Produced by Paul Murray, Marc Andre Selig and PG Distributed Proofreaders
Elizabeth Price Sayer
With An Introduction By Henry Morely LL.D., Professor Of English Literature At University College, London
This translation of Dante’s Convito–the first in English–is from the hand of a lady whose enthusiasm for the genius of Dante has made it a chief pleasure of her life to dwell on it by translating, not his Divine Comedy only, but also the whole body of his other works. Among those works the Vita Nuova and the Convito have a distinct place, as leading up to the great masterpiece. In the New Life, Man starts on his career with human love that points to the divine. In the Banquet, he passes to mature life and to love of knowledge that declares the power and the love of God in the material and moral world about us and within us. In the Divine Comedy, the Poet passes to the world to come, and rises to the final union of the love for Beatrice, the beatifier, with the glory of the Love of God. Of this great series, the crowning work has, of course, had many translators, and there have been translators also of the book that shows the youth of love. But the noble fragment of the Convito that unites these two has, I believe, never yet been placed within reach of the English reader, except by a translation of its poems only into unrhymed measure in Mr. Charles Lyell’s “Poems of the Vita Nuova and the Convito,” published in 1835.
The Convito is a fragment. There are four books where fifteen were designed, including three only of the intended fourteen songs. But the plan is clear, and one or two glances forward to the matter of the last book, which would have had Justice for its theme, show that all was to have been brought to a high spiritual close.
Its aim was no less than the lifting of men’s minds by knowledge of the world without them and within them, bound together in creation, showing forth the Mind of the Creator. The reader of this volume must not flinch from the ingenious dialectics of the mediaeval reasoner on Man and Nature. Dante’s knowledge is the knowledge of his time. Science had made little advance since Aristotle–who is “the Philosopher” taken by Dante for his human guide–first laid its foundations. It is useful, no doubt, to be able in a book like this, shaped by a noble mind, to study at their best the forms of reasoning that made the science of the Middle Ages. But the reader is not called upon to make his mind unhappy with endeavours to seize all the points, say, of a theory of the heavens that was most ingenious, but in no part true. The main thing is to observe how the mistaken reasoning joins each of the seven sciences to one of the seven heavens, and here as everywhere joins earth to heaven, and bids man lift his head and look up, Godward, to the source of light. If spiritual truth could only come from right and perfect knowledge, this would have been a world of dead souls from the first till now; for future centuries, in looking back at us, will wonder at the little faulty knowledge that we think so much. But let the known be what it may, the true soul rises from it to a sense of the divine mysteries of Wisdom and of Love. Dante’s knowledge may be full of ignorance, and so is ours. But he fills it as he can with the Spirit of God. He is not content that men should be as sheep, and look downward to earth for all the food they need. He bids them to a Banquet of another kind, whose dishes are of knowledge for the mind and heavenward aspiration for the soul.
Dante’s Convito–of which the name was, no doubt, suggested by the Banquets of Plato and Xenophon–was written at the close of his life, after the Divine Comedy, and no trace has been found of more of its songs than the three which may have been written and made known some time before he began work on their Commentary. Death stayed his hand, and the completion passed into a song that joined the voice of Dante to the praise in heaven.
BANQUET OF DANTE ALIGHIERI
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The First Treatise.
As the Philosopher says in the beginning of the first Philosophy, “All men naturally desire Knowledge.” The reason of which may be, that each thing, impelled by the intuition of its own nature, tends towards its perfection, hence, forasmuch as Knowledge is the final perfection of our Soul, in which our ultimate happiness consists, we are all naturally subject to the desire for it.
Verily, many are deprived of this most noble perfection, by divers causes within the man and without him, which remove him from the use of Knowledge.
Within the man there may be two defects or impediments, the one on the part of the Body, the other on the part of the Soul. On the part of the Body it is, when the parts are unfitly disposed, so that it can receive nothing as with the deaf and dumb, and their like. On the part of the Soul it is, when evil triumphs in it, so that it becomes the follower of vicious pleasures, through which it is so much deceived, that on account of them it holds everything in contempt.
Without the man, two causes may in like manner be understood, of which one comes of necessity, the other of stagnation. The first is the management of the family and conduct of civil affairs, which fitly draws to itself the greater number of men, so that they cannot live in the quietness of speculation. The other is the fault of the place where a person is born and reared, which will ofttimes be not only without any School whatever, but may be far distant from studious people. The two first of these causes–the first of the hindrance from within, and the first of the hindrance from without–are not deserving of blame, but of excuse and pardon; the two others, although the one more than the other, deserve blame and are to be detested.
Hence, he who reflects well, can manifestly see that they are few who can attain to the enjoyment of Knowledge, though it is desired by all, and almost innumerable are the fettered ones who live for ever famished of this food.
Oh, blessed are those few who sit at that table where the Bread of Angels is eaten, and wretched those who can feed only as the Sheep. But because each man is naturally friendly to each man, and each friend grieves for the fault of him whom he loves; they who are fed at that high table are full of mercy towards those whom they see straying in one pasture with the creatures who eat grass and acorns.
And forasmuch as Mercy is the Mother of Benevolence, those who know how, do always liberally offer their good wealth to the true poor, and are like a living stream, whose water cools the before-named natural thirst. I, then, who sit not at the blessed table, but having fled from the pasture of the common herd, lie at the feet of those who sit there and gather up what falls from them, by the sweetness which I find in that which I collect little by little, I know the wretched life of those whom I have left behind me; and moved mercifully for the unhappy ones, not forgetting myself, I have reserved something which I have shown to their eyes long ago, and for this I have made them greatly desirous. Wherefore, now wishing to prepare for them, I mean to make a common Banquet of this which I have shown to them, and of that needed bread without which food such as this could not be eaten by them at their feast; bread fit for such meat, which I know, without it, would be furnished forth in vain. And therefore I desire that no one should sit at this Banquet whose members are so unfitly disposed that he has neither teeth, nor tongue, nor palate: nor any follower of vice; inasmuch as his stomach is full of venomous and hurtful humours, so that it will retain no food whatever. But let those come to us, whosoever they be, who, pressed by the management of civil and domestic life, have felt this human hunger, and at one table with others who have been in like bondage, let them sit. But at their feet let us place all those who have been the slaves of sloth, and who are not worthy to sit higher: and then let these and those eat of my dish, with the bread which I will cause them to taste and to digest.
The meat at this repast will be prepared in fourteen different ways, that is, in fourteen Songs, some of whose themes will be of Love and some of Virtue: which, without the present bread, might have some shadow of obscurity, so that to many they might be acceptable more on account of their form than because of their spirit. But this bread is the present Exposition. It will be the Light whereby each colour of their design will be made visible.
And if in the present work, which is named “Convito”–the Banquet, the glad Life Together–I desire that the subject should be discussed more maturely than in the Vita Nuova–the New Life–I do not therefore mean in any degree to undervalue that Fresh Life, but greatly to enhance it; seeing how reasonable it is for that age to be fervid and passionate, and for this to be mature and temperate. At one age it is fit to speak and work in one way, and at another age in another way; because certain manners are fit and praiseworthy at one age which are improper and blameable at another, as will be demonstrated with suitable argument in the fourth treatise of this Book. In that first Book (Vita Nuova) at the entrance into my youth I spoke; and in this latter I speak after my youth has already passed away. And since my true meaning may be other than that which the aforesaid songs show forth, I mean by an allegoric exposition to explain these after the literal argument shall have been reasoned out: so that the one argument with the other shall give a relish to those who are the guests invited to this Banquet. And of them all I pray that if the feast be not so splendid as befits the proclamation thereof, let them impute each defect, not to my will but to my means, since my will here is to a full and loving Liberality.
In preparing for every well-ordered Banquet the servants are wont to take the proper bread, and see that it is clean from all blemish; wherefore I, who in the present writing stand in servant’s place, intend firstly to remove two spots from this exposition which at my repast stands in the place of bread.
The one is, that it appears to be unlawful for any one to speak of himself; the other, that it seems to be unreasonable to speak too deeply when giving explanations. Let the knife of my judgment pare away from the present treatise the unlawful and the unreasonable. One does not permit any Rhetorician to speak of himself without a necessary cause. And from this is the man removed, because he can speak of no one without praise or blame of those of whom he speaks; which two causes commonly induce a man to speak of himself. And in order to remove a doubt which here arises, I say that it is worse for any one to blame than to praise himself, although neither may have to be done. The reason is, that anything which is essentially wrong is worse than that which is wrong through accident. For a man openly to bring contempt on himself is essentially wrong to his friend, because a man owes it to take account of his fault secretly, and no one is more friendly to himself than the man himself. In the chamber of his thoughts, therefore, he should reprove himself and weep over his faults, and not before the world. Again, a man is but seldom blamed when he has not the power or the knowledge requisite to guide himself aright: but he is always blamed when weak of will, because our good or evil dispositions are measured by the strength of will. Wherefore he who blames himself proves that he knows his fault, while he reveals his want of goodness; if, therefore, he know his fault, let him no more speak evil of himself. If a man praise himself it is to avoid evil, as it were; inasmuch as it cannot be done except such self-laudation become in excess dishonour; it is praise in appearance, it is infamy in substance. For the words are spoken to prove that of which he has not inward assurance. Hence, he who lauds himself proves his belief that he is not esteemed to be a good man, and this befalls him not unless he have an evil conscience, which he reveals by self-praise, and in so revealing it he blames himself.
And, again, self-praise and self-blame are to be shunned equally, for this reason, that it is false witnessing. Because there is no man who can be a true and just judge of himself, so much will self-love deceive him. Hence it happens that every man has in his own judgment the measures of the false merchant, who sells with the one, and buys with the other. Every man weights the scales against his own wrong-doing, and adds weight to his good deeds; so that the number and the quantity and the weight of the good deeds appear to him to be greater than if they were tried in a just balance; and in like manner the evil appears less. Wherefore speaking of himself with praise or with blame, either he speaks falsely with regard to the thing of which he speaks, or he speaks falsely by the fault of his judgment; and as the one is untruth, so is the other. And therefore, since to acquiesce is to admit, he is wrong who praises or who blames before the face of any man; because the man thus appraised can neither acquiesce nor deny without falling into the error of either praising or blaming himself. Reserve the way of due correction, which cannot be taken without reproof of error, and which corrects if understood. Reserve also the way of due honour and glory, which cannot be taken without mention of virtuous works, or of dignities that have been worthily acquired.
