For some, February brings thoughts of chocolates, flowers, and romance, but others are not so lucky in matters of the heart. Some of them turn for help to two Italian ladies, one long-dead and one who never existed at all.
Two Italian love stories inspire those with troubles in the romance department to pour out their hearts in letters to the ladies involved: They are Juliet, of Romeo and Juliet, and Beatrice, of Dante and Beatrice.
Let’s talk about these two ladies and try to understand why people feel compelled to write to them with their woes.
Who is Juliet?
Juliet is a character in one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, Romeo and Juliet. The play was first performed in the late 16th century, but Shakespeare adapted it from an earlier Italian tale. There’s no evidence that this story is based on any true events, so as far as we know, Juliet is a completely fictional character. But that doesn’t stop people with love troubles from seeking advice from her.
Where to Find Juliet
If you visit Verona where her story is set, you could be forgiven for thinking that Juliet was a real person. You can visit her house – called Casa di Giulietta or House of Juliet – and you can even visit her tomb.
It doesn’t seem to matter that Juliet was a fictional character, or that this house with a balcony wasn’t where she lived. But let’s ignore that for a moment and remind ourselves of the “greatest love story.”
The Love Story
Just to recap: The Montagues and the Capulets are two feuding families in Verona. Young Romeo and Juliet meet at a masked ball and immediately fall in love (as people do in plays and movies). But then, horror of horrors, they realize that Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague. The two families hate each other – what will they do?
They get married in secret the next day and make plans to run away. But before they can do that, Romeo gets in a fight and kills Juliet’s cousin. He has to flee Verona.
Juliet goes to the priest who had married them, and he comes up with a cunning plot: She takes a potion that makes her appear to be dead and her family lays her in the family tomb. Romeo hears that she is dead, goes to the tomb, takes poison and dies. When Juliet wakes up and sees that Romeo is dead, she kills herself as well. The family decides to end their feud, but it’s too late for our young lovers.
What Makes Juliet an Expert on Love?
So thirteen-year-old Juliet falls in love at first sight and three days later she has killed herself because the man she fell in love with was dead. Even if we assume that Juliet was real, why does this love story make her the person to ask for love advice?
I guess it could be that the love she and Romeo shared was of a very passionate sort: It was instant and intense, even if short-lived. Some may think this is the perfect stage of love, before time can dampen the flames of passion.
How to Write Her
If you are having love troubles, and feel that you need help from Juliet, you can write to her. If you’ve seen the film, Letters to Juliette, you might know about “Juliet’s secretaries” who answer all her letters. Thousands of people leave letters in a box outside the house, or send them by email or post. You can find instructions on the Juliet Club website.
Who is Beatrice?
Another Italian woman associated with romance is Beatrice. Unlike Juliet, Beatrice Portinari was a real woman who lived in 13th-century Florence. She was the muse of the great Italian poet, Dante, and she also receives requests from the lovelorn.
Where to Find Beatrice
In the center of Florence and not far from Beatrice’s childhood home, you can find a small church which is dedicated to Dante and Beatrice’s love. It is Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, but It’s known as the Church of Dante and Beatrice. Inside there are paintings of the poet and his muse, and a sarcophagus said to be Beatrice’s.
The Love Story
Let’s remind ourselves of her love story. Dante fell in love with Beatrice when he was nine years old, and that love endured throughout his life. But Dante’s love was a form of courtly love and was never meant to be realized.
Courtly love was a medieval idea: It was a respectful form of admiration for a lady, and often the lady was unaware she was the object the gentleman’s romantic ideas. The man used the love he felt to develop his poetic skills by writing love poems or songs about his beloved.
So, it’s possible that Beatrice may not even have known that Dante was in love with her. She married someone else as did Dante, and they were never a couple. Beatrice died 1290 at age 25, and after her death, Dante went into seclusion and wrote poems dedicated to her memory. These along with others he had written earlier became La Vita Nuova, published in 1294.
Beatrice is also a character in The Divine Comedy, Dante’s greatest work. When Dante is in the Inferno, she sends Virgil to rescue him. Then when Dante reaches Paradise, she is his guide.
What Makes Beatrice an Expert on Love?
Beatrice may not have known that Dante had a thing for her. She was married to someone else and died young. So why is she the person to ask for love advice?
Even though she didn’t participate much in her love story, there was something about her that captured Dante’s heart. To him she was perfect and unforgettable. She was a major influence throughout his entire life.
How to Write to Her
In the little Church of Dante and Beatrice, tucked under an altar, you’ll find a basket where people leave letters or notes to Beatrice. I get the feeling that these may be more like prayers than letters, but if you find yourself in this little Florentine church and feel inspired, jot out your request to Beatrice and drop it in the basket.
Ladies of Love
Why Write to Them?
Each of these ladies have their own intense love story, but I’m not sure I would call either story a grand success. Juliet’s story was short-lived and ended in tragedy, while Beatrice may have been unaware she was in a love story.
So why do so many people feel compelled to write them asking for advice or guidance? I guess if you are facing problems in your love life, sometimes it might help to express your feelings to someone. And perhaps writing to someone associated with a great love story might do your heart some good…
While Juliet is a fictional character, her secretaries are proper “agony aunts” and probably hand out some pretty good advice. And as for Beatrice, if you are sitting quietly in the little church in Florence writing a request to her, you might just be inspired by the surroundings and gain the insight you need to help your situation.
So does writing to either of these Italian ladies actually help the lovelorn? I really can’t say, but it surely can’t hurt anything.
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