Jacques Maritain Center : Great Inspirers / by J. A. Zahm, CSC



IN the foregoing pages it has been assumed that the Beatrice of Dante, whom the poet has so lauded in the "Vita Nuova" and the "Divina Commedia," had a real existence -- was a woman of flesh and blood. It has been assumed, furthermore, that she was, as stated by Boccaccio, a native of Florence and the daughter of Folco Portinari. This view, however, does not meet with general acceptance on the part of critics and commentators. For a long time past, students of the works of the great Florentine have held many and diverse opinions respecting the reality of the woman whom he has so celebrated in matchless verse, and the nature of the sentiments which he entertained for her. But this divergence of opinions should not cause surprise. When we recall the long controversies that have raged respecting the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey, of the dramas of Shakespeare and the Synoptic Gospels, we are quite prepared for the strange divergence of views that have prevailed, especially during the last two centuries, regarding the object of Dante's affections, and the character of the love which made both the poet and his ladylove immortal.

It is true that even during the century of Dante's death there were not wanting those who denied the historical existence of the poet's inspirer. Thus Giovanni Mario Filelfo, in his "Vita Dantis Alighieri," saw in Beatrice only a fabled box of Pandora. "Poets," he tells us, "fancy many things simply as an exercise in style -- excercendi ingenii gratia -- and among the figments of Dante's imagination was the imaginary object of his poetic cult -- a figment which he adorned with all corporeal and intellectual perfections and named Beatrice, the lady of his mind, who raised him to the loftiest heights of beatitude." But of Filelfo we can, with the learned Dante scholar, Marquis Giovanni. Giacomo Trivulzio, declare that "to quote Filelfo as an authority is not less ridiculous than to cite the author of 'Don Quixote' as witness to a fact of history. During his life and after his death, Gian Mario Filelfo was well known for a rank impostor and at the present day he deserves no credit."

Scarcely less fantastic than the view of Filelfo was that of Francisco da Buti, who, during the second half of the fourteenth century, lectured on the "Divina Commedia" in the University of Pisa. According to Buti, the lady glorified in Dante's works was not Beatrice Portinari, but Beatrice, a daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople and the mother of the Countess Matilda of Tuscany.{1} As, however, this daughter of the Byzantine monarch died a century and a half before the birth of Dante, it followed that in Buti's conception Dante's love for Beatrice was not real but feigned. Buti tells us that he was led to this conclusion only because the names of Dante's beloved and that of the mother of the Countess Matilda were identical. For this reason he had recourse to an allegorical interpretation of Dante's Beatrice and saw in her only a symbol of theology. Judging from what he says in his "Commento sopra la Divina Commedia," he was entirely ignorant of the existence of Beatrice Portinari and knew nothing whatever of the explicit testimony of Boccaccio respecting this beautiful Florentine maiden of whom the poet was so deeply enamored. It was only in order that he might find a historic Beatrice that Buti had recourse to the daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople. In her he found a personage who was well known by fame both to himself and to his auditory, for she had died and been buried in Pisa, where her tomb is still preserved. Buti's theory, therefore, has little more to recommend it than Filelfo's.

It was not, however, until four centuries after Dante's death that any systematic attempt was made to discredit the actual existence of the Beatrice of the "Vita Nuova" and the "Divina Commedia." In 1723 a learned and pious canon, one Anton Maria Biscioni, felt impelled by his zeal for the good name of Dante, who was described as one who had been involved in profane loves, to deny that the sovereign poet was ever in love with a real woman named Beatrice. Biscioni, however, takes care to state that he does not wish to be understood as denying the existence of Beatrice Portinari, or saying anything that would in the least reflect on the noble character of this gentle woman. Unable to deny the historic existence of the fascinating daughter of Folco Portinari, he admits that Dante, on account of the proximity of Beatrice's home to his own -- the houses of the Portinari and the Alighieri were only fifty paces apart -- may have seen her at a window, or on the street, or in church, or he may even have been well acquainted with her. But he insists that this neighboring maiden is not the Beatrice whom Dante has so glorified in his poems. Nor was it any other living woman whatever, but only an ideal woman -- a simple creation of his fancy.

The theory of Biscioni, whose zeal was directed against everything that might savor of erotic concept, or expression, in the works of the purest-minded of poets, was vigorously attacked by the learned commentator Dionisi who defended the veracity of Dante's love for Beatrice and contended that the poet's account of such love was not a mere pious allegory, but the record of his love for a woman whose beauty and goodness were irrefragable proofs of God's abiding love, and whose virtues and perfections not only precluded all profane love and seductive desires but also exalted the spirit of our poet, who was so susceptible to their charm, to a state of genuine spiritual blessedness.

Far more fantastic than the theory of Biscioni, as formulated in his "Prefazione alle Prose di Dante," are the views which were promulgated by the notorious Gabriel Rossetti.{2} According to this eccentric commentator, the works of Dante, especially the "Vita Nuova" and the "Divina Commedia," as were also the writings of certain of his contemporaries, are nothing but a tissue of symbolisms and a code of secret language used by the Ghibellines and understood only by them. These cryptographs, according to Rossetti, became necessary to the Ghibellines after their defeat by the Guelphs and the crushing of Albigensian influence in France and Italy. The key to them, Rossetti will have it, had been lost, until he, Champollion-like, found it. With this key he pretended to be able to exhibit the esoteric character of Dante's works and make known for the first time the real significance of many words, persons and things which occupy so prominent a place in all the writings of the poet who was acclaimed the protagonist of Italian liberty and independence.

In the view of Rossetti, as well as in that of Biscioni and others, the Beatrice celebrated by Dante in both verse and prose had no connection whatever with any living person. She was but a symbol or figure of the imperial power. The "Vita Nuova," according to the grotesque interpretation of this harlequin commentator, denotes Dante's new course of life after he had cast his lot with the Ghibellines. Amor -- love -- which is the anagram of Roma, signifies loyalty to the imperial party. God is the symbol of the Empire, and Satan that of the Papacy. These are but a few instances of the cabalistic interpretations given by Rossetti to words whose meanings are as unmistakable as they are antagonistic to those assigned them by the would-be discoverer of the long-lost Ghibelline code -- a code which, it scarcely need be observed, never had any existence outside the disordered imagination of the author of the "Disquisitions on the Anti-Papal Spirit Which Produced the Reformation."

More reverential but scarcely less gratuitous and fantastic than the theory of Rossetti is that advanced by Francesco Perez.{3} With a great display of erudition he attempts to prove that the Beatrice of Dante is but a figure of wisdom, or of the active intelligence, and totally disconnected from a living person. More than this. According to the contention of Perez, Beatrice is but the designation of a quality and should, therefore, be spelled, not with a capital B, but with a small b, thus making the word an adjective which signified "conducing to happiness.

