Dante's Works


Dante wrote the De vulgari eloquentia (On the eloquence of the vernacular) sometime during the years 1304-1307, more than ten years after the Vita nuova. Written in Latin, the treatise is a defense of poetry in the vernacular (Italian) language. The De vulgari eloquentia is incomplete: even though Dante mentions material to be covered in Book 4, it finishes mid-sentence in Chapter 14 of Book 2. Dante also refers at two occasions to his exile from Florence (1302), which, together with mentions to political leaders, places the dating of the work during the first years of the fourteenth century. Put simply, Book 1 deals with language and Book 2 with poetry. In Book 1, Dante introduces the distinction between the vernacular languages (better because natural) and “grammatica” (learned language, intended is Latin, but Dante never uses that word). He also discusses the first language and the origin of linguistic diversity, going back to the story of the Tower of Babel, and draws a family tree of European languages. Then, he goes on a “hunt” for the best (“illustrious” in Dante’s words) vernacular in Italy, evaluating the speech of various cities and regions. He concludes that in no one city this vernacular is found, but he nevertheless found several traces of it. In Book 2, Dante discusses who should write in the illustrious vernacular, what to write about and how. He dedicates most attention to the last aspect, discussing the best metric form, verse length, vocabulary, style, composition, and so on, all illustrated with examples from Italian and, to a lesser extent, Occitan poetry.

These are the terms, concepts, and people we will pay particular attention to in our discussion: