The Banquet is a work written by Dante Alighieri roughly between 1304 and 1307. This unfinished work of Dante consists of four trattati, or "books": a prefatory one, plus three books that each include a canzone (long lyrical poem) and a prose allegorical interpretation or commentary of the poem that goes off in multiple thematic directions. The Banquet is a major stage of development for Dante, very different from the visionary world of the Vita nuova (although like the earlier work it too is a medium for the author's evolving sense of artistic vocation and philosophical-spiritual quest). This difference is reflected in how the two works use the prosimetrum format: in the Vita Nova there is a complex interrelation and intertwining between the prose and the poetry, while in The Banquet large blocks of prose have an autonomous existence apart from the poems; the content of the poetry is not amplified or edited in the prose so much as commented upon prosaically, to serve as points of departure for the various subjects that The Banquet discusses. Dante himself tells us that the prose of The Banquet is "temperate and virile," in contrast to the "fervid and passionate" prose of the Vita Nova; and that while the approach to this in the work of his youth was "like dreaming" The Banquet approaches it subjects soberly and wide awake, often modeling its style on Scholastic authors. The Banquet is a kind of vernacular encyclopedia of the knowledge of Dante's time; it touches on many areas of learning, not only philosophy but also politics, linguistics, science, and history. The treatise begins with the prefatory book, or proem, which explains why a book like The Banquet is needed and why Dante is writing it in the vernacular instead of Latin. It is one of Dante's early defenses of the vernacular, expressed in greater detail in his (slightly earlier) linguistic treatise De vulgari eloquentia (On Eloquence in the Vernacular).
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE FIRST TREATISE.
THE SECOND TREATISE.
THE THIRD TREATISE.
THE FOURTH TREATISE.
This translation of Dante's Convito--the first in English--is from the hand of a lady whose enthusiasm for the genius of Dante has made it a chief pleasure of her life to dwell on it by translating, not his Divine Comedy only, but also the whole body of his other works. Among those works the Vita Nuova and the Convito have a distinct place, as leading up to the great masterpiece. In the New Life, Man starts on his career with human love that points to the divine. In the Banquet, he passes to mature life and to love of knowledge that declares the power and the love of God in the material and moral world about us and within us. In the Divine Comedy, the Poet passes to the world to come, and rises to the final union of the love for Beatrice, the beatifier, with the glory of the Love of God. Of this great series, the crowning work has, of course, had many translators, and there have been translators also of the book that shows the youth of love. But the noble fragment of the Convito that unites these two has, I believe, never yet been placed within reach of the English reader, except by a translation of its poems only into unrhymed measure in Mr. Charles Lyell's "Poems of the Vita Nuova and the Convito," published in 1835.
The Convito is a fragment. There are four books where fifteen were designed, including three only of the intended fourteen songs. But the plan is clear, and one or two glances forward to the matter of the last book, which would have had Justice for its theme, show that all was to have been brought to a high spiritual close.
Its aim was no less than the lifting of men's minds by knowledge of the world without them and within them, bound together in creation, showing forth the Mind of the Creator. The reader of this volume must not flinch from the ingenious dialectics of the mediæval reasoner on Man and Nature. Dante's knowledge is the knowledge of his time. Science had made little advance since Aristotle--who is "the Philosopher" taken by Dante for his human guide--first laid its foundations. It is useful, no doubt, to be able in a book like this, shaped by a noble mind, to study at their best the forms of reasoning that made the science of the Middle Ages. But the reader is not called upon to make his mind unhappy with endeavours to seize all the points, say, of a theory of the heavens that was most ingenious, but in no part true. The main thing is to observe how the mistaken reasoning joins each of the seven sciences to one of the seven heavens, and here as everywhere joins earth to heaven, and bids man lift his head and look up, Godward, to the source of light. If spiritual truth could only come from right and perfect knowledge, this would have been a world of dead souls from the first till now; for future centuries, in looking back at us, will wonder at the little faulty knowledge that we think so much. But let the known be what it may, the true soul rises from it to a sense of the divine mysteries of Wisdom and of Love. Dante's knowledge may be full of ignorance, and so is ours. But he fills it as he can with the Spirit of God. He is not content that men should be as sheep, and look downward to earth for all the food they need. He bids them to a Banquet of another kind, whose dishes are of knowledge for the mind and heavenward aspiration for the soul.
