The first Florentine edition of the Comedy appeared 30 August 1481. A product of the cultural circle surrounding Lorenzo (Il Magnifico) de' Medici (1449-1492), this edition was conceived as a polemical work. It was directed towards other Italian centers which had produced editions of the poem, especially those of Venice (1477) and Milan (1478). This monumental book represented the Florentine attempt to reclaim the great poet who, since the 14th century, had become a classic throughout Italy. Accordingly, the edition was to have been accompanied by a figurative commentary inspired by one of the most important Florentine artists of the time, Sandro Botticelli. Moreover, the text appeared together with a completely new commentary authored by the most authoritative literary critic then teaching in Florence, Cristoforo Landino. The patriotic fervor (in the wake of the Pazzi conspiracy and on the eve of war with Milan and Naples) which inspired the entire enterprise is evident throughout Landino's proem addressed to the lords of Florence:

I affirm only this, that I have liberated our citizen Dante from the barbarity of many foreign idioms in which he had been corrupted by many commentators, and thus so pure and simple it seemed to me my duty to present him to you, our illustrious lords, so that into the hands of that magistrate which is most high in the Florentine Republic, he should be restored to his homeland after long exile and not recognized as romagnolo or lombardo nor any of the languages of those who have glossed him, but simple Florentine, a language which is greater than any other Italian idiom, as is shown clearly by the fact that no one ever expressed genius or doctrine nor wrote verses or prose, who did not attempt to use the Florentine idiom.

Ironically, however, the edition displays a complete disregard for textual quality. For example, it is apparent that Landino was reading and commenting on a different text than the one printed. Disfigured by omissions and errors, Dante's 14th-century language is further distorted by a patina of latinate orthography and 15th-century Florentine idiotisms. It would take non-Florentines, with some distance between themselves and the Florentine language, like the Venetian Pietro Bembo at the beginning of the 16th century, to adopt a philological approach and undertake the process of restoring Dante's text to its original 14th-century linguistic character. Nevertheless, Landino's spontaneous interest for the language of Florence is clear throughout, and independently of Dante, Landino's commentary remains a rich linguistic source in its own right for the Renaissance language of Florence. Moreover, Landino's humanistic commentary distinguishes itself from its predecessors by its appreciation for the variety, vivacity and compelling realism of Dante's style.

Landino's interpretation of the poem was less penetrating, however. As a Neoplatonist, his knowledge of astrology allowed him to understand Dante's doctrines in this area. But Landino was too quick to discover everywhere in the text the veil of allegory. From a political point of view, Landino shared with restraint Dante's anti-papal polemic; but consistent with the humanistic republican traditions of Florence, he respectfully rejected Dante's imperial ideology.

All told, the importance of Landino's commentary lies in its engaging presentation of a modern Comedy. It is this "modernity" that explains its immediate success: all six of the editions published between 1481 and 1502 included Landino's commentary. Even after Aldus' edition of 1502 which broke its monopoly, the Landino commentary was reprinted five times in Venice between 1507 and 1536. And following the publication of the new 16th-century commentaries of Alessandro Vellutello (1544) and Bernardino Daniello (1569), the Landino commentary still continued to be published. In fact, an astute editor, Francesco Sansovino, will bring back the Landino commentary together with Vellutello's in editions of 1564, 1578 and 1596. Thus, Landino's commentary endured for more than a century following its first printing, and was only put aside when the Divine Comedy itself was eclipsed during the 17th century.