Dante's Vita nova (ca. 1292-95) is one of the most famous love stories in literature. Many know the story of Dante's love for Beatrice, starting in childhood, her death at a young age, and his devotion to her in death eventually leading to her reappearance as Dante's guide to paradise in the Divine Comedy. Less known is the fact that many of the poems in the Vita nova that Dante claims or implies he wrote for Beatrice probably were not written for her, and that the poems alone (there are thirty-one of them total in the libello, or "little book," as Dante calls it) don't tell this story at all: the prose, written years after many of the poems, has this function. The prose creates the illusion of narrative continuity between the poems; it is Dante's way of reconstructing himself and his art in terms of his evolving sense of the limitations of courtly love (the system of ritualized love and art that Dante and his poet-friends inherited from the Provençal poets, the Sicilian poets of the court of Frederick II, and the Tuscan poets before them). Sometime in his twenties, Dante decided to try to write love poetry that was less centered on the self and more aimed at love as such: he intended to elevate courtly love poetry, many of its tropes and its language, into sacred love poetry. Beatrice for Dante was the embodiment of this kind of love--transparent to the Absolute, inspiring the integration of desire aroused by beauty with the longing of the soul for divine splendor.
Andrew Frisardi's translation captures both the tone and the meaning of Dante's language, creating poems and prose in contemporary English that convey much of the aesthetic experience of the originals. The book includes extensive explanatory notes and a long introduction that provide background and context for better understanding Dante's references and use of symbols that were well known in his time but not as well known in ours.
The book's full contents are:
Translator's Preface and Note on the Text
Appendix A: Italian Texts of Poems with Prose Translations
Appendix B: Gorni's and Barbi's Chapter Divisions of the Vita Nova
List of Abbreviations
Index of First Lines
Index of Subjects and Names