Dante: Convivio (The Banquet)
© Copyright 2008 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
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- Canzone Prima (Original Italian Text)
- The First Canzone (English Translation)
- Chapter I: Four Kinds of Meaning
- Chapter II: The First Canzone – Origin and Structure
- Chapter III: The First Canzone – The Nature of the Heavens
- Chapter IV: The First Canzone – The Intelligences or Angels
- Chapter V: The First Canzone – The Angelic Orders
- Chapter VI: The First Canzone – The Influence of Venus
- Chapter VII: The First Canzone – Conflicting Thoughts
- Chapter VIII: The First Canzone – Immortality of the Soul
- Chapter IX: The First Canzone – The Soul Speaks
- Chapter X: The First Canzone – The New Thought Replies
- Chapter XI: The First Canzone – The Tornata
- Chapter XII: The First Canzone – Allegorical Meaning
- Chapter XIII: The First Canzone – The Spheres and Sciences I
- Chapter XIV: The First Canzone – The Spheres and Sciences II
- Chapter XV: The First Canzone – The Allegorical Exposition
Canzone Prima (Original Italian Text)
Voi, che ‘ntendendo il terzo ciel movete,
udite il ragionar ch’è nel mio core,
ch’io nol so dire altrui, sì mi par novo;
e ‘l ciel che segue lo vostro valore,
gentili creature che voi sète,
mi tragge ne lo stato ov’io mi trovo.
Onde ‘l parlar de la vita ch’io provo
par che si drizzi degnamente a vui:
però vi priego che lo mi ‘ntendiate.
Io vi dirò del cor la novitate,
come l’anima trista piange in lui
e come un spirto contr’a lei favella,
che vien pe’ raggi de la vostra stella.
Suol esser vita de lo cor dolente
un soave penser, che se ne gìa
molte fiate a’ pie’ del nostro Sire,
ove una donna glorïar vedìa
di cui parlav’a me sì dolcemente
che l’anima dicea: ‘Io men vo’ gire.’
Or apparisce chi lo fa fuggire
e segnoreggia me di tal virtute,
che ‘l cor ne trema, che di fuori appare.
Questi mi face una donna guardare,
e dice: ‘Chi veder vuol la salute,
faccia che li occhi d’esta donna miri,
sed e’ non teme angoscia di sospiri.’
Trova contraro tal che lo distrugge
l’umil pensero che parlar mi sole
d’un’angela, che ‘n cielo è coronata.
L’anima piange, sì ancor len dole,
e dice: ‘Oh lassa a me, come si fugge
questo piatoso che m’ha consolata!’
De li occhi miei dice questa affannata:
‘Qual ora fu che tal donna li vide!
e perché non credeano a me di lei?
Io dicea: “Ben ne li occhi di costei
de’ star colui che le mie pari ancide!”
E non mi valse ch’io ne fossi accorta
che non mirasser tal, ch’io ne son morta.’
‘Tu non se’ morta, ma se’ ismarrita,
anima nostra, che sì ti lamenti’
dice uno spiritel d’amor gentile;
‘ché quella bella donna, che tu senti,
ha transmutata in tanto la tua vita,
che n’hai paura, sì se’ fatta vile!
Mira quant’ell’è pietosa e umile,
saggia e cortese ne la sua grandezza,
e pensa di chiamarla donna, omai!
Ché, se tu non t’inganni, tu vedrai
di sì alti miracoli adornezza,
che tu dirai: “Amor, segnor verace,
ecco l’ancella tua; fa che ti piace.”‘
Canzone, io credo che saranno radi
color che tua ragione intendan bene,
tanto la parli faticosa e forte.
Onde, se per ventura elli addivene
che tu dinanzi da persone vade
che non ti paian d’essa bene accorte,
allor ti priego che ti riconforte,
dicendo lor, diletta mia novella:
‘Ponete mente almen com’io son bella!’
The First Canzone (English Translation)
You whose intellect moves the third sphere,
Hear now the debate within my heart,
That seems so new I cannot speak to others.
The heaven that is driven by your power
Oh, noble creatures that you are,
Led me to this state where I now find me.
Hence these words about the life I live
Should rightly be said, it seems, to you:
And so I pray that you will hear me.
I will speak of the new thing in my heart,
How the sad soul weeps therein,
And how a spirit disputes with it,
Descending with the rays from your star.
The life of my grieving heart was once
A tender thought that often would find
Its way to the feet of your Lord,
Where it saw a lady bright with glory
Of whom it spoke to me so sweetly
That my soul said: ‘I would go there.’
Now one appears who makes it flee,
And lords it over me with such power
That my heart trembles visibly.
One that makes me look upon a lady,
And says: ‘Who wishes to see bliss,
Let his eyes on this lady gaze,
If he does not fear anguished sighs.’
The humble thought that used to speak
Of an angel who is crowned in heaven,
Meets now an enemy that destroys it.
The soul weeps, for this must grieve her,
And says: ‘Oh woe is me, how he flees,
The compassionate one who consoled me!’
This troubled one says now of my eyes:
‘Sad hour when such a lady saw them!
Why were my words about her not believed?’
For I’d said: “Now, surely, in her eyes
Must dwell the one who slays the likes of me!”
Yet my awareness was worth nothing,
For they gazed on him, and I am slain.’
Then a noble spirit of love replies:
‘You are not dead but only led astray,
Soul of ours, who so grieve yourself.
This lovely lady whose power you feel,
Has so transmuted your whole life,
That you are made afraid, and a coward!
See how compassionate she is and humble,
Wise and courteous in her grandeur,
Resolve to call her your lady, now!
Unless you deceive yourself, you’ll see
The beauty of such high miracles,
That you’ll say: “Love, my true lord,
Behold your handmaid; do what you wish.”‘
Canzone, I think there will be few
Who’ll rightly understand your speech,
So complex and difficult the words.
So, if it should chance to pass
That you find yourself with those
Who seem not to understand you well.
Then I beg you to take courage,
Saying to them, my fresh delight:
‘At least reflect how beautiful I am!’
Chapter I: Four Kinds of Meaning
Now that I have served up my preface, and my bread has been prepared adequately in the preceding book, time summons me and demands that my ship leave harbour; so that, having set the sail of my reason to the breeze of my desire, I enter the open sea with hopes of a fair voyage and a safe and worthy harbour at the end of my feast. But before it appears, in order that this food of mine may be more beneficial, I wish to show, how the first course should be eaten.
I say, as was recounted in the first chapter, that this exposition must be both literal and allegorical. And to explain what this means, it is needful to know that writing can be understood and should be expounded in four main ways. The first is termed the literal, and this is the meaning that, in poetic fables for instance, does not delve beneath the surface of the words. The next is termed the allegorical, and this meaning is concealed beneath the cloak of the fables, and is a truth hidden beneath a lovely fiction. So Ovid says that with his lyre Orpheus tamed wild beasts, and made the trees and rocks come to him at his call, which is to say that the wise man with the instrument of his voice makes harsh hearts tender and humble, and moves at will those who do not devote their lives to knowledge and art; and that those who have no rational life at all are almost like stones. Why this kind of concealment was devised by the wise will be shown in the penultimate book. Indeed theologians treat this meaning differently to the poets; but since it is my intention to follow the methods of poetry here, I shall treat the allegorical meaning in the manner of the poets.
The third meaning is the moral one, and this is the meaning that teachers should seek to uncover throughout the scriptures, for their own and their pupils’ benefit; so, for example, in the Gospels we may see that Christ took with him only three of the Apostles when he climbed the mount to be transfigured, the moral sense of which is that in matters of great secrecy we should have few companions.
