Seven hundred years have passed since Dante died in Ravenna in 1321. This post is a tribute to his memory. The Western civilization was influenced by his contribution. Such cases of extraordinary people are rare in history.
From the end of classical antiquity until Dante’s birth there was no major writer or scientist in Europe. Many factors contributed to this dark period of history. Religion was one of them. Another one was rulers’ focus on conflicts instead of education.
But let’s return to Dante, who was born in Florence in May 1265. His life was not that extraordinary. He was a modest politician exiled in 1301 from the city. He did everything that was expected from someone of his condition. Dante participated in a battle and obtained political jobs. He was married and had four children. He was also a poet, nothing extraordinary, due to the lack of other types of entertainment at that time. Perhaps the most surprising fact about Dante was that he was a chess player. Quite uncommon in the thirteen century. But, of course, we don’t talk about Dante seven hundred years later because he was a chess player.
If Dante lived a normal life, then what makes him so remarkable?
He was thinking differently than his contemporaries. And this survived through ages with his poems. People realized that his perspective is fascinating and started thinking about that.
In a time when everyone was busy fighting for small territories, Dante considered himself a citizen of the world. He said, “to me, the world is one native country, like the sea is to fish”. “Imagine there’s no countries”, said John Lennon some 700 years later.
In a time when poets were writing in Latin, Dante wrote in Italian, the language spoken by lower social classes in the Peninsula. This way his poetry reached everyone. It also had a major contribution to the development of the Italian language.
In a world governed by frivolous courtly love, Dante wrote about spiritual love. In fact, love was his main motivation. He first saw Beatrice Portinari in Florence when he was 9 and she was 8 and fell in love with her. He loved her until the end of his life. Yet, he married another woman when he was young. It was a conventional marriage arranged by his parents. Probably, to change his mind from Beatrice who was in a superior social class to him. That did not make him love Beatrice less.
Unfortunately, Beatrice died young, aged 24, in 1290. After Beatrice’s death, Dante withdrew into intense study and began composing poems dedicated to her memory. In “La Vita Nouva” he promised to write at some later time about her “that which has never been written of any woman.”
He did that when he wrote the “Divina Commedia”. He worked twelve years to complete this masterpiece. He wrote it while he was in exile. Being in exile helped Dante learn many things from different Italian cities. At that time, Italian territory was split into many republics around the major cities. This explains why “Divina Commedia” contains most of the things known to men until the early fourteen century.
The “Divina Comedia” depicts the pilgrimage of Dante through Hell and Purgatory accompanied by the poet Virgil. Dante eventually reaches Paradise where he meets Beatrice. The poem consists of 14233 verses grouped in 100 cantos. The most famous verse from “Divina Commedia” is “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate”. Yet my favorite verse is the last one, “L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle”. A statement that, above all, love is the most powerful force in the universe.
As you all know, we learn from the difficult things that life put in front of us. Going out of the comfort zone and accepting the change is a healthy habit. Dante conveyed his sufferance from Beatrice’s death and from being exiled into a book that broke the conveniences of his time. He made a breakthrough in literature. This way he influenced people over the ages.
I find it amazing that although Dante was the first Italian poet, yet he is considered the most important Italian poet. He did not build his literary work starting from predecessors. He served as an example for poets that come after him.
Dante proved that you don’t have to be a superhero living an extraordinary life or a vocal leader to change the world.