a classical comedy. The plot progresses from the horrors in the depth of Hell to the joys and escalation of Heaven.
"The Comedy" is a universal piece of art which deals with one of the most important questions of humanity. The questions include: Is there an afterlife? Does our life on earth determine our position in the afterlife? Do our actions on earth determine our placement in Hell, Purgatory or Heaven? Those questions made Dante research philosophers and poets, and utilize low and high art as he does in the "Inferno." Dante's three part series reflected in the "Inferno," "Purgatory," and "Paradiso" describes the state of the soul after death.