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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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BEATRICE

Anyone hooked on romantic love stories will love the story of
Beatrice. Who she was historically is not nearly as interesting
as who she became for Dante, yet the two are closely
connected.

In Florence, Beatrice was a member of the Portinari family, a
family more wealthy and socially prominent than Dante's.
Actually, Dante saw her only several times in his life. Her
marriage, to a man older and richer than Dante was, like most,
arranged for her. She died at age 24 in 1290.

Dante tells the story of his Beatrice in an earlier poem, the
Vita Nuova. He claims that he saw her for the first time when
he was nine and fell passionately in love with her. Precocious,
wouldn't you say? He did not see her again until he was
eighteen. (Multiples of three have mystical significance for
Dante.) She smiled at him this time.



In keeping with all traditions of courtly love, Dante never
actually aspired to have what we would consider a relationship
with Beatrice. For him, she was the embodiment of the
spiritually pure, Platonic love. Although Dante only glimpsed
Beatrice several times after he was eighteen (and was
betrothed and probably married himself), he claims that
Beatrice inspired his very thoughts. When she died, Dante
suffered a deep depression.

When she reappears in the Divine Comedy, she is mother,
maiden, muse, and saint. She is in Heaven, top-rank, with
direct communication with the Virgin Mary. It is Beatrice who
sends Virgil to help Dante find his way to Heaven and to her.
She doesn't appear directly in the Inferno, but will be his guide
through Heaven and to God. What Beatrice becomes for
Dante is both the Lady of courtly love and the inspiring saint
of the Church, the ideal of body and soul.

This may sound incredible to us today. But Dante had a far
less personal, more spiritual concept of love than we see on
soap operas or read in romance novels. Instead of physical
desire and passion, Dante's love was connected to spiritual
perfection and the way to goodness and God. Beatrice was not
an object to be loved but an inspiration to a larger love and
eternal grandeur. Now that's romantic.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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