The Banquet (Il Convito) by Dante Alighieri

As the Philosopher says in the beginning of the first Philosophy, "All
men naturally desire Knowledge." The reason of which may be, that each
thing, impelled by the intuition of its own nature, tends towards its
perfection, hence, forasmuch as Knowledge is the final perfection of
our Soul, in which our ultimate happiness consists, we are all
naturally subject to the desire for it.

Verily, many are deprived of this most noble perfection, by divers
causes within the man and without him, which remove him from the use
of Knowledge.

Within the man there may be two defects or impediments, the one on the
part of the Body, the other on the part of the Soul. On the part of
the Body it is, when the parts are unfitly disposed, so that it can
receive nothing as with the deaf and dumb, and their like. On the part
of the Soul it is, when evil triumphs in it, so that it becomes the
follower of vicious pleasures, through which it is so much deceived,
that on account of them it holds everything in contempt.

Without the man, two causes may in like manner be understood, of which
one comes of necessity, the other of stagnation. The first is the
management of the family and conduct of civil affairs, which fitly
draws to itself the greater number of men, so that they cannot live in
the quietness of speculation. The other is the fault of the place
where a person is born and reared, which will ofttimes be not only
without any School whatever, but may be far distant from studious
people. The two first of these causes--the first of the hindrance from
within, and the first of the hindrance from without--are not deserving
of blame, but of excuse and pardon; the two others, although the one
more than the other, deserve blame and are to be detested.

Hence, he who reflects well, can manifestly see that they are few who
can attain to the enjoyment of Knowledge, though it is desired by all,
and almost innumerable are the fettered ones who live for ever
famished of this food.

Oh, blessed are those few who sit at that table where the Bread of
Angels is eaten, and wretched those who can feed only as the Sheep.
But because each man is naturally friendly to each man, and each
friend grieves for the fault of him whom he loves; they who are fed at
that high table are full of mercy towards those whom they see straying
in one pasture with the creatures who eat grass and acorns.

And forasmuch as Mercy is the Mother of Benevolence, those who know
how, do always liberally offer their good wealth to the true poor, and
are like a living stream, whose water cools the before-named natural
thirst. I, then, who sit not at the blessed table, but having fled
from the pasture of the common herd, lie at the feet of those who sit
there and gather up what falls from them, by the sweetness which I
find in that which I collect little by little, I know the wretched
life of those whom I have left behind me; and moved mercifully for the
unhappy ones, not forgetting myself, I have reserved something which I
have shown to their eyes long ago, and for this I have made them
greatly desirous. Wherefore, now wishing to prepare for them, I mean
to make a common Banquet of this which I have shown to them, and of
that needed bread without which food such as this could not be eaten
by them at their feast; bread fit for such meat, which I know, without
it, would be furnished forth in vain. And therefore I desire that no
one should sit at this Banquet whose members are so unfitly disposed
that he has neither teeth, nor tongue, nor palate: nor any follower of
vice; inasmuch as his stomach is full of venomous and hurtful humours,
so that it will retain no food whatever. But let those come to us,
whosoever they be, who, pressed by the management of civil and
domestic life, have felt this human hunger, and at one table with
others who have been in like bondage, let them sit. But at their feet
let us place all those who have been the slaves of sloth, and who are
not worthy to sit higher: and then let these and those eat of my dish,
with the bread which I will cause them to taste and to digest.

The meat at this repast will be prepared in fourteen different ways,
that is, in fourteen Songs, some of whose themes will be of Love and
some of Virtue: which, without the present bread, might have some
shadow of obscurity, so that to many they might be acceptable more on
account of their form than because of their spirit. But this bread is
the present Exposition. It will be the Light whereby each colour of
their design will be made visible.

And if in the present work, which is named "Convito"--the Banquet, the
glad Life Together--I desire that the subject should be discussed more
maturely than in the Vita Nuova--the New Life--I do not therefore mean
in any degree to undervalue that Fresh Life, but greatly to enhance
it; seeing how reasonable it is for that age to be fervid and
passionate, and for this to be mature and temperate. At one age it is
fit to speak and work in one way, and at another age in another way;
because certain manners are fit and praiseworthy at one age which are
improper and blameable at another, as will be demonstrated with
suitable argument in the fourth treatise of this Book. In that first
Book (Vita Nuova) at the entrance into my youth I spoke; and in this
latter I speak after my youth has already passed away. And since my
true meaning may be other than that which the aforesaid songs show
forth, I mean by an allegoric exposition to explain these after the
literal argument shall have been reasoned out: so that the one
argument with the other shall give a relish to those who are the
guests invited to this Banquet. And of them all I pray that if the
feast be not so splendid as befits the proclamation thereof, let them
impute each defect, not to my will but to my means, since my will here
is to a full and loving Liberality.


In preparing for every well-ordered Banquet the servants are wont to
take the proper bread, and see that it is clean from all blemish;
wherefore I, who in the present writing stand in servant's place,
intend firstly to remove two spots from this exposition which at my
repast stands in the place of bread.

The one is, that it appears to be unlawful for any one to speak of
himself; the other, that it seems to be unreasonable to speak too
deeply when giving explanations. Let the knife of my judgment pare
away from the present treatise the unlawful and the unreasonable. One
does not permit any Rhetorician to speak of himself without a
necessary cause. And from this is the man removed, because he can
speak of no one without praise or blame of those of whom he speaks;
which two causes commonly induce a man to speak of himself. And in
order to remove a doubt which here arises, I say that it is worse for
any one to blame than to praise himself, although neither may have to
be done. The reason is, that anything which is essentially wrong is
worse than that which is wrong through accident. For a man openly to
bring contempt on himself is essentially wrong to his friend, because
a man owes it to take account of his fault secretly, and no one is
more friendly to himself than the man himself. In the chamber of his
thoughts, therefore, he should reprove himself and weep over his
faults, and not before the world. Again, a man is but seldom blamed
when he has not the power or the knowledge requisite to guide himself
aright: but he is always blamed when weak of will, because our good or
evil dispositions are measured by the strength of will. Wherefore he
who blames himself proves that he knows his fault, while he reveals
his want of goodness; if, therefore, he know his fault, let him no
more speak evil of himself. If a man praise himself it is to avoid
evil, as it were; inasmuch as it cannot be done except such
self-laudation become in excess dishonour; it is praise in appearance,
it is infamy in substance. For the words are spoken to prove that of
which he has not inward assurance. Hence, he who lauds himself proves
his belief that he is not esteemed to be a good man, and this befalls
him not unless he have an evil conscience, which he reveals by
self-praise, and in so revealing it he blames himself.

