Dante: Convivio (The Banquet)

Book III

© Copyright 2008 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved

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Canzone Seconda (Original Italian Text)

Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona

De la mia donna disiosamente,

Move cose di lei meco sovente,

Che lo ‘ntelletto sovr’esse disvia.

Lo suo parlar sì dolcemente sona,

Che l’anima ch’ascolta e che lo sente

Dice: “Oh me lassa! ch’io non son possente

Di dir quel ch’odo de la donna mia!

E certo e’ mi conven lasciare in pria,

S’io vo’ trattar di quel ch’odo di lei,

Ciò che lo mio intelletto non comprende;

E di quel che s’intende

Gran parte, perché dirlo non savrei.

Però, se le mie rime avran difetto

Ch’entreran ne la loda di costei,

Di ciò si biasmi il debole intelletto

E ‘l parlar nostro, che non ha valore

Di ritrar tutto ciò che dice Amore.

Non vede il sol, che tutto ‘l mondo gira,

Cosa tanto gentil, quanto in quell’ora

Che luce ne la parte ove dimora

La donna di cui dire Amor mi face.

Ogni Intelletto di là su la mira,

E quella gente che qui s’innamora

Ne’ lor pensieri la truovano ancora,

Quando Amor fa sentir de la sua pace.

Suo esser tanto a Quei che lel dà piace,

Che ‘nfonde sempre in lei la sua vertute

Oltre ‘l dimando di nostra natura.

La sua anima pura,

Che riceve da lui questa salute,

Lo manifesta in quel ch’ella conduce:

Ché ‘n sue bellezze son cose vedute

Che li occhi di color dov’ella luce

Ne mandan messi al cor pien di desiri,

Che prendon aire e diventan sospiri.

In lei discende la virtù divina

Sì come face in angelo che ‘l vede;

E qual donna gentil questo non crede,

Vada con lei e miri li atti sui.

Quivi dov’ella parla si dichina

Un spirito da ciel, che reca fede

Come l’alto valor ch’ella possiede

È oltre quel che si conviene a nui.

Li atti soavi ch’ella mostra altrui

Vanno chiamando Amor ciascuno a prova

In quella voce che lo fa sentire.

Di costei si può dire:

Gentile è in donna ciò che in lei si trova,

E bello è tanto quanto lei simiglia.

E puossi dir che ‘l suo aspetto giova

A consentir ciò che par maraviglia;

Onde la nostra fede è aiutata:

Però fu tal da etterno ordinata.

Cose appariscon ne lo suo aspetto

Che mostran de’ piacer di Paradiso,

Dico ne li occhi e nel suo dolce riso,

Che le vi reca Amor com’a suo loco.

Elle soverchian lo nostro intelletto,

Come raggio di sole un frale viso:

E perch’io non le posso mirar fiso,

Mi conven contentar di dirne poco.

Sua bieltà piove fiammelle di foco,

Animate d’un spirito gentile

Ch’è creatore d’ogni pensier bono;

E rompon come trono

Li ‘nnati vizii che fanno altrui vile.

Però qual donna sente sua bieltate

Biasmar per non parer queta e umile,

Miri costei ch’è essemplo d’umiltate!

Questa è colei ch’umilia ogni perverso:

Costei pensò chi mosse l’universo.

Canzone, e’ par che tu parli contraro

Al dir d’una sorella che tu hai;

Che questa donna che tanto umil fai

Ella la chiama fera e disdegnosa.

Tu sai che ‘l ciel sempr’è lucente e chiaro,

E quanto in sé, non si turba già mai;

Ma li nostri occhi per cagioni assai

Chiaman la stella talor tenebrosa.

Così, quand’ella la chiama orgogliosa,

Non considera lei secondo il vero,

Ma pur secondo quel ch’a lei parea:

Ché l’anima temea,

E teme ancora, sì che mi par fero

Quantunqu’io veggio là ‘v’ella mi senta.

Così ti scusa, se ti fa mestero;

E quando poi, a lei ti rappresenta:

Dirai: “Madonna, s’ello v’è a grato,

Io parlerò di voi in ciascun lato”.

The Second Canzone (English Translation)

Love, that speaks to me within my mind,

So passionately, of my lady,

Often stirs such thoughts of her,

They lead my intellect astray.

Love’s speech sounds in me so sweetly,

That my soul which feels and hears him,

Says: ‘Alas, that I lack power

To speak what I hear of my lady!

And if I would say what I hear,

Surely I am forced to leave aside

What intellect cannot comprehend,

As well as much of what I understand,

Since I have no way to express it.

Thus, if my verses are defective

Which enter on their praise of her,

Blame then my weak intellect

And our speech, that lacks power

To echo everything that Love says.

The Sun, that circles the whole world,

Sees nothing nobler than that hour,

When it shines where that lady lives,

The lady of whom Love makes me speak.

Those Intelligences above admire her,

And folk down here who are in love

Ever find her in their thoughts,

When Love makes his peace felt there.

Her being pleases God so, who made her,

He endlessly instils His virtue in her,

Beyond the powers of our nature.

That pure soul of hers,

Which receives such bliss from Him,

Reveals Him then in what she brings:

For in her beauty such things are seen

That the eyes into which she shines

Send messages of longing, to the heart,

That mix with air and turn to sighs.

Divine virtue descends in her,

As into the Angels that see Him;

And if any noble lady disbelieves it,

Let her walk with her and note her gestures.

Here where she speaks, a spirit

Descends from heaven to bear witness

That this high worth she possesses

Exceeds what appertains to us.

The graceful gestures she displays

Vie with each other, calling on Love

In that voice which makes him hear.

Of her indeed it can be said:

Noble in woman, what we find in her,

And beauty, what most resembles her.

And her countenance it may be said

Allows belief in what seems a marvel;

By which our own faith is strengthened:

For such, by eternity, she was ordained.

Such things appear in her aspect

As show the joys of Paradise,

I mean in her eyes and her sweet smile,

For Love draws them there as to his place.

They overwhelm this intellect of ours,

As a ray of light does weak vision;

And since I cannot fix my gaze on them,

I am forced to say little of them.

Her beauty rains flamelets of fire,

Kindled by a noble spirit

That is the creator of all fine thoughts;

And like lightning they dispel

The innate vices that make men base.

So let those ladies who know her beauty,

Those blamed for not being calm, humble,

Gaze at her, humility’s exemplar!

This is she who humbles haughtiness:

Conceived by Him who moves the universe.

Canzone, you seem to contradict

The words of a sister of yours;

This lady, whom you say is humble,

She calls proud and disdainful.

You know the sky, ever bright and clear,

Is such, in itself, it is never clouded;

Yet our eyes, for many reasons,

Will say that a star appears dim.

Likewise, when she is called proud,

She is not seen according to the truth,

But only in accord with what she seems.

For my soul was full of fear,

And still fears, such that all I see

Of her seems proud, when she looks at me.

So excuse yourself should need arise;

When you can, present yourself to her,

Saying: ‘My lady, if it pleases you,

I will speak of you everywhere.’

Chapter I: Love of the New Lady

As I explained in the previous book, my new love took its beginning from the compassionate countenance of a lady. This love, finding my life pre-disposed towards ardour, blazed like a fire from small flames to great, so that her light penetrated my mind, waking and sleeping. The intensity of the desire to see her which Love inspired in me can neither be told nor understood. I was full of desire, in this way, not only for her but for all those close to her, whether acquaintances or kin. How many were the nights when my eyes gazed intently on my love’s dwelling-place, when those of others were closed in sleep! Just as a spreading fire cannot remain hidden, but must show itself abroad, the desire to speak of love, which I was not wholly able to restrain, overcame me. Though I was unable to exercise enough control over my own mind, nevertheless several times I so nearly achieved it, either through Love’s purpose or my own boldness, that on reflection I realised that no speech was lovelier or more profitable in speaking of love, than that which praises the person loved.

Three reasons led me to this conclusion: the first of which was my own self-love, which is the root of all other love, as all can see. For there is no more gracious or fitting way for a person to honour himself than by honouring a friend; since there cannot be friendship between those who are wholly unalike, wherever friendship is seen a likeness is understood to exist; and praise and blame are bestowed in common on whatever shares a likeness. From this two great lessons should be learned. The first is that one should not desire anyone prone to vice as a friend, because no good opinion is formed of those they befriend; the second is that no one should criticise a friend publicly, since, if the foregoing is considered closely, he is thrusting his finger into his own eye.

The second reason was a desire for this friendship to endure. Understand that, as Aristotle says in the ninth book of the Ethics, that in order to preserve a friendship between persons of unequal rank a relationship must exist that transforms dissimilarity into similarity, such as that for example between master and servant. Though the servant on receiving a benefit from his master cannot return a like benefit to him, he must nevertheless render what best he can spontaneously and with solicitude such that what is in itself dissimilar will become similar by a display of goodwill. Once goodwill is displayed, the friendship is strengthened and preserved. Thus, considering myself inferior to the lady and finding myself indebted to her, I resolved to praise her, according to the extent of my power, which if not similar to hers, at least might reveal my zealous desire. If I were able to do more, I would do so. In this manner my power becomes similar to that of this noble lady.

