THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 2 CHAPTER 6 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
According to what was said above in the third chapter of this book, it was necessary, in order to understand properly the first part of the canzone before us, to speak of those heavens and of those who move them, and in the preceding three chapters this has been discussed. I say then to those whom I have shown to be the movers of the heaven of Venus: You whose intellect–that is, whose intellect alone, as has been said above–the third sphere moves, Now listen to the speech; and I do not say “listen” as though they should hear sound, for they have no sense perception, but I say “listen,” that is, with that hearing which they do have, which is understanding by the intellect.(24) I say: Listen to the speech that is in my heart, that is, within me, for it has not yet appeared without. And we must know that throughout this entire canzone, according to the one sense and the other, the “heart” is to be taken as the secret place within and not as some special part of the soul or body.
After I have summoned them to listen to what I wish to say, I assign two reasons why it is fitting for me to speak to them. One is the strangeness of my condition, which not having been experienced by other men could not be so well understood by them as by those beings who understand their own effects in their operation; and this reason I touch on when I say For I cannot speak to others, so strange it seems. The other reason is that when a person receives a benefit or an injury, he must first relate it to the one who has brought it about, if he can, rather than to others; so that if it is a benefit, he who receives it shows himself grateful toward his benefactor; and if it is an injury, he should move the malefactor with gentle words to kind compassion. I touch on this reason when I say The heaven that moves according to your power Draws me, O noble creatures that you are, into the state in which I find myself–that is to say, your operation (that is, your revolution) is what has drawn me into my present condition. Consequently I conclude by stating that my speech must be to them, as has been said; and this I say with the words And hence these words about the life I live Should properly be addressed to you.
After assigning these reasons, I beg them to listen to me when I say And so I pray that you will listen to me. But because in every kind of discourse the speaker should above all be intent on persuading (that is, on charming) his audience to listen–for this is the beginning of all other persuasions, according to the practice of the rhetoricians–and since the most potent persuasion for rendering the listener attentive is to promise to tell new and momentous things, I arrange to have this persuasion (that is, this charm) follow after the petition to be heard, announcing my intention to them, which is to speak of new things (that is, of the division that is in my soul) and of momentous things (that is, of the influence of their star). And this I say in the last words of this first part: I shall recount the strangeness in my heart, How here within my sad soul weeps And how against her speaks a spirit that comes Upon the rays descending from your star.
To convey the full meaning of these words, I say that this spirit is nothing other than a frequent thought to praise and adorn this new lady; and this soul is nothing other than another thought accompanied by an act of assent, which, opposing the former, praises and adorns the memory of that glorious Beatrice.(25) But since the final verdict of my mind (that is, its act of assent) was still held fast by this thought which my memory reinforces, I call it soul and the other spirit; just as we are used to calling a “city” those who hold it and not those who are attacking it, even though both are citizens. I say, moreover, that this spirit comes upon the rays of the star, because it is necessary to know that the rays of each heaven are the paths along which their virtue descends upon these things here below. Since rays are nothing other than the shining which comes from the source of the light through the air to the thing illuminated, and there is no light except from the body of the star, because the rest of the heaven is diaphanous (that is, transparent), I do not say that this spirit (that is, this thought) comes from their heaven as a whole but from their star. This star, by reason of the nobility of those who move it, is of such great virtue that it has immense influence upon our souls and upon all things belonging to us, notwithstanding that its distance from us, when it is nearest to us, is 167 times the distance to the center of the earth (and more), which is 3250 miles. This is the literal exposition of the first part of the canzone.
24. for they have no sense perception The angels have no body and therefore no power of sensation. Consequently they have no power nor need of language, as Dante explains in the De vulgari eloquentia I, 2.
25. adorn this new lady The donna gentile who consoled Dante immediately after the death of Beatrice (see the Vita Nuova, XXXV-XXXIX).