Dante’s Divine Comedy, a landmark in Italian literature and among the greatest works of all medieval European literature, is a profound Christian vision of humankind’s temporal and eternal destiny. On its most personal level, it draws on Dante’s own experience of exile from his native city of Florence. On its most comprehensive level, it may be read as an allegory, taking the form of a journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise. The poem amazes by its array of learning, its penetrating and comprehensive analysis of contemporary problems, and its inventiveness of language and imagery. By choosing to write his poem in the Italian vernacular rather than in Latin, Dante decisively influenced the course of literary development. (He primarily used the Tuscan dialect, which would become standard literary Italian, but his vivid vocabulary ranged widely over many dialects and languages.) Not only did he lend a voice to the emerging lay culture of his own country, but Italian became the literary language in western Europe for several centuries.
In addition to poetry Dante wrote important theoretical works ranging from discussions of rhetoric to moral philosophy and political thought. He was fully conversant with the classical tradition, drawing for his own purposes on such writers as Virgil, Cicero, and Boethius. But, most unusual for a layman, he also had an impressive command of the most recent scholastic philosophy and of theology. His learning and his personal involvement in the heated political controversies of his age led him to the composition of De monarchia, one of the major tracts of medieval political philosophy.