The third reason was an argument due to foresight. As Boethius says ‘It is not sufficient to see only what lies before our eyes,’ that is, the present time: thus, we are given foresight, which looks forward to what may happen in the future. I thought I might be criticised by posterity for inconstancy of mind, when they saw that I had turned from my first love. To dispel this there was no better course than to explain who the lady was who brought about this change in me. By her obvious excellence an idea can be formed of her virtue, and by comprehending her great virtue, it would be perceived how the steadfast mind might nevertheless be changed by it, which would temper the judgement that I was inconstant and not steadfast. I therefore decided to praise this lady, and if not adequately, at least to the degree that I was competent; and I began, saying: Love, that speaks to me within my mind.

The canzone has three main sections. The first consists of the whole first stanza which acts as a preface. The second consists of the three succeeding stanzas, which are concerned with what is to be said, namely, the praise of this noble one, of which the first begins: The sun, that circles the whole world. The third section consists of the fifth and last stanza which addresses the canzone itself, and resolves a certain confusion arising from it. These three sections will be discussed in order.

Chapter II: Soul and Mind

Beginning with the first section, devised as a proem to the canzone, I say that it in turn should be sub-divided into three parts. Firstly, it touches upon the ineffable quality of the theme. Secondly, it describes my inability to handle the theme perfectly, and this part begins: Surely I am forced to leave aside. Finally, I excuse this inadequacy whose fault does not lie in me, and this part begins: Thus, if my verses are defective.

I say, then: Love, that speaks to me within my mind. Firstly I must say who the speaker is, and what place he speaks from. Love, truly understood and subtly considered, is no other than the spiritual union of the soul and the beloved, which union the soul hastens swiftly or slowly towards, according to whether it is free or impeded. The reason for this natural tendency is as follows: every substantial form proceeds from its first cause, which is God, as stated in the book On Causes, and the forms are diverse not because of their cause, which is simple, but from secondary causes, and from the matter into which that cause descends. Thus, in the book referred to, where it treats of the infusion of divine goodness, the following words appear: ‘And the goodness and the gifts are diverse, according to the involvement of the thing that receives them.’ So, since every effect retains something of the nature of its cause (as Alpetragius says, affirming that where the cause is a spherical body, the effect must in some way be spherical) every form absorbs to some degree the divine nature; not that the divine nature is divided and apportioned between them, but that it is shared in almost the same way that the nature of the sun is shared by the other lights. The nobler the form the more of this nature it retains; thus the human soul, which is the noblest form generated beneath the heavens, receives more of the divine nature than any other. And since the will to exist is most natural in God, for as we read in the book cited above: ‘Being is the first thing, before which there is nothing’, the human soul naturally desires, with all its will, to exist; and since its being depends on God and is preserved by Him, it naturally yearns and longs to be united with God, in order to strengthen its being.

Because divine goodness reveals itself in the goodness of nature and reason, the human soul readily unites with them in a spiritual manner, and does so the more swiftly and surely the more perfect they appear, an appearance determined by the degree to which the soul’s power of recognition is free or impeded. This union is what we call love, through which we are able to know the qualities of the soul within, by viewing those things which it loves beyond itself. This love, that is the union of my soul with this noble lady in whom so much of the divine light was revealed to me, is the speaker whom I talk of, for thoughts were continually being born of his gazing and reflecting on the worth of this lady, who spiritually was made one with my soul.

The place in which I say he speaks is the mind; but in saying mind we gain no better understanding than before, and so we must see what mind properly signifies. I say then that Aristotle, in the second book of On the Soul, asserts that the soul has three principle powers, which he distinguishes as life, sensory perception, and reason; he also mentions motion, but this may be included with sensory perception, since every soul that perceives with one or all of its senses also has motion, such that motion is a power united with sensory awareness. As he says, it is clear that these powers are interrelated so that one is the basis of the next; the former can exist separately, but the latter since it is based upon it cannot; Thus, the vegetative power, by which life is sustained, is the basis upon which the senses, namely sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch depend; and the vegetative power can exist as a spirit by itself, as we see in all the plants, while the sensory spirit cannot exist without it, since nothing has sensation but what is alive. This sensitive power is the base for the intellectual power, that is, of reason. Thus in mortal living beings the rational power is not found without the sensory power, while the sensory power may be found without the rational, as we see in beasts, birds, fish, and every brute animal. The spirit that comprehends all these powers, and is the most perfect of all, is the human soul, which through the nobility of its highest power, reason, participates in the divine nature as eternal intellect. For the soul is so ennobled and divested of matter in this supreme power, that the divine light shines in it, as in an angel; and therefore man is called a divine animal by the philosophers. Many powers exist in the noblest part of the soul, as Aristotle says, in the sixth book of the Ethics in particular, where he notes that there is a scientific power within that part, as well as a power that is ratiocinative or deliberative, a power of invention and a judicial power. And all of these noble powers, and others within the supreme power, are called collectively by the word whose meaning we wished to know: that is, mind. Thus, plainly, by mind is meant the highest and noblest part of the soul.

And it is obvious that this is its meaning, for mind is predicated only of man and the divine substance, as is clearly seen in Boethius, who first predicates it of men when he says to Philosophy: ‘You and God, who placed you in the minds of men’, and then predicates it of God when he says to God: ‘You produce all things from the supernal exemplar, you, most beautiful, bearing the lovely world in your mind.’ Not only has mind never been predicated of brute animals, but in fact it seems impossible or incorrect to predicate it of those men who seem deficient in this most perfect part; and so in Latin they are termed demented, that is, without mind. So we see now the meaning of the word mind, it is that noble and most precious part of the soul that participates in the divine. The mind is the place in which I say Love speaks to me about my lady.

Chapter III: The Ineffable Nature of the Theme

It is not idly, but for a good reason, that I say love operates in my mind, namely that by speaking of the place where it operates, the nature of this love might be understood. Know that everything, for the reason shown above, has its own unique love. Just as simple bodies, the elements, have within them a natural love for their proper place, which is why earth is always drawn to its centre, and why fire has a natural love for the sphere above, below that of the Moon, and so always rises towards it, just so the lowest of compound bodies, the minerals, have a love for the place where they are created, and where they accumulate and acquire strength and power; thus we find that a lodestone always acquires its power from the place where it is created. Plants which are the lowest living things, have a clear liking for certain places, according to their needs, so that we find certain plants almost always rooting near water, others on mountain tops, others on slopes and at the foot of hills, all of which either perish or live a melancholy existence if transplanted, being separated from what is favourable to them. Brute animals have a more obvious love, not only for places but moreover for one another. Men have proper love for things that are perfectly virtuous. And since man, though his whole form consists of a single substance, through his nobility has in himself the nature of all these, he has the power to love in all these ways, and does so.

For by virtue of his first nature, that of the simple body, which predominates in the individual, he naturally loves to move downward; and so when he moves upward he grows weary.

By virtue of his second nature, that of the compound body, he loves the place and the season in which he was born. Everyone is therefore naturally stronger in body in the place and season where he was born, than in any other. So we read, in the tales of Hercules, in Ovid, Lucan and others, that whenever the giant Antaeus grew weary in his fight with the hero, and stretched his body on the ground, by choice or being thrown by Hercules, his strength and vigour returned in a surge from the earth, from which and in which he had been generated. Hercules, seeing this, ultimately seized him and gripping him fast lifted him from the ground then held him aloft so long, without touching the earth that he defeated and slew him by superior force. This battle took place in Africa according to the testimony of these writings.

By virtue of his third nature, that of the plants, man has a love for certain foods, not as the objects of his senses, but because they are nutritious. Such foods perfect this nature’s working, while others do not, and render it imperfect. Thus we find that certain foods render men well-built, strong of limb, and healthy of complexion, while others produce the opposite.

By virtue of his fourth nature, that of the animals, namely the senses, man has another love, according to which he loves through his sense perception, like the beasts; and in man this love has the greatest need of being controlled, because of its overwhelming strength, brought about especially by the pleasure arising from taste and touch.

By virtue of his fifth and highest nature, namely the truly human, or to be more precise, angelic, that is to say, rational nature, man possesses a love of truth and virtue; and from this love springs true and perfect friendship, derived from whatever is honourable, of which Aristotle speaks in the eight book of the Ethics.

Then, since this highest nature is called mind, as explained above, I say in the canzone that: Love speaks within my mind, to make it clear that it is the love that springs from the noblest nature of truth and virtue, and to counter any false opinion regarding myself that my love was aimed at sensual delight. I then say: so passionately, to make its steadfastness and fervour known. And I say that it: often stirs such thoughts of her, they lead my intellect astray. I say truly, for in speaking of her my thought often desired to reach conclusions about her that I could not grasp, and I was so bewildered that outwardly I almost appeared beside myself, like someone who gazes in a straight line, and first of all sees clearly the things nearest to him; then looking further away, sees things less clearly; and then further way still is left in a state of doubt; and finally, gazing at the furthest point of all, his vision, unable to discriminate, sees nothing.

Such is the first ineffable aspect of what I take for them in the canzone; and then I speak of the other when I say: Love’s speech. I say that my thought, that is Love’s word, sounds in me so sweetly that my soul, that is my affection, is on fire to speak it with my tongue; and because I cannot, I write that the soul therefore laments, saying: Alas, that I lack power. This is the second ineffable aspect of my theme: that is, that the tongue cannot reproduce completely what the intellect perceives. And I also say: my soul which feels and hears him; that is hears the words, and feels the sweetness of the sound.

Chapter IV: The Inadequacy of its Treatment

Now that I have discussed the two ineffable aspects of my theme, I must proceed to discuss the words that explain my own inadequacy. I say then that my inadequacy arises from a twofold source, just as that lady’s grandeur possesses a twofold transcendence, as noted. For due to the poverty of my intellect I am forced to leave aside much that is true about her, and shines, as it were, into my mind, which receives it without arresting it like a transparent body; and this I say in the clause: Surely I am forced to leave aside. And when I say: As well as much of what I understand, I affirm that my inadequacy extends even to what I understand not simply to what my intellect fails to grasp, because my tongue lacks the eloquence to express what is spoken about her in my thoughts. Thus it will be apparent that what I say of the truth will be quite limited. And this, when examined closely, adds to her praise, which is my main purpose; and a speech in which every part contributes to its main purpose can be said to have come from the workshop of the true rhetorician. Then, when I say: Thus, if my verses are defective, I go on to excuse myself for a fault, which I should not be blamed for, even though others can see that my words are far inferior to this lady’s worth. So, I say that if fault mars my verses, that is the words composed about her, the blame is due to the weakness of our intellect and the inadequacy of our power of speech, which is so overwhelmed by a thought that it cannot fully pursue it, especially when the thought springs from love, because the soul is then stirred more profoundly than at other times.

Some might say: ‘You accuse yourself in the same breath’, since the excuse given is proof of a fault and not the erasure of it, for the blame is laid at the door of my own intellect and speech; and just as I should be praised if they are excellent, to the extent of that excellence, I should be blamed if they are found to be defective. My reply to this is that I do not accuse myself, and do excuse myself. Firstly, we should know that, according to Aristotle’s opinion given in the third book of the Ethics, man deserves praise or blame only for those things he has the power to do or not do; and where he has not the power, he deserves neither praise nor blame, since both must be attributed elsewhere, even though they are a part of the man himself. Thus, we should not blame a man because he was born ugly, since it was not in his power to make himself attractive; rather we should blame the ill form of the matter of which he is made, the source of this natural fault. Similarly, we should not praise a man for the attractiveness of the body he possesses from birth, since he was not its maker; rather we should praise the artisan, namely human nature, which creates such beauty in matter when it is not impeded by it. This is why the priest spoke fittingly to the Emperor, who had laughed and mocked the ugliness of his body: ‘The Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.’ Those are the Prophet’s words, in the lines of the Psalter, no more or less than the priest answered. So, let those ill-born wretches who devote their attention to adorning their person and not perfecting their character, which is alone of worth, realise that they are merely ornamenting the work of another, and neglecting their own.

Returning to the subject in hand, I say that our intellect, through a defect in that faculty by means of which it extracts what it perceives, which faculty is an organic power, namely imagination, cannot grasp certain things, for example substances separate from matter, because imagination cannot assist it, lacking the means. And if we can conceive of such substances, still we can neither apprehend nor comprehend them wholly. Man is not to blame for this, since he is not the source of this defect; rather it is universal nature, that is, God, who willed that we be deprived of light in this life; and why He should do this, I cannot presume to say. So, if contemplation has transported me to a realm where imagination has failed the intellect, I am not at fault for failing to understand. And, there is a limit set to our intellect, to each of its processes, set not by us but by universal nature; and we should realise that the scope of our intellect is wider in thought than in speech, and wider in speech than in gestures. Therefore, since our thought exceeds our speech, not only in that which does not achieve perfect understanding but in that which does, we cannot be to blame for our inadequacy, because it is not of our making. And so I excuse myself in saying: Blame then my weak intellect, and our speech that lacks power to echo everything that Love says; since my good intent, which is what we must consider in judging human worth, should be clearly visible. And this is the sense in which the first main section of the canzone, which we are considering, should be understood.

Chapter V: The Circuit of the Sun

Having discussed the first section and revealed its meaning, we can now proceed to the second, which, for clarity, will be sub-divided into three parts, corresponding to the three stanzas it contains. In the first part I praise the lady in general, in her entirety, body and soul; in the second I praise the soul specifically, and in the third her body. The first part begins: The Sun, that circles the whole world; the second begins: Divine virtue descends in her; the third begins: Such things appear in her aspect; and the three parts will be treated in order.

I say then: The Sun, that circles the whole world; and to understand this clearly, we should understand how the world is so circled. Firstly, by the term world I do not mean the whole Universe, but only what commonly comprises land and sea, as in the customary phrase ‘he has seen the whole world’. Pythagoras and his followers maintained that this world was one of the planets, and that there was another identical one opposite to it called Antichthon. He claimed that both were on a single sphere that turned from west to east; and that because of this revolution the Sun circled round us, and was alternately visible and not visible. He also claimed that between the two masses lay fire, saying it was nobler than water and earth, and that since the centre was the noblest position of the four simple bodies, fire while seeming to rise was in reality descending towards its centre. Later, Plato differed, writing in Timaeus that the earth with the seas was the centre of everything, but that its whole globe circled its centre, following the primary movement of the heavens, but very slowly because of its dense mass and extreme distance from that movement. These opinions are repudiated in the second book of Heaven and Earth, by that glorious philosopher, Aristotle, to whom nature revealed her secrets more profoundly; there, he proves that this world, the Earth, stands still and is forever fixed. I do not intend to give Aristotle’s proofs here, which refute those men and affirm the truth, since it is enough to know on his great authority that the earth is fixed and does not rotate, and that with the sea it is the centre of the heavens.

The heavens revolve continuously about this centre, as we observe; and this revolution must have, of necessity, two fixed celestial poles, and a great circle equidistant from them that rotates with the greatest speed. Of these the northern celestial pole is visible to almost all the known lands, while the southern is hidden from almost all of them. The part of the heavens with which the Sun revolves when it is specifically in Aries and in Libra, lies on the circle that lies midway between them, the celestial equator. So, if a stone was dropped from the north celestial pole it would fall to the ocean’s surface at a point such that if an observer were present there the pole star would always be above their head – and the distance from Rome to this place in the ocean, moving due north, would, I believe, be 2600 miles or a little less.

In order to visualise this more clearly, let us imagine that a city, named Maria, lay on the spot I mentioned. I say that if a stone was dropped from the other pole, the south celestial pole, it would fall to a point on the ocean’s surface exactly opposite Maria on this globe – and the distance from Rome to the place where this second stone fell, moving due south, would, I believe, be 7500 miles or a little less. Here let us place a second city, called Lucia. The direct distance between them, by whichever route, would be 10200 miles – half the circumference of the entire globe, so that the inhabitants of Maria would stand with their feet directly opposite those of Lucia. Let us imagine the great circle on this globe, which is at every point equidistant from Maria and Lucia. This equatorial circle, I believe – based on my understanding of the astrologers’ teachings, and those of Albertus Magnus in his book On the Nature of Places and the Properties of Elements, and also from the testimony of Lucan in his ninth book – divides the known lands from the ocean in the south, along the entire extremity of the first climatic zone where among others the Garamantes dwell, who almost always go naked, to whom Cato came, with people from Rome, when he fled Caesar’s rule.

Having marked out these three places on the globe, the terrestrial poles and equator, we can see clearly how the sun makes its circuit. I say then that the sphere of the Sun revolves from west to east, not directly aligned counter to the diurnal movement of day and night, but obliquely to it; so that this ecliptic, equidistant between the poles of its sphere, on which the body of the Sun is situated, cuts the celestial equator between the celestial poles, into two opposing regions, that is at the first point of Aries and the first of Libra, and diverges from it along two semicircular arcs, one towards the celestial north and the other towards the south. The points marking the centres of these arcs are at equal distances from the celestial equator on each side, and at an angle of twenty three and a half degrees to it; the one point is the first point of Cancer, and the other the first point of Capricorn. So, when the sun intersects the celestial equator of the celestial poles, Maria must see it at the first point of Aries, circling the world, on the horizon of earth or rather ocean, like a millstone not more than half of whose mass can be seen; and she sees this circuit rise progressively like the screw of a press, until 91 revolutions, that is 3 months, have been completed. At this stage, its elevation appears to Maria much the same as it does to us, at a point on Earth between the two cities, at the equinox.

If a man stood upright at Maria, facing the Sun continuously, he would see it move clockwise. Then its circuit seems to descend for another 91 revolutions and a little more, until its circuit is on the horizon of earth, or rather the ocean, only partially visible; then the circuit is hidden, and becomes visible to Lucia, and is seen rising and descending around Lucia in the same progression of revolutions as Maria saw. And if a man stood upright at Lucia, facing the sun continuously, he would see it moving anti-clockwise. Thus it can be seen that these poles have a six month day each year, and a night of similar length; and when one has day the other has night.

It is also the case, as has been said, that the circle on this globe on which the Garamantes dwell, must see the sun circling directly above it, as it passes through Aries, not like a millstone but like a wheel, only half of which it can see from any given point. It sees the Sun’s circuit moving away from itself and approaching Maria for a little more than 91 days, and then returning in the same period; and when it has returned, the Sun is in Libra, and its circuit again moves away and approaches Lucia for a little more than 91 days, and returns again in a similar number. The equator, which traverses the whole globe, always sees equal day and night, whether the sun’s circuit passes on this or that side of it; and twice a year it has periods of extreme heat, and twice of mild winter.

It is further the case that the two regions which lie between the two imaginary cities must see the Sun differently, depending on whether they are further from or closer to these poles, as will by now be evident to anyone of true intellect, of which it is right to demand a little effort. Thus we see that through divine providence the world is so ordered that when the sphere of the Sun has returned in its circuit to the start, the globe on which we live has everywhere experienced an equal period of light and darkness.

Oh, ineffable Wisdom, that ordained it so, how poorly does our mind grasp you! And you, for whose benefit and pleasure I write in what blindness do you live, if you raise not you eyes to these things, but drown them rather in the mire of ignorance!

Chapter VI: General Praise of the Lady

In the preceding chapter we saw how the Sun makes its circuit, and now I may continue the explanation of the second section of the canzone. I say then that in this first part I begin my praise of the lady with respect to other things, and I say that the Sun in its circuit sees nothing so noble as she, and thus she is, according to these worlds, the noblest of all things down here. I use the words: in that hour, and here it should be understood that the word hour is understood in two senses by the astrologers. One is where the day and night each have twelve hours, regardless of whether the day is long or short; and the hours of daylight or night are longer or shorter according as day and night wax and wane. The church uses these hours in speaking of Prime, Tierce, Sext and Nones, and they are known as temporal hours. The other sense is where in allotting hours for day and night, the day at times has fifteen hours and the night nine, or the night has sixteen and the day eight, according to how day and night wax and wane, and these are called equal hours. At the equinox, when day and night are equal in length, these hours and the temporal hours are one and the same.

Then where I say: Those Intelligences above admire her; I praise her without reference to anything else. I say that the Intelligences of heaven admire her, while those down here who are noble think of her, in order to possess that which delights them. Here it should be understood that according to what is written in the book On Causes all the Intelligences above are aware of what is higher than them and lower. They therefore know God as their cause, and what is lower than them as their effect; and since God is universal cause of all things, by knowing Him they know all things, according to the degree of their intelligence. Thus all the Intelligences know the human form insofar as it is determined by intent of the divine mind. The Intelligences who move the spheres know it most profoundly as they are the most immediate cause of it, and of all generated forms, and they know the perfect divine form as their paradigm and exemplar, insofar as it can be known. If the human form is not perfect in individual living beings, it is not the fault of the exemplar but of the material which produces individuality. So when I say: Those Intelligences above admire her; I mean simply that she is created intentionally as an exemplar of the human essence in the divine mind, and thus in all others, above all in the angelic minds which with the heavens create things here below.

To confirm this, I say in addition: And folk down here who are in love. It should be understood that everything desires its own perfection, and in perfection satisfies all its desires, and things desired are so for this reason. It is this desire for perfection that makes all our delights seem lacking, for in this life no delight is so profound as to be able to quench our thirst such that we consider our desire for perfection has been assuaged. Since this lady is indeed perfect, I say that those who know the greatest delight here below when they are most at peace find this lady then in their thoughts, for she is, I affirm, as supremely perfect as the human essence can be. Thus, when I say: Her being pleases God so, who made her, I attest that not only is this lady the most perfect in the human realm, but more perfect than most in that she receives more of the divine goodness that what is due to mankind. And then, it is reasonable to believe that just as very craftsman loves his best work more than any other, so God loves the finest human being more than any other. Since his generosity is not limited by any bounds, his love ignores what is due the recipient, but exceeds it through the gift and benefaction of virtue and grace. That is why I state here that God himself, who grants her being for love of her perfection, infuses part of his goodness into her beyond the bounds of what is due our human nature.

Next, where I say: That pure soul of hers, I give proof of what I say by the testimony of the senses. Here it should be understood that the presence of soul actualises the body’s potential, as Aristotle says in the second book of On the Soul; and if it actualises the body, it is its cause. Since every cause, as stated in the book On Causes cited previously, has a part of the goodness received from its own cause infused into its effect, the soul infuses the body with a part of the goodness of its own cause, which is God. Thus, since marvellous things, as regards the body, are seen in her, such that they make all who look on her desire to see such marvels, it is clear that her form, that is, her soul, which as its true cause directs the body, miraculously receives the goodness of God’s grace. So her outward appearance provides proof that this lady has been endowed and ennobled by God beyond what is due our nature, which is most perfect in her as was said previously. This is the whole literal meaning of the first part of the second main section of the canzone.

Chapter VII: Praise of the Lady’s Soul

Having praised this lady generally with regard to her soul and body, I now proceed to praise her specifically in regard to her soul, and firstly I praise her according as her goodness is great in itself, and then I praise her according as it greatly affects others and benefits the world. This second part begins with: Of her indeed it can be said: but I commence the first part with: Divine virtue descends in her.

Here it should be understood that divine goodness descends into all things, else they could not exist. But though this goodness springs from the simplest source, it is variously received, in greater or lesser degree, by its recipients. So it is written in the book On Causes: ‘The primal goodness sheds his goodness upon all things in a single flow.’ Each thing receives this flow according to the measure of its virtue and being, and we see visible evidence of this in the Sun. The Sun’s light, derived from the one source, is variously received by diverse bodies, as Albertus says in his book On the Intellect. For certain bodies, because of their high degree of transparency, become so luminous in the sun’s light that, by the multiplication of light internally and in their aspect, they shed great splendour on other bodies, as do gold and other precious minerals.

There are other bodies which, being wholly transparent, not only receive light but transmit it to other things, coloured by their own colour, rather than impeding it. And there are others, of such surpassingly pure transparency, that they become radiant enough as to disturb the eye’s equilibrium, and so cannot be gazed at without discomfort to the eyesight, as is the case with mirrors. Others, however, are so lacking in transparency that they absorb scarcely any light at all, as is the case with earth. Thus God’s goodness is received in one fashion by those separate substances, that is the Angels without material dimension, which are as it were transparent by virtue of their purity of form; and in another fashion by the human soul, which is partly free of matter and partly impeded by it, like a man submerged in water except for the head, who cannot be said to be wholly submerged or wholly not; and in yet another fashion by the animals, whose souls are entirely confined to matter, but are nevertheless somewhat ennobled; and in another by the plants, and another by the minerals; and by earth in a manner different from that of the other elements, because it is the most material, and therefore most remote from and most out of harmony with the first, simplest, and noblest virtue, which alone is of the intellect, namely God.

Though only the main gradations are mentioned here, we can nevertheless specify more detailed gradations: thus, among human souls one may receive goodness directly from another. And since in the intellectual order of the universe ascent and descent are by continuous gradation from the lowest form to the highest, and the highest to the lowest, as we see in the gradations of beings capable of sensation; and just as there is no gradation between the angelic nature, which is intellectual being, and human nature, but rather both form a continuum; and there is equally no intermediary gradation between the human soul and the most perfect of the animals; so we may find many men so vile and base that they appear nothing but beasts. Correspondingly, it may be firmly believed, and asserted, that there are some human beings so noble in nature that they are almost angelic, for otherwise the human species would not lie on a continuum in either direction, which is impossible. Aristotle, in the seventh book of the Ethics, calls such human beings divine, and such, I say, is this lady, for the divine virtue descends into her as it descends into the angels.

Next, where I say: And if any noble lady disbelieves it, I substantiate this assertion by noting our experience of her in acts proper to the rational soul, where the divine light radiates most freely: that is in speech and in those actions relating to bearing and conduct. Here it should be understood that man alone among the animals speaks and demonstrates rational conduct and gestures, because he alone possess reason within. If any claim the contrary by asserting that certain birds can speak, which may appear to be the case, especially among magpies and parrots, and that certain animals demonstrate bearing and gestures, such as apes and others, I reply that it is untrue that they speak or exhibit bearing, because they lack reason from which these things derive; the principle of these actions is not within them, nor do they know what they do, or signify anything by it, but merely imitate what they see and hear. Just as an image of a body is reproduced in some reflective body, for instance a mirror, displaying a corporeal image which is not real, so this image of reason, the gestures and speech of brute creatures, is not real either.

I say: And if any noble lady disbelieves it, let her walk with her and note her gestures – I do not say any man because such experience is more decorously acquired by female example than male – and I say what will be heard concerning her, by describing the effect of her speech and bearing. For her speech, by its nobility and sweetness, engenders thoughts of love in those who hear it, and I call love a celestial spirit because its origin is from above, and from above comes its meaning, as has already been related, and such thoughts proceed from the firm conviction that this is a lady of miraculous virtue. And her gestures, in their sweetness and grace, waken love and cause it to be felt wherever some part of its virtue is seeded in a good nature. This natural seeding is performed as shown in the succeeding book.

In the second part, where I state: Of her indeed it can be said, I meant to describe how the goodness and virtue of her soul do good to and benefit others, and firstly how she benefits other ladies, adding: Noble in woman, what we find in her, whereby I present a visible example to other women, which they may follow, by gazing upon her, and so make themselves appear noble. Secondly, I relate how she benefits everyone, saying that her countenance aids our faith, which is the greatest benefit to the human race, since by means of it we escape eternal death and gain eternal life. It does so in the following way. Since the principal foundations for our faith are miracles, performed by one who was crucified – who created our reason and willed it to be inferior to his own in power – and by the saints, later, in his name; and since many are so stubborn as to doubt these miracles, owing to their clouded vision, refusing to believe in miracles without visible proof; and since this lady is visibly a miraculous thing, of which men’s eyes may have daily proof, making it possible for us to believe in other miracles, it is evident that this lady, by her wonderful countenance, aids our faith. Thus I say, lastly, that: by eternity, that is eternally, she was ordained in the mind of God, as a testament of the faith to those who live in this age.

So ends the second part of the second main section of the canzone, according to its literal meaning.

Chapter VIII: Praise of the Lady’s Body

Among the works of divine wisdom, Man is the most marvellous, considering that the divine nature has conjoined three natures (the vegetative, sensory, and intellectual) in a single form, and considering how subtly this body must be composed, having within its form organs corresponding to almost all of its powers. And because of the high degree of harmony required for so many organs to be in true accord with each other, there are few men, of the vast number that exist, who are perfect. If this created being is so marvellous, we should certainly approach a discussion of its composition with trepidation, not only in words but also in thought.

The words from Ecclesiasticus may stand as a warning: ‘Who has sought out the wisdom of God that goes before all things?’ as do those words which say: ‘Do not seek the things that are too high for you, nor search into things that lie beyond your knowledge, but rather think of the things God has commanded, and do not be curious further as to his works’ that is to say, inquisitive. So I, intending in the third section to speak of some of the external aspects of this being, inasmuch as sensory beauty appears in her body by virtue of her soul’s goodness, I propose, in fear and trepidation, to begin untying this great knot, if not wholly at least in part. Since the meaning of the part where this lady’s soul is praised has been explained, we must now consider how I praise her body, commencing: Such things appear in her aspect. I say that in her countenance there appear things which reveal Paradisial delights. Among them, the noblest and the one that is established as the aim of all the others, is to achieve happiness, and this is the same as to be blessed. This delight is truly generated by the lady’s countenance, though in a different way; for, seeing her, people become happy, so sweetly does her beauty nourish the gaze of those who behold her, though in a different manner to the happiness of Paradise, that being eternal, which this cannot be.

Since some might ask by which of her features this wonderful delight is generated, I distinguish two, in which the expression of human pleasure and displeasure are most evident. It should be known that wherever the soul most performs its work, those are the features it is most determined to adorn, and in which it works must subtly. So we find that it forms the human face, where it performs its work more than in any other bodily feature, so subtly, that, in refining its material as much as the material will allow, no human face is formed like any other, because the maximum virtue of the material, which is somewhat different in each person, is here actualised. And since the soul operates principally in two features of the face – because there all three natures hold sway, each in its own way – that is, in the eyes and the mouth, then that is where it strives for most adornment and it directs its whole attention to creating beauty there, as profoundly as it can. Delight, I maintain, is generated by these two features, when I say: in her eyes and her sweet smile.

These two features may be called, by way of a pleasant metaphor, the balconies of the edifice of the body, that is, the soul, in which this lady dwells, because there it often reveals itself, though in a veiled manner. It shows itself in the eyes so clearly that the emotion present there may be acknowledged by anyone who gazes at them intently. Thus, there are six emotions proper to the human soul, among those which Aristotle mentions in his book On Rhetoric, that is, grace, zeal, pity, envy, love and shame, by which the soul, cannot become impassioned without its aspect becoming visible at the windows of the eyes, unless it is contained within by exercise of great force. For this reason, people in times past have blinded themselves so that their shame should not be visible, as the poet Statius remarks of Oedipus of Thebes, saying that: ‘He freed himself from guilty shame by means of eternal night.’

The soul reveals itself in the lips, like coloration behind glass. What is laughter but a coruscation of the soul’s delight, a visible glow echoing that within? It is thus appropriate that to reveal the soul as moderate in its delight, laughter should only occur in moderation, with a proper reserve and limited movement of the lips, so that the lady who is revealed, as has been said, might appear modest and not wanton. Therefore the Book of the Four Cardinal Virtues commands: ‘Let not your laughter be strident,’ that is like the cackling of a hen. Ah, the wondrous laughter of the lady I speak of, perceptible only to the eye!

And I say that Love draws these things to her, as if to his place; Love being considered in two fashions. Firstly, as love of the soul unique to these places; secondly, as universal love which determines the things to be loved, and inclines the soul to adorn these features. Then I say: They overwhelm this intellect of ours, excusing myself for appearing to say so little about such great excellence of beauty when treating of it; and I state that I say so little about it for two reasons. One is that what appears in her aspect overwhelms our intellect: that is, human intellect; so I say how the intellect is overwhelmed, that is, in the same way as the sun overwhelms feeble powers of sight, but not strong and healthy vision. The other is that our intellect cannot gaze on it fixedly, because in attempting to do so the soul becomes intoxicated, and is immediately confused in all its operations.

Next, in saying that: Her beauty rains flamelets of fire I set out to describe the effect of her beauty, since it is not possible to describe its essence. Here it should be known that all things that exceed our intellect, such that it cannot comprehend them, are best described by means of their effects; thus by treating of God, separate substances, and primal matter in this way, we can gain some understanding of them. That is why I say that this lady’s beauty rains flamelets of fire, that is, in an ardour of love and charity, kindled by a noble spirit, that is, ardour in the form of a gentle spirit, namely right desire, from which and by means of which virtuous thought originates. And not only does it do this, but it also undoes and destroys its contrary, namely the innate vices which are the main enemies of virtuous thought.

Here it should be understood that man is predisposed by nature to certain vices – for example men of choleric temperament are predisposed to anger – and such vices are innate, that is, an element of our nature. Other vices however are the results of habit, and not due to temperament, as for instance excessive drinking; these vices are avoided or overcome by the development of good habits, and in this way people become virtuous and moderation requires no effort, as Aristotle says in the second book of the Ethics. However there is a difference between the natural passions and habitual vices: the latter are eliminated by adopting good habits, because their source, the bad habit, is replaced by its opposite; but the natural passions, whose source lies in the temperament of the person experiencing the passion, though they are greatly moderated by adopting good habits are not eliminated at source, but merely rendered impermanent, because habit is not temperament, within which these passions find their source. So the man who controls himself and governs his nature is more praiseworthy than one who, possessed of a good nature, maintains good conduct or returns to the right path after straying from it, just as it is more praiseworthy to control a temperamental horse than one without vices.

I say though that the flamelets which rain from her beauty destroy innate vices, those which are part of our nature, so as to make it clear that her beauty has the power to alter nature in those who gaze on it, which is a miraculous thing. And this confirms what has been said in the chapter above, where I said that she is an aid to our faith.

Lastly, where I say: So let those ladies who know her beauty, I reveal the end for which such beauty was fashioned, under the pretence of admonishing others. And I say that any lady who hears her beauty denigrated for some defect or other should gaze at this example of perfection, for it is clear that such beauty was created not only to improve the good, but to turn even bad to good. At the close, I add: Conceived by Him who moves the universe, that is by God, to make it clear that nature produced this effect by divine intent. This completes my explanation of the second main section of the canzone.

Chapter IX: Ocular Vision

Having explained the first two sections of the canzone, as intended, we proceed in sequence to the third, where I intend to clear the canzone of a potentially unfavourable allegation. What I am referring to is my writing of a ballata (‘Voi che savete ragionar d’Amore’), prior to composing the canzone, in which I called this lady proud and pitiless, since I felt she had become somewhat haughty towards me, and this appears to contradict what I said of her above. So I turn to the canzone, and under the pretext of teaching it how to excuse itself, I in fact make excuse for it; to address inanimate objects in this way is a figure of speech, called prosopopoeia (personification) by the rhetoricians and often employed by the poets. This third section begins with: Canzone, you seem to contradict. In order to clarify the meaning of this section I will sub-divide it into three parts. Firstly I state what requires to be excused; then I proceed to the excuse, where I say: You know heaven; and finally I address the canzone, instructing it what it should do, when I say: So excuse yourself should need arise.

Firstly then, I effectively say: Canzone, you who speak of this lady with such praise, you seem to contradict one of your sisters, and I use the word sister metaphorically: for just as we call a woman who is born of the same parent as us, our sister, so a work made by the same maker may be so described, for our work is in a sense begotten. Then I explain why the canzone seems to contradict the ballata, saying: You depict her as humble, while the other presents her as haughty, that is to say, proud and disdainful, which is the same thing.

Having made this allegation I carry on to excuse the canzone, employing an example where the truth is sometimes in conflict with appearances, and at other times is altered by a change of perspective. I say: You know the sky, ever bright and clear, that is, always possessing a certain degree of illumination, though for certain reasons we are sometimes permitted to speak of it as being dark. Here it should be understood that correctly speaking only light and colour are visible, as Aristotle states in the second book of On the Soul, and in On Sense and Sensibilia. Other things are not visible, correctly speaking, for some other sense also perceives them, so that they cannot properly be said to be simply visible, or simply tangible; and such are form, size, number, motion, and state of rest, which we term common sensibilia, things perceivable by more than one sense. But light and colour are, properly speaking, visible because we apprehend them by sight alone and no other sense. These visible things, the specific as well as the common, insofar as they are visible, enter the eye – I mean their forms, not the things themselves – through the diaphanous medium of the atmosphere, as an image not matter, as if through transparent glass. The passage of the visible form through this medium terminates in the fluid of the eye’s pupil, because that fluid has a boundary – like a mirror of glass backed by lead – so that it cannot pass through, but is arrested there like a ball that is stopped by being struck, so that the form, which cannot be seen in the transparent medium, appears clearly, here where it is arrested. That is why an image can be seen in lead-backed glass and not in glass alone. The visual spirit, which passes from the pupil to the front of the brain where the principal source of sensory ability resides, immediately reproduces the form, without any lapse of time, and so we are able to see. Thus for vision to be true, that is to say, to be able to see a thing precisely as it is, the medium through which the form reaches the eye must be colourless, and so too the optical fluid; otherwise the visible form would be tinged with the colour of the medium as well as that of the pupil. For this reason, those who wish to tint things a particular shade in a mirror place something with that colour between the glass and the lead, so that the glass is tinted by it. Plato and other philosophers state that our sight is not a result of a visible form entering the eye, but of our visual power extending out to the thing visible: however this opinion is rejected as false by Aristotle in his book On Sense and Sensibilia.

Having examined the manner in which vision occurs, it is clear that though stars are uniformly bright and shining, and undergo no alteration but that of local movement, as is proved in the book On Heaven and Earth, they may, for a number of reasons, not appear bright and shining. This may be due to the medium which is continually changing. The medium varies in the degree of light it transmits, according to the presence or absence of the Sun; when it is present the medium, which is diaphanous, is so full of light that it conquers that of the stars which no longer seem to shine. The medium also varies in density and moistness, due to the vapours continually rising from the earth. For this reason the medium alters the images of the stars which it transmits, creating darkness when dense, and variations in colour when moist or dry.

Stars may appear less bright also due to illness or fatigue of the eye, the visual organ undergoing change, creating discoloration and dimness, for example when the membrane of the pupil becomes bloodshot due to illness, such that objects appear red, and the stars become coloured. Because the sight is weakened, some deterioration of the visual power occurs, such that objects seem out of focus and blurred, as writing does on damp paper. That is why many people, wishing to read, have to hold the writing some distance away from their eyes, so the image may enter the eye more clearly and sharply, clarifying their vision. I had experience of stars becoming blurred, in the very year this canzone was created, for having greatly strained my vision by close study my visual powers were weakened to such an extent that the stars appeared to me completely veiled in a white haze. However, by extended rest in dark and cool places, and by bathing the surface of my eyes in clear cold water I restored the powers which had deteriorated, and my former state of healthy vision returned. Thus we see that there are many reasons, as noted above, why a star may appear otherwise than it truly is.

Chapter X: Completion of the Literal Meaning

Following that digression, which was required to clarify the truth, I return to the subject and say that just as our eyes sometimes judge a star to be otherwise than in its true state, so this little ballata treated of the lady according to her appearance, which did not reflect the truth due to an infirmity of the soul, impassioned by excess desire. I make this clear when I say: For my soul was full of fear, so much so that what I saw in her presence seemed frightening to me. Here it should be known that the more closely the agent is united with the subject, the stronger is the passion, as may be understood from Aristotle’s comments in his book On Generation; thus the nearer the object desired is to one who desires it, the stronger the desire; and the more impassioned the soul, the more closely it is united with the sexual appetite, and the more it departs from reason, so that it judges a person almost as a lower animal rather than a human being, and merely according to appearances, without perceiving the truth. That is why a face which is in truth noble may seem disdainful and proud to us: and the little ballata spoke according to this kind of judgement of the senses. Thus it should be clearly understood that the canzone, in contrast to the little ballata, perceives this lady according to the truth. It is not without reason that I say: when she looks at me, and not: when I look at her. I wish, in speaking thus, to emphasise the great power her eyes had over me, for their rays passed through every part of me, as if I were transparent. Natural and supernatural reasons might be evinced for this, but let what I say here suffice: I will speak again of this in a more appropriate place.

Then where I say: So excuse yourself should need arise, I order the canzone ‘to excuse itself where necessary’, for the reasons mentioned above, that is whenever anyone is in doubt because of the apparent contradiction. That is to say that simply that anyone who is doubtful, because of the conflict between the canzone and the little ballata, should reflect on the explanation given. A rhetorical figure of this kind is highly praiseworthy and even essential, that is where the words are addressed to one person and the meaning to another; for words of admonition are always praiseworthy and essential, though not always becoming to everyone’s lips. So, when a son is ware of vice in his father, or a servant is aware of his master’s vice, and when a friend knows that by admonishing him he would increase his shame and diminish his reputation, or knows that his friend will lose patience and become angered when admonished, this figure of speech is extremely beautiful and useful, and may be appreciated as a ‘virtuous pretence’. It is akin to the action of an experienced military man who attacks a fortress on one side in order to draw its defence from the other, since battle is not joined on the side which is the object of the action.

I also order the canzone to seek permission from the lady to address her. Here it should be understood that one should not presume to praise another without first ascertaining carefully whether it would please the person praised; for a person often believes they are conferring praise on someone when, through the fault of the speaker or the listener, they are in fact apportioning blame. Thus it is essential to use discretion in such a matter; and this discretion is, as it were, a request for permission, in the same manner in which I order this canzone to request it.

That completes the explanation of the literal meaning of the canzone in this book. The order of proceeding laid out for this work, now demands that I progress, with truth in mind, to the allegorical explanation.

Chapter XI: The Nature of Philosophy

Returning to the beginning of the canzone as our procedure demands, I say that the lady is that lady of the intellect named Philosophy. But since praise naturally creates a desire to know the person praised; and since to know something means to comprehend what it is, both in itself and with regard to its causes, as Aristotle says at the start of his Physics; and since that is not explicit in the name, though it is what the name signifies, as stated in the fourth book of the Metaphysics (where it is said that a name signifies the explanation that constitutes a definition), it is necessary, before proceeding to articulate further praise of her, to say what this thing called Philosophy is, that is to say what the name signifies. And after revealing this, the present allegory can be treated more effectively. I will first give the origin of the name, and then proceed to deal with its meaning.

Thus, I say that in ancient Italy, about the time of Rome’s foundation, which as Orosius says was around 750 years before the coming of our Saviour, in the days of Numa Pompilius, second King of the Romans, there lived a noble philosopher named Pythagoras. Those who claimed to seek knowledge before his time were termed wise men and not philosophers, men such as the seven sages of antiquity, who are still renowned, namely Solon, Chilon, Pittacus, Periander, Cleobulus the Lindian, Thales, and Bias of Priene. Pythagoras, when asked if he was wise, refused to be called so, and said he was not wise but a lover of wisdom. So after this all those dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom were termed philosophers, since philos in Greek means lover, and sophos wisdom, hence philosopher a ‘lover of wisdom’, which, we should note, is a term of humility rather than arrogance. From this word the name of its pursuit philosophy was derived, in the same manner as friendship derives from the word friend. So we see that philosophy is nothing but love of or friendship for knowledge or rather the seeking of it; thus everyone is in a sense a philosopher, due to the natural love which generates in everyone a desire to know.

However, since the innate tendencies are common to all mankind, we cannot distinguish one person from another on the basis of that commonality. So, when we speak of John as a friend of Martin, we do not simply refer to the natural tendency by which everyone is a friend to everyone else, but the friendship engendered over and above what is natural, and which is specific to and characteristic of individuals. So no one is called a philosopher simply because of the common love of knowledge. According to Aristotle’s definition in the eighth book of the Ethics, a friend is one whose friendship is not concealed from the person loved, and to whom the person loved is also a friend, so that goodwill is present on both sides; and this springs from utility, pleasure, or worth. Thus for someone to be termed a philosopher, there must be a love of wisdom which engenders goodwill on the other side also, such that intimacy and a demonstration of goodwill can arise between them. That is why those lacking love and devotion cannot be called philosophers, since both attributes must be present. And just as friendship founded on pleasure or usefulness is incidental and not true friendship, as the Ethics demonstrates, so philosophy founded on pleasure or usefulness is incidental and not true philosophy.

We should therefore not call that person a philosopher who is only a friend of wisdom in part, such as the many who enjoy listening to canzoni, and devoting time to them, and studying Rhetoric or Music, but who avoid and shun the other sciences, all of which are branches of wisdom. Nor should we call someone a philosopher who is a friend of wisdom for the sake of its usefulness, such as those jurists, physicians, and many members of religious orders, who study to secure financial reward or high office rather than to gain knowledge; and who would not persevere in their study if they were granted what they seek to gain. And just as the friendship that exists for the sake of its usefulness can least of all be called so, those I mention should least be called philosophers. Thus, just as a friendship founded on worth is true, perfect and enduring, so true and perfect philosophy is that engendered by worth alone, free of ulterior motive, by virtue of the loving soul, that is to say by right desire and right reason.

So we may say that as true friendship exists when each loves the other fully, so the true philosopher loves every aspect of wisdom, and wisdom befriends the philosopher in every way, since it draws the philosopher to itself in every way, and prevents his thought straying elsewhere. That is why Wisdom herself says, in the Proverbs of Solomon: ‘I love them that love me.’ And just as true friendship, abstracted from the mind and considered in itself, takes the knowledge of virtuous action as its subject, and appetite for it as its form; so philosophy, considered in itself apart from the soul, has understanding as its subject, and an almost divine love of what is to be understood as its form. And just as the efficient cause of true love is virtue, so the efficient cause of philosophy is truth; and just as the aim of true friendship is delight in what is good, which arise from living according to what befits humanity, that is according to reason, as Aristotle appears to say in the ninth book of the Ethics, so the aim of philosophy is that sheer delight that suffers neither intermission nor imperfection, namely true happiness, acquired in contemplation of the truth. So it is clear now who this lady of mine must be, according to cause and reason, and why she is called Philosophy, and who is the true philosopher and who is only incidentally so.

