In honor of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, the Oxford University Press asked authors with Dante-related writings to submit articles to the OUPblog. The following was written by Duke University’s Associate Professor of Italian Studies, Martin Eisner:
“For over 700 years, Dante’s description of his first encounter with Beatrice has scandalized readers. Medieval commentators debate Dante’s possible blasphemy in glorifying a mortal woman. Counter-reformation editors censor it. Some modern interpreters see it as a theological or political allegory without biographical foundation, while others consider it an idealized modern reciprocal romance. In Dante’s New Life of the Book, I examine how these various responses from Giovanni Boccaccio to Orhan Pamuk bring into focus the novelty of Dante’s Beatrice, who creates a connection to the divine that includes not only Beatrice, but all humans. Beatrice embodies Dante’s optimistic sense of human potentiality that provides the philosophical ground for the rewards and punishments of the Divine Comedy.
“Beatrice is not the singular, exclusive child of God. She represents all humans, whose souls God breathes directly into them (Purgatory, canto 25) . . . Joining his love of a mortal woman with his love of God, Dante expands his vision to encompass other individuals as well. You may worry that Dante has put too much on the shoulders of an eight-year-old girl, but the real scandal of Dante’s Beatrice is that Dante thinks you can be Beatrice, too.” [. . .] –Martin Eisner, OUPblog, September 9, 2021 (retrieved April 10, 2022)