Dante: Convivio (The Banquet)
© Copyright 2008 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
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- Canzone Terza (Original Italian Text)
- The Third Canzone (English Translation)
- Chapter I: The Motive for the Canzone
- Chapter II: The Preface to the Canzone
- Chapter III: The Further Structure of the Canzone
- Chapter IV: Imperial Authority
- Chapter V: The Uniqueness of Rome
- Chapter VI: Aristotle’s Authority
- Chapter VII: The Meaning of the Second Stanza
- Chapter VIII: Reverence for Truth
- Chapter IX: Limits of Imperial Jurisdiction
- Chapter X: The Emperor’s Error
- Chapter XI: The Inequity of Wealth
- Chapter XII: The Dangers of Wealth
- Chapter XIII: The Imperfections of Riches
- Chapter XIV: The Irrelevance of Ancestry
- Chapter XV: Further Fallacies Exposed
- Chapter XVI: Defining Nobility
- Chapter XVII: Moral Virtue
- Chapter XVIII: Nobility and Virtue
- Chapter XIX: Nobility’s Extent
- Chapter XX: The Definition of Nobility
- Chapter XXI: The Gift of Nobility
- Chapter XXII: On Human Happiness
- Chapter XXIII: The Signs of Nobility
- Chapter XXIV: The Four Ages of Man
- Chapter XXV: Adolescence
- Chapter XXVI: Maturity
- Chapter XXVII: Old Age
- Chapter XXVIII: Senility
- Chapter XXIX: Last Words on Lineage
- Chapter XXX: Conclusion
Canzone Terza (Original Italian Text)
Le dolci rime d’amor ch’i’ solia
Cercar ne’ miei pensieri
Convien ch’io lasci; non perch’io non speri
Ad esse ritornare,
Ma perché li atti disdegnosi e feri
Che ne la donna mia
Sono appariti m’han chiusa la via
De l’usato parlare.
E poi che tempo mi par d’aspettare,
Diporrò giù lo mio soave stile,
Ch’i’ ho tenuto nel trattar d’amore;
E dirò del valore,
Per lo qual veramente omo è gentile,
Con rima aspr’ e sottile;
Riprovando ‘l giudicio falso e vile
Di quei che voglion che di gentilezza
Sia principio ricchezza.
E, cominciando, chiamo quel signore
Ch’a la mia donna ne li occhi dimora,
Per ch’ella di se stessa s’innamora.
Tale imperò che gentilezza volse,
Secondo ‘l suo parere,
Che fosse antica possession d’avere
Con reggimenti belli;
E altri fu di più lieve savere,
Che tal detto rivolse,
E l’ultima particula ne tolse,
Ché non l’avea fors’elli!
Di retro da costui van tutti quelli
Che fan gentile per ischiatta altrui
Che lungiamente in gran ricchezza è stata;
Ed è tanto durata
La così falsa oppinion tra nui,
Che l’uom chiama colui
Omo gentil che può dicere: “Io fui
Nepote, o figlio, di cotal valente”,
Benché sia da niente.
Ma vilissimo sembra, a chi ‘l ver guata,
Cui è scorto ‘l cammino e poscia l’erra,
E tocca a tal, ch’è morto e va per terra!
Chi diffinisce: “Omo è legno animato”,
Prima dice non vero,
E, dopo ‘l falso, parla non intero;
Ma più forse non vede.
Similemente fu chi tenne impero
In diffinire errato,
Ché prima puose ‘l falso e, d’altro lato,
Con difetto procede;
Ché le divizie, sì come si crede,
Non posson gentilezza dar né tòrre,
Però che vili son da lor natura:
Poi chi pinge figura,
Se non può esser lei, non la può porre,
Né la diritta torre
Fa piegar rivo che da lungi corre.
Che siano vili appare ed imperfette,
Ché, quantunque collette,
Non posson quietar, ma dan più cura;
Onde l’animo ch’è dritto e verace
Per lor discorrimento non si sface.
Né voglion che vil uom gentil divegna,
Né di vil padre scenda
Nazion che per gentil già mai s’intenda;
Questo è da lor confesso:
Onde lor ragion par che sé offenda
In tanto quanto assegna
Che tempo a gentilezza si convegna,
Diffinendo con esso.
Ancor, segue di ciò che innanzi ho messo,
Che siam tutti gentili o ver villani,
O che non fosse ad uom cominciamento;
Ma ciò io non consento,
Ned ellino altressì, se son cristiani!
Per che a ‘ntelletti sani
È manifesto i lor diri esser vani,
E io così per falsi li riprovo,
E da lor mi rimovo;
E dicer voglio omai, sì com’io sento,
Che cosa è gentilezza, e da che vene,
E dirò i segni che ‘l gentile uom tene.
Dico ch’ogni vertù principalmente
Vien da una radice:
Vertute, dico, che fa l’uom felice
In sua operazione.
Questo è, secondo che l’Etica dice,
Un abito eligente
Lo qual dimora in mezzo solamente,
E tai parole pone.
Dico che nobiltate in sua ragione
Importa sempre ben del suo subietto,
Come viltate importa sempre male;
E vertute cotale
Dà sempre altrui di sé buono intelletto;
Per che in medesmo detto
Convegnono ambedue, ch’en d’uno effetto.
Onde convien da l’altra vegna l’una,
O d’un terzo ciascuna;
Ma se l’una val ciò che l’altra vale,
E ancor più, da lei verrà più tosto.
E ciò ch’io dett’ho qui sia per supposto.
È gentilezza dovunqu’è vertute,
Ma non vertute ov’ella;
Sì com’è ‘l cielo dovunqu’è la stella,
Ma ciò non e converso.
E noi in donna e in età novella
Vedem questa salute,
In quanto vergognose son tenute,
Ch’è da vertù diverso.
Dunque verrà, come dal nero il perso,
Ciascheduna vertute da costei,
O vero il gener lor, ch’io misi avanti.
Però nessun si vanti
Dicendo: “Per ischiatta io son con lei”,
Ch’elli son quasi dei
Quei c’han tal grazia fuor di tutti rei;
Ché solo Iddio a l’anima la dona
Che vede in sua persona
Perfettamente star: sì ch’ad alquanti
Che seme di felicità sia costa,
Messo da Dio ne l’anima ben posta.
L’anima cui adorna esta bontate
Non la si tiene ascosa,
Ché dal principio ch’al corpo si sposa
La mostra infin la morte.
Ubidente, soave e vergognosa
È ne la prima etate,
E sua persona adorna di bieltate
Con le sue parti accorte;
In giovinezza, temperata e forte,
Piena d’amore e di cortese lode,
E solo in lealtà far si diletta;
È ne la sua senetta
Prudente e giusta, e larghezza se n’ode,
E ‘n se medesma gode
D’udire e ragionar de l’altrui prode;
Poi ne la quarta parte de la vita
A Dio si rimarita,
Contemplando la fine che l’aspetta,
E benedice li tempi passati.
Vedete omai quanti son l’ingannati!
Contra-li-erranti mia, tu te n’andrai;
E quando tu sarai
In parte dove sia la donna nostra,
Non le tenere il tuo mestier coverto:
Tu le puoi dir per certo:
“Io vo parlando de l’amica vostra”.
The Third Canzone (English Translation)
Those sweet rhymes of love I must forsake,
Those I used to seek within my thoughts,
Not because I lose all hope
Of turning to them once again,
But because the proud disdainful manner
That my lady now bears towards me
Has closed the path
Of customary speech.
And since this time seems one of waiting,
I will set aside the sweet style,
That I used for poems of love;
And speak of worth
That makes one truly noble,
In harsh and subtle rhymes;
Refuting the false and base belief
Of those who contest that wealth
Is the source of true nobility.
And, firstly, I call upon that lord
Who lives within my lady’s eyes,
Such that of herself she is enamoured.
A certain ruler thought nobility,
For so it seemed to him,
Lay in ancestral wealth
And perfect manners;
Another, of inferior cast,
Reworked this saying,
Ignored the latter phrase,
Perhaps lacking that perfection!
Behind them came all those
Who think a man noble if his race
Has long been accustomed to great riches;
And now this false opinion
Has so endured among us,
One calls another noble
If he can simply say he is the son,
Or grandson, of some man of note,
Though he himself is nothing.
Yet he’s the worst of all, in truth,
Who, shown the road, still goes astray,
And like a dead man walks the earth!
He who says: ‘Man is living timber’,
Tells an untruth,
And, in what’s false, leaves much unsaid;
Though he may see no deeper.
The ruler of the Empire erred likewise
In his definition,
Since its first phrase is false,
And then what follows is defective;
For riches, despite what is believed,
Neither deny nor grant nobility,
For of its very nature wealth is base;
Whoever tries to draw a form
Cannot, if he cannot conceive it,
Nor can an upright tower
Be undermined by a distant river.
It’s clear that riches are imperfect,
And are base, for however great
They bring no peace, but rather care;
And so the true and upright mind
Is never troubled by losing them.
Nor will men grant the base-born worth,
Nor grant that one whose father was
Low-born could every qualify as noble;
Or so they claim;
Yet their reasoning seems self-defeating,
Inasmuch as it asserts
That time is needed for nobility,
And thus defines it so.
For, it follows from what was said,
That all are noble or forever base,
Or else that Man had no beginning.
But to this I can not consent,
Nor should they if they are Christians!
So it is clear to all sound minds
That what they say of this is idle,
And thus I say their words are false,
And dissociate myself from them;
And will now, in speaking as I think,
Of what nobility is, and of its source,
Reveal the mark of the noble man.
I say that all virtue at inception
Rises from a single source:
Virtue, I mean, that makes men happy
In every one of their actions.
As stated in the Ethics, virtue is
An elected habit,
Which resides only in the mean,
And those are the very words.
I say, nobility, by definition,
Always implies good in its subject,
As baseness always implies the bad;
And virtue, as defined,
Always manifests itself as good;
So that in themselves
The two agree, having one effect.
One then must arise from the other,
Or both from a third;
Yet if the one contains the other’s worth
And more besides, it must be the source.
What I have stated here accept as proven.
Thus, where there’s virtue there’s nobility,
But nobility is not merely virtue,
As where there is a star there is sky;
Though the converse is not true.
And in women and the young,
We perceive this noble state,
Insofar as they show modesty,
Which is itself distinct from virtue.
And just as perse derives from black,
So must virtue flow from nobility,
Or rather the set of virtues, as I said.
Let no one boast then, saying:
‘To birth I owe my nobility,’
For almost godlike are they
Who, free of vice, possess such grace;
Since God alone grants it to those spirits
Which he sees in themselves
Truly grounded: and as some know,
It is the seed of happiness infused
By God into the well-disposed soul.
And the soul this goodness adorns
Does not keep its goodness hidden,
But from the time she is wed to the body
She displays it, until the hour of death.
Obedient she is, sweet and modest
In life’s early years,
She adorns her body with beauty,
With all her parts in harmony;
In maturity, is firm and temperate,
Full of love and courteous praise,
And solely in honesty takes delight;
Then in old age she’s just,
And prudent, and praised as generous,
And is, herself, gratified
To hear and speak of others’ worth;
Finally in life’s fourth phase
She is wedded once more to God,
Contemplating the awaited end,
While blessing the years that have passed.
See how many now are deceived!
Against-the-errant-ones, my song, go forth;
And when you are
In that place where our lady is,
Do not hide your motive from her,
You may say to her with certainty:
‘I speak to you of a friend of yours.’
Chapter I: The Motive for the Canzone
Love, according to the unanimous opinion of the wise who have spoken of it, and as we constantly find ourselves by experience, is what joins and unites the lover with the person loved: so that Pythagoras says: ‘In Friendship one is formed from the many.’ Since things that are naturally conjoined share the same qualities, such that one is often totally transformed in nature into the other, it follows that the passions of the person loved enter into the lover, so that the love of one is communicated to the other, as are hatred and desire and all the other passions. Hence the friends of one are loved by the other, and their enemies loathed; and hence the Greek proverb: ‘Among friends all things are shared.’
So I, having become the friend of the lady mentioned in the true explanation above, began to love and hate in accord with her loves and hatreds. Thus, I began to love the followers of truth and hate the followers of falsehood and error, as she does. Yet since all things in themselves are worthy of love and not hatred, unless malice overtakes them, it is right and proper to hate the malice within them and not the things themselves, and to seek to rid them of it. If any strives to do this, it is my most excellent lady that strives to do so the most; seeks, that is, to rid things of their malice, which is the reason for their being hated; because all reason is found in her, and she is the source of worth. In accord with her actions as well as feelings, as far as I was able, I sought to despise and scorn the errors of mankind, and to defame and denigrate error, rather than those who err. By criticising errors I tried to render them displeasing, and by rendering them displeasing to rid those persons of them whom I hated because of them.
Among the errors was one I condemned the most, which is dangerous and harmful not only to those who display it but also those who condemn it, to whom it brings pain and suffering. That error was one concerning human goodness, to the extent that it is seeded in us naturally and should be called ‘nobility’; an error so entrenched through bad habit and lack of intellect that almost all opinion was thereby rendered false. From false opinion false judgement sprang, and from false judgement inappropriate reverence or disdain, resulting in the good being held in vile contempt and the bad being honoured and exalted. It created the worst of confusions, as is clear to anyone who considers carefully the result of such confusion. Since my lady’s looks had altered somewhat in their tenderness towards me, and especially in those features I gazed at while trying to discover whether the primal matter of the elements was contained in God – such that I refrained from entering the field of her gaze for a while – and living, as it were, in her absence, I began to consider the defect in man reflected by the said error. To avoid idleness, which is the lady’s great enemy, and to eradicate that error, which robs her of so many friends, I decided to call out to those treading this evil path, so that they might rediscover the true way. I therefore began a canzone with the words: Those sweet rhymes of love, in which I intended to return men to the true path with respect to the right conception of nobility, as can be seen by grasping the meaning of the text which I shall now explain. And since I wished to provide an essential remedy in the canzone, I thought it more effective not to use figurative language, but to supply the medicine the fastest way, so that health might be swiftly restored where it had been so undermined by poison that it was rushing towards foul death.
So it will not be necessary to unveil allegory in explaining the canzone, but simply discuss the literal meaning. By my lady I mean that same lady whose symbolic meaning I fully revealed in the previous canzone, namely that most virtuous of lights, Philosophy, whose rays make flowers bloom so they might bear the fruit of mankind’s true nobility.
Chapter II: The Preface to the Canzone
In commencing this exposition, it is convenient to sub-divide the canzone into two sections, in order to better understand its meaning, since the first section acts as a preface, while the second contains the subject in detail. The second section begins with the second stanza, and the words: A certain ruler thought nobility. The first section and stanza can be further sub-divided into three parts. The first part explains why I depart from my accustomed style; in the second I define the subject; in the third I ask help from what will most provide assistance, namely truth. The second part begins: And since this time seems one of waiting, and the third begins: And, firstly, I call upon that lord.
As preface therefore I first say that I must forgo the sweet rhymes of love which my thoughts once sought, and I note the reason, saying that it is not because I no longer wish to write of love, but because my lady’s new manner towards me has currently deprived me of matter for loving discourse. Here it should be known that this lady’s gestures are disdainful and proud only in appearance, as may be realised from the tenth chapter of the preceding book where I also said that appearance differed from reality. How one thing may both seem sweet yet bitter, or clear yet dark, is made sufficiently obvious in that passage.
Next, in saying: And since this time seems one of waiting, I declare, as I said, my intended subject. Here we must not skip too lightly over what I mean by a time of waiting, since that forms the strongest motive for my change of style, but should consider how reasonable it is to wait for the proper moment in all things, and most of all in speech. Time, as Aristotle says in the fourth book of the Physics, is ‘the measure of motion with respect to before and after,’ and ‘the measure of celestial motion’ is that which disposes things here below to receive the formative powers in various ways. For at the start of Spring the earth is disposed to receive the power that forms the grass and flowers in a particular way, while in winter it is disposed differently; and one season is disposed to receive seed differently than another; and likewise our minds, insofar as they bear a relationship to the body which responds differently to the circuit of the heavens at different times. That is why great discretion must be shown in seeking or avoiding the use of words, which are, as it were, the seeds of our actions, so that they may be well-received and fruitful of effect, thereby avoiding any sterility on their part. The right moment must therefore be determined, both with respect to the speaker and the listener; because if the speaker is ill-set his words are often harmful, and if the hearer is ill-set even a good speech will be poorly received. Thus, in Ecclesiastes, Solomon says that there is ‘a time to keep silence and a time to speak.’
So, feeling that I was too unsettled in mind to speak of love, for the reason stated in the preceding chapter, it seemed right to wait for a moment that would bring with it the achievement of all desire, and present itself like a benefactor to one not impatient of waiting. Hence, St. James the Apostle says in his Epistle: ‘Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the late and early rain.’ All our problems, if we seek diligently for their source, derive in some manner from our not making proper use of time.
I say then, that since it seems a time for waiting, I will set aside, that is forgo, my sweet style, which I employed when speaking of Love, and will speak of that worth that makes a person truly noble. Although worth can be interpreted in many ways, here it is taken to be a natural capacity or rather a goodness instilled by nature, as will be seen below. Next, I promise to handle the material in harsh and subtle rhymes. It should be understood here that rhymes may be taken in one of two ways, either broadly or narrowly, In the narrow sense it means the concordance employed between the ultimate and penultimate syllables, while in the broad sense it means all speech regulated by rhythm and metre to produce rhymed consonances; and here in this preface the latter sense is to be understood. Thus, the preface says harsh in respect of the sounds, which should not be sweet in so weighty a matter as this; and subtle in respect of the meaning, which is elicited by subtle reasoning and argument. I then add: Refuting the false and base belief, whereby I promise to refute the beliefs of those who are freighted with error; false, that is, far from truth, and base, that is asserted and promoted by baseness of spirit.
