Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a boy was born to a family of lesser nobility. Though his birthdate has been lost to the ages, we know his approximate birth year, the date of his baptism, and that he was a Gemini. He claimed descent from an ancient line, but we can only trace as far back as a three-greats-grandfather.
Shortly before his tenth birthday, he met a girl who lived nearby, either a few months or one year younger, and became hopelessly smitten. Throughout his life, he loved her intensely, despite only properly meeting her a handful of times and both of them marrying other people (through marriages arranged when they were quite young).
There was a long-running power struggle between competing factions in his region, and at age 24, he took part in a brutal one-day battle which decisively established his side as dominant. During the battle, he panicked and fled, possibly escaping a violent death.
To qualify for political office, he nominally became a pharmacist. Under new laws, nobles could only run for office if they belonged to an arts and crafts guild. The profession wasn’t entirely out of place, since this young man was a writer, and apothecaries sold books in that era.
After several years of a successful political career, the triumphant faction he belonged to split into two camps, and he backed the wrong horse. While he was away on business, the rival group seized control of his city, condemned him to exile, and ordered him to pay a huge fine. If he attempted to return home, he’d be burnt at the stake.
Through the rest of his life, he found shelter in a variety of cities, but never saw his beloved hometown again.
During his early years of exile, he began writing his magnum opus, a long, epic poem to immortalise his lost unrequited love for all eternity. He wrote many love sonnets and a short autobiography about his feelings for her during her lifetime, and was absolutely devastated when she died quite young.
In his poem, he goes on an amazing otherworldly journey with his literary idol, sinking to the lowest, saddest point possible before he gradually begins rising up to happier and more beautiful places. His lost love is his guide through the final leg of his journey, which concludes when he sees the light of God, and with it the perfect union of all realities and the understanding of everything in this world and the next.
He now knows Love is the driving force behind everything in creation.
Since 13/14 September 2021 will be Dante’s 700th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), my theme will be Dante and his world. You’ll learn about topics including:
The Guelphs, the political faction Dante supported, and their enemies the Ghibellines.
Malarial fever, the sickness which killed Dante at age 56.
Terza rima, a poetic style he created.
Virgil, Dante’s idol and his guide through Hell and most of Purgatory.
Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss, which depicts one of the most famous stories of The Divine Comedy.
The Wood of the Self-Murderers, an artwork by William Blake, also based on events from The Divine Comedy.
Brunetto Latini, Dante’s guardian after his father died.
Florence (Firenze), Dante’s beloved hometown.
Beatrice Portinari, Dante’s great unrequited love.
I began reading Laurence Binyon’s translation of The Divine Comedy in late 2003. Since it was annoying to constantly look at footnotes to learn who all these mythological and historical figures were, I put it away for a few months. I also hated the dated Elizabethan language.
I decided to give it another go in early 2004, and what a difference ignoring most of the incessant footnotes and mentally translating the Elizabethan language into modern English made! Once I began focusing on the beautiful poetry and heart of the story, I fell passionately in love with Dante. He’s been one of my literary idols ever since.
One day I’m going to write an alternative history where Dante marries Beatrice.
My names blog will continue the Dante love with Medieval Tuscan and Medieval Italian names. Since Italian doesn’t have certain letters, K, Q, W, X, and Y will be wildcard days featuring other Medieval names.