Dante Alighieri (1315-1318) - 880 

Dante Alighieri (1315-18)

Universally regarded as the greatest poet of the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 into a family of the lower nobility.a He spent his youth acquiring writing skills and serving as a citizen soldier. Although he entered a conventional arranged marriage, Dante was deeply attached to a Florentine lady, Beatrice, whom he idealized as the fulfillment of human love.b Her death in 1290 provoked a spiritual crisis in Dante's life. He plunged into the study of theology and philosophy; we know he was taking classes at the Franciscan convent school of Santa Croce in 1291.c Dante also became increasingly involved in the political life of the commune, a risky undertaking. During most of the thirteenth century the Guelph (pro-Papal) and Ghibillene (pro-Imperial) parties were engaged in a bitter struggle for control of the city, the Guelphs finally emerging victorious in 1278. However, over time they split into two rival factions: the "White Guelphs," to whom Dante belonged, insisted on maintaining the autonomy of the commune, whereas the "Black" faction wanted Florence to submit to the overlordship of the Papacy. In 1300 Dante was elected as one of the six priors or magistrates of the city, but when the "Blacks" staged a coup in 1302, he was sentenced to perpetual exile.

Although Dante never gave up his attempts to return to Florence, he devoted the last twenty years of his life chiefly to writing. He began his masterpiece, The Comedy, given the epithet "divine" by later generations, around 1308. Cantos I-XVII of the Paradiso section, in which his portrait of Francis occurs, most likely were composed during Dante's stay in Verona (1315-18). His last years were spent in Ravenna, where he completed The Comedy shortly before his death in 1321. Dante was buried in the church of San Francesco in that city. The Comedy's is the drama of Dante's own personal faith journey, but also the story of Everyman's pilgrimage to God.d Dante is first taken to hell, gaining a knowledge of the dimensions of sin; then, in purgatory, he comes to understand the stages of human repentance and conversion. Finally, in the Paradiso, as Beatrice guides Dante through the nine heavenly spheres, he describes how the earthly pilgrim comes to center attention on attaining God

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Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 880

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