The Banquet (Il Convito)
Dante Alighieri

Part 3 out of 5

type of God than the Sun, which illuminates with visible light itself
first, and then all the celestial and elemental bodies. Thus, God
illuminates Himself first with intellectual light, and then the
celestial and other intelligible beings. The Sun vivifies all things
with his heat, and if anything is destroyed thereby, it is not by the
intention of the cause, but it is an accidental effect: thus God
vivifies all things in His Goodness, and, if any suffer evil, it is
not by the Divine intention, but the effect is accidental. For, if God
made the Angels good and evil, He did not make both by intention, but
He made the good only; there followed afterwards, beyond His
intention, the wickedness of the evil ones; but not so far beyond His
intention that God could not foreknow in Himself their wickedness; but
so great was the loving desire to produce the Spiritual creature that
the foreknowledge that some would come to a bad end neither could nor
should prevent God from continuing the production; as it would not be
to the praise of Nature if, knowing of herself that the flowers of a
tree in a certain part must perish, she should refuse to produce
flowers on that tree, and should abandon the production of
fruit-bearing trees as vain and useless. I say, then, that God, who
encircles and understands all, in His encircling and His understanding
sees nothing so gentle, so noble, as He sees when He shines on this
Philosophy. For, although God Himself, beholding, may see all things
together, inasmuch as the distinction of things is in Him in the same
way as the effect is in the cause, yet He sees those things also apart
and distinct. He sees, then, this Lady the most noble of all
absolutely, inasmuch as most perfectly He sees her in Himself and in
her essence. If what has been said above be recalled to mind,
Philosophy is a loving use of Wisdom; which especially is in God,
because in Him is Supreme Wisdom, and Supreme Love, and Supreme
Action; which cannot be elsewhere except inasmuch as it proceeds from
Him. It is, then, the Divine Philosophy of the Divine Being, since in
Him nothing can be that is not part of His Essence; and it is most
noble, because the Divine Essence is most noble, and it is in Him in a
manner perfect and true, as if by eternal wedlock; it is in the other
Intelligences in a less degree, as if platonic, as if a virgin love
from whom no lover receives full and complete joy, but contents
himself by gazing on the beauty of her countenance. Wherefore it is
possible to say that God sees not, that He does not intently regard,
anything so noble as this Lady; I say anything, inasmuch as He sees
and distinguishes the other things, as has been said, seeing Himself
to be the cause of all. Oh, most noble and most excellent heart, which
is at peace in the bride of the Ruler of Heaven; and not bride only,
but sister, and the daughter beloved above all others.


Having seen in the beginning of the praises of this Lady how subtly it
is said that she is of the Divine Substance, as was first to be
considered, we proceed now to consider her as she is in the
Intelligences that proceed thence. "All minds of Heaven wonder at her
worth," where it is to be known that I say, "minds of Heaven," making
that allusion to God which has been mentioned above; and from this one
excludes the Intelligences who are exiled from the eternal country,
who can never study Philosophy, because love in them is entirely
extinct, and for the study of Philosophy, as has been already said,
Love is necessary. One sees, therefore, that the spirits of Hell are
deprived of the sight of this most beautiful Lady; and, since she is
the blessing of the intellect, the deprivation of her is most bitter
and full of every sadness.

Then, when I say, "Mortals, enamoured, find her in their thought," I
descend to show how she also may come into the Human Intelligence in a
secondary degree; with which Human Philosophy I then proceed through
the treatise, praising it. I say, then, that the mortals who "find her
in their thought" in this life do not always find her there, but only
"When Love his peace into their hearts has brought;" wherein there are
to be seen three points which are alluded to in this text.

The first is when one says, "Mortals, enamoured," because it seems to
make a distinction in the human race, and of necessity it must be
made; for, according to what manifestly appears, and which in the
following treatise will be specially reasoned out, the greatest part
of men live more according to the Sense than according to Reason; and
those who live according to the Sense can never be enamoured of this
Lady, since of her they can have no apprehension whatever.

The second point is when it says, "When Love his peace into their
minds has brought," where it appears to make a distinction of time.
And that is necessary; for, although the separate Intelligences gaze
at this Lady continually, the Human Intelligence cannot do so; since
Human Nature, besides that which gives delight to the Intellect and
the Reason, has need of many things requisite for its support which
contemplation cannot furnish forth. Therefore our Wisdom is sometimes
habitual only, and not actual; and this does not happen to the other
Intelligences, which alone are perfect in their intellectual nature.
And so, when our soul is not in the act of contemplation, one cannot
truly say that it is in Philosophy, except inasmuch as it has the
habit of it, and the power of being able to arouse it; sometimes,
therefore, she is with the people who are enamoured of her here below,
and sometimes not.

The third point is, when it speaks of the time when those people are
with her, namely, when Love has brought into their minds his peace;
which means no other than when the man is in the act of contemplation,
since he does not strive to feel the peace of that Lady except in the
act of contemplation.

And thus one sees how this Lady is firstly in the Mind of God,
secondly in the other separate Intelligences through continual
contemplation, and afterwards in the human intellect through
interpreted contemplation. But the man who has her for his Lady is
ever to be termed a Philosopher, notwithstanding that he may not be
always in the final act of Philosophy, for it is usual to name other
men after their habits. Wherefore we call any man virtuous, not merely
when performing virtuous actions, but from having the habit or custom
of virtue. And we call a man eloquent, even when he is not speaking,
from his habit of eloquence, that is, of speaking well.

And of this Philosophy, in which Human Intelligence has part, there
will now be the following encomiums to prove how great a part of her
good gifts is bestowed on Human Nature. I say, then, afterwards:

Her Maker saw that she was good, and poured,
Beyond our Nature, fulness of His Power
On her pure Soul, whence shone this holy dower
Through all her frame.

For the capacity of our Nature is subdued by it, which it makes
beautiful and virtuous. Wherefore, although into the habit of that
Lady one may somewhat come, it is not possible to say that any one who
enters thereinto properly has that habit; since the first study, that
whereby the habit is begotten, cannot perfectly acquire that
philosophy. And here one sees her lowly praise; for, perfect or
imperfect, she never loses the name of perfection. And because of this
her surpassing excellence, it says that the Soul of Philosophy "shone
Through all her frame," that is, that God ever imparts to her of His

Here we may recall to mind what is said above, that Love is a form of
Philosophy, and therefore here is called her Soul; which Love is
manifest in the use of Wisdom, and such use brings with it a wonderful
beauty, that is to say, contentment under any condition of the time,
and contempt for those things which other men make their masters.

Wherefore it happens that those other unhappy ones who gaze thereon,
and think over their own defects from the desire for perfection, fall
into the weariness of sighs; and this is meant where it says: "That
from the eyes she touches heralds fly Heartward with longings,
heavenward with a sigh."


As in the Literal exposition, after the general praises one descends
to the especial, firstly on the part of the Soul, then on the part of
the body, so now the text proceeds after the general encomium to
descend to the especial commendation. As it is said above, Philosophy
here has Wisdom for its material subject and Love for its form, and
the habit of contemplation for the union of the two. Wherefore in this
passage which subsequently begins, "On her fair form Virtue Divine
descends," I mean to praise Love, which is part of Philosophy. Here it
is to be known that for a virtue to descend from one thing into
another there is no other way than to reduce that thing into its own
similitude; as we see evidently in the natural agents, for their
virtue descending into the things that are the patients, they bring
those things into their similitude as far as they are able to attain

We see that the Sun, pouring his rays down on this Earth, reduces the
things thereon to his own similitude of light in proportion as they by
their own disposition are able to receive light of his light. Thus, I
say that God reduces this Love to His own Similitude as much as it is
possible for it to bear likeness to Him. And it alludes to the nature
of the creative act, saying, "As on the Angel that beholds His face."
Where again it is to be known that the first Agent, who is God, paints
His Virtue on some things by means of direct radiance, and on some
things by means of reflected splendour; wherefore into the separate
Intelligences the Divine Light shines without any interposing medium;
into the others it is reflected from those Intelligences which were
first illumined.

But since mention is here made of Light and Splendour, for the more
perfect understanding thereof I will show the difference between those
words, according to the opinion of Avicenna. I say that it is the
custom of Philosophers to speak of Heaven as Light, inasmuch as Light
is there in its primeval Spring, or its first origin. They speak of it
as a ray of Light while it passes through the medium from its source
into the first body in which it has its end; they call it Splendour
where it is reflected back from some part that has received
illumination. I say, then, that the Divine Virtue or Power draws this
Love into Its Own Similitude without any interposing medium.

