The Convivio 
by Dante Alighieri 
translated by Richard Lansing 

Book 01

Chapter 10

A full apology should be made for serving oaten and not wheaten bread at a banquet so noble in its meat and so distinguished in its guests, and the reason why a man departs from what has long been the practice of others, namely, the use of Latin in commentaries, should be evident. Therefore the reason needs to be made clear, for the end of new things is not certain, since that experience has not yet been had by means of which things long observed and long in use are measured both as to their progress and as to their end. This is why the Law was moved to command that a man should take great care in entering on a new path, saying that “in establishing new things, the reason that makes us depart from what has long been in use must be evident.”(17)

No one should be surprised, then, if the digression that I make in stating my apology proves lengthy, but since it is necessary let him bear its length patiently. In pursuing this further (since it has been shown how I was moved to employ the vernacular commentary and forsake Latin in order to avoid an inappropriate relationship and by reason of complete generosity), I say that the nature of my full apology requires me to show how I was moved to this act through natural love of my native tongue, which is the third and final reason that moved me to it. I say that natural love above all moves the lover to do three things: first, to magnify the loved object; second, to be jealous for it; next, to defend it, as everyone can observe happens continually. These three things made me adopt it, that is, our vernacular, which naturally and accidentally I love and have loved. I was moved in the first place to magnify it, and in what way I magnify it may be seen by the following argument.

Now things can be magnified, that is, made great, by many conditions of greatness, and nothing makes them so great as the greatness of their own goodness, which is the mother and preserver of all other kinds of greatness–for man can have no greatness greater than that of virtuous action, which is his own proper excellence, by which the greatness of true dignity, true honor, true power, true riches, true friends, and true and glorious fame are both acquired and preserved–and this greatness I give to this friend, since what it possesses of potential and latent goodness I make it express actively and openly through its own proper activity, which is to make manifest the meaning conceived.

I was moved in the second place by jealousy for it. Jealousy for a friend makes a man solicitous to provide for the distant future. Thinking, therefore, that the desire to understand these canzoni would have induced some unlearned person to have the Latin commentary translated into the vernacular, and fearing that the vernacular might have been set down by someone who would have made it seem offensive, as did the one who translated the Ethics from Latin–and that was Thaddeus the Hippocratist–I arranged to set it down, trusting in myself more than in another.(18) I was moved to defend it from its numerous accusers who disparage it and commend the other vernaculars, especially the language of oc, calling that one more beautiful and better than this one, thereby departing from the truth.(19) For by means of this commentary the great goodness of the vernacular of sì will be seen, because its virtue will be made evident, namely how it expresses the loftiest and the most unusual conceptions almost as aptly, fully, and gracefully as Latin, something that could not be expressed perfectly in verse, because of the accidental adornments that are tied to it, that is, rhyme and meter, just as the beauty of a woman cannot be perfectly expressed when the adornment of her preparation and apparel do more to make her admired than she does herself. Therefore, if anyone wishes to judge a woman justly, let him look at her when her natural beauty alone attends her, unaccompanied by any accidental adornment; so it will be with this commentary, in which the smoothness of the flow of its syllables, the appropriateness of its constructions, and the sweet discourses that it makes will be seen, which anyone upon careful consideration will find full of the sweetest and most exquisite beauty. But since the most effective way of revealing the defects and the malice of an accuser is to examine his intentions, I will tell, in order to confound those who attack the Italian language, why they are moved to do this, and I will now write a special chapter on this subject so that their infamy may be rendered even more conspicuous.

17. the Law The Corpus iuris, or Roman Law. The citation is from the Digest I, 4, 2.

18. Thaddeus the Hippocratist A Florentine physician and author (1235-1295), known for his commentary to Hippocrates in addition to a translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.



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