A novel of tedium and infodump in Medieval France

I was excited to find this among the $3 books at a used bookstore. My parents bought me the second book years ago, for my birthday or Chanukah, but I’d never read it. Sadly, I yet again had the exact opposite reaction from the crowd re: a very popular recent hist-fic.

Why might that be this time?

1. Ms. Anton gets an A+ for research, a D for storytelling. It’s a bunch of ideas and historical facts patched together. The narrative plods along tediously, with no compelling, well-developed characters or strong prose to compensate.

2. Showing off her research. Ms. Anton dumps in detailed information that has nothing to do with the purported main story, like Medieval French politics, parchment-making, wine-making, and Rashi’s mother’s diary.

3. Stilted, infodumpy dialogue conveying said details. Enough said.

4. Head-hopping deluxe! When we’re in too many heads, too close together, for not enough time each, we’re ultimately in no one’s head, and can’t care about the characters. The trick to handling an ensemble cast is to weave the POVs, just as a great figure skating program weaves the elements in and out instead of clustering them.

5. By the time an actual plot finally emerged (over 200 pages in), I was long past caring about anyone. At least in A Farewell to Arms, I felt bad for the baby for about two seconds!

6. The sex scenes are like Medieval Jewish porn fantasies! I also call BS on Rashi giving fairly graphic sex advice to his own daughters and son-in-law and giving the latter intimate details about his sex life! And enough already with the unrealistic trope of virgins having a mind-blowingly awesome first time!

7. I call BS on men waiting outside the mikvah for their wives and gossiping about who went there! Taharat hamishpacha, family purity, is an extremely private mitzvah, which even many women didn’t discuss with other women till a few decades ago. You’re not supposed to know who went there, esp. if she’s your sister, mother, or rabbi’s daughter! A brother also wouldn’t oversee his own sister’s immersions!

8. Was it really common for women to regularly come to synagogue, not just for holidays and the Sabbath, in the 11th century?

9. The word “gender” is anachronistically used in place of “sex” six times, including twice in dialogue. People in the 11th century DID NOT use that word in that way, EVER! It only became a euphemism for “sex” in the late 20th century, thanks in large part to the vile Dr. John Money and his grotesque experiment with poor David Reimer. The freaking Victorians weren’t afraid to say “sex” when referring to being male or female!

10. Either someone confused the dating, or Ms. Anton SORASed her characters. The timeline says Joheved was born in 1059, yet she’s twelve when the story opens in 1069. Miriam’s birth year is given as 1062, yet she’s nine when the story opens. Joheved’s husband Meir is depicted as four years older, yet he was born circa 1060.

11. Speaking of, I had no sense of these girls growing up. I know there was no concept of adolescence in the Middle Ages, but I never had a feeling for how old they were at any given time, or of going on a coming-of-age journey with them. It felt more like SORASing.

12. Zero character development. Enough said.

13. I call BS on the premarital kissing and making out! Traditional Orthodox couples aren’t even allowed to be alone without a chaperone or hold hands before marriage.

14. Every time a conflict appears, it’s quickly resolved, like when Rashi catches Joheved and Meir making out before they’re married.

15. The blurb makes it sound like the story is about Meir’s disapproval of Joheved’s Talmud study, but he’s totally cool with it after his initial shock. It was extremely unusual for Jewish women (and even most men) to be so educated in this era, yet we never gauge any long-lasting reactions to this from anyone!

16. The depictions of births and midwifery aren’t accurate, as a reviewer on Amazon and Goodreads explained in detail.

17. Constantly interrupting the narrative to define or explain things!

Rashi and his daughters (who really did study Talmud and pray with tefillin) deserved so much better. I’m told the second book depicts Miriam’s husband Benjamin as openly gay, and the community anachronistically accepts this.

