Boy meets girl and falls in love. Instantly. At the age of nine, the Italian Dante Alighieri met Beatrice Portinari, and he fell in love. It was however the time of arranged marriages and he could not marry her. This is the poem about a woman falling in love with a man and the poet was probably wishing things would have turned out differently.
About the poet
Durante degli Alighieri was the man who gave Italy the greatest literary work ever written. It is considered as the greatest poem of the Middle Ages. But there is a good chance that you did not hear of Durante degli Alighieri but you heard of Dante Alighieri. They’re both the same person.
Dante was born somewhere around the year 1265 in the city of Florence. At that time, this city was the capitol of the Republic of Florence. The evidence from his birthyear is found in his masterpiece The Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia). In the section Inferno, he states that he is in the midway of his journey (life). Dante did not refer directly to the Bible, but is safe to assume that he was referring to Psalm 89:10. This Psalm is containing a reference to the average lifespan of 70 years. When taken into consideration that the things in his book took place in the year 1300, it’s fine to assume that Dante was at that time 35 years old. In the section Paradiso, he talks about the sign of Gemini, when he was born. In 1265, the sun was in Gemini between May and June.
It’s hard to find real evidence for the descent of Dante. There isn’t much documented about his family. His father supposedly was a supporter of the White Guelphs, but was not forced into exile after this political movement was defeated by the Ghibellines in the Battle of Montaperti.
The Guelphs was a faction that supported the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). The Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire – that consisted of parts of Germany and Northern Italy. The battle between the two factions that we now know as the Battle of Montaperti was considered to be the bloodiest battle they fought. The battleground was situated in Tuscany and the date for this battle was September 4 1260. The Ghibellines won this battle.
Dante’s father, Alighiero di Bellincione, was a moneylender. He was married to Bella. They had one child together: Dante. After Bella’s death – Dante was ten years old-, his father remarried Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. The couple had two children: Francesco and Gaetana.
Because of this battle, many Guelphs were forced into exile. Dante’s father stayed in Florence and thus it is believed that he did not play an important role at that time.
When Dante was twelve years old, it was decided that he would marry Gemma di Manetto Donati, the daughter of Manetto Donati. At that time, Dante was already in love with someone else. She would eventually marry the son of a banker, Simone dei Bardi. The love must have probably come from one side, since they supposedly have met only twice in a period of nine years. This may well have been an outcome of his fulfilment to come up with something poetic. The number three or multiples of that number is a reference to the Holy Trinity in Christianity.
Unlike Beatrice, Gemma was never mentioned in the work that Dante wrote. Still, they had three children together (Pietro, Jacopo and Antionia).
On June 11 1289 Dante fought as a cavalryman during the Battle of Campaldino. This battle was won by the Guelphs and this made the way for the dominance of this faction in Florence. At the time the battle was held, Dante was 24 years old.
From that moment, it’s uncertain what Dante was really up to. He supposedly was speaker at political meetings in the Florence Republic. He could have been part of the city’s council as well. He did join the Physicians’ and Apothecaries Guild in that period, but he was more interested in a political career than one as a pharmacist. This made it possible to write, since many books were sold through apothecaries’ stores.
Even though the Battle of Campaldino was set in the advantage of the Guelphs, the city wasn’t free of unrest. The Guelphs split into the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs. Dante joined the first faction. The Black Guelphs were expelled from Florence. A mediation between the groups was ordered by Pope Boniface VIII and Dante was one of the mediators. When visiting Rome, he was asked to stay there. In the meantime, Florence was pretty much destroyed by the Black Guelphs under the leadership of Charles of Valois. Starting from November 1 1301 the city was captured in six days. A new government was installed and the role of the White Guelphs was over. Since Dante was one followers of this faction, he was forced to go into exile. He was also accused of corruption and he was held responsible, as he was the city’s prior, for the financial wrongdoings. He was also sentenced to pay a fine, which he never did pay. He believed that he had nothing to do with this all. All his assets were frozen and he tried several times to restore the order as it was before. When this did not succeed, he went to Verona, where he stayed with Bartolomeo I della Scala. From that moment on, he moved to Sarzana and later in Lucca. There is no real evidence that Dante visited cities as Oxford or Paris when he was a guest of a woman called Gentucca. Dante believed that Henry VII, the Holy Roman Emperor, could restore the power of the White Guelphs. He wrote several letters to the emperor.
It was Baldo d’Aguglione, who pardoned most of the White Guelphs. Dante wasn’t under the lucky ones. His letters to Henry VII formed the basis for this. The emperor decided it was now time to invade the city. Dante was at that time in no position to participate. The reasons might have been that he was not sure that his city should be relieved by foreign troops and the fact that even the White Guelphs turned him down. Even when he did participate, there is a good chance that the White Guelphs themselves removed him from the passages about this invasion. This would mark the definitive exile of Dante. When Henry VII died in 1313, all hope was lost for him to ever return to Florence. He got an offer from Cangrande I della Scala to stay in Verona. When the military officer who controlled Florence, the Uguccione della Faggiuola, ordered the amnesty for all those who were exiled in 1315, Dante could only return after he would have paid a fine. He refused. At that time, his death sentence was commuted to house arrest. This sentence was passed onto his sons as well, should Dante die. Death would eventually follow, when returning from a diplomatic mission to Venice (1321). It is believed that he contracted malaria. He was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Poer Maggiore. Dante was 56 years old. After more than a century, a proper tomb was made for him in 1483.
The legacy of Dante is not only limited to his Divine Comedy. This man, this writer, this poet, gave Italy it’s language. Instead of other poets from his time, Dante decided to write not in Latin, but in the Tuscan dialect. Others would soon follow him. Therefore, he is considered to be the father of the Italian language. A battle he did won, unlike the other battles in his life.
Dante is mostly remembered for his Divine Comedy. This work is considered to be the most important literary work of the Middle Ages. This is actually one big poem that was written between 1308 and 1320. He finished his work only one year before he died. By that time it was called Comedìa. Later Divina was added by Giovanni Boccaccio. The first printed version dates back to 1555.
About the poem
It would be very easy to quote from his masterpiece. We decide not to do this. This poem, There is a gentle thought, is a love poem. It describes the feelings a woman has for a man. She is forced to think about her life and what she wants. It is probably the way Dante wanted Beatrice to see him. She was probably unware of the impression she made on Dante.
There is a gentle thought
By Dante Alighieri
There is a gentle thought that often springs
to life in me, because it speaks of you.
Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true,
the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.
‘Who is this’ the mind enquires of the heart,
‘who comes here to seduce our intellect?
Is his power so great we must reject
every other intellectual art?
The heart replies ‘O, meditative mind
this is love’s messenger and newly sent
to bring me all Love’s words and desires.
His life, and all the strength that he can find,
from her sweet eyes are mercifully lent,
who feels compassion for our inner fires.’