Dante's Vita Nuova: A Translation and an Essay

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Indiana University Press, 1973 - Literary Criticism - 210 pages
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A small book which relates in prose and often very beautiful verse the story of the youthful Dante's love for Beatrice. The essay which follows the translation provides new insights into this puzzling thirteenth-century work. Musa regards Dante's intention in this so-called "Book of Memory" as a cruel and comic commentary on the youthful lover. He argues that Dante, using the tradition of love poetry current in his time, points up the foolishness and shallowness of his protagonist, a self-centered and self-pitying youth who only occasionally in the progress of his suffering catches even a glimpse of the true nature of Love, or his beloved. "The sensitive man who would realize a man's destiny must ruthlessly cut out of his heart the canker at its centre [i.e. self-pity], the canker that the heart instinctively tends to cultivate." According to Musa, this is one of Dante's central ideas. Dante scholars, libraries and students of the Italian classics will welcome this distinguished translation and its provocative commentary. [Back cover].

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About the author (1973)

Born Dante Alighieri in the spring of 1265 in Florence, Italy, he was known familiarly as Dante. His family was noble, but not wealthy, and Dante received the education accorded to gentlemen, studying poetry, philosophy, and theology. His first major work was Il Vita Nuova, The New Life. This brief collection of 31 poems, held together by a narrative sequence, celebrates the virtue and honor of Beatrice, Dante's ideal of beauty and purity. Beatrice was modeled after Bice di Folco Portinari, a beautiful woman Dante had met when he was nine years old and had worshipped from afar in spite of his own arranged marriage to Gemma Donati. Il Vita Nuova has a secure place in literary history: its vernacular language and mix of poetry with prose were new; and it serves as an introduction to Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in which Beatrice figures prominently. The Divine Comedy is Dante's vision of the afterlife, broken into a trilogy of the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante is given a guided tour of hell and purgatory by Virgil, the pagan Roman poet whom Dante greatly admired and imitated, and of heaven by Beatrice. The Inferno shows the souls who have been condemned to eternal torment, and included here are not only mythical and historical evil-doers, but Dante's enemies. The Purgatory reveals how souls who are not irreversibly sinful learn to be good through a spiritual purification. And The Paradise depicts further development of the just as they approach God. The Divine Comedy has been influential from Dante's day into modern times. The poem has endured not just because of its beauty and significance, but also because of its richness and piety as well as its occasionally humorous and vulgar treatment of the afterlife. In addition to his writing, Dante was active in politics. In 1302, after two years as a priore, or governor of Florence, he was exiled because of his support for the white guelfi, a moderate political party of which he was a member. After extensive travels, he stayed in Ravenna in 1319, completing The Divine Comedy there, until his death in 1321.

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