And it should be noted that in this preface I promise firstly to explain what is true, and then to refute what is false, while in the body of the poem I do the opposite, first refuting what is false and then explaining what is true, which seems contrary to my promise. Know then, that though I intend both, I principally wish to explain the truth; and I wish to refute the false only to make the truth clearer. I promise here that my first aim is to explain the truth, my chief concern, which should instil in a listener the desire to listen; in the treatise I first refute what is false so that when false opinion has been put to flight truth may be more freely admitted. This is the method employed by Aristotle, the master of human reason, who always combated the adversaries of truth first, and then having overcome them, demonstrated the truth.
Finally, where I say: And, firstly, I call upon that lord, I call on truth to be with me, a lord dwelling in the eyes, that is, in the visible proofs of Philosophy, and truth is a lord, since when wedded to it, the soul is a lady; else she is a servant deprived of all freedom. Then I say: Such that of herself she is enamoured, because Philosophy which is the loving use of wisdom, as has been said in the previous book, gazes at herself when the beauty of her eyes is revealed to her, which is no more than to say that the philosophic soul not only contemplates the truth but contemplates its own contemplation, and the beauty of its action, by turning its gaze on itself and becoming enamoured of itself, through the beauty of its initial gaze.
This ends the third part of the text here presented as preface.
Chapter III: The Further Structure of the Canzone
Having grasped the meaning of the preface, that of the body of the poem follows; and, to better reveal it, it is necessary to sub-divide it into its three principal parts. The first part treats of nobility according to others’ opinion; the second treats of it according to true opinion; while the third addresses the canzone itself, adding beauty to what has been said. The second part begins: I say that all virtue at inception, while the third begins: My song, go forth against the errant-ones. Within these main divisions, other subdivisions must be made, in order to fully analyse the concepts set forth. No one should therefore be surprised at the number of subdivisions so made, because a great and noble undertaking is now at hand, in an area little examined by the authorities, and because the exposition I enter upon is of necessity long and subtle in order to unravel the text fully in respect of the meaning it contains.
So I say that the first part must be subdivided in two: in the first segment the opinions of others are rejected, and in the second they are refuted; the second segment begins: He who says: ‘Man is living timber’. Then again, the first segment has two sub-sections: the one considers how the Emperor’s opinion errs, the second how that of the people, devoid of reason, errs. The second sub-section begins: Another, of inferior cast.
I say then, in the first sub-section of the first segment: A certain ruler thought, that is to say a ruler who exercised Imperial authority. Note that Frederick of Swabia, the last of the Roman Emperors, that is to say, to the present time, despite the election of the uncrowned Rudolf, Adolf and Albert, after his and his descendants deaths, when he was asked what nobility was, replied that it was ancestral wealth and perfect manners. And I next say that there was another, of inferior cast, who, considering and analysing all parts of this definition eliminated the second part, namely perfect manners while retaining the first, namely ancestral wealth; and considering the text doubtful, perhaps because he lacked perfect manners yet wished to retain his reputation for nobility, he defined the term simply as long-possessed ancestral wealth, merely to suit himself. I claim that this is almost the universal opinion, in saying that there follow behind all who count a man noble if he is simply of a stock that has long-established wealth, since almost everyone sings to this same tune. These received opinions, though the latter does not concern us, seem to have two weighty reasons in support of them. The first is Aristotle’s belief that what the majority hold true cannot be entirely false; the second stems from the superior authority of Imperial Majesty. In order that the truth, which outweighs all prior authority, may be more clearly seen, I intend to discuss the usefulness and validity of these reasons. And since nothing can be known about Imperial authority unless its roots are known, it is first necessary to discuss these roots in a special chapter.
Chapter IV: Imperial Authority
The fundamental root of Imperial Majesty is, in truth, the necessity for human society, which is established to one end, that is the good life, which none can attain alone and without aid from others, since the individual needs many things which no one person can provide. Thus Aristotle states that man is by nature a social animal. And just as the individual needs the domestic companionship of a family for their well-being, so a household requires community, otherwise it would suffer many defects that would impair happiness. And since a community cannot provide for its own well-being completely of itself, a city must provide it.
Furthermore, a city needs mutual relations and friendship with neighbouring cities, for the sake of its arts and defence, and thus kingdoms were created. Since the human mind does not rest content with limited territory but always seeks to achieve glory through conquest, as we know from experience, war and discord must arise between one kingdom and another, leading to disturbances in neighbouring cities, in the city itself, in the community, and in individual households, such that happiness is impaired. Therefore, in order to eliminate these wars and their causes, the whole earth, and all that the human race possesses, should comprise a Monarchy, that is a single principality, with a single prince, who owning all and therefore lacking desire for anything further, would keep the lesser kings satisfied within the boundaries of their kingdoms, and preserve the peace among them, so guaranteeing the cities rest. Through peace, communities would come to love one another, and in this love all households would satisfy their needs, which when satisfied would bring man happiness, for that is the end for which he was born.
With respect to this we can read the words of Aristotle in the Politics where he says that if many are directed to a common goal, one should be the governor or ruler, and the remainder the ruled or governed. This is what we see aboard ship, where the different tasks and objectives are directed to a single end, namely that of reaching the desired harbour by a safe passage. Just as each officer directs his activity to its end, so there is one individual who takes account of all these ends and directs them to their final purpose: and that is the captain, whose commands must be obeyed. We see the same in religious orders, and armies, and in all things directed to an end. Thus it is evident, that to perfect the universal social ordering of the human species, there must be one individual, who should possess, like a captain, universal and undisputed authority, in order to direct the various essential offices, addressing the varying conditions of the world. This pre-eminent office is indisputably the Empire, because it commands all other commands. And so he who holds this office, the Emperor, is the commander of all, and his word is law and should be obeyed by all, while every other command gains strength and authority from his. Thus it is clear that Imperial majesty and authority are supreme in respect to the human race.
Nonetheless, someone might quibble with this, arguing that though the world needs an Imperial office, there is no good reason why a Roman prince should have the supremacy, as I wish to prove, because Rome’s power was not gained by reason, decree, or universal consensus, but by force, which appears to be opposed to reason. To this we may simply reply that the election of this supreme officer must derive from that wisdom, namely God, which provides for all men; otherwise the election would not represent all men, for prior to the appointment of the officer named above no one individual addressed the common good. And because, as can be seen from history, no race was ever or will ever be more temperate in the exercise of rule, more adept at preserving it, or more clever in acquiring it, than the Latin race, that sacred people in whom the noble blood of the Trojan race mingled, namely the Romans, therefore God chose this race for the supreme office. For since the office could not be attained without great virtue, and since its exercise demanded the greatest and most humane kindness, this was the race best disposed to fill it. Therefore it was not principally by force that the Roman people attained it but by divine providence, which transcends reason.
And Virgil concurs in this, in the first book of the Aeneid, when speaking in Jove’s name he says: ‘I have fixed no limits or duration to their possessions: I have given them empire without end.’ Force was therefore not the prime mover, as our quibbler supposed, but rather the means, as the blows of a hammer are the means to shape a knife, but the mind of the smith is the efficient and motive cause; and thus not force but reason, and divine reason moreover, was the cause of the Roman Empire. Two distinct reasons may be adduced to prove the city Imperial, and that its origin and development were specially arranged by God. But since the treatment of this subject would make this chapter overlong, and since lengthy chapters are an enemy to memory, I will extend my digression, with profit and delight, into another chapter, in order to set out the reasons indicated.
Chapter V: The Uniqueness of Rome
It is no mystery that divine providence, which wholly transcends angelic and human perception, often proceeds in ways hidden to us, when the meaning of human action is frequently concealed from human beings themselves. But there is reason to marvel when the workings of the eternal counsel are so clearly visible as to be discerned by human reason. At the beginning of this chapter I am in a position therefore to repeat the words of Solomon, who says in Proverbs, in the person of Wisdom: ‘Hear; for I will speak of excellent things.’
The immeasurable divine goodness wishing to bring into conformity with itself the human creature, which had become deformed and separated from God through the sin of the first man’s transgression, it was decreed, in the supreme united consistory of the Trinity, that the Son of God should descend to earth to achieve this concord. Since the world, that is, not only heaven but earth as well, needed to be properly disposed for his arrival; and since the earth is properly so disposed only under a monarchy, that is, when wholly subject to one prince, as was said above; divine providence ordained that race and that city, namely glorious Rome, to accomplish it. And since even the dwelling place into which the celestial king was to enter needed to be supremely pure and clean, the holiest of lineages was ordained, such that after many worthy generations a woman finer than all others should be born, to become a chamber for the Son of God; and that was the lineage of David, of which was born the pride and honour of the human race, Mary. So it is written, in Isaiah: ‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.’ Jesse was the father of that David referred to above. All this occurred at one point of time: David and Rome were born together, that is, when Aeneas came to Italy from Troy, which was a precursor to the founding of the Roman city, according to the written records. Thus the divine election of the Roman Empire is manifest in the birth of the sacred city, contemporaneous with the root of Mary’s line.
And, in passing, it should be noted that from the moment when the heavens began their revolutions, they have never been better aligned than when he who created and rules them descended from above, as the mathematicians are able to ascertain by virtue of their art. Nor was the world ever, nor will it ever be so perfectly prepared as at the time when it was guided by the voice of the one sole prince and commander of the Roman people, as Luke the Evangelist witnesses. Universal peace then reigned everywhere, which it had never done before nor ever shall again, and the ship of human affairs was sailing on a swift and smooth course straight to its true harbour. O ineffable and incomprehensible wisdom of God that at the same moment in Syria and in Italy your preparations were so perfectly complete! O utterly vile and foolish brutes that feed as though you were men, that presume to speak against our faith and seek to know, while merely weaving and ploughing, what God, in his great foresight, has ordained! Cursed be you, and your presumptions, and those who believe you!
As was said above, at the end of the preceding chapter, God not only granted Rome a unique birth but also a unique development; for, briefly, from Romulus her first founder, to the age of her greatest perfection, namely that of Augustus, the Emperor cited above, her evolution was effected by divine, not merely human, action. For if we consider the seven kings who first governed her, namely Romulus, Numa, Tullus, Ancus and the Tarquins, who were collectively the rulers and tutors of her youth so to speak, we will find that Roman history, especially that of Livy, portrays them as men whose characters differed according to the needs of the historical moment. If we then consider her later youth, after she was emancipated from the tutelage of the kings, from the time of Brutus, the first Consul, until Caesar, the first supreme prince, we find that she was elevated by godlike, not merely human, citizens whose love of her was inspired by divine, not simply human, love. This could not and would not have happened unless there had been a unique destiny conceived for her by God, and brought about by the supreme infusion of celestial grace.
Who would say that Fabricius was not divinely inspired when he refused to accept a well-nigh infinite quantity of gold to desert his country? Or Curius, whom the Samnites tried to corrupt, who refused, again through love of country, to accept a vast heap of gold, saying that the citizens of Rome sought to control not gold but its possessors? Or Mucius, who set his own hand in the flame because the blow with which he hoped to deliver Rome failed of its target? Who would say that Torquatus, who sentenced his own son to death out of love for the public good, could have endured his suffering without divine assistance? Or the Brutus mentioned above? Who would say it of the Decii and Drusi who laid down their lives for their fatherland? Who would say that Regulus, held captive after being sent from Carthage to Rome to exchange Carthaginian prisoners for Roman prisoners including himself, was moved solely by human and not divine nature when for love of Rome, after the envoys had withdrawn, he gave counsel to his own disadvantage?
Who would say of Quintus Cincinnatus, made dictator and taken from the plough, that he would have renounced his office when his term was over and returned to the plough without divine prompting? Who would say of Camillus banished and in exile that he would have returned to free Rome of her enemies without divine influence, he who having freed her returned to exile of his own accord in order not to belittle the Senate’s authority? O most sacred Cato who will presume to speak of you? Surely we cannot honour you more truly than by observing silence, following Jerome’s example, who says, in his proem to the Bible, referring to Paul, that it is better to be silent than say too little. It must surely be evident, as we remember the lives of these and other godlike citizens, that those marvellous events did not occur without illumination from divine goodness, above and beyond those citizens innate virtue. It must be obvious that those men of supreme excellence were the instruments through which divine providence developed the Roman Empire, during which development the arm of God often seemed present. For was the hand of God not evident in battle when the Albans fought the Romans, for initial control of the empire, when the freedom of Rome lay in the hands of a single Roman? Was it not evident when the Gauls, having occupied Rome, secretly seized the Capitol by night and only a goose calling made it known? Was it not evident when during the war with Hannibal, the Romans lost so many citizens that three bushels of their rings were taken to Carthage, and they prepared to abandon their country, until young Scipio, the blessed, led the campaign for Roman liberation into Africa? And was the hand of God not evident when a newly-made citizen of slender means, namely Cicero, defended Roman liberty against the might of Catiline? Certainly it was.
Thus we need seek no further proof of confirmation that this sacred city had a unique birth and a unique development, conceived and ordained by God. I am of the certain opinion that the stones of her walls should be reverenced, and the soil on which she rests is of more worth than men claim or accept.
Chapter VI: Aristotle’s Authority
In the third chapter, above, I promised to discuss the supremacy of the imperial and philosophic authorities. Having discussed the first, I shall continue my digression and consider Aristotle’s authority, as promised. Here the meaning of the word authority should first be noted, since it is more important to clarify this in discussing philosophic authority than in imperial authority, which by reason of its majesty seems less open to question. It should be understood then that authority is nothing but ‘the pronouncements of an author.’ This word, which is the Latin word auctor only lacking its letter c, has two alternative derivations. One is from a verb, auieo (aio), now little used in Latin, which signifies ‘to tie together in speech’. Anyone studying its original form carefully will observe that it exhibits its own meaning, since it is composed of the five vowels, in a variant sequence so as to form the image of a tie, vowels which are the soul and tie of every word, linking the consonants together. For a line drawn, to connect the vowels of the normal sequence, aeiou, in this alternative sequence would start from a, a line would link to u, return through i to e, and then run forward to o, forming the figure of a tie. Insofar as author is derived from this verb it is used only to refer to poets who tie their words together with poetic art; but we are not concerned with this meaning, rather the other origin from which it derives, as Uguccione affirms at the start of his book Derivations, that is the Greek word pronounced autentin, meaning ‘worthy of being believed and obeyed’. Author, in this derivation, is employed for any person deserving of being believed and obeyed. From this derives the word we are currently interested in, namely authority; thus we see that authority means ‘acts or pronouncements worthy of being believed and obeyed’. Thus, if I prove that Aristotle is most worthy of being believed and obeyed, it is evident that his words must be the supreme and noblest authority.
This may be proved as follows. Among workmen and craftsmen of the various arts and activities committed to one ultimate art or activity, the one pursuing this ultimate end must be obeyed and trusted by all, as being he who reflects the final goal of all the others. Thus the knight should be trusted by the sword, bridle, saddle and shield makers, and all trades established to achieve the goals of chivalry. Since all human activities need a final goal, namely the goal of human life, towards which man is directed by his humanity, the master or craftsman who studies this and reveals it to us should be obeyed and trusted above all others. That man is Aristotle, and thus he is most worthy of being believed and obeyed. In order to see why Aristotle is to be regarded as the master and exemplar of human reason, insofar as it is directed to man’s ultimate goal, we must realise that this goal of ours, which everyone naturally desires, was sought by wise men long ago. Since however, those desiring to achieve the goal are numerous, and their desires vary widely, though they have but the one common goal, it was difficult to discern this single goal, the one in which every human desire should rightly find rest.
There were many ancient philosophers, the first and foremost of whom was Zeno, who saw and believed that the aim of human life was simply strict integrity, that is, the strict and unqualified pursuit of truth and justice, showing sorrow at nothing, joy at nothing, feeling no passions. And they defined this integrity as: ‘that which, without use or gain, is laudable for its own sake, according to reason.’ They and their sect were called Stoics, and to that sect glorious Cato belonged whom I dared not mention earlier.
There were other philosophers whose views and beliefs differed from theirs and the first and most important of these was Epicurus, who realising that every living creature is, as it were, directed by Nature towards its true end at birth, avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, declared that our aim was pleasure, that is, delight free from pain. Because he set no mean between the two, he claimed that pleasure was simply the absence of pain, as Cicero appears to relate in the first book of De finibus. One of his followers, who were named Epicureans, was Torquatus, a Roman noble and descendant of the glorious Torquatus mentioned earlier.
There were others, followers of Socrates and later of his successor Plato, who, having considered the matter more carefully, and seeing that we might commit wrongful actions through excess or deficiency, said that the aim of which we are speaking is virtue, that is, action free of excess or deficiency, and in accord with the freely adopted mean. They called this behaviour ‘acting virtuously.’ They, like Plato and his nephew Speusippus, were termed Academics, from the place, the Academy, where Plato studied. They did not take their name from Socrates because his philosophy was based on negative statements.
Then, Aristotle, surnamed Stagirites, and his companion Xenocrates of Chalcedon, through their study, and the singular quasi-divine genius which Nature conferred on Aristotle, came to know this goal by much the same methods as Socrates and the Academics, and put the finishing touches to moral philosophy thereby perfecting it, so especially did Aristotle. Because Aristotle initiated the practice of speaking while strolling to and fro, he and his companions were known as Peripatetics, meaning ‘those who walk about.’ And because this moral philosophy was perfected by Aristotle, the Academics faded from memory, and all those who became attached to the sect were called Peripatetics. This group currently holds sway in teaching everywhere, and their doctrine may almost be called universal opinion. Thus it may be seen that Aristotle is the one who directs and guides mankind to its goal; and this is what I wished to show.
So, in summation, my main point has been clarified: namely that the authority of the supreme philosopher is invested with complete power. His authority is not opposed to that of the Emperor; but the latter authority without the former is dangerous, and the former without the latter is weakened, not inherently, but as a result of disharmony among the people. When both are united they are of the greatest benefit and possess the most complete power. So it is written in the book of Wisdom: ‘Love the light of wisdom, all you who stand before the people,’ which is as much as to say: let the philosophic and imperial authorities unite, to achieve good and perfect government.
