Born to the noble and powerful family of the Cavalcanti, Guido was a celebrated poet whose work belongs, along with that of Dante, Lapo Gianni, Dino Frescobaldi and others, to the school of the dolce stil novo. Fifty-two of his poems have survived, all of which give voice to a tragic and cruel image of sentimental realities, marked by a profound pessimism. Cavalcanti's "Donna me prega," one of his most famous and complex poems, contributed to the lively 13th-century debate on the nature of love.
Guido married Beatrice degli Uberti, daughter of the famous Farinata, in 1267 as part of a political reconciliation between Black and White factions of the Guelph party. A militant White Guelph, Giudo's party factionalism led to a fierce antagonism between himself and Corso Donati, leader of the Black party, which resulted in violence and mutual attempts at murder. Cavalcanti was a poetic colleague and best friend to Dante, to whom he dedicated his Vita nuova and mentioned in many of his poems. Ironically, however, it was under Dante's infamous priorate of 1300 that Guido, along with the other leaders of the two Guelph factions, was exiled to Sarzana, where he contracted malaria, dying less that two months later.
Contemporary chroniclers Giovanni Villani and Dino Compagni both describe Cavalcanti as an extremely learned and cultured gentleman, but note that he was at times "touchy and irritable" (Villani, Nuova cronica IX.42) or "haughty and reclusive" (Compagni, Cronica I.20). Quaglio suggests that this conventionalized image of the poet, present in the works of both Boccaccio and Sacchetti, derived from a misinterpretation of the Dantean episode depicting Guido's father as proud (Inf. X.53-72). In the ninth tale of Day Six, Guido is portrayed, in accordance with contemporary judgments of his character, as an intellectual, but proud and solitary. Within the text, Guido uses an enigmatic turn of phrase to put his would-be antagonists in their place.
(R.P./N.S.) Adapted from Marti, Mario. s.v. Cavalcanti, Guido. Vol. I Enciclopedia dantesca, 5 vols. Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1970-78. pp. 891-896; Pasquini, E. and A. Quaglio. Lo stilnovo e la poesia relgiosa. Bari: Laterza, 1971. pp. 88-118; Toynbee, P. Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968. pp. 141-144.