And in truth, returning to the main argument, I say, as before, that it is permitted to a man for requisite reasons to speak of himself. And amongst the several requisite reasons two are most evident: the one is when a man cannot avoid great danger and infamy, unless he discourse of himself; and then it is conceded for the reason, that to take the less objectionable of the only two paths, is to take as it were a good one. And this necessity moved Boethius to speak of himself, in order that under pretext of Consolation he might excuse the perpetual shame of his imprisonment, by showing that imprisonment to be unjust; since no other man arose to justify him. And this reason moved St. Augustine to speak of himself in his Confessions; that, by the progress of his life, which was from bad to good, and from good to better, and from better to best, he might give example and instruction, which, from truer testimony, no one could receive. Therefore, if either of these reasons excuse me, the bread of my moulding is sufficiently cleared from its first impurity.
The fear of shame moves me; and I am moved by the desire to give instruction which others truly are unable to give. I fear shame for having followed passion so ardently, as he may conceive who reads the afore-named Songs, and sees how greatly I was ruled by it; which shame ceases entirely by the present speech of myself, which proves that not passion but virtue may have been the moving cause.
I intend also to demonstrate the true meaning of those Poems, which some could not perceive unless I relate it, because it is concealed under the veil of Allegory; and this it not only will give pleasure to hear, but subtle instruction, both as to the diction and as to the intention of the other writings.
Much fault is in that thing which is appointed to remove some grave evil, and yet encourages it; even as in the man who might be sent to quell a tumult, and, before he had quelled it, should begin another.
And forasmuch as my bread is made clean on one side, it behoves me to cleanse it on the other, in order to shun this reproof: that my writing, which one may term, as it were, a Commentary, is appointed to remove obscurity from the before-mentioned Songs, and is, in fact, itself at times a little hard to understand. This obscurity is here intended, in order to avoid a greater defect, and does not occur through ignorance. Alas! would that it might have pleased the Dispenser of the Universe that the cause of my excuse might never have been; that others might neither have sinned against me, nor I have suffered punishment unjustly; the punishment, I say, of exile and poverty! Since it was the pleasure of the citizens of the most beautiful and the most famous daughter of Rome, Florence, to cast me out from her most sweet bosom (wherein I was born and nourished even to the height of my life, and in which, with her goodwill, I desire with all my heart to repose my weary soul, and to end the time which is given to me), I have gone through almost all the land in which this language lives–a pilgrim, almost a mendicant–showing forth against my will the wound of Fortune, with which the ruined man is often unjustly reproached. Truly I have been a ship without a sail and without a rudder, borne to divers ports and lands and shores by the dry wind which blows from doleful poverty; and I have appeared vile in the eyes of many, who perhaps through some report may have imaged me in other form. In the sight of whom not only my person became vile, but each work already completed was held to be of less value than that might again be which remained yet to be done.
The reason wherefore this happens (not only to me but to all), it now pleases me here briefly to touch upon. And firstly, it is because rumour goes beyond the truth; and then, what is beyond the truth restricts and strangles it. Good report is the first born of kindly thought in the mind of the friend; which the mind of the foe, although it may receive the seed, conceives not.
That mind which gives birth to it in the first place, so to make its gift more fair, as by the charity of friendship, keeps not within bounds of truth, but passes beyond them. When one does that to adorn a tale, he speaks against his conscience; when it is charity that causes him to pass the bounds, he speaks not against conscience.
The second mind which receives this, not only is content with the exaggeration of the first mind, but its own report adds its own effect of endeavours to embellish, and so by this action, and by the deception which it also receives from the goodwill generated in it, good report is made more ample than it should be; either with the consent or the dissent of the conscience; even as it was with the first mind. And the third receiving mind does this; and the fourth; and thus the exaggeration of good ever grows. And so, by turning the aforesaid motives in the contrary direction, one can perceive why ill-fame in like manner is made to grow. Wherefore Virgil says in the fourth of the AEneid: “Let Fame live to be fickle, and grow as she goes.” Clearly, then, he who is willing may perceive that the image generated by Fame alone is always larger, whatever it may be, than the thing imaged is, in its true state.
Having previously shown the reason why Fame magnifies the good and the evil beyond due limit, it remains in this chapter to show forth those reasons which make evident why the Presence restricts in the opposite way, and having shown this I will return to the principal proposition. I say, then, that for three causes his Presence makes a person of less value than he is. The first is childishness, I do not say of age, but of mind; the second is envy; and these are in the judge: the third is human impurity; and this is in the person judged. The first, one can briefly reason thus: the greater part of men live according to sense and not according to reason, after the manner of children, and the like of these judge things simply from without; and the goodness which is ordained to a fit end they perceive not, because the eyes of Reason, which they need in order to perceive it, are closed. Hence, they soon see all that they can, and judge according to their sight.
And forasmuch as any opinion they form on the good fame of others, from hearsay, with which, in the presence of the person judged, their imperfect judgment may dissent, they amend not according to reason, because they judge merely according to sense, they will deem that which they have first heard to be a lie as it were, and dispraise the person who was previously praised. Hence, in such men, and such are almost all, Presence restricts the one fame and the other. Such men as these are inconstant and are soon cloyed; they are often gay and often sad from brief joys and sorrows; speedy friends and speedy foes; each thing they do like children, without the use of reason.
The second observation from these reasons is, that due comparison is cause for envy to the vicious; and envy is a cause of evil judgment, because it does not permit Reason to argue for that which is envied, and the judicial power is then like the judge who hears only one side. Hence, when such men as these perceive a person to be famous, they are immediately jealous, because they compare members and powers; and they fear, on account of the excellence of such an one, to be themselves accounted of less worth; and these passionate men, not only judge evilly, but, by defamation, they cause others to judge evilly. Wherefore with such men their apprehension restricts the acknowledgment of good and evil in each person represented; and I say this also of evil, because many who delight in evil deeds have envy towards evil-doers.
The third observation is of human frailty, which one accepts on the part of him who is judged, and from which familiar conversation is not altogether free. In evidence of this, it is to be known that man is stained in many parts; and, as says St. Augustine, “none is without spot.” Now, the man is stained with some passion, which he cannot always resist; now, he is blemished by some fault of limb; now, he is bruised by some blow from Fortune; now, he is soiled by the ill-fame of his parents, or of some near relation: things which Fame does not bear with her, but which hang to the man, so that he reveals them by his conversation; and these spots cast some shadow upon the brightness of goodness, so that they cause it to appear less bright and less excellent. And this is the reason why each prophet is less honoured in his own country; and this is why the good man ought to give his presence to few, and his familiarity to still fewer, in order that his name may be received and not despised. And this third observation may be the same for the evil as for the good, if we reverse the conditions of the argument. Wherefore it is clearly evident that by imperfections, from which no one is free, the seen Presence restricts right perception of the good and of the evil in every one, more than truth desires. Hence, since, as has been said above, I myself have been, as it were, visibly present to all the Italians, by which I perhaps am made more vile than truth desires, not only to those to whom my repute had already run, but also to others, whereby I am made the lighter; it behoves me that with a more lofty style I may give to the present work a little gravity, through which it may show greater authority. Let this suffice to excuse the difficulty of my commentary.
Since this bread is now cleared of accidental spots, it remains to excuse it from a substantial one, that is for being in my native tongue and not in Latin; which by similitude one may term, of barley-meal and not of wheaten flour. And from this it is briefly excused by three reasons which moved me to choose the one rather than the other. One springs from the avoidance of inconvenient Unfitness: the second from the readiness of well-adjusted Liberality; the third from the natural Love for one’s own Native Tongue. And these things, with the grounds for them, to the staying of all possible reproof, I mean in due order to reason out in this form.
That which most adorns and commends human actions, and which most directly leads them to a good result, is the use of dispositions best adapted to the end in view; as the end aimed at in knighthood is courage of mind and strength of body. And thus he who is ordained to the service of others, ought to have those dispositions which are suited to that end; as submission, knowledge and obedience, without which any one is unfit to serve well. Because if he is not subject to each of these conditions, he proceeds in his service always with fatigue and trouble, and but seldom continues in it. If he is not obedient, he never serves except as in his wisdom he thinks fit, and when he wills; which is rather the service of a friend than of a servant. Hence, to escape this disorder, this commentary is fit, which is made as a servant to the under-written Songs, in order to be subject to these, and to each separate command of theirs. It must be conscious of the wants of its lord, and obedient to him, which dispositions would be all wanting to it if it were a Latin servant, not a native, since the songs are all in the language of our people. For, in the first place, if it had been a Latin servant he would be not a subject but a sovereign, in nobility, in virtue, and in beauty; in nobility, because the Latin is perpetual and incorruptible; the language of the vulgar is unstable and corruptible. Hence we see in the ancient writings of the Latin Comedies and Tragedies that they cannot change, being the same Latin that we now have; this happens not with our native tongue, which, being home-made, changes at pleasure. Hence we see in the cities of Italy, if we will look carefully back fifty years from the present time, many words to have become extinct, and to have been born, and to have been altered. But if a little time transforms them thus, a longer time changes them more. So that I say that, if those who departed from this life a thousand years ago should come back to their cities, they would believe those cities to be inhabited by a strange people, who speak a tongue discordant from their own. On this subject I will speak elsewhere more completely in a book which I intend to write, God willing, on the “Language of the People.”
Again, the Latin was not subject, but sovereign, through virtue. Each thing has virtue in its nature, which does that to which it is ordained; and the better it does it so much the more virtue it has: hence we call that man virtuous who lives a life contemplative or active, doing that for which he is best fitted; we ascribe his virtue to the horse that runs swiftly and much, to which end he is ordained: we see virtue of a sword that cuts through hard things well, since it has been made to do so. Thus speech, which is ordained to express human thought, has virtue when it does that; and most virtue is in the speech which does it most. Hence, forasmuch as the Latin reveals many things conceived in the mind which the vulgar tongue cannot express, even as those know who have the use of either language, its virtue is far greater than that of the vulgar tongue.
Again, it was not subject, but sovereign, because of its beauty. That thing man calls beautiful whose parts are duly proportionate, because beauty results from their harmony; hence, man appears to be beautiful when his limbs are duly proportioned; and we call a song beautiful when the voices in it, according to the rule of art, are in harmony with each other. Hence, that language is most beautiful in which the words most fitly correspond, and this they do more in the Latin than in the present Language of the People, since the beautiful vulgar tongue follows use, and the Latin, Art. Hence, one concedes it to be more beautiful, more virtuous and more noble. And so one concludes, as first proposed; that is, that the Latin Commentary would have been the Sovereign, not the Subject, of the Songs.