O wretched are you current rulers, and most wretched you who are ruled! For your government lacks philosophic authority, whether that due to your own study or other’s counsel, so that the words of Ecclesiastes may be applied to all: ‘Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!’ and to no land may the words which follow them be said: ‘Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness.’ Take note of those at your side, enemies of God, you who have seized the government of Italy. I speak to you, Charles, King of Naples, and Frederick, King of Aragon, and to all you other tyrannical princes! Beware of those who sit by your side and offer counsel, and count how many times a day those counsellors call attention to the goal of human life. Better to swoop low like a swallow, than soar like a hawk merely to gaze on vilest things.
Chapter VII: The Meaning of the Second Stanza
Now we have seen how reverence is owed to the Imperial and philosophical authorities, we must return to the direct path of our intended exegesis. I say then, in the canzone, that the opinion I describe is so ingrained, unreservedly and without reasonable enquiry, in the common people, that any son or grandson of a notable person is called noble, even if they themselves are nobodies. This is the part that reads: and now this false opinion has so endured among us, that one calls another noble if he can simply say he is the son, or grandson, of some man of note, though he himself is nothing. It should therefore be noted that it is extremely dangerous to allow false opinion to take root through negligence. For, just as weeds spread in a neglected field and swamp and choke the blades of wheat, so that the wheat is invisible when seen from a distance, and the crop is ultimately lost, so a false opinion, if left unchecked and uncorrected, grows and spreads in the mind, so that the blades of reason, that is, of right opinion, are hidden, as it were, and also buried and lost. O how great the enterprise I have undertaken in this canzone in wishing to weed the neglected field of common opinion, so long deprived of cultivation! I do not, indeed, aim to clear the whole field, but only those areas in which the blades of reason are not wholly smothered; that is to say, I intend to set straight the minds of those in whom some glimmer of reason still survives due to their virtuous nature, since the others deserve no more attention than beasts of the field; for it seems to me to require no less of a miracle to restore someone to reason in whom the light of reason has been extinguished than to restore to life one who has been buried in the grave for four days.
After the evil state of popular opinion has been described, the canzone attacks it suddenly with an exceptional reproof, as though it were a thing of horror, saying: Yet he’s the worst of all, in truth, in order to show its intolerable wickedness by affirming that those who espouse it are the worst of liars; for he who is wicked though descended from good stock, is not only ignoble and base, but the basest of all; and I use the metaphor of a path previously pointed out.
To clarify this let me pose a question and then answer it, as follows. Suppose a plain crossed by established paths, with fields of hedges, ditches, stone, timber, and other obstacles of every kind blocking all but these narrow paths. Snow has fallen covering everything and presenting the same vista everywhere, so that not a trace of a path can be seen. A man wishes to cross the plain to a dwelling on the other side, so through his own efforts, that is, utilising his own powers of observation and his own intelligence, himself his own guide, he takes the direct line in the direction of travel, leaving footprints behind him. After him comes another man, wishing to reach the same place, who only needs to follow the footprints left behind; yet, though shown the way that the first man found without guidance, he, through his own error, wanders and winds among brambles and briars, and goes astray. Which of these is the worthy man? I say: the first. And what should the other be called? I say: the vilest of men. Why is he not merely unworthy? I reply: because a man who goes astray without guidance should be termed unworthy, that is to say base; but if he has guidance then his error and fault could not be greater, and therefore he is not merely unworthy, but of the vilest. So he who descends from noble stock through his father or some ancestor, yet is evil, is not only base but of the basest, deserving contempt and scorn more than other ill-bred people.
To prevent us falling into this utter baseness, Solomon, in the twenty-second chapter of Proverbs, exhorts those with ancestors of worth: ‘Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set’. And in the fourth chapter of that book says: ‘But the path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.’ Finally, in the canzone, where I say: And like a dead man walks the earth! I say that this vilest man is dead though he seems alive, in order to further discredit him.
Here it should be noted that the wicked may indeed be said to be dead, and those who stray from the paths of virtuous ancestors above all. This may be seen as follows. Aristotle, in the second book of On the Soul, says: ‘life is the state of being of living things, and since life exists at many levels (vegetation in plants; sensation and movement in animals; sensation, movement and reasoning or intellect in man) and since things should be named for their noblest characteristic, it is evident that life in animals is sensation, while in man it is the use of reason. Thus, is such is the life and state of man’s being, to abandon one’s use of reason is to abandon that being, which is the same as being dead. And is not ceasing to reflect on the aim of life an abandonment of reason? Is not failing to reflect on the path to be taken an abandonment of reason? It is, indeed, and is most evident in the person who sees footprints before him but ignores them. That is why Solomon, in the fifth chapter of Proverbs, says: ‘He shall die without instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray’. That is to say: he who fails to follow his master and leaves no disciple is dead; he is the vilest of all. There are some who might say: How can he be dead and still walk the earth? I reply that he dies as a man but survives as a beast. For, as Aristotle says in the second book of On the Soul, the powers of the soul are hierarchical, just as the figure of a rectangle stands above that of a triangle, and the five-sided pentagon above a quadrangle: thus, the power of sensation is above the vegetative power, and the intellectual above that of sensation. If a quadrangle is obtained by removing one side from a pentagon and closing the figure, making it no longer a pentagon, then what is formed when the highest power of the soul is removed is no longer a man but something possessing only powers of sensation, that is to say a brute. And this completes the meaning of the second stanza of the canzone under examination, in which the opinion of others’ is discussed.
Chapter VIII: Reverence for Truth
The most beautiful branch that springs from the root of reason is discernment. For, as Thomas says at the start of his prologue to the Ethics: ‘to know the relationship between one thing and another is a true act of reason,’ and this is discernment or discrimination. One of the fairest and sweetest fruits of this branch is the reverence owed by the lesser to the greater. So, Cicero, in the first book of On Offices, speaking of the beauty which shines from integrity, says that reverence is an aspect of that beauty. And just as reverence is one of the beauties of integrity so the opposite trait, irreverence, which may be termed arrogance in the vernacular, defiles and degrades integrity. Therefore Cicero, in the same place, says: ‘To fail to know what others think of us is the mark of one who is not only arrogant, but dissolute,’ which is simply to say that to be arrogant and dissolute exhibits a lack of self-knowledge which is the source and measure of all reverence. Thus, since it is my wish, while observing all due reverence to the Emperor and to Aristotle, to eliminate error from certain minds in order to instil there the light of truth, I must show, before proceeding to refute the common opinion as stated, that by refuting it I do not argue irreverently with regard to Imperial or philosophic authority. For if I were to show myself as irreverent in any part of this work, it would nowhere be more unbecoming to do so than in this book, where in treating of nobility I should show myself noble and not base. Firstly I will demonstrate that I do not speak against Aristotle’s authority, then that I do not speak against that of the Imperial Majesty.
Thus, when Aristotle says that: ‘what appears true to the majority cannot be wholly false,’ he does not mean as regards outwards appearance, perceived by the senses, but as regards what is within and perceived by the mind, because the judgements of the senses, as witness the perceptions of the majority, are often totally false, especially in the case of things perceptible to multiple senses, since the senses are then frequently deceived. For example, we know that the Sun to most people seems to be a foot in diameter, which is quite false. For, according to the findings of that research made by human reason through its attendant arts, the diameter of the Sun is five and a half times that of the Earth, such that if the Earth is six thousand five hundred miles in diameter, that of the Sun is thirty seven thousand, seven hundred and fifty miles, even though by sensory perception it seems to measure a foot. So it is obvious that Aristotle did not have sense perception in mind; and thus I do not run counter to his statement, nor show irreverence to him, by seeking to refute issues of sensory perception. And it is plain that I do intend to refute the claims of sensory perception. For those who judge in that way judge only by their view of what fortune grants or removes; since when they see powerful connections and marriages forged, wondrous buildings, extensive possessions and commanding lordships, they credit these with being the causes of nobility; indeed they consider them the very essence of nobility. While if they were to judge according to intellectual perception they would say the opposite, namely that nobility is a source of these things, as will be seen later in this book.
And just as I avoid impugning the reverence due to Aristotle, in my refutation, as may be seen, so I avoid impugning that due to the Empire; and I will demonstrate why I say this. Yet, since a speaker must take great care in his choice of words, when speaking in an adversary’s presence, so that the adversary does not derive from them material for obscuring the truth, I, speaking here before a vast number of adversaries, cannot speak with brevity. So, if my digressions prove lengthy, let none be surprised. In order, then, to show that I am not displaying irreverence to the majesty of Empire, we must first consider what constitutes reverence. I maintain that reverence is simply the manifestation of submission due. Once this is acknowledged, it is necessary to distinguish between a person who is irreverent, and one who is not reverent. Irreverent denotes refusal of reverence, while not reverent simply denotes the absence of reverence. Irreverence therefore consists in renouncing submission due, while absence of reverence denies that submission is due. To clarify: a man can repudiate something in one of two ways. He can repudiate it while offending against the truth, as when a confirmation which is due is withheld, and this is rightly described as renouncing it. Or he can express repudiation while not offending against the truth, for example by refusing to endorse what does not exist, and this is rightly described as denying it. For example when a man repudiates the statement that he is wholly mortal, this rightly constitutes a denial.
So I am not being irreverent in denying reverence to the Empire, I am simply being not reverent, and this behaviour is not opposed to reverence since it does not offend against it, just as the absence of life does not offend against life, but rather death, which is the extinguishing of life. Death is not equivalent to absence of life, since absence of life is a characteristic of stones. Death denotes an extinguishing of life and cannot obtain in something not endowed with the habit of life, such that stones should not be called dead, but merely non-living. Similarly I, who do not owe reverence to the Empire in this instance, am not being irreverent, but am being not reverent, which is not a case of my showing arrogance, nor does it make me worthy of being condemned. On the contrary, reverence, if it could be called reverence, would here constitute arrogance, since I would fall into a greater irreverence, namely irreverence towards truth and nature, as will be shown below. Aristotle, the master of all philosophers, defended himself against such error at the beginning of the Ethics where he said: ‘If we have two friends, and Truth is one of them, we must concur with Truth.’ Nevertheless since I maintain that I am simply not reverent, denoting a denial of reverence (that is, denying that reverence is manifestly due) I must show why this is denial and not repudiation, that is, why in this instance I am not duly subject to Imperial Majesty. And since the explanation will necessarily be lengthy, I intend to give it in a separate chapter, and without delay.
Chapter IX: Limits of Imperial Jurisdiction
To see why, in this case, that is, in refuting or endorsing the Emperor’s opinion, I am not required to submit to him, we must recall what was discussed above in the fourth chapter regarding the Imperial office: namely, that Imperial authority was imposed in order to perfect human affairs, and that it is rightfully the ruler and regulator of all our activities, so that in consequence Imperial Majesty has jurisdiction over the full breadth of those activities, but does not extend beyond those bounds. Just as the Imperial office fixes the limits of every human art and office, so God sets limits to Empire; and this is not surprising since we see that Nature’s art and office is likewise limited in all its operations. For if we choose to consider the universal aspect of all things Nature has a jurisdiction co-extensive with the whole universe, that is, heaven and earth; yet the universe exists within fixed bounds, as is proved in the third book of the Physics and in the first book of On Heaven and Earth. Therefore universal Nature’s jurisdiction is confined within strict bounds, and so therefore is specific nature; and He who is limited by nothing sets the bounds to Nature, namely God, the first excellence, who alone by his infinite capacity comprehends the infinite.
In order to understand the limits of our activities, we should know that only those activities subject to reason and will are ours; for although the digestive process is located within us, it is not human specifically but natural. Further, our reason is relevant to four types of activity, which are to be regarded as different. There are activities which it considers, but does not, and cannot perform; for example things natural, supernatural and mathematical. There are activities which it considers and performs through its own actions, and these are termed rational, for example speech. Then there are activities which it considers and performs by means of external matter, as for example the mechanical arts. All of these three sets of activities are not in themselves subject to our will, though consideration of them is dependent on our will. For however much we wish a heavy weight to rise naturally or that a syllogism based on false premises should yield demonstrable proof, or that a house should stand as firmly when leaning as when erect, these things cannot be, because we are not, speaking correctly the makers of such activities but merely the discoverers of them. It was another who ordained them, and a greater maker who made them. There are then, fourthly, activities that reason considers, which are an act of will, for example giving help or offence, standing or fleeing in battle, remaining chaste or yielding to lust. These are wholly subject to our will, and therefore they lead to us being considered good or evil because they are of our own making; since as far as our will can reach our activities extend. Because justice should be preserved and injustice avoided in all of these willed activities, and since justice may fail in two ways, either through not understanding where it lies, or through being unwilling to pursue it, the written Law was established in order to regulate and administer it. Thus Augustine says: ‘If men knew justice, and, knowing it, pursued it, there would be no need for the written Law.’ And it is written at the start of the Old Digest that: ‘Written Law is the art of right action and justice.’ The Emperor, that officer of whom we are speaking, is appointed to formulate, reveal and enforce this law, and we are subject to him as far as our own activities described extend, and no further. That is why the craftsmen and apprentices to every are and trade, are and should be, subject to the leader and master of the activities of those arts and trades, beyond which the rule of the master ceases, and therefore their subjection to that master. So we might say of the Emperor, if we were to use a metaphor to describe his office, is the one who sits the saddle of the human will. How this steed progresses if it lacks a rider is more than evident, especially in sad Italy, which has been left without the means of government.
It should be noted that the more specific something is to an art or rule, the more complete is its subjection; since if the cause is intensified so is the effect. Thus there are things so wholly a matter of skill, that nature becomes an instrument of that art, for example rowing with an oar, where the skill makes the natural motion, propulsion, its instrument; or threshing wheat, where art makes the natural quality of heat its instrument. Here all is subject above all to the leader and master of the art. There are activities where the skill uses Nature as its instrument, which are lesser arts; where the craftsmen are less subject to their master, for example sowing seed in the ground (where we must await the will of Nature) or setting sail from a port (where we must await the natural effects of weather). We find therefore in matters of this kind that disputes often arise among the craftsmen, with the superior seeking the advice of the inferior. There are other activities which do not belong to the art, but seem to be linked to it, such that men are frequently deceived. In such matters the apprentice is not subject to the master, nor are they bound to submit to him in respect of them as regards their particular art, for example fishing from a boat appears linked to navigation, and the virtues of herbs to agriculture. Yet they are distinct since fishing is an art of hunting, and subject to its authority, while the knowledge of herbs falls under medicine or some higher branch of learning.
What I have said with regard to other arts may be seen to hold true for the art of Imperial rule also. For in the art of Imperial rule there are certain regulated areas of pure art, such as the laws appertaining to marriage, service, the military, or succession in office, where we are wholly subject to the Emperor without any doubt or question. There are other laws also which in some sense obey the laws of Nature, such as the age at which one is capable of managing one’s own affairs, and in which we are not wholly subject. Then there are many others which appear to be associated with Imperial rule but where Imperial authority and judgement in such matters is not authoritative and acceptance of it may be erroneous. For example, regarding the definitions of maturity and nobility, Imperial authority cannot compel assent simply by virtue of the fact that it is Imperial. Let us render unto God what belongs to God. Thus, we need not be subject to or agree with the Emperor Nero’s judgement, when he said that maturity was beauty and physical strength, but rather that of Aristotle, when he said that maturity was the summit of natural life. It is evident then that the definition of nobility is not within the scope of Imperial authority; and if it is not, we are not subject to the Emperor when treating of it; and if we are not subject to him we are not bound to reverence him in this matter; and that is the conclusion we sought to arrive at. So with free licence and complete conviction I shall now strike at the heart of received opinion and cast that opinion to the ground, so that by virtue of my victory true opinion may stand firm in the minds of those who are invigorated by such light.
Chapter X: The Emperor’s Error
Now that I have noted others’ opinions regarding nobility and it has been shown that I am free to refute them, I shall proceed to discuss the section of the canzone in which I do so. It begins, as noted above: He who says: ‘Man is living timber’. Note that the Emperor’s opinion, though it was in error, did, in one respect, namely that of perfect manners, touch on an aspect of nobility and it is not my intention to refute this point. The other aspect however, which is wholly foreign to the nature of nobility I do intend to refute, because it involves two concepts, raised in speaking of ancestral wealth, namely length of time and riches, which are wholly irrelevant to the concept of nobility, as has been said and as will be shown below. Therefore my refutation is divided into two parts: firstly I refute the idea that riches are a source of nobility and then that length of time is. The second part begins: Nor will men grant the base-born worth. It should be noted that in refuting riches as a source of nobility not only is the Emperor’s opinion refuted, but also that of the masses, which was based on wealth alone. The first part is subdivided in two: in the first section I describe how, in general terms, the Emperor erred in his definition of nobility, and in the second I show the reason why. The second part begins: For riches, despite what is believed.
I write then in the canzone that He who says: ‘Man is living timber, in the first place, tells an untruth (is in error) inasmuch as he says timber, and then leaves much unsaid (speaks defectively) inasmuch as he says living and not rational, the latter characteristic being that which distinguishes man from the beasts. Then I say that the ruler of the Empire erred likewise in attempting a definition; and I say ruler of the Empire rather than Emperor to show that it is beyond the scope of the Imperial office to decide the matter. Then I explain how he erred likewise in wrongly supposing ancestral wealth to be the source of nobility, and then proceeded defectively by embracing the inadequate distinction of perfect manners, since these comprise only a very small part of nobility not each and every formal aspect of it, as will be shown below. And, though the text is silent on the matter, we should not overlook the fact that the Emperor erred in his method of definition not merely in the constituent parts of it, even though he had a reputation as a great logician and most learned person. For the definition of nobility should more properly be derived from effects than causes, since it appears to be a kind of source that cannot be explained by what causes it, but rather by what flows from it. Then, where I say: For riches, despite what is believed, I explain that they cannot be the cause of nobility because they are base; and I explain that they cannot deny it because they are quite separate from it. I prove that they are base by means of one of their greatest and most obvious defects, where I say: It’s clear that riches.
Lastly I conclude, by virtue of what was previously said, that their loss does not cause an alteration in the upright mind, which demonstrates what I have said: that they are not united to nobility because no effect of union follows. Here we should note that, as Aristotle maintains, all things which give rise to something must first contain that thing perfectly in themselves. Thus he says in the seventh book of the Metaphysics: ‘When one thing gives birth to another, it is born from it, through existing within its being.’ Moreover, it should be known, that everything which decomposes does so by undergoing change, and each thing that is changed must be connected to the cause of that change, as Aristotle says in the seventh book of the Physics and the first book of On Generation.
After setting out these things I go on to say that wealth cannot confer nobility, as others believe; and to show their separation from it, I say that it cannot deny nobility to whomever possesses it, nor can grant it, since wealth is by nature base, and by virtue of baseness the opposite of noble. Here baseness means degenerateness, the opposite of nobility, and a contrary cannot and does not produce its contrary, for the above-stated reason briefly touched on in the words: Whoever tries to draw a form. No painter could depict a form whose shape he could not first conceive as he wishes in his imagination. Further, wealth cannot deny nobility because it is remote from nobility, and for the reason stated above, that whatever alters or decomposes something must be connected to it. Therefore I add: Nor can an upright tower be undermined by a distant river, which is intended simply as an analogy for what has been said previously, namely that riches cannot affect nobility, in comparing nobility to an upright tower and riches to a distant river.
Chapter XI: The Inequity of Wealth
It now simply remains to be shown why riches are base, and distinct and remote from nobility, and this I prove in two brief sections of the canzone to which I now turn. After they have been explained, what I have said will become clear: namely that riches are base and remote from nobility, and thus the arguments already directed against wealth will be wholly proven.
I wrote: It’s clear that riches are imperfect, and are base. To clarify the meaning of these words, it should be noted that the baseness of anything derives from imperfection, and likewise nobility from perfection, so that the more perfect a thing is, the nobler its nature; the more imperfect, the baser. Thus if riches are imperfect, it is obvious that they are base. That they are imperfect is swiftly shown by the text, where I say: for however great, they bring no peace, but rather care. Not only is their imperfection made evident here, but their state is shown to be the most imperfect and therefore wholly base. Lucan affirms this when he says, addressing riches: ‘The laws perished without a struggle, and you riches, the basest part of things, led the attack.’ Their imperfection may be quickly seen in three ways: firstly in the absence of discrimination attendant on their acquisition; secondly in the danger that accompanies their increase; thirdly, in the ruin resulting from their possession. Before I demonstrate this, I must resolve a doubt that arises: for, since gold, pearls and property have, in essence, a perfect form, and actuality, it seems incorrect to claim that they are imperfect. It should be understood that such things as gold and pearls are perfect considered in themselves, and are not riches; but conceived as human possessions they are riches, and full of imperfection in that sense. It is not impossible for something to be both perfect in one respect and imperfect in another.
I say then that the imperfection of riches may firstly be observed in the lack of discrimination attendant on their acquisition, in which no distributive justice is present, while injustice, characteristic of imperfection, almost always is. For if we consider the ways in which riches are acquired, they may be summarised under three headings. They are acquired purely by chance, for example without design and unexpectedly through some unanticipated event; or they are acquired by chance aided by reason, for example through legacy and inheritance; or they are acquired by reason aided by chance, as in the case of lawful or unlawful profit. By lawful profit I mean gain deriving from an honest craft, commerce or service; by unlawful, I mean gain from theft or robbery. In all these three ways the injustice of which I speak is evident, for buried wealth which is discovered or recovered as often reveals itself to the evil man as the good one; and this is so evident as to require no proof. Indeed I once saw the site, on the slope of a mountain named Falterona, in Tuscany, where the basest peasant in the whole region, while digging, found more than a bushel of the finest antique silver coins, which had been lying there awaiting him for perhaps two thousand years or more. It was through observing this kind of inequity that Aristotle was led to remark: ‘the more intelligent a man is, the less he is under the sway of chance.’ I claim that inheritance by legacy or succession often aids the bad rather than the good, though I do not intend to show evidence of this. Rather, let all casts their eyes about to discover what I choose to pass over in silence, in order to avoid accusing anyone in particular. Would it were God’s will that what a certain Provençal desired should come to pass, namely that he who does not inherit virtue should not inherit wealth either!
It is my contention that it is precisely to the evil that the recovery of riches comes rather than to the good, since unlawful gain never comes to the good as they refuse it. What good man would ever seek gain by force or fraud? Such a thing would be impossible, for by choosing to carry out an unlawful action he would cease to be good. And the good rarely make a lawful gain, because it would require all their attention and the good man’s attention is directed to more vital things, so that he rarely gives it the attention required.
Thus it is clear that the acquisition of riches in whatever manner represents an inequity, and therefore Our Lord called riches unrighteous saying: ‘Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,’ so inviting men to act liberally and grant benefactions, in order to engender friendship. How sweet an exchange it is to give of these imperfect things in order to acquire and keep things that are perfect, such as are represented by the hearts of worthy men! That market is open every day. Indeed, that kind of commerce is different to all others, for while a man believes he is purchasing one person’s friendship with a benefaction thousands upon thousands are bought thereby. Who does not keep a place in his heart for Alexander because of his royal acts of benevolence, or Alfonso VIII of Castile, or Saladin, or Boniface II the good Marquis of Monferrato, or Raymond V of Toulouse, or Bertran de Born, or Galeazzo de Montefeltro? When their generosity is spoken of, not only those who would cheerfully do the same, but even those who would rather die than do so, retain a love for these men in their memory.
Chapter XII: The Dangers of Wealth
As has been said, the imperfection of riches may be seen not only in the fact of their acquisition but also in the dangers attendant on their increase; and since more of their defectiveness can be seen in this latter, the text mentions that alone, saying that however great they are, not only do they not bring peace, but they provoke a greater thirst for wealth, making men more defective and less self-sufficient. Here it should be understood that defective things may hide their defects beneath the surface, concealing them beneath a guise of perfection; or may reveal them completely, so that the imperfection is openly evidenced on the surface. Those things that conceal their defects at the outset are more dangerous, since we are thereby prevented from being alert to them, as in the example of the traitor who shows himself in the guise of a friend, encouraging us to trust him, while beneath the mask of friendship he conceals the defect of enmity. In this manner riches are dangerously imperfect in their increase, for in provoking an increased thirst for wealth they subvert the promised satisfaction and bring about the very opposite. For, like false traitresses, riches always promise satisfaction to those who gather them in sufficient quantity, but with this promise seduce the human will to avarice. That is why Boethius, in his Consolation of Philosophy, calls them dangerous, saying: ‘Alas! Who first unearthed that mass of gold and gems, those precious perils, that sought to remain hidden.’ These false traitresses, if one studies them closely, promise to quench all thirst and feelings of want, and to ensure utter satiety and feelings of sufficiency. This is what they do initially, guaranteeing fulfilment of their promise when their sum has increased to a certain amount, but then when that sum is achieved, instead of satiety and refreshment they produce and induce intolerable burning thirst in the body; and instead of sufficiency they set a new goal: that is, desire for a greater quantity, and when this in turn has been achieved, they induce a mighty fear and anxiety over what has been acquired.
Thus, they do not bring peace, but rather sorrow, which was absent while they were absent. So, Cicero, in his book On Paradox, in denouncing riches says: ‘I have never considered these people’s money, nor their magnificent mansions, nor their riches, nor their lordships, nor the pleasures with which they are altogether captivated, as things good or desirable, since I have indeed seen men who possess all these things still covet all manner of things they possess. For the thirst of avarice is never satisfied nor satiated; and not only are they tormented by a desire to increase their possessions, but they are tormented also by the fear of losing them.’ These are Cicero’s very words. Evidence of even greater importance regarding this imperfection is found again in Boethius in the Consolation of Philosophy: ‘Even if the goddess of wealth were to grant riches equal to the quantity of sand the wind-driven sea raises, or the number of stars that shine, the human race would not cease its lament.’
If further evidence is needed to prove this point, let us summon up all that Solomon and his father David cry out against riches, all that Seneca, especially in his letters to Lucilius, all that Horace, Juvenal, and in fact what every writer, poet, and the truth of Holy Scripture cry out against these false whores that possess every defect. And so that our belief might be supported by what we ourselves observe, let us reflect on the lives of those who pursue riches, how secure their lives are when they have gathered them, how satisfied and untroubled they are! What then imperils and ruins cities, territories and individuals, every day, more than the accumulation of wealth by some new person? Such accumulation reveals fresh desire, which cannot be satisfied without causing injury to others. What were the two categories of Law, namely Canon and Civil, intended to curb if not the rush of greed brought about by the amassing of wealth? Both categories of Law make this evident if we consider their beginnings (that is, those of their written record). O how clear it is, crystal clear, that riches are rendered wholly imperfect by their increase, since only imperfection comes from them, regardless of their quantity! That is what my canzone declares.
However, a doubt arises here and a question which should not be passed over but raised and answered. Someone intent on twisting the truth and splitting hairs might object that if riches are rendered imperfect by the act of acquisition which increases desire for them, knowledge itself must be imperfect and base for the same reason, since desire for it increases likewise. Hence the ancient saying: ‘With one foot in the grave, I would still wish to go on acquiring knowledge.’ However, they might say, it is untrue that knowledge is made base by imperfection: therefore, refuting the consequence of the original premise, neither does desire render riches base. And the fact that knowledge is something perfect is evidenced by Aristotle in the sixth book of the Ethics, which states that knowledge is the perfect record of things which are certain.
This point requires a brief answer. First we must determine whether desire is increased by the acquisition of knowledge, as is proposed by the questioner, and if so the reason for this. Thus, I say that human desire is increased not only by the acquisition of knowledge and riches, but by all acquisition, though in varying ways. The reason for this is that the supreme desire of all things, and the one first given to them by Nature, is to return to the first cause. Now, since God is the cause of our souls and has created them in his image (thus it is written: ‘Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.’), the soul desires above all else to return to Him. And, as a pilgrim walking a strange road imagines every distant house to be an inn, and on finding it not so fixes his hopes on the next, and so goes from house to house until he finds the inn, so our soul, as soon as it enters this strange un-travelled road of life, fixes its sight on the goal of its own supreme good, and therefore believes that all it sees which seems to possess good in any way is indeed that same supreme good. Because its knowledge is initially imperfect due to lack of experience and instruction, small goods appear great ones, and from these it conceives its initial desires. So we see little boys first fixing their desire on an apple, and then when older wanting to own a pet bird, later still desiring fine clothes, a horse, a wife, modest wealth, then greater riches, and then more still. This progression is due to the fact that what is sought is attained in none of these, but there is a hope of finding it further on. Thus it can be seen that one object of desire stands in front of another in the eyes of the soul, like a pyramid, where the smallest object at first covers all, forming as it were the apex to the ultimate object of desire, namely God, who is, as it were, the base of all the rest. And the further we move from the apex towards the base, the greater the objects of desire appear; this is the reason why the acquisition of wealth causes human desires to become progressively inflated.
We may, however, lose the path through error, just like the roads of this earth. For just as there can only be one road from one city to another that is best and most direct, and another that leads away in the opposite direction, among all the many others that lead to and from it, so there are varying paths in human life, among which, one is the truest and another the most false, the others being less true or false. And just as we see that the most direct path to the city achieves our desire and provides rest when the effort is over, while the opposite does neither, so with our life. A wise traveller reaches his goal and rests; the wanderer never reaches it, but lethargic in mind forever fixes his sight longingly upon it. Though this explanation does not wholly answer the question raised above, it does at least provide a path to the answer, in showing that our desires do not all increase in the same way. But since this chapter has become somewhat lengthy, the answer must wait for a new chapter, and here the entire argument which I intend to make against riches will be brought to a close.
Chapter XIII: The Imperfections of Riches
To answer the question, I state that desire for knowledge cannot properly be said to increase, although, as has been said, it grows in a specific manner. Whatever increases, is always one, strictly speaking; the desire for knowledge is not however always one, but is many; where one desire ends, another commences; so that strictly speaking its growth is not an increase but a progression from small matters to great ones. For, if I desire to know the principles of natural things, the desire is fulfilled as soon as I do know them, and terminates. If I then desire to know what each of these principles is and how it exists, that is a new and distinct desire. Nor am I robbed of my first perfection of desire by the appearance of this new one; this growth being a cause of greater perfection and not imperfection.
However the desire for riches is, strictly speaking, an increase, since it remains always one, and no progression of goals or achieved perfection is found here. If someone objects that just as the desire to know the principle of natural objects is one thing, and the desire to know what these principles are another, so the desire for a hundred marks is one thing and for a thousand another, I reply that this is false. For a hundred is part of a thousand and related to it, just as a part of a line is related to a whole line, along which there can be single continuous motion, and where the progression or movement does not terminate at any point. But knowledge of the principles and knowledge of the nature of each are not parts of each other, but are related as distinct lines are, where there cannot be a single continuous motion, and where when the motion along one is complete, it is succeeded by motion along the other. Thus, it seems that knowledge cannot be called imperfect, as suggested by the questioner, because of the desire for knowledge, in the way that riches are through desire for them. For, in the desire for knowledge, desire is progressively satisfied and brought to completion, while in the desire for riches it is not. Hence the question is answered and the doubt proved groundless.
The person intent on splitting hairs might well still object by claiming that many desires are satisfied by the acquisition of knowledge, yet the ultimate goal is never attained, which is almost equivalent to an imperfection of a desire which though remaining one and the same, is never satisfied. Here I again reply that the objection is invalid, namely that the ultimate goal is never attained; for our natural desires, as was shown in the third book, are satisfied in achieving certainty; and the desire for knowledge is a natural desire, so that the goal of certainty satisfies it, even though few, because they take the wrong road, complete the journey. Anyone who understands Averroes’ commentary on the third book of The Soul has learned this from him. Thus Aristotle in the tenth book of the Ethics, speaking against the poet Simonides, says that: ‘A man should be drawn as far as is possible to divine things’, by which he indicates that our faculties envision the goal of certainty. Moreover, in the first book of the Ethics he says that: ‘the trained student seeks to know things for certain, to the extent that their nature admits of certainty.’ By that he means that one should consider the goal from the perspective of the knowledge desired, as well as the man who desires it. And so Paul says, in Romans, that one should not seek to know more than one ought, but only according to the measure given. Thus in whatever manner the desire for knowledge is comprehended, whether in general or in particular, it attains perfection. And inasmuch as knowledge is perfect it is noble, and its perfection is not lost by desiring it, as is the case with accursed wealth.
I must now show briefly why the possession of riches is harmful, which is their third mark of imperfection. Possessing them is harmful for two reasons: firstly, because it is a source of evil; secondly because it deprives men of good. It is a source of evil because it renders the possessor full of fears and detested, through mere preoccupation with them. How great the fear, when travelling or taking lodging, waking or sleeping, of one who is conscious of having wealth about him, a fear of losing not only his possessions, but through them his life. Wretched merchants who travel the world know this well, since even the windswept leaves make them tremble with fear when they are carrying riches; and when they are not, filled once more with a sense of security they shorten the journey with songs and conversation. Thus Boethius says: ‘If a traveller journeys empty-handed, he can sing in the face of thieves.’ That is what Lucan means in his fifth book when he praises poverty for the security it offers, with the words: ‘O the simple security of a poor man’s life! O the safety of straightened lodgings and meagre furnishings! O the un-comprehended wealth of the Gods! Within what walls, and temples, could this event have occurred, and the man not have shaken with fear when the hand of Caesar came knocking?’ Lucan is speaking of the night Caesar came to the cottage of the fisherman Amyclas, when seeking to cross the Adriatic. How vast the hatred everyone bears for the owner of wealth, a hatred born either from envy or from the desire to seize his possessions! It is so great that a son will kill his father, acting contrary to the love he owes him; indeed Italians, in the regions of the Po and Tiber, have witnessed the most clear and striking examples of such behaviour. Therefore, says Boethius, in the second book of the Consolation, ‘Truly, avarice makes men hated.’ Possession of riches also deprives men of good, for by their possession, the virtue of generosity is thwarted; and this virtue brings about good and makes men famous and beloved, which cannot happen through the possession of wealth but only through its surrender. Thus Boethius says, in the same book: ‘Money is good when through transfer to others as largesse, it is no longer in one’s possession.’
Hence the baseness of riches is clear from all this evidence, and hence a man of true knowledge and right desires never loves them; and not loving them distances himself from them and seeks not to unite with them, except inasmuch as they are necessary to perform some service or other. This is rational, because what is imperfect cannot be united with what is perfect. Thus a crooked line is never seen united with a straight line, and if there is a juncture of any kind it is of point with point, not line with line. Thus it follows that the mind upright in its desires and true in its knowledge is not lessened by the loss of wealth, as the text of the canzone at the end of the third stanza states. In reaching this conclusion, the text seeks to prove that riches are like a distant river, flowing far from the upright tower of reason, or nobility, and that is why wealth cannot deprive a man of the nobility he possesses. In this manner the canzone marshals its arguments and proofs against riches.
Chapter XIV: The Irrelevance of Ancestry
Having refuted others’ error, as it occurs, in the section on riches, I must now refute it, as it occurs, in the section where antiquity is said to be a source of nobility, implied by the words: ancestral wealth. My refutation is revealed in the part beginning: Nor will men grant the base-born worth. Firstly this position is refuted by the erroneous argument they themselves advance: then their argument contradicts itself, to their great confusion, and this I reveal where I say: For, it follows from what was said. Finally I conclude that their error is obvious, and that it is thus time to reveal to the truth, and this I state where I say: So it is clear to all sound minds.
I say then: Nor will men grant the base-born worth. Here it should be known that it is these men’s erroneous opinion that one born base can never be called noble, and nor can his son. This contradicts however the very same claim of theirs in which by using the word ancestral they imply that nobility requires time, for, in that case, it is impossible by a passage of time to reach a moment where nobility is engendered, since according to their reasoning it is impossible for a man born base ever to become noble by chance or action, and impossible for a noble son to be born of a base father. For if the son of a base man is base, then so is his son and his grandson and so on forever, and it is impossible to find a point in time where nobility is achieved. If those holding a contrary view declare by way of a defence that nobility is achieved whenever the base origin of the ancestors shall have been forgotten, I reply that they contradict themselves since at that point too there would have to be a transformation from baseness to nobility, from one man to another, or from father to son, which is contrary to what they assert.
If my adversaries should defend themselves, pertinaciously, arguing that nevertheless that they consider this transformation to have taken place when the base origin of the ancestors is no longer recalled, it is right for this analysis to offer them a reply, even though the text of the canzone does not address it. So, I assert that there are four extremely inconvenient fallacies contained in what they say, and thus their reasoning cannot be right.
The first fallacy is that, if their argument were correct, the more virtuous human nature became, the slower and more difficult would be the achievement of nobility, which is incorrect since the more virtuous a thing is the more it is a source of good; and nobility is one of the things considered good. That my contention is valid is shown as follows. If nobility were conferred by lack of remembrance, then the sooner remembrance was lost the sooner nobility would be created, and the more forgetful men were, the more swiftly would such loss of remembrance occur. Therefore the more forgetful men were, the nobler they would become; and conversely the better their memories, the more slowly they would become noble.
The second fallacy is that this distinction between base and noble could only be made in regard to men, which is unreasonable since we find traits of nobility or baseness in every manner of thing. So, we often talk of a base or noble horse, or falcon, or pearl. That the distinction could not then be made is shown as follows. If lack of remembrance of the baseness of ancestors were a source of nobility, and if there was no lack of remembrance where there was no baseness – given that the lack is a fading of memory, and in other creatures, plants and minerals baseness and nobility are not recorded, because they are in the one and equal state of nature – then there could be no source of nobility or baseness in them, since such attributes are to be regarded as the results of a continuance or deprivation, which the same subject is capable of; thus no distinction could be made between one trait and the other. If those holding a contrary view were to say that in man nobility signifies that the memory of baseness is absent, but in other things it is to signify the goodness of the thing, one would like to respond not with words but the flat of a blade to such stupidity and inconsistency.
The third fallacy is that what is engendered would frequently arise before that which engenders it, which is wholly impossible, and this can be seen as follows. Assume that Gherardo da Cammino had been the grandson of the basest peasant ever to drink the waters of the Sile or Cagnano, and his grandfather was still remembered. Who would dare to say Gherardo was a base man? Who would not agree that he was noble? No one, surely, regardless of their presumption: since he was noble and such will be the remembrance of him forever. If memory of his ancestor was not yet erased in accord with the objection, and yet he was a great noble and seen both then and now to be so, then nobility would have been his before the erasure of memory that engendered it came to be. This is altogether impossible.
The fourth fallacy is: that after his death a man would be considered to have been noble yet was not noble while alive, a proposition that could not be more illogical. This can be seen as follows. Suppose that during the lifetime of Dardanus the memory of his base ancestors survived, and suppose that during the lifetime of his descendant Laomedon this memory had faded and lack of remembrance occurred. According to my opponents, Laomedon would be noble during his lifetime while Dardanus would be base. We, who lack any memory of the ancestors prior to Dardanus, ought to say that Dardanus was therefore base while alive but now noble after his death. The claim that Dardanus was a son of Jove does not contradict this, since that is a fable, which should be disregarded in philosophical discussion. Even if my opponents wish to endorse this fable, what the fable conceals undoes all of their arguments. It is therefore clear that their argument, that an established absence of remembrance is the cause of nobility, is false and erroneous.
Chapter XV: Further Fallacies Exposed
After my canzone shows that the elapse of time is not required for nobility, by using my opponents’ own doctrine, it proceeds instantly to overthrow their previously stated opinion so that their false reasoning shall not taint the mind disposed to truth. It achieves this in the passage beginning: For, it follows from what was said.
Here it must be understood that if a man cannot change from being base to being noble, nor a noble son be born of a base father, as their opinion claims, one of two fallacies must obtain. Either there is no such thing as nobility, or there has always been a multiplicity of men in the world and the human race is therefore not descended from a single man. This can be shown as follows. If nobility is not newly engendered, as their opinion claims, a man always remains in the condition of baseness of nobility he was in at birth, and at birth is in the same condition as his father. Hence the continuation of this static condition has existed since our first parent: for as was Adam, the first progenitor, so the whole human race must be, since by this reasoning there can be no change in condition between Adam and modern times. Therefore if Adam was noble, all are noble, and if base, all are base, which eliminates any distinction based on these alternatives, and hence the alternatives themselves. It follows from this: That all are noble or forever base.
If this is not the case, and some people must be called noble and others base, then of necessity the human race must have descended from multiple origins, that is from at least one that was noble, and one that was base. My canzone states this where it says: Or else that Man had no beginning, meaning no single one, as it does not use the plural. This is wholly false according to Aristotle, to our Faith which cannot lie, and to the laws and ancient teachings of the Gentiles. For though Aristotle does not assert human evolution from a single individual, he yet considers that all men are of one essence, a state which multiple origin could not have produced. Plato believes that the existence of all men depends on one Idea and not many, which is equivalent to assigning them a single origin. Aristotle would certainly have been amused at talk of two species of humans, like those of horses and asses; for, to excuse Aristotle, those who thought so might well be considered asses.
That it is also wholly false according to our faith, which all must contend, is clear from Solomon, who, distinguishing between mankind and the animals, speaks of the former as the Sons of Adam, saying: ‘Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to earth?’
That the Gentiles considered it false, is evident from the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where he speaks of the creation of the world according to pagan, or Gentile, belief, saying: ‘Humankind was born. Either the creator god, source of a better world, seeded it from the divine, or the newborn earth just drawn from the highest heavens still contained fragments related to the skies so that Prometheus, blending them with streams of rain, moulded them into an image of the all-controlling gods.’ He did not say men, and clearly states that the first man was alone; thus my canzone says: But to this I cannot consent: that is that man had no origin. The canzone then adds: Nor should they if they are Christians! I say Christians, rather than philosophers or Gentiles, though their opinions are similar, because Christian doctrine has greater weight, and destroys all error, by virtue of the supreme light of heaven that illuminates it.
Then in saying: So it is clear to all sound minds, I conclude that their error has been refuted, and say that it is time for their eyes to be opened to the truth. I say that it is evident to sound minds that their assertions are empty: that is, lacking the marrow of truth. I say sound for good reason, since it should be understood that our intellect may be described as sound or infirm; and by intellect I refer to the noble part of our soul, to which the common term mind may be given. The mind may be termed sound when no illness of mind and body impairs its action, which consists in knowing what things are, as Aristotle asserts in the third book of On the Soul.
With regard to the sickness of the spirit, I have observed three terrible infirmities of the human mind. One is caused by innate arrogance since there are many who are so presumptuous as to believe they know everything, and so take uncertain things as certain. Cicero wholly condemns this vice in the first book of On Offices, as does Aquinas in his book Against the Gentiles where he says: ‘Many are so intellectually presumptuous as to believe that their intellect has the measure of all things, regarding as true what seems true to them, and false whatever seems to them false’. So they never achieve true learning; and thinking themselves sufficiently learned, they never question, never listen, only demand to be questioned themselves, and before the question is completed, deliver the wrong answer. It is for these that Solomon says in Proverbs: ‘Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope of a fool than of him.’
The second infirmity is caused by innate weak-mindedness, for there are many who are so obstinately base that they cannot believe they can learn anything by themselves or from others. These are people who never seek knowledge or argument, nor care what others have to say. Aristotle speaks out against them in the first book of the Ethics, calling them an inadequate audience for moral philosophy. They ever live like beasts, far from learning.
The third infirmity is caused by innate superficiality, since there are many with such a wayward imagination that they leap about in their reasoning, and reach a conclusion before establishing the syllogism, and before leaping from that conclusion to another, while thinking their reasoning subtle, forsaking established principles, and in their imagining seeing nothing as it truly is. Aristotle says that we should ignore them and have nothing to do with them, saying in the first book of the Physics that: ‘It is not fitting to argue with one who denies established principles.’ Among these people are found many uneducated individuals who are ignorant of their alphabet, but wish to dispute concerning geometry, astrology and physics.
The mind may also be unsound through illness or bodily defect: sometimes due to a birth defect, as with the mentally retarded, sometimes by a radical alteration of the mind, as with maniacs. It is such mental illnesses that the law refers to in Justinian’s Infortiatum: ‘When making a will soundness of mind, not body, is needful.’ So it is to those intellects that are not ill in mind or body, but free, unhindered, and sound in the light of truth, that I say it is clear the common opinion referred to is empty, that is without value.
Subsequently I add that I judge the holders of such opinion false and empty, and so refute them; and I do this where I say: And thus I say their words are false. Then I state that we must proceed to reveal the truth, namely by showing what nobility is, and how to recognise those in whom it exists. I say this with the words: And will now, in speaking as I think.
Chapter XVI: Defining Nobility
As the Psalm says, ‘The King shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by him shall glory; but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.’ These words serve as a fitting introduction here because every true king should love truth above all. Therefore it is written in the book of Wisdom, ‘Love the light of wisdom, you who stand before the people,’ and the light of wisdom is truth itself. I say then that every king should rejoice now that the false and harmful opinion held by wrong and deceived people, who have spoken unjustly about nobility until now, has been refuted.
I must now proceed with the section of the canzone which deals with the true opinion, according to the division made previously in the third chapter of this book. This second section which begins: I say that all virtue at inception, proposes to establish the essence of nobility with respect to truth. This section is subdivided in two parts: in the first part I intend to show what nobility is, and in the second to show how those who possess it may be recognised. The second part begins with: And the soul this goodness adorns. The first part is further subdivided in two: in the first subdivision I examine matters which are needed to clarify the definition of nobility; in the second the definition itself is considered. And the second subdivision begins at: Thus, where there’s virtue there’s nobility.
To enter thoroughly on the subject, two things must initially be considered: firstly what is meant by the word nobility, considered simply of itself; and secondly what path must be taken to elucidate the definition mentioned above. I say then that if we consider common speech, the word nobility means the perfection of each thing’s own nature. It is not only predicated of man, but also of other things, since a stone, plant, horse or falcon is considered noble whenever its nature is seen to be perfected. Therefore Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, says: ‘Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles,’ which is to say of those who are perfect in mind and body. This is clear from what he says previously: ‘Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child’, that is a man who has not yet reached perfection; and a man may be a child not simply in years but also because of misconduct or congenital defect, as Aristotle teaches in the first book of the Ethics. It is true that there are fools who think the word noble means to be known to and named by many, and they argue that the word derives from the Latin verb that signifies to know, namely noscere. This is wholly false, for if it were true, things most famous and named most frequently would be the noblest of their kind. And so the obelisk of Saint Peter would be the noblest stone in the world; Asdente the Parma cobbler would be nobler than any of his fellow citizens; and Albuino de la Scala would be nobler than Guido da Castello of Reggio; yet these things are wholly false. Therefore it is wholly false to say that noble derives from the verb to know. It derives rather from non vilis meaning not base.
It is this perfection of things that Aristotle refers to in the seventh book of the Physics where he says: ‘Each thing is most completely perfect when it attains its own true virtue, and is so then according to its nature. Hence a circle is called perfect when it is truly circular,’ that is when it attains to its own true virtue, and then it fulfils its nature to the widest extent, and may be called a noble circle. This state occurs when there is a point within the circle equidistant from all points on the circumference, which is its particular virtue. Thus a circle which is egg-shaped is not noble, nor even one that is shaped almost like the full moon, because its nature lacks perfection. Thus we can clearly see, to generalise, that the word nobility means in all things the perfection of their true nature. That is what we were in search of at the outset, in order to make the most effective beginning to our discussion of the part of the canzone we are examining.
Secondly we must find a method of procedure that will help define nobility in man, which is the aim of our present argument. Since we cannot define the highest perfection in members of a single species, for example, human beings, by referring to essential principles they possess in common, it must be known and defined by the effect of those principles. Therefore we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew that Christ says: ‘Beware of false prophets…Ye shall know them by their fruits.’ The definition we are searching for can be seen directly in the words ‘by their fruits’: that is, by the moral and intellectual virtues of which our own nobility is the seed, as its definition will make wholly clear. The above covers the two matters that required investigation before proceeding, as was stated above.
Chapter XVII: Moral Virtue
Now that these two matters have been considered, we can proceed to examine the text of the canzone. It commences by stating: I say that all virtue at inception rises from a single source: virtue I mean that makes men happy in every one of their actions. And it continues: As stated in the Ethics, virtue is an elected habit, thus setting out the full definition of moral virtue according to Aristotle in the second book of the Ethics. He emphasises two things of primary importance: one is that all virtue springs from a single source; the second is that the phrase ‘all virtue’ refers to moral virtue, which is our subject. This is shown where I say: As stated in the Ethics. Here we should know that the moral virtues are the fruits most proper to us, since practising them is within our power in all respects. They are enumerated and defined in various ways by different philosophers, but since the divine opinion of Aristotle is to be preferred to those of others in matters where he has voiced an opinion, I will leave that of others on one side, and briefly say what these virtues are by commenting on his opinion.
These are the eleven virtues as given by Aristotle. The first is Courage, which is the means and restraint by which we regulate our boldness and timidity in things which are destructive of our lives. The second is Temperance, which is the regulator of our gluttony or excessive abstinence in things which preserve our lives. The third is Liberality, which regulates us in the giving and receipt of temporal goods. The fourth is Munificence, which regulates the administration of great expenditures and sets limit to their size. The fifth is Nobility of Mind which is the regulator and acquirer of great honours and fame. The sixth is Love of Honour, which regulates and disposes us with regard to the honours of this world. The seventh is Gentleness, which controls our anger or excessive patience with regard to the evils that assail us. The eighth is Affability, which allows us to accommodate ourselves to others. The ninth is Truth, which restrains our claiming to be greater than we are, or deprecating ourselves as less than we are. The tenth is Good Disposition which regulates us in our amusements, enabling us to indulge in them as we should. The eleventh is Justice which disposes us to love rectitude and employ it everywhere.
And each of these virtues is related to two inimical associated vices, one due to exercising the virtue too much; the other due to exercising it too little. The virtues constitute the mean between their related vices, and spring from a single source, namely habitually virtuous choice. Hence we can say of them in general that they are an elected habit residing in the mean. It is through the exercise of these virtues that a man is made happy and content, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Ethics, where he defines Happiness saying that: ‘Happiness is action in accord with virtue in the perfect life.’ Many place Prudence or good judgement, among the moral virtues, and rightly so, but Aristotle classes it with the intellectual virtues, even though it is a guide to the moral virtues and shows how they are interrelated and how without it they could not exist.
We should note, however, that we may achieve two kinds of happiness in this life, following two distinct paths leading to it, one which is good and the other the best. One is the active life, the other the contemplative life; and although, as has been said, we may achieve happiness through the active life, the other life leads us to the highest happiness and state of bliss, as Aristotle proves in the tenth book of the Ethics. Christ affirms it with words from his own lips as reported in the Gospel of Saint Luke, where in answering Martha, he says: ‘Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’
And Mary, according to the verses preceding these in the Gospel of the Evangelist, was sitting at the feet of Christ, showing no concern for domestic affairs, but simply listening to the words of the Saviour. The moral exposition of these words is that our Saviour wished by them to indicate that even though the active life is good, the contemplative life is superior. This is clear to anyone who considers the words of the Evangelist deeply. Some people however, might argue that: ‘Since happiness achieved by the contemplative life is superior to that of the active life, and both can be and are the fruit and aim of nobility, why not start with the intellectual rather than the moral virtues?’ To this I would reply briefly that in every kind of instruction the capacity of the pupil must be taken account of, and the student should be led on the path that proves easiest to them. Therefore since the moral virtues are more commonly and better known, more sought after than the intellectual virtues, and more pursued by outward demonstration, it is appropriate and expedient to follow this path rather than the other; just as we would gain less knowledge of bees by talking of how they produce wax than how they produce honey, though bees produce both.
Chapter XVIII: Nobility and Virtue
In the last chapter we saw how all moral virtue springs from a single source, namely habitually virtuous choice, and this was expressed by the text of the canzone preceding the point where it reads: I say, nobility, by definition. In the next section, I proceed by means of likely inference to discover that every virtue named above, considered separately or jointly, springs from nobility as an effect does from its cause. This inference is founded on the philosophical proposition which states that when two things are seen to have an aspect in common they must both be related to a third thing, or else one to the other, as an effect is to a cause. This is because any one aspect, primarily and essentially, can only have one thing as its cause; and if two things sharing the common aspect were not the effect of some third thing, or one the effect of the other, both would be primary and essential causes of that aspect, which is impossible. So the text of the canzone says that nobility and virtue, so defined, namely moral virtue, have this in common that each implies praise of the person to whom it is applied. And this is stated where I say: So that in themselves the two agree, having one effect: that is praising and commending one whom others claim to possess nobility. The inference is then drawn, based on the proposition above, that one must therefore proceed from the other, or both from a third; and the text adds that it is to be presumed that one comes from the other rather than both from a third, if it appears that one has greater worth than the other; saying this in the line: Yet if the one contains the other’s worth.
It should be noted that we are not proceeding here by necessary proof, as we could in arguing that if cold generates moisture, and we observe clouds generating moisture, then cold generates clouds, but rather by an acceptable and appropriate induction, for if there are many things in us worthy of praise, and the source of praise that we merit is found in us, it is reasonable to attribute these things to that source; and it is more reasonable to consider that which comprises several things to be the source of them, than to consider them as being the source of it. Thus nobility, which generates every virtue, as cause does effect, and many of our other praiseworthy activities as well, must be considered such that virtue is referred to it as a cause rather than to some third thing within us.
Finally, it says that what has been stated, namely that every moral virtue derives from a single source, and that nobility and virtue have one thing in common, so that one must be cause of the other or both caused by a third thing; and that if one contains all and more than the worth of the other, the other is more likely to proceed from it than from a third thing; you should accept as proven, that is, conceived and set down with what follows in mind. This ends the stanza and this present section.
Chapter XIX: Nobility’s Extent
Now that certain points, necessary to our seeing how to define the good of which we speak, have been considered and resolved in the preceding section, we can proceed to the next section of the canzone which commences: Thus, where there’s virtue there’s nobility. This may be sub-divided in two. In the first part, something touched on earlier and left unproven is now proved; the second part concludes with the completion of the definition we have been searching for. The second part commences: And just as perse derives from black.
In order to explain the first part, we must commit what has been said above to memory: namely, that if nobility is more comprehensive than virtue, then virtue must proceed from it. The claim that nobility is more comprehensive than virtue is proven in the present section, which offers the heavens as an example, saying that wherever virtue exists, there is nobility.
Here it should be noted that there is no need to prove things which are self-evident, as is stated in the Digest and held as a rule of Law: and nothing is more evident than that nobility exists wherever there is virtue, while it is common knowledge that everything may be called noble of its kind. The text then says: As where there is a star there is sky; though the converse is not true, namely that where there is sky there is a star. Similarly, nobility exists wherever there is virtue, though virtue does not always exist wherever there is nobility; and this is a fine and appropriate comparison, since true nobility is a heaven in which many varied stars shine. The intellectual and moral virtues shine in her; the virtuous pre-dispositions conferred by Nature, such as piety and religiosity, and laudable emotion, for example modesty, mercy and many others, shine in her; and the physical perfections, such as beauty, strength and lasting health.
So plentiful are the stars scattered throughout the heavens, that it should not surprise us if human nobility produces many and diverse fruits, so numerous are their natures and powers, gathered together and united in one simple substance; and from them as from varied branches appears fruit in varied ways. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that human nobility, with regard to its many fruits, exceeds that of the angels, though the angels’ nobility is more divinely unified. The Psalmist had this nobility of ours, and its diverse fruits, in mind when he composed the psalm, beginning: ‘O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!’, where he praises man, as though marvelling at divine affection for the human creature, saying: ‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him?....For thou has made him a little lower than the angels, and has crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands.’ So the comparison between human nobility and the heavens was truly fine and appropriate.
Then, where the text of the canzone states: And in women and the young, it proves what I say, showing that nobility extends to places where virtue does not reside. And it says: We perceive this noble state to exist, referring to nobility itself which is a state of true well-being, wherever there is shame (that is, fear of dishonour) as it exists in women and young people, in whom shame is fine and laudable, though this shame is not a virtue but a certain kind of benign emotion. The text says: And in women and the young, because, as Aristotle states in the fourth book of the Ethics: ‘shame is not laudable or fitting in the elderly or the virtuous,’ since it is necessary for them to keep apart from the things that cause them to feel shame. Women and the young have less need for caution, so that the fear of being dishonoured through some error is laudable in them; since this feeling derives from nobility, and in them may be seen as, and given the name of, nobility, just as shamelessness may be viewed as baseness and a lack of nobility. So it is a good and perfect sign of nobility in children, and the immature, when shame is painted on their faces following an error, since it is the fruit of true nobility.
Chapter XX: The Definition of Nobility
In the words that follow next: And just as perse derives from black, the canzone proceeds towards the definition of nobility we seek, one which will allow us to perceive the essence of this nobility about which so many speak falsely. Drawing a conclusion from what was said earlier, it states that every virtue, or rather the set of virtues, that is, every elected habit occupying the mean, will derive from this nobility. Perse is a colour composed of purple and black, but since black predominates it is classified with black. Similarly virtue is composed of passion and nobility but, because nobility predominates, virtue is classified with it, and termed the good. Then the canzone argues from what precedes that no one should think himself noble merely because he can say: ‘I am of such and such a race,’ if in fact its fruits are not his. I immediately expand on the point, saying that those who possess this grace, that is, this divine thing, are almost godlike, untainted by vice. No one can grant such a gift but God alone, who is no respecter of persons, as the divine Scriptures make clear. It is not excessive for my text to employ the words: For almost godlike are they, since, as was stated in the seventh chapter of the third book, just as there exist men who are wholly base and bestial, so there are men who are wholly noble and divine, as Aristotle proves in the seventh book of the Ethics, citing Homer. So let not the Uberti of Florence or the Visconti of Milan say: ‘Because I am of this house, I am noble,’ for the divine grace does not enter a race, that is, the family stock, but an individual; and as will be shown below, family does not make nobility, though noble individuals may ennoble a family.
Next, where I say: Since God alone grants it to those souls, I refer to those who receive it, that is those on whom the divine grace descends, since it is truly a divine gift according to the words of the Apostle James: ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.’ Then I say that God alone bestows this grace on the soul of that human being whom he sees dwelling within his own person, prepared and disposed to receive the divine act. For as Aristotle affirms in the second book of On the Soul, ‘Things must be well-disposed towards their agents if they are to receive their actions.’ So, if the soul dwells imperfectly in a person it is not well-disposed to receive this divine infusion, just as a precious stone if it is not well-disposed, or is imperfect, cannot receive the celestial virtue, as the noble Guido Guinicelli said in a canzone of his beginning: ‘To the noble heart Love ever repairs.’ The soul, therefore, may be ineffectual in a person because of a defect of temperament, or age, and the divine radiance is never reflected in a soul of this kind. Such Individuals, whose souls are deprived of divine light, may be said to be as valleys facing north, or subterranean caves, into which the sunlight never falls unless it is reflected from some other place which it does illuminate.
Lastly the text draws to a conclusion, in stating, with regard to what has been said previously, namely that the virtues are the fruits of nobility that God instils in the well-disposed soul, that to some, that is, those few who have understanding, it is obvious that human nobility is nothing but ‘the seed of happiness, planted by God in the well-disposed soul’ that is the soul whose body is perfectly disposed in every part. For if the virtues are the fruits of nobility, and happiness is the sweetness attained through virtue, it is clear that this nobility is the seed of happiness, as has been said. Careful consideration will reveal that this definition of nobility comprises all four causes, namely the material, formal, efficient and final: the material in referring to the well-disposed soul, which is the subject and medium of nobility; the formal in referring to it as the seed; the efficient in referring to it being planted by God in the well-disposed soul; the final in referring to it being the seed of happiness. Thus we have now defined the nature of human virtue, which descends to us from the supreme spiritual virtue as virtue descends into a precious stone from the noblest celestial body.
Chapter XXI: The Gift of Nobility
In order to gain a more perfect understanding of that human goodness called nobility, which is the source of all good in us, we must clarify in this particular chapter how this goodness descends to us, first with regard to natural principles and then to theological principles, that is, by way of the divine and the spiritual. We should know firstly that man is composed of body and soul, and it is in the soul, as has been said, that nobility resides, nobility being the seed of divine virtue.
Various philosophers have, it is true, held varying opinions regarding the differences between our souls. For Avicenna and Algazel maintained that souls are noble or vile in and of themselves from inception. Plato and others maintained that they issue from the stars and are more or less noble according to the nobility of their individual star. Pythagoras maintained that all souls were equally noble, not only human souls but those of the creatures and plants, and mineral forms; and he said that the only differences lay in their matter and form. If each were to defend his own opinion, it would be possible to find some truth in all. But since on initial examination they appear somewhat distant from the truth, it is more appropriate to proceed according to the opinion of Aristotle and the Peripatetics rather than them.
So I say that when human seed enters the womb, it bears with it the power of the generative soul, and the power of heaven, and the power of the combined elements, namely the innate disposition. It ripens and organises matter to receive the formative power donated by the soul of the engenderer, and the formative power readies the organs to receive the celestial power which, from the potentiality of the seed, actualises the living soul. As soon as the living soul is created it receives, from the power of the celestial mover, intellectual potential, which draws to itself all the universal forms, in their potentiality, as they are found in its maker, but to a lesser degree the more distant it is from the primal Intelligence.
It should not be a surprise to anyone if I speak in a manner difficult of comprehension since even to myself it seems a wonder how a process such as that could ever be fully perceived and described by the intellect. It is not something that can be expressed verbally, in the vernacular, I mean. Thus, I would say in the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How un-searchable are his judgements and his ways past finding out!’ Since the disposition of the seed may be more or less beneficial, and the disposition of its sower more or less beneficial, and the disposition of the Heavens in their effects good, better or of the best, varying in accordance with the constellations which undergo continuous change, it follows that the soul created from human seed and these powers is of greater or lesser purity. According to its purity the power of intellectual potential, mentioned above, descends into it, in the manner described. If, due to the purity of the recipient soul, it should happen that the intellectual power is quite free of and distant from every physical shadow, then divine virtue increases in it, as in a substance fitted to receive it: hence it increases this intellectual power in the mind, according to the mind’s capacity for receiving it. This is that seed of happiness of which I am currently speaking.
And this is in accord with the opinion expressed by Cicero in his book On Old Age where he says, speaking in the person of Cato: ‘Thus a celestial soul descended into us from the highest house, to a place which is contrary in nature to the divine nature and to eternity.’ In a soul such as this exists its own proper powers, the intellectual power, and the divine power, that is, the influence mentioned above. So it is written in Aristotle’s book On Causes: ‘Every noble soul has three activities, the animal, the intellectual, and the divine.’ There are even some who claim that if all the preceding powers in their optimum disposition were conjoined in the creation of a soul, so much of the Deity would descend into it that it would become almost another God incarnate. This is virtually all that can be said of the matter with regard to the principles of philosophy.
With regard to the principles of theology, it may be said that when the supreme deity, God, sees his creature ready to receive his benefaction, he endows it with gifts in proportion to its readiness to receive those gifts. Since the gifts derive from ineffable Love, and that divine Love is an attribute of the Holy Spirit, they are called the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts, as Isaiah distinguishes them, are seven in number: namely, Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Strength, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of God. O fortunate harvest, O fortunate and wondrous seed! O generous and admirable sower, who only waits for human nature to prepare the soil for sowing! Blessed are those who cultivate such seed aright! Here we should know that the first and noblest shoot which sprouts from this seed and bears fruit is the intellectual appetite, which in Greek is hormen. If this is not correctly cultivated and rightly nurtured through benign habits, the seed is of little worth, and it would have been better if it had not been sown. Therefore Saint Augustine asserts, as does Aristotle in the second book of the Ethics, that one should cultivate the habit of acting virtuously and restraining one’s passions in order that this shoot of which I spoke may grow strong through benign habit and be strengthened in its uprightness, in order to bear fruit, and from this fruit produce the sweetness of human happiness.
Chapter XXII: On Human Happiness
It is a precept, espoused by moral philosophers who speak about beneficence, that one should invest care and thought in rendering one’s gifts as useful as possible when presenting them to their recipient. Thus, wishing to act in accord with this rule, I intend to make my Convivio as useful in each of its sections as I can. As the opportunity presents itself, in this section, to speak about human happiness at some length, I shall speak about its sweetness, since no other discussion could be more useful to those who lack knowledge of it. For, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Ethics, and Cicero in his book on The Purpose of Good, he who cannot see the target aims amiss, and in the same way he who does not perceive this sweetness cannot rightly attain it. So, as it is our ultimate solace, for the sake of which we live and dedicate ourselves to action, it is supremely necessary and useful to perceive this target, in order to aim the arrow of our activity towards it. And he is most highly regarded who indicates it to those who do not perceive it.
Ignoring, therefore, the opinions held by Epicurus and Zeno on the matter, I intend to pass directly to the true opinion held by Aristotle and the other Peripatetics. As was said earlier, from that divine goodness, sown and infused in us at generative inception, a shoot springs which the Greeks term hormen; that is the natural mental appetite. Just as the various crops look identically grass-like when they first spring up, then lose their similarities as they grow, so this natural appetite, issuing from divine grace, seems at inception not unlike that which simply comes from nature, and is similar to it, just as the first shoots of the various crops are similar to one another.. This similarity is found in animals as well as men; and this is apparent in the way that every animal, rational as well as brutish, as soon as it is born, loves itself, and fears and flees from things which are inimical to it, which it hates. Then as this appetite develops, in a dissimilar manner, one takes one path and another takes another path. As the Apostle Paul says: ‘they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize’ so human appetites develop from inception along differing paths, yet there is one path alone that leads us to our peace. Thus, ignoring all others, we must follow in our present text that one which begins well.
I say then, that from inception this appetite loves itself, though indiscriminately; then it begins to distinguish those things that it likes or dislikes to a greater or lesser degree, and pursues or flees to a greater or lesser degree, to the extent that its understanding allows it to make distinctions not only between those things which it loves secondarily, but also within itself, its principal love. And distinguishing within itself those parts which are noblest, it loves them more; and since the mind is a nobler part of man than the body it loves that part more. And so first loving itself, and, through itself, other things, and also loving the better part of itself more, it is clear that it loves the mind more than the body or other things; the mind which it ought to love more than other things, by nature. Thus, if the mind ever delights in the use of the thing beloved, that being the fruit of love, and if the greatest delight is found in the use of the thing most loved, then the use of the mind is our chief delight. And what is most delightful to us: in that is our happiness and blessedness, beyond which lies no greater delight, nor even any equal, as all can see who consider the preceding argument with care.
And let none say that every appetite is a mental one, for by mind I intend here only what concerns the rational part, that is, the will and intellect. Thus, if any should wish to call the sensory appetite mind, that proposition would not and could not be admitted, since no one doubts that the rational appetite is nobler than the sensory one, and therefore more worthy of love. So it is with this appetite of which we speak. In fact there is a twofold use of the mind, practical and speculative, practical meaning operative, each of which is delightful, though contemplation is more so, as has been explained above in the seventeenth chapter. The practical use of the mind consists of our acting in accord with virtue, that is, rightly, with prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice; the speculative use consists not of our actions, but our reflection on the works of God, and Nature. This together with the other constitutes our blessedness and supreme happiness, as can be seen. This is the sweetness of the seed mentioned above, as is now clear, a sweetness which the seed rarely attains, due to its poor cultivation or wayward growth. Conversely it may arise through careful regulation and cultivation, since as the seed sprouts it may grow to reach a place where it did not originally take root, so as to attain the fruit. This is a kind of grafting process, of a given nature onto a different rootstock. Therefore no one can be excused for failing to attain it, since if the fruit is not acquired from a person’s own roots, he may well acquire it by means of a graft. Indeed, would that those who have realised a graft were as numerous as those who allow themselves to stray from the excellence of this root!
One of these two uses of the mind is indeed more filled with blessedness than the other; namely, the speculative, which, being inviolate, is the use of the noblest mental faculty, namely, the intellect, which due to that love rooted in us which has been mentioned, is most worthy of love. That faculty cannot, in this life, find perfect use which is to see God, the supreme object of intellect, except insofar as it contemplates and beholds him through his effects. We find if we read carefully, that the Gospel of Saint Mark teaches us to seek this blessedness, and not that of the active life, as the highest. Mark says that Mary Magdalene, Mary of James, and Mary Salome went to the sepulchre to find the Saviour and did not find him there. They did, however, discover a young man dressed in white who said to them: ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen: he is not here; behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there ye shall see him, as he said unto you.’ By these three ladies may be understood the three schools of the active life: namely the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Peripatetics, who go to the sepulchre, that is the present world, which is the house of corruptible things, to seek the Saviour, that is blessedness, and fail to find him. But they do find a young man in white, who, according to the testimony of Matthews and others, was an angel of God. Thus Matthew says: ‘the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow.’
This angel is our nobility, which comes from God, as has been said, and speaks through our faculty of reason, saying to each one of these schools, that is, to all who go in search of blessedness through the active life, that it is not here, but that they should go and tell the disciples and Peter, that is, those who go seeking him and those who have gone astray, like Peter who denied him, that he will go before them into Galilee, that is, that blessedness will go before us into Galilee, that is, into contemplation. Galilee, that is, as much as to say, whiteness; whiteness being a colour more imbued with material light than any other; as contemplation is more imbued with spiritual light than anything else found here below. And the angel says: ‘He will go before you’, and not ‘He will be with you’, so that we understand that God is always in advance of our contemplation, and that we can never here below attain to him who is our supreme blessedness. And he says: ‘There you will see him, as he said’ that is, there you will possess his sweetness, namely happiness, just as it has been promised to you here, that is, as it has been ordained that you will be empowered to possess it. And so it appears that we are first able to find our blessedness, this happiness of which we speak, imperfectly, as it were, in the active life, that is, in the exercise of the moral virtues, and later nigh on perfectly in the exercise of the intellectual virtues. These two types of activity are the swiftest and most direct paths leading to the supreme blessedness, which cannot be possessed here, as is clear from what has been said.
Chapter XXIII: The Signs of Nobility
Now that the definition of nobility has been adequately examined, and clarified throughout as far as is possible, so that we now see what constitutes the noble person, it seems appropriate to proceed to that part of the text which begins: And the soul this goodness adorns, which identifies the signs by which we may recognise the noble person referred to above. This part is subdivided in two: in the first section I affirm that this nobility openly shines and glows throughout the entire life of a noble person; in the second it reveals the distinctive splendours of nobility; the second section begins: Obedient she is, sweet and modest.