Dante's Convito--of which the name was, no doubt, suggested by the Banquets of Plato and Xenophon--was written at the close of his life, after the Divine Comedy, and no trace has been found of more of its songs than the three which may have been written and made known some time before he began work on their Commentary. Death stayed his hand, and the completion passed into a song that joined the voice of Dante to the praise in heaven.
As the Philosopher says in the beginning of the first Philosophy, "All men naturally desire Knowledge." The reason of which may be, that each thing, impelled by the intuition of its own nature, tends towards its perfection, hence, forasmuch as Knowledge is the final perfection of our Soul, in which our ultimate happiness consists, we are all naturally subject to the desire for it.
Verily, many are deprived of this most noble perfection, by divers causes within the man and without him, which remove him from the use of Knowledge.
Within the man there may be two defects or impediments, the one on the part of the Body, the other on the part of the Soul. On the part of the Body it is, when the parts are unfitly disposed, so that it can receive nothing as with the deaf and dumb, and their like. On the part of the Soul it is, when evil triumphs in it, so that it becomes the follower of vicious pleasures, through which it is so much deceived, that on account of them it holds everything in contempt.
Without the man, two causes may in like manner be understood, of which one comes of necessity, the other of stagnation. The first is the management of the family and conduct of civil affairs, which fitly draws to itself the greater number of men, so that they cannot live in the quietness of speculation. The other is the fault of the place where a person is born and reared, which will ofttimes be not only without any School whatever, but may be far distant from studious people. The two first of these causes--the first of the hindrance from within, and the first of the hindrance from without--are not deserving of blame, but of excuse and pardon; the two others, although the one more than the other, deserve blame and are to be detested.
Hence, he who reflects well, can manifestly see that they are few who can attain to the enjoyment of Knowledge, though it is desired by all, and almost innumerable are the fettered ones who live for ever famished of this food.
Oh, blessed are those few who sit at that table where the Bread of Angels is eaten, and wretched those who can feed only as the Sheep. But because each man is naturally friendly to each man, and each friend grieves for the fault of him whom he loves; they who are fed at that high table are full of mercy towards those whom they see straying in one pasture with the creatures who eat grass and acorns.
And forasmuch as Mercy is the Mother of Benevolence, those who know how, do always liberally offer their good wealth to the true poor, and are like a living stream, whose water cools the before-named natural thirst. I, then, who sit not at the blessed table, but having fled from the pasture of the common herd, lie at the feet of those who sit there and gather up what falls from them, by the sweetness which I find in that which I collect little by little, I know the wretched life of those whom I have left behind me; and moved mercifully for the unhappy ones, not forgetting myself, I have reserved something which I have shown to their eyes long ago, and for this I have made them greatly desirous. Wherefore, now wishing to prepare for them, I mean to make a common Banquet of this which I have shown to them, and of that needed bread without which food such as this could not be eaten by them at their feast; bread fit for such meat, which I know, without it, would be furnished forth in vain. And therefore I desire that no one should sit at this Banquet whose members are so unfitly disposed that he has neither teeth, nor tongue, nor palate: nor any follower of vice; inasmuch as his stomach is full of venomous and hurtful humours, so that it will retain no food whatever. But let those come to us, whosoever they be, who, pressed by the management of civil and domestic life, have felt this human hunger, and at one table with others who have been in like bondage, let them sit. But at their feet let us place all those who have been the slaves of sloth, and who are not worthy to sit higher: and then let these and those eat of my dish, with the bread which I will cause them to taste and to digest.
The meat at this repast will be prepared in fourteen different ways, that is, in fourteen Songs, some of whose themes will be of Love and some of Virtue: which, without the present bread, might have some shadow of obscurity, so that to many they might be acceptable more on account of their form than because of their spirit. But this bread is the present Exposition. It will be the Light whereby each colour of their design will be made visible.
