He was born in Florence, Tuscany, Italy in 1265, somewhere around the middle to end of May, or perhaps early June but the general consensus of opinion seems to be that it was somewhere around 21st May. His first name was shortened to 'Dante' by his family and friends and this is how he became known throughout his life. He died in the middle of September in 1320 in Ravenna, Emilia Romagna, Italy.
Dante's House in Florence - Photo: Sailko
Very little is known about what kind of education Dante may have received. He is most likely to have studied at a school attached to the church or at home, although he is known to have studied Tuscan poetry.
Statue of Dante in Florence - Photo: Jörg Bittner
Dante met Beatrice again after he was 18 and saw her frequently but only to exchange greetings in the street and he never actually got to know her very well. In spite of this his love for her never died and in fact he wrote several sonnets to her but none, it seems, to his wife Gemma. His daughter, Antonia, eventually became a nun and took the name Sister Beatrice.
His love for Beatrice became his reason not only for living but also for writing poetry and in many of his poems she is portrayed as a divine being watching over him and giving him instructions. It was from this type of love poetry that Dante coined the phrase 'dolce stil novo' (sweet new style) and along with Guido Cavalcanti and Cino da Pistoia he explored new ways with this style of Italian love poetry and the three of them became leaders in this new form of verse.
Statue of Dante, Uffizi Gallery, Florence - Photo: JoJan
He took part in several attempts by the White Guelphs to regain power, but these failed due to deceit and treachery which made him bitter and he distanced himself from politics, accepting that he could not return to Florence. He first went to Verona and then moved to Sarzana in Liguria and is supposed to have also lived in Lucca for a while. There is no evidence that he left Italy at any time during his exile from Florence.
When Beatrice died in 1290 Dante sought refuge in Latin literature before dedicating himself to philosophical studies at religious schools. This study, unhindered by the daily business of politics which used to take up much of his time, heightened his command of literature and philosophy and his writing during this time became grander and more assured than before. It was around this point that one of his greatest works, Commedia, was conceived.
A fresco of Dante
After this Florence was forced to grant an amnesty to any of those remaining in exile, including Dante, but for this, Florence required public penance in addition to a heavy fine. Dante refused, preferring to remain in exile but when Florence was finally defeated, Dante's death sentence was changed to house arrest on condition that he went to Florence to swear he would never enter the town again. He refused to go, and his death sentence was not only retained but also extended to his sons. Dante always felt that his exile from the town he loved had stripped him of his identity and heritage and spent the rest of his life hoping that he would be invited back on moral terms.
In 1318 he was invited to Ravenna by Prince Guido Novello da Polenta and Dante accepted the invitation. He finished another major work here, Paradiso, before he died in 1321, aged 56. He is believed to have contracted malaria whilst undertaking a diplomatic mission to Venice. He was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore (later called San Francesco) and later, Bernardo Bembo, praetor (an ancient Roman magistrate) of Venice, erected a tomb for him in 1483.
Dante's tomb in Ravenna - Photo: Genuae