Dante (Properly Durante) Alighieri
Dante (Properly Durante) Alighieri one of the greatest Christian poets of all times, and, on account of his views of religion and the Church, generally counted among the forerunners of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. He was born at Florence May 8, 1265; according to others, May 27, 1263. He studied philosophy at the universities of Bologna and Padua; later, when an exile, he devoted himself to the study of philosophy at Paris. According to a statement of Boccaccio, he also visited England. In his youth Dante took an active part in the politics of his native city, and in 1300 was for two months one of its two Priori. In the party strife between the Neri (Blacks), the unconditional adherents of the pope, and the Bianchi (Whites), who rather sympathized with the Ghibellines, Dante was one of the leading men of the latter. His party sent him to Rome to counteract the plans of the Neri, who had implored the aid of Boniface VIII. The pope induced Charles of Valois, brother of Philip IV of France, to go to Florence to make peace. Charles recalled the exiled chiefs of the Neri and gave up the houses and the property of the Bianchi to plundering. Many of the prominent men of the party, among them Dante, were banished. Dante never saw his native city again, and his subsequent life was very unsettled. After the last unsuccessful attempt of the "Whites" to re-enter Florence, he probably left Italy for Paris. When emperor Henry VII marched against Rome, Dantp wrote enthusiastic letters in favor of the emperor against the pope. It is thought that his work De monarchia was compiled at the same time. The death of the emperor disappointed his last hope. The last years of his life were spent at Ravenna, where prince Guido Novello da Polenta was his patron. He died Sept. 14, 1321.
The first powerful influence which awakened in him the poetical inspiration was the love which at the age of nine years he conceived for Beatrice Portinari, then eight years old, the daughter of a rich citizen. How pure, chaste, and tender this love was is testified by his first work, the Vita Nuova, which was published about 1300, and consists of a collection of poems, all having reference to his first love (best edition by Marchese Trivulzio, Milan, 1827). Beatrice died early (1290) as the wife of the knight Simone de Bardi, and a few years after her death Dante married a lady named Gemma, of the powerful house of Donati, by whonm he had five or six children. A fruit of the philosophical studies in which he sought consolation for the death of Beatrice was the Convito (Banquet), which was to consist of 15 trattati and 14 canzone, of which, however, only 4 trattati and three canzone were finished (best edition by Trivulzio, Milan, 1826).
But the great work, which has settled for all the ages the reputation of Dante as one of the greatest Christian poets, is his immortal Commedia, or, as it was subsequently called, the Divina Commedia, written in terze rime, and consisting of 100 cantos, of which the first is introductory to the following visions, and 33 are devoted to Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso) each. "The poet is conducted first by Virgil, the representative of human reason, through hell and purgatory, and then by Beatrice, the representative of revelation, and finally by St. Bernard, through the several heavens, where he beholds the triune God. Hell is represented in the poem as a funnel-shaped hollow, formed of gradually contracting circles, the lowest and narrowest of which is at the earth's center. Purgatory is a mountain rising solitary from the ocean on that side of the earth that is opposite to us: it is divided into terraces, and its top is the terrestrial paradise, the first abode of man. From this the poet ascends through the seven planetary heavens, the heaven of the fixed stars, and the 'primum mobile,' to the empyrean, or fixed seat of God. In all parts of the region thus traversed there arise conversations with noted personages, for the most part recently deceased. At one time the reader is filled with the deepest sorrow, at another with horror and aversion; or the deepest questions of the then philosophy and theology are discussed and solved; and the social and moral condition of Italy, with the corruptions of Church and State, are depicted with a noble indignation" (Chambers). The conversations contained in the Divina Commedia give a full expose of most of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion. The creation of the world, the fall of angels and man, and the atonement, are treated of with great fullness. The doctrine that salvation can be found in faith in Christ alone is repeatedly insisted on. The poet in many places complains of the moral, social, and political degeneracy of the time, and of the corruption of the Church and the papal see. He violently inveighs against indulgences and the false veneration of saints, against the preference given to the decretals of the popes over the holy Scriptures, and thrusts three popes in succession into hell. A thorough reformation of the Church in head and members is expected, not from the popes, but from the emperors. "Fifty-two years after the poet's death, the republic of Florence, at the instigation