Superstitious fears through the ages

With a budget of almost two million kronor, Heksen (Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages) was the most expensive Scandinavian silent ever. It premièred in Stockholm, Malmö, Göteburg, and Helsingborn on 18 September 1922, and 7 November in Copenhagen.

In 1919, director Benjamin Christensen discovered inquisitor Heinrich Kramer’s Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) (1487) in a Berlin bookshop. For almost 200 years, this was a huge bestseller second to only the Bible.

Kramer called for the extermination of all “witches,” with detailed descriptions of torture to extract “confessions” before burning at the stake. This played a major role in the increasingly cruel, brutal, barbaric persecution of “witches” till the 18th century.

From 1919–21, Christensen studied everything he could find about “witches” and witch-hunting. The original playbill by the première included a long bibliography.

Though he was Danish, his funding came from Svensk Filmindustri. This provided complete creative control, and money to buy and refurbish the Astra studio in Hellerup, Denmark.

To maintain a dark hue, Christensen and his cameraman, the venerable Johan Ankerstjerne, only filmed at night or in a closed set.

Filming ran from February–October 1921, followed by a year of editing.

Though the film received many positive reviews, it was banned in the U.S. and heavily censored in other countries. In 1941, there was a Danish re-release with a long intro by Christensen and different intertitles. In 1968, a shortened version was released with a jazz score and narration by William S. Burroughs.

Film critics and scholars widely consider Häxan to be Christensen’s masterpiece.

The film opens with a scholarly examination of the history of the belief in sorcery and evil spirits, and how earlier societies saw the universe. Historical illustrations, woodcuts, and a mechanical animation are presented with commentary.

We then move to sorcerer Karna’s underground home in 1488, where she and her assistants prepare potions with snakes, frogs, a thief’s finger, cat feces, sparrows, and a dove’s heart. One of her clients gets love potions to win a fat monk’s heart.

Meanwhile, a neighbor spies on two med students who’ve dug up a body for an autopsy, and denounces them as witches.

The Devil (Christensen) frightens a monk and seduces women, most notably Apelone, an old woman he tortures with moving and disappearing gold coins.

Chapter 3 begins the story of Maria the Weaver, an old, poor woman accused of witchcraft. Jesper the Printer has fallen ill with dizziness, and his wife Anna is convinced he’s bewitched. Lead divination confirms this.

Maria comes to beg, and Anna gives her soup. Eager for someone to blame, Anna accuses Maria of witchcraft, and the visiting inquisitors haul her off.

Maria cracks under cruel torture, and gives a false confession. She says she’s birthed many of the Devil’s children, with Karna and her coven as midwives. Maria gives details of a witches’ Sabbath, and implicates Anna, her mother, and many other women who’ve mistreated her.

Young monk Johannes is coerced into denouncing Anna’s sister. Another monk promises to smuggle her out if she reveals the secret of thunder water, but it’s a cruel trick.

Chapter 6 explores tools and methods of torture. One of Christensen’s actors insisted on trying the thumb screw herself.

Christensen then uses the story of Sister Cecilia to  illustrate how many nuns, suffering from nervous tension, caused entire convents to break out in alleged insanity and demonic possession.

Chapter 7 opens by saying many women accused of witchcraft were old and poor, often with physical deformities and conditions like tremors. In the modern era, they’re taken in by nursing homes and pious organizations.

Christensen says the actor playing Maria not only believes in the Devil, but says she’s seen him by her bedside. Her prayerbook’s illustrations are shown.

Christensen retrospectively diagnoses “witches” with neuroses caused by “hysteria,” which could be humanely solved in modern clinics.

Though hysteria has been soundly debunked by countless doctors and scientists, superstition is still rampant in its own way today, and the elderly and poor still suffer.

Though Christensen claims over 8 million people were burnt as witches, that number is extremely inflated. I’ve heard as low as 40,000 and as high as one million. But regardless of the real number, those were innocent people whose lives were ended because of superstitious fears.

