We believe all Dante's other Ladies to have been as purely imaginary as the Dulcinea of Don Quixote, useful only as motives, but a real Beatrice is as essential to the human sympathies of the Divina Commedia as her glorified Idea to its allegorical teaching, and this Dante understood perfectly well.1 Take her out of the poem, and the heart of it goes with her; take out her ideal, and it is emptied of its soul. She is the menstruum in which letter and spirit dissolve and mingle into unity. Those who doubt her existence must find Dante's graceful sonnet2 to Guido Cavalcante as provoking as Sancho's story of his having seen Dulcinea winnowing wheat was to his master, ‘so alien is it from all that which eminent persons, who are constituted and preserved for other exercises and entertainments, do and ought to do.’3 But we should always remember in reading Dante that with him the allegorical interpretation is the true one (verace sposizione), and that he represents himself (and that at a time when he was known to the world only by his minor poems) as having made righteousness (rettitudine, in other words, moral philosophy)
Canzone, I believe those will be rare
Who of thine inner sense can master all,
Such toil it costs thy native tongue to learn;
Wherefore, if ever it perchance befall
That thou in presence of such men shouldst fare
As seem not skilled thy meaning to discern,
I pray thee then thy grief to comfort turn,
Saying to them, O thou my new delight,
‘Take heed at least how fair I am to sight.’L'Envoi of Canzone XIV. of the Canzoniere, I. of the Convito. Dante cites the first verse of this Canzone, Paradiso, VIII. 37.
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1 How Dante himself could allegorize even historical personages may be seen in a curious passage of the Convito (Tr. IV. c. 28), where, commenting on a passage of Lucan, he treats Martia and Cato as mere figures of speech.
2 II. of the Canzoniere. See Fraticelli's preface.
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