Born in Florence, Italy, in 1265, Dante
Alighieri led a distinguished and dramatic life. Well-educated and of noble lineage, Dante was
betrothed to Gemma Donati when he was a child. During the Middle Ages, marriage betrothals determined
family alliances so although Dante and Gemma had at least three children, Pietro, Jacopo, and Antonia
(Dante's work sometimes mentions a third son, Giovanni), the love of Dante's life was Beatrice.
Dante canonized his courtly love for Beatrice in many of his works including TheDivine Comedy
. Throughout his life, Dante reveled in the misery of admiring Beatrice from afar and his later
works show that Beatrice became Dante's inspiration even though she died when she was only twenty-five
Dante first got
involved in politics in 1289 when he fought for Florence against the city of Arezzo. Later, Dante
became a prior for the city of Florence and an ambassador to San Gimignano. Two political factions
developed during this period: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Middle-class merchants who wanted
to rid Italy of its foreign emperor and increase the power of the individual communes made up the Guelph
party while feudal aristocrats who wanted to retain the power of the emperor in Italy made up the Ghibelline
party. Additionally, two factions divided the Guelph party: the Whites, those who favored imperial
rule, and the Blacks, those who favored papal rule. Dante opposed papal interference in secular
affairs of city governance so he, as a Guelph, sided with the Whites against the Blacks. In 1301,
Charles of Valois came to Florence under the pretense of helping make peace between the Whites and the
Blacks. He was, however, an ally of the Blacks. Charles' party took over the city and exiled
Dante and other White partisans. Although he tried, Dante was never to return to Florence again.
Dante spent the rest of his life writing poems, often critical of current leaders, and remaining active
in politics in various cities including Verona and Ravenna, where he died in 1321 at age 56.