The fourth meaning is termed anagogical, that is to say beyond the senses; and is revealed when writings are expounded in a spiritual sense which, although they are true in the literal sense also, signifies by means of symbols an aspect of the divine glory of eternal things, as can be seen in the Psalm of the Prophet which reads that when the children of Israel went out of Egypt, Judea was rendered whole and free. For though it is clearly true according to the letter, what is intended to be taken spiritually is no less true, namely that when the soul departs from sin it is made whole and free in its powers. In this kind of explanation, the literal should always be treated first, as being the meaning in which the others are enclosed, and without which it would be impossible and illogical to treat the other meanings, especially the allegorical. It would be impossible because with regard to all that has an outside and an inside, it is impossible to arrive at the inside without first arriving at the outside; thus, given that, in what is written, the outside is always the literal meaning, it is impossible to arrive at the other meanings, especially the allegorical, without first arriving at the literal.
Moreover, it would be equally impossible because with every natural or artificial thing it is impossible to arrive at the form unless the material on which the form is to be imposed is first prepared, as it is impossible for a piece of jewellery to acquire its form if the material, subject to it, is not first ordered and prepared, or a chest to acquire its form if the material, the wood, is not first ordered and prepared. Thus, since the literal meaning is always the material of the other meanings, and subject to them, especially the allegorical, it is impossible to understand them without first understanding this literal meaning. Then again, it would be equally impossible because with every natural or artificial thing it is impossible to make progress unless the foundation is first laid, as in house-building or in education; thus, since explanation is the building of knowledge, and the literal explanation is the foundation for the others, especially the allegorical, it is impossible to understand the other meanings without first understanding the literal meeting.
Further, even if it were possible, it would be illogical, that is to say out of sequence, and would therefore be performed with great labour and much confusion. This is why Aristotle says, in the first book of his Physics, that Nature wills that we proceed in order with our learning, that is, from what we know well, to what we know less well; I say that Nature wills it because this method of learning is naturally innate in us. Therefore if the meanings other than the literal are less well understood, which it is apparent they are, it would be illogical to proceed to explain them if the literal meaning had not been explained first. For these reasons, therefore, I shall first discuss the literal meaning of each canzone, and then its allegorical meaning, that is its concealed truth, touching at times on the other meanings, as time and place require.
Chapter II: The First Canzone – Origin and Structure
To commence then, I say that after the passing of that blessed Beatrice, who lives in heaven with the angels and on earth in my soul, the planet Venus had twice revolved in that orbit of hers, which at different times of year makes her apparent in the evening or in the morning, when the noble lady, whom I mentioned at the end of the New Life, first appeared before my eyes, accompanied by Love, and occupied a place in my mind.
As I have recounted in that little book, I consented to be subject to her because of her gentleness rather than of my own choice; for she showed herself possessed of so great a pity for my bereaved life that the spirits of my eyes became most friendly towards her. Being thus, they then formed her image so within me, that I was pleased to wed myself to that image. Yet because love is not born, and does not grow or achieve perfection, in an instant, but needs time and nourishment in the mind, especially where opposing thoughts impede it, before this new love could become perfect much strife was needful between the thought that nourished it and the thought that opposed it, which still held the citadel of my mind on behalf of that glorious Beatrice. For the one was continually supported by the faculty of vision, before me, while the other was supported by the faculty of memory, behind me; and the support before me, hindering me from turning my gaze backward, increased each day, which the other had no power to do; so that it seemed so full of awe, and so hard to bear, that I could not endure it. And so, almost crying aloud to excuse myself for this change of mind, in which I seemed to show lack of purpose, I directed my voice to that sphere from which emerged that victorious new thought, which was as powerful as celestial virtue; and I began by saying: ‘You whose intellect moves the third sphere.’
To understand the meaning of this canzone fully, it is first needful to know its structure, so that it will be easier afterwards to construe its meaning. And to avoid setting these same words at the head of each exposition of a canzone, I intend to maintain the order of treatment of this book in all the other books.
I therefore state that the canzone before us is composed of three main sections. The first section comprises the first stanza: here certain Intelligences, or Angels as we are accustomed to call them, who, being its movers, preside over the revolutions of Venus’ heaven, are invited to hear what I propose to say. The second section comprises the three succeeding stanzas: here is revealed the dialogue of the different thoughts within. The third section comprises the fifth and last stanza: here the work itself is addressed, as if to encourage it. And all these three sections will be explained in order, as stated above.
Chapter III: The First Canzone – The Nature of the Heavens
In order to understand the literal sense of the first section, as defined above, more clearly, which is our present concern, we must know who it is who is summoned to hear me, and how many of them there are, and what this third heaven is which I say they move. I will speak first of this heaven, and then of those whom I address. According to Aristotle’s opinion expressed in his work On Animals, though we can know little of the true reality of these things, the part of them that human reason sees gives more delight than the certainty and plenitude of things we know more fully,
I say then, that varying opinions are held concerning the number and position of the heavens, though the truth has finally been discovered. Aristotle, simply following the longstanding ignorance of the astrologers, believed that there were only eight heavens, of which the outermost, namely the eighth sphere containing the rest, was that of the fixed stars, and that there was no other beyond it. Also he thought that the sphere of the Sun was contiguous to that of the Moon, that is to say, second from us. Anyone who wishes can find this erroneous opinion of his in the second book of his On Heaven and Earth, which is in the second of the books about Nature. However he apologises for this in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, where he shows clearly that he was simply following others’ opinion when obliged to speak about astrology.
Ptolemy, later, realising that the eighth sphere moved with a complex motion, seeing that its circle deviated from the true circle, which turns everything from east to west, and constrained by the principles of philosophy, which demanded the simplest primum mobile, proposed that another heaven existed beyond that of the fixed stars which make this revolution from east to west, a revolution I say completed in about twenty four hours, roughly speaking in twenty-three hours and fourteen fifteenths of an hour. So that, according to Ptolemy and the received opinion in astrology and philosophy since the time this motion was first perceived, there are nine moving heavens; and their position is visible and determined by the science of perspective, and by arithmetic and geometry, as perceived by the senses and by reason, and by other sensory data. Thus during an eclipse of the Sun, the Moon appears to our sight to be nearer than the Sun, and this is the testimony of Aristotle, who, as he tells us in the second book of On Heaven and Earth, saw the half Moon, with his own eyes, eclipse Mars, the Moon’s dark side leading, and Mars remaining hidden till it appeared from the other bright side of the Moon, which faced West.
The order of the heavens is as follows. The first is that of Mars; the second Mercury; the third Venus; the fourth that of the Sun; the fifth Mars; the sixth Jupiter; the seventh Saturn; the eighth that of the fixed stars; the ninth being imperceptible to the senses except for its anomalous motion mentioned above, and which many call the Crystalline sphere, that is one which is diaphanous or completely transparent. Moreover, beyond these, the Catholics place the Empyrean, which is to say the heaven of flame, or luminous heaven; and they consider it to be unmoving, because it holds within itself, that which its matter in every part desires. This is why the Primum Mobile has the swiftest motion. Because of the fervent desire that every part of the ninth heaven has to be united with every part of that tranquil and divine heaven, with which it is contiguous, it revolves within it with such desire that its speed is almost incomprehensible. Stillness and peace are the qualities of that region of Supreme Deity, who alone beholds himself entire. It is the region of the blessed spirits, according to the will of Holy Church, who cannot speak a lie: and Aristotle appears to agree, to those who rightly understand him, in the first book of On Heaven and Earth. This is the outermost framework of the universe within which all the world is enclosed, and beyond which is nothing; it is not itself in space but was formed solely in the Primal Mind, which the Greeks call Protonoe. This is that magnificence of which the Psalmist spoke when he addressed God: ‘Your magnificence is exalted above the heavens.’ And to summarise what has been said, it is clear that there are ten heavens, of which that of Venus is the third, being mentioned in that section of the canzone which I now intend to expound.
