Heavenly Host

This article is part of a series on Italian Renaissance Literature. See also:

  1. Bocaccio: Youthful Idyllic Escape
  2. Petrarch: The Troubled Wanderer
  3. Dante: Heavenly Host

Dante’s 1320 Divine Comedy is perhaps most known for its Inferno — the first among three parts — in which Dante’s self-styled Pilgrim is led, by Virgil, through Hell’s concentric rings. Each ring contains souls given a particular penance suited to a particular sin. These crime-punishment pairs range from the comical to the poignant. In the fourth circle of Hell, two screaming groups — the Prodigal (“why hoard?”) and the Miserly (“why waste?”) — roll massive weights towards each other, until the balls smash into one another and the groups turn around and start once again. [1] In the barren forest of suicides — those who commit suicide are deprived even of their body in Hell — the Pilgrim, puzzled, breaks a twig off a nearby tree. To his horror, blood begins to ooze from the broken branch. A voice emerges: “Why are you tearing me?” [1]

Here, though, I’ll study not Dante’s Inferno or Purgatory but rather his Paradise. In Paradise, Dante is led by Beatrice — the heavenly instantiation of his earthly love, whom he was to meet only twice in his life, for the first time at the age of nine — through Heaven’s concentric spheres. Dante follows Beatrice through a world of unimaginable religious splendor — towards a place where “where joy becomes one with eternity.” (Paradise X.148) [1]

A depiction of angels by Italian Renaissance painter Melozzo da Forlì. [6]

Depictions of angels by the Italian Renaissance painter Melozzo da Forlì. [6]

Deeply woven alongside this depiction of heavenly beauty, however, is Dante’s depiction of Beatrice’s female beauty, which, in fact, “becomes more radiant with every step / of the eternal palace that we climb” (Paradise XXI.7-9) [1]. The religious and romantic are inseparable. This adroit act by Dante gives Paradise much of its power. It also informs deep philosophical questions about the nature of religious love. Continue reading

The Troubled Wanderer

This article is part of a series on Italian Renaissance Literature. See also:

  1. Bocaccio: Youthful Idyllic Escape
  2. Petrarch: The Troubled Wanderer
  3. Dante: Heavenly Host

Petrarch, the towering Italian Renaissance poet born in 1304, “Enjoyed the respect of the literati and the confidence of princes,” writes Yale Italian scholar Thomas G. Bergin; “Petrarch was… one of the most remarkable men of all time.” “The greatest kings of this age have loved and courted me,” Petrarch himself writes, confident and dismissive; “They may know why; I certainly do not.” In the palace of the illustrious Giacomo the Younger of Carrara, Petrarch raucously boasts, “I was received by him… not as a mortal, but as the blessed are greeted in heaven.” Petrarch was colossal and commanding. (1)

green_mountain_sunset[1]

“From thought to thought, from mountain peak to mountain / Love leads me on; for I can never still / My trouble on the world’s well-beaten ways.” (CXXIX: Ode 17) (1)

The poet, however, had a darker side, visible only in his poetry. Good Friday, April 10th of 1327, was the day Petrarch glimpsed – merely once caught eyes with – the ethereal, and life-altering, Laura. “Love stormed my heart as I walked unalarmed,” Petrarch writes, “Through eyes that now but serve to weep my ills” (III: Sonnet 3) (1). Petrarch’s unrequited obsession with Laura lasts a lifetime – past Laura’s death and even to Petrarch’s own death. “Lord, who first imprisoned me in this cell, / Release me,” he writes near the end of his life. “I grant my final years devotedly to you” (Sonnet 364) (2).

Were Petrarch’s infatuated decades wasted, “passed,” as he himself declares, “in worship of a mortal thing” (CCCLXV: Sonnet 317) (1)? Or was his love a source of life, energy, and ultimate creative purpose?

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Youthful Idyllic Escape

This article is part of a series on Italian Renaissance Literature. See also:

  1. Bocaccio: Youthful Idyllic Escape
  2. Petrarch: The Troubled Wanderer
  3. Dante: Heavenly Host

Plague hits the metropolis: citizens die in thousands, only to be quickly and poorly buried. You, with a group of (undeniably attractive) male and female twenty-somethings, escape to the countryside – only to discover a massive, abandoned mansion, complete with verdant fields and stocked halls. “The entire palace had been cleaned, all the beds had been made, fresh flowers were everywhere, and the floors had been strewn with rushes,” continues the narrator (if you’ll permit me to lapse back into our idyllic fantasy); “It was surrounded by meadows and marvelous gardens, with wells of cool water and cellars full of the most precious wines.” Days are spent in a circle on the meadow, telling story after story; the nights are spent, well – who knows how the nights are spent. This vision isn’t the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but Giovanni Bocaccio’s 1348 masterwork The Decameron.

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