Beatrice in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and the Vita Nuova

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Beatrice in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and the Vita Nuova Se quanto infino a qui di lei si dice fosse conchiuso tutto in una loda, poco sarebbe a fornir questa vice. La bellezza ch’io vidi si trasmoda non pur di lá da noi, ma certo io credo che solo il suo fattor tutta la goda” (Paradiso, XXX) In Dante and Difference, Jeremy Tambling asserts that “Beatrice is throughout dealt with in the Commedia with the assumption that she will already be a familiar figure” in order to make the point that the Commedia “is not offering itself as a single, separate, autonomous work”. While I agree with Tambling’s claim about the need to read the Commedia as a part of a greater work (and the possible ways of doing this are endless—Vita Nuova a preparation for the Commedia, Commedia as “sequel” to Vita Nuova, etc) there is something inherently flawed with the first part of his statement: the idea of Beatrice as “familiar” figure. For Beatrice is actually anything but familiar. Tambling is, of course, referring to the fact that anyone reading the Commedia who has read the Vita Nuova will recognize Beatrice—but the implication is that such a reader will have more knowledge of her than someone reading Dante for the first time. In actual fact, the opposite is the case. In the Vita Nuova , we have accompanied Dante in his breathless chase through visions and painstaking re-writings, elaborate lies and fainting fits in the arguably vain attempt to make sense of, to track or write down a woman who has always managed to be the proverbial two steps ahead. By the opening lines of the Inferno, Beatrice is only familiar in her unfamiliarity: we know her as the one who escaped the Vita Nuova unmarked and unwritten, leaving Dante to “no... ... middle of paper ... ...tric question to represent all that he has been seeking and the solution to be a mathematical or numerical Beatrice. If that is the case, then we might be forgiven for suspecting that even if Dante has obtained the answer, he himself cannot decipher, let alone transcribe, her. Beatrice has escaped again and the chase continues, in a motion that is described at one and the same time with the verb “volgeva” (think volgere, capovolgere—winding, turning on its head, ie both without end and dizzying and disorientating) and as a “rota ch’igualmente é mossa”, an image that brings to mind both a cyclical and thus endless motion (the circular turning of the wheel) as well as a movement forward (the wheel as transportation). “L’amor che move il sole e l’altra stelle” spurs Dante himself on, mystified by that which he cannot reach, seeking to write the ever-elusive Beatrice.

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