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May/June c.1265 - September 14, 1321
Part 8 of 13: Convito, Vita Nuova & Canzoniere
The Convito, or Banquet, also called Convivio (Bembo uses the first form, Trissino the other), is the work of Dante's manhood, as the Vita Nuova is the work of his youth. It consists, in the form in which it has come down to us, of an introduction and three treatises, each forming an elaborate commentary in a long canzone. It was intended, if completed, to have comprised commentaries on eleven more canzoni, making fourteen in all, and in this shape would have formed a tesoro or handbook of universal knowledge, such as Brunetto Latini and others have left to us. It is perhaps the least well known of Dante's Italian works, but crabbed and unattractive as it is in many parts, it is well worth reading, and contains many passages of great beauty and elevation. Indeed a knowledge of it is quite indispensable to the full understanding of the Divina Commedia and the De Monarchia. The time of its composition is uncertain. As it stands it has very much the look of being the contents of note-books partially arranged. Dante mentions princes as living who died in 1309; he does not mention Henry VII. as emperor, who succeeded in 1310. There are some passages which seem to have been inserted at a later date. The canzoni upon which the commentary is written were probably composed between 1292 and 1300, when he was seeking in philosophy consolation for the loss of Beatrice. The Convito was first printed in Florence by Buonaccorsi in 1490. It has never been adequately edited.
The Vita Nuova (Young Life or New Life, for both significations seem to be intended) contains the history of his love for Beatrice. He describes how he met Beatrice as a child, himself a child, how he often sought her glance, how she once greeted him in the street, how he feigned a false love to hide his true love, how he felt ill and saw in a dream the death and transfiguration of his beloved, how she died, and how his health failed from sorrow, how the tender compassion of another lady nearly won his heart from its first affection, how Beatrice appeared to him in a vision and reclaimed his heart, and how at last he saw a vision which induced him to devote himself to study that he might be more fit to glorify her who gazes on the face of God for ever. This simple story is interspersed with sonnets, ballads and canzoni, arranged with a remarkable symmetry, to which Professor Charles Eliot Norton was the first to draw attention, chiefly written at the time to emphasize some mood of his changing passion. After each of these, in nearly every case, follows an explanation in prose, which is intended to make the thought and argument intelligible to those to whom the language of poetry was not familiar. The whole has a somewhat artificial air, in spite of its undoubted beauty; showing that Dante was still under the influence of the Dugentisti, many of whose conceits he reproduces. The book was probably completed by 1300. It was first printed by Sermartelli in Florence, 1576.
Besides the smaller poems contained in the Vita Nuova and Convito there are a considerable number of canzoni, ballate and sonnetti bearing the poet's name. Of these many undoubtedly are genuine, others as undoubtedly spurious. Some which have been preserved under the name of Dante belong to Dante de Maiano, a poet of a harsher style; others which bear the name of Aldighiero are referable to Dante's sons Jacopo or Pietro, or to his grandsons; others may be ascribed to Dante's contemporaries and predecessors Cino da Pistoia and others. Those which are genuine secure Dante a place among lyrical poets scarcely if at all inferior to that of Petrarch. Most of these were printed in Sonetti e canzoni (Giunta, 1527). The best edition of the Canzoniere of Dante is that by Fraticelli published by Barbera at Florence. His collection includes seventy-eight genuine poems, eight doubtful and fifty-four spurious. To these are added an Italian paraphrase of the seven penitential psalms in terza rima, and a similar paraphrase of the Credo, the seven sacraments, the ten commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Ave Maria.
Part 9: De Monarchia & De Vulgari Eloquentia
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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