Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Florence. North-central Italian city that in Dante’s day was a medieval walled fortress enclosing about thirty thousand people, making for little privacy. Everyone would have known everyone else’s business in Dante’s Florence. Thus, the image of Dante at nine, and later at eighteen, being struck motionless and speechless by the sight of a beautiful girl on the streets of the city is not only effective emotionally but also plausible literally. The loci of Dante’s sightings of Beatrice are never made specific. Even a scene obviously set in a church is described only as a place in which people are praying to the Virgin Mary. Dante’s response to his glimpses of Beatrice always involves a change of place: He goes to his room, he is obliged to travel to another city, he finds a solitary place, or he walks down a path by a clear stream. Yet his focus always comes back to the streets of Florence, not because Florence is his home, but because it is Beatrice’s.