Regarding the first section, it should be known that this divine seed, of which I have spoken, germinates instantly in our soul, growing and extending itself diversely into each power of the soul according to its need. It germinates then in the vegetative, sensory and rational powers, and branches out through all their virtues, directing all of them to their perfection, and preserving itself in them until the moment when, with that part of the soul which is undying, it returns to heaven, to the highest and most glorious Sower. The text states this in the first section mentioned. Then, when it says: Obedient she is, sweet and modest, it shows how we may recognise a noble person by manifest signs, which constitute the action of this divine goodness; the section is subdivided in four parts, according to its varied action in the four ages of humanity: that is, adolescence, maturity, old age, and senility. The second part commences: In maturity, she is firm and temperate; the third commences: Then in old age she’s just; the fourth commences: Finally in life’s fourth phase. This is the general meaning of this section, regarding which it should be known that ever effect, insofar as it is effect, is stamped with a likeness to its cause, to the degree that it can retain it. So, since our life, as has been said, and the life of every living thing here below is caused by heaven, and heaven reveals itself to all such effects not as a complete circuit, but a partial circuit, and so its motion above them is virtually an arc, all earthly life, and by earthly I mean not merely men but other forms of life, rising and falling, must also resemble an arc. Turning again to human life, which is our sole concern at present, I assert then that it resembles this arc, rising and falling again.
It should be noted that arcs below, like the one above, would be of equal span, if the material sown in our constitution did not impede the full measure of human nature. But since the fundamental humour, the substance and nourishment of the heat that constitutes our life, varies in degree and quality, and has greater duration in one effect than another, then the arc of one person’s life is of greater or lesser span than another. Death is sometimes violent, or hastened by sudden illness, but only that death which is commonly known as natural, constitutes the boundary of which the Psalmist has said: ‘Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over’. The master of our life, Aristotle, knowing of this arc of which we speak, appears to believe that our life is simply a rise and fall, and so he says in his book On Maturity and Old Age, that maturation is simply growth. It is difficult to establish where the highest point of this arc lies, because of the variation in span mentioned above, but in most lives, I believe, it is attained between the thirtieth and fortieth year, and in those whose nature is perfect, I believe it is attained in the thirty-fifth year. And this logic convinces me: that our Saviour, Christ, had a perfect nature and chose to die in the thirty-fourth year of his life, because it would not have been fitting for divinity to enter into such a decline. Nor is it credible that he would not have wished to remain alive until he had reached this summit of ours, since he had lived here during the inferior state of youth. This is revealed by the hour of his death, since he wished to make it conformant with his life. As Luke says, it was near the sixth hour when he died, which is to say the height of day. Thus we may take the word ‘near’ to signify that Christ’s thirty-fifth year was the summit of his life.
However this arc of life is not characterised in the writings solely by reference to its midpoint, but is divided into four periods, according to the four combinations of contrary qualities that compose us, to each of which combinations one part of our life corresponds, and these are known as the four ages of man. The first is Adolescence, which corresponds to the hot and moist; the second is Maturity which corresponds to the hot and dry; the third is Old Age, which corresponds to the cold and dry; and the fourth is Senility which corresponds to the cold and moist, as Albertus says in his De aetate. These periods of life also correspond to the seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn and winter, and the hours of the day, up to tierce, from tierce to nones (omitting sext, mid-way between, for an obvious reason), nones to vespers, and vespers onward. Therefore the gentiles, that is, the pagans, said that the sun’s chariot was drawn by four horses: Eoüs, Pyroïs, Aethon, and Phlegon, as Ovid records in the second book of the Metamorphoses.
Regarding the parts of the day, it should be briefly noted that as was said above in the sixth chapter of the third book, the Church, when distinguishing the hours of the day, employs the temporal hours, of which there are twelve in each day, long or short according to the length of the solar day. Because the sixth hour, that is, mid-day, is the noblest hour of the entire day, and the most virtuous, it draws the religious offices near to it, that is both before and after it, from each side, as far as is possible. For this reason the office of the first part of the day, tierce, is said at the end of that part of the day, while the offices of the third and fourth parts are said at their beginning. And for this reason mid-tierce is said before the bell is rung for that part of the day, and mid-nones after it is rung for that part of the day, as is mid-vespers. It should therefore be clear to all, that nones should properly be rung at the beginning of the seventh hour of the day. And this is sufficient for the present digression.
Chapter XXIV: The Four Ages of Man
Returning to the main statement, I say that human life is divided into four ages. The first is called Adolescence, which means ‘increase of life’; the second is Maturity which means ‘the age that may be productive’, that is, which can grant perfection, and so is considered the perfect age, since one can only grant what one already has; the third is Old Age, and the fourth Senility, as was said above.
Regarding the first age, no one doubts, and the learned all agree, that it lasts till the twenty-fifth year; and since up to that time the soul is concerned with the growth and beauty of body, as many great changes occur in one’s person, the rational part cannot discriminate perfectly. Thus the Law ordains that prior to attaining this age a person may not do certain things without a mature guardian.
Regarding the second age which is indeed the summit of life opinions vary widely as to its duration. However, leaving aside what philosophers and physicians have to say, and referring to the appropriate law, I say that for the majority, with regard to whom every judgement regarding what is natural to us must be made, this age lasts for twenty years. The reasoning which leads me to this conclusion is that if the highest point of our span is in the thirty-fifth year, the periods of rise and fall within this age of maturity must be of equal duration; this ascent and descent is shaped like a taut bow. It follows therefore that maturity is completed in the forty-fifth years. And just as adolescence lasts for the first twenty-five years, rising towards maturity, so the fall, that is old age, lasts for the same number of years following maturity, and concludes in the seventieth year. Yet since adolescence does not begin at the first moment of life, taking it in the sense stated, but nearly eight years later, and since our nature strives to ascend and is held back in descending because the natural heat has decreased and possesses little power, and the moisture has condensed, reduced not in quantity but quality, so that it evaporates and is consumed less quickly, then beyond old age there remains a period of perhaps ten years, more or less; and this period is senility. Hence it is said of Plato who may be said to have possessed a most excellent nature in its perfection of being and in that physiognomy Socrates observed when he first saw him that he lived to the age of eighty-one, as Cicero affirms in his book On Old Age. And I believe that if Christ had not been crucified and had lived out the span which his life, according to its nature, might have encompassed he would have passed from the mortal body into the eternal in his eighty-first year.
In fact, as has been said above, these ages may be longer or shorter according to our temperament and constitution, but whatever their duration, it seems to me that, as has been said, this proportion must be maintained in all persons, that is, by making the ages longer or shorter according to the sum of their full term of natural life. Throughout each of these ages, the nobility of which I speak in the canzone reveals its effects variously in the soul that is ennobled, and this is what the stanza, about which I am currently writing, is intended to show. Here it should be noted that our nature when fine and upright develops in accord with what is reasonable, just as we see plants developing according to their nature; and thus some manners and modes of behaviour are more reasonable at one age than another, where the ennobled soul develops in an orderly manner along a direct path, employing its activities in the periods and ages of life proper to them, according as they are directed to the attainment of its ultimate fruit, happiness. Cicero agrees with this in his book On Old Age. Leaving to one side the allegorical meaning that Virgil gives the various ages of human development in the Aeneid, and what Egidius the Hermit says regarding it in the first par of his book The Regimen of Princes, and likewise Cicero in his book On Offices, and simply pursuing what reason can perceive of itself, I say that this first age is the door and path by which we enter on this our good life. The portal must necessarily provide certain things which Nature’s goodness, never lacking in essentials, grants us, just as we see her giving the vine its leaves to protect the grapes, and tendrils to defend and strengthen its weakness so as to bear the weight of fruit.
The beneficence of Nature, then, gives this age four things essential to our entry into the city of the good life. The first is obedience, the second sweetness, the third modesty, the fourth beauty of body, as my canzone says in this section. We should know therefore that just as a person who has never been in a city would not know how to find their way about without guidance from someone familiar with it, so an adolescent who enters the tangled wood of this life would not know which was the right path unless it was shown to them by their elders. Nor would it be helpful to point it out unless they were obedient to command; thus obedience is essential to this age of life.
Some might well say: is one who is obedient to obey false direction as well as good? I reply that this is not obedience but transgression: for if the king commands one thing and the servant another, to obey the servant would be to show disobedience to the king, which is transgression. Thus Solomon says, in seeking to correct his son, and it is his first command: ‘My son, hear the instruction of thy father’. He shields him from bad advice and the teaching of others, saying: ‘My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.’ Thus, as an infant clings to its mother’s breast as soon as it is born, likewise a son, as soon as light enters his mind, should respond to his father’s correction, and his father should instruct him. He should ensure that his own actions do not provide a counter-example to his words of correction, since we see that every son would naturally follow his father’s footsteps than those of another. For this reason, the Law, taking this into account, states and commands that the father’s person should always be considered righteous and upstanding by his sons; thus it is clear that obedience is essential to this stage of life. And Solomon therefore writes in Proverbs, that he who suffers his chastener’s just reproofs humbly and obediently ‘shall be honoured’ and he says ‘shall be’ to indicate that he is speaking to an adolescent, one who could not be honoured in their present stage of life.
If someone objected that what is said is said only regarding the father and not others, I reply that all obedience refers back to the parent. Thus the Apostle Paul says to the Colossians: ‘Children obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.’ If the father is no longer living, it refers back to whoever is designated such by the father’s last will. Should the father die intestate, it refers back to whoever the Law entrusts with the child’s guidance. Next in order, teachers and elders should be obeyed, those to whom the child appears to have been entrusted by the father or by one who stands in the father’s place.
Since the present chapter has become lengthy due to the useful digressions which it contains, I will discuss the remaining points in a further chapter.
Chapter XXV: Adolescence
Not only is the virtuous soul and nature obedient in adolescence, it is also pleasant, which is the other thing essential to this age of life in order to pass satisfactorily through the gate of maturity. It is essential because we cannot posses the perfect life without friends, as Aristotle asserts in the eighth book of the Ethics; and the majority of friendships seem to be created in this first stage of life because at this stage a man begins to be gracious or otherwise. This graciousness is acquired through pleasant behaviour, namely sweet and courteous speech, and sweet and courteous service and acts. This is why Solomon says to his adolescent son: ‘Surely, He scorneth the scorners: but He gives grace unto the lowly.’ And elsewhere he says: ‘Put away from thee a froward mouth and perverse lips put far from thee.’ And thus it seems this pleasantness is essential, as has been said.
Moreover, feelings of shame are essential in this period of life, and so a virtuous and noble nature displays it at this time, as the text says. Since a feeling of shame is a highly distinctive mark of nobility in adolescence, because it is vital for creating a firm foundation to the life towards which the noble nature inclines, we must speak of it with some care. I say that by shame I mean a trio of emotions essential to the basis of a virtuous life: the first is awe, the second modesty, the third a sense of shame, though everyone does not comprehend this distinction. All three are essential to this stage of life for these reasons: it is necessary to be reverent and eager in order to learn; to be restrained in order to avoid transgression; to repent of errors, so as not to fall into habitual error. These comprise the feelings which together are commonly called shame.
Awe is the amazement of the mind at seeing, hearing, or in some other way perceiving, great and marvellous things. Inasmuch as they appear great, they inspire reverence in those who perceive them; inasmuch as they appear marvellous, they create a yearning for knowledge of them. That is why ancient kings placed magnificent works of art, gold and gems, in their palaces, so that those who saw them would be amazed, and therefore would feel reverence, and be eager to gain information of the king’s honours. Thus Statius, the sweet poet, in the first book of the Thebaid, says that when Adrastus, king of the Argives, saw Polynices clad in a lion’s skin, and Tydeus in the hide of a wild boar, and recalled the reply Apollo had given concerning his daughters ( Regarding which of their suitors he should allow to wed his two daughters, the Delphic Oracle replied: ‘Yoke to a two-wheeled chariot the boar and lion which contend in your palace’), he was struck with awe, and became more reverent and eager to acquire knowledge.
Modesty is the mind’s recoil from base things, for fear of becoming associated with them; as we see with virgins, virtuous women, and adolescents who are so modest that their faces become pallid or tinged with red, not only when they are tempted or induced to commit a fault, but even when some act of sensual pleasure is conceived in imagination. Thus Statius says, in the first book of the Thebaid cited, that when Aceste, the nurse to Argia and Deiphyle, Adrastus’ two daughters, brought them before their noble father in the presence of two strangers, Polynices and Tydeus, the virgins became pallid and then flushed, and their eyes evaded every other glance, turning to their father’s gaze alone, for reassurance. O how many faults modesty curbs! How many dishonourable actions and demands it silences! How many ignoble desires it bridles! How many evil temptations it checks, not merely in the modest person but in whoever gazes on them! How many foul words it restrains! As Cicero says in the first book of On Offices, ‘There is no foul act that is not foul to speak about.’ Therefore a modest and noble man never speaks in such a way that his words would be unbefitting to a woman. Ah, how ill it becomes a noble man in search of honour to speak of things that would sound ill on a woman’s lips!
A sense of shame is the fear of being disgraced for committing a fault. From this fear springs repentance for the fault, which within it has a bitter taste that acts as a curb on further fault. Thus Statius says in the aforementioned passage that Polynices, when asked by King Adrastus about his origin, hesitated, from shame, before speaking of his transgression against his father, and the faults of his father, Oedipus, since they were witnessed in the son’s shame. He named his ancestors, his native land, and his mother, but not his father. From this it is evident that a sense of shame is essential to this age of life.
Not only obedience, pleasantness, and shame, are displayed by a noble nature in this period of life, but also beauty and poise of body, as the text affirms where it says: She adorns her body. And the word adorns is a verb and not a noun, a verb, I say, in the present tense indicative of the third person. Here we should note that this operation is also essential for the good life, since a great part of the activity of the soul must be achieved by means of the body and the body is effective when it is well-ordered and well-disposed in its parts. When it is so, it is then beautiful in part and in whole; since proper order among the members grants the pleasure of wonderful and inexpressible harmony, and their proper disposition, their health, gives them a colour pleasant to observe. So to say that a noble nature makes the body beautiful, lovely and well-poised is simply to say that it adorns it with the perfection of order. It is clear that this characteristic, along with those already discussed, is essential to adolescence. These then are the things that the noble soul, that is the noble nature, intends it to possess from the beginning, as a thing, as has been said, seeded by divine providence.
Chapter XXVI: Maturity
Now that the first section of this part, which shows how we may recognise a noble person by manifest signs, has been discussed, I must proceed to the second section which begins: In maturity, is firm and temperate. Here it says that as in adolescence the noble nature shows itself to be obedient, sweet and modest, adorning its own person, so in maturity it is firm, temperate, loving, courteous and honest; five qualities which seem to be, and are in fact, essential for our perfection, insofar as we consider it in relation to own selves. Regarding this, we should note that everything noble nature prepares in the first stage of life is set out and ordered by the foresight of universal Nature, which directs individual natures to their perfection. This perfection of ours can be considered in two ways. It can be considered with regard to ourselves, and must be achieved in maturity, which is the fullness of life. Or it can be considered with regard to others; and because self-perfection is essential first, which must then be communicated to others, this secondary perfection can only be achieved in the succeeding stage of life, namely old age, as will be explained below.
Here we must first recall what was discussed previously in the twenty-second chapter regarding our initial and inborn appetite. This appetite only ever pursues or flees; and when it pursues or flees what is proper to the correct extent, a person stays within the bounds of perfection. Nevertheless this appetite must be curbed by reason, for just as a loose horse, however noble its nature, cannot be guided without a good rider, so this appetite, which is called, by the philosophers, irascible (seeking to avoid the spiritually repellent) or concupiscent (seeking to unite with the object of desire), however noble it may be, must obey reason, which guides it with bridle and spur like a good horseman. Reason uses the bridle when appetite is in pursuit, and this bridle is temperance, marking the limits of pursuit; it uses the spur when appetite is in flight, to turn it back towards the place from which it flees, and the spur is called courage, or magnanimity, a virtue that indicates the place to stand and fight. And how unrestrained Aeneas was, Virgil, the greatest of poets, shows in that part of the Aeneid where this stage of life is allegorised, namely in the fourth, fifth and sixth books. How great his restraint when, having found such pleasure with Dido, and having derived so much gratification from her, he left her to pursue an honourable, praiseworthy and fruitful path, as is recorded in the fourth book of the Aeneid. What spurring, when Aeneas plucked up the courage, in the face of great peril, to enter Hell with only the Sibyl beside him, in search of the ghost of his father Anchises, as is described in the sixth book of that story. From this it is clear that to achieve perfection in the time of maturity it is essential to be firm and temperate. This is what the virtuous nature achieves and demonstrates, as the text expressly states.
It is essential, moreover, in order to achieve perfection at this stage of life, to be loving, since it is appropriate, as this period lies on the meridian circle, for it to look both forward and backward: and it is appropriate to love one’s elders, from whom one has received existence, nurture and education, and not to appear ungrateful, just as it is to appropriate to love one’s juniors, so that by loving them maturity may provide benefits to those from whom, later, it may, if prosperity fails, derive support and honour. As Virgil reveals in the fifth book of the Aeneid, it is this love which Aeneas showed when he left the elderly Trojans behind in Sicily, entrusting them to Acestes’ care, freeing them from their labours, and when in the same place he prepared his young son Ascanius, and the other youths, for the games. From this it is clear that love is essential to this stage of life, as the text says.
Moreover it is necessary to be courteous at this stage of life, for though courtesy is becoming in all ages of life, in this age it is especially necessary, because absence of it cannot be readily excused as it can in adolescence because of tenderness of youth, or in old age, conversely, because it is rendered impossible by the gravity and sternness it is required to show; and still more so in senility. Virgil, our noblest poet, shows, in the sixth book mentioned, that Aeneas possessed such courtesy, where he says that in order to honour the lifeless body of Misenus, Hector’s trumpeter, who had placed himself in his hands, Aeneas took his axe and prepared himself to hew wood for the funeral pyre, according to their custom. From this it is clear that courtesy is essential to maturity, and therefore the noble spirit displays it at that stage of life, as has been said.