Equally complicated and unwarranted are the views put forth by the German writer, Father Gietmann, who, in his "Beatrice, Geist und Kern der Dante'schen Dichtungen," maintains that Dante's love for the daughter of Folco Portinari is to be regarded as nothing more than a beautiful dream and that the real theme of the poet's muse was the ideal Church, the Bride of God as sung in the "Canticle of Canticles."{4}

The decisive objection to Gietmann's theory, as well as to all idealist and symbolist theories, is the large number of dates and personal details in the "Vita Nuova" respecting both Beatrice and Dante himself. These it is impossible to reconcile with any theory, except that which predicates the real existence of the woman of the poet's praise. Scartazzini, in his "Dante Handbuch," referring to some of the difficulties of Gietmann's symbolism which makes Beatrice the ideal Church, pertinently inquires, "Did Dante, then, in his ninth year, fall in love with the Church? Did the Church first honor him with a greeting when he was eighteen? Did he pretend that the object of his love was something other than the Church, and did the Church, on this account, refuse him her salutation and mock him?"

Space precludes notices of theories excogitated by other symbolists and idealists{5} -- of Scartazzini, who held many views respecting Beatrice, but whose final conclusion was that she was, at least in the "Divina Commedia," if not also in the "Vita Nuova," a mere symbol of the ideal Papacy which leads mankind to celestial happiness, as Virgil, the symbol of the ideal Empire, conducts mankind, represented by Dante, to the highest earthly happiness in the Terrestrial Paradise; of Bartoli and Renier, who see in Beatrice, not wisdom, as Biscioni; not the imperial monarchy, as Rossetti; not the active intelligence, as Perez; not the ideal Papacy, as Scartazzini; not a real woman of flesh and blood, as do all the realists, but only a personification or idealization of womanhood -- the ideal woman contemplated in her highest and noblest and most heavenly attributes -- the earthly woman who gradually acquires something of the angel -- a being vague, abstract, impalpable, which is concreted in every beautiful girl's face, but which vanishes into the most aerial forms. The Beatrice of the poets of the nuovo stile -- new style -- Bartoli avers -- "is nothing more than objectivation of an intimate and profound subjectivity."{6} To him, therefore, the Beatrice of Dante is only an abstraction, and, in this respect, he asserts, "has no more real existence than the Giovanna and Laggia and Selvaggia and other women of the dolce stil nuovo, who existed only in the glowing phantasy of their devoted singers."

Nor shall I discuss the theory of G. Gazzani, who finds in the "Vita Nuova" only the story of Dante's youthful studies in the faith and who declares that Beatrice herself was faith; nor the equally fanciful theory of C. Grasso, who asserts that "Beatrice in the works of Dante is the stately daughter of his mind, the repercussion in his soul of the mystical ideality of the ages, animated and circumfused by the amorous breath of the woman, not that of a woman."

I cannot, however, conclude these brief references to the ideal and symbolic theories without a word respecting the astounding theory evolved by Eugene Aroux, who far surpassed Rossetti in his wild unreason and extravagant party spirit. Following in the footsteps of the daring Neapolitan who sought to prove from Dante's writings the existence of a widely extended conspiracy against the Church of Rome, Aroux went much further and endeavored to show that the author of the "Divina Commedia" was a socialist, a heretic, a revolutionary, an infidel, a pantheist, an Albigensian pastor and a past-grandmaster of secret symbolic language.{7} For Aroux, the "Vita Nuova" is an elaborate but artfully veiled presentation of the condemned heresies of the Gnostics and the Manicheans, while Beatrice is nothing more than the personification of the soul of Dante himself. And, according to the secret language of Love's Faithful, of which the visionary Frenchman claims to have discovered the key, the word Gomorrah signifies the Court of Rome; Beelzebub is the Pope; Christ is the Emperor, and Dante himself, is the miracle of the Trinity referred to in the latter part of the "Vita Nuova" --"is himself the Father, the Son and the Spirit of Beatrice, in whom he contemplates his own syzygy!"

After these rhapsodical and grotesque pronouncements, the reader is not surprised to learn that the author of these strange extravagances has been denominated by D'Ovidio, "el buffone della critica dantesca" --the buffoon of Dante criticism. And, after reading of the bizarre aberrations and hallucinations of such monomaniacs of adventurous hypotheses as Rossetti and Aroux, we are quite prepared to find one like Jean Hardouin, who, in his "Doutes sur l'Age de Dante," out-paradoxes all paradoxes, and maintains that Dante's name and writings are but a simulacrum in literature, and that the "Commedia" was the work of a follower of Wyclif in the fifteenth century.

Poor Beatrice! According to Filelfo, she is but "the unsubstantial object of feigned loves"; according to Buti, she is the symbol of theology; according to Perez, she is the active intelligence illuminating the possible intellect; according to Gietmann, she is the ideal Church; according to Scartazzini and Bartoli and others, she is a symbol for the ideal Papacy, the ideal woman, faith, wisdom. contemplation, the knowledge of God, the political idea of the Ghibellines and the personification of Dante's own soul. Was ever a woman made the symbol and the ideal of so many and so diverse things and abstractions. Was ever any woman so reduced to airy nothingness by so many captious critics and iconoclastic commentators?

And poor Dante! Was any poet ever so misunderstood, or made the advocate of views and doctrines so fantastic and so contradictory? Did any author ever have his simplest and plainest statements so distorted, or have his works made the subject of so many and so prolonged controversies? Did any great writer ever have it asserted, even by the promulgators of the wildest delirantium somnia, that his cherished masterpiece was written in a gergo, or cipher language intelligible only to those who had been initiated into the mysteries of a proscribed sect? Has any man ever been so ignominiously treated by the "apes of the Dead Sea who make mouths at every prophet as he passes by"?{8}

After all the perverse ingenuity that has been exercised in proving that his beloved Beatrice was but a myth; that the "Divina Commedia," which was to be a monument in her honor such as was never dedicated to the memory of any woman, was but a "symbolic cipher of crypto-heresy," we may well be grateful that Dante himself has been spared to us; that certain hard and stubborn facts of history have so far made nugatory any attempt, like that of the clever Frenchman, Hardouin, to try to prove that the "Divina Commedia" was but a clever forgery, and have made it impossible to consign the poet himself to the limbo of mythological characters, or to place him in the company of Homer, who certain higher critics, basing their conclusion solely on the name of the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, declare was but "a botcher of songs." What, however, the higher critics will say of Dante, when they shall be as far separated from him by time as we are now from Homer,

That lord of the song preeminent,
Who o'er the others like an eagle soars,

offers matter for interesting speculations.

