THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 2 CHAPTER 7 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
The literal meaning of the first part may be sufficiently understood by the above words; consequently the second must now be attended to, which reveals what I experienced of conflict within. And this part has a further division, for in the first, that is, in the first stanza, I relate the nature of these conflicting thoughts which were within me, according to their root; then I relate what each of these conflicting thoughts said: first what the side that lost said (that is, in the stanza which is the second of this part and the third of the canzone) and then what the new thought said (that is, in the stanza which is the third of this part and the fourth of the canzone).
To make clear then the meaning of the first division, we must observe that things should be named according to the highest nobility of their form, as, for example, man from reason and not from the senses, nor anything else that is less noble. Therefore when we say that man lives, what is meant to be understood is that he uses his reason, which is his special life and the actualizing of his most noble part. Therefore he who departs from his reason and uses merely his sensitive part lives not as a man but as a beast; as that most excellent Boethius says, “He lives the life of an ass.”(26) Rightly so, I say, because thought is an act peculiar to reason, for beasts do not think, since they have no reason; and I say this not only of the lesser beasts, but of those that have the semblance of a man and the spirit of a sheep or some other detestable animal.
I say, then, that the life of my heart (that is, of my inner self) used to be a sweet thought (“sweet” is the same as “suasive,” that is, charming, gentle, pleasing, and delightful), a thought which would often go to the feet of the Lord of those beings whom I address, namely God; this is to say that I, in thought, contemplated the kingdom of the blessed. And immediately I tell the final cause of my ascending there in thought when I say Where it would see a lady in glorious light, to make it understood that it is because I was certain, and still am, by reason of her gracious revelation, that she was in heaven. So to the extent of my ability I often went there in thought, as if I had been seized.
Then subsequently I tell the effect of this thought, which was so great that to make its sweetness understood it made me long for death, so as to go where it had gone, and this I say with the words Of whom it would speak to me so sweetly That my soul would say: “I wish to go there.” This is the root of one of the conflicting thoughts within me. It should also be known that what ascended to behold that blessed one is here called “thought” and not “soul,” because it was a thought especially conceived for that act. By soul is meant, as was said in the previous chapter, thought in general with assent.
Then when I say Now one appears who puts it to flight, I tell of the root of the other conflicting thought, saying that just as this thought, mentioned above, used to be my life, so another appears which makes that one cease to exist. I say “to flight,” to show this one to be contrary, for by nature one contrary flees another, and the one that flees shows that it flees for lack of strength. And I say that this new thought that appears has the power to seize me and to conquer my entire soul, saying that it so rules that the heart (that is, my inner self) trembles, and my outer self shows it by a certain new semblance.
Subsequently I show the power of this new thought by its effect, saying that it makes me gaze upon a lady and addresses words of flattery to me (that is, speaks before the eyes of my intellectual affection in order the better to draw me over, promising me that the sight of her eyes is its salvation). And the better to convince the experienced soul of this, it says that the eyes of this lady are not to be looked upon by anyone who fears sighs of anguish. It is a fine rhetorical figure which makes a thing seem outwardly lacking in beauty, while inwardly making it truly beautiful. The new thought of love could not better induce my mind to give consent than by speaking so profoundly on the virtue of that lady’s eyes.
26. “He lives the life of an ass.” De consolatione philosophiae IV, 3, 11.