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Representation of Love in Dante’s Inferno and Boccaccio’s Decameron

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While love isn’t exactly the first thing you imagine when you think of Dante’s Inferno, it surprisingly shows up in all sorts of ways throughout the course of the story. Dante informs his readers of the love that stems from the goodness of God, and that its bond can be shattered by the sins of those whom God has created. And just like Dante, Boccaccio’s Decameron also contains many stories on the theme of love. However, his stories contain combinations of man and woman and stories of love’s limits clearly indicated throughout the passage, but without the implication of God and divinity. While both Dante and Boccaccio represent love and the amorous experience throughout their writings, Dante’s formnof writing is merciless and emphasizes on Dolce Stil Novo, while Boccaccio instead is compassionate and firmly denies the theme of Dolce Stil Novo and writes of low-loves of the flesh.

To begin, both writers formed their creations around love and its effect on their lives and well-being. Dante, while forced into a marriage by his parents with Gemma Donati, loved a Florentine woman by the name of Beatrice his entire life. Upon her death, Dante withdrew into himself and began composing poetry dedicated to her memory. This collection of poetry, as well as the writings he had written before her demise, became known as La Vita Nuova. However, this wasn’t the last of Beatrice’s memory, for Dante many years later created his epic poem La Divina Commedia, in which she became his inspiration. As a significant character in Dante’s poetry, Beatrice became his intercessor in Inferno, his purpose of travel through Purgatorio, and his guide through Paridiso. An example of Beatrice’s guidance in the Inferno is the scenario of when she took pity upon Dante and asked Virgil, another important character of Dante’s Inferno, to help him with his journey. Dante wrote, “A lady’s voice that called upon me where I dwelled In limbo… I fear he may be already lost, unaided, I’ve come from Heaven too late… offer the help you have to give Before he is lost… I am Beatrice, come from where I crave…”. Even in the most simplest of ways, Dante made sure to include his true love, his admiration. For without Beatrice, Dante Pilgrim’s character would have continuously been lost without the help of Virgil.

While Boccaccio’s love story may not be as interesting as Dante’s, his love and desire for Maria d’Aquino, whom he referred to as Fiammetta, became a part of Decameron’s storyline. However, unlike Dante who made his love a primary focus of his writing, Boccaccio focused on the act of compassion for women in love and created a novella that carefully guarded women’s honor. He displayed that women are carnal and lust just like men, if not more. Boccaccio wrote, “She decided to see if she could secretly find herself a worthy lover… she was able to observe many… men… one more than any of the others attracted her… she silently and passionately fell in love with him, and the more she saw him, the more she admired him. The young man… noticed her attention… and he took her so deep into his heart that he could hardly think of anything else but his love for her”. With this example, Boccaccio demonstrated that admiration of the opposite sex, finding someone visually appealing, can be a step into finding one’s love, even if it is perverse. Boccaccio doesn’t separate sexual appetites and love’s naturality. He attempts to show his readers that the world allows for the cruel and the perverse, as well as the sinful and the merciless, when it comes to the service of love. In other words, he wants to show his readers the complex understanding of what it means to love and to be loved as a human.

In both Dante and Boccaccio’s writing, the action of lust is delved into and explained from two points of view. Dante explains lust throughout the Inferno as a carnal, sexual desire that consumes individuals to act out on their reasons to sin. Their actions often lead them, and their lovers, to death. Dante’s location of lust, one of the seven rings of hell, is ambiguous. On one hand, Dante marks lust as one of the least serious sins in hell and places it at the foremost location, farthest from Satan himself. But, on the other hand, Dante introduces lust first in his writing because of its association of sex with the original sin: the fall of mankind in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. The story of Francesca and Paolo explains the deviance of lust and how it consumes man and woman equally. Dante wrote, “We read of Lancelot, by love constrained… Sometimes at when we read our glances joined, Looking from the book each to the other’s eyes… and he kissed my mouth, trembling…”. While Francesca made it seem that love was at fault for their sin, in truth, it was the lust that consumed them. While reading from a book, the story of Lancelot brought on a sexual desire. In other words, it turned them on and led to the consuming of desire that they had for one another, not a forbidden love.