Having shown how the present Commentary could not have been the subject of Songs written in our native tongue, if it had been in the Latin, it remains to show how it could not have been capable or obedient to those Songs; and then it will be shown how, to avoid unsuitable disorder, it was needful to speak in the native tongue.
I say that Latin would not have been a capable servant for my Lord the Vernacular, for this reason. The servant is required chiefly to know two things perfectly: the one is the nature of his lord, because there are lords of such an asinine nature that they command the opposite of that which they desire; and there are others who, without speaking, wish to be understood and served; and there are others who will not let the servant move to do that which is needful, unless they have ordered it. And because these variations are in men, I do not intend in the present work to show, for the digression would be enlarged too much, except as I speak in general, that such men as these are beasts, as it were, to whom reason is of little worth. Wherefore, if the servant know not the nature of his lord, it is evident that he cannot serve him perfectly. The other thing is, that it is requisite for the servant to know also the friends of his lord; for otherwise he could not honour them, nor serve them, and thus he would not serve his lord perfectly: forasmuch as the friends are the parts of a whole, as it were, because their whole is one wish or its opposite. Neither would the Latin Commentary have had such knowledge of those things as the vulgar tongue itself has. That the Latin cannot be acquainted with the Vulgar Tongue and with its friends, is thus proved. He who knows anything in general knows not that thing perfectly; even as he who knows from afar off one animal, knows not that animal perfectly, because he knows not if it be a dog, a wolf, or a he-goat. The Latin knows the Vulgar tongue in general, but not separately; for if it should know it separately it would know all the Vulgar Tongues, because it is not right that it should know one more than the other; and thus, what man soever might possess the complete knowledge of the Latin tongue, the use of that knowledge would show him all distinctions of the Vulgar. But this is not so, for one used to the Latin does not distinguish, if he be a native of Italy, the vulgar tongue of Provence from the German, nor can the German distinguish the vulgar Italian tongue from that of Provence: hence, it is evident that the Latin is not cognizant of the Vulgar. Again, it is not cognizant of its friends, because it is impossible to know the friends without knowing the principal; hence, if the Latin does not know the Vulgar, as it is proved above, it is impossible for it to know its friends. Again, without conversation or familiarity, it is impossible to know men; and the Latin has no conversation with so many in any language as the Vulgar has, to which all are friends, and consequently cannot know the friends of the Vulgar.
And this, that it would be possible to say, is no contradiction; that the Latin does converse with some friends of the Vulgar: but since it is not familiar with all, it is not perfectly acquainted with its friends, whereas perfect knowledge is required, and not defective.
Having proved that the Latin Commentary could not have been a capable servant, I will tell how it could not have been an obedient one. He is obedient who has the good disposition which is called obedience. True obedience must have three things, without which it cannot be: it should be sweet, and not bitter; entirely under control, and not impulsive; with due measure, and not excessive; which three things it was impossible for the Latin Commentary to have; and, therefore, it was impossible for it to be obedient. That to the Latin it would have been impossible, as is said, is evident by such an argument as this: each thing which proceeds by an inverse order is laborious, and consequently is bitter, and not sweet; even as to sleep by day and to wake by night, and to go backwards and not forwards. For the subject to command the sovereign, is to proceed in the inverse order; because the direct order is, for the sovereign to command the subject; and thus it is bitter, and not sweet; and because to the bitter command it is impossible to give sweet obedience, it is impossible, when the subject commands, for the obedience of the sovereign to be sweet. Hence if the Latin is the sovereign of the Vulgar Tongue, as is shown above by many reasons, and the Songs, which are in place of commanders, are in the Vulgar Tongue, it is impossible for the argument to be sweet. Then is obedience entirely commanded, and in no way spontaneous, when that which the obedient man does, he would not have done of his own will, either in whole or in part, without commandment. And, therefore, if it might be commanded to me to carry two long robes upon my back, and if without commandment I should carry one, I say that my obedience is not entirely commanded, but is in part spontaneous; and such would have been that of the Latin Commentary, and consequently it would not have been obedience entirely commanded. What such might have been appears by this, that the Latin, without the command of this Lord, the Vernacular, would have expounded many parts of his argument (and it does expound, as he who searches well the books written in Latin may perceive), which the Vulgar Tongue does nowhere.
Again, obedience is within bounds, and not excessive, when it goes to the limit of the command, and no further; as Individual Nature is obedient to Universal Nature when she makes thirty-two teeth in the man, and no more and no less; and when she makes five fingers on the hand, and no more and no less; and the man is obedient to Justice when he does that which the Law commands, and no more and no less.
Neither would the Latin have done this, but it would have sinned not only in the defect, and not only in the excess, but in each one; and thus its obedience would not have been within due limit, but intemperate, and consequently it would not have been obedient. That the Latin would not have been the executor of the commandment of his Lord, and that neither would he have been a usurper, one can easily prove. This Lord, namely, these Songs, to which this Commentary is ordained for their servant, commands and desires that they shall be explained to all those whose mind is so far intelligent that when they hear speech they can understand, and when they speak they can be understood. And no one doubts, that if the Songs should command by word of mouth, this would be their commandment. But the Latin would not have explained them, except to the learned men: and so that the rest could not have understood. Hence, forasmuch as the number of unlearned men who desire to understand those Songs may be far greater than the learned, it follows that it could not have fulfilled its commandment so well as the Native Tongue, which is understood both by the Learned and the Unlearned. Again, the Latin would have explained them to people of another language, as to the Germans, to the English, and to others; and here it would have exceeded their commandment. For against their will, speaking freely, I say, their meaning would be explained there where they could not convey it in all their beauty.
And, therefore, let each one know, that nothing which is harmonized by the bond of the Muse can be translated from its own language into another, without breaking all its sweetness and harmony. And this is the reason why Homer was not translated from Greek into Latin, like the other writings that we have of the Greeks. And this is the reason why the verses of the Psalms are without sweetness of music and harmony; for they were translated from Hebrew into Greek, and from Greek into Latin, and in the first translation all that sweetness vanished.
And, thus is concluded that which was proposed in the beginning of the chapter immediately before this.
Since it is proved by sufficient reasons that, in order to avoid unsuitable confusion, it would be right that the above-named Songs be opened and explained by a Commentary in our Native Tongue and not in the Latin, I intend to show again how a ready Liberality makes me select this way and leave the other. It is possible, then, to perceive a ready Liberality in three things, which go with this Native Tongue, and which would not have gone with the Latin. The first is to give to many; the second is to give useful things; the third is to give the gift without being asked for it.
For to give to and to assist one person is good; but to give to and to assist many is ready goodness, inasmuch as it has a similitude to the good gifts of God, who is the Benefactor of the Universe. And again, to give to many is impossible without giving to one, forasmuch as one is included in many. But to give to one may be good without giving to many, because he who assists many does good to one and to the other; he who assists one does good to one only: hence, we see the imposers of the laws, especially if they are for the common good, hold the eyes fixed whilst compiling these laws. Again, to give useless things to the receiver is also a good, inasmuch as he who gives, shows himself at least to be a friend; but it is not a perfect good, and therefore it is not ready: as if a knight should give to a doctor a shield, and as if the doctor should give to a knight the written aphorisms of Hippocrates, or rather the technics of Galen; because the wise men say that “the face of the gift ought to be similar to that of the receiver,” that is, that it be suitable to him, and that it be useful; and therein it is called ready liberality in him who thus discriminates in giving.
But forasmuch as moral discourses usually create a desire to see their origin, in this chapter I intend briefly to demonstrate four reasons why of necessity the gift (in order that it be ready liberality) should be useful to him who receives. Firstly, because virtue must be cheerful and not sad in every action: hence, if the gift be not cheerful in the giving and in the receiving, in it there is not perfect nor ready virtue. And this joy can spring only from the utility, which resides in the giver through the giving, and which comes to the receiver through the receiving. In the giver, then, there must be the foresight, in doing this, that on his part there shall remain the benefit of an inherent virtue which is above all other advantages; and that to the receiver come the benefit of the use of the thing given. Thus the one and the other will be cheerful, and consequently it will be a ready liberality, that is, a liberality both prompt and well considered.
Secondly, because virtue ought always to move things forwards and upwards. For even as it would be a blameable action to make a spade of a beautiful sword, or to make a fair basin of a lovely lute; so it is wrong to move anything from a place where it may be useful, and to carry it into a place where it may be less useful. And since it is blameable to work in vain, it is wrong not merely to put the thing in a place where it may be less useful, but even in a place where it may be equally useful. Hence, in order that the changing of the place of a thing may be laudable, it must always be for the better, because it ought to be especially praiseworthy; and this the gift cannot be, if by transformation it become not more precious. Nor can it become more precious, if it be not more useful to the receiver than to the giver. Wherefore, one concludes that the gift must be useful to him who receives it, in order that it may be in itself ready liberality.
Thirdly, because the exercise of the virtue of itself ought to be the acquirer of friends. For our life has need of these, and the end of virtue is to make life happy. But that the gift may make the receiver a friend, it must be useful to him, because utility stamps on the memory the image of the gift, which is the food of friendship, and the firmer the impression, so much the greater is the utility; hence, Martino was wont to say, “Never will fade from my mind the gift Giovanni made me.” Wherefore, in order that in the gift there may be its virtue, which is Liberality, and that it may be ready, it must be useful to him who receives it.
Finally, since the act of virtue should be free, not forced, it is free action, when a person goes willingly to any place; which is shown by his keeping the face turned thitherward; it is forced action, when he goes against his will; which is shown by his not looking cheerfully towards the place whither he goes: and thus the gift looks towards its appointed place when it addresses itself to the need of the receiver. And since it cannot address itself to that need except it be useful, it follows, in order that it may be with free action, that the virtue be free, and that the gift go freely to its object, which is the receiver; and consequently the gift must be to the utility of the receiver, in order that there may be a prompt and reasonable Liberality therein.
The third respect in which one can observe a ready Liberality, is giving unasked; because, to give what is asked, is, on one side, not virtue, but traffic; for, the receiver buys, although the giver may not sell; and so Seneca says “that nothing is purchased more dearly than that whereon prayers are expended.” Hence, in order that in the gift there be ready Liberality, and that one may perceive that to be in it, there must be freedom from each act of traffic, and the gift must be unasked. Wherefore that which is besought costs us so dear, I do not mean to argue now, because it will be fully discussed in the last treatise of this book.
A Latin Commentary would be wanting in all the three above-mentioned conditions, which must concur, in order that in the benefit conferred there may be ready Liberality; and our Mother Tongue possesses all, as it is possible to show thus manifestly. The Latin would not have served many; for if we recall to memory that which is discoursed of above, the learned men, without the Italian tongue, could not have had this service. And those who know Latin, if we wish to see clearly who they are, we shall find that, out of a thousand one only would have been reasonably served by it, because they would not have received it, so prompt are they to avarice, which removes them from each nobility of soul that especially desires this food. And to the shame of them, I say that they ought not to be called learned men: because they do not acquire knowledge for the use of it, but forasmuch as they gain money or dignity thereby; even as one ought not to call him a harper who keeps a harp in his house to be lent out for a price, and not to use it for its music.
Returning, then, to the principal proposition, I say that one can see clearly how the Latin would have given its good gift to few, but the Mother Tongue will serve many. For the willingness of heart which awaits this service, is in those who, through misuse of the world, have left Literature to men who have made of her a harlot; and these nobles are princes, barons, knights, and many other noble people, not only men, but women, whose language is that of the people and unlearned. Again, the Latin would not have been giver of a useful gift, as the Mother Tongue will be; forasmuch as nothing is useful except inasmuch as it is used; nor is there a perfect existence with inactive goodness. Even so of gold, and pearls, and other treasures which are subterranean, those which are in the hand of the miser are in a lower place than is the earth wherein the treasure was concealed. The gift truly of this Commentary is the explanation of the Songs, for whose service it is made. It seeks especially to lead men to wisdom and to virtue, as will be seen by the process of this treatise. This design those only could have in use in whom true nobility is sown, after the manner that will be described in the fourth treatise; and these are almost all men of the people, as those are noble which in this chapter are named above. And there is no contradiction, though some learned man may be amongst them; for, as says my Master Aristotle in the first book of the Ethics, “One swallow does not make the Spring.” It is, then, evident that the Mother Tongue will give the useful thing where Latin would not have given it. Again, the Mother Tongue will give that gift unasked, which the Latin would not have given, because it will give itself in form of a Commentary which never was asked for by any person. But this one cannot say of the Latin, which for Commentary and for Expositions to many writings has often been in request, as one can perceive clearly in the opening of many a book.
And thus it is evident that a ready Liberality moved me to use the Mother Tongue rather than Latin.
He greatly needs excuse who, at a feast so noble in its provisions, and so honourable in its guests, sets bread of barley, not of wheaten flour: and evident must be the reason which can make a man depart from that which has long been the custom of others, as the use of Latin in writing a Commentary. And, therefore, he would make the reason evident; for the end of new things is not certain, because experience of them has never been had before: hence, the ways used and observed are estimated both in process and in the end.
Reason, therefore, is moved to command that man should diligently look about him when he enters a new path, saying, “that, in deliberating about new things, that reason must be clear which can make a man depart from an old custom.” Let no one marvel, then, if the digression touching my apology be long; but, as is necessary, let him bear its length with patience.
Continuing it, I say that, since it has been shown how, in order to avoid unsuitable confusion and from readiness of liberality, I fixed on the Commentary in the Mother Tongue and left the Latin, the order of the entire apology requires that I now prove how I attached myself to that through the natural love for my native tongue, which is the third and last reason which moved me to this. I say that natural love moves the lover principally to three things: the one is to exalt the loved object, the second is to be jealous thereof, the third is to defend it, as each one sees constantly to happen; and these three things made me adopt it, that is, our Mother Tongue, which naturally and accidentally I love and have loved.
I was moved in the first place to exalt it. And that I do exalt it may be seen by this reason: it happens that it is possible to magnify things in many conditions of greatness, and nothing makes so great as the greatness of that goodness which is the mother and preserver of all other forms of greatness. And no greater goodness can a man have than that of virtuous action, which is his own goodness, by which the greatness of true dignity and of true honour, of true power, of true riches, of true friends, of true and pure renown, are acquired and preserved: and this greatness I give to this friend, inasmuch as that which he had of goodness in latent power and hidden, I cause him to have in action and revealed in its own operation, which is to declare thought.
Secondly, I was moved by jealousy of it. The jealousy of the friend makes a man anxious to secure lasting provision; wherefore, thinking that, from the desire to understand these Songs, some unlearned man would have translated the Latin Commentary into the Mother Tongue; and fearing that the Mother Tongue might have been employed by some one who would have made it seem ugly, as he did who translated the Latin of the “Ethics,” I endeavoured to employ it, trusting in myself more than in any other. Again, I was moved to defend it from its numerous accusers, who depreciate it and commend others, especially the Langue d’Oc, saying, that the latter is more beautiful and better than this, therein deviating from the truth. For by this Commentary the great excellence of our common Lingua di Si will appear, since through it, most lofty and most original ideas may be as fitly, sufficiently, and easily expressed as if it were by the Latin itself, which cannot show its virtue in things rhymed because of accidental ornaments which are connected therewith–that is, the rhyme and the rhythm, or the regulated measure; as it is with the beauty of a lady when the splendour of the jewels and of the garments excite more admiration than she herself. He, therefore, who wishes to judge well of a lady looks at her when she is alone and her natural beauty is with her, free from all accidental ornament. So it will be with this Commentary, in which will be seen the facility of the syllables, the propriety of the conditions, and the sweet orations which are made in our Mother Tongue, which a good observer will perceive to be full of most sweet and most amiable beauty. But, since it is most determined in its intention to show the error and the malice of the accuser, I will tell, to the confusion of those who accuse the Italian language, wherefore they are moved to do this; and this I shall do in a special chapter, in order that their shame may be more notable.
To the perpetual shame and abasement of the evil men of Italy who commend the Mother Tongue of other nations and depreciate their own, I say that their action proceeds from five abominable causes: the first is blindness of discretion; the second, mischievous self-justification; the third, greed of vainglory; the fourth, an invention of envy; the fifth and last, vileness of mind, that is, cowardice. And each one of these grave faults has a great following, for few are those who are free from them.
Of the first, one can reason thus. As the sensitive part of the soul has its eyes, with which it learns the difference of things, inasmuch as they are coloured externally; so the rational part has its eye with which it learns the difference of things, inasmuch as each is ordained to some end; and this is discretion. And as he who is blind with the eyes of sense goes always according to the guidance of others judging evil and good; so he who is blinded from the light of discretion, always goes in his judgment according to the cry, right or wrong as it may be. Hence, whenever the guide is blind, it must follow that what blind man soever leans on him must come to a bad end. Therefore it is written that, “If the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.” This cry has been long raised against our Mother Tongue, for the reasons which will be argued below.
After this cry the blind men above mentioned, who are infinite, as it were with one hand on the shoulder of these false witnesses, have fallen into the ditch of false opinion, from which they know not how to escape. From the use of the sight of discretion the mass of the people are debarred, because each being occupied from the early years of his life with some trade, he so directs his mind to that, by force of necessity, that he understands nought else. And forasmuch as the habit of virtue, moral as well as intellectual, cannot possibly be had all on a sudden, but it must be acquired through long custom, and as these people place their custom in some art, and care not to discern other things, it is impossible to them to have discretion. Wherefore it happens that often they cry aloud: “Long live Death!” and “Let Life die!” because some one begins the cry. And this is the most dangerous defect in their blindness. For this reason Boethius judges glory of the people vain, because he sees it to be without discernment. These persons are to be termed sheep and not men; for if a sheep should leap over a precipice of a thousand feet, all the others would follow after it; and if one sheep, for some cause or other, in crossing a road, leaps, all the others leap, even when they see nothing to leap over. And I once saw many leap into a well, because one had leapt into it, believing perhaps that it was leaping a wall; notwithstanding that the shepherd, weeping and shouting, with arms and breast set himself against them.
The second faction against our Mother Tongue springs from a malicious self-justification. There are many who would rather be thought masters than be such; and to avoid the opposite–that is, to be held not to be such–they always cast blame on the material they work on, or upon the instrument; as the clumsy smith blames the iron given to him, and the bad harpist blames the harp, thinking to cast the blame of the bad blade and of the bad music upon the iron and upon the harp, and to lift it from themselves. Thus there are some, and not a few, who desire that a man may hold them to be orators; and to excuse themselves for not speaking, or for speaking badly, they accuse or throw blame on the material, that is, their own Mother Tongue, and praise that of other lands, which they are not required to employ. And he who wishes to see wherefore this iron is to be blamed, let him look at the work which good artificers make of it, and he will understand the malice of those who, in casting blame upon it, think thereby to excuse themselves. Against such as these, Tullius exclaims in the beginning of his book, which he names the book “De Finibus,” because in his time they blamed the Roman Latin and praised the Greek grammar. And thus I say, for like reasons, that these men vilify the Italian tongue, and glorify that of Provence.
The third faction against our Mother Tongue springs from greed of vainglory. There are many who, by describing certain things in some other language, and by praising that language, deem themselves to be more worthy of admiration than if they described them in their own. And undoubtedly to learn well a foreign tongue is deserving of some praise for intellect; but it is a blameable thing to applaud that language beyond truth, to glorify one’s self for such an acquisition.
The fourth springs from an invention of envy. So that, as it is said above, envy is always where there is equality. Amongst the men of one nation there is the equality of the native tongue; and because one knows not how to use it like the other, therefrom springs envy. The envious man then argues, not blaming himself for not knowing how to speak like him who does speak as he should, but he blames that which is the material of his work, in order to rob, by depreciating the work on that side, him who does speak, of honour and fame; like him who should find fault with the blade of a sword, not in order to throw blame on the sword, but on the whole work of the master.
The fifth and last faction springs from vileness of mind. The magnanimous man always praises himself in his heart; and so the pusillanimous man, on the contrary, always deems himself less than he is. And because to magnify and to diminish always have respect to something, by comparison with which the large-minded man makes himself great and the small-minded man makes himself small, it results therefrom that the magnanimous man always makes others less than they are, and the pusillanimous makes others always greater. And therefore with that measure wherewith a man measures himself, he measures his own things, which are as it were a part of himself. It results that to the magnanimous man his own things always appear better than they are, and those of others less good; the pusillanimous man always believes his things to be of little value, and those of others of much worth. Wherefore many, on account of this vileness of mind, depreciate their native tongue, and applaud that of others; and all such as these are the abominable wicked men of Italy who hold this precious Mother Tongue in vile contempt, which if it be vile in any case, is so only inasmuch as it sounds in the evil mouth of these adulterers, under whose guidance go those blind men of whom I spoke in the first argument.
