Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in Florence, Italy, to a family of moderate wealth that was involved in the complex Florentine political scene. Around 1285, Dante married a woman chosen for him by his family. Despite this, he remained in love with another woman named Beatrice, and continued to yearn for her even after her sudden death in 1290. Three years later, he published Vita Nuova (The New Life), which describes his tragic love for Beatrice.
Around the time of Beatrice's death, Dante began a serious study of philosophy and intensified his political involvement in Florence. He held a number of significant public offices at a time of great political unrest in Italy. In 1302, he was exiled for life by the leaders of the Black Guelphs, the political faction in power at the time. All of Dante's work on The Comedy (later called The Divine Comedy, and consisting of three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) was done after his exile.
He completed Inferno, which depicts a symbolic journey through Hell. Dante roamed from court to court in Italy, writing and occasionally lecturing, until his death from a sudden illness in 1321.
Dante's personal life and the writing of The Comedy were greatly influenced by the politics of late-thirteenth-century Florence. The struggle for power in Florence was a reflection of a crisis that affected all of Italy, and in fact, most of Europe, from the twelfth century to the fourteenth century. The crisis was the struggle between church and state for authority. The main representative of the church was the pope, while the main representative of the state was the Holy Roman Emperor. In Florence, these two loyalties were represented by the Guelph party, which supported the papacy, and the Ghibelline party, which supported royal power. The last...