And, again, self-praise and self-blame are to be shunned equally, for
this reason, that it is false witnessing. Because there is no man who
can be a true and just judge of himself, so much will self-love
deceive him. Hence it happens that every man has in his own judgment
the measures of the false merchant, who sells with the one, and buys
with the other. Every man weights the scales against his own
wrong-doing, and adds weight to his good deeds; so that the number and
the quantity and the weight of the good deeds appear to him to be
greater than if they were tried in a just balance; and in like manner
the evil appears less. Wherefore speaking of himself with praise or
with blame, either he speaks falsely with regard to the thing of which
he speaks, or he speaks falsely by the fault of his judgment; and as
the one is untruth, so is the other. And therefore, since to acquiesce
is to admit, he is wrong who praises or who blames before the face of
any man; because the man thus appraised can neither acquiesce nor deny
without falling into the error of either praising or blaming himself.
Reserve the way of due correction, which cannot be taken without
reproof of error, and which corrects if understood. Reserve also the
way of due honour and glory, which cannot be taken without mention of
virtuous works, or of dignities that have been worthily acquired.

And in truth, returning to the main argument, I say, as before, that
it is permitted to a man for requisite reasons to speak of himself.
And amongst the several requisite reasons two are most evident: the
one is when a man cannot avoid great danger and infamy, unless he
discourse of himself; and then it is conceded for the reason, that to
take the less objectionable of the only two paths, is to take as it
were a good one. And this necessity moved Boethius to speak of
himself, in order that under pretext of Consolation he might excuse
the perpetual shame of his imprisonment, by showing that imprisonment
to be unjust; since no other man arose to justify him. And this reason
moved St. Augustine to speak of himself in his Confessions; that, by
the progress of his life, which was from bad to good, and from good to
better, and from better to best, he might give example and
instruction, which, from truer testimony, no one could receive.
Therefore, if either of these reasons excuse me, the bread of my
moulding is sufficiently cleared from its first impurity.

The fear of shame moves me; and I am moved by the desire to give
instruction which others truly are unable to give. I fear shame for
having followed passion so ardently, as he may conceive who reads the
afore-named Songs, and sees how greatly I was ruled by it; which shame
ceases entirely by the present speech of myself, which proves that not
passion but virtue may have been the moving cause.

I intend also to demonstrate the true meaning of those Poems, which
some could not perceive unless I relate it, because it is concealed
under the veil of Allegory; and this it not only will give pleasure to
hear, but subtle instruction, both as to the diction and as to the
intention of the other writings.


Much fault is in that thing which is appointed to remove some grave
evil, and yet encourages it; even as in the man who might be sent to
quell a tumult, and, before he had quelled it, should begin another.

And forasmuch as my bread is made clean on one side, it behoves me to
cleanse it on the other, in order to shun this reproof: that my
writing, which one may term, as it were, a Commentary, is appointed to
remove obscurity from the before-mentioned Songs, and is, in fact,
itself at times a little hard to understand. This obscurity is here
intended, in order to avoid a greater defect, and does not occur
through ignorance. Alas! would that it might have pleased the
Dispenser of the Universe that the cause of my excuse might never have
been; that others might neither have sinned against me, nor I have
suffered punishment unjustly; the punishment, I say, of exile and
poverty! Since it was the pleasure of the citizens of the most
beautiful and the most famous daughter of Rome, Florence, to cast me
out from her most sweet bosom (wherein I was born and nourished even
to the height of my life, and in which, with her goodwill, I desire
with all my heart to repose my weary soul, and to end the time which
is given to me), I have gone through almost all the land in which this
language lives--a pilgrim, almost a mendicant--showing forth against
my will the wound of Fortune, with which the ruined man is often
unjustly reproached. Truly I have been a ship without a sail and
without a rudder, borne to divers ports and lands and shores by the
dry wind which blows from doleful poverty; and I have appeared vile in
the eyes of many, who perhaps through some report may have imaged me
in other form. In the sight of whom not only my person became vile,
but each work already completed was held to be of less value than that
might again be which remained yet to be done.

The reason wherefore this happens (not only to me but to all), it now
pleases me here briefly to touch upon. And firstly, it is because
rumour goes beyond the truth; and then, what is beyond the truth
restricts and strangles it. Good report is the first born of kindly
thought in the mind of the friend; which the mind of the foe, although
it may receive the seed, conceives not.

That mind which gives birth to it in the first place, so to make its
gift more fair, as by the charity of friendship, keeps not within
bounds of truth, but passes beyond them. When one does that to adorn a
tale, he speaks against his conscience; when it is charity that causes
him to pass the bounds, he speaks not against conscience.

The second mind which receives this, not only is content with the
exaggeration of the first mind, but its own report adds its own effect
of endeavours to embellish, and so by this action, and by the
deception which it also receives from the goodwill generated in it,
good report is made more ample than it should be; either with the
consent or the dissent of the conscience; even as it was with the
first mind. And the third receiving mind does this; and the fourth;
and thus the exaggeration of good ever grows. And so, by turning the
aforesaid motives in the contrary direction, one can perceive why
ill-fame in like manner is made to grow. Wherefore Virgil says in the
fourth of the Æneid: "Let Fame live to be fickle, and grow as she
goes." Clearly, then, he who is willing may perceive that the image
generated by Fame alone is always larger, whatever it may be, than the
thing imaged is, in its true state.


