Friday, June 18, 2010


In Dante's Inferno (the poem, not the game), Beatrice doesn't really appear, thoughs she's quite important (sort of like the Jacob character through the first several seasons of Lost, I guess). She gets a mention in Canto I from Virgil. After Virgil guides Dante through Hell and Purgatory, where he will "see those souls who are content / To dwell in fire because they hope some day / To join the blessed: toward whom, if your ascent // Continues, your guide will be one worthier than I-- / When I must leave you, you will be with her." Poetic Beatrice, then, isn't that important (yet) to Dante. But I'm still only in Canto I of the first part of the three book Divine Comedy. (It's the game that's slow at progressing. Not my reading.)

Video game Beatrice, though, provides the narrative reason for Dante's descent into hell. Returning to Florence, Dante finds Beatrice dead. A sword's been run through her and she's on the ground with one breast exposed. (Yes, video game nudity--something that never happened to the damsel in distress in Donkey Kong.) Lucifer, apparently, is spiriting her away to Hell. So, Dante fights some zombies that pop up out of a Florence graveyard then makes his way to a church where Beatrice's corpse is pulled down into Hell by some wispy yet surely malevolent smoke. (Her corpse, by the way, is laid out an altar completely naked, but with some weird dark vein structures showing through the chest...) The church collapses and Dante begins his descent. Soon we'll be past the first three lines of the poem!

In real life, Nicole Pinsky's notes to Robert Pinsky's translation of Dante tell us, "Beatrice was probably Beatrice Portinari, who was Dante's neighbor when they were children, and who had died in 1290 at the age of twenty-four. Dante celebrates her in his Vita Nuova as a living woman, and in the Divine Comedy as far more than just a fictional representation of that woman: Beatrice stands for blessedness and divine grace."

The instruction booklet (but who reads instructions?) that comes with the video game tells us that, "In life, Beatrice was pure and virtuous." Okay, that agrees with Dante's poetry. "Her lone sin" (um....) "was that she gave herself to Dante before wedlock," (really?) "but she did so only because Dante swore on her cross to be faithful." (Seriously? How many young women have been fed and believed that line in history? And we're supposed to accept that one of world literature's great symbols for purity would have? Even Sparknotes [yes, that thing I tell my students to avoid] tells us that she was "an allegorical representation of spiritual love.")

Of course, historical Dante and Beatrice had an unrequited relationship; both marrying others. (Dante's marriage was arranged when he was 12, about 3 years after he first met Beatrice. Interestingly, his wife is not mentioned in his poetry.) So what does the sexualization of this ideal relationship mean? Perhaps that in the 21st century we won't believe in an eternal love that hadn't been consummated physically? Who would go through Hell, risking his life against a ton of demons, if he wasn't going to get laid at the end of it all? It's the action hero plot resolution, right?

In the video game, Beatrice is voiced by actress Vanessa Branch. If you watch much television and don't Tivo your way through commercials, you'll know her as the blonde here. Very late into the game, with Beatrice ensconced in Hell, I expect her to use the commerical's catchphrase as she flashes a smile that glows as bright as a Heavenly light.

Coming up: entering the game's Hell, which includes a doorway that looks very much like one of my personal favorite works of art.

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