In her TNR review of Andrew Frisardi’s translation of Dante’s Vita Nova, Helen Vendler observes that Dante’s autobiographical cycle of prose and poems was not published until 1576, “almost three hundred years after its composition.”
How was the Comedy understood in its absence? Beatrice appears in the Comedy of course, but would anyone know who Beatrice was without access to the Vita Nuova? Various theories would have been developed about the nine-fold structure of each zone of the afterworld, but no one would have known what Dante tells us in the Vita Nuova – that he first saw Beatrice at the age of 9, saw her 9 years later, considered her a 9 since she was the Trinity cubed, a miracle of 3 x 3. Dante ends the Vita Nuova declaring his ambition to write a poem worthy of his beloved. Did readers of the Comedy between Dante and 1576 realize they were reading a cosmic love poem?
Update: Andrew Frisardi now informs me that Vendler was mistaken about the Vita Nuova. It was first printed in 1576, but was available earlier. So, never mind.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 4:37 am
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