Having previously shown the reason why Fame magnifies the good and the
evil beyond due limit, it remains in this chapter to show forth those
reasons which make evident why the Presence restricts in the opposite
way, and having shown this I will return to the principal proposition.
I say, then, that for three causes his Presence makes a person of less
value than he is. The first is childishness, I do not say of age, but
of mind; the second is envy; and these are in the judge: the third is
human impurity; and this is in the person judged. The first, one can
briefly reason thus: the greater part of men live according to sense
and not according to reason, after the manner of children, and the
like of these judge things simply from without; and the goodness which
is ordained to a fit end they perceive not, because the eyes of
Reason, which they need in order to perceive it, are closed. Hence,
they soon see all that they can, and judge according to their sight.

And forasmuch as any opinion they form on the good fame of others,
from hearsay, with which, in the presence of the person judged, their
imperfect judgment may dissent, they amend not according to reason,
because they judge merely according to sense, they will deem that
which they have first heard to be a lie as it were, and dispraise the
person who was previously praised. Hence, in such men, and such are
almost all, Presence restricts the one fame and the other. Such men as
these are inconstant and are soon cloyed; they are often gay and often
sad from brief joys and sorrows; speedy friends and speedy foes; each
thing they do like children, without the use of reason.

The second observation from these reasons is, that due comparison is
cause for envy to the vicious; and envy is a cause of evil judgment,
because it does not permit Reason to argue for that which is envied,
and the judicial power is then like the judge who hears only one side.
Hence, when such men as these perceive a person to be famous, they are
immediately jealous, because they compare members and powers; and they
fear, on account of the excellence of such an one, to be themselves
accounted of less worth; and these passionate men, not only judge
evilly, but, by defamation, they cause others to judge evilly.
Wherefore with such men their apprehension restricts the
acknowledgment of good and evil in each person represented; and I say
this also of evil, because many who delight in evil deeds have envy
towards evil-doers.

The third observation is of human frailty, which one accepts on the
part of him who is judged, and from which familiar conversation is not
altogether free. In evidence of this, it is to be known that man is
stained in many parts; and, as says St. Augustine, "none is without
spot." Now, the man is stained with some passion, which he cannot
always resist; now, he is blemished by some fault of limb; now, he is
bruised by some blow from Fortune; now, he is soiled by the ill-fame
of his parents, or of some near relation: things which Fame does not
bear with her, but which hang to the man, so that he reveals them by
his conversation; and these spots cast some shadow upon the brightness
of goodness, so that they cause it to appear less bright and less
excellent. And this is the reason why each prophet is less honoured in
his own country; and this is why the good man ought to give his
presence to few, and his familiarity to still fewer, in order that his
name may be received and not despised. And this third observation may
be the same for the evil as for the good, if we reverse the conditions
of the argument. Wherefore it is clearly evident that by
imperfections, from which no one is free, the seen Presence restricts
right perception of the good and of the evil in every one, more than
truth desires. Hence, since, as has been said above, I myself have
been, as it were, visibly present to all the Italians, by which I
perhaps am made more vile than truth desires, not only to those to
whom my repute had already run, but also to others, whereby I am made
the lighter; it behoves me that with a more lofty style I may give to
the present work a little gravity, through which it may show greater
authority. Let this suffice to excuse the difficulty of my commentary.


Since this bread is now cleared of accidental spots, it remains to
excuse it from a substantial one, that is for being in my native
tongue and not in Latin; which by similitude one may term, of
barley-meal and not of wheaten flour. And from this it is briefly
excused by three reasons which moved me to choose the one rather than
the other. One springs from the avoidance of inconvenient Unfitness:
the second from the readiness of well-adjusted Liberality; the third
from the natural Love for one's own Native Tongue. And these things,
with the grounds for them, to the staying of all possible reproof, I
mean in due order to reason out in this form.

That which most adorns and commends human actions, and which most
directly leads them to a good result, is the use of dispositions best
adapted to the end in view; as the end aimed at in knighthood is
courage of mind and strength of body. And thus he who is ordained to
the service of others, ought to have those dispositions which are
suited to that end; as submission, knowledge and obedience, without
which any one is unfit to serve well. Because if he is not subject to
each of these conditions, he proceeds in his service always with
fatigue and trouble, and but seldom continues in it. If he is not
obedient, he never serves except as in his wisdom he thinks fit, and
when he wills; which is rather the service of a friend than of a
servant. Hence, to escape this disorder, this commentary is fit, which
is made as a servant to the under-written Songs, in order to be
subject to these, and to each separate command of theirs. It must be
conscious of the wants of its lord, and obedient to him, which
dispositions would be all wanting to it if it were a Latin servant,
not a native, since the songs are all in the language of our people.
For, in the first place, if it had been a Latin servant he would be
not a subject but a sovereign, in nobility, in virtue, and in beauty;
in nobility, because the Latin is perpetual and incorruptible; the
language of the vulgar is unstable and corruptible. Hence we see in
the ancient writings of the Latin Comedies and Tragedies that they
cannot change, being the same Latin that we now have; this happens not
with our native tongue, which, being home-made, changes at pleasure.
Hence we see in the cities of Italy, if we will look carefully back
fifty years from the present time, many words to have become extinct,
and to have been born, and to have been altered. But if a little time
transforms them thus, a longer time changes them more. So that I say
that, if those who departed from this life a thousand years ago should
come back to their cities, they would believe those cities to be
inhabited by a strange people, who speak a tongue discordant from
their own. On this subject I will speak elsewhere more completely in a
book which I intend to write, God willing, on the "Language of the

Again, the Latin was not subject, but sovereign, through virtue. Each
thing has virtue in its nature, which does that to which it is
ordained; and the better it does it so much the more virtue it has:
hence we call that man virtuous who lives a life contemplative or
active, doing that for which he is best fitted; we ascribe his virtue
to the horse that runs swiftly and much, to which end he is ordained:
we see virtue of a sword that cuts through hard things well, since it
has been made to do so. Thus speech, which is ordained to express
human thought, has virtue when it does that; and most virtue is in the
speech which does it most. Hence, forasmuch as the Latin reveals many
things conceived in the mind which the vulgar tongue cannot express,
even as those know who have the use of either language, its virtue is
far greater than that of the vulgar tongue.

