Beatrice: The Vision that Stood Time

Dante and Beatrice, by Henry Holiday. Dante looks longingly at Beatrice (in center) passing by with friend Lady Vanna (red) along the Arno River

Beatrice Portinari has been immortalized not only in Dante's poems but in paintings by Pre-Raphaelite masters and poets in the nineteenth century.

Dante was standing near the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River in Florence. It was just before 1300… Dante saw Beatrice standing on the bridge. He was a young man, she even younger, and that vision contained the whole of eternity for him.

Dante did not speak to her. He saw her very little. And then Beatrice died, carried off by the plague. Dante was stricken with the loss of his vision. She was the intermediary between his soul and Heaven itself.

Six hundred fifty years later, during World War II, the Americans were chasing the German army up the Italian “boot.” The Germans were blowing up everything of aid to the progression of the American army, including the bridges across the Arno River. But no one wanted to blow up the Ponte Vecchio because Beatrice had stood on it and Dante had written about her. So the German army made radio contact with the Americans and, in plain language, said they would leave the Ponte Vecchio intact if the Americans would promise not to use it. The promise was held. The bridge was not blown up, and not one American soldier or piece of equipment went across it.

We’re such hard-bitten people that we need hard-bitten proof of things, and this is the most hard-bitten fact I know to present to you. The bridge was spared, in a modern, ruthless war, because Beatrice had stood upon it.

According to Dante, he first met Beatrice when his father took him to the Portinari house for a May Day party. At the time, Beatrice was eight years old, a year younger than Dante. Dante was instantly taken with her and remained so throughout her life even though she married another man, banker Simone dei Bardi, in 1287. Beatrice died three years after the marriage in June 1290 at the age of 24. Dante continued to hold an abiding love and respect for the woman after her death, even after he married Gemma Donati in 1285 and had children. After Beatrice's death, Dante withdrew into the intense study and began composing poems dedicated to her memory. The collection of these poems, along with others he had previously written in his journal in awe of Beatrice, became La Vita Nuova. (Wikipedia)

downloadFrom Robert Johnson’s Inner Gold  "The Figure of Beatrice in Dante’s Divine Comedy."

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