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DANTE AS INTERPRETER
By WILLIAM JUSTIN MANN
Dante was one of the world's great artists, one of its supreme interpreters. He has a message for every one of us. We, in our turn, must be interpreters, and each of us must interpret that message as it comes to our individual personality.
Dante Alighieri opened his eyes upon the world in the beautiful city of Florence, in the fair month of May, and in the year 1265. Moccaccio tells us that he was born of no mean parents. His family, while possessing no great wealth, was held in high honor in the community. Dante. was proud of his descent from his illustrious ancestor Cacciaguida; so proud indeed that, as he tells us in the Paradiso, he made boast of it even in those serene regions, thereby calling forth the gentle smile of Beatrice. (Pav. xvi. 1-15.)
As it was in the month of May that Dante was born, so it was on a Mayday, a far more genial season in Florence than with us, that he first came to know what life means.
Folco Portinari, a citizen of high repute in those days, had gathered together his friends and neighbors to hold a May-time festival, as was the wont in Thither came Florence. Thither Dante, then a boy in his ninth year, After accompanied by his father. the feast, the little lads and maidens, of whom many were present, engaged in games fitting to their age, and Dante entered into all these sports. Among these children was the daugh
ter of Folco, known to her companions as Bice, but always called by her father by her full name Beatrice. Boccaccio, whose account we follow, tells us that she was not only graceful and pretty, but gentle and pleasing, and more graceful and modest than is usual with those of her age. Who shall say what influence it is that from such a meeting sometimes casts an enduring spell over a life? Certain it is that at that hour the image of Beatrice so entered into the heart of Dante that it never departed therefrom.
The number nine has a special significance for Dante, both in his life, and in all that he wrote. He was nine years old when he met Beatrice, and just nine years afterwards he wrote the Vita Nuova in which he gives the record of the love thus awakened. What do we find interpreted in this youthful and extraordinary production? The answers to this question would doubtless be almost as various as the list of thoughtful readers who have delighted in it and pondered over it.
One thing which it seems to me to interpret I have never happened to see mentioned. And that is the exquisite sensitiveness of the poetic temperament with which the writer was endowed, the shrinking back not only from all tangible realization of the experience which brought such keen delight, as well as such keen pain. Dante hides his secret from