Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dante, Beatrice, and Their Epic Love Story

La Vita Nuova, or The New Life, was written by Dante in 1295 about his love for Beatrice. I did some research on Dante and Beatrice, mainly because I'm a hopeless romantic. Also, I'm attempting to stop criticizing Dante. In a way, the history of Beatrice and Dante kind of humanizes Dante for me. Here we see a completely different side of Dante (a not at all self-righteous one).
So Dante first saw Beatrice when she was eight and he was nine. According to all accounts, it was love at first sight for him, but he never got the chance to talk to her. So, like any lovestruck adolescent, he basically attempted to stalk her, but their paths never crossed. Nine years later, Dante recognized her on a street in Florence and she greeted him. Dante wrote this about her acknowledgement of him: 

"When so many days had passed that exactly nine years were completed since the appearance of this most gracious being I have written of above, it happened, on the last of these days, that this marvellous lady appeared to me, dressed in the whitest of white, between two gracious ladies who were of greater age: and passing through a street she turned her eyes to the place where I stood greatly fearful, and, with her ineffable courtesy, that is now rewarded in a greater sphere, she greeted me so virtuously, so much so that I saw then to the very end of grace. The hour at which her so sweet greeting welcomed me was exactly the ninth of that day, and because it was the first time that her words deigned to come to my ears, I found such sweetness that I left the crowd as if intoxicated, and I returned to the solitude of my own room, and fell to thinking of this most gracious one (La Vita Nuova III)."

This is the famous painting by Henry Holiday of the first time Beatrice greeting Dante.

Unfortunately, that was the last time BeDante (or Deatrice) saw each other. As if that isn't sad enough, Beatrice died at 24, and Dante married Gemma di Manetto Donati in an arranged marriage set up by their families. Sadly for Gemma, Dante never mentioned her in any of his works. However, after his encounter with Beatrice, Dante had a dream about Beatrice, which ended up being his inspiration and plot for La Vita Nuova. Most importantly, Beatrice eventually came to be the metaphor Dante used as a search for God, and his way of reaching the Divine. She essentially "removed all evils" from him.

In La Vita Nuova XLII, Dante writes:

"After writing this sonetto a miraculous vision appeared to me, in which I saw things which made me decide to write nothing more of this blessed one until such time as I could treat of her more worthily.
    And to achieve this I study as much as I can, as she truly knows. So that, if it pleases Him by whom all things live, that my life lasts a few years, I hope to write of her what has never been written of any woman.
    And then may it be pleasing to Him who is the Lord of courtesy, that my soul might go to see the glory of its lady, that is of that blessed Beatrice, who gloriously gazes on the face of Him qui est per omnia secula benedictus: who is blessed throughout all the ages."

Sources:
http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Italian/TheNewLifeIV.htm#_Toc88710693
http://fascinatinghistory.blogspot.com/2006/01/dante-and-beatrice.html
http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=macgregor&book=dante&story=beatrice

3 comments:

Kincy GIbson said...

This does humanize Dante, but makes his character so much more confusing. Was he ever actually with Beatrice or did he marry another women because of his arranged marriage? Would it be a sin to marry Gemma if he was consistently thinking of Beatrice? Maybe lust? Dante's love life makes me pity him, but I can't stop trying to find where he faults. I think that since in "The Inferno" Dante escalates himself so much, that it is impossible for me to think of him as a "poor soul" rather than a pompous artist.

Miranda Martinez said...

Wow, and I thought I was a hopeless romantic....Like Kincy was saying, Dante comes off a little more pretentious to me since he seeming fell prey to lust. However, in The Inferno he could be warning the reader to learn from his mistakes and those made by those around him. I still love The Inferno, and I've been trying to focus on Dante the pilgrim's ultimate message rather than Dante's background (which, I know, is just as important), but I think reading too much into Dante the poet takes away from Dante the pilgrim, and isn't that what Dante the pilgrim warns us about all along?

Megan Hoolahan said...


I understand how you feel that this humanizes Dante, but it still makes me like Dante a little less. I still love Dante’s Inferno though! But, I can’t help but feel bad for Gemma. Although it was an arranged marriage, Dante still shouldn’t have publically confessed his love for Beatrice so frequently in his work. I really wouldn’t want to be Gemma. She is trapped in marriage in which her husband fantasizes and writes about another woman and she has no control over the situation. I agree with Kincy, was it a sin for Dante to lustfully think about Beatrice while he was married?