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Dante

party, bianchi, ghibellines, neri, guelfs, charles and florence

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DANTE (orig. DURANTE) ALIGHIERI, dan'ta ale-gya're, Italian poet: b. Florence, May 1265; d. Ravenna, Italy, 14 Sept, 1321. He was of a family belonging to the lower nobil ity and of mixed descent, the Aldighieri, or Alighieri, being originally Teutonic. He lost his father in early life, but his mother watched carefully over his education, which was confided to the eminent philosopher and statesman, Brunetto Latini. He is said to have studied at Bologna, Padua, Naples, and even Paris and Oxford, but we have no means of confirming the statement in any measure. What is tolerably certain is that he had mastered the learning of that age. He was 'a musician and painter, a theologian and linguist of no mean order. Many of his biographers state that it was in 1274, when nine years of age, that he saw for the first time, and ever afterward de votedly loved, Beatrice Portinari. Others af firm that that event took place shortly before her death, in 1290, three years after she had mar ried a noble Florentine, Simone Bardi. His love for her awakened in him a new life; all the powers of his soul were to be henceforth de voted to immortalize her, and we can watch the struggles of his spirit in that record he has left us of his early years, the 'Vita Nuova.' About the period when Dante reached the age of manhood the Guelfs (the Papal or Church party) were predominant in Florence, whence they had, aided by the Pope and Charles, king of Naples, driven the Ghibellines (the imperial or state party). At Arezzo, on the other hand, the Ghibellines had succeeded in exiling the Guelfs, who implored the assistance of their Florentine friends. A war was declared be tween the two cities, which was terminated in June 1289 by the battle of Campoldino, in which the Ghibellines were defeated. Dante was there fighting bravely and contributed not a little to the victory of the Guelfs. In 1291 he married Gemma dei Donati, a daughter of one of the most powerful families of the state, and which belonged to the Guelf faction. By this lady he had seven children, the youngest, Beatrice, being born about 1301. In 1293 a revolution broke out in the city, headed by Giano della Bella, whereby the priors of the trades took the power into their own hands and made nobility a dis qualification for holding office. The following

year, however, Giano della Bella was deprived of power and the nobles disagreeing among themselves and splitting into two factions, the Bianchi and the Neri (the White and the Black), the streets of Florence were continually the scenes of sanguinary fights. In order to check the excesses of the greater nobles, a num ber of the lesser nobility, Dante among them, threw in their lot with the citizens' party. In order to render himself eligible for office Dante had his name inscribed in the books of the physicians and apothecaries, and in June 1300 was nominated a prior of the trades, one of the highest offices in the state. Although leagued by marriage to the Guelf side, Dante was no rampant partisan, and on one occasion, when roused by some fresh act of atrocity he proposed and carried a law to the effect that the heads of the Bianchi and Heti parties should be temporarily banished. It appears that the Bianchi and Neri were originally Guelfs, but the latter were- the extreme Papal party, and the former leaned toward a recon ciliation with the Ghibellines. Dante's sym pathies were with the Bianchi and on the too hasty return of one of the exiles, Guido Caval cant', a friend of the poet's, and one of the Bianchi, Dante was charged with undue par tiality in permitting him to remain in the city. The Neri wrote to the Pope that the Bianchi were making common cause with the Ghibel lines and Boniface VIII sent Charles of Naples to occupy the town and keep down the turbu-' lent spirit of the Florentines. The Neri were allowed, however, to commit the greatest ex cesses unchecked by Charles: many of their ri vals were slain in the open street and their houses burned to the ground; among others that of Dante, who had been sent to Rome by his party to try to influence the Pope in their be half. Taking advantage of his absence, his enemies obtained a decree of banishment against him, together with the heads of his party and he was further condemned to pay a fine of 8,000 florins or have his property con fiscated (January 1302). Two months later a second sentence was launched against him and several of his friends: they were condemned to be burned alive for malversation, peculation anc• usury. The fine he refused to pay, as it would imply a confession of guilt.

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