Perpetual Frown of Dante.

Perpetual Frown of Dante.
22 July 2016 0 Comment

I have spent many years bumping into statues of Dante scattered about Italy, culminating in the massive marble image of the man in Piazza S.Croce and I’ve always wondered why this revered figure of history and literature never smiled. Never have I seen him portrayed with a happy, wide grin spreading across his Caesar like face with its prominent nose of glorious proportions. Never, have you?

Could it be that the moral responsibility he imposed upon himself, by accident or by choice, leeched into his very being, into his bones and when he looked around himself he saw only corruption and compromise. When he looked into his heart he found even less to smile about, “There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.” Love was as elusive and difficult as holding water in your hand, “Love, which quickly arrests the gentle heart, Seized him with my beautiful form that was taken from me, in a manner which still grieves me” (from his Inferno). Certainly he was a dour spirit living in a most dour time when the church imposed its morality upon the citizens of Europe whilst living like a whore in Rome. Such unacceptable hypocrisy to someone as intelligent as Dante was a perpetual thorn in his deeply moral psyche, that had him often speaking from his pen of the flaws of the rich and powerful, of which Florence had an abundance!

His writing often revealed his troubled mind as he pointed his finger to those around him that sickened him and violated his concepts of honor and decency, “O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?” (The Divine Comedy)

I think his frown was born of his unrequited love for Beatrice Portinari. He first laid eyes on her in 1275 when he was only nine years of age and from that moment he wrote, “love ruled my soul.” He wrote that at nine years of age?! Beatrice was to marry Simone de’ Bardi, a wealthy banker and it’s doubtful that she ever knew of Dante’s infatuation for her. Dante married Gemma Donati by whom he had four children and certainly was attracted to other women. But for the young writer and poet Beatrice remained forever, “the woman of my mind.” His poem “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare” (So gentle and so virtuous she appears) Dante portrays his love for his Beatrice not as a human being but as an angel whose presence on earth is a miracle.

Perhaps Dante should have taken note of what Oscar Wilde once said, “One should always be in love that is the reason one should never marry” and smiled a little more!

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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