And if in the present work, which is named "Convito"--the Banquet, the glad Life Together--I desire that the subject should be discussed more maturely than in the Vita Nuova--the New Life--I do not therefore mean in any degree to undervalue that Fresh Life, but greatly to enhance it; seeing how reasonable it is for that age to be fervid and passionate, and for this to be mature and temperate. At one age it is fit to speak and work in one way, and at another age in another way; because certain manners are fit and praiseworthy at one age which are improper and blameable at another, as will be demonstrated with suitable argument in the fourth treatise of this Book. In that first Book (Vita Nuova) at the entrance into my youth I spoke; and in this latter I speak after my youth has already passed away. And since my true meaning may be other than that which the aforesaid songs show forth, I mean by an allegoric exposition to explain these after the literal argument shall have been reasoned out: so that the one argument with the other shall give a relish to those who are the guests invited to this Banquet. And of them all I pray that if the feast be not so splendid as befits the proclamation thereof, let them impute each defect, not to my will but to my means, since my will here is to a full and loving Liberality.
In preparing for every well-ordered Banquet the servants are wont to take the proper bread, and see that it is clean from all blemish; wherefore I, who in the present writing stand in servant's place, intend firstly to remove two spots from this exposition which at my repast stands in the place of bread.
The one is, that it appears to be unlawful for any one to speak of himself; the other, that it seems to be unreasonable to speak too deeply when giving explanations. Let the knife of my judgment pare away from the present treatise the unlawful and the unreasonable. One does not permit any Rhetorician to speak of himself without a necessary cause. And from this is the man removed, because he can speak of no one without praise or blame of those of whom he speaks; which two causes commonly induce a man to speak of himself. And in order to remove a doubt which here arises, I say that it is worse for any one to blame than to praise himself, although neither may have to be done. The reason is, that anything which is essentially wrong is worse than that which is wrong through accident. For a man openly to bring contempt on himself is essentially wrong to his friend, because a man owes it to take account of his fault secretly, and no one is more friendly to himself than the man himself. In the chamber of his thoughts, therefore, he should reprove himself and weep over his faults, and not before the world. Again, a man is but seldom blamed when he has not the power or the knowledge requisite to guide himself aright: but he is always blamed when weak of will, because our good or evil dispositions are measured by the strength of will. Wherefore he who blames himself proves that he knows his fault, while he reveals his want of goodness; if, therefore, he know his fault, let him no more speak evil of himself. If a man praise himself it is to avoid evil, as it were; inasmuch as it cannot be done except such self-laudation become in excess dishonour; it is praise in appearance, it is infamy in substance. For the words are spoken to prove that of which he has not inward assurance. Hence, he who lauds himself proves his belief that he is not esteemed to be a good man, and this befalls him not unless he have an evil conscience, which he reveals by self-praise, and in so revealing it he blames himself.
And, again, self-praise and self-blame are to be shunned equally, for this reason, that it is false witnessing. Because there is no man who can be a true and just judge of himself, so much will self-love deceive him. Hence it happens that every man has in his own judgment the measures of the false merchant, who sells with the one, and buys with the other. Every man weights the scales against his own wrong-doing, and adds weight to his good deeds; so that the number and the quantity and the weight of the good deeds appear to him to be greater than if they were tried in a just balance; and in like manner the evil appears less. Wherefore speaking of himself with praise or with blame, either he speaks falsely with regard to the thing of which he speaks, or he speaks falsely by the fault of his judgment; and as the one is untruth, so is the other. And therefore, since to acquiesce is to admit, he is wrong who praises or who blames before the face of any man; because the man thus appraised can neither acquiesce nor deny without falling into the error of either praising or blaming himself. Reserve the way of due correction, which cannot be taken without reproof of error, and which corrects if understood. Reserve also the way of due honour and glory, which cannot be taken without mention of virtuous works, or of dignities that have been worthily acquired.
And in truth, returning to the main argument, I say, as before, that it is permitted to a man for requisite reasons to speak of himself. And amongst the several requisite reasons two are most evident: the one is when a man cannot avoid great danger and infamy, unless he discourse of himself; and then it is conceded for the reason, that to take the less objectionable of the only two paths, is to take as it were a good one. And this necessity moved Boethius to speak of himself, in order that under pretext of Consolation he might excuse the perpetual shame of his imprisonment, by showing that imprisonment to be unjust; since no other man arose to justify him. And this reason moved St. Augustine to speak of himself in his Confessions; that, by the progress of his life, which was from bad to good, and from good to better, and from better to best, he might give example and instruction, which, from truer testimony, no one could receive. Therefore, if either of these reasons excuse me, the bread of my moulding is sufficiently cleared from its first impurity.
The fear of shame moves me; and I am moved by the desire to give instruction which others truly are unable to give. I fear shame for having followed passion so ardently, as he may conceive who reads the afore-named Songs, and sees how greatly I was ruled by it; which shame ceases entirely by the present speech of myself, which proves that not passion but virtue may have been the moving cause.
I intend also to demonstrate the true meaning of those Poems, which some could not perceive unless I relate it, because it is concealed under the veil of Allegory; and this it not only will give pleasure to hear, but subtle instruction, both as to the diction and as to the intention of the other writings.
Much fault is in that thing which is appointed to remove some grave evil, and yet encourages it; even as in the man who might be sent to quell a tumult, and, before he had quelled it, should begin another.
And forasmuch as my bread is made clean on one side, it behoves me to cleanse it on the other, in order to shun this reproof: that my writing, which one may term, as it were, a Commentary, is appointed to remove obscurity from the before-mentioned Songs, and is, in fact, itself at times a little hard to understand. This obscurity is here intended, in order to avoid a greater defect, and does not occur through ignorance. Alas! would that it might have pleased the Dispenser of the Universe that the cause of my excuse might never have been; that others might neither have sinned against me, nor I have suffered punishment unjustly; the punishment, I say, of exile and poverty! Since it was the pleasure of the citizens of the most beautiful and the most famous daughter of Rome, Florence, to cast me out from her most sweet bosom (wherein I was born and nourished even to the height of my life, and in which, with her goodwill, I desire with all my heart to repose my weary soul, and to end the time which is given to me), I have gone through almost all the land in which this language lives--a pilgrim, almost a mendicant--showing forth against my will the wound of Fortune, with which the ruined man is often unjustly reproached. Truly I have been a ship without a sail and without a rudder, borne to divers ports and lands and shores by the dry wind which blows from doleful poverty; and I have appeared vile in the eyes of many, who perhaps through some report may have imaged me in other form. In the sight of whom not only my person became vile, but each work already completed was held to be of less value than that might again be which remained yet to be done.
The reason wherefore this happens (not only to me but to all), it now pleases me here briefly to touch upon. And firstly, it is because rumour goes beyond the truth; and then, what is beyond the truth restricts and strangles it. Good report is the first born of kindly thought in the mind of the friend; which the mind of the foe, although it may receive the seed, conceives not.
That mind which gives birth to it in the first place, so to make its gift more fair, as by the charity of friendship, keeps not within bounds of truth, but passes beyond them. When one does that to adorn a tale, he speaks against his conscience; when it is charity that causes him to pass the bounds, he speaks not against conscience.
The second mind which receives this, not only is content with the exaggeration of the first mind, but its own report adds its own effect of endeavours to embellish, and so by this action, and by the deception which it also receives from the goodwill generated in it, good report is made more ample than it should be; either with the consent or the dissent of the conscience; even as it was with the first mind. And the third receiving mind does this; and the fourth; and thus the exaggeration of good ever grows. And so, by turning the aforesaid motives in the contrary direction, one can perceive why ill-fame in like manner is made to grow. Wherefore Virgil says in the fourth of the Æneid: "Let Fame live to be fickle, and grow as she goes." Clearly, then, he who is willing may perceive that the image generated by Fame alone is always larger, whatever it may be, than the thing imaged is, in its true state.
Having previously shown the reason why Fame magnifies the good and the evil beyond due limit, it remains in this chapter to show forth those reasons which make evident why the Presence restricts in the opposite way, and having shown this I will return to the principal proposition. I say, then, that for three causes his Presence makes a person of less value than he is. The first is childishness, I do not say of age, but of mind; the second is envy; and these are in the judge: the third is human impurity; and this is in the person judged. The first, one can briefly reason thus: the greater part of men live according to sense and not according to reason, after the manner of children, and the like of these judge things simply from without; and the goodness which is ordained to a fit end they perceive not, because the eyes of Reason, which they need in order to perceive it, are closed. Hence, they soon see all that they can, and judge according to their sight.
And forasmuch as any opinion they form on the good fame of others, from hearsay, with which, in the presence of the person judged, their imperfect judgment may dissent, they amend not according to reason, because they judge merely according to sense, they will deem that which they have first heard to be a lie as it were, and dispraise the person who was previously praised. Hence, in such men, and such are almost all, Presence restricts the one fame and the other. Such men as these are inconstant and are soon cloyed; they are often gay and often sad from brief joys and sorrows; speedy friends and speedy foes; each thing they do like children, without the use of reason.
The second observation from these reasons is, that due comparison is cause for envy to the vicious; and envy is a cause of evil judgment, because it does not permit Reason to argue for that which is envied, and the judicial power is then like the judge who hears only one side. Hence, when such men as these perceive a person to be famous, they are immediately jealous, because they compare members and powers; and they fear, on account of the excellence of such an one, to be themselves accounted of less worth; and these passionate men, not only judge evilly, but, by defamation, they cause others to judge evilly. Wherefore with such men their apprehension restricts the acknowledgment of good and evil in each person represented; and I say this also of evil, because many who delight in evil deeds have envy towards evil-doers.
The third observation is of human frailty, which one accepts on the part of him who is judged, and from which familiar conversation is not altogether free. In evidence of this, it is to be known that man is stained in many parts; and, as says St. Augustine, "none is without spot." Now, the man is stained with some passion, which he cannot always resist; now, he is blemished by some fault of limb; now, he is bruised by some blow from Fortune; now, he is soiled by the ill-fame of his parents, or of some near relation: things which Fame does not bear with her, but which hang to the man, so that he reveals them by his conversation; and these spots cast some shadow upon the brightness of goodness, so that they cause it to appear less bright and less excellent. And this is the reason why each prophet is less honoured in his own country; and this is why the good man ought to give his presence to few, and his familiarity to still fewer, in order that his name may be received and not despised. And this third observation may be the same for the evil as for the good, if we reverse the conditions of the argument. Wherefore it is clearly evident that by imperfections, from which no one is free, the seen Presence restricts right perception of the good and of the evil in every one, more than truth desires. Hence, since, as has been said above, I myself have been, as it were, visibly present to all the Italians, by which I perhaps am made more vile than truth desires, not only to those to whom my repute had already run, but also to others, whereby I am made the lighter; it behoves me that with a more lofty style I may give to the present work a little gravity, through which it may show greater authority. Let this suffice to excuse the difficulty of my commentary.
Since this bread is now cleared of accidental spots, it remains to excuse it from a substantial one, that is for being in my native tongue and not in Latin; which by similitude one may term, of barley-meal and not of wheaten flour. And from this it is briefly excused by three reasons which moved me to choose the one rather than the other. One springs from the avoidance of inconvenient Unfitness: the second from the readiness of well-adjusted Liberality; the third from the natural Love for one's own Native Tongue. And these things, with the grounds for them, to the staying of all possible reproof, I mean in due order to reason out in this form.
That which most adorns and commends human actions, and which most directly leads them to a good result, is the use of dispositions best adapted to the end in view; as the end aimed at in knighthood is courage of mind and strength of body. And thus he who is ordained to the service of others, ought to have those dispositions which are suited to that end; as submission, knowledge and obedience, without which any one is unfit to serve well. Because if he is not subject to each of these conditions, he proceeds in his service always with fatigue and trouble, and but seldom continues in it. If he is not obedient, he never serves except as in his wisdom he thinks fit, and when he wills; which is rather the service of a friend than of a servant. Hence, to escape this disorder, this commentary is fit, which is made as a servant to the under-written Songs, in order to be subject to these, and to each separate command of theirs. It must be conscious of the wants of its lord, and obedient to him, which dispositions would be all wanting to it if it were a Latin servant, not a native, since the songs are all in the language of our people. For, in the first place, if it had been a Latin servant he would be not a subject but a sovereign, in nobility, in virtue, and in beauty; in nobility, because the Latin is perpetual and incorruptible; the language of the vulgar is unstable and corruptible. Hence we see in the ancient writings of the Latin Comedies and Tragedies that they cannot change, being the same Latin that we now have; this happens not with our native tongue, which, being home-made, changes at pleasure. Hence we see in the cities of Italy, if we will look carefully back fifty years from the present time, many words to have become extinct, and to have been born, and to have been altered. But if a little time transforms them thus, a longer time changes them more. So that I say that, if those who departed from this life a thousand years ago should come back to their cities, they would believe those cities to be inhabited by a strange people, who speak a tongue discordant from their own. On this subject I will speak elsewhere more completely in a book which I intend to write, God willing, on the "Language of the People."
