THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 1 CHAPTER 3 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
Deserving of severe censure is that action which, while intended to remove some defect, itself introduces it, like the man who was sent to break up a quarrel, and before breaking it up began another. Now that my bread has been cleansed on the one side, it is necessary for me to cleanse it on the other to escape a censure of this kind, for my writing, which can almost be called a commentary, is intended to remove the defect of the canzoni mentioned above, and this may itself prove to be perhaps a little difficult in part. This difficulty is deliberate here so as to escape a greater defect, and is not due to a lack of knowledge. Ah, if only it had pleased the Maker of the Universe that the cause of my apology had never existed, for then neither would others have sinned against me, nor would I have suffered punishment unjustly–the punishment, I mean, of exile and poverty.
Since it was the pleasure of the citizens of the most beautiful and famous daughter of Rome, Florence, to cast me out of her sweet bosom–where I was born and bred up to the pinnacle of my life, and where, with her good will, I desire with all my heart to rest my weary mind and to complete the span of time that is given to me–I have traveled like a stranger, almost like a beggar, through virtually all the regions to which this tongue of ours extends, displaying against my will the wound of fortune for which the wounded one is often unjustly accustomed to be held accountable.(9) Truly I have been a ship without sail or rudder, brought to different ports, inlets, and shores by the dry wind that painful poverty blows. And I have appeared before the eyes of many who perhaps because of some report had imagined me in another form. In their sight not only was my person held cheap, but each of my works was less valued, those already completed as much as those yet to come. The reason why this happens, not only to me but to everyone, I briefly wish to touch on here: first, because esteem inflates things with respect to the truth, and secondly, because presence diminishes things with respect to the truth.
A good reputation is principally engendered by good thoughts in the mind of a friend, and this is how it is first brought to birth; for the mind of an enemy, even though it receives the seed, does not conceive. That mind which first gives birth to it, both to make its gift more fair and for the love of the friend who receives it, does not confine itself within the limits of the truth, but oversteps them. When the mind oversteps them in order to embellish what it affirms, it speaks against conscience; when an error arising from love makes it overstep them, it does not speak against it. The second mind which receives what is said is content not only with the amplification supplied by the first but seeks to embellish it by transmitting it further, as if it were of his own making–and so much so that through this act and through the error caused by the love generated in it, it increases a reputation beyond what it originally was, whether, like the first mind, in accord or in discord with conscience. The third mind that receives it does the same, and the fourth, and hence it is inflated infinitely. And so, by reversing the above-mentioned motives to the contrary, one can perceive the reason for infamy, which increases in the same manner. Thus Vergil says in the fourth book of the Aeneid that “Fame thrives on movement and acquires greatness by going about.”(10)Anyone who wishes, then, can clearly see that the image generated by fame alone is always greater, no matter what kind it is, than the thing imagined is in its true state.
9. cast me out of her sweet bosom Dante was exiled from Florence on 27 January 1302 and condemned to death on 19 March 1302. He was in Rome at the time of his exile, and he never returned to his native Florence.
10. “Fame thrives on movement . . .” Aeneid IV, 175.