But let us now turn to the arguments of those who are defenders of the theory that the Beatrice of Dante's poems had a real existence. To all lovers of the divine poet it is gratifying to know that the most eminent students and commentators of the "Vita Nuova" and the "Divina Commedia" strenuously contend that the inspirer of these matchless works was none other than that lovely Beatrice Portinari, who so fired hisyouthful imagination that, in the words of Homer, "she seemed not to be the daughter of a mortal man, but of God."

Among the most prominent of the recent champions of the real existence of Beatrice are such distingnished scholars as Giuliani, Fraticelli, D'Ancona, Délécluze, Sir Theodore Martin and Charles Eliott Norton, who, in their editions of the "Vita Nuova," have either asserted the historic reality of Dante's inspirer, or assumed that the question of her existence is beyond controversy. Thus Giuliani -- one of the most scholarly of Dante's commentators -- not only denies that there is any allegorical meaning, but goes so far as to declare that "there is in the 'Vita Nuova' nothing which goes beyond simple and literal history," while Charles Eliott Norton, one of the most learned of America's Dante students, positively refuses to discuss the question, and dismisses it by stating in a parenthesis, "I regard as utterly untenable the notion that the Beatrice of the 'Vita Nuova' is an allegorical figure."{9} Almost equally strenuous supporters of the realist theory are such noted Dante scholars as Antonio Lubin, Tommasséo, Balbo, Fraticelli, Isidoro del Lungo, Giosuè Carducci, Karl Witte, Philalethes, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Addington Symonds, Dean Plumptre, Theodore de la Rive, Giacomo Poletto, Dr. Edward Moore, and the learned Dominican Padre Gioachino Berthier.{10}

The chief external evidence for identifying the Beatrice of Dante with Beatrice Portinari is based on statements made by Boccaccio in his "Vita di Dante" and in his "Commento sopra la Commedia di Dante Alighieri." Although he was but nine years of age at the date of Dante's death, he was intimately acquainted with many of the poet's closest friends and nearest relatives. We know that he was commissioned by the company of Or San Michele, in Florence, to convey to Dante's daughter, Beatrice, who was a nun in a convent in Ravenna, where her father died, a subsidy of ten gold florins. And he tells us in his "Commento" that his information regarding Beatrice Portinari was obtained from one who was most trustworthy, and who was not only well acquainted with her, but was also most closely related to her -- fu per consanguinità strettisma a lei.{11} Besides all these special sources of information, of which he made actual use in both the life of the poet and in his commentary on his works, Boccaccio enjoyed all the opportunities of securing general information which were available for sketching the life of one who, in addition to being one of the most noted men of the age, was virtually a contemporary of his biographer and commentator.

That Boccaccio's "Life of Dante," in spite of all objections against the veracity of the imaginative author of the "Decameron," is true in all its important statements respecting the author of the "Vita Nuova" and his relations to Beatrice seems demonstrable beyond peradventure. For not only was he on terms of intimate intercourse and acquaintance with the friends and relatives of Dante but he was also bound to him by special ties of

Il lungo studio e il grande amore{12} --

-- The long study and the great love

-- which so attached Dante himself to his master and author, Virgil.

When, in 1373, the Florentines resolved to establish a public lectureship on Dante, it was Boccaccio whom they selected as its first incumbent. His lectures, which were begun on October 12 of the same year, in the Church of San Stefano, were delivered before a select and critical audience, among whom were, doubtless, many relatives and friends of not only the Alighieri but also of the Portinari and the Bardi. That Boccaccio, in the presence of such an audience, should have made the very positive statements he did about the parentage and marriage of Beatrice, "the falsity of which, if false, must have been so glaring and palpable that its assertion could only have covered him with ridicule," is, as Dr. Moore pertinently observes, quite inconceivable.{13}

Besides the testimony of Boccaccio regarding the reality of Beatrice, we have that of the author of the "Ottimo Commento," who wrote but little more than a decade after Dante's death and who tells us that he was personally acquainted with the poet. He asserts not only the real existence of Beatrice, but also speaks of her as one whom Dante loved with pure devotion -- che egli amò con pura benivolenza.{14}

Still more remarkable is the evidence of Pietro di Dante, the poet's son, who wrote a Latin commentary on the "Divina Commedia" in 1340,{15} only nineteen years after his father's demise. In certain recently discovered manuscript recensions of this commentary occur statements concerning the identity of Dante and Beatrice Portinari, that are quite as precise and as conclusive as those of Boccaccio. Some critics, however, have questioned their authenticity, and maintained that the statements were later additions to the original commentary of the author. If it could be proved that they belonged to his commentary, written in 1340, there could be no further controversy, for then even the most strenuous advocates of the ideal and symbolical theories would be forced to admit that the Beatrice of Dante and Beatrice Portinari were, as the realists contend, one and the same person.

The most remarkable passage in Pietro's commentary, relating to Beatrice, occurs in his notes on the second canto of the Inferno, where we read "And because mention is here first made of Beatrice, of whom so much has been said, especially in the third book of the 'Paradiso,' it is to be premised that there really was a lady, Beatrice by name, greatly distinguished for her beauty and virtues, who, in the time of the author, lived in the city of Florence and who was of the house of certain Florentine citizens called the Portinari, of whom the author, Dante, was a suitor. During the life of the said lady he was her lover and he wrote many ballads in her honor. After her death, in order that he might make her name famous, he, in this, his poem" -- the "Divina Commedia" -- "frequently introduced her under the allegory and style of theology."{16}

This passage is so important that all lovers of Dante hope that the last vestige of doubt respecting its genuineness will eventually be removed. Then, by the testimony of Pietro Dante alone, not to speak of other evidence, the long controversy about the historical reality of Beatrice as Dante's inspirer will be forever terminated.

But Boccaccio and Pietro Dante and the author of the "Ottimo Commento" are not the only witnesses to the reality of the Beatrice of the "Vita Nuova." In his recent very interesting work entitled "Beatrice nella Vita e nella Poesia del Secolo XIII," the eminent Dante scholar, Isidoro del Lungo, adduces an important document that greatly strengthens the cumulative force of the argument in favor of the more rational view that the Beatrice of Dante was a living woman and that her name, as both Pietro di Dante and Boccaccio assert, was Beatrice Portinari. This document is the will of Folco Portinari, Beatrice's father, who died the last day of the year 1289, but a few months before the death of his daughter who, according to Dante's statement in the "Vita Nuova," departed this life on the 9th of June, 1290.

