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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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Have you ever spent long hours fantasizing some horrible
punishment for a person who has done something bad to you?
The torture must be perfect: painful, yet relating somehow to
the specific wrong the person has done you.

Carry that fantasy to another level. Imagine everyone, past and
present, good and bad, getting, finally, exactly what he or she

Back in the early 1300s in Italy, a man carried through with
that fantasy-on paper, of course. He literally told everyone
where to go, Hell, Purgatory, or Heaven, and went on to
design specific punishments or rewards based on the life each
person led. He laid them all end to end and then made himself
a character (actually a not-too-bright lost soul) who walks the
entire length of the universe.

The work is called the Divine Comedy. The author is Dante

Dante was born in Florence, Italy, in 1265. This would be one
of those meaningless, soon forgotten facts if it were not so
significant for the works Dante produced. It happened to be
the wrong place at the wrong time.

At the time of Dante's birth, Florence was a prosperous city-
state, full of greedy merchants, dedicated scholars, and
warring political factions. The two most influential families in
Florence were the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs
were supporters of the Pope and the Ghibellines supported the
German emperor, who claimed power in Italy. Shortly before
Dante was born, the Ghibellines were ousted from power, and
the Guelphs, with whom Dante's family was associated, took

Dante began his own political career in 1295 when the
Guelphs were firmly established and many of the Ghibellines
were still in exile. At that time, however, a split began in the
Guelphs; the two sides became known later as the Whites and
the Blacks. The crisis came to a head in 1300 when the
Whites, who were in power, decided to prosecute the Blacks
who had gone to Rome to ask the Pope to intervene on their
behalf. (Remember, the Guelphs had backed the Pope-he
owed them a favor.) Dante was one of the six White leaders
responsible for this decision. In 1301, the next year, the
Blacks staged a successful coup and the White leaders,
including Dante, were sent into exile. In 1302, charged with
graft, hostility against the Pope, and a long list of other
crimes, in his absence Dante was sentenced to death-if he was
ever caught in Florence again.

Consequently, Dante never returned to his home city. This
exile also meant that Dante's fortunes, which were not as large
as his family had once held, were confiscated. He spent the
remainder of his life living at the expense and generosity of
friends. He died in Ravenna in 1321.

Dante's private life is less well defined than his public affairs.
He was betrothed to Gemma Donati in 1277 (remember he
would have been twelve then!) whom he later married. There
were three children: Jacopo, Pietro, and Antonia. (Some of the
historians mention a fourth, Giovanni.) When Dante's sons
were fourteen, they also had to join their father in exile. Both
Jacopo and Pietro later wrote about the Divine Comedy.
Antonia entered a convent and took the name Sister Beatrice.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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