"Dante Meets Beatrice" by Henry HolidayBeatrice: Muse for One, Model for All (Essay) The Society October 1, 2017 Beauty, Culture, Essays, Poetry 3 Comments by Jane Blanchard Beatrice, Dante Alighieri’s second guide in La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), makes her literary debut in an earlier work, La Vita Nuova (The New Life), a combination of prose and poetry that details his encounters with the girl, and then the woman, who became his muse. Dante was about nine years old when he first spotted Beatrice Portinari, slightly younger than himself, during a gathering at her father’s palazzo in Florence. Dressed in a crimson gown, she stole his heart, but from a distance, for they never spoke on this occasion. From then on, Dante tried to catch glimpses of Beatrice around town; after nine years, in all-white attire and in the company of two older ladies, she finally greeted him on the street. He was so thrilled that he began to dream and to write about her. These writings reveal that Dante felt as much pain as pleasure in the presence or even in the proximity of Beatrice, and they also indicate that he endured some teasing as a result. By this point, Beatrice was not only the embodiment of love, but also the epitome of the unapproachable and unattainable beloved. At the age of twenty-one, though, Dante entered a long-arranged marriage, as was common in medieval Florence. Soon afterwards, Beatrice entered her own long-arranged marriage; she died only three years later, but she continues to be immortalized in Dante’s works. Many of the poems in La Vita Nuova are sonnets in the emerging Italian language and style, including the following one: For certain he has seen all perfectness who among other ladies has seen mine: they that go with her humbly should combine to thank their God for such peculiar grace. So perfect is the beauty of her face that it begets in no wise any sign of envy, but draws round her a clear line of love, and blessed faith, and gentleness. Merely the sight of her makes all things bow: not she herself alone is holier than all; but hers, through her, are raised above. From all her acts such lovely graces flow that truly one may never think of her without a passion of exceeding love. This piece, translated into English in the nineteenth century by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, shows well the virtue that Beatrice possesses, expresses, and inspires. She is so lovely and so good that those around her do not “envy” her; instead, they admire her, emulate her, and “thank . . . God” for her. Such sentiments derive from the courtly poetry of troubadours driven from southeastern France by the Albigensian Crusade early in the thirteenth century, a few decades before Dante was born. These sentiments continue in the sonnets written by Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) during the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth century, and they persist even in those written by Philip Sidney during the English Renaissance of the late sixteenth century. A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia. Her second collection, Tides & Currents, like her first, Unloosed, is available from Kelsay Books. Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) 3 Responses James Sale October 3, 2017 To emulate virtue is such a powerful and beautiful concept – thank you. Reply David Hollywood October 4, 2017 It was such a forlorn love that it’s innocence created a gracious and beautiful purity. Thank you. Reply J. Simon Harris October 6, 2017 A well written essay about Dante’s greatest muse. The Vita Nuova is underappreciated, I think, especially given its important relationship to the Divine Comedy. I hope your concise summary of the book, its literary influences, and its impact on literature will influence others to read it for themselves. I’m also glad you posted Rossetti’s translation of one of the sonnets; it is very beautiful. What a feat to be able to translate Dante’s sonnets and keep the rhyme scheme, when they are so self-contained and carefully worded. Thanks for posting this. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.