Celebrating Dante, the Father of Italian

20/10/2021 | Rebecca Twose

Buona settimana della lingua italiana nel mondo!

Happy Week of the Italian Language! 

2021 marks 700 years since the death of Dante Alighieri. Dante is often referred to as the “Father of Italian” and had a massive influence on the Italian language that is used today. Remembering the work of Dante is also the theme of the Week of the Italian Language this year, an event that occurs annually in the third week of October.

Throughout the year in Italy, there have been several events to celebrate the work of Dante, with many of these events being accessible online. One of these events was hosted by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence where they provided virtual access to a collection of 88 drawings depicting the Divine Comedy.

Another event that also took place in Florence was a video, directed by Matteo Gazzarri, where dancers from Studio Riprese Firenze performed in empty streets to the words of Dante. Although it is night, the city is illuminated by festive lights and as the description reads, “His words, like a light, will lead out of the darkness of the night.” The video is still available online so take a look below if you’re curious!

The History of Dante

Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in Florence, Italy. Dante was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker.  Dante remained devoted to his native city all his life and he describes how he fought as a cavalryman against the Ghibellines, a banished Florentine party supporting the imperial cause. Dante actively participated in the 1289 Battle of Campaldino between the rival cities of Florence and Arezzo and their respective allies. The two sides in this battle were divided over their support for either the Pope (the Guelphs) or the Holy Roman Emperor (the Ghibellines), a rivalry that lasted over half a century.

Dante’s involvement in politics continued throughout much of his life. Contrary to the government of Florence, Dante wanted to see his city free from papal interference, which he saw as a morally corrupt institution. Dante then began to support the ambitions of the Holy Roman Emperor, although his political allegiance shifted depending on circumstances. In 1302 Dante was eventually exiled for his political views and charged with corruption by officials from a rival political faction. Dante’s sentence was to be burnt at the stake so he choose to move around northern and central Italy to avoid prosecution whilst his wife and children remained in Florence. It was during his wandering exile that Dante went on to write the Divine Comedy. Dante never returned to Florence and eventually died of malaria in 1321 in Ravenna.

Dante’s Influence on the Italian Language 

Dante is often credited with helping create the Italian language as he used the Tuscan vernacular of his time, rather than Latin, to write the Divine Comedy. As a result of Dante, Florentine Tuscan became the lingua franca of Italy and helped to establish Florence as the creative hub of the Renaissance. It also became the language in which Dante’s literary descendants Boccaccio and Petrarch wrote and eventually became known as Italian. Through his words, Dante helped create the very principles of the Italian language that is spoken today.

Dante’s Influence on Pop Culture

Generations of writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, filmmakers and cartoonists have been inspired by the “Divine Comedy”, particularly the “Inferno”. “All hope abandon ye who enter here” is the inscription on the gate to Hell in one of the first English translations of The Divine Comedy by Henry Francis Cary in 1814. Below we have included several examples of where Dante’s work, particularly “All hope abandon ye who enter here”, has made an appearance in pop culture:

  • “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” hangs as a warning above the entrance to the Pirates of Caribbean Disney theme park ride
  • Bret Easton Ellis’ black comedy “American Psycho” opens with the epigraph “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”
  • It appears in the videogame World of Warcraft
  • It has been repurposed as a lyric by The Gaslight Anthem
  • Novelist Dan Brown is also commonly associated with Dante due to his novel “Inferno” which has also been adapted as part of a film trilogy starring Tom Hanks
  • Auguste Rodin’s famous “The Kiss” sculpture depicts Paolo and Francesca, the adulterous lovers Dante meets in the second circle of hell
  • The Divine Comedy was also a key inspiration for the Oscar-nominated thriller “Se7en”
  • There is a popular video game called “Dante’s Inferno”
  • Dante is quoted in popular TV series such as “Mad Men”.

We hope you enjoyed reading about Dante and his influence during this year’s Week of the Italian Language! If you have any more interesting facts about Dante please share them in the comments below. If you would like to find out more about Italian during the Week of the Italian Language then check out our previous blog below:

10 facts about the Italian language

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