Folco Portinari, as his will evidences, not only belonged to one of the distingnished families of Florence, but was also a man of wealth. Through his munificence was founded the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, in the chapel of which, by the terms of his will, he was buried. Neither this hospital nor its chapel now exists. But the original tomb of Folco, by a peculiar provision of poetic justice, still remains. For, when the hospital which he had established disappeared his tomb was piously transferred to the chapel of the present Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. And here, on his cenotaph, one may still read the words which were carved on it more than six centuries ago. They are: Hic Jacet Fulchus de Portinarus qui fuit Fundator et Edificator Huius Ecclesiae et Ospidalis S. Marie Nove et Decessit Anno MCCLXXXIX die XXXI Decembris. Cujus Anima pro Dei Misericordia Requiescat in Pace.{17}

In his will, after specifying a large number of beneficiaries, among which were numerous religious institutions, Folco Portinari designates the amounts which he leaves to his own children, of whom there were eleven -- five sons and six daughters. To one of the daughters, whom he calls Madonna Bice de' Bardi, he wills fifty Florentine pounds, or as he dictated it to the notary who wrote in Latin -- Item domne Bici etiam filie sue, et uxori domini Simonis de Bardis, legavit de bonis suis libras L ad florinos.{18}

Bice was a familiar abbreviation for Beatrice. Dante thus calls his lady not only in some of his minor poems but also in the "Divina Commedia." That the Madonna Bice mentioned in Messer Folco's will is the Beatrice whom Dante met at the May festival at her father's house and who, thenceforward, was the object of his unchanging affection and, after her death, the symbol of all that was good and beautiful, there can be no reasonable doubt.

Then, again, we have that beautiful canzone in which Cino de Pistoia, one of Dante's most intimate friends, offers consolation to the poet on the death of Beatrice. Reading this exquisite poem, which is conceived in language of deepest and most genuine sympathy, it is difficult to believe that the sentiments expressed concerned only an airy nothing without a local habitation or a name.

A similar indication of the reality of Beatrice is the beautiful sonnet of Dante to his "first friend" -- Guido Cavalcanti -- in which he expresses the wish that they and their common friend, Lapo Gianni, together with their respective ladyloves, Lady Bice, Lady Vanna and Lady Lagia,

Could be by spells convey'd, as it were now,
Upon a barque with all the winds that blow
Across all seas at our good will to hie. . . . . .

And not to talk of anything but love.{18}

Can anyone imagine three young men, like those in question, finding pleasure in voyaging with three phantoms of their fancy, which have no more real existence than Ariel or Urania? Is it not more reasonable to suppose that the ladies named were

Warm with the life of breathing womanhood,

and that the Bice of the poet was that gentle Beatrice Portinari whom, with "a gathering of damozels," he once met on All Saints' Day, when her approving smile and gracious salutation caused him to exclaim,

"Blessed are they who met her on earth!"

Such then are the external evidences of the real existence of Dante's Beatrice. They should, it would seem, suffice to convince anyone except those of an age which, as Lowell declares, lectures but does not create,

This age that blots out life with question marks,
This nineteenth century with its knife and glass
That makes thought physical and thrusts far-off
The Heaven, so neighborly with man of old,
To voids sparse -- sown with alienated stars.

But we have also internal evidence which, taken alone, without the external testimony, is almost conclusive as to the existence of Beatrice as a living woman.

Belonging to this internal evidence is the mass of realistic details regarding Beatrice which Dante, in the "Vita Nuova," records as actual facts. Many of these incidents aare so antagonistic to any allegorical interpretation of this book that we are forced to conclude that they really occurred. Among them, to mention only a few instances, the statements made by the poet concerning the strange devices he had recourse to in order to conceal his love for Beatrice and shock he experienced on perceiving his lady at a marriage feast, when he set his foot "on that point of life, beyond which he must not pass who would return," and the very positive statements which he makes regarding her age and the date of her death which, as we have seen, occurred but a few months after that of her father, and the wholly unintelligible reason he assigns for his silence respecting the details of Beatrice's death --that "it would be unseemly for me to speak thereof, seeing that thereby it must behoove me to speak also of my own praise" -- essere lodatore di me medesimo. The very difficulties of these statements, which the symbolic and ideal theories are utterly inadequate to explain, seem to indicate the occurrence to which they refer.

The learned Dantist, Isidoro del Lungo, gives a splendid summary of the subject when he writes: "The 'Vita Nuova' is a book whose coloring, figures and action' are Imaginary, but which is based upon a foundation of reality. Real are all the facts and circumstances, real is it as far as Dante Alighieri and Beatrice are concerned, or the two gentlewomen of whom he made use for his defense, whether introduced for this reason alone or because they had been admired by the poet in his youth. The obsequies of Beatrice's friend and father are real, as is also her brother's friend to whom the 'Vita Nuova' is dedicated and who -- though the name, as every other, is concealed -- is unmistakably shown to have been Guido Cavalcanti. Real were those fair Florentines enumerated in the Serventese of the lovely women of the city, who, in various ways, took part in the psychological development of the story, real, even to the gentle lady who dwelt near the house of the Alighieri and aroused a transitory love in the heart of Beatrice's adorer, and the pilgrims who passed through Florence on their way to Rome. The inspiration of the poem, first vaguely conceived as a celestial glorification of Beatrice, is equally true. Her personality, living and true and Florentine, like the others, was first idealized into an abstract woman -- after the manner of all poets -- and then transfigured and upraised to the sublimity of a symbol by the work of him who, finally conscious of his work, knew that he had 'said of her things said never yet of any woman.'"{20}

An even stronger argument in favor of the historical character of Beatrice is found in the fact that Dante always based his allegories on facts and realities of the outward world. In his "Convito" he tells us expressly that "the literal meaning must always come first; it is that in which all the other meanings are included, without which would be impossible and irrational to understand the others; and, above all, for the allegorical it is impossible."{21} That, however, does not imply that Dante attributed historic reality to all his characters. Many of them, like Charon, Minos and Cerberus, were quite mythological, but these, as well as those about whose historical reality there can be no doubt, had a recognized existence outside the poet's fancy. They were all known to fame. None of his characters, like those of Bunyan and other modern writers, was a simple figment of his imagination. For to Dante, as to Petrarch and Guido Cavalcanti and Cino da Pistoia, and all other literary artists of the time, a basis of reality and fact was quite indispensable. And as Giovanna, Selvaggia and Laura, the donne gentili of Guido Cavalcanti, Cino da Pistoia and Petrarch, were living persons, so also was Beatrice, the inspirer of Dante, a living, breathing woman. The poets named but followed in the footsteps of the troubadours of Italy and Provence, to whom some real person, not a mere creation of their fancy, was the invariable source of inspiration. To them the thought of celebrating the corporeal and spiritual perfections of an inane type or symbol would have appeared as ridiculous as the suggestion that the knights of chivalry offered their services to some Dulcinea del Toboso and not to some gracious chatelaine or princess of the blood royal.