Medieval music

(This is edited down and revised from one of my old Angelfire posts. I’m really proud of how many superfluous words I’m able to expunge from these recovered old posts. I had a really bad habit of going off into the weeds with off-topic rambles and inappropriate editorializing, and was just way too wordy overall.)

I discovered Medieval music in the Musical Appreciation class I took my junior year at university. This was the first music class I actually enjoyed, since it was about history and real musical compositions instead of notes, keys, and other stuff I never understood. Our textbook was written by a fellow who went to my original shul; he also selected the music on the 3-CD companion.

I fell in love with the Kyries and other monastic chants. They have an otherworldly feel, like you’re actually in a Medieval monastery. There were also some early Medieval compositions and a gorgeous Occitan troubadour song by Beatriz de Dia, “A Chantar.” (Occitan was a dialect from Southern France.) The instrument featured most prominently is a vielle, an ancestor of the violin.

450px-Vielle_Tenor_de_John_Pringle

Other Medieval instruments I fell in love with:

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Copyright Sguastevi

The dulcian, an ancestor of the bassoon, originated in the first half of the 16th century, though it sounds more Medieval than Renaissance to me. It’s like a more melancholy bassoon. My character Eulalia Qiana Laurel (one of Cinnimin’s many grandchildren) plays both a dulcian and vielle, which perfectly fits her sad, dark personality. She also loves spiders, bats, dressing in black, and melancholy poetry. Her mood springs from her parents’ attitude towards her as the seventh girl in a row.

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Copyright blackbiird; Source Flickrlaute

The lute remains one of the most popular instruments from this era. It’s very lightweight, though it gets out of tune easily. It sounds like a cross between a guitar and harp.

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The dulcimer also remains very popular. It’s played with miniature hammers, and is similar to a zither.

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© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A viol da gamba is another ancestor of the violin. They were very high-class and courtly, and remained quite popular in England even after the violin had come into vogue. A viol bow is convex, not concave like a violin bow. They had to be played while seated, and the most popular models had six strings.

Sruti_upanga

Bagpipes are mentioned in the Bible, and are believed to have originated in Sumeria. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, they tended to only have one drone. Around 1400, a second drone was added, and after 1550, a third drone was introduced and give it its modern sound.

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The lizard (a tenor cornett), the even-curvier serpent (a bass cornett), and the zink/cornett itself were created in the Late Middle Ages, and similar to a modern-day recorder. They very closely replicated the sounds of the human voice.

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The harp dates back at least as far as the Bible. Troubadours and court musicians had to play by ear or memory. In Medieval folklore, it was said to be imbued “with supernatural powers which could destroy the feynde’s might.” A 12th century Welsh law book stated: “The three items indispensable to a gentleman were his harp, his cloak, and his chessboard, while the three proper things for any man to have in his house were a virtuous wife, his cushion on his chair, and his harp in tune.”

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The rebec, which originated in the Arab world, was seen as low-class. It varied in sizes and pitches, though the three-stringed model was most popular.

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Copyright http://www.organistrum.com

The hurdy-gurdy was very highly regarded. Before 1300, most were so large they required two players.

Important Medieval musicians in a nutshell:

Josquin Desprez (ca. 1450/55–27 August 1521) created the system of musical notation, and was one of the most important composers of all time. Prior to Desprez, a song or composition was often never played the same way twice.

Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300–April 1377) is the most famous of all Medieval composers. He wrote songs and poetry in his native French, created illuminated manuscripts, and broke boundaries in a quest to make music more personal and dramatic. Many people today consider him avant-garde. His best-known work is Mass of Notre Dame.

Leonius (born ca. 1135) and Perontius (born ca. 1200) made music polyphonous (many voices) instead of monophonous (one voice).

