THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 2 CHAPTER 9 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
Returning to the subject, I say that in the stanza which begins The humble thought, I intend to reveal what my soul discoursed within me–that is, the old thought in opposition to the new. First I briefly reveal the cause of her sorrowful words when I say The humble thought that used to speak to me Of an angel who is crowned in heaven Encounters now a foe who slays it. This is that special thought of which it is said above that it was once The life of my grieving heart. Then when I say The soul cries out, for this still grieves her, I show that my soul is still on its side and speaks with sadness; and I say that she speaks words while lamenting, almost as if she were amazed at the sudden transformation, saying: Alas, how he is fled, The compassionate one who once consoled me. Well may she say “consoled,” for in her great loss this thought, which ascended to heaven, had given her much consolation.
Then afterwards to excuse her I say that all my thought (that is, the soul), which I call this anguished one, turns and speaks against my eyes; and this is made manifest by the words And of my eyes this anguished one remarks. And I tell how she says three things about them and against them. The first is that she curses the hour when this lady looked on them. Here it should be known that although many things can enter the eye at the same time, nevertheless that which enters along a straight line into the center of the pupil is the only one that is truly seen and which stamps itself upon the imagination. This is because the nerve along which the visual spirit runs is pointed in this direction; and therefore one eye cannot really look into another eye without being seen by it; for just as the one which looks receives the form in the pupil along a straight line, so along that same line its own form proceeds into the one it looks at; and many times along the extension of this line is discharged the bow of him against whom all arms are light. Therefore when I say that such a lady looked on them, it is as much as to say that her eyes and mine looked upon one another.
The second thing she says is that she reprimands their disobedience, when she says Why would they not believe my word of her? Then she proceeds to the third, saying that she should not reproach herself, as though she had not foreseen, but should reproach them for not having obeyed, since she says that on occasion in speaking of this lady she would say: In her eyes would reside power over me, if she opened the pathway to it; and this she says with the words And I: `Now surely in her eyes.’ And indeed we must believe that my soul knew that its own disposition was capable of receiving the actuality of this lady, and therefore feared her; for the actuality of the agent is apprehended in the patient disposed toward it, as the Philosopher says in the second book of On the Soul.(29)And therefore if wax had the spirit of fear, it would more greatly fear encountering the rays of the sun than would a stone, because its disposition receives the rays with greater efficacy.
Finally the soul makes manifest in her discourse that the eyes’ presumption endangered them, when she says But my perceiving this did not avail, For still they gazed on him, whereby I’m slain; she says gazed on him, on the one about whom she had earlier said the one who slays the likes of me. With this she ends her words, to which the new thought replies, as will be explained in the following chapter.
29. in the second book of On the Soul II, 2.