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Beatrice Portinari (c. 1265–1290)

Beatrice Portinari (c. 1265–1290)

Florentine woman who is said to have inspired Dante. Born around 1265 or 1266; died on June 9, 1290; daughter of Folco Portinari (a Florentine noble); married Simone di Geri de Bardi (or Pardi).

Some say Beatrice Portinari was the heroine and inspiration of Dante's La Vita Nuova (The New Life), of his Divine Comedy, and of his life. When he was a boy in 1274, Dante Alighieri first met the nine-year-old Beatrice at the house of her father. "Already nine times after my birth the heaven of light had returned as it were to the same point," wrote the poet, "when there appeared to my eyes the glorious lady of my mind. Her dress on that day was of a most noble color, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited her tender age. At that moment I saw most truly that the spirit of life which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the heart began to tremble so violently that the least pulses of my body shook therewith."

In the La Vita Nuova, Dante narrates the story of his passion from its beginnings to within a year after Beatrice's death. He saw Beatrice only once or twice, but it is likely that his worship was stronger for the remoteness of its subject. The last chapter of the La Vita Nuova relates Dante's inspiration after her death:

It was given me to behold a wonderful vision, wherein I saw things which determined me to say nothing further of this blessed one until such time as I could discourse more worthily concerning her. And to this end I labor all I can, as she in truth knoweth. Therefore if it be His pleasure through whom is the life of all things that my life continue with me a few years, it is my hope that I shall yet write concerning her what hath not before been written of any woman. After the which may it seem good until Him that my spirit should go hence to behold the glory of its lady, to wit, of that blessed Beatrice who, now gloriously gazes on the countenance of Him who is the master of grace.

Beatrice's identity and her allegorical significance in the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia) has been the subject of extensive literature. "In Beatrice, Dante created one of Western culture's most perfect pictures of idealized womanhood," writes Mervin and Prunhuber, "a theme cherished by the troubadours of courtly love and the Romantic poets. And yet he probably never met the little girl or the young woman he glimpsed in the streets. She may have existed only in his imagination. No one knows."

If the theory is true that Beatrice was indeed the daughter of the Florentine noble, Folco Portinari, she was a married woman, and the mother of a family, who apparently perished without ever knowing her effect on the young poet. The death of her father in 1289 is said to have hastened her own. On June 9, 1290, at age 24, Beatrice Portinari died. For 13 years, her mortal love had guided Dante; her immortal spirit would purify his later life, reveal to him the mysteries of Paradise, and inspire his Divine Comedy.

sources:

Mervin, Sabrina, and Carol Prunhuber. Women: Around the World and Through the Ages. Wilmington, DE: Atomium Books, 1990.

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