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Authors: Dante Alighieri

The Portable Dante


was born in Florence in 1265 and belonged to a noble but impoverished family. He followed a normal course of studies, possibly attending University in Bologna, and when he was about twenty he married Gemma Donati, by whom he had several children. He had first met Bice Portinati, whom he called Beatrice, in 1274, and when she died in 1290, he sought distraction by studying philosophy and theology and by writing the
Vita nuova.
During this time he became involved in the strife between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines; he became a prominent White Guelf, and when the Black Guelfs came to power in 1302, Dante, during an absence from Florence, was condemned to exile. He took refuge first in Verona, and after wandering from place to place—as far as Paris and even, some have said, to Oxford—he settled in Ravenna. While there he completed
The Divine Comedy,
which he began in about 1308. Dante died in Ravenna in 1321.

is a graduate of Rutgers University, the University of Florence, and The John Hopkins University. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he is the author of a number of books and articles. Best known for his translations of the Italian classics (Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and the poetry of the Middle Ages) as well as his Dante criticism, he holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Italian at Indiana University.

The Portable

Translated, Edited and with an
Introduction and Notes by




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First published in the United States of America by Penguin Books 1995
This edition published 2003

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Copyright © Penguin Books USA Inc., 1995
All rights reserved

The Divine Comedy: Inferno

This translation first published in the United States of America by Indiana University Press 1971

Published in Penguin Books 1984

Copyright © Indiana University Press, 1971

Copyright © Mark Musa, 1984

The Divine Comedy: Purgatory

This translation first published in the United States of America by Indiana University Press 1981

Published in Penguin Books 1984

Copyright © Mark Musa, 1981

The Divine Comedy: Paradise

This translation first published in the United States of America by Indiana University Press 1984

Published in Penguin Books 1986

Copyright © Mark Musa, 1984

Vita Nuova

This translation first published in the United States of America by Indiana University Press 1973

Published in Great Britain in different format by Oxford University Press

Reprinted by arrangement with Indiana University Press

Copyright © Indiana University Press, 1973


Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321

[Selections. English. 1995]

The portable Dante / edited and with an introduction and notes by Mark Musa.

p. cm.

“A Penguin original”.

Includes bibliographical references.

EISBN: 9781101573822

1. Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321. Translations into English. I. Musa, Mark. II. Title.

PQ4315. A3M87 1995

851l—dc20 94-15988

Printed in the United States of America

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Editor’s Introduction

Translator’s Note






Selected Bibliography


in Florence in May 1265 in the district of San Martino, the son of Alighiero di Bellincione d’Alighiero. His mother died when he was young; his father, whom he seems to avoid mentioning as much as possible, remarried and produced two more children. The Alighieri family may be considered noble by reason of the titles and dignities bestowed upon its members, although by Dante’s time it seems to have been reduced to modest economic and social circumstances. According to Dante himself, the family descended from the noble seed of the Roman founders of the city (
XV. 73-78). This claim remains largely unsubstantiated, as nothing is known of Dante’s ancestors before his great-great-grandfather, Cacciaguida, who was knighted by Emperor Conrad III and died, as Dante tells us, during the Second Crusade, about 1147 (
XV. 139-148).

Like most of the city’s lesser nobility and artisans, Dante’s family was affiliated with the Guelf party, as opposed to the Ghibellines, whose adherents tended to belong to the feudal aristocracy. These two parties came into Italy from Germany, and their names represent italianized forms of those attached to the two quarreling houses of Germany, Welf and Waiblingen. In Italy the parties were at first identified with broad allegiances: to papal authority for the Guelfs, and to imperial authority in the case of the Ghibellines. Eventually, however, this church-empire distinction disappeared, and the two parties became less clearly defined
in outlook and purpose. The local connotations of the parties became much more important as their issues and activities became tied to geographical situation, rivalries of neighborhoods in the same city, family feuds, and private interests. Thus the Guelfs and Ghibellines of Florence were factions peculiar to that region alone.

As far as one can tell from his writings, Dante’s recollections of family life were pleasant ones. It is fairly certain that he received a careful education, although little of it is known precisely. He may have attended the Franciscan lower schools and, later, their schools of philosophy. The family’s modest social standing did not prevent him from pursuing his studies, nor was he hindered in his effort to lead the life of a gentleman. His writings indicate that he was familiar with the ways of the country as well as with city life. Dante probably studied rhetoric with the scholar and statesman Brunetto Latini (ca. 1220-1294), from whom he says that he learned “how man makes himself eternal” (
XV. 85), during a period when he was driven by a desire to master the techniques of style. It seems that Brunetto fed his keenness for study and learning, and this may account for a trip in about 1287 to Bologna, where Dante elected to pursue his study of rhetoric in the highly renowned school there.