It should be known that each sphere beneath the Crystalline has two fixed poles, fixed in respect of itself; and they are firm and fixed in the ninth, and immutable in every way. Each one, the ninth included, sweeps out a circle which may be called the equator of its proper sphere and is equidistant from the poles in its revolution, as can be seen from experience by spinning an apple or other round object. In each sphere this equatorial circle moves more swiftly than any other part of the heaven, as can be seen upon careful consideration. Every region of the sphere has a swifter movement the nearer it is to the equator, and a slower the further it is away and the nearer it is to the poles, because its turning circle is smaller there, yet must of necessity be completed in the same period of time as the larger. I say, also, that the closer a region is to the equatorial circle the nobler it is compared to the poles, because it has greater motion, actuality, life and form, and approaches the characteristics of the sphere which encloses it and in consequence possesses more virtue. Thus the stars of the Starry Heaven possess more virtue, one with another, the nearer they are to this circle.
In the sphere of Venus, which we are currently discussing, on the outer edge of this equatorial circle, there is a small sphere which revolves of itself in that heaven, whose circle the astrologers call an epicycle. And just as the great sphere revolves about two poles, so does this smaller one; and it possesses its own equatorial circle, and its regions are nobler the nearer they are to this equator; and on the arc or outer edge of this circle is fixed the brightest planet Venus. Although we have said that strictly there are only ten heavens, this number does not comprise them all; for the one just mentioned, namely, the epicycle on which the planet is fixed, is a heaven or sphere in its own right, and is not at one with that which bears it, although it shares its nature more than that of others, and both are spoken of as if there was one heaven, named after the planet. The structure of the other heavens with their other stars and planets is not my subject at present; let what truth has been told of the third heaven with which I am at present concerned be sufficient, about which all that is needful at present has been fully explained.
Chapter IV: The First Canzone – The Intelligences or Angels
Now that I have shown in the preceding chapter the nature of the third heaven and how it is structured, it remains for me to explain who it is that moves it. We must firstly know that its movers are of substance other than matter, namely Intelligences, whom the common people call Angels. Various people have held various opinions about these creatures just as they have about the heavens, though the truth is now known. There are certain philosophers, among whom it would appear is Aristotle in his Metaphysics, though in his first book On Heaven he seems, in passing, to think otherwise, who believed that there were just as many of these beings as there are circular motions in the heavens, and no more, saying that any others would have been idle for all eternity, lacking any activity, which would be impossible since their being consists of activity. There are others like the eminent Plato who maintain that not only are there as many Intelligences as there are spheres in heaven, but also as many as there are species of things, for example one for men, another for gold, another for dimension, and so on. He held that just as the heavenly Intelligences each brought their sphere into being, so other Intelligences brought into being all other things and exemplars, each in its own species; and Plato called them Ideas, that is to say universal forms and natures.
The pagans called them God and Goddesses, though they did not conceive of them in a philosophical sense as Plato does, and they worshipped images of them, and built vast temples to them, for example to Juno whom they called goddess of might, Pallas or Minerva goddess of wisdom, Vulcan the god of fire, and Ceres goddess of harvest. These things and these beliefs are evident from the testimony of poets, who variously describe pagan customs, their sacrifices and their creeds, and they are also evident in the many surviving ancient names for places and buildings, as anyone can easily discover if they will.
Though the beliefs mentioned above were products of human reason and copious observation, the pagans nevertheless failed to perceive the truth, though inadequate reasoning and a lack of knowledge; for by reason alone it can be seen that the creatures mentioned above are more numerous than the effects men can apprehend. Here is one reason: no one, whether philosopher, pagan, Jew, Christian, or a member of some sect, doubts the blessedness of these Intelligences, all or the majority of them, or that they are in the most perfect state of being. Consequently, since human nature is blessed not only in one way but in two, namely in the active and the contemplative life, it would be illogical for such beings to be blessed with an active life, that is the civil governance of the world, and not a contemplative one, more excellent and divine. Since those who are blessed with governing, cannot also be contemplative, since their intellect is everlastingly one, there must be others who live by contemplation alone. And since this contemplative life of theirs is more divine, and the more divine a thing is the more it is like God, it is clear that such a life is more beloved of God; and if it is more beloved, the more is its blessedness made bountiful; and if it is more bountiful the more living beings are committed to it than to the active life. From this we conclude that the number of these creatures is much greater than the effects reveal.
This is not opposed to what Aristotle appears to say in the tenth book of the Ethics, that the contemplative life alone befits souls without bodies (separate substances). Though the contemplative life alone befits them, the circular motion of the heavens, which governs the world, is allotted to the contemplative life of a specific number of them, and is a kind of active civil order conceived within the contemplation of its movers.
Another reason is that no effect is greater than its cause, because the cause cannot generate what it does not already possess; consequently, since the divine intellect is the cause of everything, above all the human intellect, it follows that the human intellect cannot transcend the divine, but is transcended by it, out of all proportion. So, if from these reasons and many others we see that God could have created innumerable spiritual creatures, it is obvious that he has created this greater number of them. Many other reasons can be provided, but let this suffice for the present.
No one should be surprised if such reasons have not been fully demonstrated; nevertheless we should admire the excellence of these creatures, an excellence which transcends the human mind, as Aristotle says in the second book of the Metaphysics, and we should affirm their existence. For though we cannot perceive them with the senses, which are the source of our knowledge, some light from their living being shines within our intellect, inasmuch as we understand the arguments above and many others, just as someone whose eyes are closed can assert that the air is filled with light, because some speck of radiance, or whole ray of light, such as passes through the eyes of a bat, reaches him: for the eyes of our intellect are closed in just such a way, as long as the soul is bound and imprisoned within the organs of our body.
Chapter V: The First Canzone – The Angelic Orders
It has been said that the ancients, because of lack of knowledge, did not realise the truth concerning spiritual creatures, even though the children ofIsrael were educated by their prophets: ‘through whom, by many manners of speech and in many ways, God had spoken to them,’ as the Apostle says. But we have been told this by him who came from Him, by him who created them, by him who preserves them, that is the Emperor of the Universe, who is Christ, son of the sovereign God and son of the Virgin Mary, a woman in truth, and daughter of Joachim and Adam: by him, a man in truth, who was crucified by us, through which means he brought us to life. ‘He was the light that shines for us in darkness,’ as John the Evangelist says; and he told us the truth of those things which we could not know or truly perceive without him.
The first thing, the first secret, he revealed to us was one of the creatures previously mentioned, his great ambassador who came to Mary, a thirteen-year old girl, on behalf of the Heavenly Healer. Our Saviour said, with his own lips, that the Father provided him with many legions of angels; when he was told the Father had ordered the angels to minister to him and serve him, he did not deny its truth. So it is clear to us that these creatures exist in extraordinary numbers, for his spouse and secretary, the Holy Church – of which Solomon says: ‘Who is this that comes from the desert, laden with those things that give us delight, leaning upon her friend? – Holy Church affirms, believes and preaches that these noblest of creatures are almost uncountable. And she divides them into three hierarchies, that is to say three holy or divine principalities, each hierarchy composed of three orders, so that the Church holds and affirms that there are nine orders of spiritual creatures. The first is that of the Angels, the second Archangels, the third Thrones; and these three orders make up the first hierarchy: not first in order of nobility or creation, for the others were nobler and created together, but first in order of ascent from us to their degree of elevation. Then come Dominations, Virtues and Principalities, forming the second hierarchy. Above these are the Powers and the Cherubim, and above all are the Seraphim, these last three orders forming the third hierarchy.
The numerical position in which the hierarchies and orders reside determines the principal object of their contemplation. Since the Divine majesty exists in three persons with one substance, it is possible to contemplate them in a threefold way. The supreme power of the father can be contemplated, on which the first hierarchy gazes which is first in nobility, and which we count highest. Then the supreme wisdom of the Son can be contemplated, on which the second hierarchy gazes. And finally the supreme and most fervent love of the Holy Spirit can be contemplated, on which the last hierarchy gazes which is nearest to us and bestows the gifts it receives on us. Since each person of the threefold Trinity can be considered in a threefold manner, the three orders in each hierarchy contemplate their principal object in different ways. The Father can be considered in regard to Himself alone, and this contemplation the Seraphim perform, who perceive more of the First Cause than any other angelic beings. The Father can also be considered in relation to the Son that is in his separation from Himself and his union with Himself, and this contemplation the Cherubim perform. Finally the Father can be considered in respect of how the Holy Spirit emanates from Him, and in respect of its separation and union with Him, and this contemplation the Powers perform. In a similar manner the Son and the Holy Spirit can be contemplated in three different ways, and thus there are nine types of contemplative spirits, to gaze on the Light that only its own self can behold completely.
