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What has never been written of any woman
on 4 June 2008
Anyone who has read Dante's legendary "Divine Comedy" will know of his passion for a woman named Beatrice, who was his tour guide through heaven.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg, as "La Vita Nuova (The New Life)" shows in detail. This exquisite little book describes Dante's passion for Beatrice, and the emotional rollercoaster he went through as a result. This is Dante's unsung, more intimate masterpiece.
"La Vita Nuova" is a series of poems and anecdotes centering around the life-changing love of Dante for a young woman named Beatrice. The two first met when they were young children, of about eight. Dante instantly fell in love with her, but didn't really interact with her for several years.
Over the years, Dante's almost supernatural love only increased in intensity, and he poured out his feelings (grief, adoration, fear) into several poems and sonnets. During an illness, he has a vision about mortality, himself, and his beloved Beatrice ("One day, inevitably, even your most gracious Beatrice must die"). Beatrice died at the age of twenty-four, and Dante committed himself to the memory of his muse.
It would be a hard task to find another book overflowing with such incredible love and passion as "La Vita Nuova"; it's probably the most romantic book I have ever seen. Dante's feelings might seem a bit odd by modern standards, because Dante and Beatrice were never romantically involved. In fact, both of them married other people. But at the time, courtly love was considered the best, purest kind there is, and Dante's emotions are a perfect example of this.
But Dante's love for Beatrice shows itself to be more than infatuation or crush, because it never wanes -- in fact, it grows even stronger, including Love manifested as a nobleman in one of Dante's dreams. There is no element of physicality to the passion in "La Vita Nuova"; Dante talks about how beautiful Beatrice is, but that's only a sidenote. (We don't hear of any real details about her)
And Dante's grief-stricken state when Beatrice dies (of what, we're never told) leads him to deep changes in his soul, and eventually peace. And though Beatrice died, because of Dante's love for her and her placement in the "Comedia," she has achieved a kind of immortality.
One of the noticeable things about this book is that whenever something significant happens to Dante (good, bad, or neither), he immediately writes a poem about it. Some readers may be tempted to skip over the carefully constructed poems, but they shouldn't. Even if these intrude on the story, they show what Dante was feeling more clearly than his prose.
It's impossible to read this book and come out of it jaded about love or passion. Not the sort of stuff in trashy romance novels, but love and passion that come straight from the heart and soul. A true-life romance of the purest kind.