And it is possible to make this evident, especially in this, that as
the Divine Love is Eternal, so must its object of necessity be
eternal, so that those things are eternal which He loves. And thus it
makes this Love to love, for the Wisdom into which this Love strikes
is eternal. Wherefore it is written of her: "From the beginning,
before Time was created, I am: and in the Time to come I shall not
fail." And in the Proverbs of Solomon this Wisdom says: "I am
established for ever." And in the beginning of the Gospel of John, her
eternity is openly alluded to, as it is possible to observe. And
therefore it results that there, where this Love shines, all the other
Loves become obscure and almost extinct, since its eternal object
subdues and overpowers all other objects in a manner beyond all
comparison; and therefore the most excellent Philosophers in their
actions openly demonstrate it, whereby we know that they have treated
all other things with indifference except Wisdom. Wherefore
Democritus, neglecting all care of his own person, trimmed neither his
beard, nor the hair of his head, nor his nails. Plato, indifferent to
the riches of this world, despised the royal dignity, for he was the
son of a king. Aristotle, caring for no other friend, combated with
his own best friend, even with the above-named Plato, his dearest
friend after Philosophy. And why do we speak of these, when we find
others who, for these thoughts, held their life in contempt, such as
Zeno, Socrates, Seneca, and many more? It is evident, therefore, that
in this Love the Divine Power, after the manner of an Angel, descends
into men; and to give proof of this, the text presently exclaims:
"Fair one who doubt, go with her, mark the grace In all her acts." By
"Fair one" is meant the noble soul of judgment, free in its own power,
which is Reason; hence the other souls cannot be called Ladies, but
handmaids, since they are not for themselves, but for others; and the
Philosopher says, in the first book of Metaphysics, that that thing is
free which is a cause of itself and not for others. It says, "go with
her, mark the grace In all her acts," that is, make thyself the
companion of this Love, and look at that which will be found within
it; and in part it alludes to this, saying, "Downward from Heaven
bends An Angel when she speaks," meaning that where Philosophy is in
action a celestial thought stoops down, in which this being reasons or
discourses beyond the power of Human Nature.

The Song says "from Heaven," to give people to understand that not
only Philosophy, but the thoughts friendly to it, are abstracted from
all low and earthly things. Then afterwards it says how she
strengthens and kindles love wherever she appears with the sweet
persuasions of her actions, which are in all her aspects modest,
gentle, and without any domineering assumption. And subsequently, by
still greater persuasion to induce a desire for her company, it says:
"Fair in all like her, fairest she'll appear Who is most like her."
Again it adds: "We, content to call Her face a Miracle," find help in
it, where it is to be known that the regard of this Lady was freely
ordained to arouse a desire in us for its acquisition, not only in her
countenance, which she reveals to sight, but also in the things which
she keeps hidden. Wherefore as, through her, much of that which is
hidden is seen by means of Reason (and consequently to see by Reason
without her seems a miracle), so, through her, one believes each
miracle in the action of a higher intellectual Power to have reason,
and therefore to be possible. From whence true Faith has its origin,
from which comes the Hope to desire the Future, and from that are born
the works of Charity, by which three Virtues we mount to become
Philosophers in that celestial Athens where Stoics, Peripatetics, and
Epicureans, by the practice of Eternal Truth, concur harmoniously in
one desire.


In the preceding chapter this glorious Lady is praised according to
one of her component parts, that is, Love. In this chapter I intend to
explain that passage which begins, "Her aspect shows delights of
Paradise," and here it is requisite to discuss and praise her other
part, Wisdom.