One thing must not be left unsaid. A certain number, perhaps a tenth, of all these orders fell soon after they were created, for the restoration of which number human nature was afterwards created. The nine moving heavens declare the numbers, orders and hierarchies, and the tenth proclaims the unity and stability of God’s being. Thus the Psalmist says: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.’ It is therefore reasonable to believe that the movers of the Moon’s sphere belong to the order of Angels, of Mercury’s sphere to the Archangels, and of the sphere of Venus to Thrones; all these, their nature characteristic of the love of the Holy Spirit, performing the activity innate in them, namely the movement of the heaven filled with love, from which that heaven derives a potent ardour, by which the souls below are kindled to love, according to their disposition. The ancients, recognising that this sphere was the cause of love here below, said that Love was the son of Venus, as Virgil attests in the first book of the Aeneid, where Venus says to Love: ‘My son, my power, son of the supreme father, who heeds not Typhoeus’ darts’; and Ovid in the fifth book of the Metamorphoses, where Venus says to Love: ‘My son, my arms, my power.’
The Thrones, assigned to governing this sphere, are not great in number, though the philosophers and astrologers have estimated it variously depending on their estimate of its rotations, though all are agreed on this point: that there are as many of them as there are independent motions of the sphere. According to the best estimate of the astrologers, summarised in the book of the Constellations of Stars, these movements are threefold: one by which the planet moves in its epicycle; a second by which the epicycle moves with the whole sphere, equally with that of the Sun; a third by which the whole sphere moves, following the movement of the starry heaven, from west to east, one degree every hundred years. So corresponding with these three movements, there are three movers. Then, the whole of this sphere moves and revolves with its epicycle from east to west once a day. Whether this movement derives from some intelligence or the pull of the Primum Mobile, only God knows; it would seem presumptuous to judge on this point.
The movers generate the rotation of that which they each move, by intellect alone. That most noble form, the heavenly sphere, which contains within itself the principle of natural passivity, revolves at the touch of the motive force which comprehends it; and by touch I mean contact, though not in a physical sense, with the power that is directed towards it. Such are the movers to whom my speech in the canzone is addressed, and of whom I make my request.
Chapter VI: The First Canzone – The Influence of Venus
As was said in the third chapter above, it was necessary to speak of the spheres and those who move them, in order to understand fully the first section of the canzone before us, and this has been done in the preceding three chapters. I say then, in the first section, to those whom I have shown to be the movers of the sphere of Venus: You whose intellect, that is whose intellect alone, as was said above, moves the third sphere, hear now the debate; and I do not say hear as if they perceived sound, for they lack sense perception, but so that they may listen with what hearing they do have, which is intellectual perception. I say: Hear the debate within my heart, within, that is, because it has not yet appeared beyond. And it should be known that throughout this entire canzone, the heart is to be taken, in all senses, as the private space within, and not as a specific part of mind and body.
After I have summoned them to hear what I wish to say, I give two reasons why it is appropriate for me to speak to them. One is the newness of my state, which, not having been experienced previously by other men, could not be understood by them as well as by those beings who understand the effects of their operations; and this I touch on when I say: That seems so new I cannot speak to others. The other reason is when someone receives a benefit or an injury he should first relate it to whoever caused it, if possible, rather than to others; thus he who receives a benefit should show his gratitude to his benefactor, and if he receives an injury should move the wrongdoer to noble pity with gentle words. I touch on this reason when I say: The heaven that is driven by your power, oh, noble creatures that you are, led me to this state where I now find me, that is to say, your operations, that is your revolutions, have led me to my present state. Thus I end by stating that my speech must be directed at them, as has been said; and I say this in the words: Hence these words about the life I live, should rightly be said, it seems, to you.
After giving this justification, I ask them to listen to me: And so I pray that you will hear me. But, because the speaker in any kind of discourse should be intent above all on persuading, that is charming, his audience to listen, since this is the means to all other kinds of persuasion, according to the rhetoricians, and since the most effective way of rendering the listener attentive is to promise to tell new and momentous things, I set this after my petition for a hearing, by announcing my intention to them to speak of something new, that is the division in my spirit, and something momentous, that is the influence of their planet. And I say this in the final words of the first section: I will speak of the new thing in my heart, how the sad soul weeps therein, and how a spirit disputes with it, descending with the rays from your star.
To explain fully the meaning of these words, this new spirit is none other than the oft-repeated thought of praise for and adornment of the new lady; and the sad soul is the thought, accompanied by assent, which, opposing the former, praises and adorns the memory of that glorious Beatrice. And since the ultimate judgement of my mind, its assent, was still attached to this thought my memory reinforced, I call the one soul and the other spirit, just as we call those who hold a place the city, and not those who attack it, even if both are its citizens. Further, I say that this spirit descends with the rays from the star, because the rays from each sphere are the paths along which their influence descends on things here below. Since rays are none other than the passage of light through the air from the light-source to the thing illuminated, and since the light comes only from the body of the star, as the rest of the sphere is diaphanous, that is transparent, I say that the spirit, that is the thought, comes not from the sphere as a whole but from the star. This planet, due to the nobility of its movers, is so powerful that it has a vast influence over our spirits, and all things appertaining to us, notwithstanding that its distance to us at perigee is 167 times and more the radius of the earth, which is 3250 miles. This ends the literal explanation of the first section of the canzone.
Chapter VII: The First Canzone – Conflicting Thoughts
The literal meaning of the first section of the canzone can be understood from the above, so the second may now be treated, revealing the conflict I felt within. And this section is further sub-divided. In its first stanza I relate the nature of the conflicting thoughts within me to their source; then I relate what each conflicting thought said; beginning with the second stanza, and what the defeated thought said.
To clarify then the meaning of this initial sub-division, we first observe that things should be denoted by their highest nobility of form, for example Mankind by reason and not the senses, or anything less noble. So, when we say that a man lives, we understand this to mean that he employs his reason which is his individual life and the actualisation of his noblest faculty. Thus he who forgoes his reason and merely utilises his senses lives as a beast and not a man; as the excellent Boethius says: ‘He lives like an ass.’ Justly so, because reflection is a facet of reason, and beasts do not reflect, as they have no reasoning powers; and I say this not only of the lesser creatures, but those that have the semblance of man but the mind of a sheep or a foul beast.
Thus, I say that the life of my heart, my inner life, was once a sweet thought (sweet in the sense of charming, gentle, pleasing and delightful), a thought which would rise to the feet of the Lord of those beings I address, namely God; in other words, I contemplated the kingdom of the blessed, in thought. So I swiftly tell the primal cause of my ascent there in thought, saying: Where it saw a lady bright with glory, so as to have it understood that it was because I was certain, and am certain, through her gracious revelation, that she is in heaven. Thus I often travelled there, in thought, to the extent of my powers, as if I had been rapt.
Next I describe the effects of this thought, which was so great that, to make its sweetness understood, it made me long for death, so as to go where it had gone, and this I mean by: Of whom it spoke to me so sweetly, that my soul said: ‘I would go there.’ And this was the root of the first of the conflicting thoughts within me. To be clear, what ascended to behold that blessed one is here termed thought and not soul, because it was a thought unique to that action. By soul I mean, as I said in the previous chapter, generalised thinking with assent.
