In class on Monday, my group began to question what (real, not fictional) Beatrice’s relationship was to Dante. Ari looked it up, and told us that Dante and Beatrice had only met twice before she had died at a very young age, and that there really wasn’t very much to their relationship besides the fact that Dante had been infatuated with her from the first time he saw her. I thought I’d do a little bit more research on the topic and share it with you guys.
Dante was eight years old when he met Beatrice for the first time. What I think is noteable is that Dante claims that when they first met on this day, Beatrice was wearing a red dress. Then, when she is first introduced in Purgatorio, she is also described to be wearing a red dress. Even though so much time had passed, it is clear that Dante hadn’t forgotten what Beatrice looked like on that day, which begins to explain the magnitude of the impression she had him. After their first meeting Dante wrote, “From that time forward love fully ruled my soul.” He became completely infatuated with her after that first interaction (which is mildly creepy if you ask me, he was only eight, after all, and they had only just met). His “love” (I’m using scare quotes because, again, he was eight and hardly knew her) for Beatrice was felt only from a distance until ten years later when he passed her in the street. In his La Vita Nuova, he wrote, “[…] this marvel appeared before me again, dressed in purest white […].” Again, the “purest white” of her dress is also seen at the end of the Comedy, when Beatrice returns to “the third circle from the highest tier” (Canto XXXI, line 68) of the Celestial Rose, which Dante repeatedly describes to be white, bright, and pure. Dante’s meeting with Beatrice in the street was the last time he ever saw her, for she died only a few years later at the age of 24. When Dante makes eye contact with her from her tier on the Rose, that is the last time he will ever see her until he dies and joins her in the sphere of heaven:
Preserve in me your great munificence / so that my soul which you have healed may be / pleasing to you when it slips from the flesh.” (Canto XXXI, lines 88-90)
Dante’s love for Beatrice was forced to remain unrequited because both of them were arranged to marry different people at a young age, so even if Beatrice reciprocated the feelings Dante had for her (it is not known if she ever did or not) they could never have become lovers.
Anyway, I think it’s interesting (or creepy?) how his few and brief interactions with Beatrice influenced him for the rest of his life. She was his primary inspiration for much of his work, including La Vita Nuova, which is a collection of prose and poems describing his love for Beatrice, and, obviously, La Divina Commedia.
Here are my sources: