Dante's Beatrice

Updated on September 29, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Dante Alighieri

Source

Introduction

Dante Alighieri's Beatrice attraction is rare in the annals of human love relationships. It was never based on unrequited love or adulterous lust. The poet's feelings for Beatrice were motivated by pure spiritual bliss, a euphoric state that no physical sense can bestow.

The poet's joy prompted by just the mere sight of or a word from Beatrice bespeaks a kind of joy that no human relationship can engender. Beatrice was more like an angel in the life of the poet than a mere human attraction.

Dante's Early Life

Born between May 20 and Jun 20 in 1265, Dante Alighieri, the poet of La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), was one of the most original thinkers of his time. A Florentine by birth, his life was heavily influenced by the turbulent political upheavals of his day.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a short time before the birth of Dante Alighieri, Charles of Anjou's victory of King Manfred (at Benevento, February 26, 1266) effectively ended the Italian empire's power, putting in place a French dynasty on the Neapolitan throne.

Thus the Guelphs established their prominence over Tuscany. The poet was thus raised with Florentine democracy in triumph. Dante fought in the Guelph cavalry in the front ranks in the battle of Campaldino on June 11, 1289. The Tuscan Ghibellines suffered defeat at the hands of the Guelph league. Florence was the head of this league.

Dante Marries

In 1291, Dante married Gemma Donati; the marriage produced four children, two sons and two daughters. He served in various capacities in the political area of Florence, but in 1302 the opposing party took control and along with other Guelph constituents, Dante was exiled.

It is thought that Dante made a pilgrimage to Rome to appeal to Boniface VIII and later was falsely charged with corruption and condemned to death. He spent the last twenty years of his life in exile, living in various Italian cities. He died in Ravenna in 1321.

Who was Beatrice?

Much has been made about the influence of Beatrice on Dante’s literary career—most of which is inaccurate when it focuses on unrequited love or adulterous lust. For Dante's Beatrice attraction featured neither of these phenomena.

Dante first saw Beatrice when he was only nine years old. His love for her therefore remained a kind of mystical friendship. Beatrice was likely the daughter of Folco Portion. She was the wife of Simone de Bardi. Beatrice likely died June 1290. Dante wrote about his love for Beatrice in his first publication titled La Vita Nuova, or The New Life, which was first published in 1294.

Dante's love for Beatrice followed the description of love by St. Thomas Aquinas called "amor amicitiae," which is a love based on spirituality and mysticism, not physical or sexual lust. St. Thomas Aquinas described this type of love: "That which is loved in love of friendship is loved simply and for its own sake."

Dante kept the image of Beatrice for the purpose spiritual inspiration as well as for a poetic muse. He asserted that he would write about Beatrice that which, "has never before been written of any woman."

Dante dedicates his Vita Nuova to Guido Cavalcanti, an important poet of Florence, whom Dante designates as the "first of my friends," a dedication which captures the emphasis of friendship also in the nature of his love for Beatrice.

Beatrice as Symbol of Divine Love

The love that Dante felt for Beatrice was never of an adulterous nature nor was it of the unrequited kind that causes mere yearning for a relationship. Instead Beatrice and the idea of Beatrice represented a spiritual ideal for the poet, a fact that is abundantly supported by his Paradiso, in which Beatrice serves as the poet’s guide in Heaven, as the poet Vergil had served in the Inferno.

The power of the Beatrice symbol can be inferred from the fact that Dante met the individual named Beatrice only twice in his life: the first time at age nine and then nine years later.

Upon his second meeting with Beatrice, the poet has remarked, "she greeted me; and such was the virtue of her greeting that I seemed to experience the height of bliss." While this meeting was the second time he had seen Beatrice, it was the first time she has spoken to him, and after she did so, he felt euphoric.

The poet asserts in La Vita Nuova that a sense of such great joy overtook him, he felt that he was "reeling." He had to hurry to his room out of sight of the public to contemplate the grace of this wondrous individual he has just encountered. Thus Beatrice became and remained a driving, spiritual force of love for the poet's entire writing life.

Dante si Beatrice in Paradis

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    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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