Then I explain the root of the second conflicting thought, saying: Now one appears who makes it flee, saying that as the thought, described above, was once my life, now another appears which drives away the first. I say flee to show that the second thought opposes the first, since one contrary of its nature flees another, while the one that flees reveals that it does so through lack of strength to resist. And I say that this new thought has the power to seize me and overcome my whole soul, saying moreover that it rules me in such a way that my heart, my inner self, trembles, and my outward self displays it visibly in a fresh seeming.
Subsequently, I show the power of this new thought by its effect, saying that it directs me to gaze on a lady and speaks seductive words to me (speaking to my gaze of intellectual affection, so as to seduce me, promising me that salvation lies in the sight of her eyes), And the better to convince the mature soul of this, it says that the lady’s eyes are not to be looked at by anyone who fears sighs of anguish. It is a fine stroke of rhetoric to make a thing seem lacking in external beauty while making it inwardly truly beautiful. This fresh amorous thought could not seduce my mind to give consent more readily than by speaking so profoundly of the power of the lady’s eyes.
Chapter VIII: The First Canzone – Immortality of the Soul
Now I have shown how and why love is born, and the conflict I experienced, it is appropriate to reveal the meaning of the stanza where conflicting thoughts war within me. I affirm that it is fitting to discuss the soul first, that is, the old thought, and then the other, because what a speaker wishes to stress above all should be reserved till the last, because it will remain most in the listener’s mind. Since I wish to say more about what those beings I addressed do, than what they undo, it is rational to discuss that which was being destroyed before discussing that which was being brought to birth.
Here, however, a doubt is born, which cannot be passed over without comment. Someone might ask: ‘Since the effect of the Intelligences addressed is love, and the previous thought was of love as well as the latter, why does their virtue destroy the one and give birth to the other: it should rather preserve the former, since every cause loves its own effect, and in loving it should preserve it?’ This question can readily be answered. Their effect is love as has been said; but since they cannot preserve it except in those subjects that come under the influence of their sphere, they transfer love from that region beyond their power to that within it, that is from the soul departed this life to the soul still living; just as human nature transfers itself in human form from father to son, because it cannot preserve its effect forever within the father. I say effect, since the soul joined to a body is its effect; for the soul once departed endures eternally in a nature more than human. Thus the question is answered.
Now that the immortality of the soul has been touched on here, I will make a digression to discuss it; as it would be fitting to end with this discussion my comments regarding the blessed ever-living Beatrice, whom I deliberately do not intend to speak of again in this work. I say that the most foolish of follies, the vilest, and most pernicious is the belief that there is no life beyond this one; for if we search the books of the philosophers and other wise men who have written on this subject, they all agree that there is an immortal part of us. Aristotle above all appears to confirm this in his book On the Soul; all the Stoics appear to confirm it; Cicero too, especially in his brief work On Old Age; every poet of the pagan faith appears to agree; every creed confirms it, whether of the Jews, Saracens, Tartars or whoever else lives according to principles of reason; If all these were wrong, an impossibility would exist that is too terrible even to speak of. All are certain that human nature is the most perfect of natures here below. No one denies it, and Aristotle affirms it in his thirteenth book On the Animals, saying that man is the most perfect creature of all. So, since many living creatures are wholly mortal, for example, the brute beasts, and all are in this life without hope of another, then if ours was a vain hope the error would be greater in us than any other animal, because many people before us have given their life here for the sake of the other life. Therefore the most perfect animal, Man, would be the most imperfect, which is impossible, and reason, which is his greatest perfection, would be the cause of his greatest defect, which is a paradoxical thing to say.
Moreover, it would follow that Nature has placed this hope in the human mind in her own worst interest, since many have hastened the death of the body in order to live in the next life; and for her to do this is, likewise, impossible.
And then, we see continual proof of our immortality in the revelations of dream, which could not obtain unless there was something immortal in us, since, if we consider carefully, the agent of revelation, whether corporeal or incorporeal, must necessarily be immortal – I say corporeal or incorporeal because of the diversity of opinion on this point – and that which is moved by, or receives its form directly from, an informing agent must be related proportionately to that agent, while between the mortal and immortal there is no proportional relation.
Moreover the true doctrine of Christ asserts it, which is the way, the truth and the light: the way, because we proceed without obstacle by it to the joy of this immortality, the truth, because it is not subject to error; the light, because it illuminates us in the darkness of mortal ignorance. This teaching, I say, gives us certainty beyond all other reasons, for the one who has granted it to us sees and measures our immortality, which we cannot see perfectly while our immortal part is joined to our mortal part; though we see it perfectly by faith, we see it by reason with a shadow of darkness, because the mortal and immortal are conjoined. This is the strongest argument that both exist in us, and I therefore believe, and affirm with certainty, that I shall pass to another and better life after this, where that lady lives in glory, of whom my soul was enamoured when I was involved in my inner struggle, as will be discussed in the next chapter.
Chapter IX: The First Canzone – The Soul Speaks
Returning to the explanation, I say that in the stanza which begins: The humble thought, I intended to reveal what my soul said within me, that is the old thought, in opposition to the new. Firstly I briefly reveal the cause of its sorrowful words when I say: The humble thought that used to speak of an angel who is crowned in heaven, meets now an enemy that destroys it. This is the special thought of which I said in the first stanza that it was once: The life of my grieving heart. Then, where I say that: The soul weeps, for this must grieve her, I reveal that my soul is still on the side of this thought, and speaks sadly; and I say that she speaks in lament, almost as if she were amazed at the sudden transformation, saying: ‘Oh woe is me, how he flees, the compassionate one who consoled me!’ She may indeed say consoled, for in her great loss this thought, which ascended to heaven, gave her much consolation.
After this, I pardon her of fault in saying that all my thought, my soul that is, which I call the troubled one, begins to speak out against my eyes; and this is made clear by the words: This troubled one says now of my eyes. And I tell how the soul says three things about and against them. The first is that she curses the hour when this lady gazed on them. And here it should be known that though many images can enter the eye at once, only those which enter the centre of the pupil in a direct line are truly seen, and stamp themselves on the imagination. This is because the nerve along which the visual spirit runs is directed to that point; and thus the eye cannot look into another eye without being seen by it; for just as the one gazing receives an image in the pupil in a direct line, so its own image proceeds into the one at which it is in turn gazing; and many times is the bow of him against whom all weapons are ineffectual discharged along this extended line. So when I say: such a lady saw them it is as much as to say that her eyes and my eyes gazed into one another.
The second thing the soul says is that she reprimands their disobedience, when she says: Why were my words about her not believed? Then she proceeds to the third comment, saying that she should not reproach herself, since she had foreseen it, but should reproach them for not having obeyed, for in speaking of the lady she had said that the lady’s eyes would have power over her, if she opened the path to them, and this she says in the words: For I’d said: ‘Now, surely, in her eyes..’ Indeed it is to be believed that my soul knew that she was pre-disposed to receive the actuality of this lady, and therefore feared her; for the actuality of the agent is apprehended by a patient disposed to receive it, as Aristotle says in the second book On the Soul. Thus if wax was inclined to fear, it would fear encountering the sun’s rays more than a stone would, because its disposition receives the sun’s rays more effectively.
Finally in her discourse the soul makes it clear that the eyes’ presumption put them in danger, where she says: ‘Yet my awareness was worth nothing, for they gazed on him, and I am slain.’ She says gazed on him, that is, on him whom she had previously called the one who slays the likes of me. With this she ends her speech, to which the new thought replies, as will be explained in the next chapter.
Chapter X: The First Canzone – The New Thought Replies
I have explained the meaning of the sub-section in which the soul speaks, that is, the old thought which was destroyed. Now I must explain the meaning of that in which the new opposing thought speaks; and this sub-section is wholly comprised by the stanza which begins: Then a noble spirit. To be rightly grasped this stanza must be divided in two: in the first part the opposing thought reprimands the soul for her cowardice; and in the second part, beginning with the words: See how compassionate she is, declares what the reprimanded soul must do now.