Dante tells us that as a young man he taught himself the art of writing verse (
Vita nuova
III. 9). In time he became acquainted with the best-known troubadours of Florence, corresponding with them and circulating his own love lyrics. For the youthful Dante, writing poetry gradually became an important occupation, nourished by his sincere love for art and learning, and his interest in the nature of genuine love. Equally significant at this time was his friendship with the wealthy, aristocratic poet Guido Cavalcanti (ca. 1255-1300). Guido exerted a strong influence on his early poetic endeavors. This period was also marked by the death of Dante’s father (ca. 1283), and by his marriage to Gemma, a gentlewoman of the Donati family. The marriage had been arranged by Dante’s father in 1277, well before his death. Gemma and Dante had two sons, Pietro and Jacopo, and at least one daughter. (There exist the names of two daughters, Antonia and Beatrice, but they could refer to the same person, the second, Beatrice, being a monastic name.) Dante’s marriage and children seem to have had little influence on him as a poet; nowhere in his works does he make direct reference to his wife.

Besides his associations with Guido Cavalcanti and Brunetto Latini, Dante knew well the notary Lapo Gianni and became acquainted later
on with the youthful Cino da Pistoia. Both of these men were poets. Dante was also on friendly terms with the musician Casella (
II. 76-114), about whom there exists little information. The artists Oderisi da Gubbio and Giotto may also have been among his acquaintances. A comrade chosen with far less discrimination, perhaps, was Forese Donati (
XXIII), a kinsman of Dante’s wife and a regular rogue, with whom Dante had an exchange of reproaches and coarse insults in sonnet form. The exchange may have begun only as a joke in a moment of good humor.

Along with Guido, Dante refined and developed his poetic skill in Latin and began to distinguish himself in his art from the other writers of the time. In their poetry Dante and Guido presented their ideas on the nature of love and its ability to contribute to the inner perfection of man. Guido, however, was more interested in natural philosophy than was Dante, who, because of his more artistic orientation, favored the study and emulation of the Latin poets. He particularly admired Virgil, from whom he learned so much about matters of style. Though Dante was deeply influenced in his writing by the example of his friend Guido, he eventually responded to his own artistic temperament, to his study of Virgil, and to the example provided by a more recent poetic master, Guido Guinizzelli (ca. 1230-1276). The result was a shift to composition in the vernacular, a poetic innovation that is praised by Bonagiunta Orbicianni in the
(XXIV. 49-62).

Dante’s life and writings were also influenced by his acquaintance with a noble Florentine woman of outstanding grace and beauty. He had named her among the sixty fairest women of Florence, but it was not until later that the poet truly “discovered” her. This revelation proved to be an extremely powerful force in his artistic development. According to the testimony of Boccaccio and others, the woman, called Bice, was the daughter of Folco Portinari of Florence. She later became the wife of the banker Simone de’ Bardi. Dante called her Beatrice, “the bringer of blessings, ” the one who brought bliss to all who looked upon her.

Dante claims to have met Beatrice for the first time when he was nine years old. Theirs was not an easy relationship, for Beatrice took offense at the attention he paid other women. The resulting rebuff caused Dante great sorrow. His emotional attachment to Beatrice brought him to idealize her more and more as the guide of his thoughts and feelings, as the one who would lead him toward the inner perfection that is the ideal of every noble mind. In his poems Dante praises his
lady as a model of virtue and courtesy, a miraculous gift given to earth by God to ennoble and enrich all those who appreciated her qualities. Such an exalted view of this woman was bound to carry with it the fear that she would not remain long in this life; in fact, premature death did befall her. Beatrice’s father died first, and then she died on June 8, 1290. Dante was overcome with grief at his loss. There followed a period of contemplating Beatrice’s significance after her death. After the first anniversary of her death, another woman, who is never mentioned by name, succeeded in winning Dante’s affection for a brief time. However, Beatrice soon came vividly to mind again, and while feeling guilt and remorse for having neglected the memory of her, Dante reaffirmed his fidelity to her. This experience prompted him to gather together all the poems he had written in her honor, in an attempt to celebrate her virtue. This collection, to which Dante added a commentary on the meaning and occasion of each poem, became the little volume that he called the
Vita nuova
New Life
), about which I shall have more to say later on in this essay.

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