If flames of fire should issue visibly through the windows of a house, and if any one should ask if there were fire within it, and if another should answer “Yes” to him, one would not well know how to judge which of those might be mocking the most. Not otherwise would the question and the answer pass between me and that man who should ask me if love for my own language is in me, and if I should answer “Yes” to him, after the arguments propounded above.
But, nevertheless, it has to be proved that not only love, but the most perfect love for it exists in me, and again its adversaries must be blamed. Whilst demonstrating this to him who will understand well, I will tell how I became the friend of it, and then how my friendship is confirmed.
I say that (as Tullius writes in his book on Friendship, not dissenting from the opinion of the Philosopher opened up in the eighth and in the ninth of the Ethics) Neighbourhood and Goodness are, naturally, the causes of the birth of Love: Benevolence, Study, and Custom are the causes of the growth of Love. And there have been all these causes to produce and to strengthen the love which I bear to my Native Language, as I shall briefly demonstrate. A thing is so much the nearer in proportion as it is most nearly allied to all the other things of its own kind; wherefore, of all men the son is nearest to the father, and of all the Arts, Medicine is nearest to the Doctor, and Music to the Musician, because they are more allied to them than the others. Of all parts of the earth the nearest is that whereon a man lives, because he is most united to it. And thus his own Native Language is nearest to him, inasmuch as he is most united to it; for it, and it alone, is first in the mind before any other. And not only of itself is it united, but by accident, inasmuch as it is united with the persons nearest to him, as his parents, and his fellow-citizens, and his own people. And this is his own Mother Tongue, which is not only nearest, but especially the nearest to each man. Therefore, if near neighbourhood be the seed of friendship, as is said above, it is manifest that it has been one of the causes of the love which I bear to my Native Language, which is nearer to me than the others. The above-mentioned cause, whereby that alone which stands first in each mind is most bound to it, gave rise to the custom of the people, that the first-born sons should succeed to the inheritance solely as being the nearest relatives; and because the nearest relatives, therefore the most beloved.
Again, Goodness made me a friend to it. And here it is to be known that all goodness inherent in anything is loveable in that thing; as in manhood to be well bearded, and in womanhood to be all over the face quite free from hair; as in the setter to have good scent, and as in the greyhound to be swift. And in proportion as it is native, so much the more is it delightful. Hence, although each virtue is loveable in man, that is the most loveable in him which is most human: and this is Justice, which alone is in the rational part, or rather in the intellectual, that is, in the Will. This is so loveable that as says the Philosopher in the fifth book of the Ethics, its enemies love it, such as thieves and robbers; and, therefore, we see that its opposite, that is, Injustice, is especially hated; such as treachery, ingratitude, falsehood, theft, rapine, deceit, and their like; the which are such inhuman sins, that, in order to excuse himself from the infamy of such, it is granted through long custom that a man may speak of himself, as has been said above, and may say if he be faithful and loyal. Of this virtue I shall speak hereafter more fully in the fourteenth treatise; and here quitting it, I return to the proposition. Having proved, then, that the goodness of a thing is loved the more the more it is innate, the more it is to be loved and commended for itself, it remains to see what that goodness is. And we see that, in all speech, to express a thought well and clearly is the thing most to be admired and commended. This, then, is its first goodness. And forasmuch as this is in our Mother Tongue, as is made evident in another chapter, it is manifest that it has been the cause of the love which I bear to it; since, as has been said, “Goodness is the producer of Love.”
Having said how in the Mother Tongue there are those two things which have made me its friend, that is, nearness to me and its innate goodness, I will tell how by kindness and union in study, and through the benevolence of long use, the friendship is confirmed and grows. Firstly, I say that I for myself have received from it the greatest benefits. And, therefore, it is to be known that, amongst all benefits, that is the greatest which is most precious to him who receives it; and nothing is so precious as that through which all other things are wished; and all the other things are wished for the perfection of him who wishes. Wherefore, inasmuch as a man may have two perfections, one first and one second (the first causes him to be, the second causes him to be good), if the Native Language has been to me the cause of the one and of the other, I have received from it the greatest benefit. And that it may have been the cause of this condition in me can be shown briefly. The efficient cause for the existence of things is not one only, but among many efficient causes one is the chief of the others, hence the fire and the hammer are the efficient causes of the sword-blade, although the workman is especially so. This my Mother Tongue was the bond of union between my forefathers, who spoke with it, even as the fire is the link between the iron and the smith who makes the knife; therefore it is evident that it co-operated in my birth, and so it was in some way the cause of my being. Again, this my Mother Tongue was my introducer into the path of knowledge, which is the ultimate perfection, inasmuch as with it I entered into the Latin Language, and with it I was taught; the which Latin was then the way of further advancement for me. And so it is evident and known by me that this my language has been my great benefactor. Also it has been engaged with me in one self-same study, and this I can thus prove. Each thing naturally studies its self-preservation; hence, if the Mother Tongue could seek anything of itself, it would seek that; and that would be to secure for itself a position of the greatest stability: but greater stability it could not secure than by uniting itself with number and with rhyme.
And this self-same study has been mine, as is so evident that it requires no testimony; therefore its study and mine have been one and the same, whereby the harmony of friendship is confirmed and increased. Also between us there has been the benevolence of long use: for from the beginning of my life I have had with it kind fellowship and conversation, and have used it, when deliberating, interpreting, and questioning; wherefore, if friendship increases through long use, as in all reason appears, it is manifest that in me it has increased especially, for with this my Mother Tongue I have spent all my time. And thus one sees that to the shaping of this friendship there have co-operated all causes of birth and growth. Therefore, let it be concluded that not only Love, but the most Perfect Love, is that which I have for it. So it is, and ought to be.
Thus, casting the eyes backwards and gathering up the afore-stated reasons, one can see that this Bread, with which the Meat of the under-written Poems ought to be eaten, is made clear enough of blemishes, and of fault in the nature of its grain. Wherefore, it is time to attend to and serve up the viands.
This will be that barley-bread with which a thousand will satisfy themselves; and my full baskets shall overflow with it. This will be that new Light, that new Sun, which shall rise when the sun of this our day shall set, and shall give light to those who are in darkness and in gloom because the sun of this our day gives light to them no more.
* * * * *
The Second Treatise.
Ye who the third Heaven move, intent of thought, Hear reasoning that is within my heart, Thoughts that to none but you I can impart: Heaven, that is moved by you, my life has brought To where it stands, therefore I pray you heed What I shall say about the life I lead.
To you I tell the heart’s new cares: always The sad Soul weeps within it, and there hears Voice of a Spirit that condemns her tears, A Spirit that descends in your star’s rays. Thought that once fed the grieving heart was sweet, Thought that oft fled up to your Father’s feet.
There it beheld a Lady glorified,
Of whom so sweetly it discoursed to me That the Soul said, “With her I long to be!” Now One appears that drives the thought aside, And masters me with so effectual might That my heart quivers to the outward sight.
This on a Lady fixes my regard
And says, “Who seeks where his salvation lies Must gaze intently in this Lady’s eyes, Nor dread the sighs of anguish!” O, ill-starred! Such opposite now breaks the humble dream Of the crowned angel in the glory beam.
Still, therefore, the Soul weeps, “The tender stir,” It says, “of thought that once consoled me flies!” That troubled one asks, “When into thine eyes Looked she? Why doubted they my words of her?” I said, “Her eyes bear death to such as I: Yet, vainly warned, I gaze on her and die.
“Thou art not dead, but in a vain dismay, Dear Soul of ours so lost in thy distress,” Whispers a spirit voice of tenderness. “This Lady’s beauty darkens all your day, Vile fear possesses you; see, she is lowly Pitiful, courteous, though so wise and holy.
“Think thou to call her Mistress evermore: Save thou delude thyself, then shall there shine High miracles before thee, so divine
That thou shalt say, O Love, when I adore, True Lord, behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it unto me according to thy Word!”
My song, I do believe there will be few Who toil to understand thy reasoning; But if thou pass, perchance, to those who bring No skill to give thee the attention due, Then pray I, dear last-born, let them rejoice To find at least a music in my voice.
Since I, the servant, with preliminary discourse in the preceding Treatise, have with all due care prepared my bread, the time now summons, and requires my ship to leave the port: wherefore, having trimmed the mizen-mast of reason to the wind of my desire, I enter the ocean with the hope of an easy voyage, and a healthful happy haven to be reached at the end of my supper. But in order that my food may be more profitable, before the first dish comes on the table I wish to show how it ought to be eaten. I say then, as is narrated in the first chapter, that this exposition must be Literal and Allegorical; and to make this explicit one should know that it is possible to understand a book in four different ways, and that it ought to be explained chiefly in this manner.
The one is termed Literal, and this is that which does not extend beyond the text itself, such as is the fit narration of that thing whereof you are discoursing, an appropriate example of which is the third Song, which discourses of Nobility.
Another is termed Allegorical, and it is that which is concealed under the veil of fables, and is a Truth concealed under a beautiful Untruth; as when Ovid says that Orpheus with his lute made the wild beasts tame, and made the trees and the stones to follow him, which signifies that the wise man with the instrument of his voice makes cruel hearts gentle and humble, and makes those follow his will who have not the living force of knowledge and of art; who, having not the reasoning life of any knowledge whatever, are as the stones. And in order that this hidden thing should be discovered by the wise, it will be demonstrated in the last Treatise. Verily the theologians take this meaning otherwise than do the poets: but, because my intention here is to follow the way of the poets, I shall take the Allegorical sense according as it is used by the poets.
The third sense is termed Moral; and this is that which the readers ought intently to search for in books, for their own advantage and for that of their descendants; as one can espy in the Gospel, when Christ ascended the Mount for the Transfiguration, that, of the twelve Apostles, He took with Him only three. From which one can understand in the Moral sense that in the most secret things we ought to have but little company.
The fourth sense is termed Mystical, that is, above sense, supernatural; and this it is, when spiritually one expounds a writing which even in the Literal sense by the things signified bears express reference to the Divine things of Eternal Glory; as one can see in that Song of the Prophet which says that by the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt Judaea is made holy and free. That this happens to be true according to the letter is evident. Not less true is that which it means spiritually, that in the Soul’s liberation from Sin (or in the exodus of the Soul from Sin) it is made holy and free in its powers.