Continuing from her last words he tells her: it is not true that you are dead; but the reason you feel death is because of the abject confusion into which you have fallen when this new lady appeared. Here it should be noted that, as Boethius says in his Consolation, ‘no sudden change can take place without mental disturbance.’ That is the meaning of the reprimand delivered by this thought, which I call a spirit of love, to indicate that he attracted my consent; and we can understand and recognise his victory all the more since he already says soul of ours, making himself her friend. Then, as I said, he declares what the reprimanded soul must do in order to come to him, and says to her: See how compassionate she is and humble, since the correct remedy for fear, by which the soul seems possessed, is twofold, those feelings which, above all when conjoined, cause one to have profound hope, and especially compassion, which makes every other virtue shine with its borrowed light. That is why Virgil, speaking of Aeneas, praises him most of all by calling him compassionate. And compassion is not what people think, that is grief for another’s misfortune, which is merely one of its specific effects, namely pity, an emotion. Compassion, however, is not an emotion, but rather a noble pre-disposition of the mind, a readiness to receive love, pity and other emotions rising from charity.
Next the thought says that she is: wise and courteous in her grandeur. Here he speaks of three characteristics, of those which we may acquire, that make a person especially pleasing. He says wise: and what is lovelier in a woman than wisdom? He says courteous: and nothing is more becoming in a woman than courtesy. And the wretched herd should not be deceived by this word either, thinking courtesy no more than generosity; for generosity is a specific and limited form of courtesy! Courtesy and nobility are one and the same; and because virtue and good manners were practised in the courts in time past, while the contrary is now the case, the word was derived from court, and courtesy was the custom of the court. If the word were derived anew from the courts of today, especially those of Italy, it would mean only baseness.
He says also: in her grandeur. Temporal greatness, which is what is meant here, is most becoming of all when accompanied by the two previous virtues, because it is a light which clearly shows the good or otherwise in a person. How much wisdom and habitual virtue goes unsung for lack of this light! How much foolishness and vice is shown by the possessors of this light! It would be better for the foolish and wretched nobles to live in a humble estate, since they would not be so disgraced then in this world or the next. Indeed it is of them that Solomon speaks in Ecclesiastes: ‘There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun, namely riches preserved for their owner’s ruin.’ Then the thought exhorts her, my soul that is, to call this new one her lady, promising her that she will be pleased by this when she becomes aware of her adornment; and this he says in the words: Unless you deceive yourself, you’ll see. That completes what he has to say in this stanza, and all that I say in addressing the celestial Intelligences in the canzone.
Chapter XI: The First Canzone – The Tornata
In conclusion, as this commentary stated above when dividing the canzone into its principal parts, I address my discourse directly to the canzone itself, and speak to it. To clarify, I say that in a canzone this is normally called the tornata, because the Provençal poets who first employed it did so in order that when the canzone was sung they might return and repeat a specific part of the melody. But I rarely employ it in that way, and so that others might see this I have seldom composed according to the metrical pattern of the canzone, regarding the number of lines required for the melody; rather I have used it to adorn the canzone when there was a need to say something external to its meaning, as may be seen in this canzone and in my others. Thus I state here that the virtue and the beauty of a discourse are separate things, and differ from one another; for virtue lies in the meaning, and beauty in the adornment of words; and both give pleasure, but virtue is especially pleasing. So, since the virtue of this canzone was hard to perceive, because of the various speakers and the need for distinction between them, while its beauty is easy to perceive, it seemed necessary to me that others should be alive to its beauty before its virtue. And this is what I say in conclusion.
Yet since an admonition may often appear presumptuous, a rhetorician will, in certain circumstances, speak indirectly to his audience, addressing his words not to the person for whom they are meant, but some other. This method is adopted here, in fact, since the words are addressed to the canzone, but their meaning to its audience. Thus I say: Canzone, I think there will be few, few indeed, who’ll rightly understand your speech. And I give the twofold reason. Firstly because your speech is complex, and I say complex for the reasons mentioned; and secondly, because your speech is difficult to understand, difficult by virtue of the novelty of its meaning. Then I admonish it and say: if you chance to find yourself with those who are perplexed by your argument, don’t be dismayed, but say: Since you do not see my virtue, at least consider my beauty. I mean by this only what has been said above: you who cannot understand the meaning of this canzone, do not reject it on that account; instead consider its beauty, which is great through its composition, the concern of the grammarians, its discourse the concern of the rhetoricians, and the rhythm of its verses, the concern of the musicians. These elements of its beauty can be seen by anyone who looks closely.
This completes the literal meaning of the first canzone, which as indicated above constitutes the first course of the banquet.
Chapter XII: The First Canzone – Allegorical Meaning
Now the literal meaning has been adequately explained, I must proceed to a true allegorical exposition. And so, beginning again from the first stanza, I say that when I lost that noblest delight of my soul, whom I mentioned above, I was pierced by such sorrow that no comfort availed me. Yet, after a while, my mind, which was trying to heal itself, decided to resort to a method (since neither my own consolation nor that of others helped) which a certain disconsolate individual had adopted in order to console himself: I began to read that book of Boethius, known to few, in which, while in captivity and exile, he had found consolation. And hearing moreover of another book of Cicero’s, where in discussing Friendship, he addressed consoling words to Laelius, a man of the highest merit, on the death of his friend Scipio, I set about reading it. Though I found it hard at first to penetrate the meaning, I finally succeeded in doing so as far as my command of Latin and limited intellect allowed: which intellect had shown me many things before, as in a dream, as can be seen in the New Life.
And just as it may happen that on looking for silver a man contrary to his intentions finds gold, which some hidden cause reveals, perhaps through divine ordinance, so I who sought to console myself not only found a remedy for my tears but also the words of authors, books and sciences. Reflecting on these, I soon realised that Philosophy, who was the lady of these authors, books and sciences, was someone of the highest. I imagined her formed as a noble lady, and I could not conceive of her in any attitude except one of compassion, and the part of my mind that perceives truth gazed at her so willingly that I could barely turn it from her. I began to frequent the places where she was truly seen, namely the schools of the religious orders and the disputations of the philosophers, so that in a relatively short time, perhaps two years and a half, I began so to feel her sweetness that love for her dispelled and erased every other thought.
For that reason, feeling myself elevated from thoughts of the former love to recognition of the virtues of this one, I opened my mouth to utter the words of the canzone before us, revealing my state under the cover of other things, because no verse in any vernacular was worthy of treating in an overt manner the lady of whom I was enamoured; and the audience was not well-enough prepared to be able to understand such an overt meaning easily; nor would they have believed that true meaning, as they did the fictional, because they believed indeed that I was well-disposed towards the new love, and not the former. I therefore commenced with: You whose intellect moves the third sphere. Since this lady, most noble and beautiful Philosophy, is, as has been said, the daughter of God, and queen of all things, we must consider who the movers are and the nature of this third heaven. And firstly I will speak of that sphere, in the manner already employed. Here I will not need to sub-divide and explain the text word for word, since by interpreting the literal words, the allegorical meaning will be sufficiently clear, from the exposition already given.
Chapter XIII: The First Canzone – The Spheres and Sciences I
To see what the third heaven, or sphere, means, we must first understand what I mean by the word heaven itself; and then it will be obvious why it was needful to speak of this third heaven. I say that by heaven I mean science, and by the heavens, the sciences, because of three kinds of similarity these heavens bear to the sciences, and because they seem to agree in order and number, as will be seen in speaking of the third.
The first similarity consists in the revolution of each around something motionless with respect to it. For each moving sphere turns on its centre, which is unmoved by the motion of the sphere; while each science moves around its subject, without moving it, because no science creates its own subject, but rather presupposes and reveals it.
The second similarity is the illuminating power of each; since each sphere illuminates visible things, and likewise each science illuminates intelligible things.
