In that part of the book of my mind before which there would be little to read is found a chapter heading which says: “Here begins the new life.” It is my intention to copy into this little book the words I find written there; if not all of them, at least their essential doctrine.
Dante Alighieri (DAHN-tay ahl-eeg-YEH-ree), the author, narrator, and editor-commentator. He is also the protagonist in the love story. A Florentine citizen born in the thirteenth century, Dante is in his ninth year when he first glimpses Beatrice, another Florentine citizen in her ninth year, and immediately falls in love with her. He next encounters her when they are both eighteen. He attempts to hide his infatuation from both his beloved and the general populace, but his emotions are so pronounced that they cannot be hidden. In an attempt to relieve the pain of his unrequited love, he composes poems expressing his love and admiration for Beatrice, often masking them by addressing them to others. When Beatrice dies after having lived an exemplary life, Dante joins all of Florence in mourning her passing while angels in heaven rejoice in her presence. A lady looking down from a window has compassion for the mournful Dante and comforts him for a period. Following a vision, Dante realizes the full meaning of Beatrice’s miraculous life and vows to write of her that which has never been written of any woman, a task he presumably accomplishes in his greatest work, The Divine Comedy.
Beatrice, the young girl with whom Dante falls in love at the age of nine. She is a silent character in the book, never speaking directly to Dante. Her only communication with the protagonist is through a salutation given to him in passing, which results in his joy; in sharp contrast, the withholding of such a greeting leads to his despair. Her name signifies “giver of blessings,” and throughout the text she is associated with marvelous events and the mystical number nine (the Holy Trinity repeated three times). She often appears as a figure of Christ, and upon her premature death, the whole of Florence mourns. The prose and poems of the book narrate the story of Dante’s evolving love for Beatrice, from juvenile eroticism (including erotic dreams) to mature adoration (including heavenly visions).
Love (Amor), the personification of the controlling sentiment of the protagonist’s life. The author presents Love in the figure of a lord who directs and influences Dante. In various appearances or visions, Love interacts with, counsels, and serves as a confidant to Dante.
Love’s “faithful ones,”
Love’s “faithful ones,” the poets in love—including Dante’s best friend, Guido Cavalcanti, to whom the book is dedicated—who make up the implied audience for most of Dante’s poems.
The “screen lady,”
The “screen lady,” a woman who sits between Dante and Beatrice in church and to whom Dante addresses some of his early poems. The lyrics are meant for Beatrice but are sent to the “screen lady” to conceal the true object of his attention. Dante’s fear that his love will become the talk of the town leads him to rely first and at some length on one “screen lady” and then, when she departs from Florence, on a second one for a briefer period. Finally, a personified Love commands the author to write openly of the true object of his desire, Beatrice.
Giovanna, also known as Primavera (Spring, or “one who comes first”). A companion to Beatrice, Giovanna is seen walking ahead of her. Dante the narrator notes that this occurrence is analogous to the New Testament event in which the ministry of Giovanni (John the Baptist)—the masculine version of the name Giovanna—preceded that of Jesus Christ.
The Lady at the Window
The Lady at the Window, a woman who has compassion for Dante when she sees him weeping over the death of Beatrice. This beautiful lady distracts Dante for a period after the passing of his beloved.