On this day, poet Dante Alighieri becomes one of six priors of Florence, active in governing the city. Dante’s political activities, which include the banishment of several rivals, lead to his own exile from Florence, his native city, after 1302. He will write his great work, The Divine Comedy, as a virtual wanderer, seeking protection for his family in town after town.
Dante was born to a family with noble ancestry whose fortunes had fallen. His father was a moneylender. Dante began writing poetry in his teens and received encouragement from established poets, to whom he sent sonnets as a young man. At age nine, Dante first caught a glimpse of Beatrice Portinari, also nine, who would symbolize for him perfect female beauty and spiritual goodness in the coming decades. Despite his fervent devotion to Portinari, who did not seem to return his feelings, Dante became engaged to Gemma Donati in 1277, but the two did not marry until eight years later. The couple had six sons and a daughter.
About 1293, Dante published a book of prose and poetry called The New Life, followed a few years later by another collection, The Banquet. It wasn’t until his banishment that he began work on his Divine Comedy. In the poem’s first book, Dante takes a tour through Hell with the poet Virgil as his guide. Virgil also guides the poet through Purgatory in the second book. The poet’s guide in Paradise, however, is named Beatrice. The work was written and published in sections between 1308 and 1321. Although Dante called the work simply Comedy, the work became enormously popular, and a deluxe version published in 1555 in Venice bore the title The Divine Comedy. Dante died of malaria in Ravenna in 1321.