Born Dante Alighieri in the spring of 1265 in Florence, Italy, he was known familiarly as Dante. His family was noble, but not wealthy, and Dante received the education accorded to gentlemen, studying poetry, philosophy, and theology. His first major work was Il Vita Nuova, The New Life. This brief collection of 31 poems, held together by a narrative sequence, celebrates the virtue and honor of Beatrice, Dante's ideal of beauty and purity. Beatrice was modeled after Bice di Folco Portinari, a beautiful woman Dante had met when he was nine years old and had worshipped from afar in spite of his own arranged marriage to Gemma Donati. Il Vita Nuova has a secure place in literary history: its vernacular language and mix of poetry with prose were new; and it serves as an introduction to Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in which Beatrice figures prominently. The Divine Comedy is Dante's vision of the afterlife, broken into a trilogy of the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante is given a guided tour of hell and purgatory by Virgil, the pagan Roman poet whom Dante greatly admired and imitated, and of heaven by Beatrice. The Inferno shows the souls who have been condemned to eternal torment, and included here are not only mythical and historical evil-doers, but Dante's enemies. The Purgatory reveals how souls who are not irreversibly sinful learn to be good through a spiritual purification. And The Paradise depicts further development of the just as they approach God. The Divine Comedy has been influential from Dante's day into modern times. The poem has endured not just because of its beauty and significance, but also because of its richness and piety as well as its occasionally humorous and vulgar treatment of the afterlife. In addition to his writing, Dante was active in politics. In 1302, after two years as a priore, or governor of Florence, he was exiled because of his support for the white guelfi, a moderate political party of which he was a member. After extensive travels, he stayed in Ravenna in 1319, completing The Divine Comedy there, until his death in 1321.
John Anthony Ciardi was born on June 24, 1916 in Boston. He was an American poet, translator, and etymologist. He translated Dante's Divine Comedy, wrote several volumes of children's poetry, pursued etymology, contributed to the Saturday Review as a columnist and long-time poetry editor, and directed the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont. In 1959, Ciardi published a book on how to read, write, and teach poetry, How Does a Poem Mean?, which has proven to be among the most-used books of its kind. He attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine and Tufts University in Boston where he studied under the poet John Holmes. He received his degree in 1938, and won a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he obtained his master's degree the next year and won the first of many awards for his poetry,e.g., the prestigious Hopwood Award. Ciardi taught at the University of Kansas City before joining the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. He was discharged in October 1945 with the rank of Technical Sergeant. After the war, Mr. Ciardi returned briefly to Kansas State, before being named instructor in 1946, and later assistant professor, in the Briggs Copeland chair at Harvard University, where he stayed until 1953. Ciardi had published his first book of poems, Homeward to America, in 1940, before the war, and his next book, Other Skies, focusing on his wartime experiences, was published in 1947. He had begun translating Dante for his classes at Harvard and continued with the work throughout his time there. His translation of The Inferno was published in 1954. Ciardi's translation of The Purgatorio followed in 1961 and The Paradiso in 1970. John Ciardi died on Easter Sunday in 1986 of a heart attack.