But in demonstrating these, the Literal must always go first, as that in whose sense the others are included, and without which it would be impossible and irrational to understand the others. Especially is it impossible in the Allegorical, because, in each thing which has a within and a without, it is impossible to come to the within if you do not first come to the without. Wherefore, since in books the Literal meaning is always external, it is impossible to reach the others, especially the Allegorical, without first coming to the Literal. Again, it is impossible, because in each thing, natural and artificial, it is impossible to proceed to the form without having first laid down the matter upon which the form should be. Thus, it is impossible for the form of the gold to come, if the matter, that is, its subject, is not first laid down and prepared; or for the form of the ark to come, if the material, that is, the wood, be not first laid down and prepared. Therefore, since the Literal meaning is always the subject and the matter of the others, especially of the Allegorical, it is impossible to come first to the meaning of the others before coming to it. Again, it is impossible, because in each thing, natural and artificial, it is impossible to proceed unless the foundation be first laid, as in the house, so also in the mind. Therefore, since demonstration must be the building up of Knowledge, and Literal demonstration must be the foundation of the other methods of interpreting, especially of the Allegorical, it is impossible to come first to the others before coming to that. Again, if it were possible that it could be so ordered, it would be irrational, that is, out of order; and, therefore, one would proceed with, much fatigue and with much error. Hence, as the Philosopher says in the first book of the Physics, Nature desires that we proceed in due order in our search for knowledge, that is, by proceeding from that which we know well to that which we know not so well; so I say that Nature desires it, inasmuch as this way to knowledge is innate in us; and therefore, if the other meanings, apart from the Literal, are less understood–which they are, as evidently appears–it would be irrational to demonstrate them if the Literal had not first been demonstrated.
I, then, for these reasons will discourse in due order of each Song, firstly upon its Literal meaning, and after that I will discourse of its Allegory, that is, the hidden Truth, and sometimes I will touch incidentally on the other meanings as may be convenient to place and time.
Beginning, then, I say that the star of Venus had twice revolved in that circle which causes the evening and the morning to appear, according to the two varying seasons, since the death of that blessed Beatrice, who lives in Heaven with the Angels, and on Earth with my soul; when that gentle Lady, of whom I made mention at the end of the “Vita Nuova,” first appeared before my eyes, accompanied by Love, and assumed a position in my mind. And, as has been stated by me in the little book referred to, more because of her gentle goodness than from choice of mine, it befell that I consented to be her servant. For she appeared impassioned with such sorrow for my sad widowed life that the spirits of my eyes became especially friendly to her; and, so disposed, they then depicted her to be such that my good-will was content to espouse itself to that image. But because Love is not born suddenly, nor grows great nor comes to perfection in haste, but desires time and food for thought, especially there where there are antagonistic thoughts which impede it, there must needs be, before this new Love could be perfect, a great battle between the thought of its food and of that which was antagonistic to it, which still held the fortress of my mind for that glorious Beatrice. For the one was succoured on one side continually by the ever-present vision, and the other on the opposite side by the memory of the past. And the help of the ever-present sight increased each day, which memory could not do, in opposing that which to a certain degree prevented me from turning the face towards the past. Wherefore it seemed to me so wonderful, and also so hard to endure, that I could not support it, and with a loud cry (to excuse myself from the struggle, in which it seemed to me that I had failed in courage) I lifted up my voice towards that part whence came the victory of the new thought, which was full of virtuous power, even the power of celestial virtue; and I began to say: “You! who the third Heaven move, intent of thought.” For the intelligent understanding of which Song, one must first know its divisions well, so that it will then be easy to perceive its meaning.
In order that it may no longer be necessary to preface the explanations of the others, I say that the order which will be taken in this Treatise I intend to keep through all the others. I say, then, that the proposed Song is contained within three principal parts. The first is the first verse of that, in which certain Intelligences are induced to listen to what I intend to say, or rather by a more usual form of speech we should call them Angels, who are in the revolution of the Heaven of Venus, as the movers thereof. The second is in the lines which follow after the first, in which is made manifest that which I felt spiritually amidst various thoughts. The third is in the last lines, wherein the man begins to speak to the work itself, as if to comfort it, as it were, and all these three parts are in due order to be demonstrated, as has been said above.
That we may more easily perceive the Literal meaning of the first division, to which we now attend, it is requisite to know who and what are those who are summoned to my audience, and what is that third Heaven which I say is moved by them. And firstly I will speak of the Heaven; then I will speak of those whom I address And although with regard to the truth concerning those things it is possible to know but little, yet so much as human reason can discern gives more delight than the best known and most certain of the things judged by the sense; according to the opinion of the Philosopher in his book on Animals.
I say, then, that concerning the number of the Heavens and their site, different opinions are held by many, although the truth at last may be found. Aristotle believed, following merely the ancient foolishness of the Astrologers, that there might be only eight Heavens, of which the last one, and which contained all, might be that where the fixed stars are, that is, the eighth sphere, and that beyond it there could be no other. Again, he believed that the Heaven of the Sun might be immediate with that of the Moon, that is, second to us. And this opinion of his, so erroneous, he who wishes can see in the second book on Heaven and the World, which is in the second of the Books on Natural History. In fact, he excuses himself for this in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, where he clearly proves himself to have followed also another opinion where he was obliged to speak of Astrology. Ptolemy, then, perceiving that the eighth sphere is moved by many movements, seeing its circle to depart from the right circle, which turns from East to West, constrained by the principles of Philosophy, which of necessity desires a Primum Mobile, a most simple one, supposed another Heaven to be outside the Heaven of the fixed stars, which might make that revolution from East to West which I say is completed in twenty-four hours nearly, that is, in twenty-three hours, fourteen parts of the fifteen of another, counting roughly. Therefore, according to him, and according to that which is held in Astrology and in Philosophy since those movements were seen, there are nine moveable Heavens; the site of which is evident and determined, according to an Art which is termed Perspective, Arithmetical and Geometrical, by which and by other sensible experiences it is visibly and reasonably seen, as in the eclipses of the Sun it appears sensibly, that the Moon is below the Sun; and as by the testimony of Aristotle, who saw with his own eyes, according to what he says in the second book on Heaven and the World, the Moon, being new, to enter below Mars, on the side not shining, and Mars to remain concealed so long that he re-appeared on the other bright side of the Moon, which was towards the West.
And the order of the houses is this, that the first that they enumerate is that where the Moon is; the second is that where Mercury is; the third is that where Venus is; the fourth is that where the Sun is; the fifth is that where Mars is; the sixth is that where Jupiter is; the seventh is that where Saturn is; the eighth is that of the Stars; the ninth is that which is not visible except by that movement which is mentioned above, which they designate the great Crystalline sphere, diaphanous, or rather all transparent. Truly, beyond all these, the Catholics place the Empyrean Heaven, which is as much as to say, the Heaven of Flame, or rather the Luminous Heaven; and they assign it to be immoveable, in order to have in itself, according to each part, that which its material desires. And this is why that first moved–the Primum Mobile–has such extremely rapid motion. For, because of the most fervent appetite which each part of it has to be united with each part of that most Divine Heaven of Peace, in which it revolves with so much desire, its velocity is almost incomprehensible. And this quiet and peaceful Heaven is the place of that Supreme Deity who from above beholds the whole. This is the place of the blessed Spirits, according as Holy Church teaches, which cannot speak falsely; and even Aristotle seems to feel this, to him who understands him well, in the first book of Heaven and the World. This is the highest bound of the World, within which the whole World is included, and beyond which there is nothing. And it is in no place, but was formed alone in the First Mind, which the Greeks term Protonoe. This is that magnificence of which the Psalmist spoke when he sang to God: “Thy glory is raised above the Heavens.”
So, then, gathering together this which is discussed, it seems that there may be ten Heavens, of which the Heaven of Venus may be the third; whereof mention is made in that part which I intend to demonstrate. And it is to be known that each Heaven below the Crystalline has two firm poles as to itself; and the ninth has them firm and fixed, and not mutable in any respect. And each one, the ninth even as the others, has a circle, which one may term the equator of its own Heaven; which equally, in each part of its revolution, is remote from one pole and from the other, as he who rolls an apple or any other round thing can sensibly perceive. And this circle has more swiftness in its movement than any other part of its Heaven, in each Heaven, as he may perceive who considers well. And each part, in proportion as it is nearer to it, moves so much the more swiftly; so much the slower in proportion as it is more remote and nearer to the pole; since its revolution is less, and it must of necessity be in one self-same time with the greater. I say again, that in proportion as the Heaven is nearer to the equatorial circle, so much the more noble is it in comparison to its poles; since it has more motion and more actuality and more life and more form and more touch from that which is above itself, and consequently has more virtue. Hence the stars in the Heaven of the fixed stars are more full of power amongst themselves in proportion as they are nearer to that circle.
And upon the back of this circle in the Heaven of Venus, of which I now speak, is a little sphere, which revolves by itself in this Heaven, the circle of which Astrologers call Epicycle; and as the great sphere revolves about two poles, so does this little sphere: and so has this little sphere the equatorial circle; and so much the more noble it is in proportion as it is nearer to those: and in the arc, or rather back, of this circle is fixed the most brilliant star of Venus. And, although it may be said that there are ten Heavens according to strict Truth, this number does not comprehend them all: for that of which mention is made, the Epicycle, in which the star is fixed, is a Heaven by itself, or rather sphere; and it has not one essence with that which bears it, although it may be more like to it than to the others, and with it is called one Heaven, and they name the one and the other from the star. How the other Heavens and the other stars may be is not for present discussion; let it suffice that the nature of the third Heaven, with which I am at present concerned, has been told, and concerning which all that is at present needful has been shown.
Since it has been shown in the preceding chapter what this third Heaven is, and how it is ordered in itself, it remains to show who those are who move it. It is then to be known, in the first place, that the movers thereof are substances apart from material, that is, Intelligences, which the common people term Angels: and of these creatures, as of the Heavens, different persons have had different ideas, although the truth may be found. There were certain Philosophers, of whom Aristotle appears to be one in his Metaphysics, although in the first book on Heaven and Earth incidentally he appears to think otherwise, who only believed these to be so many as there are revolutions in the Heavens, and no more; saying, that the others would have been eternally in vain, without operation, which was impossible, inasmuch as their being is their operation. There were others, like Plato, a most excellent man, who place not only so many Intelligences as there are movements in Heaven, but even as there are species of things, that is, manners of things; as of one species are all mankind, and of another all the gold, and of another all the silver, and so with all: and they are of opinion that as the Intelligences of the Heavens are generators of those movements each after his kind, so these were generators of the other things, each one being a type of its species: and Plato calls them _Ideas_, which is as much as to say, so many universal forms and natures.
