Shrouded in Mystery

Beatrice becomes one of Dante’s guides in his masterpiece The Divine Comedy, but is this the same Beatrice Portinari who resided in Florence.  Dante reveals that he saw Beatrice for the first time when his father took him to the Portinari house for a May Day party.  They were children at the time, he was nine years old and she was eight.  The second time they met while walking on the street in Florence, they were adults, and Beatrice the emerald-eyed beauty, turned and greeted Dante before continuing on her way.  Dante was instantly smitten and never forgot her after this meeting even though he married another woman, Gemma Donati, in 1285, with whom he had three sons and one daughter.  Dante loved Beatrice from a distance, they had little to no contact with one another and Beatrice Portinari probably never had any idea of the depth of his passion for her.  Beatrice died at age 24 in 1290 without Dante ever seeing her again.   Rarely has a woman served as such profound inspiration for a writer, and yet he barely knew her.  Yet she was to become one of literature’s most famous figures, as Dante dedicated most of his poetry and almost all of his life to her.  Beatrice is more than a simple muse.  She is an idealized love, the kind of love that transcends physicality.

Dante wrote a chronicle of his relationship with her in La Vita Nuova, which translates from Italian to be The New Life that was published in 1294.  It is an expression of the medieval genre of courtly love in a prosimetrum style (a text composed in alternating segments of prose and verse).  The work tells the story of Dante’s encounters with and love for Beatrice, culminating in her early death and its effect upon him.  Dante tells of his meetings with her, praises her beauty and goodness, describes his own intense reactions to her kindness or lack of it, tells of events in both their lives, and explains the nature of his feelings for her.  When Dante was informed of her death, he vows to write nothing further of Beatrice until he writes “concerning her what hath not before been written of any woman”.  Dante was able to fulfil this promise many years later, when he composed The Divine Comedy where he articulated his exalted and spiritual love for Beatrice.

Poet and politician Dante Alighieri was a Guelph, when the Guelphs split into two factions, the moderate but disaffected faction (White Guelphs) and the pure papal extreme faction (Black Guelphs), so the Blacks continued to support the Papacy, while the Whites were opposed to Papal influence, specifically the influence of Pope Boniface VIII.  The White and Black Guelphs were rival parties in medieval Germany and Italy which supported the Holy Roman emperors and the papal party respectively.  Dante was one of the supporters of the White faction opposed to Pope Boniface VIII., and in 1302 he was exiled when the Black Guelphs took control of Florence.  He ended up on the losing side, and he was ordered to pay a large fine, after he was accused of corruption and financial wrongdoing.  He did not pay the fine, in part because he believed he was not guilty, and in part because all his assets in Florence had been seized by the Black Guelphs.  He was, therefore, condemned to perpetual exile, and if he returned to Florence without paying the fine, he could be burned at the stake.

Dante wrote The Divine Comedy poem in 1306, because he was alone, after being banished from Florence, probably trying to get his head around everything that has happened.  He wanted to explain how it feels to be kicked out of your own home and lose your family and all your possessions.  He must have felt incredibly lonely and lost during those months, and it must have been hard for a man like him to lose his freedom, his financial independence and to never be able to go back home again.  He started off his poem explaining the misery of a lost man, and he ended up leaving us with the most incredible analysis of all sorts of political and ethical problems of his time, so much so that today we can still relate to what he wrote.

Beatrice becomes Dante’s reason for continuing his journey through hell, and she is why Dante made it through the underworld in the first place, by sending Virgil, the Latin author of The Aeneid as his guide down to help him.  Her love for him got him through hell and on to the next chapter of his journey.  Beatrice is seen in Dante’s Purgatory when she comes to him in a griffin drawn chariot.  She comes down to Dante wearing a white veil representing faith, a green cape symbolizing hope and underneath the cape she wore a robe of flaming red signifying burning love.  When she first arrives, she comes to Dante in a harsh approach, trying to get a confession out of Dante, and she mentions to him that he cannot continue his journey if he is not happy and cleansed.

Beatrice comes to him and lets him know that Virgil can no longer help on his quest, and he cannot leave limbo.  Beatrice speaks to Dante and tells him to not weep about the fact that Virgil cannot help him on his journey anymore, but that he should look forward to the next point in his journey.  She tells Dante to wash himself in the waters of Lethe around the cave of Hypnos and through the Underworld where all those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness.  This will cleanse him and take away his sins.  She also mentions that the waters of Euone the fifth river of Eden at the top of Mount Purgatory will help restore good in Dante as when someone bathes in them, this will strengthen the memories of the good deeds that they accomplished in life.  Beatrice guides Dante through the nine celestial spheres of Heaven, to the Empyrean, which is the abode of God.