Early Music Resources

Josquin Desprez

Guillaume de Mauchaut

International de Machaut Society

Early Polyphony

The Canterbury Tales review

Another book review from my old Angelfire site, probably written sometime in 2004. Yes, I am quite well aware that people in Medieval England had quite different religious views than the average modern person. That doesn’t mean I can’t be deeply offended by blatant anti-Semitism and Islamophobia instead of just shrugging and saying “That was just how things were then.” It’s just like with the repugnant Birth of a Nation; of course many Americans held less than enlightened views on race relations in those days. That didn’t mean most of them expressed it through applauding the Klan and depicting African-Americans as lazy porch monkeys who rape white women and eat fried chicken and go barefoot in the Senate. You have a really thick skin if you can just accept all cringe-worthy depictions of women, African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Native Americans, etc., in old books and movies without flinching. It’s not at all about being “too PC,” it’s about being honestly shocked and offended.

***

Like The Decameron, this Medieval masterpiece too was intended to have a hundred stories, only unlike Boccaccio’s work, Chaucer only completed a bit over twenty stories, to have been told by thirty-one pilgrims going to the shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury, England, one story on the way there and another on the way back, told by each pilgrim, including himself and the innkeeper.

The innkeeper suggested they tell stories to pass the time, and whomever told the best story would get a dinner when they returned to his inn. Sadly, things don’t get that far, and we don’t get to find out who won the dinner. Think of the modern-day possibilities, of someone writing the second half of this book, with the stories told on the way back and finally letting us in on who told the best story!

Off they go. After drawing straws to see who’ll start them off, the Knight begins with a lovely story about cousins in ancient Greece, who fall in love with the same woman while they’re in gaol, then fight over her once they’ve gotten out of gaol (one by pardon, the other by breaking out) until tragedy results, but in the end ultimately happiness. The people who tell the rest of the tales are from all walks of life—Pardoner (we read his tale along with the Prologue in my tenth grade English class), priests, friar, monk, cook, miller, reeve, lawyer, prioress, squire, you name it.

Many of the tales are very raunchy, as raunchy as some of the stuff in The Decameron, in particular the stories told by the miller and the reeve. They even have the c word in them, and other Anglo-Saxon profanities. The Reeve’s Tale is rather similar to one in The Decameron, about two young men who spend the night at the house of a couple with an older unmarried daughter and a baby boy in a cradle. During the night, one of the men, Alan, gets up and sleeps with the daughter, and the second man, John, has to get up to urinate, but finds the cradle in his way.

He pushes it over, and when the wife gets up and feels the cradle gone from its usual spot, she gets into the guests’ bed, thinking she almost made a horrible, foolish mistake. John proceeds to sleep with her. Then Alan gets up and gets into his host’s bed, thinking it’s his bed because the cradle isn’t there, and brags to him about how he slept with his daughter.

The host, Simon (Simkin), is furious, and the wife wakes up and screams for her husband, saying there’s someone on top of her. In the ensuing commotion, poor old Simkin (who deserved it anyway, the way he tried to steal flour from them earlier) gets banged over the head and the men flee from the house, getting back their stolen flour, which has since been baked into beautiful cakes.

In Boccaccio’s story, the wife realises what’s happened and lies to her husband that he too shouts out strange and impossible things when he’s dreaming, and the guest whom she accidentally slept with agrees, telling his friend to stop sleeptalking and to come back to bed, adding he told him he’d get into trouble one of these days over this problem. He begins shouting out nonsense to make the host believe he really was dreaming, and he laughs hysterically. Everyone is reconciled and happy.

The Prioress’s Tale is pure anti-Semitic tripe and libel, the stuff that was commonplace in the Middle Ages. Some young boy who loves to sing Catholic songs he wasn’t scheduled to learn yet is walking through the ghetto singing when Satan convinces the downtrodden people forced into this hellhole (described by the Prioress as deserved, since we’re so “satanic” and undeserving to live among other people in a free environment) to murder him, since he’s goading them with this song.