From the fact, therefore, that Dante founded his allegories on characters -- either historical or mythological -- that had a recognized existence, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that his Beatrice, the leading character in his works, was not a mere invention of the poet. To have made, in the case of Beatrice alone, an exception to all the canons of art which he always so scrupulously followed -- to have all the action of his immortal works revolve about a mere abstraction, would have seemed to Dante nothing less than a literary monstrosity. Dante, then, studiously avoided all attempts to concrete or personify the abstract. He preferred to base symbols on realities --on persons who had an actual existence. Thus, as D'Ancona declares, he does not create a type of human reason but employs in its stead a historic personage, Virgil. He does not create a type of human liberty but gives this signification to the historic Cato of Utica. Every character that he delineates is a human being that has actually lived, not a mere generic figure of vice or virtue. Contrary to those who assign a fictitious body to empty abstractions, Dante gives abstract values to real persons. So it is of Beatrice, who is not woman in general; not, as Bartoli will have it -- "a being vague, abstract, impalpable which concretes itself in the face of every beautiful girl"{22} but a particular woman, one who actually lived in this world, one who was loved, celebrated and mourned by Dante and elevated by him to represent an idea of sublime physical and moral perfection. Conformable to the art of Dante, in which there is nothing of vacuity or airy nothingness -- sfumato vaporoso --"Beatrice," declares D'Ancona, "is a woman before becoming a symbol, and she can be a symbol precisely because she was a woman. We, contemporaries of Byron, Goethe, Leopardi, De Musset, Lamartine, who experience what Bartoli truly calls 'the tortures, the refinements, the maladies, the continuous orgasm of sentimentality, may well have these morbid and passionate creations of our spirit -- creations industriously formed by the separation of the accidental and the individual in order to arrive at the ideal.'"{23}

Dante, however, proceeded differently, for he made the real a stepping- stone to the ideal, and thus exhibited a sense of proportion and perspective which we in vain search for in modern art which either evaporates in over-refined subtleties, or wallows in the mire. But if modern art is impotent to reproduce that of Dante, let not modern criticism ignore it, or attempt to judge the intellectual processes of the thirteenth century by those of the nineteenth.

Modern writers have become so accustomed to passing everything -- history, art, literature, religion -- through the alembic of criticism that, by this forced analysis, they arrive at an ideal concept of woman and give it a certain nebulous appearance. And to such a creation of their fancy they dedicate their songs and consecrate their lives. But what is readily accepted now would not have been received in the time of Dante. For had a poet in the thirteenth century sung of an ideal woman in the style of modern symbolists, he would not have been understood. The medieval mind always demanded something real as a basis for the ideal.

To our materialistic age, which would ignore the spiritual and supernatural world, everything seems to exist

Only to be examined, pondered, searched,
Probed, vexed, criticized.

But it was quite different in the time of Dante. To the great theologians and saints and mystics of the Middle Ages -- St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bernard, Hugh and Richard of St. Victor -- the supernatural world was more real than the material. To them, as to Dante, "the world of the living was but a shadowy appearance, through which the eternal realities of another world were constantly betraying themselves." And to them, "though still bound round with the fetters of time,"

Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of eternity.

To Dante, whom Fogazzaro aptly styles "a mystic in love and a theologian in religion" -- who always lived in a world of mystery and with beings invisible to material eyes{24} -- "there was more truth, more reality, even, in the allegorical and mystical meaning of things than in their literal and outward aspect."

This view is clearly expressed in "The Convito," where he writes, "Since the literal meaning has been sufficiently explained, we must now proceed to the allegorical and true exposition" -- sposizione allegorica e vera.{25} In this respect he is one with St. Augustine, who holds that the allegorical is as superior to the literal meaning as the soul is to the body.

He, therefore, who does not appreciate the mystical character of Dante's subtle, dreamy, many-sided mind, and who fails to understand the relative importance which he attaches to the real and to the allegorical in his work, can never arrive at a true comprehension of either the "Vita Nuova" or the "Divina Commedia." Dante is mystical and contemplative in the "Vita Nuova" because such is the character of his genius. His meaning in the "Divina Commedia," as he informs us in a letter to Can Grande, is polisenso -- manifold -- because of his rapidly moving, myriad-minded intellect.

In the beginning of the "Vita Nuova," Beatrice is a real, living woman, and Dante's love for her is a real, genuine love. Those who, like Biscioni, think to elevate Dante by making him incapable of a real, natural, human love, exclude him from the rest of humankind. They deny to him a sentiment common to all men, and, wishing to make him something more than a man, they make him far less than a man. They make him all head, without heart; all intellect, without affection. But, to one who studies him without preconceptions, this is not the Dante who reveals himself in his works. The surpassing greatness and excellence of Dante consist, above all else, in the rare harmony of all his powers and faculties -- in the beautiful combination of heart and intellect -- a harmony and combination which led Ruskin to declare, "I think that the central man of all the world, as representing in perfect balance the imaginative, moral and intellectual faculties, all at their highest, is Dante."{26}

Dante's Beatrice, then, according to the poet's habit of attributing several meanings to one and the same thing, or person, must, as D'Ancona has so conclusively shown, be viewed as existing in a threefold capacity -- as a woman, as a living personification, and as an animated symbol. It was to her who, in all her transfignrations, was ever the same Beatrice, that Dante consecrated his verse and his affection. For as there is scarcely a moment in the "Vita Nuova" in which Beatrice is nothing more than a beautiful maiden, so likewise is there scarcely a moment in the "Divina Commmedia "in which she, who sits near the Virgin Mother in the empyrean, is not also the charming woman who became in the poet's early youth mistress of his heart and caused him to be borne aloft

On the viewless wings of Poesy.

The "Vita Nuova," therefore, is the story of a pure and intense love for a woman of beauty and goodness, who gradually through a progressive purification of love -- a love which by degrees changes to spiritual adoration -- becomes the personification of perfect beauty and supreme goodness.

When, however, the affection of the poet is, by the death of his beloved, converted into a holy memory, then we witness that wonderful transfiguration of Beatrice which is so conspicuous a feature of the "Divina Commedia," especially of the Paradiso. She then becomes that marvelous animated symbol in which are intimately conjoined both the woman and the personification -- a symbol which was foreshadowed when Dante first manifested his love for Beatrice Portinari and saw in her the "youngest of the angels" -- one who was so noble and praiseworthy that "she seemed not to be the daughter of mortal man, but of God."

The glorification of Beatrice was rendered possible by her death, by Dante's abiding love for her after God "had called her unto Himself," and by those long years of study which he entered upon in order that he might raise to her an imperishable monument of praise.

