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Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

14 September 2005
  Dante Alighieri: Classic Comedian
d. 14 September 1321

Born in Florence, Italy, in 1265, Dante Alighieri stands among the true and lasting giants of Western letters. Unquestionedly the greatest Italian poet, many (I think rightly) laud him as one of the two or three absolute masters of all time. Yeats called him "the chief imagination of Christendom" while Eliot said, "Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them. There is no third." Considering the artistic gifts of Yeats and Eliot, how can we argue?

Dante's Italy was not a united country (some would say this holds true to this day) but mainly a collection of small city-states. While we rightly think of Italy as the cradle of the Renaissance, the late Middle Ages saw the land embroiled in feuds and power struggles between noble families leading to an unending series of inter-state and civil wars. During Florence's May Festival in AD 1300, an accident led to a brawl which soon became a civil war. As heir of a poor but noble family, Dante was one of the city's elected officials. When the dust from the war settled, he and other leaders of his party were overthrown and exiled. He spent the rest of his life in exile, pining for his native Florence.

Dante and Beatrice in HeavenDante's literary star began its ascendence in 1293, when he published the Vita Nuova (The New Life). Through it, he related falling in love with a young girl (Beatrice), finding happiness in thinking of her and looking at her from afar. His Beatrice would return as muse for his greatest work.

Somewhere around 1304, he wrote De Vulgari Eloquentia. It argued that literature and poetry should be written in the "vulgar" (native) tongue of the people rather than in Latin. While not totally novel, this new approach helped usher in the great flood of works written for the masses during the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Indirectly, we might even find a connection to the "vulgar" Bible translations which began to be found, including those of Wycliffe, Luther, and others.

Il Convivio (The Banquet), written at the same time, discussed grammar and poetry. It claimed that some of his own works, especially those in the Vito Nuova, were been largely misunderstood.

In 1313 he tackled the kingdom of the left hand with De Monarchia (On Monarchy), an argument that that secular authority derives directly from God, not through the authority of the Church. However, he would not excuse godless government, noting that the prince should act as any other Christian, being guided by the Church's moral instruction.

We aren't sure when he began writing his masterpiece, the Commedia (Comedy). We need to understand that a "comedy," in the traditional sense, means an account beginning in sorrow, suffering, or other pain and ending in joy. While he gave it the single-word title, Giovanni Boccaccio later referred to it as The Divine Comedy, the name by which most still know it. Apparantly he finished the first of its three parts by 1314, completing the final portion just before his death on 14 September 1321.

The Comedy has since its creation inspired artists to draw, paint, or otherwise render its wonders. Among the most noted are Domenico di Michelino, William Blake, and Gustave Doré, whose interpretation of Dante and Beatrice viewing the highest heaven is shown above.

For more about Dante's life and times, and a more detailed examination of the Comedy, please follow the above links or see the biography from James Kiefer's Hagiographies.
 
Comments:
Didja hear the one about the guy who took the tour of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell?
 
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