As any romantic will assert, love is by far the most powerful force known to human hearts and minds. This sentiment is espoused throughout history, almost to the point of cliché. Everyone has heard the optimistic statement, “love conquers all,” and The Beatles are certain, however idyllic it may be, that “all you need is love.” Humanity is convinced that love is unique within human emotion, unequalled in its power to both lift the spirit up in throws of ecstasy, and cast it down in utter despair.
Loves power has suggested to many that it serves as a link to the divine, and that the feeling instilled in man by love comes from the supernatural, be it God or otherwise. In La Vita Nuova Dante Alighieri makes it clear that he believes in the transcendent power and effects of love.
La Vita Nuova is a collection of poetry and prose describing Dante’s love for Beatrice Portinari. Though both Dante and Beatrice married others during the time chronicled in La Vita Nuova, the love he professes for her is pure and all consuming. Indeed, for Dante, Beatrice represents absolute beauty and nobility of spirit. He refers to her as his “most gracious lady,” and she comes to represent the most perfect object of love.
From the very first page Dante shows the reader the immense effect love has on him,
“The moment I saw her I say in all truth that the vital spirit, which dwells in the inmost depths of the heart, began to tremble so violently that I felt the vibration alarmingly in all my pulses, even the weakest of them. As it trembled, it uttered these words: (behold a god more powerful than I who comes to rule over me).” (4)
At the mere sight of Beatrice, Dante is overwhelmed and his own spirit informs him that he is in the presence of a god that will, from then on, rule over him. The god, of course, is Love, as Dante sees it represented in Beatrice.
The physical effect that love has on Dante is apparent whenever he is in its presence, that is, through a vision of Love himself or through being close to Beatrice. In their second encounter, nine years later, Beatrice is walking down the street where Dante is standing “in fear and trembling.” As she passes him, she greets him, of which he says, “Such was the virtue of her greeting that I seemed to experience the height of bliss […] I was filled with such joy that, my senses reeling, I had to withdraw from the sight of others.” (5)
It is after this encounter that Dante has his first vision of Love manifested, in which love says to him, “Ego dominus tuus,” or “I am your master.” Love is holding Beatrice in his arms, and in one hand, Dante’s heart. Love bids Beatrice to eat the heart and then, weeping, the two ascend into heaven. It is clear that Dante is consumed, body and mind, by Love, and sees him as a divine force to which he must submit his will.
Just as devout men who feel the influence and power of God within them give up their will and lives to the service of their Lord, so Dante gives...