It is this view which regards Beatrice as being in succession a real woman, a living personification, an animated symbol, but always the same Beatrice, that gives to all the works of Dante that wonderful unity of thought and affection -- a unity that resides in a continuous progression and in a continuous purification of love from its birth on the verdant bank of the Arno to its apotheosis in the glorious white rose of Paradise.{27}

Dante, in writing of Beatrice in the "Vita Nuova," after she "had been made of the citizens of eternal life," gives a beautiful, half mystical expression to this thought when he sings:

Il piacere della sua beltade
Partendo sè dalla nostra veduta,
Divenne spirital bellezza grande,
Che per lo cielo spande
Luce d'amor, che gli angeli saluta --

verses to which Dante Gabriel Rossetti has given this very felicitous translation:

From the height of woman's fairness, she, Going up from us with the joy we had, Grew perfectly and spiritually fair; That she spreads even there A light of love which makes the angels glad.

Beatrice, then, I repeat, was a real woman, before she became a personification or a symbol; was as really a person of flesh and blood as was Dante himself, who has been truly characterized as "the most luminous example in literature of the chivalrous ecstasy of love" -- of a love, be it insisted, that had its root not in an abstraction or a tenuous ideal, but in "the beatitude" of his earthly life -- Beatrice Portinari. Against the statements of those who would make Dante's inspirer but a golden dream which hovered above his eyes, I prefer to accept that of the poet himself, who describes Beatrice as a living woman "of the Christians of the thirteenth century" -- ella fu de' Christiani del terzodecimo centenario. And I also prefer to accept, as proof of Dante's chivalrous passion for Beatrice, the concluding words of the "Vita Nuova," in which the poet promises to say of her what has never been written of any woman, words that are emphasized by "the whole tenor of the 'Divina Commedia'" and likewise by Dante's emphatic assertion that Beatrice "had revealed to him all wisdom and virtue"; and, in doing so, I am but accepting the testimony of the most competent witness -- the poet himself -- one whom John Addington Symonds has declared to be "the greatest, truest, sincerest man of modern Europe."{28}

But why, if Beatrice was a real woman and not a symbol, did not Dante marry her? Why if she was really the daughter of Folco Portinari, and if he loved her with that intense, abiding love disclosed in the "Vita Nuova," did he marry Gemma Donati, to whom he never makes even the slightest reference in any of his works? Why is it that he never alludes to the marriage of his beloved to Simone de' Bardi, when this event must have been one of the deepest concern to him?

Dante has not been pleased to throw any light on these puzzling questions, and we are, therefore, left to the vaguest conjectures. It may, however, be asserted that in a purely psychological work like the "Vita Nuova" which is solely a chronicle of the origin and progression of his love for Beatrice, detailed information about family affairs would have been out of place. The poet deals only with the influence which the lady of his mind had upon him -- with what was spiritual and immortal. If he suffered any heart-wounds when his beloved became the wife of another, he does not, like a Petrarch or a Rousseau, lay them bare to the world. There is in the "Vita Nuova" none of the catastrophes and cataclysms of inordinate passion described in the works of Byron and De Musset, Goethe and Leopardi; none of the acute and violent notes which are the chief characteristics of the sinful loves portrayed by so many of our modern novelists and dramatists. On the contrary, the love of Dante for Beatrice, although intense and enthusiastic, is always pure and exalted; it is a love that ever leads him to higher things; a love which, in the language of Wordsworth,

Teaches less to love than to adore;

a love which, in the words of Dante himself, cannot be understood by those who have not experienced it --

Intender non la puo chi non la prova --

a love which Sainte Beuve has beautifully described as a world within the soul, a glowing sun, an eternal poem --

-- Un monde au fond de l'âme, un soleil échauffant,
Un poême éternel.

Again, it is a pure assumption to assert that Dante ever aspired to the hand of Beatrice. So far as Dante himself informs us, his love for the daughter of Folco Portinari was like that of the knight of chivalry who had for his motto Dieu et ma Dame, who, while having God as the final object of his adoration, saw in his lady not only the symbol of every virtue but the image of that heaven which he, by purity and nobility of life, hoped one day to attain. It was the ecstatic state of feeling which Provençals called joie and which the Italians of the Renaissance designated as Platonic love. It was an unselfish enthusiasm which ennobled the lover and exalted him above all mean impulses and sensual desires. It was a species of homage to the beloved one which was common during the age of the troubadours, but which has long since disappeared -- a "chivalrous devotion to a woman, neither wife nor mistress, by means of which the spirit of man, were he knight or poet, was rendered capable of self-devotion and noble deeds, and of rising to a higher ideal of life." It was, so far as we know to the contrary, a species of Platonic love which transformed the actual into the ideal; which made the beauty and love of the living, breathing woman the resplendent avatar of what Goethe calls "the eternal feminine." It was a blending of the real and the ideal like that so delicately expressed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, when, in "The House of Life," he writes:

Lady, I fain would tell how evermore
Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor
Thee from myself, neither our love from God.

It was, too, a passion that never ended in marriage -- a passion whose end and aim was the privilege, on the part of the lover, to sing his lady's praises and devote himself wholly and unreservedly to her service. It was a chivalrous passion like that of Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaya, of whom his Provençal biographer writes: "He fell in love with the Countess of Tripoli, though he had never seen her, for the good report that he had of her from the pilgrims who came from Antioch, and he made many poems concerning her with good tunes but scanty words. And from desire to see her he took the cross and went to sea. And in the ship great illness came upon him so that those who were with him thought he was dead in the ship; but they succeeded in bringing him to Tripoli; to an inn, as one dead. And it was told to the countess, and she came to him, to his bed, and took him in her arms; and he knew that she was the countess, and recovering his senses, he praised God, and gave thanks that his life had been sustained until he had seen her; and then he died in the lady's arms. And she gave him honorable burial in the house of the Temple, and then, on that day, she took the veil for the grief that she had for him and for his death."{29}

Singing of his fair lady love, whom he had never seen, Rudel declares:

All other loves I here forego
Except the love of her afar;
For none more beautiful I know
In any land or near or far --

-- Ja mais d'amor nom jauziray
Si nom jau d'est' amor de lonh,
Que gensor ni melhor non sai
Ves nulha part, ni pres ni lonh.

Another thing to bear in mind, when discussing the questions under consideration, is the frequency of marriages of convention in Florence in the time of Dante. Such marriages were matrimonial alliances -- the union of two families -- rather than the union of two loving hearts.

