In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dante Alighieri

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
  • Collected Works
  • Florence and Italy
  • Politics and Empire
  • The Church and the Mendicant Orders
  • The Afterlife
  • Allegory and Symbolism
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Intellectual Traditions
  • Theology
  • Islam
  • Science

Medieval Studies Dante Alighieri
Chris Kleinhenz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0027


As the consummate author of the European Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri (b. 1265–d. 1321) left his mark on a number of areas—poetry, history, political science, linguistics, philosophy, theology, iconography, and more. In each of his works Dante engaged a particular topic, for which he provided an in-depth analysis. These topics range from the very personal—some might say “autobiographical”—account of his early love for Beatrice (Vita nuova, 1292–1294) to more academic disquisitions, such as the definition of a noble literary language for Italy and the mechanics of Italian prosody (De vulgari eloquentia, 1303–1305), the nature and importance of philosophy (Convivio, 1304–1307), and the proper relationship between pope and emperor (Monarchia, 1317). His most important work is the all-encompassing allegorical poem La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy, 1308–1321), which depicts the universal cosmic order as seen in the three realms of the afterlife (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) through which the character Dante travels as a pilgrim, guided by Virgil, Beatrice, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. As T. S. Eliot once noted, “All of Dante’s ‘minor works’ are important, because they are works of Dante” (Dante [London: Faber and Faber, 1965], p. 55), and this is certainly true. His minor works shed light on the workings of his mind and on many of the major issues of his day. The immediate success of The Divine Comedy is manifested in the numerous commentaries that accompanied its transmission via manuscripts; and the almost seven-hundred-year tradition of critical scholarship on Dante’s works makes it a complex area of study.

General Overviews

There is no shortage of books and articles about Dante Alighieri, his life and works, and the age in which he lived. Some of the volumes listed in this section (Cosmo 1947, Bergin 1965, Quinones 1998) follow the standard practice of presenting the life of the author and his times, followed by synopses of his works with some critical commentary. Other studies, such as Anderson 1980, Scott 2004, and Ascoli 2008, depart from this formula, preferring to present a more synthetic presentation of the material. Although dated, Vossler 1929 provides an engaging introduction to Dante within the larger medieval context. Jacoff 2007 has assembled a fine group of scholars as contributors to an essay collection that covers multiple aspects of Dante’s life and works.

  • Anderson, William. Dante the Maker. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.

    Anderson attempts to present a synthetic view of Dante and his works, contextualizing them culturally and historically and investigating the nature of the creative process and its manifestations in the Florentine poet.

  • Ascoli, Albert Russell. Dante and the Making of a Modern Author. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    An innovative and comprehensive study of the transformation of Dante as a writer and an authority figure. Looks at his works and his relationship to the history and theory of authorship both in the Middle Ages and in the modern world.

  • Bergin, Thomas G. Dante. New York: Orion, 1965.

    Standard account of the poet’s life and works.

  • Cosmo, Umberto. A Handbook to Dante Studies. Translated by David Moore. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1947.

    A translation of Guida a Dante, first published in 1947. A good overview of the life and works of Dante with many (now dated) bibliographical references. A revised edition of Cosmo’s book is by Bruno Maier (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1962) with updated bibliographical items.

  • Jacoff, Rachel, ed. Cambridge Companion to Dante. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Contains seventeen commissioned essays that provide an overview of Dante’s life, works, and times as well as his reception by commentators, imitators, and translators.

  • Quinones, Ricardo J. Dante Alighieri. 2d ed. Boston: Twayne, 1998.

    Standard treatment of the life and works of Dante with a final chapter “Dante in Our Time,” which assesses late-20th-century trends in Dante criticism in North America.

  • Scott, John A. Understanding Dante. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

    A magisterial overview of the life and works of Dante.

  • Vossler, Karl. Mediæval Culture: An Introduction to Dante and His Times. 2 vols. Translated by William Cranston Lawton. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929.

    English translation of the second edition of Die göttliche Komödie (1925; originally published in 1907–1910). A detailed presentation of the cultural history that surrounds the poem—religion, philosophy, ethical and political thought, literary backgrounds—together with an extensive analysis of The Divine Comedy. Volume 1: The Religious, Philosophic, and Ethico-Political Background of the Divine Comedy; Volume 2: The Literary Background and the Poetry of the Divine Comedy.

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