Again, the Latin was not subject, but sovereign, through virtue. Each thing has virtue in its nature, which does that to which it is ordained; and the better it does it so much the more virtue it has: hence we call that man virtuous who lives a life contemplative or active, doing that for which he is best fitted; we ascribe his virtue to the horse that runs swiftly and much, to which end he is ordained: we see virtue of a sword that cuts through hard things well, since it has been made to do so. Thus speech, which is ordained to express human thought, has virtue when it does that; and most virtue is in the speech which does it most. Hence, forasmuch as the Latin reveals many things conceived in the mind which the vulgar tongue cannot express, even as those know who have the use of either language, its virtue is far greater than that of the vulgar tongue.
Again, it was not subject, but sovereign, because of its beauty. That thing man calls beautiful whose parts are duly proportionate, because beauty results from their harmony; hence, man appears to be beautiful when his limbs are duly proportioned; and we call a song beautiful when the voices in it, according to the rule of art, are in harmony with each other. Hence, that language is most beautiful in which the words most fitly correspond, and this they do more in the Latin than in the present Language of the People, since the beautiful vulgar tongue follows use, and the Latin, Art. Hence, one concedes it to be more beautiful, more virtuous and more noble. And so one concludes, as first proposed; that is, that the Latin Commentary would have been the Sovereign, not the Subject, of the Songs.
Having shown how the present Commentary could not have been the subject of Songs written in our native tongue, if it had been in the Latin, it remains to show how it could not have been capable or obedient to those Songs; and then it will be shown how, to avoid unsuitable disorder, it was needful to speak in the native tongue.
I say that Latin would not have been a capable servant for my Lord the Vernacular, for this reason. The servant is required chiefly to know two things perfectly: the one is the nature of his lord, because there are lords of such an asinine nature that they command the opposite of that which they desire; and there are others who, without speaking, wish to be understood and served; and there are others who will not let the servant move to do that which is needful, unless they have ordered it. And because these variations are in men, I do not intend in the present work to show, for the digression would be enlarged too much, except as I speak in general, that such men as these are beasts, as it were, to whom reason is of little worth. Wherefore, if the servant know not the nature of his lord, it is evident that he cannot serve him perfectly. The other thing is, that it is requisite for the servant to know also the friends of his lord; for otherwise he could not honour them, nor serve them, and thus he would not serve his lord perfectly: forasmuch as the friends are the parts of a whole, as it were, because their whole is one wish or its opposite. Neither would the Latin Commentary have had such knowledge of those things as the vulgar tongue itself has. That the Latin cannot be acquainted with the Vulgar Tongue and with its friends, is thus proved. He who knows anything in general knows not that thing perfectly; even as he who knows from afar off one animal, knows not that animal perfectly, because he knows not if it be a dog, a wolf, or a he-goat. The Latin knows the Vulgar tongue in general, but not separately; for if it should know it separately it would know all the Vulgar Tongues, because it is not right that it should know one more than the other; and thus, what man soever might possess the complete knowledge of the Latin tongue, the use of that knowledge would show him all distinctions of the Vulgar. But this is not so, for one used to the Latin does not distinguish, if he be a native of Italy, the vulgar tongue of Provence from the German, nor can the German distinguish the vulgar Italian tongue from that of Provence: hence, it is evident that the Latin is not cognizant of the Vulgar. Again, it is not cognizant of its friends, because it is impossible to know the friends without knowing the principal; hence, if the Latin does not know the Vulgar, as it is proved above, it is impossible for it to know its friends. Again, without conversation or familiarity, it is impossible to know men; and the Latin has no conversation with so many in any language as the Vulgar has, to which all are friends, and consequently cannot know the friends of the Vulgar.
And this, that it would be possible to say, is no contradiction; that the Latin does converse with some friends of the Vulgar: but since it is not familiar with all, it is not perfectly acquainted with its friends, whereas perfect knowledge is required, and not defective.
