Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dante and Beatrice

Today the word "Beatrice" serves as a synonym for "muse," an individual who fosters creative achievement. In fact, Beatrice Portinari (born 1265), was a real person. Dante Alighieri records the effect she had over him in his searing memoir, La Vita Nuova, consulted over the centuries by those of us who have sought to understand the sudden flood of emotion that ensues from an early love, as unexpected as it is powerful. 
Today it comes as a shock, perhaps, that when Dante first saw Beatrice she was not quite nine years old. Paedophilia? Certainly not, as there was no age discrepancy for the poet was then himself only nine years old. There were several subsequent sightings, until the paragon died at the age of 24. As an angelic being she guides the poet in the Purgatorio. 
In life Dante never consummated his passion, nor did he aspire to. The narrative is in fact a legitimate variation on the medieval tradition of Courtly Love, where the lady remains, in most cases, inaccessible.


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