Who was Dante and why was he so important?

How can a poet who lived 700 years ago in the medieval era possibly be so significant in today’s world? While it’s hard to convey the importance of Dante’s place in pioneering the Italian Culture, here we decode why the poet still holds an enduring place in the country’s history.

The early life of Dante

Born in Florence, Italy in 1265, Dante was a poet, moral philosopher, political thinker, but above all a great innovator who is regarded as the father of the Italian language for having made vernacular, i.e. the Tuscan dialect, a noble literary language. What’s more; he is also known as a supreme poet for authoring ‘Divine Comedy’, the first major work written in Italian and a well-recognized masterpiece of literature that has inspired many artists, poets, and writers over the centuries.

In addition to writing the Divine Comedy, Dante wrote a number of love poems including Vita Nova, composed in 1292-1293, that celebrates his love for Beatrice in typical Dolce Stilnovo poetic fashion. That’s not all; he was also widely-regarded for writing Convivio (1303-1308), derived from the Latin “convivium” or “banquet” (of wisdom), which is more of an encyclopedia aimed to guide those who intended to dedicate their lives for the public welfare without having first completed the regular studies.

Did you know that Dante was born into an important Florentine Alighieri family at a time when the political scene was quite grim between Emperors and Popes? Being an avid observer and critic of the political and social scene of his day, especially in Florence (his hometown), he strictly criticized the malpractice of the rulers in addition to opposing the ecclesiastical hierarchies and ending up being exiled from Florence in 1301. Even in exile, he didn’t stop his criticisms against the corrupt political system.

After coming back from exile, he wrote another important work called Monarchy (1310-1313), which highlighted his political viewpoint and outlines the roles and responsibilities of the two greatest authorities of that time: the Emperor and the Pope.

Taken altogether, these texts speak for the greatness of Dante, a real genius of humanistic culture, an artist who spent most of his life investigating the meaning and significance of his community, with extraordinary finesse and sensitivity.

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