One Jewish man hides in the bushes, murders him (the old blood libels), throws him into a privy, and shortly thereafter he’s found with his throat slit, yet still singing that stupid song. Of course this gives the excuse for a murder-spree and pogrom, and the boy is revered as a saint and hero. Mention is also given to Hugh of Lincoln, another young boy of the era whose disappearance and murder was blamed on the area Jews.

Like this awful nun would’ve ever had any contact with Jews anyway, seeing as how they were all driven out of England in 1290. It’s scary that the blood libels survived into the twentieth century, with people who actually believed this anti-Semitic bullshit was true instead of manufactured lies used as excuses to have pogroms at Eastertime, or just to be mean and hateful.

The Sergeant-at-Law (i.e., lawyer)’s Tale is also very Christocentric. Young pretty Princess Constance is sighted by a group of Syrian Muslims, who fight among themselves over who shall have her. The guy who’s chosen says her father will never let her marry a Muslim (the insulting, dated, and offensive word “heathen” is used throughout), so he, the sultan, and all their friends and subjects convert to Christianity. Yeah, right.

The sultan’s mother is understandably furious over this abandonment of their ancestral religion, and has everyone at the wedding banquet except Constance murdered. Constance gets on a ship going towards the British Isles, and is taken in by a nice governer and his wife Hermengyld, and, wouldn’t you know it, Hermengyld is so taken with her devoted servant she too abandons Islam, and so does an old Briton they come across some time later!

A jealous knight murders Hermengyld and places the bloody knife beside Constance in their bed, and everyone feels she’s wrongly accused. At the trial, she prays for a miracle to happen to prove she isn’t guilty, and the knight is struck down by an otherworldly blow. And, surprise, surprise, the king and many of his subjects are so wowed by this that they too become Christians! What Medieval fantasy, people abandoning their own religions in favour of one that won’t leave them alone until they become members. Would these people have been very happy at a story where a young prince and all his subjects converted to Islam or Judaism en masse to win a beautiful princess, abandoning Christianity, the religion they’d lovingly been raised with?

Constance has some more misfortunes after that (but with a happy ending), and thankfully there aren’t anymore magickal wishful thinking fantasy conversions that only the Medieval mind could’ve imagined were realistic and true.

The Oxford Scholar’s Tale is also very similar to another Decameron story, the final story in that book. A Marquis is pressured to take a wife, and finally he gives in and decides to marry a poor girl named Griselda (the name is the same in both stories). He loves her very much, and his subjects are soon won over to the wonderful woman he’s married. But Walter wants to test her.

First he sends away their beloved daughter, saying the people are unhappy because they had a girl, and then a number of years later sends away their son, claiming the people are unhappy over the prospect of one day being ruled by a poor woman’s son. He says both have been killed. Finally he sends her away too, in nothing more than her shift, to her family, who always thought he’d do that one day.

To see if she’s borne these ordeals patiently, Walter soon brings her back, claiming he’s going to marry another woman, a 12-year-old girl. (He already presented her with a fake Papal bull of divorce when he drove her away.) And, wonder of wonders, it turns out that the girl is none other than their daughter. He also brings back their son, and holds her as his most dear wife, since she’s patiently borne these indignities.

Of course, to the modern mind, both of these stories are hard to believe, that any woman (or man, for that matter) in her right mind would agree to reconcile with a man who treated her so terribly and then years later just said he only ever did any of it to see how virtuous and patient she truly was.

The Wife of Bath rocks. She’s an intelligent liberated woman, married five times so far, loves sex, says that if women were writing the history, philosophy, and theology books, men would be the ones castigated and called evil, isn’t afraid to take lovers and to slap her husbands around when they get out of line, and has a very raunchy tongue. Like Alison in the Miller’s Tale, she demands, finds, and takes her own pleasure if her husband isn’t willing or able to properly give it to her, and always has a witty and clever way to get out of being accused of adultery or misbehaving.