The Gentiles called them Gods and Goddesses, although they could not understand those so philosophically as Plato did; and they adored their images, and built large temples to them, as to Juno, whom they called the Goddess of Power; as to Vulcan, whom they called the God of Fire; as to Pallas, or rather Minerva, whom they called the Goddess of Wisdom; and to Ceres, whom they called the Goddess of Corn. Opinions such as these the testimony of the Poets makes manifest, for they describe to a certain extent the mode of the Gentiles both in their sacrifices and in their faith; and it is testified also in many names, remains of antiquity, or in names of places and ancient buildings, as he who will can easily find. And although these opinions above mentioned might be built upon a good foundation by human reason and by no slight knowledge, yet the Truth was not seen by them, either from defect of reason or from defect of instruction. Yet even by reason it was possible to see that very numerous were the creatures above mentioned who are not such as men can understand. And the one reason is this: no one doubts, neither Philosopher, nor Gentile, nor Jew, nor Christian, nor any one of any sect, that they are either the whole or the greater part full of all Blessedness, and that those blessed ones are in a most perfect state. Therefore, since that which is here Human Nature may have not only one Beatitude, but two Beatitudes, as that of the Civil Life and that of the Contemplative, it would be irrational if we should see these Celestial Beings to have the Beatitude of the Active Life, that is, the Civil, in the government of the World, and not to have that of the Contemplative, which is the most excellent and most Divine.
But since that which has the Beatitude of the Civil government cannot have the other, because their intellect is one and perpetual, there must be others beyond this ministry, who live only in contemplation. And because this latter life is more Divine–and in proportion as the thing is more Divine so much the more is it in the image of God–it is evident that this life is more beloved of God: and if it be more beloved, so much the more vast has its Beatitude been; and if it has been more vast, so much the more vivifying power has He given to it rather than to the other; therefore one concludes that there may De a much larger number of those creatures than the effects tend to show. And this is not opposed to that which Aristotle seems to state in the tenth book of the Ethics, that to the separate substances the Contemplative Life must be requisite; as also the Active Life must be imperative to them. Nevertheless, in the contemplation of certain truths the revolution of the Heaven follows, which is the government of the World; which is, as it were, a Civil government ordained and comprehended in the contemplation of the movers, that is, the ruling Intelligences. The other reason is, that no effect is greater than the cause, because the cause cannot give that which it has not; wherefore, since the Divine Intellect is the cause of all, especially of the Human Intellect, it follows that the Human Intellect does not dominate the Divine, but is dominated by it in proportion to the superior power of the Divine. Hence, if we, by the reason above stated, and by many others, understand God to have been able to create Spiritual Creatures almost innumerable, it is quite evident that He has made them in this great number. Many other reasons it were possible to see: but let these suffice for the present. Nor let any one marvel if these and other reasons which we could adduce concerning this are not fully demonstrated; since likewise we ought to wonder at their excellence, which overpowers the eyes of the Human Mind, as the Philosopher says in the second book of the Metaphysics, and he affirms their existence. Though we have not any perception of them from which our knowledge can begin, yet some light from their most vivacious essence shines upon our intellect, inasmuch as we perceive the above-mentioned reasons and many others, even as he who has the eyes closed affirms the air to be luminous, because of some little brightness or ray of light which passes through the pupils; as it is with the bat, for not otherwise are the eyes of the intellect closed, so long as the soul is bound and prisoned by the organs of our body.
It has been said that, through defective instruction, the ancients saw not the Truth concerning the Spiritual Creatures, although the people of Israel were in part instructed by their Prophets, through whom by many modes of speech and in many ways God had spoken to them, as the Apostle says. But we are therein instructed by Him who came from God, by Him who made them, by Him who preserves them, that is, by the Emperor of the Universe, who is Christ the Son of the Supreme God, and the Son of the Virgin Mary, a woman truly, and the daughter of Joseph and Anna–very Man, who was slain by us in order that He might bring us Life; who was the Light which enlightens us in the Darkness, even as John the Evangelist says; and He told us the Truth of those things which we could not have known without Him, nor seen truly. The first thing and the first secret which He showed us was one of the before-mentioned Beings or creatures. This was that one, His great Legate, the Angel Gabriel, who came to Mary, a young damsel of thirteen years, on the part of the Heavenly Saviour. This our Saviour, with His own mouth, said, that the Father could give Him many Legions of Angels. This He denied not, when it was said to Him that the Father had commanded His Angels that they should minister unto Him and should serve Him. Wherefore, it is evident to us that these creatures are in a very great number; since His Spouse and Secretary, Holy Church, of whom Solomon says: “Who is this that cometh forth from the Desert, full of those things which give delight, leaning upon her friend?” says, believes, and preaches these most noble creatures to be almost innumerable; and She divides them into three Hierarchies, that is to say, three holy, or rather Divine, Principalities: and each Hierarchy has three orders, so that nine orders of spiritual creatures the Church holds and affirms.
The first is that of the Angels, the second of the Archangels, the third of the Thrones; and these three orders make the first Hierarchy–not first as to nobility, nor as to creation, for the others are more noble, and all were created together, but first in degree, according to our perception of their exaltation.
Then there are the Dominations; after them the Virtues; then the Principalities; and these make the second Hierarchy.
Above these are the Powers and the Cherubim, and above all are the Seraphim; and these make the third Hierarchy.
And the most potent reason for their contemplation is the number in which the Hierarchies are, and that in which the orders are. For, since the Divine Majesty is in Three Persons, which have one substance, it is possible to contemplate them triply. For it is possible to contemplate the Supreme Power of the Father, which the first Hierarchy gazes upon, namely, that which is first by nobility, and which we enumerate last. And it is possible to contemplate the Supreme Wisdom of the Son; and upon this the second Hierarchy gazes. And it is possible to contemplate the Supreme and most fervent Charity of the Holy Spirit; and upon this the third Hierarchy gazes, which, being nearest to us, gives of the gifts which it receives.
And, since it is possible to regard each person in the Divine Trinity triply, so in each Hierarchy there are three orders which contemplate diversely. It is possible to consider the Father having regard to none but Him; and this is the contemplation of the Seraphim, who see more of the First Cause than any other Angelic Nature. It is possible to consider the Father according as He has relation to the Son, that is, how He is apart from Him, and how united with Him; and this is the contemplation of the Cherubim. It is possible again to consider the Father according as from Him proceeds the Holy Spirit, and how it is apart from Him and how united with Him; and this is the contemplation of the Powers.
And in like way it is possible to contemplate the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Wherefore, there must be nine orders of contemplative Spirits to gaze into the Light, which alone beholds itself completely. And this is not the place to be silent so much as one word. I say, that of all these orders some were lost as soon as they were created, perhaps in number of the tenth part, to restore which Human Nature was created. The numbers, the orders, the Hierarchies, declare the glory of the movable Heavens, which are nine; and the tenth announces this Unity and stability of God. And therefore the Psalmist says: “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the Firmament showeth His handiwork.” Wherefore it is reasonable to believe that the movers of the Heaven of the Moon are of the order of the Angels, and those of Mercury may be the Archangels, and those of Venus may be the Thrones, in whom the Love of the Holy Spirit being innate, they do their work conformably to it, which means that the revolution of that Heaven is full of Love. The form of the said Heaven takes from this a virtue by whose glow souls here below are kindled to love according to their disposition.
And because the ancients perceived that Heaven to be here below the cause of Love, they said that Love was the son of Venus, as Virgil testifies in the first book of the AEneid, where Venus says to Love: “Oh! son, my virtue, son of the great Father, who takest no heed of the darts of Typhoeus.” And Ovid so testifies in the fifth book of his Metamorphoses, when he says that Venus said to Love: “Son, my arms, my power.” And there are Thrones which are ordered to the government of this Heaven in number not great, concerning which the Philosophers and the Astrologers have thought differently, according as they held different opinions concerning its revolutions. But all may be agreed, as many are, in this, as to how many movements it makes. Of this, as abbreviated in the book of the Aggregation of the Stars, you may find in the better demonstration of the Astrologers that there are three: one, according as the star moves towards its Epicycle; the other, according as the Epicycle moves with its whole Heaven equally with that of the Sun; the third, according as the whole of that Heaven moves, following the movement of the starry sphere from West to East in one hundred years one degree. So that to these Three Movements there are Three Movers. Again, if the whole of this Heaven moves and turns with the Epicycle from East to West once in each natural day, that movement, whether it be caused by some Intelligence or whether it be through the rapid movement of the Primum Mobile, God knows, for to me it seems presumptuous to judge. These Movers produce, caring for that alone, the revolution proper to that sphere which each one moves. The most noble form of the Heaven, which has in itself the principle of this passive Nature, revolves, touched by the Moving Power, which cares for this; and I say touched, not by a bodily touch, but by a Power which directs itself to that operation. And these Movers are those to whom I begin to speak and to whom I put my inquiry.
According to that which is said above in the third chapter of this treatise, in order to understand well the first part of the Song I comment on, it is requisite to discourse of those Heavens, and of their Movers; and in the three preceding chapters this has been discussed. I say, then, to those whom I proved to be Movers of the Heaven of Venus: “Ye who, with thought intent” (_i.e._, with the intellect alone, as is said above), “the third Heaven move, Hear reasoning that is within my heart;” and I do not say “Hear” because they hear any sound, for they have no sense of hearing; but I say “Hear,” meaning with that hearing which they have, which is of the understanding through the intellect. I say, “Hear reasoning that is within my heart,” within me, which as yet has not appeared externally. It is to be known that throughout this Song, according to the one sense (the Literal), and the other sense (the Allegorical), the Heart is concerned with the secret within, and not any other special part of the soul or body. When I have called them to hear that which I wish to say, I assign two reasons why I ought fitly to speak to them. One is the novelty of my condition, which, from not having been experienced by other men, would not be so understood by them as by those who superintend such effects in their operation. And this reason I touch upon when I say: “To you alone its new thoughts I impart.” The other reason is: when a man receives a benefit or injury, he ought first to relate it to him who bestows or inflicts it, if he can, rather than to others; in order that, if it be a benefit, he who receives it may show himself grateful towards the benefactor, and, if it be an injury, let him lead the doer thereof to gentle mercy with sweet words. And this reason I touch upon when I say: “Heaven, that is moved by you, my life has brought To where it stands;” that is to say, your operation, namely, your revolution, is that which has drawn me into the present condition; therefore I conclude and say that my speech ought to be to them, such as is said; and I say here: “Therefore to you ’tis need That I should speak about the life I lead.” And after these reasons assigned, I beseech them to listen when I speak.
