De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book II: Chapter I Introduction. Whether the Roman People Rightfully Appropriated the Office of Monarchy


And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Lk





1. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their yoke from us.’ ”1

2. We are wont to marvel at any strange effect when we have never beheld the face of its cause,2 and, when we have learned to know the cause, to look down with a sort of derision on those still lost in astonishment. I, in truth, at one time marveled that without resistance the Roman people had become sovereign throughout the earth; for, looking merely superficially at the matter, I believe they had obtained sovereignty not by right, but by force of arms alone.3 However, after the eyes of my mind had pierced to the marrow thereof, and I had come to understand by most convincing tokens that Divine Providence had effected this thing, my wonder vanished, and in its place rises a certain derisive contempt when I hear the heathen raging against the preëminence of the Roman race; when I see people, as I was wont, imagining a vain thing; when, more than all, I find to my grief kings and princes concordant only in the error4 of taking counsel together against their Lord and His one Roman Prince. Wherefore, on behalf of this glorious people and of Caesar I exclaim, in derision that is also sorrow, with him who cried aloud on behalf of the Prince of heaven, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed.”

3. Yet lasting derision is not compatible with natural love, but as the summer sun, rising splendid above the scattered mists of morning, sheds abroad its beams, so love, dispelling its derision, would send forth an amending light.5 To break asunder, then, the bonds of ignorance for those kings and princes, to prove the human race free from their yoke, I will exhort myself, as did that most holy prophet whom I follow, with the words that come in order after, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.”

4. These two things will be done well enough if I proceed with the second part of my main proposition, and reveal the truth of the question now pending. For when it is proved that the Roman Empire existed by right, not only will the clouds of ignorance be cleared from the eyes of kings and princes who usurp to themselves public guidance, falsely believing that the Roman people had done so, but all mortals will know that they are free from the yoke of usurpers. Nor will the truth be revealed in the light of human reason alone, but also in the radiance of divine authority. And when these two unite together, heaven and earth must together give approval.6 Resting, therefore, in that trust of which I have previously spoken,7 and supported by the testimony of reason and authority, I enter upon the solution of the second question.

[1. ]Ps. 2. 1-3. Cf. Acts 4. 25-27. The same language of the Psalm is used in Letter 6. 2: “To the infamous Florentines within the city.”

[2. ]Conv. 4. 25. 4: “The sight of great and wonderful things . . . make those that perceive them desire to know them.”

Purg. 28. 90: “I will tell how by its cause proceeds that which makes thee wonder; and I will purge away the cloud which smites.”

Par. 1. 83: “The strangeness of the sound and the great light kindled in me a desire for their cause never before felt with such keenness.”

[3. ]Conv. 4. 4. 3: “Some may demur, saying . . . the Roman power was not acquired by reason, nor by decree of a universal convention, but by force.”

Conv. 4. 4. 5: “Force was not the active cause; . . . not force but law, and that Divine, was the beginning of the Roman Empire.”

[4. ] Reading “in hoc vitio” (in the error) and “unico suo” (His one) with Moore and Witte, rather than “in hos unico” and “uncto suo” with Giuliani. See Toynbee, Dante Studies, p. 302, for his interesting support of Giuliani’s reading and its bearing on the date of the De Mon. If, as he believes, “uncto” definitely refers to Henry VII as the Lord’s “anointed,” there would be strong reason for dating the treatise at a time shortly after Henry’s coming to Italy.

The whole of par. 2 is interesting for the information it contains concerning the change of political opinion that came upon Dante at some time in his life and made him one of the most enthusiastic and idealistic of Ghibellines, so idealistic indeed that in Purg. 27. 69 Cacciaguida rightly prophesies of the poet, “It shall be honorable to thee to have made thee a party by thyself.”

[5. ] This figure is found again Conv. 2. 14. 3: “Labor of study and strife of doubt . . . are dissipated almost like little morning clouds before the face of the sun.”

[6. ]Par. 25. 2: “The sacred poem to which both heaven and earth have set a hand.”

[7. ]De Mon. 1. 1. 2.


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