Dante Alighieri (actually Durante, Dante was a nickname) was an "Italian poet, [he] was born in Florence in May, 1265. Little is known of his youth except what is told in his work in verse and prose entitled La Vita Nuova (The New Life). This is the story of his love for Beatrice from the first moment of his enamorement, when he was but nine years old and she eight, to her death in June, 1290" (Singleton). .
In Italy, there was no political union, but the country was divided into many different town councils. The political parties were two: the Guelfi and the Ghibellini. The former ones were in favor of the Pope and the latter ones were in favor oof the emperor. At the beginning of the XIV century, the Guelfi led most of the councils in Italy. In Florence, the Guelfo party split into two parts: the whites (bianchi, in favor of the Emperor) and the blacks (neri, in favor of the Pope). Dante was a white guelfo. The years around 1300 were the ones in which political fights between whites and blacks became stronger and more dramatic.
In this period (especially between 1280 and 1310) a new poetical movement was born: the Stilnovo (the name, invented by Dante (see Purgatorio, XXIV, 11. 55-57) is the Italian for "new style") (Furia).
His new style is what makes him so well known. Also he chose to write his masterpiece in Italian rather than in Latin, which was what all literature at the time was composed in. "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" (Book Factory).
When he began writing his masterpiece, La Commedia, no one knows. (A "comedy as traditionally defined, is a story that "begins in sorrow and ends in joy". Dante originally called it simply "The Comedy." Later Italian writers speaking of the work called it "The Divine Comedy," by which name it is usually known today.) He apparently finished the first of the three parts by 1314, and the last only shortly before his death on 14 September 1321.