The third similarity consists of bringing perfection to those things so disposed. As far as the first perfection, substantial generation, is concerned, all philosophers agree that the heavens are the cause, though they explain it differently, some imputing it to the movers, as do Plato, Avicenna, and Algazel; some to the planets themselves, especially as regards human souls, as do Socrates, and again Plato and Dionysius the Academician; and some to celestial virtue in the natural heat of the seed, as do Aristotle and the Peripatetics. Equally the sciences bring about the second perfection, by means of which we contemplate the truth, and this is our ultimate perfection, as Aristotle says in the sixth book of the Ethics, where he says that truth is the good of the intellect. Because of these as well as other similarities, the sciences may be called heavens.
Now it remains to be understood why I say the third sphere. For this we must compare the order of the heavens to that of the sciences. As was said above, the seven heavens nearest to us are those of the Sun, Moon, and planets; next come the two moving heavens beyond them, and the one beyond them all which is unmoving. To the first seven the seven sciences of the Trivium and Quadrivium correspond, namely: Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astrology. Natural science, which is called Physics, and the supreme science, called Metaphysics, correspond to the eighth Sphere, the Starry Heaven; Moral Science to the ninth sphere; and the Divine Science, Theology, to the unmoving heaven. The rationale for this should be considered briefly.
I say that Grammar may be compared to the heaven of the Moon which it resembles; for if the Moon is examined carefully two things will be observed which are not observed of the other lights: one are the shadows in it, which are due to variations of density in its substance whereby the rays of the Sun cannot terminate and so be reflected back to us, as they are from its denser parts; the other thing is the source of its light, which shines now from the waxing side and now the waning, according to its position relative to the Sun. These two characteristics Grammar also displays; for because of its infinite scope the rays of reason are not terminated, especially in the region of vocabulary; and it shines now on one side, now the other, insofar as certain words, declensions, and constructions, are now in use which once were not, and many were formerly used which may be used again, as Horace says at the beginning of the Poetics, where he says: ‘Many words will be re-born that fell out of use long ago.’
Dialectics may be compared to Mercury’s sphere, for two reasons: Mercury is the smallest planet, because its diameter is not more than 232 miles according to Alfraganus, who claims it is one twenty-eighth of the diameter of the Earth, which is 6500 miles. The second reason is that its course is veiled by the Sun’s rays more than any other planet. These two properties are also found in Dialectics, for Dialectics is less in substance than other sciences, since it comprises and is entirely confined to the texts of the old Art and the new; and its course is more veiled than that of other sciences, since it proceeds by a more sophistical and polemical mode of argument.
Rhetoric may be compared to the sphere of Venus because of two characteristics: the first is the brightness of the planet’s aspect, which is sweeter to view than any other, the second its appearance sometimes in the morning and sometimes the evening. And these two characteristics are found in Rhetoric, since Rhetoric is sweeter than the other sciences, as that is its principal aim, and it appears in the morning when the rhetorician speaks to his hearer’s face, and in the evening, that is behind him, when the rhetorician speaks through writing, at a distance.
Arithmetic may be compared to the sphere of the Sun for two reasons: one is that all the planetary spheres are illuminated by its light; the other is that the eye cannot gaze on it. And these two properties are true of Arithmetic also; for by its light all the sciences are illuminated, since all their subjects are treated under some numerical aspect, and in treating of them we always work by numbers. For example, in Natural Science, the subject of study is bodies in motion, and a body in motion obeys the principle of continuity, and this contains the principle of infinite division; also the science’s prime consideration is the principles of natural things, which are threefold, namely matter, absence of usual qualities, and form, in which we perceive this numerical aspect. Number exists not only in all of them together, but also, on careful reflection, in each individually; for this reason Pythagoras, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Physics, declared even and odd to be the principles of natural things, considering all things as having a numerical aspect. The other property of the Sun is also seen in number, of which Arithmetic is the science: in that the eye of the intellect cannot gaze on it, because number is in itself infinite, and this infinity we cannot comprehend.
Music may be compared to the sphere of Mars because of two properties: one is the planet’s beautiful relationship with the other heavens, since in counting the moving spheres, wherever we begin, whether with the nearest or the farthest, the sphere of Mars is the fifth and most central, that is of the first, second, third and fourth pairs. The second is, as Claudius of Ptolomea says in the Quadripartitus, that Mars dries and incinerates things because of its burning heat; and this is why it appears fiery in colour, to a varying extent, according to the density or rarity of its accompanying vapours which often ignite spontaneously as is established in the first book of Albertus Magnus’ Meteorics. This is why Albumassar says that the ignition of these vapours signifies the death of kings and the mutation of kingdoms, because such are the effects of Mars’ lordship, and why Seneca says that he saw a ball of fire in the sky at Augustus’ death. This is also why in Florence, at the commencement of its ruin, a vast quantity of the vapours that accompany Mars was seen in the shape of a cross. These two properties are also found in Music; for it consists wholly of relationships between sounds, as we hear in harmonised words and songs, where the harmony is sweeter the more beautiful the relationship, and these relationships are the principal beauty of the science, being its chief aim. Moreover, Music attracts the human spirits within us, which are, as it were, in the main, vapours of the heart, so that the heart almost ceases its activity; this happens to the entire soul, likewise, when it hears music, and the virtue of all the spirits, as it were, flows to the spirit of sensation which receives the sound.
Geometry may be compared to Jupiter’s sphere for two reasons: one is that it turns between two heavens antithetical to its sweet temperance, namely those of Mars and Saturn; thus, Ptolomea, in the book referred to above, says that Jupiter is a planet of temperate constitution, between the cold of Saturn and the heat of Mars: the other reason is that among the planets it appears white, almost silver. And these characteristics are true of Geometry also, which operates between two things antithetical to it, namely the point and the circle, and I mean circle in the general sense of anything round, whether surface or solid; for as Euclid says, the point is Geometry’s beginning and the circle its most perfect figure, therefore to be thought of as its end. Geometry thus operates between the point and circle, its beginning and end, and these two are antithetical to its exactness; since the point cannot be measured because of its indivisibility, and the circle cannot be squared because of its arc, and so cannot be measured precisely. Geometry is moreover akin to whiteness in that it is without taint of error, and most exact both in itself and in its handmaid Perspective.
Astrology may be compared to the sphere of Saturn in two ways: one is in the slowness of its movement through the twelve zodiacal signs, for according to the writings of the astrologers it requires more than twenty-nine years for its revolution; the other is that it is far distant from the other lights. And Astrology shows these two characteristics: for to complete its circle, that is to master the science, a very large span of time must pass, both because of its handmaids which are more numerous than those of the above-mentioned sciences, and because of the experience required before making correct use of its knowledge. Furthermore it is far above the other sciences, since as Aristotle says at the beginning of On the Soul, a science is noble due to the nobility of its subject and its exactness; and this one, more than those mentioned above, is high and noble because of its high and noble subject, the movement of the heavens, and because of its exactness, which is flawless, as deriving from perfect and regular principles. If any believe it is flawed, it is not due to the science, but, as Ptolomea says, it arises through our negligence, and must be attributed to that.
Chapter XIV: The First Canzone – The Spheres and Sciences II
Having made these comparisons regarding the first seven spheres, we must proceed to the remaining ones, which are three, as previously stated several times. I say that Physics may be compared to the Starry Heaven for three reasons, and Metaphysics for three others: since the Starry Heaven displays two things to us, the multitude of stars and the Galaxy, the white band that the populace call St Jacob’s Way; and it reveals one pole to us while the other is hidden; and reveals its motion from east to west to us, while keeping the other which it makes from west to east virtually hidden. Proceeding in order we will first consider the comparison to Physics and then to Metaphysics.
The Starry Heaven shows us many stars, for according to the observations of the learned Egyptians, they count 1022 starry bodies, including the star appearing last to them in the south, and it is of these that I speak. In this respect it bears an analogy to Physics, if we consider the three numbers, two, twenty and one thousand. For by two we understand localised movement, which is from one point to a second point. By twenty is signified movement through alteration, for since we cannot go beyond ten without modifying ten itself by means of itself or the other nine lesser numbers, and since the most beautiful modification it undergoes is modification by itself, and since the first modification of that kind is at twenty, it is reasonable to signify the movement mentioned above by this number. By a thousand is signified movement by growth, since a thousand is the largest number that has a unique name at this time, and there can be no further growth except by multiplying it. Physics displays these three movements only, as is proved in the fifth book of the first group of Aristotle’s books.