Again, it was not subject, but sovereign, because of its beauty. That
thing man calls beautiful whose parts are duly proportionate, because
beauty results from their harmony; hence, man appears to be beautiful
when his limbs are duly proportioned; and we call a song beautiful
when the voices in it, according to the rule of art, are in harmony
with each other. Hence, that language is most beautiful in which the
words most fitly correspond, and this they do more in the Latin than
in the present Language of the People, since the beautiful vulgar
tongue follows use, and the Latin, Art. Hence, one concedes it to be
more beautiful, more virtuous and more noble. And so one concludes, as
first proposed; that is, that the Latin Commentary would have been the
Sovereign, not the Subject, of the Songs.


Having shown how the present Commentary could not have been the
subject of Songs written in our native tongue, if it had been in the
Latin, it remains to show how it could not have been capable or
obedient to those Songs; and then it will be shown how, to avoid
unsuitable disorder, it was needful to speak in the native tongue.

I say that Latin would not have been a capable servant for my Lord the
Vernacular, for this reason. The servant is required chiefly to know
two things perfectly: the one is the nature of his lord, because there
are lords of such an asinine nature that they command the opposite of
that which they desire; and there are others who, without speaking,
wish to be understood and served; and there are others who will not
let the servant move to do that which is needful, unless they have
ordered it. And because these variations are in men, I do not intend
in the present work to show, for the digression would be enlarged too
much, except as I speak in general, that such men as these are beasts,
as it were, to whom reason is of little worth. Wherefore, if the
servant know not the nature of his lord, it is evident that he cannot
serve him perfectly. The other thing is, that it is requisite for the
servant to know also the friends of his lord; for otherwise he could
not honour them, nor serve them, and thus he would not serve his lord
perfectly: forasmuch as the friends are the parts of a whole, as it
were, because their whole is one wish or its opposite. Neither would
the Latin Commentary have had such knowledge of those things as the
vulgar tongue itself has. That the Latin cannot be acquainted with the
Vulgar Tongue and with its friends, is thus proved. He who knows
anything in general knows not that thing perfectly; even as he who
knows from afar off one animal, knows not that animal perfectly,
because he knows not if it be a dog, a wolf, or a he-goat. The Latin
knows the Vulgar tongue in general, but not separately; for if it
should know it separately it would know all the Vulgar Tongues,
because it is not right that it should know one more than the other;
and thus, what man soever might possess the complete knowledge of the
Latin tongue, the use of that knowledge would show him all
distinctions of the Vulgar. But this is not so, for one used to the
Latin does not distinguish, if he be a native of Italy, the vulgar
tongue of Provence from the German, nor can the German distinguish the
vulgar Italian tongue from that of Provence: hence, it is evident that
the Latin is not cognizant of the Vulgar. Again, it is not cognizant
of its friends, because it is impossible to know the friends without
knowing the principal; hence, if the Latin does not know the Vulgar,
as it is proved above, it is impossible for it to know its friends.
Again, without conversation or familiarity, it is impossible to know
men; and the Latin has no conversation with so many in any language as
the Vulgar has, to which all are friends, and consequently cannot know
the friends of the Vulgar.

And this, that it would be possible to say, is no contradiction; that
the Latin does converse with some friends of the Vulgar: but since it
is not familiar with all, it is not perfectly acquainted with its
friends, whereas perfect knowledge is required, and not defective.


Having proved that the Latin Commentary could not have been a capable
servant, I will tell how it could not have been an obedient one. He is
obedient who has the good disposition which is called obedience. True
obedience must have three things, without which it cannot be: it
should be sweet, and not bitter; entirely under control, and not
impulsive; with due measure, and not excessive; which three things it
was impossible for the Latin Commentary to have; and, therefore, it
was impossible for it to be obedient. That to the Latin it would have
been impossible, as is said, is evident by such an argument as this:
each thing which proceeds by an inverse order is laborious, and
consequently is bitter, and not sweet; even as to sleep by day and to
wake by night, and to go backwards and not forwards. For the subject
to command the sovereign, is to proceed in the inverse order; because
the direct order is, for the sovereign to command the subject; and
thus it is bitter, and not sweet; and because to the bitter command it
is impossible to give sweet obedience, it is impossible, when the
subject commands, for the obedience of the sovereign to be sweet.
Hence if the Latin is the sovereign of the Vulgar Tongue, as is shown
above by many reasons, and the Songs, which are in place of
commanders, are in the Vulgar Tongue, it is impossible for the
argument to be sweet. Then is obedience entirely commanded, and in no
way spontaneous, when that which the obedient man does, he would not
have done of his own will, either in whole or in part, without
commandment. And, therefore, if it might be commanded to me to carry
two long robes upon my back, and if without commandment I should carry
one, I say that my obedience is not entirely commanded, but is in part
spontaneous; and such would have been that of the Latin Commentary,
and consequently it would not have been obedience entirely commanded.
What such might have been appears by this, that the Latin, without the
command of this Lord, the Vernacular, would have expounded many parts
of his argument (and it does expound, as he who searches well the
books written in Latin may perceive), which the Vulgar Tongue does

Again, obedience is within bounds, and not excessive, when it goes to
the limit of the command, and no further; as Individual Nature is
obedient to Universal Nature when she makes thirty-two teeth in the
man, and no more and no less; and when she makes five fingers on the
hand, and no more and no less; and the man is obedient to Justice when
he does that which the Law commands, and no more and no less.

Neither would the Latin have done this, but it would have sinned not
only in the defect, and not only in the excess, but in each one; and
thus its obedience would not have been within due limit, but
intemperate, and consequently it would not have been obedient. That
the Latin would not have been the executor of the commandment of his
Lord, and that neither would he have been a usurper, one can easily
prove. This Lord, namely, these Songs, to which this Commentary is
ordained for their servant, commands and desires that they shall be
explained to all those whose mind is so far intelligent that when they
hear speech they can understand, and when they speak they can be
understood. And no one doubts, that if the Songs should command by
word of mouth, this would be their commandment. But the Latin would
not have explained them, except to the learned men: and so that the
rest could not have understood. Hence, forasmuch as the number of
unlearned men who desire to understand those Songs may be far greater
than the learned, it follows that it could not have fulfilled its
commandment so well as the Native Tongue, which is understood both by
the Learned and the Unlearned. Again, the Latin would have explained
them to people of another language, as to the Germans, to the English,
and to others; and here it would have exceeded their commandment. For
against their will, speaking freely, I say, their meaning would be
explained there where they could not convey it in all their beauty.

And, therefore, let each one know, that nothing which is harmonized by
the bond of the Muse can be translated from its own language into
another, without breaking all its sweetness and harmony. And this is
the reason why Homer was not translated from Greek into Latin, like
the other writings that we have of the Greeks. And this is the reason
why the verses of the Psalms are without sweetness of music and
harmony; for they were translated from Hebrew into Greek, and from
Greek into Latin, and in the first translation all that sweetness

And, thus is concluded that which was proposed in the beginning of the
chapter immediately before this.


Since it is proved by sufficient reasons that, in order to avoid
unsuitable confusion, it would be right that the above-named Songs be
opened and explained by a Commentary in our Native Tongue and not in
the Latin, I intend to show again how a ready Liberality makes me
select this way and leave the other. It is possible, then, to perceive
a ready Liberality in three things, which go with this Native Tongue,
and which would not have gone with the Latin. The first is to give to
many; the second is to give useful things; the third is to give the
gift without being asked for it.

For to give to and to assist one person is good; but to give to and to
assist many is ready goodness, inasmuch as it has a similitude to the
good gifts of God, who is the Benefactor of the Universe. And again,
to give to many is impossible without giving to one, forasmuch as one
is included in many. But to give to one may be good without giving to
many, because he who assists many does good to one and to the other;
he who assists one does good to one only: hence, we see the imposers
of the laws, especially if they are for the common good, hold the eyes
fixed whilst compiling these laws. Again, to give useless things to
the receiver is also a good, inasmuch as he who gives, shows himself
at least to be a friend; but it is not a perfect good, and therefore
it is not ready: as if a knight should give to a doctor a shield, and
as if the doctor should give to a knight the written aphorisms of
Hippocrates, or rather the technics of Galen; because the wise men say
that "the face of the gift ought to be similar to that of the
receiver," that is, that it be suitable to him, and that it be useful;
and therein it is called ready liberality in him who thus
discriminates in giving.

But forasmuch as moral discourses usually create a desire to see their
origin, in this chapter I intend briefly to demonstrate four reasons
why of necessity the gift (in order that it be ready liberality)
should be useful to him who receives. Firstly, because virtue must be
cheerful and not sad in every action: hence, if the gift be not
cheerful in the giving and in the receiving, in it there is not
perfect nor ready virtue. And this joy can spring only from the
utility, which resides in the giver through the giving, and which
comes to the receiver through the receiving. In the giver, then, there
must be the foresight, in doing this, that on his part there shall
remain the benefit of an inherent virtue which is above all other
advantages; and that to the receiver come the benefit of the use of
the thing given. Thus the one and the other will be cheerful, and
consequently it will be a ready liberality, that is, a liberality both
prompt and well considered.

Secondly, because virtue ought always to move things forwards and
upwards. For even as it would be a blameable action to make a spade of
a beautiful sword, or to make a fair basin of a lovely lute; so it is
wrong to move anything from a place where it may be useful, and to
carry it into a place where it may be less useful. And since it is
blameable to work in vain, it is wrong not merely to put the thing in
a place where it may be less useful, but even in a place where it may
be equally useful. Hence, in order that the changing of the place of a
thing may be laudable, it must always be for the better, because it
ought to be especially praiseworthy; and this the gift cannot be, if
by transformation it become not more precious. Nor can it become more
precious, if it be not more useful to the receiver than to the giver.
Wherefore, one concludes that the gift must be useful to him who
receives it, in order that it may be in itself ready liberality.

Thirdly, because the exercise of the virtue of itself ought to be the
acquirer of friends. For our life has need of these, and the end of
virtue is to make life happy. But that the gift may make the receiver
a friend, it must be useful to him, because utility stamps on the
memory the image of the gift, which is the food of friendship, and the
firmer the impression, so much the greater is the utility; hence,
Martino was wont to say, "Never will fade from my mind the gift
Giovanni made me." Wherefore, in order that in the gift there may be
its virtue, which is Liberality, and that it may be ready, it must be
useful to him who receives it.

Finally, since the act of virtue should be free, not forced, it is
free action, when a person goes willingly to any place; which is shown
by his keeping the face turned thitherward; it is forced action, when
he goes against his will; which is shown by his not looking cheerfully
towards the place whither he goes: and thus the gift looks towards its
appointed place when it addresses itself to the need of the receiver.
And since it cannot address itself to that need except it be useful,
it follows, in order that it may be with free action, that the virtue
be free, and that the gift go freely to its object, which is the
receiver; and consequently the gift must be to the utility of the
receiver, in order that there may be a prompt and reasonable
Liberality therein.

The third respect in which one can observe a ready Liberality, is
giving unasked; because, to give what is asked, is, on one side, not
virtue, but traffic; for, the receiver buys, although the giver may
not sell; and so Seneca says "that nothing is purchased more dearly
than that whereon prayers are expended." Hence, in order that in the
gift there be ready Liberality, and that one may perceive that to be
in it, there must be freedom from each act of traffic, and the gift
must be unasked. Wherefore that which is besought costs us so dear, I
do not mean to argue now, because it will be fully discussed in the
last treatise of this book.