Today is the Dante & Beatrice love theme on Love Is In Da Blog and we are asked to find an Italian love song and/or write a Palindrome poem about love.  I am going to write about the Billy Joel song ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’.  In this song ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’, Billy Joel recounts an evening out at his favorite joint, which blossoms into an examination of life.  This seven-minute epic came out on his 1977 studio album The Stranger.  The middle part of this song was called ‘The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie’, who were these two people that happened to peak a little too early in life.  Billy composed the music first, which in this case was inspired by The Beatles, specifically the suite of songs on their Abbey Road album where a few unfinished tunes were put together to create the coherent piece titled ‘Golden Slumbers’, which was linked with ‘Carry That Weight’ and followed by ‘The End’.  Particular chords and other bits and pieces of the song ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ slowly came together to eventually culminate in one of Joel’s most enduring classics, which was produced by Phil Ramone.

This song was never released as a single, even though is a beloved Joel classic by his fans, and largely considered to be one of, if not, his best songs.  The average marriage in the United States lasts 8 years, which is the average time from marriage to divorce.  The average time between marriage and separation is 7 years.  The math just doesn’t seem to add up in this song, as Brenda and Eddie were going steady in 1975, and then they got married and saved up some money for a couple of years, so how could they have gotten divorced in 1975.

The song opens up with a couple on a date in an Italian restaurant, they are old friends from school and they look over the wine menu.  After they catch up on what is going on in their lives, talking about their jobs, families, old clothing styles, music, cold beer and reminiscing about romantic teenage nights, they start talking about Brenda and Eddie who were a popular couple that everyone knew from their High School.  They recount how Brenda and Eddie were madly in love, and they were the king and queen of the prom and they were going steady involved in a teenage romantic relationship where both partners committed to date only each other.  Brenda and Eddie decide to marry, but everyone said they were crazy, thinking that Brenda was much too lazy, and that Eddie would not be able to support her in the lifestyle that she was accustomed to, but they got married anyway.  Their marriage starts with everybody wavin’ Brenda and Eddie goodbye.

Unfortunately, Brenda and Eddie’s marriage falls apart, after they spend a lot of their savings on an apartment, which they decorated with plush carpeting, some paintings and a water bed.  The lack of money causes a big strain on their relationship, so they begin to fight and then the tears of regret sink in, where they both feel like they made a mistake.  After their marriage fails, Brenda and Eddie are still friends, but they are both out into the dating world again, which is why the “king and queen went back to the green”.  They realize that they can “never go back there again”, things have changed so much since the times when they were both greasers, all they can do is try to pick up the pieces of their broken lives.  The couple in the Italian restaurant, are wishing the best for Brenda and Eddie, but they don’t know any more about them.  They have covered everything they know about Brenda and Eddie and they figure that it is time to wave Brenda and Eddie goodbye, so they can concentrate on which wine they should select for their meal.

A bottle of white, a bottle of red
Perhaps a bottle of rose instead
We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I, face to face

A bottle of red, a bottle of white
It all depends upon your appetite
I’ll meet you any time you want
In our Italian Restaurant

Things are okay with me these days
Got a good job, got a good office
Got a new wife, got a new life
And the family’s fine
We lost touch long ago
You lost weight I did not know
You could ever look so nice after
So much time

Do you remember those days hanging out
At the village green
Engineer boots, leather jackets
And tight blue jeans
Drop a dime in the box play the
Song about New Orleans
Cold beer, hot lights
My sweet romantic teenage nights

Brenda and Eddie were the
Popular steadys
And the king and the queen
Of the prom
Riding around with the car top
Down and the radio on
Nobody looked any finer
Or was more of a hit at the
Parkway Diner
We never knew we could want more
Than that out of life
Surely Brenda and Eddie would
Always know how to survive

Brenda and Eddie were still going
Steady in the summer of ‘75
When they decided the marriage would
Be at the end of July
Everyone said they were crazy
Brenda you know you’re much too lazy
Eddie could never afford to live that
Kind of life
But there we were wavin’ Brenda and
Eddie goodbye

They got an apartment with deep
Pile carpet
And a couple of paintings from Sears
A big waterbed that they bought
With the bread
They had saved for a couple
Of years
They started to fight when the
Money got tight
And they just didn’t count on
The tears

They lived for a while in a
Very nice style
But it’s always the same in the end
They got a divorce as a matter
Of course
And they parted the closest
Of friends
Then the king and the queen went
Back to the green
But you can never go back
There again

Brenda and Eddie had had it
Already by the summer of ‘75
From the high to the low to
The end of the show
For the rest of their lives
They couldn’t go back to
The greasers
The best they could do was
Pick up the pieces
We always knew they would both
Find a way to get by
That’s all I heard about
Brenda and Eddie
Can’t tell you more than I
Told you already
And here we are wavin’ Brenda
And Eddie goodbye

A bottle of red, a bottle of white
Whatever kind of mood you’re in tonight
I’ll meet you anytime you want
In our Italian Restaurant

Written for Love Is In Da Blog 2021 Great Love Stories Dante & Beatrice love theme where we are asked to find an Italian love song and/or write a Palindrome poem about love.

3 thoughts on “Shrouded in Mystery

  1. It is very strange to have my name in such a famous piece of literature. I never found out if my parents had her in mind when they named me. I assume though it’s more my mum’s love for France 🤗 great song 🙋‍♀️🐝

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