The Merchant’s Tale ends in a similar way to another of Boccaccio’s stories. In Chaucer’s tale, an old knight named January finally decides he’d better get married, and picks a very young woman named May. January’s got a squire named Damian, who’s passionately in love with May. Eventually they work out a plan to get together, after January goes blind.

While out in the garden one day, Damian hides in a pear tree, where May is to climb up and meet him. Pluto and his wife Proserpina are watching, and Pluto is so mad that January is about to be cuckolded that he says he’ll give him his sight back to catch them in the act. Proserpina shoots back, saying she’ll give May the perfect response to deflect January’s suspicions.

So they’re up in the tree having sex when January looks up mortified, unable to believe his eyes. May tells him she’s trying to help him get his sight back and it’s not what he thinks, and that naturally he won’t be able to judge things correctly after having just gotten his sight back. He buys it, blissfully unaware he’s just been lied to.

In Boccaccio’s tale, Lidia, the wife of Nicostrato, is in love with Nicostrato’s favourite servant Pirro. Pirro gives her three tasks to do to see if her love is true, all of which she does. Finally, when Lidia is sick and lying under a pear tree, she orders Pirro up into the tree to get her some pears, and once up there he claims to see Nicostrato banging Lidia rotten.

Nicostrato goes up to see what’s going on, and Pirro and Lidia start to have sex. He’s furious, accusing his wife and most trusted servant of betraying him, and both deny this wholeheartedly; Lidia points out that if she really wanted to be unfaithful, she’d never be so foolish as to do it right in front of him. In consequence the tree is chopped down, so it won’t cast doubt on the honour of any other woman.

Most of the tales told reflect the social origins of the storytellers; some are even told in response to a tale that made their profession look bad. The miller tells his raunchy tale about an old carpenter who’s cuckolded by his much-younger wife, and the reeve, who’s also a carpenter, is so mad he in turns tells the story about the sleazy miller Simkin. Later on, the friar tells a story about a corrupt summoner, and this prompts the summoner to tell a tale about a sleazy friar who gets a rather vulgar comeuppance.

The Franklin’s Tale too is similar to a story in The Decameron; in Chaucer’s version, the lovely young wife Dorigen, while pining for her husband off on a voyage, is confronted with the squire Aurelius, who’s passionately in love with her. She tells him she’ll be his if he can clear the coast of Brittany of all its rocks, so one can sail along unimpeded. She thinks it’s an impossible task, so she doesn’t think anything will ever come of it.

In Boccaccio’s version, Dianora too is bothered by a suitor, and she tells him she’ll be his if he can make her a garden that’s just as beautiful in January as in May. Both men do these impossible tasks by the aide of magicians, and when they confess to their respective husbands, they’re told they must honour their word and sleep with them. Both suitors are so moved by this generosity that they release the women from this promise, and both magicians are in turn so moved they release the men from paying for their services.

As has been mentioned, these stories do take more than just a bit from Boccaccio instead of being all stories independently thought up. The Decameron rocks, but did you have to take so much from it? It also would’ve been nice, in my version, to have had the Middle English and the translation on opposing pages. There are some jarring differences, but Middle English isn’t that hard to read, esp. in comparison to Old English. I’ve read the Our Father and a bit of Beowolf in Old English (in a history and English class, respectively), and we could barely read any of it, so different are Modern and Old English.

There’s also a lot of Christocentrism, not to mention the anti-Semitic Prioress’s Tale (as well as an anti-Semitic jab made at the beginning of the Pardoner’s Tale); Christianity is obviously important in many of Boccaccio’s tales too, but it’s expressed through holy (but more often than not sleazy and corrupt) clergy, monks, friars, and nuns, not through constantly talking about Jesus, his blood, and trying to convert people who aren’t interested.