Further, it is essential at this stage of life to be loyal. Loyalty consists of practising what the laws decree, and this is particularly appropriate in the mature; for an adolescent, as has been said, may be excused because of the tenderness of youth; and an elder should be just be virtue of his wider experience, and ought to conduct himself in a just manner, not merely as a follower of the law where his own judgement and the law are virtually in agreement, but almost independently of any law, which is something a person at the mature stage cannot do. It suffices that such a person follows the law and takes pleasure in following it, as Virgil, in the fifth book, says Aeneas did, when he held the Sicilian games on the anniversary of his father’s death, for he loyally awarded each victor what he had promised, according to their long-standing custom, which was their law.
From all this it is clear that loyalty, courtesy, love, courage and temperance are essential to this stage of life, as the text of my canzone states; and therefore the noble soul displays them all.
Chapter XXVII: Old Age
Having adequately examined and discussed the attributes a noble nature confers on maturity, as displayed in my text, it seems fitting to consider the third part which begins: Then, in old age, where the text seeks to reveal those things which a noble nature exhibits and should possess in that third age of life.. It states that in old age the noble soul is prudent, just, generous, and takes delight in speaking well of others’ virtues, and hearing them well-spoken of, that is to say, is affable. These four virtues are well-suited indeed to this stage of life.
In order to see this we should note that, as Cicero says in his book On Old Age: ‘Life has a fixed path and virtuous nature a single course; and in each part of our life a season has been given for certain things.’ Therefore, as that which will bring us to ripeness and perfection is granted to adolescence, as was said above, so ripeness and perfection in turn are granted to maturity, that the sweetness of its fruit may prove profitable to itself and others; for as Aristotle says, man is a social animal, and thus he is required to be useful to others as well as himself. Hence we read of Cato that he thought of himself as born not merely for himself, but rather for his country and the whole world. Therefore, following on our own perfection, which we acquire in maturity, should come that perfection which illuminates others as well as ourselves; one should open like a rose that can no longer remain closed, and shed the fragrance created within; and that in the third age of life which concerns us here. One should therefore be prudent, that is, wise, and to be wise requires a vivid memory of things past, a sound knowledge of things present, and a clear foresight for things future. For, as Aristotle says in the sixth book of the Ethics: ‘It is impossible for a man to be wise without being virtuous,’ so that a person who proceeds by cunning and deceit is called astute and not wise; for just as no one would call a man wise for knowing how to pierce the pupil of an eye with the point of a knife, so a man who knows how to perform evil acts is not to be called wise, since by performing it he always harms himself while harming others.
Considering this more carefully, from prudence good counsel arises, which in human actions and affairs guides a man, and others also, to a virtuous end. This is the gift that Solomon asked of God on finding himself at the helm of government, as is written in the third book of Kings. Nor does a prudent man such as this wait to be summoned by the words ‘Counsel me’, but he makes provision for counselling others, just as a rose offers its scent not only to those who approach it for that reason but to whoever passes nearby. Some doctor or lawyer might reply to this: ‘Shall I offer my counsel then even if it is not asked for, and thus make no profit from my skill?’ I answer as our Lord did: ‘Freely have you received, freely give.’ Thus, dear lawyer, I say that you should not sell those counsels unrelated to your skill, which derive only from the commonsense God gave you, and this is the prudence of which we speak, to the children of Him who gave it to you: but those counsels that are related to your skill, which you have purchased, you may sell, but not without fittingly paying an occasional tithe and making an offering to God, that is to those poor wretches who have nothing left but God’s bounty.
It is also fitting to be just at this stage of life, so that one’s judgement and authority may be a light and law to others. As this specific virtue, justice, was reckoned by ancient philosophers to display itself to perfection in this age of life, they entrusted the rule of cities to those of this age: and therefore the council of rulers was called the Senate (from senes, old men). O alas, alas my country! What pity for you grips me whenever I read or write anything that has to do with civil government! However, as justice will be dealt with in the penultimate book of this work let it suffice to have touched on it briefly here.
It is also fitting to be generous at this stage of life, because a thing is fitting when it satisfies the requirements of its own nature most fully: nor can the requirements of generosity be so satisfied except in this age of life. For if we carefully consider Aristotle’s reasoning in the fourth book of the Ethics, andCicero’s in his book On Offices, generosity should be evidenced at a time and place where the generous man injures neither himself nor others. This is something that cannot be achieved without prudence and justice, virtues which it is impossible to possess in their perfection, naturally, before this stage of life. Oh, you ill-fated misbegotten men who defraud wards of court and widows, steal from the weakest of all, rob others of their rights by force, and with your gains host banquets, grant horses and arms, goods and money, dress in fashionable attire, erect fine buildings, and believe yourselves generous! What is this but to act like a thief, who steals the altar-cloth to cover his own table? We should deride your gifts, you tyrants, as we would that thief who invites guests to his house and spreads the stolen altar-cloth on his table, its ecclesiastical markings still visible, thinking they will take no notice. Listen, stubborn men, to what Cicero says of you in his book On Offices: ‘There are many, who wish to be famous and impress, who take from some to give to others, believing they will be well regarded, enriching others for whatever reason they choose. But nothing is more opposed to what is right than this is.’
It is also appropriate to be affable at this stage of life, to speak of the good and hear it discussed willingly, because it is fine to speak of the good when it gains a hearing. This stage of life also carries an air of authority, because men are more inclined to find this age’s voice authoritative than any earlier one: and it brings knowledge of many fine and virtuous matters because of its wider experience. Thus Cicero says in his book On Old Age, in the person of Cato the Elder: ‘I derive greater pleasure and satisfaction from conversation now than I once did.’
Ovid tells us, in the seventh book of the Metamorphoses, that all these four things are appropriate to this stage of life, by citing the myth in which Cephalus of Athens approached King Aeacus for help in his war against the Cretans. He shows how prudent old Aeacus was when, having lost almost the whole of his people to plague, caused by airborne contamination, he wisely turned to God and asked him to restore the dead. Because of his wisdom, which allowed him to maintain his patience and turn to God, his people were restored to him in greater numbers than before. Ovid shows how just he was, recounting that Aeacus distributed the deserted lands among his new people. He shows his generosity, by having him say to Cephalus after the request for help: ‘Don’t ask for our help, assume it. Don’t hesitate to reckon the forces of this island your own, and (let this state of my fortunes last!) energy is not lacking. I have men enough, and thank the gods, the moment is auspicious and there will be no excuses’.
Oh, how much there is of note in this reply! But to one who understands it thoroughly it suffices to set it down here without additions. Ovid shows that Aeacus was affable in his long diligently-recounted speech to Cephalus, telling the story of the plague and his people’s restoration. Thus it is clear that four things are appropriate to this stage of life, which is why the noble nature displays them there, as the text states. To make the example given more memorable, Ovid says of Aeacus that he was the father of Telamon, Peleus and Phocus, while Ajax was the son of Telamon and Achilles of Peleus.
Chapter XXVIII: Senility
After covering the previous parts of the canzone regarding the stages of life I must proceed to discuss the last part which begins: Finally in life’s fourth phase, and in which the text propose to show how the noble soul acts in that last age of life, namely senility. It states that the noble soul does two things: firstly, that it returns to God as if to the harbour from which it departed when it entered the ocean of life; secondly, that it blesses the journey it has made, because it has proved direct, favourable, and free of bitter storms.
Here it should be noted that, as Cicero says in his book On Old Age, a natural death is as it were a harbour and place of rest after our long journey. This is surely true, for just as a capable sailor lowers his sails on approaching port and progressing smoothly enters it quietly, so we must lower our sails of worldly preoccupation and return to God in our whole mind and heart, so that we reach our harbour in perfect gentleness and peace. Here our own nature provides a major lesson in gentleness, for in a death such as this there is no suffering or harshness; as a ripened apple drops gently from the bough, with no violence, so without suffering the soul parts from the body in which it dwelt. Thus Aristotle, in his book On Youth and Old Age, says that: ‘death in old age takes place without sadness.’ And just as one who returns from a long journey is met at his city gate by the citizens, so the noble soul is met, as it ought to be, by the citizens of the eternal life. This is achieved by contemplating their virtuous works and thoughts: for having already surrendered itself to God and disengaged from worldly matters and preoccupations, it seems the soul sees those whom it believes to be with God. Listen to what Cicero says, in the person of Cato the Elder: ‘I seem already to see, and inspire myself with the greatest longing to see, your ancestors whom I loved, and not only them, but also those of whom I have heard.’ The noble soul, then, surrenders itself to God at this stage of life, and awaits the end of life with great longing, seems in departing an inn to be returning to its true dwelling, in arriving from a journey to be returning to its city, in leaving the open sea to be returning to its harbour.
O you wretched vile beings who course, sails spread, towards that port! Where you should find rest you wreck yourselves, in going against the wind, and perish in the very place towards which you have journeyed for so long! Lancelot, that noble knight, did not wish to enter with sails spread, nor that noblest of Italians, Guido da Montefeltro. Those noble individuals lowered the sails of worldly preoccupation, and in later life entered a religious order, forsaking all their worldly pleasures and affairs. Nor is one excused because of the bond of marriage, which may bind still in later life; since it is not only those who conform to the life and rules of the Saints; Benedict, Augustine, Francis and Dominic, who are dedicated to the religious life, for even those who are married can dedicate themselves to living a good and truly religious life, for it is in our hearts that God wishes us to be religious. That is why Saint Paul says to the Romans: ‘For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.’
At this stage of life the noble spirit blesses times past, and well may it do so, because by turning its thoughts to the past it recalls its own virtuous actions, without which it could not reach the harbour it approaches with such a degree of wealth and gain. It behaves like the virtuous merchant who, as he nears port, considers his profit, saying: ‘If I had not made this journey I would not have gained this wealth, nor would I have any delight to take in my city which I am nearing’ and so he blesses the path taken. The fine poet Lucan reveals, in the second book of his Pharsalia, by way of allegory, the two things appropriate to this stage of life. He says there that Marcia in old age returned to Cato and begged him to take her back. Here Marcia signifies the noble soul. And we may translate the allegorical figure as follows. Marcia was a virgin, signifying in that state adolescence, and later married Cato, signifying in that state maturity; she then bore children, and they signify the virtues appropriate to maturity; she then left Cato and married Hortensius, signifying thus the end of maturity and the onset of old age; she also bore him children signifying the virtues appropriate to old age. Hortensius died, and Marcia having thus become a widow, by which is signified the end of old age, and the state of senility, she returned, at the commencement of her widowhood, to Cato, signifying that the noble soul returns to God at that time. What man on earth is more worthy of signifying God than Cato? None: indeed.
What does Marcia say to Cato? ‘While there was blood in my veins,’ she says, that is, in maturity, ‘while I still had the power to bear children’, namely in old age, which is indeed the mother of the other virtues, ‘I accomplished all your commands’, that is to say the soul remained committed to worldly duty. She then says: ‘I took two husbands,’ that is, was fertile at two stages of life, ‘and now that my womb is exhausted and I have lost the capacity to bear children, I return to you, being unable to serve another spouse.’ That is to say the noble soul, on seeing that it is no longer associated with a fruitful womb (that is when the soul feels the members have grown weak), turns to God, who requires no bodily members. And Marcia says: ‘Grant me the rights of our former marital chamber, and grant me a marriage even if in name only.’ That is to say, the noble soul says to God: ‘My Lord, grant me your peace; grant that I may at least be called yours in the little life left to me.’ And Marcia says: ‘Two reasons move me to ask this: one that after death I may be said to have died as Cato’s wife; the other that after my death it may be said you did not spurn me, but out of goodwill took my hand again in marriage.’ The noble soul is moved by like reasons, and wishes to depart this life as the spouse of God, and wishes to show that its activity has been pleasing to God. O you misbegotten and unhappy beings who would depart this life under the name of Hortensius rather than that of Cato! It is good to end what I wish to say about the signs of nobility with that man’s name, because in him nobility displayed those signs at every stage of life.
Chapter XXIX: Last Words on Lineage
Now that my text has revealed the marks of each stage in the life of noble persons, by which they may be recognised and without which they could not exist, any more than the Sun could exist without light, or fire without heat, the text concludes its section on nobility by crying out to all, saying: See how many now are deceived! Those, that is, who think themselves noble because they are of an ancient and famous lineage, descended from excellent ancestors, though they themselves lack nobility.
Here two matters arise, which it is appropriate to consider at the end of this book. Manfred da Vico, who calls himself now Praetor and Prefect, might say: ‘Whatever I may be, I represent and evoke my ancestors, who earned the office of Prefect through their nobility, and were worthy to participate in the Emperor’s coronation, and receive the rose from the Pastor of Rome: to me are due the honour and reverence of the people.’ Then, some member of the San Nazzaro family of Pavia, or the Piscitelli of Naples might say: ‘If nobility is as has been described, namely a divine seed planted through grace in the human soul, and if the lineage or race itself lacks a soul, as is evident, then no lineage or race can be termed noble; and this is contrary to the opinion held by those who claim our lineage to be the noblest in all their cities.’
To the first statement Juvenal replies in his eight Satire, where he begins by exclaiming: ‘What benefit are these honours which derive from men of earlier ages if those who would clothe themselves with them live evil lives, if those who speak of their ancestors and describe their great and wondrous deeds dedicate themselves to base actions?’ And he says: ‘Will they become noble through family, who are unworthy of that family? That is to call a dwarf a giant.’ Later he says of a man of this type: ‘There is no difference between you and the statue erected in your ancestor’s memory except that his head is made of marble and yours is alive.’ Here I disagree, with all due respect, with the poet, since a statue of marble, metal or wood raised as a memorial to some worthy man differs significantly in its effect from a worthless descendant. Because a statue always bears witness to the good opinion of those who have heard tell of the great renown of the statue’s subject it engenders that good opinion in others. A worthless son or grandson does the opposite, since he weakens the good opinion of those who have heard well of his ancestors, since their thought will be: ‘It is impossible for his ancestors’ renown to be as great as is claimed, since such a plant has sprung from their seed.’ He who bears false witness against the good should incur not honour but dishonour, and for this reason Cicero says: ‘the son of a worthy man should seek to speak well of his father.’ Therefore, in my judgement, just as he who defames a worthy man deserves to be rejected and shunned by all, so a worthless man descended from virtuous ancestors deserves to be cast out by all, and a good man should close his eyes so as to avoid witnessing the disgrace thus visited on virtuous men of whom the memory alone remains. Let that suffice for the present regarding the first statement made.
To the second statement we may reply that indeed lineage possesses no soul in and of itself, yet it is quite true that it may be termed noble, and indeed is noble in a certain way. It should be noted here that every whole is composed of its parts. There are some wholes that together with their parts partake of a single essence, as a man partakes of a single essence in common with all his parts; what is deemed to exist in a part is deemed to exist in the same way in the whole. There are other wholes which do not constitute an essence in common with their parts, for example a pile of grain; this kind of essence is secondary, resulting as the sum of many grains which have a true and primary essence in themselves. In such a whole the qualities of the parts are said to exist secondarily, in this way, as does its essence; thus the pile is white because the grains that comprise it are white. This whiteness however resides first in the grains and only secondarily in the pile as a whole, and so is white in a secondary sense. In the same way a race or lineage may be called noble. Just as white grains must be predominant in the pile in order for the pile to be white, so those who are noble must predominate numerically in a lineage for it to be called noble, in order that their virtue in its renown may hide the presence of the worthless among them. Just as the grains in a white pile of wheat might be removed one by one and each replaced by a grain of red millet until the pile changed colour and nature, so in a noble lineage the good might die off one by one, and the bad be born into it in sufficient numbers to cause a change in its nature, so that it would deserve to be called not noble but base. This should suffice as a reply to the second statement.
Chapter XXX: Conclusion
As has been shown previously, in the third chapter of this book, my canzone has three principal divisions. Since two of these have been discussed (the first being dealt with in the third to fifteenth chapters, and the second in the sixteenth to the twenty-ninth, that is in sections of thirteen and fourteen chapters respectively, the first two chapters of the book comprising the preface) I will, in this thirtieth and final chapter discuss the third principal division, which was composed as a tornata to the canzone by way of adornment, and which commences: Against-the-errant-ones, my song, go forth. Against-the-errant-ones acts as a single word and is the title of the canzone, after the example of our good brother Thomas Aquinas, who gave the title of Against the Gentiles to a book of his which he wrote to confound all those who stray from the Faith. I say go forth as if to say: ‘you are perfect and it is time to cease from standing still and to go forth, since your undertaking is great, and when you are in that place where our lady is, tell her your purpose’. Here it should be noted that, as our Lord said, one should not cast pearls before swine, since it does them no good and harms the pearls; and as the poet Aesop says in his first fable: to a cockerel a grain of seed is worth more than a pearl and it therefore leaves the latter and chooses the former. In consideration of this, and as a precaution, I direct my canzone to reveal its purpose where the lady, Philosophy, is to be found. This noblest lady will be found where her mansion is, that is in the soul where she dwells. And Philosophy dwells not in the wise alone, but also, as has been shown above in an earlier book, in those in whom the love of her dwells. I tell my canzone to disclose its purpose to both of these, so that her meaning may prove beneficial to them, and be welcomed by them.
I tell my canzone to say to this lady: I speak to you of a friend of yours. In truth, nobility is her friend, for they love each other so, that nobility always calls upon her, and Philosophy never turns her sweetest gaze towards any other. O how great and beautiful an adornment is bestowed on nobility in the closing lines of this canzone, where she is called the friend of her whose true comprehension is in the most secret places of the divine mind!
End of the Convivio