A Latin Commentary would be wanting in all the three above-mentioned
conditions, which must concur, in order that in the benefit conferred
there may be ready Liberality; and our Mother Tongue possesses all, as
it is possible to show thus manifestly. The Latin would not have
served many; for if we recall to memory that which is discoursed of
above, the learned men, without the Italian tongue, could not have had
this service. And those who know Latin, if we wish to see clearly who
they are, we shall find that, out of a thousand one only would have
been reasonably served by it, because they would not have received it,
so prompt are they to avarice, which removes them from each nobility
of soul that especially desires this food. And to the shame of them, I
say that they ought not to be called learned men: because they do not
acquire knowledge for the use of it, but forasmuch as they gain money
or dignity thereby; even as one ought not to call him a harper who
keeps a harp in his house to be lent out for a price, and not to use
it for its music.

Returning, then, to the principal proposition, I say that one can see
clearly how the Latin would have given its good gift to few, but the
Mother Tongue will serve many. For the willingness of heart which
awaits this service, is in those who, through misuse of the world,
have left Literature to men who have made of her a harlot; and these
nobles are princes, barons, knights, and many other noble people, not
only men, but women, whose language is that of the people and
unlearned. Again, the Latin would not have been giver of a useful
gift, as the Mother Tongue will be; forasmuch as nothing is useful
except inasmuch as it is used; nor is there a perfect existence with
inactive goodness. Even so of gold, and pearls, and other treasures
which are subterranean, those which are in the hand of the miser are
in a lower place than is the earth wherein the treasure was concealed.
The gift truly of this Commentary is the explanation of the Songs, for
whose service it is made. It seeks especially to lead men to wisdom
and to virtue, as will be seen by the process of this treatise. This
design those only could have in use in whom true nobility is sown,
after the manner that will be described in the fourth treatise; and
these are almost all men of the people, as those are noble which in
this chapter are named above. And there is no contradiction, though
some learned man may be amongst them; for, as says my Master Aristotle
in the first book of the Ethics, "One swallow does not make the
Spring." It is, then, evident that the Mother Tongue will give the
useful thing where Latin would not have given it. Again, the Mother
Tongue will give that gift unasked, which the Latin would not have
given, because it will give itself in form of a Commentary which never
was asked for by any person. But this one cannot say of the Latin,
which for Commentary and for Expositions to many writings has often
been in request, as one can perceive clearly in the opening of many a

And thus it is evident that a ready Liberality moved me to use the
Mother Tongue rather than Latin.


He greatly needs excuse who, at a feast so noble in its provisions,
and so honourable in its guests, sets bread of barley, not of wheaten
flour: and evident must be the reason which can make a man depart from
that which has long been the custom of others, as the use of Latin in
writing a Commentary. And, therefore, he would make the reason
evident; for the end of new things is not certain, because experience
of them has never been had before: hence, the ways used and observed
are estimated both in process and in the end.

Reason, therefore, is moved to command that man should diligently look
about him when he enters a new path, saying, "that, in deliberating
about new things, that reason must be clear which can make a man
depart from an old custom." Let no one marvel, then, if the digression
touching my apology be long; but, as is necessary, let him bear its
length with patience.

Continuing it, I say that, since it has been shown how, in order to
avoid unsuitable confusion and from readiness of liberality, I fixed
on the Commentary in the Mother Tongue and left the Latin, the order
of the entire apology requires that I now prove how I attached myself
to that through the natural love for my native tongue, which is the
third and last reason which moved me to this. I say that natural love
moves the lover principally to three things: the one is to exalt the
loved object, the second is to be jealous thereof, the third is to
defend it, as each one sees constantly to happen; and these three
things made me adopt it, that is, our Mother Tongue, which naturally
and accidentally I love and have loved.

I was moved in the first place to exalt it. And that I do exalt it may
be seen by this reason: it happens that it is possible to magnify
things in many conditions of greatness, and nothing makes so great as
the greatness of that goodness which is the mother and preserver of
all other forms of greatness. And no greater goodness can a man have
than that of virtuous action, which is his own goodness, by which the
greatness of true dignity and of true honour, of true power, of true
riches, of true friends, of true and pure renown, are acquired and
preserved: and this greatness I give to this friend, inasmuch as that
which he had of goodness in latent power and hidden, I cause him to
have in action and revealed in its own operation, which is to declare

Secondly, I was moved by jealousy of it. The jealousy of the friend
makes a man anxious to secure lasting provision; wherefore, thinking
that, from the desire to understand these Songs, some unlearned man
would have translated the Latin Commentary into the Mother Tongue; and
fearing that the Mother Tongue might have been employed by some one
who would have made it seem ugly, as he did who translated the Latin
of the "Ethics," I endeavoured to employ it, trusting in myself more
than in any other. Again, I was moved to defend it from its numerous
accusers, who depreciate it and commend others, especially the Langue
d'Oc, saying, that the latter is more beautiful and better than this,
therein deviating from the truth. For by this Commentary the great
excellence of our common Lingua di Si will appear, since through it,
most lofty and most original ideas may be as fitly, sufficiently, and
easily expressed as if it were by the Latin itself, which cannot show
its virtue in things rhymed because of accidental ornaments which are
connected therewith--that is, the rhyme and the rhythm, or the
regulated measure; as it is with the beauty of a lady when the
splendour of the jewels and of the garments excite more admiration
than she herself. He, therefore, who wishes to judge well of a lady
looks at her when she is alone and her natural beauty is with her,
free from all accidental ornament. So it will be with this Commentary,
in which will be seen the facility of the syllables, the propriety of
the conditions, and the sweet orations which are made in our Mother
Tongue, which a good observer will perceive to be full of most sweet
and most amiable beauty. But, since it is most determined in its
intention to show the error and the malice of the accuser, I will
tell, to the confusion of those who accuse the Italian language,
wherefore they are moved to do this; and this I shall do in a special
chapter, in order that their shame may be more notable.


