La Vita Nuova
When I lived in Italy years ago, I studied the Divine Comedy,
along with the works of Petrarch, Machiavelli, Boccaccio,
Castiglione, Ariosto and others . . . but I missed Dante's
La Vita
, which I did not read until many years later, when I
returned to the great Florentine writer in the millennium year.  My
loss . . . for
La Vita Nuova is one of the defining works of Western
consciousness, perhaps the most important personal statement
in literature since Augustine's
Confessions.  The thirty poems
included in the work are among the finest of the age, but even
more fascinating are the autobiographical narratives in which the
poems are embedded.  Never before had readers been able to
experience poetry as such a clear and direct expression of an
individual personality, and so closely linked to specific events in
the life of the author.   And what powerful events, no less than
the chaste and deeply psychological relationship between Dante
and Beatrice.   Let others celebrate Tristan and Isolde, Romeo
and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, but I will take this real life love
story over these fictional accounts any day.   One day around
1274, Dante met Beatrice Portinari, when he was nine years old
and she was eight.  He would not encounter her again for almost
a decade, when a chance meeting inspired a dream that led to
the composition of the first sonnet in
La Vita Nuova.  Dante would
not see her again, and Beatrice was soon married to a banker
and was dead before her 25th birthday.  But out of these modest
raw materials, Dante wove a web of emotions, romance and
spiritual inspiration.   


This painting, from a Liverpool Museum, of Dante encountering
Beatrice along the river Arno is a favorite of mine.  

Here is a
painting of Beatrice from another Dante (Gabriel

Dante and Beatrice meet again . . . in Paradise.  Once again a
painter is on hand to capture the

Now see the
movie . . . you can find it at Blockbuster in the
"silent, Italian movies from 1912" section.  

Dorothy Sayer is my
Virgil and Beatrice
combined.  She is not
only an outstanding
guide through the
extravagant landscapes
Inferno, Purgatorio
Paradiso, but I also
followed her
experienced lead
through the poetry and
prose of
La Vita Nuova.  


Dante deserves his
own Da Vinci Code -- or
perhaps this is a
punishment like
those he metes out
in the Inferno.  In
any event, Matthew
Pearl offers us The
Dante Club.