Having proved that the Latin Commentary could not have been a capable servant, I will tell how it could not have been an obedient one. He is obedient who has the good disposition which is called obedience. True obedience must have three things, without which it cannot be: it should be sweet, and not bitter; entirely under control, and not impulsive; with due measure, and not excessive; which three things it was impossible for the Latin Commentary to have; and, therefore, it was impossible for it to be obedient. That to the Latin it would have been impossible, as is said, is evident by such an argument as this: each thing which proceeds by an inverse order is laborious, and consequently is bitter, and not sweet; even as to sleep by day and to wake by night, and to go backwards and not forwards. For the subject to command the sovereign, is to proceed in the inverse order; because the direct order is, for the sovereign to command the subject; and thus it is bitter, and not sweet; and because to the bitter command it is impossible to give sweet obedience, it is impossible, when the subject commands, for the obedience of the sovereign to be sweet. Hence if the Latin is the sovereign of the Vulgar Tongue, as is shown above by many reasons, and the Songs, which are in place of commanders, are in the Vulgar Tongue, it is impossible for the argument to be sweet. Then is obedience entirely commanded, and in no way spontaneous, when that which the obedient man does, he would not have done of his own will, either in whole or in part, without commandment. And, therefore, if it might be commanded to me to carry two long robes upon my back, and if without commandment I should carry one, I say that my obedience is not entirely commanded, but is in part spontaneous; and such would have been that of the Latin Commentary, and consequently it would not have been obedience entirely commanded. What such might have been appears by this, that the Latin, without the command of this Lord, the Vernacular, would have expounded many parts of his argument (and it does expound, as he who searches well the books written in Latin may perceive), which the Vulgar Tongue does nowhere.
Again, obedience is within bounds, and not excessive, when it goes to the limit of the command, and no further; as Individual Nature is obedient to Universal Nature when she makes thirty-two teeth in the man, and no more and no less; and when she makes five fingers on the hand, and no more and no less; and the man is obedient to Justice when he does that which the Law commands, and no more and no less.
Neither would the Latin have done this, but it would have sinned not only in the defect, and not only in the excess, but in each one; and thus its obedience would not have been within due limit, but intemperate, and consequently it would not have been obedient. That the Latin would not have been the executor of the commandment of his Lord, and that neither would he have been a usurper, one can easily prove. This Lord, namely, these Songs, to which this Commentary is ordained for their servant, commands and desires that they shall be explained to all those whose mind is so far intelligent that when they hear speech they can understand, and when they speak they can be understood. And no one doubts, that if the Songs should command by word of mouth, this would be their commandment. But the Latin would not have explained them, except to the learned men: and so that the rest could not have understood. Hence, forasmuch as the number of unlearned men who desire to understand those Songs may be far greater than the learned, it follows that it could not have fulfilled its commandment so well as the Native Tongue, which is understood both by the Learned and the Unlearned. Again, the Latin would have explained them to people of another language, as to the Germans, to the English, and to others; and here it would have exceeded their commandment. For against their will, speaking freely, I say, their meaning would be explained there where they could not convey it in all their beauty.
And, therefore, let each one know, that nothing which is harmonized by the bond of the Muse can be translated from its own language into another, without breaking all its sweetness and harmony. And this is the reason why Homer was not translated from Greek into Latin, like the other writings that we have of the Greeks. And this is the reason why the verses of the Psalms are without sweetness of music and harmony; for they were translated from Hebrew into Greek, and from Greek into Latin, and in the first translation all that sweetness vanished.
And, thus is concluded that which was proposed in the beginning of the chapter immediately before this.
Since it is proved by sufficient reasons that, in order to avoid unsuitable confusion, it would be right that the above-named Songs be opened and explained by a Commentary in our Native Tongue and not in the Latin, I intend to show again how a ready Liberality makes me select this way and leave the other. It is possible, then, to perceive a ready Liberality in three things, which go with this Native Tongue, and which would not have gone with the Latin. The first is to give to many; the second is to give useful things; the third is to give the gift without being asked for it.
For to give to and to assist one person is good; but to give to and to assist many is ready goodness, inasmuch as it has a similitude to the good gifts of God, who is the Benefactor of the Universe. And again, to give to many is impossible without giving to one, forasmuch as one is included in many. But to give to one may be good without giving to many, because he who assists many does good to one and to the other; he who assists one does good to one only: hence, we see the imposers of the laws, especially if they are for the common good, hold the eyes fixed whilst compiling these laws. Again, to give useless things to the receiver is also a good, inasmuch as he who gives, shows himself at least to be a friend; but it is not a perfect good, and therefore it is not ready: as if a knight should give to a doctor a shield, and as if the doctor should give to a knight the written aphorisms of Hippocrates, or rather the technics of Galen; because the wise men say that "the face of the gift ought to be similar to that of the receiver," that is, that it be suitable to him, and that it be useful; and therein it is called ready liberality in him who thus discriminates in giving.
