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The Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy ranks as one of the world's great literary works, was born in Florence in 1265. He has come to be known by his first name Dante, a shortened form of Duranto. He attended universities in Florence, Bologna, and Padua, where he eagerly studied drawing, as well as natural and moral philosophy. His writings indicate that he had read the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, and was an astute political thinker, participating actively in the public life of Florence. Around 1296 he married Gemma dei Donati, a relative of Corso Donati, a Black Guelf leader and Dante's political opponent.

In his writings, Dante was concerned with helping men to "attain that knowledge which shall lead them into the paths of righteousness."

The Divine Comedy, an allegory, has been hailed as the first Christian poem. In it, Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil through Hell, Purgatory, and ultimately Heaven, where he described having "observed" the punishments and rewards of earthly behavior and wrote about having seen many recently-deceased celebrities and Florentine notables.

In 1300, he was elected to the Florence city council, but in 1302 Dante, along with five other citizens, was condemned for crimes of barratry and offenses against the Guelf party. His real and only offense, however, had been opposition to the policies of Pope Boniface VIII. Dante believed that the papacy should be concerned only with spiritual matters. He was banished from Florence under penalty of being burned alive should he ever return.