Dante’s Beatrice, and You

When you read La Vita Nuova and you get swept along (with brief interruptions for poetic dissection) with Dante in his love feast of Beatrice, which is complicated and ridiculously challenging for Protestant/Non-medieval ears to hear and keep perspective on, you can sometimes lose sight of what Beatrice is to Dante. In my Dante class, we discussed much in the way of Beatrice and her “idea” or her as an “idea”. Somehow her death became the focal point. She dies and leaves Dante with the idea of her, which is all he was actually interested in.

I would look at it a different way. I don’t deny that Beatrice is mostly a symbol or sign of something so much bigger to Dante. I think Dante laments Florence in the same way St. Peter laments over Rome in Paradiso. In La Vita Nuova Dante quotes Scripture directly only twice (in Latin no less!). Both are Jeremiah’s Lamentations. I think that Dante’s Jerusalem is laid desolate. That Jerusalem is Rome (in a big sense) and also Florence (in a less big but equally important sense). This weeping so constant in La Vita Nuova is so constant that Dante likens himself to Jeremiah.

The resemblance is too much to be an accident.

Both are exiled but write their history as from inside the city.

Both are okay with a sort of inspired memory/thematic structure to the story written.

Both weep all the time.

Both are weeping over a city and over the women and children that live in it.

Both lament the fact that “blessedness” seems to have gone away from the city.

And finally, both thrive in exile because the fires bring faith, hope and love to the fore, instead of ritual, and they can then live eschatologically awaiting a glorious restoration.

Both didn’t live to see the restoration.

Pretty spectacular to me. Dante makes Beatrice a sort of symbol of grace, wisdom. The presence of God manifest. We should learn to think and write like Dante.

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