THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 2 CHAPTER 8 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
Now that it has been shown how and why love is born and what conflict embattled me, it is appropriate to disclose the meaning of that part in which conflicting thoughts contend within me.(27) I say that first it is appropriate to speak on the side of the soul (that is, of the old thought) and then of the other, for this reason: that what the speaker intends above all to stress must be reserved for the last, because what is said last remains most in the mind of the listener. Consequently since I intend to say and speak more about that which the work of those beings whom I address does than that which it undoes, it was reasonable first to mention and discuss the condition of the side which was being destroyed, and afterwards of that which was being brought to birth.
Here, however, arises a doubt which cannot be passed over without clarification. Someone might ask: “Since love is the effect of these Intelligences whom I address, and the former thought was love as much as the latter, why does their power destroy the one and give birth to the other, since it should rather preserve the former, for the reason that every cause loves its own effect, and, loving the one, preserves the other?” This question may easily be answered by saying that their effect is love, as has been said; and since they cannot preserve it except in those subjects which come under the influence of their revolution, they transfer it from that region which is outside of their power to that which is within it, that is to say, from the soul departed from this life to the soul which is still in it; just as human nature transfers its own preservation in the human form from father to son, because it cannot preserve its effect perpetually in the father. I say “effect” in that the soul conjoined with the body is its effect; for the soul, once it is departed, endures perpetually in a nature which is more than human. Thus the question is settled.
But since the immortality of the soul has been touched on here, I will make a digression and discuss this topic; for with this discussion it will be well to finish speaking of that blessed living Beatrice, of whom as a matter of purpose I do not intend to speak further in this work. I say that of all the follies the most foolish, the basest, and the most pernicious is the belief that beyond this life there is no other; for, if we look through all the books of both the philosophers and the other sages who have written on this topic, they all agree in this: that there is some part of us which is immortal. Aristotle seems to confirm this above all in his book On the Soul; every Stoic seems above all to confirm this; Tully seems to confirm this, especially in his short book On Old Age; every poet who has spoken according to the pagan faith seems to confirm this; every creed confirms this–whether Jews, Saracens, Tartars, or whoever else lives according to any principle of reason. If all of these were in error, there would exist an impossibility too horrible even to relate. Everyone is certain that human nature is the most perfect of all natures here below. No one denies this, and Aristotle affirms it when he says in the twelfth book On the Animals that man is the most perfect of all the animals.(28) Consequently since many living creatures are entirely mortal, as for example the brute beasts, and all are, while they are alive, without this hope (that is, of another life), if our hope were vain, the defect in us would be greater than in any other animal, because many people have already lived who have given up this life for the other. So it would follow that the most perfect animal, namely man, was the most imperfect–which is impossible–and that that part which is his greatest perfection, namely reason, was the cause of the greatest defect in him–which seems a very strange thing to say.
Moreover, it would follow that nature had placed this hope within the human mind in opposition to itself, since it has been said that many have hastened the death of the body in order to live in the other life; and this is likewise impossible.
Moreover, we see continual proof of our immortality in the divinations of our dreams, which we could not have if there were not some immortal part within us, since the revealer, whether corporeal or incorporeal, must necessarily be immortal, if we give the matter careful thought–and I say “corporeal or incorporeal” because of the diversity of opinion which I find on this point; and that which is set in motion by or receives its form directly from an informing agent must stand in proportion to the informing agent, and between the mortal and the immortal there is no proportion.
Moreover, we are made certain of this by the most truthful teaching of Christ, which is the way, the truth, and the light: the way, because by it we proceed without impediment to the happiness of this immortality; the truth, because it is not subject to error; the light, because it illuminates us in the darkness of earthly ignorance. This teaching, I say, makes us certain above all other reasons, for he has given it to us who sees and measures our immortality, which we cannot see perfectly while our immortal part is mixed with our mortal part; but we see it perfectly by faith, and by reason we see it with a shadow of obscurity, which happens because of the mixture of the mortal with the immortal. This should be the strongest argument that there exist in us the one and the other; and I therefore believe, affirm, and am certain that I shall pass to another and better life after this one, where that lady lives in glory, of whom my soul was enamored when I was caught up in my struggle, as will be discussed in the following chapter.
27. the meaning of that part The reference is to the third stanza.
28. in the twelfth book In fact, it is Book XIII.