Metaphysics bears a strong resemblance to this sphere because of the Galaxy. Here it should be known that philosophers have held different opinions regarding the Galaxy. The Pythagoreans held that the sun once strayed from its path, and passing through regions unsuited to its fiery heat, it ignited the regions through which it passed, leaving those traces of the conflagration. I believe they were influenced by the myth of Phaeton, which Ovid recounts at the start of the second book of the Metamorphoses. Others, for example Anaxagoras and Democritus, held that the Galaxy was a region of reflected sunlight, and refuted other opinions by demonstrative reasoning. What Aristotle thought cannot be known with certainty since his opinion differs between translations, and I believe this to be due to some translator’s error; for in the new translation he appears to say that the Galaxy is a cloud of vapour below the stars in that region which continually attracts them, and this appears to have no foundation in truth. In the old translation he says the Galaxy is nothing but a multitude of fixed stars in that region, so small that we are unable to distinguish them from Earth, though the brightness we call the Galaxy emanates from them; and it may be that the heaven in that region is denser and therefore retains and reflects this light. Avicenna and Ptolemy appear to share this opinion with Aristotle. Thus since the Galaxy is an effect of stars which we cannot see, other than in their effects, and since Metaphysics treats of the primal substances, which we likewise cannot comprehend except by their effects, Metaphysics bears a clear resemblance to the Starry Heaven.
Then, the pole which we see signifies material things, which Physics treats of, taken as a whole; while the pole we cannot see signifies non-material things, which are not visible, of which Metaphysics treats; and therefore the two sciences individually resemble aspects of that sphere. And furthermore, its two motions signify the two sciences. For its diurnal circuit signifies the corruptible things of nature, which complete their course from day to day, their matter altering from form to form; and these Physics deals with. The well-nigh imperceptible motion which the sphere makes from west to east, at the rate of a degree per hundred years, signifies the incorruptible things which God created and which are without end; and these Metaphysics deals with. This movement thus signifies the incorruptible things, because it has a beginning but no end, for the end of a circuit consists in its return to the beginning, which this heaven, given its motion, will never achieve. Since the beginning of the world it has completed little more than a sixth of a revolution, and yet we are already in the last age of the world and await the consummation of celestial movement. Thus it is clear that Physics and Metaphysics can be compared in many ways to the Starry Heaven.
The Crystalline Heaven, or Primum Mobile, is analogous to Moral Philosophy; since Moral Philosophy, as Saint Thomas says in commenting on the second book of the Ethics, directs us towards the other sciences. For, as Aristotle says in the fifth book of the Ethics ‘legal justice lays out the sciences to be learnt, and directs that they be learnt and taught in order that they are not neglected’; and likewise by its motion the Crystalline Heaven governs the diurnal revolution of the others, by means of which they each day transmit and receive here below the influence of all their component parts; for if the revolutions of this heaven did not govern in this way, little of their influence would be felt here, and we would have little sight of them also. For if we suppose the ninth heaven fixed, a third of the starry heavens would not yet have been seen from anywhere on Earth; and Saturn would be hidden for periods of fourteen years and a half from any given place on Earth, and Jupiter for six years, and Mars for almost a year, and the sun for 182 days and 14 hours per year (by days and hours I mean those lengths of time as currently measured, by means of the sun’s motion), and Venus and Mercury would be hidden almost as long as the sun, and the Moon would be hidden for periods of fourteen and a half days. There would in truth be no generation here below neither of creature nor plant; night or day, week or month, would not be as now, but rather all the universe would be disordered, and the movement of the other heavens would be in vain. Likewise if Moral Philosophy ceased to exist, the other sciences would be hidden for some time, and there would be no generation or happiness in life, and the bodies of knowledge discovered and written down long ago would be in vain. Thus Moral Philosophy is analogous to this sphere.
And then the Empyrean resembles the Divine Science, Theology, which is full of peace and tolerates no diversity of opinion or sophistical reasoning because of the supreme certainty of its subject, which is God. Christ says of this science to his disciples: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,’ being his teaching, which is the science of which I speak. Solomon, speaking of this science, says: ‘There are threescore queens and fourscore concubines; and virgins without number: my dove, my undefiled, is but one.’ He calls the sciences queens and concubines and virgins, but this one he calls choice because it allows us to know perfect truth, in which our souls find rest.
Now that the analogies between the spheres and the sciences have been discussed, it is clear that by the third sphere I mean Rhetoric, which is analogous to the third heaven, as was shown above.
Chapter XV: The First Canzone – The Allegorical Exposition
From the analogies discussed above, it is obvious who those movers are whom I address: they are the movers of that heaven, such as Boethius and Cicero, who guided me by the sweetness of their discourse along the path of love, that is in pursuit of the most gentle lady Philosophy, with the rays of their star, that is their writings of her; because the written word is in every science a star filled with light that reveals that science. Understanding this, we can then perceive the true meaning of the first stanza of the canzone before us, by way of the literal meaning. By means of that exposition, the second stanza may also be adequately addressed, as far as: One that makes me look upon a lady.
Let us observe here that this lady is Philosophy, truly a lady full of sweetness, adorned with honour, marvellous in wisdom, glorious in freedom, as will be shown in the third book, which will treat of her nobility. And when I say: Who wishes to see bliss, let his eyes on this lady gaze, then this lady’s eyes are her proofs by reason, which directed into the eyes of the intellect enamour the soul freed from confusion. Oh sweet and ineffable look, captivating the human mind, that appears in the eyes of Philosophy when she speaks with her lovers! Truly salvation lies in you, so that he who gazes on you is blessed and saved from the deathliness of vice and ignorance. When I say: If he does not fear anguished sighs, I mean, provided he does not fear the strain of study, nor the veils of doubt that spring from this lady’s first glances, and then vanish like morning cloud before the sun’s face as her light continues to fall, so that the intellect grows accustomed to her, and is left free and filled with certainty, like air purged and illuminated by the rays of noon.
The third stanza can likewise be understood by means of the literal reading to the point where I say: The soul weeps. Here we must be mindful of a certain moral contained in these words: that a man should not forget the services rendered by a lesser friend, for the sake of a greater one; yet if he must forsake one and follow the other, he should follow the better, abandoning the other with honest expressions of regret, so as to give the one he does follow cause for greater love. Next, where I say: now of my eyes, it means that it was a harsh hour in which this lady’s first proofs entered the eyes of my intellect, which was the instant cause of this love. Where I say: the likes of me, I mean souls free from wretched base pleasures and vulgar pastimes, and endowed with intellect and memory. Where I say: slays, and am slain, which seems contrary to what was said above of the lady’s power to save, it should be noted that first one side speaks and then the other, the two being in contention, as has been made clear previously, and it is therefore no surprise if the one says yea and the other nay, if we observe which is in the ascendant and which wanes.
Next, in the fourth stanza, where I say: a noble spirit of love, it means a thought born of study. In this allegory, it should be known that love always means that study which is the application of the mind to the thing beloved. Then when I say: You’ll see the beauty of such high miracles, I declare that the beauty of these miracles shall be perceived through her; and I say true, for to see the beauty of marvels is to perceive their cause, which she reveals, as Aristotle appears to say at the start of the Metaphysics, where he writes that at the sight of this beauty men first fell in love with this lady. We will speak more fully of this word marvel in the next book. The rest of the canzone has been adequately explained by the previous exposition.
Thus, in completing this second book, I affirm that the lady of whom I became enamoured after my first love, was the most beautiful and honourable daughter of the Emperor of the universe, whom Pythagoras named Philosophy.
Here ends the second book, whose aim was to explain the canzone which was served as the Banquet’s first course.
End of Book II