To the perpetual shame and abasement of the evil men of Italy who
commend the Mother Tongue of other nations and depreciate their own, I
say that their action proceeds from five abominable causes: the first
is blindness of discretion; the second, mischievous self-justification;
the third, greed of vainglory; the fourth, an invention of envy; the
fifth and last, vileness of mind, that is, cowardice. And each one of
these grave faults has a great following, for few are those who are
free from them.

Of the first, one can reason thus. As the sensitive part of the soul
has its eyes, with which it learns the difference of things, inasmuch
as they are coloured externally; so the rational part has its eye with
which it learns the difference of things, inasmuch as each is ordained
to some end; and this is discretion. And as he who is blind with the
eyes of sense goes always according to the guidance of others judging
evil and good; so he who is blinded from the light of discretion,
always goes in his judgment according to the cry, right or wrong as it
may be. Hence, whenever the guide is blind, it must follow that what
blind man soever leans on him must come to a bad end. Therefore it is
written that, "If the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch."
This cry has been long raised against our Mother Tongue, for the
reasons which will be argued below.

After this cry the blind men above mentioned, who are infinite, as it
were with one hand on the shoulder of these false witnesses, have
fallen into the ditch of false opinion, from which they know not how
to escape. From the use of the sight of discretion the mass of the
people are debarred, because each being occupied from the early years
of his life with some trade, he so directs his mind to that, by force
of necessity, that he understands nought else. And forasmuch as the
habit of virtue, moral as well as intellectual, cannot possibly be had
all on a sudden, but it must be acquired through long custom, and as
these people place their custom in some art, and care not to discern
other things, it is impossible to them to have discretion. Wherefore
it happens that often they cry aloud: "Long live Death!" and "Let Life
die!" because some one begins the cry. And this is the most dangerous
defect in their blindness. For this reason Boethius judges glory of
the people vain, because he sees it to be without discernment. These
persons are to be termed sheep and not men; for if a sheep should leap
over a precipice of a thousand feet, all the others would follow after
it; and if one sheep, for some cause or other, in crossing a road,
leaps, all the others leap, even when they see nothing to leap over.
And I once saw many leap into a well, because one had leapt into it,
believing perhaps that it was leaping a wall; notwithstanding that the
shepherd, weeping and shouting, with arms and breast set himself
against them.

The second faction against our Mother Tongue springs from a malicious
self-justification. There are many who would rather be thought masters
than be such; and to avoid the opposite--that is, to be held not to be
such--they always cast blame on the material they work on, or upon the
instrument; as the clumsy smith blames the iron given to him, and the
bad harpist blames the harp, thinking to cast the blame of the bad
blade and of the bad music upon the iron and upon the harp, and to
lift it from themselves. Thus there are some, and not a few, who
desire that a man may hold them to be orators; and to excuse
themselves for not speaking, or for speaking badly, they accuse or
throw blame on the material, that is, their own Mother Tongue, and
praise that of other lands, which they are not required to employ. And
he who wishes to see wherefore this iron is to be blamed, let him look
at the work which good artificers make of it, and he will understand
the malice of those who, in casting blame upon it, think thereby to
excuse themselves. Against such as these, Tullius exclaims in the
beginning of his book, which he names the book "De Finibus," because
in his time they blamed the Roman Latin and praised the Greek grammar.
And thus I say, for like reasons, that these men vilify the Italian
tongue, and glorify that of Provence.

The third faction against our Mother Tongue springs from greed of
vainglory. There are many who, by describing certain things in some
other language, and by praising that language, deem themselves to be
more worthy of admiration than if they described them in their own.
And undoubtedly to learn well a foreign tongue is deserving of some
praise for intellect; but it is a blameable thing to applaud that
language beyond truth, to glorify one's self for such an acquisition.

The fourth springs from an invention of envy. So that, as it is said
above, envy is always where there is equality. Amongst the men of one
nation there is the equality of the native tongue; and because one
knows not how to use it like the other, therefrom springs envy. The
envious man then argues, not blaming himself for not knowing how to
speak like him who does speak as he should, but he blames that which
is the material of his work, in order to rob, by depreciating the work
on that side, him who does speak, of honour and fame; like him who
should find fault with the blade of a sword, not in order to throw
blame on the sword, but on the whole work of the master.

The fifth and last faction springs from vileness of mind. The
magnanimous man always praises himself in his heart; and so the
pusillanimous man, on the contrary, always deems himself less than he
is. And because to magnify and to diminish always have respect to
something, by comparison with which the large-minded man makes himself
great and the small-minded man makes himself small, it results
therefrom that the magnanimous man always makes others less than they
are, and the pusillanimous makes others always greater. And therefore
with that measure wherewith a man measures himself, he measures his
own things, which are as it were a part of himself. It results that to
the magnanimous man his own things always appear better than they are,
and those of others less good; the pusillanimous man always believes
his things to be of little value, and those of others of much worth.
Wherefore many, on account of this vileness of mind, depreciate their
native tongue, and applaud that of others; and all such as these are
the abominable wicked men of Italy who hold this precious Mother
Tongue in vile contempt, which if it be vile in any case, is so only
inasmuch as it sounds in the evil mouth of these adulterers, under
whose guidance go those blind men of whom I spoke in the first


If flames of fire should issue visibly through the windows of a house,
and if any one should ask if there were fire within it, and if another
should answer "Yes" to him, one would not well know how to judge which
of those might be mocking the most. Not otherwise would the question
and the answer pass between me and that man who should ask me if love
for my own language is in me, and if I should answer "Yes" to him,
after the arguments propounded above.

But, nevertheless, it has to be proved that not only love, but the
most perfect love for it exists in me, and again its adversaries must
be blamed. Whilst demonstrating this to him who will understand well,
I will tell how I became the friend of it, and then how my friendship
is confirmed.

