It was a spring day of May 1274 and the city of Florence was in a festive mood. It was their custom to celebrate the 1st day of May with great pomp and magnificence. After the procession they walked along the verdant Arno River toward the countryside to breathe the fresh air of spring and admire its blossoms. It was on this occasion that Dante, who was nine years old, met Beatrice Portinari, now eight, at her home. He immediately saw in her a beauty which transcended the physical by her sweet smile and lady-like attitude of soul. She left an indelible impression on Dante which Bocaccio gives expression thus,
"Although still a child,
he received her image in his heart
with such affection that,
from that day forward,
never so long as he lived
did he depart therefrom."
Many times after this initial meeting he went looking for her and and noting her noble bearing and praiseworthy character he comments that "She did not look like the daughter of a mortal man, but of a god." (Dante, New Life)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Encyclopedia
Dante met Beatrice again nine years later as she was walking dressed in white with two attendants along a street in Florence. He wrote, "In passing through a street, she turned her eyes thither where I stood sorely abashed: and by her unspeakable courtesy, ... she saluted me with so virtuous a bearing that I seemed then and there to behold the very limit of blessedness."
In Chapter 11 of the Banquet which Dante wrote after Beatrice's death he states that nothing in a woman can be more excellent than courtesy because it is all one with honesty, modesty and decency. Dante was fortunate to have lived in the age of Chivalry which under the influence of Christianity had placed woman on a high pedestal. Something of the reverence which man had shown to the Blessed Virgin revealed itself in poems and songs of troubadours. This love inspired poets and singers to live a life worthy of the lady of their heart.
But love, no matter how noble and exulted, must be tried by pain. Beatrice died at the young age of twenty-five in 1290. Her premature death devastated Dante to such a degree that his friends despaired for his life. To overcome this sorrow, Dante began by reading Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy and other philosophical works. He began to see light in their reasoning and fell in love with philosophy which he called the "gentle lady". From philosophy he passed on the Schools of Religion and study of Theology. During a period of about 30 months he began to experience such sweetness and love for the truth which banished other sorrowful thoughts. Dante began to contemplate the realm of the blessed and "There I beheld a lady glorified", meaning that by some form of revelation he became certain that Beatrice was in Heaven. Once again the thought of her sweet smile comforted his life and she became, in the Paradiso, Dante's guide in the celestial realm.
He tells us the Beatrice in real life became for him the medium of his moral reform and religious salvation thus:
"Of all I have looked on with these eyes
Thy goodness and thy power have fitted me
The holiness of grace to recognize."
4_Moon: Heavenly Cloister