But, because in each manner of speech the speaker especially ought to look to persuasion, that is, to the pleasing of the audience, as that which is the beginning of all other persuasions, as do the Rhetoricians, and the most powerful persuasion to render the audience attentive is to promise to say new and wonderful things, I add to the prayer made for attention, this persuasion, or embellishment, announcing to them my intention to speak of new things, that is, the division which is in my mind; and great things, namely, the power of their star; and I say this in those last words of this first part:
To you I’ll tell the heart’s new cares: always The sad Soul weeps within it, and there hears Voice of a Spirit that condemns her tears, A Spirit that descends through your star’s rays.
And to the full understanding of these words, I say that this Spirit is no other than a frequent thought how to commend and beautify this new Lady. And this Soul is no other than another thought, accompanied with acquiescence, which, repudiating that Spirit, commends and beautifies the memory of that glorious Beatrice. But, again, because the last sentiment of the mind, acquiescence, is held by that thought which memory assisted, I call it the Soul, and the other the Spirit; as we are accustomed to call the City those who hold it, and not those who fight it, although the one and the other may be citizens. I say also, that this Spirit comes on the rays of the star, because one desires to know that the rays of each Heaven are the way by which their virtue descends into things here below. And since the rays are no other than a light which comes from the source of Light through the air even to the thing illuminated, and the light has no source except the star, because the other Heaven is transparent, I say not that this Spirit, this thought, comes from their Heaven entirely, but from their star. And their star, through the nobility of its Movers, is of such virtue that in our souls, and in other things, it has very great power, notwithstanding that it is so far from us, about one hundred and sixty-seven times farther than it is to the centre of the Earth, which is three thousand two hundred and fifty miles. And this is the Literal exposition of the first part of the Song.
What I have said shows clearly enough the Literal meaning of the first part. In the second, there is to be understood how it makes manifest what I experienced from the struggle within me; and this part has two divisions. In the first place it describes the quality of these oppositions, according as their cause was within me. Then I narrate what the one and the other voice of opposition said; and upon that firstly which described what was being lost, in the passage which is the second of that part and the third of the Song. In evidence, then, of the meaning of the first division, it is to be known that things must be named by that part of their form which is the noblest and best, as Man by Reason, and not by Sense, nor by aught else which is less noble; therefore, when one speaks of the living man, one should understand the man using Reason, which is his especial Life, and is the action of his noblest part. And, therefore, whoso departs from Reason and uses only the Senses is not a living man, but a living beast, as says that most excellent Boethius, “Let the Ass live.”
Rightly I speak, because thought is the right act of reason, wherefore the beasts who have it not do not think; and I speak not only of the lesser beasts, but of those who have a human appearance with the spirit of a sheep or of some other abominable beast. I say then: “Thought that once fed my grieving heart”–thought, that is, of the inner life–“was sweet” (sweet, insomuch as it is persuasive, that is, pleasing, or beautiful, gentle, delightful); this thought often sped away to the feet of the Father of those Spirits to whom I speak, that is, God; that is to say, that I in thought contemplated the realm of the Blessed. “Thought that once fled up to the Father’s feet.” And I name the final cause immediately, because I ascended there above in thought when I say, “There I beheld a Lady glorified,” to let you understand that I was certain, and am certain by its gracious revelation, that she was in Heaven; wherefore I, thinking many times how this was possible for me, went thither, rapt, as it were. Then subsequently I speak of the effect of this thought, in order to let you understand its sweetness, which was such that it made me desirous of Death, that I also might go where she was gone. And of this I speak there: “Of whom so sweetly it discoursed to me That the Soul said, ‘With her would I might be!'” And this is the root of one of the struggles which was in me. And it is to be known that here one terms Thought, and not Soul, that which ascended to see that Blessed Spirit, because it was an especial thought sent on that mission; the Soul is understood, as is stated in the preceding chapter, as thought in general, with acquiescence.
Then, when I say, “Now One appears that drives the thought aside,” I touch the root of the other struggle, saying how that previous thought was wont to be the life of me, even as another appears, which makes that one cease to be. I say, “drives the thought aside,” in order to show that one to be antagonistic, for naturally the opposing one drives aside the other, and that which is driven appears to yield through want of power. And I say that this thought, which newly appears, is powerful in taking hold of me and in subduing my Soul, saying that it “masters me with such effectual might” that the heart, that is, my inner life, trembles so much that my countenance shows it in some new appearance.
Subsequently I show the power of this new thought by its effect, saying that it makes me “fix my regard” on a Lady, and speaks to me words of allurement, that is to say, it reasons before the eyes of my intelligent affection, in order the better to induce me, promising me that the sight of her eyes is its salvation. And in order to make this credible to the Soul experienced in love, it says that it is for no one to gaze into the eyes of this woman who fears the anguish of laboured sighs. And it is a beautiful mode of rhetoric when externally it appears that you disembellish a thing, and yet really embellish it within. This new thought of love could not induce my mind to consent, except by discoursing of the virtue of the eyes of this fair Lady so profoundly.
Now that it is shown how and whereof Love is born, and the antagonist that fought with me, I must proceed to open the meaning of that part in which different thoughts contend within me. I say that, firstly, one must speak on the part of the Soul, that is, of the former thought, and then of the other; for this reason, that always that which the speaker intends most especially to say he ought to reserve in the background, because that which is said finally, remains most in the mind of the hearer. Therefore, since I mean to speak further, and to discourse of that which performs the work of those to whom I speak, rather than of that which undoes this work, it was reasonable first to mention and to discourse of the condition of the part which was undone, and then of that which was generated by the other.
But here arises a doubt, which is not to be passed over without explanation. It would be possible for any one to say: Since Love is the effect of these Intelligences, to whom I speak, and that of the first Love might be the same as that of the new Love, why should their virtue destroy the one, and produce the other? since it ought to preserve the first, for the reason that each cause loves its effect, and ought to protect what it loves. To this question one can easily reply, that the effect of those Spirits, as has been said, is Love: and since they could not save it except in those who are subject to their revolution, they transfer it from that part which is beyond their power to that which is within reach, from the soul departed out of this life, into that which is yet living; as human nature transfers in the human form its preservation of the father to the son, because it cannot in this father preserve perpetually its effect: I say effect in as far as soul and body are united, and not effect in as far as that soul, which is divided from the body, lasts for ever, in a nature more than human. And thus is the question solved.
But since the immortality of the Soul is here touched upon, I will make a digression upon that; because to discourse of that will make a fit conclusion to the mention I have made of that living and blessed Beatrice, of whom I do not intend to speak further in this book.
For proposition I say that, amongst all the bestialities, that is the most foolish, the most vile, and most damnable which believes no other life to be after this life; wherefore, if we turn over all books, whether of philosophers or of the other wise writers, all agree in this, that in us there is some everlasting principle. And this especially Aristotle seems to desire in that book on the Soul; this especially each stoic seems to desire; this Tullius seems to desire, especially in that book on Old Age. This each of the Poets who have spoken according to the faith of the Gentiles seems to desire; this the law seems to desire, among Jews, Saracens, and Tartars, and all other people who live according to some civil law. And if all these could be deceived, there would result an impossibility which even to describe would be horrible. Each man is certain that human nature is the most perfect of all natures here below. This no one denies: and Aristotle affirms it when he says, in the twelfth book On Animals, that man is the most perfect of all the animals. Therefore, since many who live are entirely mortal, as are the brute animals, and all may be, whilst they live, without that hope of the other life; if our hope should be in vain, our want would be greater than that of any other animal. There have been many who have given this life for that: and thus it would follow that the most perfect animal, man, would be the most imperfect, which is impossible; and that that part, namely, reason, which is his chief perfection, would be in him the cause of the chief defect: which seems strange to say of the whole. And again it would follow that Nature, in contradiction to herself, could have put this hope in the human mind; since it is said that many have hastened to death of the body that they might live in the other life; and this also is impossible. Again, we have continual experience of our immortality in the divination of our dreams, which could not be if there were no immortal part in us, since immortal must be the revelation. This part may be either corporeal or incorporeal if one think well and closely. I say corporeal or incorporeal, because of the different opinions which I find concerning this. That which is moved, or rather informed, by an immediate informer, ought to have proportion to the informer; and between the mortal and the immortal there is no proportion. Again, we are assured of it by the most truthful doctrine of Christ, which is the Way, the Truth, and the Light: the Way, because by it without impediment we go to the happiness of that immortality; the Truth, because it endures no error; the Light, because it enlightens us in the darkness of worldly ignorance. This doctrine, I say, which above all other reasons makes us certain of it; for it has been given to us by Him who sees and measures our immortality, which we cannot perfectly see whilst our immortal is mingled with the mortal. But we see it by faith perfectly; and by reason we see it with the cloud of obscurity which grows from the mixture of the mortal with the immortal. This ought to be the most powerful argument that both are in us: and I thus believe, thus affirm; and I am equally certain, after this life, to pass to that other and better life–there where that glorious Lady lives, with whom my soul was enamoured when it was struggling, as will be set forth in the next chapter.
Returning to the proposition, I say that in that verse which begins “A foe so strong I find him that he destroys,” I intend to make manifest that which was discoursing in my Soul, the ancient thought against the new; and first briefly I show the cause of its lamentation, when I say: “This opposite now breaks the humble dream Of the crowned angel in the glory-beam.” This one is that especial thought of which it is said above that it was wont to be the life of the sorrowing heart. Then when I say, “Still, therefore, my Soul weeps,” it is evident that my Soul is still on its side, and speaks with sadness; and I say that it speaks words of lamentation, as if it might wonder at the sudden transformation, saying: “‘The tender star,’ It says, ‘that once was my consoler, flies.'” It can well say consoler, for in the great loss which I sustained in the death of Beatrice this thought, which ascended into Heaven, had given to my Soul much consolation.
Then afterwards I say, that all my thought, my Soul, of which I say, “That troubled one,” turns in excuse of itself, and speaks against the eyes; and this is made evident there: “That troubled one asked, ‘When into thine eyes Looked she?'” And I say that she speaks of them and against them three things: the first is, she blasphemes the hour when this woman saw them. And here you must know, that although many things in one hour can come into the eyes, truly that which comes by a straight line into the point of the pupil, that truly one sees, and that only is sealed in the imaginative part. And this is, because the nerve by which the visible spirit runs is directed to that part, and thereupon truly one eye cannot look on the eye of another so that it