Dante's "Gentile Donna"
Modern Language Review
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... n Convivio II, 13, Dante begins to expound the allegorical meaning of Voi che intendendo, and here we find another famous chronological indication. After saying that it was some time (' alquanto tempo') after the death of Beatrice that he undertook to read Boethius and the De Amicitia, the poet tells us that he found difficulty in understanding them, but, on persevering, his grief for the loss of his love ceased, as he began to appreciate the vast extent of the land of science into which he was with difficulty entering. In particular his mind became enamoured of Philosophy, of whom his books spoke so tenderly and reverently. He imagined her in the fashion of a 'donna gentile' who seemed to him ever full of pity. Then he began to frequent the schools of the religious orders and in 'picciol tempo, forse di trenta mesi' he became so well acquainted with the sweet nature of this lady 'che '1 suo amore cacciava e distruggeva ogni altro pensiero.' It was then that he wrote the poem Voi che intendendo. The time when the love of Philosophy was in the act of driving away and destroying all other thoughts (notice the descriptive imperfects cacciava e distruggeva: not caccib e distrusse) corresponds to the time mentioned in Cobvivio II, 2, when the 'gentil donna' 'apparve primamente accompagnata d'Amore agli occhi miei, e prese alcun luogo nella mia mente,' when unable to bear silently the struggle which was already ending with the victory of the new thought, he directed his voice toward the place whence proceeded 'la vittoria del nuovo pensiero, che era vittoriosissimo' (that is toward the sphere of Venus) and began to say 'Voi che intendendo ecc.'