An exiled and wandering figure during his writing lifetime, Dante is now considered Italy’s greatest poet — so much a literary giant that he is generally known by his first name alone. The Divine Comedy, by far his most famous work, is the story of a journey through Hell, Purgatory and finally Paradise. (The journey through Hell is often referred to independently as “Dante’s Inferno.”) In the poem the first two stages are guided by the Roman poet Virgil, and the final visit to Paradise is led by a woman named Beatrice — a girl Dante met briefly when he was nine and whom he idolized the rest of his life. The Divine Comedy is the source of many famous classical images, inspiring works by William Blake and others, and is famous for its inscription on the gates of Hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
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Dante’s principal conventional philosophical work is the Convivio, or Banquet (1304-8), intended as a series of fourteen treatises of which only four are complete. De Monarchia (c. 1313) contains Dante’s political theory. But it is his masterpiece, the Divina Commedia, begun possibly as early as 1307, and finished just before his death, that is universally acknowledged as the literary embodiment of the moral, religious, and philosophical ideals of the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Copyright © 1994, 1996, 2005 by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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