Yet since, through some fervour of the mind, the focus of both action and passion is sometimes called by the name of the action or passion itself – as Virgil shows in the second book of the Aeneid where Aeneas says to Hector: ‘Oh, light-bearer (an action), and hope (a passion) of the Trojans’, even though he was neither a light-bearer nor a hope but rather the source from which the light of counsel was emitted, and the object in whom they placed their hopes of salvation; and as Statius shows in the fifth book of the Thebaid, where Hypsipyle says to Archemorus: ‘O consolation for my lost estate and fatherland, O honour of my servitude’; and as we show daily when pointing to a friend we say: ‘There is friendship,’ or when a father calls his son: ‘My love’ – so by ancient custom the sciences on which philosophy focuses her gaze most fervently are known by her name, for example Natural Science, Ethics and Metaphysics, the latter, since she gazes on it from profound necessity and with the greatest fervour, being known as the First Philosophy. So we may see how the sciences are also termed Philosophy.

Now that we have seen what the first and true philosophy is in essence – that is the lady of whom I speak – and how her noble name has been customarily extended to the sciences, I will proceed with my praise of her.

Chapter XII: Divine Philosophy

The motive which moved me to compose this canzone has been explained so fully in the first chapter of this book, that it requires no further explanation, since it may easily be deduced from the exposition already made. So I will progress through the literal text, according to the sub-divisions already made, revealing the allegorical meaning as required.

I write: Love, that speaks to me within my mind. By ‘Love’ I mean the study I applied to acquiring the love of this lady: here it should be known that study may be taken in two distinct ways: one is that study which leads someone to take up and art or science, the other the study they undertake, while making use of their acquired habit. It is the former here which I call ‘Love’ which stirred my mind with endless, new and deeply profound reflections on this lady who is the subject of the argument above; since that is what study, which sets itself to generating friendship, customarily does, since study from its inception reflects on the noblest attributes of friendship, through desire for it. This is that study and affection which customarily precedes the birth of friendship in human beings, when love has been born on the one side and seeks and desires to engender it on the other, for, as has been said above, Philosophy exists when wisdom and the soul have become such friends that each is wholly loved by the other, in the manner stated above. It is unnecessary to explain the first stanza any further here, as it was explained as a proem in the literal exposition and by means of this first explanation the second allegorical explanation can easily be understood.

Now we proceed to the second stanza, which commences her praise, where I say: The Sun, that circles the whole world. Here it should be known that just as it is appropriate to treat of things which are not perceptible by the senses by means of those that are, so it is appropriate to treat of the unintelligible by means of the intelligible. Thus, in the same way as we began to speak, in the literal exposition, of the material and perceptible Sun, so now we must begin to speak of the spiritual and intelligible Sun, which is God.

Nothing that can be sensed is worthier to act as a symbol of God than the Sun. It illuminates with visible light first itself and then all celestial and earthly bodies; so, God illuminates with intellectual light first Himself and then all the celestial and all other intelligent beings. The Sun gives life to all things with its heat, and even if some are destroyed by it this results not from the originating cause but rather as an accidental effect. Similarly God gives life to the virtue in all things, and if any are evil this is not a result of divine intent, but must arise accidentally within the process brought about by that intent. For, though God made both good and evil angels, he made the good angels alone by intent. The malice of the evil ones arose afterwards, despite his intent, yet not so independent of it that God himself was unable to foresee their malice. Yet so great was his affection in generating spiritual creatures, that the foreknowledge that some must come to an evil end did not and could not deflect God from his act of creation. For Nature would not be worthy of praise if through knowing beforehand that a certain proportion of some trees’ blossoms were destined to perish she failed to produce any: and because of a partial barrenness abandoned production of the fruitful ones.

I say, therefore, that God, who knows all (for his encompassing is his knowledge) sees nothing nobler than what he sees when he gazes where Philosophy dwells. For though God, gazing on Himself, sees all things at once, yet they are distinct, inasmuch as the distinction between things exists within Him, in such a way that the effect exists within its cause. He sees then this noblest of things absolutely, inasmuch as he sees her perfectly in Himself and in his essence. For if we recall what was said above, Philosophy is the loving use of wisdom which exists in God in greatest measure, since in Him exist supreme wisdom, supreme love and supreme being; for it could not exist elsewhere if it did not proceed from Him. Divine Philosophy is therefore of divine essence, because in Him nothing can be added to essence; and she is noblest because the divine essence is so; and she exists in Him in a true and perfect manner, as if by eternal marriage. In the other intelligences she exists in a lesser way, like a mistress in whom no lover can find complete joy, though her aspect satisfies their longing. Thus it may be said that God sees, that is knows, nothing as noble as she. I say nothing since he sees and distinguishes all things, as said above, seeing Himself to be the cause of all. O how truly noble and excellent is the heart that knows the Emperor of Heaven’s bride, not bride alone, but sister and dearest daughter!

Chapter XIII: Philosophy’s Existence in the Intelligences

Having seen how, in commencing this lady’s praises, careful consideration shows her to exist primarily within the divine substance, we must go on to note my affirmation of her secondary existence within the created intelligences. Thus I say: Those Intelligences above admire her, and note here that I say above to establish her relationship to God as mentioned previously; and I exclude those Intelligences exiled from their heavenly home who cannot philosophise as the love in them is wholly extinguished, while to philosophise, as has been said, requires love to be present. So we see that the Intelligences in Hell are deprived of the sight of this beautiful lady, and since she is intellectual blessedness, the state of being deprived of her is bitter and filled with profound sadness.

Next, where I say: And folk down here who are in love, I lower my gaze to reveal that she exists in a secondary manner in human intellect, and this human philosophy I pursue through the work, by praising it. Thus I say that those who are in love here, that is, in this life, find her in their thought: not always, but when Love makes them aware of her peacefulness. We must note three things touched upon here. The first is where I say who are in love, distinguishing these folk from the rest of the human race; and such a distinction must be made, for as is evident and as I intend to explain further, a large proportion of mankind lives by the senses rather than reason; and those who live by the senses cannot love this lady because they cannot apprehend her.

The second point of note is where I say: When Love makes, specifying a distinct time. And this distinction is likewise necessary, for though the separate Intelligences gaze on this lady continuously, the human intellect is unable to do so because human nature needs to sustain itself in many ways, beyond the act of speculation which satisfies intellect and reason; as a result our wisdom is sometimes potential rather than actual, which is not the case with other Intelligences, whose perfection lies in their being solely intellectual in nature. When our mind is not involved in speculation it cannot truly be said to be joined with Philosophy except inasmuch as that it has acquired the habit of philosophising, and the power to awaken her; and therefore she is sometimes found to be with those who are in love here, and sometimes not.

The third point is where I speak of the hour when they are with her, that is, the hour when Love makes them know her peace, which means simply the period of speculation, because study makes this lady’s peace known only through the act of speculation. Thus we see that this lady exists primarily in God, but secondarily in the other discrete Intelligences, through their continuous contemplation of her, and then in the human intellect through its intermittent contemplation. Nevertheless those who take her as their lady should always be termed philosophers, even if they are not always engaged in philosophising, because one is designated principally by one’s habitual occupation. So we call someone virtuous who possesses the habit of virtue, not merely when performing a virtuous action; and we call someone eloquent even when they are silent because they possess the facility of eloquence. And so, insofar as human intellect partakes of her, praise of her follows to show how large a part of her goodness is granted to human nature.

Thus I say: Her being pleases God so, who made her – from whom it derives as from the primal source – endlessly, beyond the powers of our nature, which she renders beautiful and virtuous. Therefore, though some acquire the habit of philosophising, no one attains the true habit because the initial study, though which the habit is acquired, lacks the power to acquire it in a perfect manner. Here she is praised humbly: for, perfect or imperfect, philosophy cannot lose the name of perfection. And because her perfection is limitless I say the soul of Philosophy: reveals Him then in what she brings, that is, God instils his light in her forever. Here we must recall what was said above, namely, that love is the form of Philosophy, and therefore is here called her soul. This love is visible in the exercise of wisdom, which brings with it wondrous beauties, namely contentment in every temporal circumstance, and contempt for what others take as their masters. So it may happen that other poor wretches perceiving this, and reflecting on their defects, out of desire for perfection faint under a weight of sighs. This is what I mean by: That the eyes, into which she shines, send messages of longing, to the heart, that mix with air and turn to sighs.

Chapter XIV: In Praise of Love

Just as in the literal exposition we descended from general praise to specific, with respect to the soul and then the body, so here too we will descend from general commendation to the particular. As was said above, Philosophy takes wisdom as her material subject, love as her form, and the act of speculation as the combination of the two. So in the stanza that begins: Divine virtue descends in her I intend to praise love, which is part of philosophy. Here it must be observed that the descent of virtue or power from one thing into another is simply the latter’s taking on the likeness of the former; just as in natural agents we clearly see that when their power descends into receptive things those things take on their likeness to the extent that they can. So we see that the Sun, as its rays shine here below, causes things to take on its likeness, to the degree that they can receive the power of its light.

So, I say that God causes love to adopt his likeness to the extent that it can resemble Him. And I indicate the nature of that causation in saying: as into the Angels that see Him. Here it must be known further that the first cause, namely God, instils his virtue into things by means of either direct radiance or reflected light. Accordingly, the divine light shines on the Intelligences without mediation, and is then reflected on to other things by these previously illuminated Intelligences. And since light and reflected light are mentioned here, I will clarify the difference between them according to Avicenna. I say that it is the custom for philosophers to term luminosity light as it exists in its original source, radiance in the medium between its source and the first body it illuminates, and reflected light when it is reflected to some other place which is illuminated.