The other point of view of lust is explained by Boccaccio as an innate way of human nature. Boccaccio wrote, “Ghismunda, I thought I knew your virtue and honesty so well that it never would have occurred to me, no matter what people might have said, that you could submit to any man who was not your husband, or even think of doing so, if I had not witnessed it with my own eyes”. With this line of writing, Boccaccio shows his readers that even under the scorn of her father, Ghismunda could not help but explain that she is only human, that she felt love and desire for a man, and that his class level would not dissuade her feelings. She explained that her love and compassion for him will remain, even after his or her death, and that it is only a natural feeling that she can’t help but experience herself. Throughout his writing, Boccaccio shows his implicit insistency for his readers to understand that man and woman should honor their demands and choices, and admit the boundaries of their nature and decisions.

Dolce Stil Novo, a sweet new style of writing, was first used by Dante in his writing of the Inferno. This poetic writing is considered superior in quality and intelligence while it demonstrates metaphoric symbolism and subtle double meanings during its use. However, instead of being material in nature, Dolce Stil Novo represents love as a “divine love.” Dante uses Dolce Stil Novo throughout The Divine Comedy with his theological views and symbolic imagination. The adoration of women’s beauty is explicitly portrayed but Dolce Stil Novo poets that have the tendency to delve deep into introspection. With this portrayal, women’s beauty is often compared by comparing the desired woman to a creature from paradise. The woman tends to be described as some sort of bridge to God.. Dante writes, “In heaven a Lady feels such pity”, when referring to the time that Beatrice came down from Heaven and spoke to Virgil. In this instance, Beatrice is a bridge from God. While she may no longer be human, or alive, her beauty was portrayed by his desire into a creature, an angel, from Paradise. However, unlike Dante, Boccaccio denies Dolce Stil Novo and its effects. While he respects human nature, and its diversity and primitive, civilized reactions to living, he denies all love that denies the flesh. Boccaccio writes, “Why shouldn’t I have a little fun when I can get it? Troubles and worries I can get every day! This is a pretty young girl, and no one knows she’s here. If I can persuade her to serve my pleasure, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t! Who will be the wiser? No one will ever know, and a sin that’s hidden is half forgiven!” (Boccaccio 97-98). Through this example of writing, Boccaccio shows his belief that love doesn’t reach a scale that reaches to heaven, as Dante’s does. With firm denial throughout his writing of the Decameron, he shows that love retains a human-like, original, fleshy character. He shows no sign of pretentious attempts to transform human into a “supra” human love, but instead describes throughout his writing the “lower kinds” of love.

In conclusion, Dante and Boccaccio stay consistent with their beliefs and express their opinions throughout their writings for their readers to ponder over. While love is explained in different aspects from their different points of view, they both agreed on the idea that while love’s actions, or actions claimed by love, may sometimes be at fault for unfair reasoning, that these actions are still sin and should result in punishment. Dante’s punishment tends to reflect more in the afterlife, whether it be in Hell, Purgatory, Limbo, or Paradise, while Boccaccio’s punishments tended to focus on the sinners’ present lives on earth and how they should be disciplined. Dante’s theory and writings of faith and how God will punish or appraise will remain merciless, for no man or woman is left spared to contrapasso. Boccaccio, while compassionate, will also continue to be remembered for his ability to show women as superior. While he displays that women may not enjoy the superiority in the social hierarchy, he does demonstrate that they possess a considerable amount of power over the male sex in terms of sexuality, lust, and cunningness. Both Dante and Boccaccio should remain known not just for their beliefs, creativity, and theology, but for their demonstrations of love and how love affects not only affects sinners and the righteous, but how it affected themselves and brought on such astonishing forms of writing.

Works Cited

  • Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky. New York: The Noonday Press, 1998. Print.
  • Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Italian Renaissance Reader: Edited by Julia Conaway Bondanella & Mark Musa. New York: Penguin Group, 1987. Print.

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Representation Of Love In Dante’s Inferno And Boccaccio’s Decameron. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 16, 2021, from
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