The young woman had not the disposition of her heart or hand. So far was this from being the case that she was not infrequently promised in marriage while yet a mere child. It was her father who gave her in marriage, as it was her husband who received her. There was no love- making before the marriage was celebrated, nor were the wishes of the young couple at all consulted. In a city like Florence, which had so long been agitated and divided by the sanguinary feuds of the Neri and the Bianchi, the Guelphs and Ghibellines, marriage was but too often regarded as a means of cementing private interests, or of strengthening the power of certain factions, or of extinguishing age-long dissensions and making peace among powerful families who had long been antagonistic to one another, or who belonged to different and almost irreconcilable parties. So frequently, indeed, was marriage made the medium of uniting contending families and factions, that the commune of Florence did not hesitate, when civil or political interests required it, to make a liberal appropriation of money to further certain matrimonial alliances which could not be effected otherwise. Because of such family, civil, and political reasons, Del Lungo, who has made an exhaustive study of the questions in controversy, does not hesitate to assert that both the marriages of Beatrice and of Dante were brought about without any regard whatever to the psychological drama and the poetic love of the "Vita Nuova."{30}

That Beatrice not only knew of Dante's love for her but also reciprocated it in a pure and noble way, there seems no doubt. Certain passages in the "Vita Nuova" appear to imply this, and the words addressed by Beatrice to Dante in the Terrestrial Paradise, after a ten years' separation, would lose all their beauty and pathos if we were to imagine that their attachment was not mutual. But once it is admitted that the Beatrice whom the poet met on the Mount of Purgatory was, in very truth, Beatrice Portinari, or, to use Dante's own words,

Quel Sol che pria d'amore me scaldò 'l petto{31} --

-- That Sun which erst with love my bosom warmed --

and that she fully reciprocated his love, then we have not only one of the most touching but also one of the most beautiful episodes in all literature.{32}

But whatever reasons may be assigned for the marriage of Beatrice to Simone de' Bardi, it was probably well for poetry and letters that she died young -- she was only twenty-four at the time of her death -- and that she did not marry Dante Alighieri. For had she lived long, or had she become the wife of her fidel d'amor, we should not now have the "Vita Nuova" -- "the first and tenderest love story of modern literature" -- a work that, in the words of Charles Eliott Norton, will "be read with appreciation and responsive sympathy so long as there are lovers in the world and so long as lovers are poets." Had she lived long as another's wife we should, as Tommaséo remarks, have a precursor of Petrarch, but a more militant and a more virile Petrarch.{33}

Nor would we have the "Divina Commedia," at least as it now exists. For Beatrice, as Scherillo declares, was not only the muse and the protagonist of Dante's song, but she was at the same time the creator as well as the creature of his genius -- e la creatura e la creatrice insieme del genio di Dante. Had, then, Beatrice lived long, like Laura, and had Dante, like Petrarch, spent his time in singing the praises of his mistress, it is not likely, as Tommaséo points out, that "he would have engaged in the affairs of a discordant republic, or suffered the dignity of exile."{34} He would, probably, have escaped all the great misfortunes that pursued him during so many years, but the scholars of the world, irrespective of clime and creed, would not now, to quote the words of a recent writer, see in the "Divina Commmedia" "the highest fruit of Christian civilization," nor declare with Cardinal Manning: Post Dantis Paradisum nihil restat nisi visio Dei -- After the Paradiso of Dante nothing remains but the vision of God. Nor would they acclaim Dante as the first humanist, as the originator of the Renaissance, as the first modern man of letters; nor would Dean Milman have written: "Christendom owes to Dante the creation of Italian poetry, through Italian, of Christian poetry"; nor would Tennyson have greeted him in these noble hnd touching words:

King, that hast reign'd six hundred years, and grown
In power, and ever growest
. . . . . .

I, wearing but the garland of a day,
Cast at thy feet one flower that fades away.

The Beatrice of Dante was,then, a woman who had an actual existence; a woman whose beauty the poet could admire; whose smile made him happy; whose death he mourned; whose memory was an inspiration. Encircled by the most radiant aureole that was ever devised by human genius, the figure which is a woman in the "Vita Nuova," an angel and a symbol in the "Divina Commedia," appears before us after being six and a half centuries in the tomb, repeating the words attributed to her by her immortal bard, when they met in the earthly Paradise:

Guardami ben: ben son, ben son Beatrice --{35}

-- Look well upon me, I am indeed, I am indeed Beatrice.

When fair Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, left her son AEneas for her favorite home in Paphos, a

          Heavenly fragrance sweet
Was breathed from her ambrosial hair --

-- Ambrosiae comae divinum vertice adorem Spiravere.{36}

But Beatrice -- as Scherillo so beautifully expresses it -- departing from the world, has left "the musical harmonies which she so well knew how to evoke in the heart of the greatest of poets -- harmonies which are propagated and perpetuated in the exquisite sonnets and canzoni of that booklet of love known as the 'Vita Nuova' -- harmonies which ascend and diffuse themselves among the Gothic arches of that august temple consecrated to her memory -- the 'Divina Commedia.'"{37} And this same Beatrice --Beatrice Portinari -- who was the first to cause Dante's heart to beat with love; the first to inspire him to tune his lyre and sing in matchless numbers; the one to lead her fidel d'amor

From time to that great sempiternal day,

when, in the words of Michelangelo,

Heaven opened wide its doors to him --

will henceforth -- in spite of those who see in her but a phantom of the poet's imagination, or a symbol that has been made to signify a score of different and contradictory things -- have a fixed and definite place in the story of her age and in the ever-enduring poetry and romance of our race. To her, of a truth, we can apply the words addressed by her poet lover to his master Virgil:

_ Di cui la fama ancor nel mondo dura,
E durerà quanto ii mondo lontano --

-- Of whom the fame still in the world endures
And shall endure, long-lasting as the world.

<< Great Inspirers >>

{1} "Commento sopra la Divina Commedia," Vol. II, p. 647, Pisa, 1858-62.

{2} The names of the works in which Rossetti develops his grotesque views are "Disamina del Sistema Allegorico della Divina Commedia," London, 1826-27; "Sullo Spirito Antipapale che Produsse la Riforma," London, 1832, and "La Beatrice di Dante," London, 1842.

{3} In his recondite work, "Beatrice Svelata," Palermo, 1897.

{4} Der vorzülichste und eigentliche Gegenstand seiner Dichtung kein anderer gewesen als di ideale Kirche d. h. di Gottesbraut des Hohenliedes. P. IV, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1889.

{5} For the sake of classification, Dante commentators are divided into realists, idealists, and symbolists, according as they regard Beatrice as a reality, an ideal, or a symbol. Those who maintain that the Beatrice of the poet was the historical Beatrice Portinari are known as realists. Those who see in her but a type or ideal of perfect womanhood -- ladonna idealizata or "incarnazione di qualità naturali alla donna" -- as Professor Renier phrases it, are designated as idealists. Those, however, that contend that Beatrice -- who may or may not have had an actual existence -- was but an arbitrarily chosen type or figure to signify theology, or faith, or wisdom, or something else, are classed as symbolists. In their view the name, Beatrice, is, as Dr. Moore expresses it, but "a peg on which to hang the web woven by the poet's imagination, like those of the fictitious personages of the 'Pilgrim's Progress.'" Cf. Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana, II, 346-395.