Now, I say that the divine power, without mediation, causes this love to resemble itself. This can be easily clarified as follows: since divine love is eternal in every respect, so its object must necessarily be eternal, and thus what it loves is eternal; and this love must love in the same way, since wisdom, to which this love relates, is eternal. Therefore it is written of her: ‘I was ordained for all time,’ and her eternity may be clearly noted at the beginning of St John’s Gospel.

Thus it arises, that where this love shines all others grow faint and are almost quenched, since the eternal object of this love completely exceeds and overwhelms all others. The greatest philosophers have shown this clearly by their actions, thus exhibiting to us their indifference to all except wisdom. So, Democritus, careless of his own person, would not trim his hair, beard, or nails. Plato, careless of worldly goods, was unconcerned with princely possessions, though he was the son of a prince, and Aristotle, needing no friend but philosophy, disputed with his next best friend after wisdom, namely the aforementioned Plato. Why speak of these only, when there are many others, such as Zeno, Socrates, and Seneca who condemned life in favour of ideas. It is clear therefore that divine virtue descends into men through this love, just as it does into Angels. This is shown later where my text says: And if any noble lady disbelieves it, let her walk with her and note her gestures. By noble lady I mean an intellectual soul both worthy and free in the exercise of the powers proper to it, that is of reason. So, other kinds of soul should be called handmaidens and not ladies, since they exist not for themselves, but for others; for as Aristotle says in the Metaphyiscs, that thing is free which exists for its own purpose and not another’s.

I say: Let her walk with her and note her gestures, that is, accompany this love and see what she may find within it. The text touches on this in part where it says: Here where she speaks, a spirit descends, that is to say, where philosophising is in process, a celestial thought descends, which proclaims it a more than human activity; and I say: from heaven, to indicate that not only she but her companion thoughts are remote from base earthly things. Subsequently, I explain how she kindles, and intensifies love wherever she appears through the sweetness of her gestures, since all of these gestures are appropriate, gentle and free from excess. As a greater inducement to join her company, I go on to say: Noble in woman, what we find in her, and beauty, what most resembles her.

Further I add: And her countenance it may be said allows belief, and here it is to be noted that sight of this lady was granted to us, generously, not only so that we might see her face, which she reveals, but in order that we might long to know the things she keeps hidden from us. For just as our reason perceives much through her that becomes comprehensible but would seem miraculous without her, so it is possible to believe through her that every miracle can be seen by superior intellect to have a rational cause and thus the power to exist. Our true faith has its origin here, out of which arises hope that longs for things foreseen; and from this springs the work of charity. By these three virtues, faith, hope and charity we rise, to philosophise in that celestial Athens where Stoics, Peripatetics, and Epicureans combine, in the light of eternal truth, in a single harmony of will.

Chapter XV: In Praise of Wisdom

In the previous chapter this glorious lady was praised according to one of her component parts, namely love. In this chapter I intend to explain the stanza commencing: Such things appear in her aspect, and take up essential praise of the other part, namely wisdom. The text then, says that things are revealed in her aspect that manifest some part of the joy of Paradise, and it distinguishes the places where that joy appears, namely in her eyes and in her smile.

Here it should be known that Wisdom’s eyes are her proofs, by means of which truth is seen with greatest certainty, and her smiles are her persuasive arguments, in which the inner light of Wisdom is revealed as if from behind a veil; and in each the highest joy of blessedness is felt, which is the greatest good of Paradise. Such joy cannot be found in anything down here except by gazing at her eyes and her smile.

And here is the reason: since everything naturally desires its own perfection, man cannot be happy, that is to say blessed, without this perfection; for even if he possessed everything else, lacking this perfection desire would still exist in him, and desire cannot co-exist with blessedness since blessedness is perfect while desire lacks completeness; for no one desires what he has, but rather what he has not, which is an obvious lack of completeness. It is by means of this gaze alone that we achieve human perfection, that is, the perfection of reason, on which, as our most sublime faculty, all our being depends; while all of our other activities, feeling, nutrition, and the rest, exists only for its sake, and for the sake of no other thing. If reason is perfect, so is humanity, in that man, insofar as he is man, finds all his desire to be at an end, and is thereby blessed. That is why the book of Wisdom says: ‘He who casts away wisdom and learning is unhappy,’ for to do so is to deprive the self of the state of happiness. It follows that this state is achieved through the habitual pursuit of wisdom, that is, the state of contentment, according to Aristotle’s opinion. Thus we see how some of the attributes ofParadise appear in her countenance. And so we read, in the book of Wisdom, cited above, where it says of her: ‘She is the brightness of the eternal light, and the flawless mirror of the majesty of God.’

So, in saying: They overwhelm this intellect of ours I am excusing myself by confessing that I can say little about these things because of their transcendent nature. Here it should be noted that these things dazzle our intellect to some degree in that certain things are affirmed to exist which our intellect cannot perceive, namely, God, eternity and primal matter, things which certainly are witnessed to, and in profound faith believed to exist, but which we cannot understand because of their nature; and it is only by reasoning negatively about their alternatives that we can approach an understanding of them, and in no other way.

However some may seriously doubt whether wisdom can make men blessed if there are certain things it cannot reveal perfectly to them, for man has a natural desire to know, without satisfaction of which he cannot be blessed. To this we may reply simply that the natural desire in all things is in proportion to its capacity for satisfaction; otherwise desire would operate against itself, which is impossible, and Nature would have created it in vain which is equally impossible. It would operate against itself since while desiring perfection it would desire imperfection, since it would continue desiring endlessly and would never fulfil its desire; and this is the error the wretched miser makes, by failing to understand that his desire must be endless because it seeks to realise an infinite gain. Then too, Nature would have created it in vain, because it would be directed to no specific end. Therefore human desire in this life is in proportion to the wisdom that can be gained here, and its limit is not exceeded except through some error beyond Nature’s intent. Equally it is proportionate within the angelic nature, and limited by the quantity of wisdom that the nature of each can apprehend. That is why the Saints are free from envy of one another, because each has attained the limit of their desire, which desire is in proportion to the nature of their goodness. And that is why, since it is not within the capacity of our nature to know God and those other specifics, the desire for such knowledge is not in our nature. In this way the doubt should be dispelled.

Next, where I say: Her beauty rains flamelets of fire, I graduate downwards to another joy of Paradise, namely that moral happiness, second in order to the primary happiness, which derives from her beauty. Here it should be known that Philosophy’s beauty is morality, for just as the body’s beauty derives in its degree from the proper ordering of the members, so the beauty of wisdom, wisdom being the body of Philosophy, as has been said, derives from the ordering of the moral virtues, which enable her to grant pleasures perceptible to the senses. Thus I say that her beauty, that is morality, rains flamelets of fire, that is, right desire, which is created by the pleasure imparted by moral teachings, a desire that turns us away from the natural vices, let alone all the others. From this is born the happiness Aristotle defines in the first book of the Ethics, where he says that it consists of: ‘acting in accordance with virtue throughout one’s whole life.’ And when I say: So let those ladies who know her beauty, I continue in praise of her, begging others to follow her example, by telling them how she may benefit them, namely that all that follow her become good. So I say that those ladies, that is, souls, who hear their beauty slighted because it does not appear as it should, should gaze on this exemplar.

Here it should be observed that beauty of the soul consists of its good habits, above all its virtues, which may be rendered less beautiful and pleasing by pride or vanity, as will be seen in a later book. Thus I say that to avoid such an effect we should study her, specifically the way in which she exemplifies humility, that is, the part of her termed moral philosophy. And I add that by gazing on that part of wisdom, every person prone to vice will become upright and good. So I say: This is she who humbles haughtiness, that is, who gently turns all who stray back to their proper course.

Finally, praising wisdom in the highest, I say that she is the mother of all things, and the origin of each and every motion, by affirming that God created the universe with her, and in particular the motion of the heavens that generates all things, and from which all movement takes its origin and impetus, and in adding: Conceived by Him who moves the universe. I mean that she existed in divine thought, which is intellect itself, when He created the universe, from which it follows that she was involved in its creation. That is why Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, speaking in the person of Wisdom, says: ‘When he prepared the heavens, I was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the foundations of the deep: when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then, I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.

Oh worse than dead are you who flee her friendship! Open your eyes and gaze forth! For she loved you before you existed, preparing and ordering your coming; and, after you were made, she came to you in your own likeness to set you on the true path. Though not all of you can enter her presence, yet honour her in the person of her friends, and follow their commands as those who proclaim the will of this eternal Empress – close not your ears to Solomon, who demands this of you with the words: ‘the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’ – follow them, gaze on their works that should be a light to you, in the journey, so swift, of this life.

And here we may complete the true meaning of the present canzone. For the last verse, indeed, appended as a tornato, may be easily understood from the literal exposition, except insofar as it says I called the lady proud and disdainful. Here it should be known that Philosophy seemed proud to me, at the start, as regards her body, that is, wisdom, since she did not smile at me, for I failed as yet to understand her proofs. The fault in all this was mine. From this, and from what has been explained in the literal exposition, the allegory of the tornato is plain, such that it is now time to bring this book to an end, in order to proceed further.

End of Book III