The author of the Divine Comedy is considered the father of the Italian language, but not only. Here’s how to explain Dante to children
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Why explain Dante to children?
Dante Alighieri is a central figure for the culture of our country: in Italy there is no city or village that does not have a street, a street or a square named after Dante and even the person least accustomed to humanistic reading knows its unmistakable silhouette, if only because it is portrayed on of the two euro coins minted by our Mint.
In short, whether we realize it or not, our daily life “exudes” Dante and even without the need to go into complicated philological questions, it would be good if children familiarized themselves with this character, perhaps developing the awareness that every time they speak (or write) in our beautiful language, they should be a little grateful to the “uncle” Dante. There are also many phrases from Dante for children.
Who was Dante Alighieri?
Dante Alighieri was a Florentine poet and man of letters who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries. In fact, his real name was During by Alighiero degli Alighieri, because at the time not everyone had a surname (only the most important families sported one) and it was customary to identify a person by also mentioning his father.
He was born in 1265 and even if we do not know the exact day, the event takes place between May 21 and June 21, since Dante himself kept us informed that he was of the sign of Gemini because, as a good medieval, he was convinced that the influences of the stars were important in a person’s destiny. Member of a wealthy family (although not among the most prestigious in the city), Dante was very active in the turbulent political life of Florence, which at the time was upset by continuous internal struggles and the hard confrontation between Guelphs (supporters of the Pope) e Ghibellines (supporters of the Empire, the other great authority that reigned in Europe). Dante was a guefo, or rather a White Guelph, who at one point clashed with the faction of the Black Guelphs, who got the better of and drove out their opponents, including Dante himself. Dante in fact from 1302 was exiled from his city (which at the time was a real homeland) and lived as an exile until his death, arrived in 1321. Much of the Divine Comedy was written precisely during the period of exile.
In short, Dante Alighieri was by no means a “bookworm”, but he had a very eventful life!
His most important work is of course the Divine Comedy (indeed, Commedia, Boccaccio added the adjective “divine”), the timeless allegorical poem in which Dante recounts his journey into the afterlife through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, but before his masterpiece he was a poet stilnovista (ie adhering to the canons of the Dolce Stil Novo) and sang the courteous love in the Rhymes youth and in Vita Nova, a kind of autobiographical collection in which Dante ends his maturation process and establishes the link between writing and his vision of Love for Beatrice (his angel-woman), which represents the only feeling capable of elevating the human being.
Dante, however, also wrote of policy (De Monarchia), of his own conception of philosophy and, in general, of the entire human knowledge (Convivio) and also dealt with linguistics with the De Vulgari Eloquentia, a treatise in Latin where he deals with that vulgar language that he himself would have ennobled a few years later with the Divine Comedy.
Why is Dante so important?
Together with his “colleagues” Petrarch and Boccaccio, Dante is considered the “father of the Italian language”. Before Dante, in fact, Latin was the literary language par excellence, while the vulgar (that is, the language of the vulgo, of the people) was reserved only for the daily way of speaking or for compositions of lesser importance.
The Dolce Stil Novo began to undermine this conception but it was Dante Alighieri himself a confer a very high literary and artistic dignity to a dialect – the Florentine vulgar – that became a language real, so much so that centuries later it was taken as a model to structure theItalian modern. Without the Divine Comedy and Dante’s work today, perhaps, we would not speak the same language that we use every minute of our life.
But Dante’s merits do not end there: in the Divine Comedy (the most famous Italian literary work in the world), with its infernal monsters, divine penances and the characters described, the Supreme Poet has in fact given one extraordinary fresco of the Italian medieval society, allowing us to understand more closely how a man of that time could reason.
Dante’s Inferno is the most cited and known part of the Comedy, as well as the most fascinating (even for a child). Here in fact Dante indulges in inventing very imaginative (and often truculent) penalties for the damned following the principle of retaliation, who regulates the punishments by “reversing” the guilt or making them similar to the sins committed. A few examples? Just as in life they let themselves be carried away by passions, so i lustful they are tossed around forever by one divine storm (retaliation by analogy). The sloth instead, who in life never made a decision and have always remained still, in Hell they have to run continuously pricked by swarms of insects.
Another great element of charm are the infernal monsters, often borrowed from mythology, such as Minos, the judge who decides the target group of the damned or Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the third circle of Hell.
Dante and Beatrice
Dante’s love for Beatrice it is probably the cornerstone of Dante’s entire work.
Our Supreme Poet was in fact married to Gemma Donati – with whom he also had four children – but as often happened at the time, his true love was reserved for another woman, Beatrice, who, however, did not reciprocate and died very young. Dante described the appearance of this angelic woman in the Vita Nova and then made one of his own guides, together with Virgil and San Bernardo, in the otherworldly journey narrated in the Divine Comedy.
The love sung by Dante, however, is much more than a passion or a romantic infatuation for a beautiful woman: Dante’s love is a feeling that elevates the soul of man, which makes him better and brings him closer to God, whom the poet identifies with Love itself (“the love that moves the Sun and the other stars”). In this way Beatrice is no longer just a source of inspiration to buy sonnets, but a real angel who saves Dante’s soul!