of Boccaccio, set apart an annual sum for public lectures to explain the Divine Comedy to the people in one of the churches, and Boccaccio himself was appointed first lecturer. The example was imitated in several other places in Italy. The works of these men are among the earliest commentaries on Dante that we possess. The number of editions of the work amounts by this time to about 300. Only a few deserve notice. They are, that printed at Fuligno in 1472 — the earliest of all; the Nidobeatine edition at Milan (1478); the first Aldine edition (1502), the first Cruscan edition (1695); that of Volpi (1727); of Venturi (1732); of Lombardi (1791), and with additions and illustrations in 1815, 1821, and 1822; of Dionisi (1795); of Ugo Foscolo (Lond. 1842-1843). A reprint of the Fuligno edition above mentioned, together with those printed at Jesi (1472), at Mantua (1472), and at Naples by Francisco del Tuppo (about 1478), appeared at London in 1858 under the superintendence of Mr. Panizzi, and at the expense of Lord Vernon" (Chambers). Among the most recent editions are those by Bianchi (Florence, 5th ed. 1857) and Karl Witte (Berlin, 1862, 4to and 8vo). The last is regarded as the best from a critical point of view. "The Divina Commedia has been translated into almost all European languages. Two translations of the whole into Latin have been printed, one by Carlo d'Aquino (1728), and lately by Piazza (1848). In French there are a number of translations both in prose and verse. The earliest, by Grangier, in 1596, is still the nearest to the original in form, but none is good. The German translations are numerous, and such as no other modern language can equal in faithfulness. Kannegiesser has translated the whole in the measure and rhyme of the original (Leipsic, 1843, 4th ed.); prince [subsequently king] John of Saxony's translation is said by some to be the best. The chief English translations are Boyd's (1785) and Cary's (1814), in blank verse; Wright's (1833), in triple rhymes; Cayley's, in the original ternary rhyme (the Inferno, 1851; the Purgatorio, 1853; the Paradiso in 1854, with a volume of notes in 1855);' Dr. John Carlyle's, the Inferno, in prose, with a judicious commentary (1849); Fred. Pollock's, in blank verse (1854)" (Chambers). The first complete American translation is by Longfellow (The Divine Comedy of Dante, Boston, 1867, 3 vols.).
Of the other works of Dante, his Latin work, De Monarchia, written in the interest of the emperor against the temporal power claimed by pope Boniface VIII over all secular rulers, is the most important. Dante takes the ground that both powers, like two swords, have been directly ordained by God to support each other. This book became a powerful weapon in the hands of the opponents of the papacy. Pope John XXII forbade it, and ordered it to be burned. The Rime sacre, containing the seven penitential psalms and the Credo in terze rime, were for the first time published in 1752, and their genuineness is still doubted by some.
The religious and ecclesiastical views of Dante have been for centuries, and still are, the subject of an animated controversy. Matthias Flacius placed him in his Catalogus testiun veritatis evangelicae (1556), and since then Protestant writers generally have claimed him as a forerunner of the Reformation, or, at least, as an ardent opponent of many of the worst corruptions prevalent in the Papal Church during the Middle Ages. The Jesuit Harduin, in order to save Dante from the charge of heresy, ascribed the Divina Commedia to a disciple of Wickliffe; but most of the Roman Catholic writers (in particular the Frenchmen Ozanam and Artaud de Montor) maintain that Dante, in spite of his opposition to some abuses in the Church, was, in point of doctrine, a faithful adherent of the Church of Rome. See Baumgarten-Crusius, De Doctrina Dantis Aligerii theologica (1836); Aroux, Dante heretique, revolutionnaire et socialiste (Par. 1854);
Boissard, Dante revolutionnaire et socialiste, mais non heretique (Paris, 1854).
The literature on the life and the works of Dante is immense. The first who wrote a critical life was Pelli (1758), after whom the Italians Dionisi, Orelli and Misserini wrote valuable works. Among the numerous works of Germany on the subject we mention Abeken, Beitrage fir das Studium der gottlichen Komidie Dante's (Berlin, 1826); Schlosser, Dante-Studien (Lpz. 1855); Ruth, Studien iber Dante (Tub. 1853); Wegele, Dante's Leben und Werke (Jena, 1852); Floto, Dante Alighierii; sein Leben und seine Werke (Stutt. 1858); Paur, Ueber die Quellen zur Lebensgeschichte Dante's (Gdrlitz, 1862). The best among recent Italian works is Balbo's Vita di Dante (2 vols. Turin, 1839). A list of all editions, translations, and commentaries on the Divina Commedia is given in Colomab de Batine's Bibliograjia Dantesca (2 vols. Prato, 1845-1848). The best illustrations of the chief works of Dante are from Flaxman (Atlante Dantesco, Milan, 1822), Genelli, and Dord. In 1865, from the 14th to the 16th of May, the sixth centenary of the birth of Dante was celebrated at Florence with immense enthusiasm, and his statue (by Enrico Pazzi in Ravenna) erected at the Piazza della Croce. See Brockhaus, Conversations-Lexicon, s.v.; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 3:286.