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Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Convivio, Tractate IV

Le dolci rime d'amor ch' io solìa.

 

THE dulcet times of love, which I was wont to seek within my thoughts, 'tis meet that I forgo, not because I hope not to return to them again, but because the scornful and fierce ways which in my lady are displayed have barred for me the path of my wonted speech. And since it seemeth sometime to pause, I will lay aside my smooth style which I have maintained where love was my theme, and I will speak of worth, by which a man is truly gentle; with rime harsh and subtle refuting the false and mean judgement of those who deem that nobility hath riches for its source. And in the outset I call on that Lord who dwelleth in my lady's eyes, whereby she is enamoured of herself.

There was an Emperor who deemed that nobility, according to his thinking, consisted in possession of ancestral wealth coupled with manners fine. And some one else there was of slighter wisdom who pondered again this saying, and took the last part away, perhaps because he had it not. In his wake follow all those who deem a man gentle by reason of his stock, which long hath been possessed of great riches: and so ingrained hath become this false opinion among us that a man calleth him noble who can say 'I was grandson or son of such a man of worth', though he himself be good for naught. But meanest of all to him who regardeth truth appeareth the man who hath known the right way and afterwards falleth from it, and is like to one who while he doth walk the earth is dead.

He who defineth man as matter animate saith first what is not true, and after speaking falsely doth not say the whole. But farther perchance he saw not. Likewise he who held the reins of Empire in definition went astray, since firstly he layeth down what is false, and on the other hand proceedeth defectively; for riches cannot, as men believe, either give. or take away nobility, because in their nature they are mean. Moreover he who paints the shape of aught, if he cannot be the thing, cannot depict it; nor can an upright tower be inclined by a stream which runneth far off. It doth appear, that riches are mean and imperfect; for, however high heaped up, they cannot give rest, but bring more care. Wherefore the mind which is upright and true doth not discompose itself because they flee away.

Nor do these allow that a base-born man may become gentle, nor that from a base-born sire may descend any offspring that ever is deemed gentle; this is by them confessed. Whence it is plain that their reasoning stumbleth, in so far as it allotteth time as essential for nobility, defining by help of time. Moreover it followeth from what I have set down before that we are all gentle or base, or else that man had no beginning. But to that I assent not; and they likewise assent not if they are Christians. Wherefore to sound intellects 'tis plain that their sayings are empty; and I therefore reprove them as false, and withdraw myself from them. And now I will speak just as I feel, and say what nobility is and whence it springeth. And I will tell the marks which the man who is gentle doth retain.

I affirm that every virtue primarily cometh from one root, virtue, I mean, which maketh a man happy in all his doing. This root (as the Ethics affirm) is a habit of choice, which resideth only in the mean; and such words the book setteth down. I say that nobility by its conception ever importeth good of its subject, as baseness ever importeth ill. And virtue above defined ever giveth men good thoughts concerning her. Wherefore, with the same predicate both of two things agree, which are of one effect; whence it needs must follow that the one thing cometh of the other, or each from some third. But if the one hold the good of all of which the other holdeth good and of yet more, from that rather will this latter come. And let that which I have here affirmed be taken for granted.

Wherever virtue is, there is nobility. But virtue is not always there where nobility is; as there is sky wherever there is a star, but there is not always a star wherever there is sky. So we in woman and in those of tender age perceive this healthfulness, so far as they are held quick to shame, which yet from virtue is diverse. Therefore as perse from black so from nobility will each several virtue come, or the genus thereof which I have set down above. Therefore let no man boast himself, saying, 'By race am I her fellow.' For they are well nigh gods, they who have this grace apart from all sinners, For God alone endoweth that soul with it, whom He seeth in her own person stand perfect, so that with some few the seed of happiness doth join company, dispatched by God to the soul that is happily placed.

The soul whom this goodness doth adorn keepeth it not to herself close hid. For from the first, when to the body she is espoused, she displayeth it until death. Obedient, suave, and quick to shame is she in life's first stage, and with beauty doth her person ornament, with all its parts well strung; in youth temperate and brave, full of love and of courteous praise, and taketh pleasure only in loyalty. In her old age she is prudent and just and famed for bounteousness, and within herself she doth joy to hear and speak of others' excellence. Afterwards in the fourth stage of life she is married again, to God, and contemplateth the end which awaiteth her, and blesseth the times gone by. See now how many be they that are deceived.

Against the erring shouldst thou go forth, my song; and when thou shalt have come into that region where our Lady dwelleth, keep not thy mission hid from her. Thou mayest say to her full surely, `I go discoursing of thy friend.'

[Each of the Canzone is followed by a commentary; here is the beginning of the commentary on the above:]

1. Love, as we learn from the concordant opinion of the wise who discourse on it, and as we see by constant experience, is that which joins and unites the lover with the person loved. Whence Pythagoras says that 'friendship makes the many one '. And because things that are joined together do naturally interchange their qualities insomuch that at times the one is entirely transformed into the nature of the other, it comes to pass that the feelings of the person loved enter into the person who loves, so that the love felt by the one is communicated to the other; and the same holds true of hatred and desire and every other feeling. Wherefore the friends of the one are loved by the other, and the enemies hated. Hence the Greek proverb says that between friends all things ought to be common '. Thus I, having become the friend of the Lady mentioned above [i.e., Lady Philosophy] in the true explanation, began to love and hate in accordance with her love and hatred. I began, therefore, to love the followers of truth, and to hate the followers of error and falsehood, as she does,

 

 

From Dante's Convivio Translated into English by William Walrond Jackson. Oxford, 1909. Pp. 190-93 [Widener Dv 284.4].

 

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