{6} Storia della Letteratura Italiana, Tom. IV, pp. 191-92, Florence, 1881.

{7} The titles of his two books, "Dante, Hérétique, Révolutionaire et Socialiste," Paris, 1854, and "Clef de la Comédie Anti-Catholique de Dante Alighieri, Pasteur de l'Église Albigeoise dans la Ville de Florence affilié à l'Ordre du Temple, Donnant Explication du Langage Symbolique des Fidèles d'Amour," Paris, 1856, give one a faint idea of their extraordinary contents.

{8} E. H. Plumptre, "The Life of Dante," p. 211, London, 1901.

{9} Charles Eliot Norton, "The New Life of Dante Alighieri," p. 111, Boston, 1867.

{10} Dr. Moore probably the most erudite of England's many distinguished Dante commentators, in discussing the objections to the historic narrative of the "Vita Nuova," declares, "I could never believe that the book is essentially an allegory, or that the question of its having an historical basis is wholly secondary and unimportant. Quite as soon could I believe 'In Memoriam' to be a poetical exercise on an imaginary name, as, no doubt, before it is as old as the work of Dante, will one day be confidently asserted." "Studies in Dante," Second Series, p. 115.

{11} "Il Commento sopra la Commedia di Dante Alighieri," Tom. I, p. 144, Florence, 1831.

{12} Inferno, I, 83.

{13} Edward Moore, "Dante and His Biographers," p. 175, London, 1890.

{14} Vol. II, p. 525. Pisa, 1827-29.

{15} "Super Dantis Ipsius Genitoris Comoediam Commentarium; Nunc Primum in lucem Editum Consilio et Sumptibus," G. I. Bar. Vernon, Florence, 1846.

{16} From the original Latin, quoted in Del Lungo's "Beatrice nella Vita e nella Poesia del Secolo," XIII, p. 96.

{17} Del Lungo, op. cit., p. 9.

{18} Op. cit., p. 113.

{19} Gabriel Rossetti, "Poems and Translations of Dante," including Dante's "Vita Nuova" and "The Early Italian Poets," p. 326, London, n.d.

{20} "Women in Florence," p. 141 et seq., London, 1907.

{21} "Trattato" II, Cap. I.

{22} Un essere vago, astratto, impalpabile que si concretizza in ogni volto gentile di bella fanciulla. Op. cit., Tom. IV, p. 191 et seq.

{23} "Scritti Danteschi," p. 131. Florence, 1912.

{24} Cf. a sermon by the late Cardinal Newman, on "The Invisible World," in which His Eminence declares, "We are in a world of spirits as well s a world of sense."

{25} "Trattato" II, Cap. 13.

{26} "Stones of Venice," Vol. III, Sec. LXVII.

{27} Alessandro d'Ancona, who has so brilliantly defended the historicalness of Beatrice, in referring to this subject writes:

"The progressive development of the idea of Beatrice in the mind of Dante is, then, the story of his thought from his early youth to his most advanced age. Poetry and art, affection and knowledge, inspiration and meditation have one sole and identical name, as they have but one object -- Beatrice.

"A new example and an unheard of miracle of the power of love in a lofty and gentle heart! And fortunate Dante, who, in the midst of the sorrows which harassed his days, had a comfort, a hope which no one could lessen or take from him: comfort and hope which formed the bond of unity in so many and so diverse thoughts and events of his life both in youth and in advanced years! Fortunate Dante, who, in affection's memory, found that image of perfection after which, in manhood's prime, his intellect, all athirst, flew in quest of ideal truth and moral beauty! Fortunate Dante, when he recollects that no evil propensity ever defiled his first sighs of love and no blemish in the demeanor of Beatrice ever prevented him from portraying her as supremely pure -- from exalting her to the sublimest heights of heaven! Fortunate Dante, who saw and recognized in the beautiful face of a woman that living virtue which spurs one to choose the good and enamors one of the true! And he verily saw this divine light shining in the eyes of his lady, not through a rhetorical figure, but through the intensity of an affection in which he himself was ennobled, purified! How much happier was he in this respect than was a great poet of our age -- Giacomo Leopardi, who was inexpressibly miserable, because, feeling within himself a potent yearning for the eternal Idea, he was, through sheer intellectual and mental desperation, compelled to write that he had never recognized this Idea reflected in a woman's face and to affirm that, if it had ever appeared in sensible form, it would thus have become less beautiful." Op. cit., p. 206 et seq.

How different the mental attitude of Leopardi from that of St. Francis of Assisi, who, like Dante, "saw in Beatrice a creature of the divine goodness and beauty and gave glory to God in her, worshiped God in nature and called upon the sun, moon and stars to give Him honor." F. Hettinger, in "Dante's Divina Commedia; Its Scope and Value," p. 16. London, 1887.

{28} See his charming "Introduction to the Study of Dante," p. 259, London, 1906.

{29} Quoted in "The Troubadours," p. 44 et seq., by H. J. Chaytor, Cambridge, 1912. Cf. also "Les Chansons de Jaufré Rudel," pp. 15 and 21, éditées par Alfred Jeanroy, Paris, 1915.

{30} Io son d'aviso che il matrimonio di Beatrice, come il matrimonio de Dante, siano l'uno e l'altro . . . fatti assolutamente esteriori, estranei e indifferenti al dramma tutto psicologico, all'amore per rima, della "Vita Nuova." Op. cit., p. 67.

{31} Paradiso, III, 1.

{32} Joannes de Serravalle, bishop of Fermo, who was born about thirty years after Dante's death, and who wrote when the traditions about the poet's love for Beatrice must still have been fresh in the minds of his admirers in Italy, states explicitly that Beatrice reciprocated Dante's affection. In the preamble to his Latin translation of the "Divina Commedia" he informs us that Dante not only historically and literally loved the damsel -- Dantes dilexit hanc puellam hystorice et literaliter -- but he also states in quaintest style that their love was mutual and lasted during the whole of Beatrice's life -- Philocaptus fuit de ipsa, et ipsa de ipso, qui se invicem dilexerunt, quousque vixit ipsa puella. P. 15.

{33} "Se Beatrice viveva, noi non avremmo nè la 'Commedia' quale abbiamo ora, nè la 'Vita Nuova' stessa: avremmo un precursor del Petrarca più guerriero, più uomo. Ocupato dall' amore, non avrebbe forse Dante ambìto le cure della discorde repubblica, non forse sofferta la dignità dell' esilio: bella non sarebbe del nome è ministra la morte." "Commedia di Dante Alighieri," p. 26, Milan, 1854.

{34} "Commento a la Divina Commedia," p. 38, Milan, 1860.

{35} Purgatorio, XXX, 73.

{36} "AEneid," Lib. I, v. 404 et seq.

{37} "La Vita Nuova di Dante," p. 42, Milan, 1911.

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