THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 1 CHAPTER 6 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
Having shown how the present commentary would not have been subject to the vernacular canzoni if it had been in Latin, it remains to show how it would not have understood them nor have been obedient to them; and then we will reach the conclusion that to avoid creating an inappropriate relationship it was necessary to speak in the vernacular. I say that Latin would not have been an understanding servant to its vernacular master for the following reason. The servant’s understanding requires, above all, his understanding two things perfectly. One is the nature of his master. Now there are masters of so asinine a nature that they order the opposite of what they desire, and others who without uttering a word expect to be understood, and others who do not want a servant to set about doing what is necessary unless they order it. Why there are these differences in men I do not intend to explain at present (for this would make the digression much too long), except insofar as to say that in general such men whom reason so little benefits are all but animals. Therefore if the servant does not understand his master’s nature, it is evident that he cannot serve him perfectly. The other point is that the servant must understand the friends of his master, for otherwise he could not honor or serve them, and consequently he would not serve his master perfectly; for friends are like the parts of a whole, since their whole consists of unity in willing and in not willing.
Neither would the Latin commentary have understood these things, which the vernacular itself does. That Latin does not understand the vernacular and its friends is proved as follows. He who knows a thing in general does not know it perfectly, just as anyone who recognizes an animal from a distance does not recognize it perfectly because he does not know whether it is a dog, a wolf, or a goat. Latin understands the vernacular in general, but not in particular, for if it understood it in particular it would understand all the vernaculars, because there is no reason why it should understand one better than another. So any man having perfect knowledge of Latin would have the habit of understanding the vernacular in particular. But this is not the case, for a person having perfect knowledge of Latin does not distinguish, if he is from Italy, the English vernacular from the German; nor if a German, the Italian vernacular from the Provençal. Thus it is evident that Latin does not understand the vernacular.
Moreover, it does not understand its friends, since it is impossible to know a person’s friends without first knowing the person; therefore if Latin does not know the vernacular, as proved above, it is impossible for it to know its friends. Moreover, without intimacy and familiarity it is impossible to know people, and Latin does not have an affiliation with as many people in any language as does the vernacular of that language, to which all are friends; consequently it cannot know the friends of the vernacular. It is not a contradiction to say, as one might, that Latin all the same does have an association with certain friends of the vernacular; for, it is not therefore familiar with all of them, and so does not understand its friends perfectly, since perfect and not defective knowledge is required.