Tales of the Eaten Heart: Vita Nuova III

When I’m anxious (which is 99.9% of the time) I get really bad nightmares and night-terrors. I used to be quite embarrassed about this fact, because nightmares are associated with little kids and everyone assumed I’d just grow out of them, but I  never did. Nowadays, despite the fact that I’m scared of going to sleep, and my sleep is CONSTANTLY disturbed (sigh…), I think they’re actually a bit of a blessing. They help me to make sense of things and, even though my mind is like an absolute FREAK-SHOW, I’m never bored by my stories in sonno.

Last night, I had an amazing dream. It was a bit scary because a horse was galloping around (I’m very scared of horses), and there was a bloody corpse on its back (very Midsomer Murders…), but it was EXTREMELY dantean. You see the horse cornered me and it was going to put its hoof through my head, but then – at the very last minute – it said that if I ate the corpse’s heart then I could be spared (which, obviously, I did). When I woke up, I felt a bit sick. Who wouldn’t feel sick at the thought of eating the heart of a rotting corpse?  But then I realised that my mind was just playing a scene from the Vita Nuova (minus the horse).

In the Vita Nuova (III), Dante is visited in a dream by his “Lord” (‘Ego dominus tuus’ [I am your lord]), who is carrying the naked, sleeping figure of Beatrice. The “lord” is carrying a ‘cosa la quale ardesse tutta’ (thing which was completely on fire), which he announces to be Dante’s burning heart (‘Vide cor tuum’ [Behold your heart]). The figure then awakens the sleeping Beatrice and feeds Dante’s heart to her, which she ‘mangiava dubitosamente’ (ate with fear), before ascending into heaven.

Now, what do you make of that then? My mind obviously thinks that I’m like Beatrice, the ninth most beautiful woman in Dante’s vicinity…

But this isn’t the only instance of “eaten heart” tales in medieval literature; it was actually quite a common occurence (weird?).  In  Boccaccio’s Decameron, several ill-fated lovers consume the torn-out tickers of their partners (see esp. IV; 1 and 9), whilst, according to the Decameron Web, this motif can be traced back to an old Indian tale, which goes as follows:

King Rasalú (an ancient national hero of Punjab) weds Koklan, who later accepts the love of Raja Hodi, a neighboring prince. Rasalú learns of the affair, slays Hoji in an ambush, carries his heart home and serves it to Koklan. When she discovers what she has eaten, she throws herself over a palace wall onto the rocks below [Decameron Web; accessed 16/04/12]

It’s all very interesting, but – and I don’t know about you lot – I think I’d rather just stick to my Coco-Pops.

S x


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