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The Dante Alighieri Society
Andrew Pearce   11 September 2006

The Liverpool branch was very active in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, with the support of the Italian consul and the Department of Italian at the University of Liverpool. The consulate’s move to Manchester and the closing of the Italian Department the Society caused a fall in membership but is a revival is under way with the establishment of a consulate in Birkenhead and the restoration of some Italian studies at the University. The branch holds talks, discussions and social events. In late October the Giornata is held at which two lectures are given, together with lunch.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was born at Florence of a Guelf family. In 1277 he was formally engaged to his future wife, Gemma Donati. In 1289 he took part in military operations against Arezzo and Pisa. During this early period of his life he fell in love with a girl whom he celebrates under the name of Beatrice in the Vita nuova and the Divina commedia. Her identity has been much discussed but it is generally accepted that she was Bice Portinari, who became the wife of Simone de Bardi. When she died in 1290, Dante was grief-stricken and sought consolation in the study of philosophy. In 1295 he became active in the political life of Florence. In June 1300 he was one of the municipal priors who banished the leaders of the White and Black Guelf factions, and in 1301 he was one of the three envoys sent to Rome to negotiate with the Pope. He never entered Florence again, for during his absence the Blacks seized power and Dante, whose sympathies were with the Whites, became victim of political reprisals and for the rest of his life led a wandering existence. He died at Ravenna.

His first work (apart from some lyric poems) was the Vita nuova (1290-4) which brings together 13 poems, most relating to his love of Beatrice. A linking prose narrative tells the story of his love. There is a translation by D.G. Rossetti, 1861. The Convivio (1304-8) is an unfinished philosophical work, planned as a series of 14 treatises, each in the form of a prose commentary on one of his own canzoni. The four completed draw on numerous philosophical sources, especially Aristotle. The Latin treatise De Vulgari Eloquentia, begun shortly before the Convivio, is also unfinished but the completed part consists of an enquiry into the form of vernacular language most suitable for lofty poetry, followed by the beginning of a discussion of the technique of the canzone. It is a pioneering work in the field of linguistic history. The Monarchia (1309-12) is a Latin treatise on the universal empire and the relations between Emperor and Pope. His masterpiece, written in the vernacular, the Divina commedia, has had a huge influence on English writers and was known by Roscoe. It may have been begun as early as 1307, or possibly not until 1314 or later, and was finished just before his death. The Divina commedia is a description of hell, purgatory and paradise. In his visit to hell and purgatory, Dante is guided by Virgil and there he converses with his lost friends or former foes. Paradise is a vision of a world of beauty, light and song, where the poet’s guide is Beatrice. The poem is a work of moral edification, symbolism and allusions based on Dante’s wide knowledge of philosophy, astronomy, natural science and history.

Dante’s name first occurs in English in Chaucer. He was read and admired by many including Milton, Byron, Shelley, Rossetti and T.S.Eliot. He has been translated many times and illustrated by Blake among others.