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Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets in the Western literary tradition. He is so famous that he is simply known by his first name, Dante and he is held to be the national poet of Italy. This literary giant had a decisive impact on the development not only of Italian literature but on many other aspects of the Renaissance.
Dante made a significant contribution to the early Renaissance and many of his ideas and themes were developed by later writers, artists, and thinkers. Dante contributed to the development of humanism, the use of the vernacular in literature and challenged the hegemonic nature of the Church and these helped to generate the cultural and intellectual changes known as the Renaissance, which transformed the world forever.
[[File: Dante One.jpg|200px|thumb|left| A portrait of Dante by Botticelli c 1480]]
==Life of Dante==
The poet was born into one of the leading families in Florence. His mother died when he was twelve and he was contracted while still a young boy in marriage to a girl who belonged to another leading family. At some time, he saw and fell in love with a young girl called Beatrice and she was the love of his life and became his muse. Dante married Gemma Donati, but he remained in love with Beatrice even after her untimely death. The death of his beloved led to the poet studying philosophy and theology, as he sought some meaning in life. Dante like his family belonged to one of the main factions in the city whose politics was often bloody. Florence was divided between the pro-Imperial Ghibellines and those who supported the Papacy known as the Guelfs. The origin of this dispute lay in the various conflicts between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. The poet fought at the Battle of Battle of Campaldino (1289) when the city’s Guelph faction defeated the Arezzo Ghibellines. After the victory the Guelph factions changed the constitution and Dante had to enroll in a Guild, an association of tradesmen to remain a citizen <ref>Gilson, S.A., Dante and Renaissance Florence (Vol. 56) (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005), p 113</ref>. However as was typical of the fractious politics in Late Medieval Italy, the Guelphs soon divided on ideological lines, and they became two mutually hostile factions the White and Black Guelphs. The White Guelphs, the party of Dante eventually expelled their former allies and colleagues. However, the Whites returned with the support of Charles Valois and ousted the Black faction from the government of the city, and this led to the exiling of many prominent Florentines <ref>Gilson, p 114</ref>. Dante was exiled because of trumped up charges of corruption. Dante could have returned to his native city if he swore an oath to the Whites and paid a fine. He refused to do both, and this was typical of the poet who was a man of great integrity<ref>Raffa, Guy P. The Complete Dante worlds: A Reader's Guide to the Divine Comedy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 5</ref>. Moreover, he was party to several attempts to expel the Black Guelphs’ but these were all failures. Dante was now an exile and he was forced to wander Italy and possibly beyond and he was dependent on the generosity of powerful nobles. In 1306 he was in Bologna but was later forced to leave with the other Florentine exiles. It seems that he ended up in Padua and after this, he may have visited Paris. Dante found exile very hard and he wrote ‘how hard a path it is for one who goes ascending and descending others' stairs’’ <ref> Dante, Paradiso, XVII (55–60)</ref>. It was during his period of exile that he was able to concentrate on his poetry and prose works. Despite his literary efforts he remained active both as a politician and a diplomat and he was tireless in his efforts to return to his beloved Florence. All his endeavors to return to his believed home were thwarted. Dante accepted an invitation from the ruler of Ravenna to stay in that city. Here the poet finished the last of his great works and he died in 1321 <ref>Raffa, p. 7</ref>. He was buried with great honors in Ravenna and his remains have not been returned to his native Florence.