The few Jews in Boccaccio’s tales (Abraham, who converts to Christianity, and Melchisedek, who protects his money from a trap laid by Saladin) are treated more respectfully, as well as the Muslims in his stories. Saladin may be trying to steal Melchisedek’s money in the first story he appears in, but in the second story, told during the tenth and final day, he’s one of the two heroes, and is treated very respectfully, like a virtuous ruler, friend, and human being instead of some “heathen” who needs to be converted or killed asap.

My version also only gave a synopsis of the second of the two tales Chaucer himself tells, the Tale of Melibeus, and the final story, the Parson’s Tale, claiming that they’re very long, told in prose instead of poetry, and wouldn’t be of interest to the general reader. Maybe so, but can’t you at least provide them so the general reader can make up his or her own mind on the matter?

And let’s keep in mind here that this is only about half (at most) of what Chaucer envisioned; the book remains unfinished, so we’re denied all the rest of the tales that were supposed to be told, as well as the most important part, the ending and finding out who told the best tale!

But all in all, these are great stories (except the one told by the nasty Prioress) that have stood the test of time for a reason. And it was the first major work of literature written in the English language, the same way Dante chose to write in Italian instead of Latin to express his universal thoughts and ideas, to bring them to the common people instead of just the educated few.

La Vita Nuova

Originally written as one of the book reviews on my old Angelfire site, sometime in the Spring of 2004.

***

This is a sweet underrated autobiography and poetry collection written by a young man desperately in love with the unattainable woman of his dreams. Dante first saw the beautiful Beatrice when he was nine and she was eight, and always remembered how beautiful she was even at that young age. They didn’t meet again for nine more years, and from that point on he loved her desperately, even though she never became his wife or even his lover.

Every time he sees her on the street, in church, outside of his house, walking with her friends, wherever, he’s inflamed with even more love for her, even more intoxicated with her otherworldly beauty, unable to stop thinking about her. Out of this love, which some might call obsessive, sprang some gorgeous sonnets and poems inspired by Beatrice.

So in love is Dante that he not only writes these poems and sonnets, he also prefaces each one by explaining in detail the latest Beatrice sighting or encounter which inspired him to write it, why he wrote it, and then afterwards in italics explaining what each part of the sonnet means, if he’s broken it down into different parts, each with a different theme, and what everything means in plain Italian, as it were. Some of the sonnets, though, are so obvious in intent and meaning he doesn’t give an explanation afterwards for what it really means.

Even after Beatrice dies, sadly, on 8 June 1290, Dante keeps on writing poetry for her, including when one of her five brothers comes to visit him to ask him to write some poetry on the occasion of a certain death. Dante knows it’s her brother, though he’s disguising the reason he’s there, and tells him he knows it’s for his recently deceased sister. He’s very concerned about the impression it’ll make, so he goes through three different poems to create just the right one, and more importantly so the brother won’t think anything improper about Dante’s feelings for Beatrice.

About a year before the tragic death, Dante actually had a terrifying nightmare/vision about his belovèd dying, and he was extraordinarily upset by this, to the point of tears. When asked by Beatrice’s friends whatever was the matter with him, he told them, but didn’t provide her name, letting them think he loved some other woman madly. And of course this terrifying premonition too was “celebrated,” if one can call it that, in another beautiful and long sonnet.

After Beatrice dies, Dante is visited by a beautiful woman, who for a time cheers him up and inspires him to write some poetry in her honour, though he soon feels very ashamed he took another woman as his muse and goes back to writing just for lovely Beatrice. In the final chapter of this cute short work we see the germ of the idea that eventually became The Divine Comedy; Dante got inspired to write a much longer poem celebrating his love for Beatrice, through which he hoped to immortalise her for all time. Mission accomplished.

It’s not really an autobiography proper, and shouldn’t be read as one, since it’s more a celebration of the great love of one’s life, the love one will never have, than a proper book. The love he felt is very obvious, and the poems and sonnets are beautiful; the feelings are genuine, so who cares if it reads like a traditional book or not?