The Convivio 
by Dante Alighieri 
translated by Richard Lansing 

Book 02

Chapter 10

We have thus explained the meaning of the part in which the soul speaks (that is, of the old thought which was destroyed). Subsequently the meaning of the part in which the new and opposing thought speaks must now be explained; and this part is completely contained in the stanza which begins You are not slain. To be correctly understood, this part must be divided in two: in the first part the opposing thought reprimands the soul for cowardice; and later in the second, beginning with the words See how compassionate she is, he declares what this reprimanded soul must do.

He says then, continuing from her last words: it is not true that you are slain; but the reason that you seem to be slain is the bewilderment into which you have fallen so abjectly for this lady who has appeared. Here it must be noted that, as Boethius says in his Consolation, “no sudden change in things can take place without some perturbation of the mind.”(30) This is the meaning of the reprimand made by this thought, which is called a “little spirit of love,” to indicate that my consent inclined towards him; and so we can understand this all the better and recognize his victory, since he already says “our soul,” thereby making himself intimate with her. Then as has been said, he declares what this reprimanded soul must do in order to come to him, and he says to her See how compassionate she is, and humble, for the appropriate remedy to fear, by which the soul seems possessed, consists of two things; and these, especially when joined, are what cause a person to have good hope, and above all compassion, which makes every other goodness shine with its light. This is why Vergil, in speaking of Aeneas, sings his greatest praise by calling him compassionate. And compassion is not what the common people think it is, namely, grieving over another’s misfortune, which is one of its special effects that is called pity, and is an emotion. Compassion, however, is not an emotion, but rather a noble disposition of the mind, ready to receive love, pity, and other emotions arising out of charity.

Then he says: See also how she is courteous and wise in her magnificence. Here he speaks of three things which, among those that can be acquired by us, especially make a person pleasing. He says “wise”: now what is more beautiful in a woman than to be wise? He says “courteous”: nothing is more becoming in a woman than courtesy. And the wretches of the common herd should not be deceived as well by this word, thinking courtesy nothing other than liberality; for liberality is a special, not a general, kind of courtesy! Courtesy and dignity are one and the same; and because in the courts in times past virtue and fine manners were practiced, just as the contrary is now the case, this word was derived from courts and “courtesy” was as much as to say “the custom of the court.” If this word were derived from the courts of the present day, especially those of Italy, it would mean nothing but rudeness.

He says in her magnificence. Temporal greatness, which is meant here, is most of all becoming when accompanied by the two previously mentioned goodnesses, because it is the light which clearly reveals the good and its opposite in a person. How much wisdom and how much habit of virtue go unnoticed for lack of this light! How much stupidity and how many vices are discerned by possessing this light! It would be better for the wretched, stupid, foolish, and despicable nobles to dwell in low estate, for neither in this world nor in the afterlife would they be so disgraced. Indeed it is for them that Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun, namely riches preserved for their owner’s ruin.”(31) Then he subsequently compels her, my soul that is, to call this one her lady, promising her that she will be gladdened by this when she becomes aware of her adornments; and this he says with the words Unless you err through self-deceit you’ll see. Nor does he say anything else for the remainder of this stanza. This completes the literal meaning of all that I say in this canzone in addressing these celestial Intelligences.

30. “no sudden change . . .” De consolatione philosophiae II, 1, 3.

31. Solomon says Ecclesiastes 5:13.


Popular Posts