THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 1 CHAPTER 13 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
Having said how there exist in my native tongue these two characteristics which have made me its friend–that is, nearness to myself and goodness proper to it–I will tell how friendship, through benefits and harmony of purpose, and through a sense of benevolence born of long familiarity, is strengthened and increased. I say first that for myself I have received from it the gift of very great benefits. For we know that among all benefits the greatest is the one that is most precious to him who receives it; and nothing is so precious as the thing for the sake of which all other things are desired; and all other things are desired for the perfection of him who desires them. Therefore, since man has two perfections, one primary and one secondary (the first causes him to exist, the second causes him to be good), I have received, if my native tongue has been the cause of both the one and the other, very great benefit from it. And that it has been the cause of my being, and moreover of my being good–unless I should fall through fault of my own–may briefly be shown.
It is not impossible, according to the philosopher, as he says in the second book of the Physics, for a thing to have several efficient causes, although among them one is principal; thus the fire and the hammer are the efficient causes of the knife, although the smith is the principal one.(25) This vernacular of mine was what brought my parents together, for they conversed in it, just as it is the fire that prepares the iron for the smith who makes the knife; and so it is evident that it has contributed to my generation, and so was one cause of my being. Moreover, this vernacular of mine was what led me into the path of knowledge which is our ultimate perfection, since through it I entered upon Latin and through its agency Latin was taught to me, which then became my path to further progress. So it is evident that it has been a very great benefactor to me, and this I acknowledge.
Furthermore, it has had the same purpose as I myself, and this I can show as follows. Everything by nature pursues its own preservation; thus if the vernacular could by itself pursue anything, it would pursue that; and that would be to secure itself greater stability, and greater stability it could gain only by binding itself with meter and with rhyme. This has been precisely my purpose, as is so evident that it requires no proof. Consequently, its purpose and mine have been one and the same, so that through this harmony our friendship has been strengthened and increased. There has also been a sense of benevolence born of familiarity; for from the beginning of my life I have looked on it with benevolence and been intimate with it, and have used it in deliberating, explaining, and questioning. Consequently, if friendship increases through familiarity, as seems plain to the senses, it is evident that it has been greatly increased in me, since I have used it all my life. And so we see that all the causes that engender and increase friendship have joined together in this friendship, from which we must conclude that not simply love but most perfect love is what I ought to have, and do have, for it.
So turning our gaze backwards and gathering together the reasons already noted, we can see that this bread, with which the canzoni placed below must be eaten, is sufficiently cleansed of its impurities and of being oaten. Therefore it is time to think of serving the meat. This commentary shall be that bread made with barley by which thousands shall be satiated, and my baskets shall be full to overflowing with it.(26) This shall be a new light, a new sun which shall rise where the old sun shall set and which shall give light to those who lie in shadows and in darkness because the old sun no longer sheds its light upon them.(27)
25. second book of the Physics See St. Thomas’ Commentary to the second book of the Physics, lect. 5.
26. by which thousands shall be satiated These lines echo John 6:5-13.
27. the new light The metaphor refers not to the vernacular as opposed to Latin, but to the commentary in the vernacular as opposed to other works by other authors in the vernacular (Chiappelli).