But forasmuch as moral discourses usually create a desire to see their origin, in this chapter I intend briefly to demonstrate four reasons why of necessity the gift (in order that it be ready liberality) should be useful to him who receives. Firstly, because virtue must be cheerful and not sad in every action: hence, if the gift be not cheerful in the giving and in the receiving, in it there is not perfect nor ready virtue. And this joy can spring only from the utility, which resides in the giver through the giving, and which comes to the receiver through the receiving. In the giver, then, there must be the foresight, in doing this, that on his part there shall remain the benefit of an inherent virtue which is above all other advantages; and that to the receiver come the benefit of the use of the thing given. Thus the one and the other will be cheerful, and consequently it will be a ready liberality, that is, a liberality both prompt and well considered.
Secondly, because virtue ought always to move things forwards and upwards. For even as it would be a blameable action to make a spade of a beautiful sword, or to make a fair basin of a lovely lute; so it is wrong to move anything from a place where it may be useful, and to carry it into a place where it may be less useful. And since it is blameable to work in vain, it is wrong not merely to put the thing in a place where it may be less useful, but even in a place where it may be equally useful. Hence, in order that the changing of the place of a thing may be laudable, it must always be for the better, because it ought to be especially praiseworthy; and this the gift cannot be, if by transformation it become not more precious. Nor can it become more precious, if it be not more useful to the receiver than to the giver. Wherefore, one concludes that the gift must be useful to him who receives it, in order that it may be in itself ready liberality.
Thirdly, because the exercise of the virtue of itself ought to be the acquirer of friends. For our life has need of these, and the end of virtue is to make life happy. But that the gift may make the receiver a friend, it must be useful to him, because utility stamps on the memory the image of the gift, which is the food of friendship, and the firmer the impression, so much the greater is the utility; hence, Martino was wont to say, "Never will fade from my mind the gift Giovanni made me." Wherefore, in order that in the gift there may be its virtue, which is Liberality, and that it may be ready, it must be useful to him who receives it.
Finally, since the act of virtue should be free, not forced, it is free action, when a person goes willingly to any place; which is shown by his keeping the face turned thitherward; it is forced action, when he goes against his will; which is shown by his not looking cheerfully towards the place whither he goes: and thus the gift looks towards its appointed place when it addresses itself to the need of the receiver. And since it cannot address itself to that need except it be useful, it follows, in order that it may be with free action, that the virtue be free, and that the gift go freely to its object, which is the receiver; and consequently the gift must be to the utility of the receiver, in order that there may be a prompt and reasonable Liberality therein.
The third respect in which one can observe a ready Liberality, is giving unasked; because, to give what is asked, is, on one side, not virtue, but traffic; for, the receiver buys, although the giver may not sell; and so Seneca says "that nothing is purchased more dearly than that whereon prayers are expended." Hence, in order that in the gift there be ready Liberality, and that one may perceive that to be in it, there must be freedom from each act of traffic, and the gift must be unasked. Wherefore that which is besought costs us so dear, I do not mean to argue now, because it will be fully discussed in the last treatise of this book.
A Latin Commentary would be wanting in all the three above-mentioned conditions, which must concur, in order that in the benefit conferred there may be ready Liberality; and our Mother Tongue possesses all, as it is possible to show thus manifestly. The Latin would not have served many; for if we recall to memory that which is discoursed of above, the learned men, without the Italian tongue, could not have had this service. And those who know Latin, if we wish to see clearly who they are, we shall find that, out of a thousand one only would have been reasonably served by it, because they would not have received it, so prompt are they to avarice, which removes them from each nobility of soul that especially desires this food. And to the shame of them, I say that they ought not to be called learned men: because they do not acquire knowledge for the use of it, but forasmuch as they gain money or dignity thereby; even as one ought not to call him a harper who keeps a harp in his house to be lent out for a price, and not to use it for its music.
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