At the time Dante started writing, poetry written in the Italian language was a relatively recent phenomenon, and there were lively debates amongst poets of the day as to what Italian poetry should be like. The first 'school' of poetry had developed in Sicily in and around the court of Emperor Frederick II. By the mid-thirteenth century, important poetic circles had developed in central and northern Italy, especially in Tuscany. By Dante's day, Florence had become one of the most important centres of poetic debate and experimentation.
Much early Italian poetry was written in what is known as the 'courtly love' tradition. The work of Dante's immediate poetic predecessors , such as Guido Guinizzelli (?1230-76) and Guido Cavalcanti (?1259-1300), was characterised by conscious experimentation with style and by the cultivation of highly sophisticated philosophical reflection on the nature of love. The expression generally used by critics to refer to the style of poetry characteristic of Dante's early work and of the work of his Florentine contemporaries is 'dolce stil novo' ('sweet new style'). The expression derives from Purgatorio XXIV, 57, and is meant to denote the gentle and harmonious diction of the poetry in question (as opposed to the harsh and abrupt tone of much earlier Tuscan poetry), as well as its philosophical originality.
© Vittorio Montemaggi, Matthew Treherne, Abi Rowson