THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 1 CHAPTER 12 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
If flames of fire were seen issuing from the windows of a house, and someone asked if there were a fire within, and another answered in the affirmative, I would not be able to judge easily which of the two was more deserving of ridicule. No different would be the question and answer if someone asked me whether love for my native tongue resides in me and I replied in the affirmative, for the reasons set forth above. But nevertheless both to demonstrate that not simply love but the most perfect love for it resides in me, and to censure once again its adversaries by demonstrating this to anyone who will rightly understand it, I will tell how I became its friend and then how this friendship was strengthened. I say then, as Tully may be seen to write in Friendship, without disagreeing with the opinion of the Philosopher expressed in the eighth and ninth books of the Ethics, that nearness and goodness are by nature the causes that engender love; benefit, purpose, and familiarity are the causes that increase love.(23) All these causes are present to engender and strengthen the love which I bear for my vernacular, as I will briefly show.
A thing is nearest to the extent that of all things of its kind it is most closely related to another thing; thus of all men the son is nearest to the father; of all the arts medicine is nearest to the doctor, and music to musician, because they are more closely related to them than are other arts; of all countries the nearest is the one in which one lives, because it is most closely related to him. And so a man’s vernacular is nearest to the extent that it is most closely related to him, for it is in his mind first and alone before any other; and not only is it related to him intrinsically but accidentally, since it is connected to those persons who are nearest to him, that is, his kin, his fellow citizens, and his own people. Such is one’s own vernacular, which is not simply near but supremely near to everyone. Therefore, if nearness is the seed of friendship, as has been said above, it is clear that it has been among the causes of love that I bear for my language, which is nearer to me than the others. The cause mentioned above, namely that that is more closely related which first exists alone in all the mind, induced people to adopt the custom of making the firstborn sole heirs, since they are the closest, and, because the closest, the most loved.
Moreover, its goodness makes me its friend. Here it should be observed that every goodness proper to a thing is deserving of love in that thing, as in masculinity to have a full beard and in femininity to have the entire face free of hair, just as in the foxhound to have a keen scent, and in the greyhound to have great speed. The more it is proper to it, the more it is deserving of love; thus, although every virtue in man is deserving of love, that is most deserving of love in him which is most human, and that is justice, which resides in the rational or intellectual part, that is, in the will. This is so deserving of love that, as the Philosopher says in the fifth book of the Ethics, they who are its enemies, such as thieves and robbers, love it; and therefore we see that its opposite, namely injustice, is hated most of all, as, for example, treachery, ingratitude, falsehood, theft, rapine, deceit, and the like.(24) All of these are such inhuman sins that to exonerate himself from being disgraced by them it is granted through long custom that a person may speak of himself, as has been said above, and may declare himself faithful and loyal. Of this virtue I will speak more fully in the fourteenth book; and leaving it aside for now, I return to my topic.
It is therefore proved that there is a goodness which is most proper to a thing; it must now be perceived what is most loved and praised in it, and that will be this goodness. Now we see that in all things relating to speech the apt expression of thought is most loved and praised: therefore this is its prime goodness. Since this is found in our vernacular, as has been clearly shown above in another chapter, it is clear that this is among the causes of love which I bear for it, since goodness, as has been said, is the cause that engenders love.