I say that (as Tullius writes in his book on Friendship, not
dissenting from the opinion of the Philosopher opened up in the eighth
and in the ninth of the Ethics) Neighbourhood and Goodness are,
naturally, the causes of the birth of Love: Benevolence, Study, and
Custom are the causes of the growth of Love. And there have been all
these causes to produce and to strengthen the love which I bear to my
Native Language, as I shall briefly demonstrate. A thing is so much
the nearer in proportion as it is most nearly allied to all the other
things of its own kind; wherefore, of all men the son is nearest to
the father, and of all the Arts, Medicine is nearest to the Doctor,
and Music to the Musician, because they are more allied to them than
the others. Of all parts of the earth the nearest is that whereon a
man lives, because he is most united to it. And thus his own Native
Language is nearest to him, inasmuch as he is most united to it; for
it, and it alone, is first in the mind before any other. And not only
of itself is it united, but by accident, inasmuch as it is united with
the persons nearest to him, as his parents, and his fellow-citizens,
and his own people. And this is his own Mother Tongue, which is not
only nearest, but especially the nearest to each man. Therefore, if
near neighbourhood be the seed of friendship, as is said above, it is
manifest that it has been one of the causes of the love which I bear
to my Native Language, which is nearer to me than the others. The
above-mentioned cause, whereby that alone which stands first in each
mind is most bound to it, gave rise to the custom of the people, that
the first-born sons should succeed to the inheritance solely as being
the nearest relatives; and because the nearest relatives, therefore
the most beloved.

Again, Goodness made me a friend to it. And here it is to be known
that all goodness inherent in anything is loveable in that thing; as
in manhood to be well bearded, and in womanhood to be all over the
face quite free from hair; as in the setter to have good scent, and as
in the greyhound to be swift. And in proportion as it is native, so
much the more is it delightful. Hence, although each virtue is
loveable in man, that is the most loveable in him which is most human:
and this is Justice, which alone is in the rational part, or rather in
the intellectual, that is, in the Will. This is so loveable that as
says the Philosopher in the fifth book of the Ethics, its enemies love
it, such as thieves and robbers; and, therefore, we see that its
opposite, that is, Injustice, is especially hated; such as treachery,
ingratitude, falsehood, theft, rapine, deceit, and their like; the
which are such inhuman sins, that, in order to excuse himself from the
infamy of such, it is granted through long custom that a man may speak
of himself, as has been said above, and may say if he be faithful and
loyal. Of this virtue I shall speak hereafter more fully in the
fourteenth treatise; and here quitting it, I return to the
proposition. Having proved, then, that the goodness of a thing is
loved the more the more it is innate, the more it is to be loved and
commended for itself, it remains to see what that goodness is. And we
see that, in all speech, to express a thought well and clearly is the
thing most to be admired and commended. This, then, is its first
goodness. And forasmuch as this is in our Mother Tongue, as is made
evident in another chapter, it is manifest that it has been the cause
of the love which I bear to it; since, as has been said, "Goodness is
the producer of Love."


Having said how in the Mother Tongue there are those two things which
have made me its friend, that is, nearness to me and its innate
goodness, I will tell how by kindness and union in study, and through
the benevolence of long use, the friendship is confirmed and grows.
Firstly, I say that I for myself have received from it the greatest
benefits. And, therefore, it is to be known that, amongst all
benefits, that is the greatest which is most precious to him who
receives it; and nothing is so precious as that through which all
other things are wished; and all the other things are wished for the
perfection of him who wishes. Wherefore, inasmuch as a man may have
two perfections, one first and one second (the first causes him to be,
the second causes him to be good), if the Native Language has been to
me the cause of the one and of the other, I have received from it the
greatest benefit. And that it may have been the cause of this
condition in me can be shown briefly. The efficient cause for the
existence of things is not one only, but among many efficient causes
one is the chief of the others, hence the fire and the hammer are the
efficient causes of the sword-blade, although the workman is
especially so. This my Mother Tongue was the bond of union between my
forefathers, who spoke with it, even as the fire is the link between
the iron and the smith who makes the knife; therefore it is evident
that it co-operated in my birth, and so it was in some way the cause
of my being. Again, this my Mother Tongue was my introducer into the
path of knowledge, which is the ultimate perfection, inasmuch as with
it I entered into the Latin Language, and with it I was taught; the
which Latin was then the way of further advancement for me. And so it
is evident and known by me that this my language has been my great
benefactor. Also it has been engaged with me in one self-same study,
and this I can thus prove. Each thing naturally studies its
self-preservation; hence, if the Mother Tongue could seek anything of
itself, it would seek that; and that would be to secure for itself a
position of the greatest stability: but greater stability it could not
secure than by uniting itself with number and with rhyme.

And this self-same study has been mine, as is so evident that it
requires no testimony; therefore its study and mine have been one and
the same, whereby the harmony of friendship is confirmed and
increased. Also between us there has been the benevolence of long use:
for from the beginning of my life I have had with it kind fellowship
and conversation, and have used it, when deliberating, interpreting,
and questioning; wherefore, if friendship increases through long use,
as in all reason appears, it is manifest that in me it has increased
especially, for with this my Mother Tongue I have spent all my time.
And thus one sees that to the shaping of this friendship there have
co-operated all causes of birth and growth. Therefore, let it be
concluded that not only Love, but the most Perfect Love, is that which
I have for it. So it is, and ought to be.

Thus, casting the eyes backwards and gathering up the afore-stated
reasons, one can see that this Bread, with which the Meat of the
under-written Poems ought to be eaten, is made clear enough of
blemishes, and of fault in the nature of its grain. Wherefore, it is
time to attend to and serve up the viands.

This will be that barley-bread with which a thousand will satisfy
themselves; and my full baskets shall overflow with it. This will be
that new Light, that new Sun, which shall rise when the sun of this
our day shall set, and shall give light to those who are in darkness
and in gloom because the sun of this our day gives light to them no
1 of