Considered the father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri was born in the heart of Florence in 1265, to a family of no great social distinction. During his late teens he became involved with the stilnovisti, a group of young poets forging radical new paths in vernacular poetry. Italian was at the time considered an inferior literary medium to Latin, but Dante’s use of Florentine dialect elevated its status and it ultimately became the standard literary Italian as well as influencing the course of literature, inspiring John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Tennyson, and many more.
From 1295, Dante was actively involved in the political life of the city, elected to the prestigious role as one of the priors of the Signoria at the age of 36. However, while visiting Rome in 1302, he was sentenced in absentia to a fine of 5000 florins for a number of false charges including bartering, extortion and fraud as the result of an ongoing political feud. Thus exiled from the city, he began a peripatetic lifestyle.
He was enamoured with Beatrice Portinari, who he immortalised in his greatest work, the Divine Comedy, a 14,233-line allegorical journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. It is said that Dante was inspired for his description of Hell by the Orrido di Botri, a spectacular limestone gorge near Lucca which he saw when staying in nearby Montefegatesi, following his exile from Florence.
His La Vita Nuova, (The New Life) is another major work, predating the Divine Comedy, that is a collection of lyric poems (sonnets and songs) with commentary in prose, with many references to his love for Beatrice.
He died from malaria in 1321 near Ravenna, where he is buried.