On 1 May 1274, the Alighieri family was invited to a party by Folco Portinari, a well- respected Florentine nobleman. Nine-year-old Dante went along with his father. And there he first laid eyes on Beatrice Portinari, Folco's eight-year-old daughter. Dante fell in love on the spot.
For practical purposes, Dante's passionate, unrequited love for Beatrice didn't much matter. In medieval Florence, parents chose their children's spouses in negotiations that relied far more on political and economic considerations than frivolous things like love. By the time he was twelve-years-old, Dante had been promised in marriage to a ten-year-old named Gemma Donati. Beatrice would be married off to someone else as well. In all the time that they lived in Florence, Dante and Beatrice spoke to each other only a handful of times. They never kissed, held hands or touched. It's not clear whether Beatrice even liked Dante. But Dante's love for this woman, however inexplicable it may seem, became one of the driving forces in his life and the muse behind his poetry. Beatrice, Dante wrote, possessed "such noble and laudable bearing that of her could certainly be said those words of the poet Homer: 'She seemed no child of mortal man but of God.'"blank">La Vita Nuova di Dante Alighieri, a long poem tracing his relationship with Beatrice from their first meeting to her death. The "new life" referred to in the title seemed to signify Dante's new identity as a poet, a wiser man whose work would reflect his new maturity.