Beatrice and Brunetto


Beatrice (Bice) di Folco Portinari (1266–90), as painted by Marie Spartali Stillman

Beatrice was my female B name last year as well, but it’s only right to use it again, since she’s the most important female character in the entire Divine Comedy. Not only is she Dante’s guide through Paradise and the final stages of Purgatory, but she’s also mentioned many times before she appears. It was Dante’s passionate, enduring, unrequited love for her that inspired this great work of literature. He wanted to immortalize his muse, the love of his life, for all time. Mission accomplished!

Beatrice is the Italian form of Beatrix, which probably derives from Viatrix, a feminine form of the Latin name Viator, which means “voyager” and “traveller.”

Also painted by Marie Spartali Stillman

Beatrice was the daughter of Florentine banker Folco Portinari, and first met Dante when she was eight and he was nine. In 1287, she married banker Simone del Bardi, and passed away just three years later, in June 1290, aged only 24. Her death absolutely devastated Dante, though he’d married another woman (Gemma Donati) in 1285 and begun having children with her.

Dante described Beatrice as having emerald-colored eyes, but apart from that, didn’t discuss her physical appearance. This was a higher form of love, not mindless lust. Dante saw Beatrice as a force for good, his saviour, someone who could make him into a better person. They only had two real meetings (as well as many greetings in the street), but these two meetings were so special and profound, Dante never forgot her.

It’s also noteworthy how Beatrice is the only person in The Divine Comedy who addresses Dante by name. Through the entire poem, he’s only called by name once, when Beatrice rebukes him for his disloyalty to her. She begins her rebuke when he’s crying like a scared, confused little child upon discovering Virgil has left him.

“Dante, that Virgil leaves you, and from your view
“Is vanished, O not yet weep; weep not yet,
“For you must weep, another stab to rue.”

(Brunetto Latini, 1210–94)

Brunetto, a member of a noble Tuscan family, was the son of Buonaccorso Latini. Following the death of Dante’s father, Alighiero di Bellincione, between 1281–83, he became Dante’s guardian. In Italian, he signed his name as Burnecto Latino, and in Latin, he signed himself as Burnectus Latinus. He was a philosopher, statesman, member of the Guelph party, a notary, and a scholar.

Among Brunetto’s writings are Italian translations of Cicero, the Italian encyclopedia Tesoretto, and the French encyclopedia Li Livres dou Trésor. The lattermost volume is regarded as the very first encyclopedia in a modern European language.

Brunetto appears in Canto XV of Inferno, and is treated more respectfully and lovingly than almost anyone else who appears in The Divine Comedy. Dante lovingly speaks of Brunetto as his teacher and mentor, and offers to sit with him while the rest of Brunetto’s group runs off. Brunetto has to refuse because he’s condemned (in the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell) to keep aimlessly moving. He then tells Dante’s future.

Brunetto seems to be a diminutive form of Bruno, a name found in many European languages. It derives from the Germanic word brun, which either means “brown” or “protection/armour.” I really, really love this name, since it calls to mind a sensitive artist, poet, or musician.


5 thoughts on “Beatrice and Brunetto

  1. I’ve never read anything from Dante, so your introduction to some of the characters from his writing and his life is very interesting. Thanks for letting us know more about their real life counterpart, it might be just what I needed to finally read his works!
    Catherine @ La muse du Ninja

  2. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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