The text then says that in the face of this Lady things appear which
show us joys of Paradise; and it distinguishes the place where this
appears, namely, in the eyes and the smile. And here it must be known
that the eyes of Wisdom are her demonstrations, whereby one sees the
Truth most certainly; but her persuasions are in her smile, in which
persuasions the inner Light of Wisdom reveals itself without any veil
or concealment. And in these two is felt that most exalted joy which
is the supreme good in Paradise. This joy cannot be in any other thing
here below, except in gazing into these eyes and upon that smile. And
the reason is this, that since each thing naturally desires its
perfection, without which it cannot be at peace, to have that is to be
blessed. For although it might possess all other things, yet, being
without that, there would remain in it desire, which cannot consist
with perfect happiness, since perfect happiness is a perfect thing,
and desire is a defective thing. For one desires not that which he
has, but that which he has not, and here is a manifest defect. And in
this form solely can human perfection be acquired, as the perfection
of Reason, on which, as on its principal part, our essential being all
depends. All our other actions, as to feel or hear, to take food, and
the rest, are through this one alone; and this is for itself, and not
for others. So that, if that be perfect, it is so perfect that the
man, inasmuch as he is a man, sees each desire fulfilled, and thus he
is happy. And therefore it is said in the Book of Wisdom: "Whoso
casteth away Wisdom and Knowledge is unhappy," that is to say, he
suffers the privation of happiness. From the habit of Wisdom it
follows that a man learns to be happy and content, according to the
opinion of the Philosopher. One sees, then, how in the aspect of this
Lady joys of Paradise appear, and therefore one reads in the Book of
Wisdom quoted above, when speaking of her, "She is a shining whiteness
of the Eternal Light; a Mirror without blemish, of the Majesty of
God." Then when it says, "Things over which the intellect may stray,"
I excuse myself, saying that I can say but little concerning these, on
account of their overpowering influence. Where it is to be known that
in any way these things dazzle our intellect, inasmuch as they affirm
certain things to be, which our intellect is unable to comprehend,
that is, God and Eternity, and the first Matter which most certainly
they do not see, and with all faith they believe to be. And even what
they are we cannot understand; and so, by not denying things, it is
possible to draw near to some knowledge of them, but not otherwise.

Truly here it is possible to have some very strong doubt how it is
that Wisdom can make the man completely happy without being able to
show him certain things perfectly; since the natural desire for
knowledge is in the man, and without fulfilment of the desire he
cannot be fully happy. To this it is possible to reply clearly, that
the natural desire in each thing is in proportion to the possibility
of reaching to the thing desired; otherwise it would pass into
opposition to itself, which is impossible; and Nature would have
worked in vain, which also is impossible.

It would pass into opposition, for, desiring its perfection, it would
desire its imperfection, since he would desire always to desire, and
never fulfil his desire. And into this error the cursed miser falls,
and does not perceive that he desires always to desire, going
backwards to reach to an impossible amount.

Nature also would have worked in vain, since it would not be ordained
to any end; and, in fact, human desire is proportioned in this life to
that knowledge which it is possible to have here. One cannot pass that
point except through error, which is outside the natural intention.
And thus it is proportioned in the Angelic, and it is limited in Human
Nature, and it finds its end in that Wisdom in proportion as the
nature of each can apprehend it.

And this is the reason why the Saints have no envy amongst themselves,
since each one attains the end of his desire, and the desire of each
is in due proportion to the nature of his goodness. Wherefore, since
to know God and certain other things, as Eternity and the first
Matter, is not possible to our Nature, naturally we have no desire for
that knowledge, and hereby is this doubtful question solved.

Then when I say, "Rain from her beauty little flames of fire," I
proceed to another joy of Paradise, that is, from the secondary
felicity, happiness, to this first one, which proceeds from her
beauty, where it is to be known that Morality is the beauty of
Philosophy. For as the beauty of the body is the result of its members
in proportion as they are fitly ordered, so the beauty of Wisdom,
which is the body of Philosophy, as has been said, results from the
order of the Moral Virtues which visibly make that joy. And therefore
I say that her beauty, which is Morality, rains down little flames of
fire, meaning direct desire, which is begotten in the pleasure of the
Moral Doctrine; which desire removes it again from the natural vices,
and not only from the others. And thence springs that happiness which
Aristotle defined in the first book of Ethics, saying, that it is Work
according to Virtue in the Perfect Life.

And when it says, "Fair one, who may desire Escape from blame," it
proceeds in praise of Philosophy. I cry aloud to the people that they
should follow her, telling them of her good gifts, that is to say,
that by following her each one may become good. Therefore it says to
each Soul, that feels its beauty is to blame because it does not
appear what it ought to appear, let her look at this example. Where it
is to be known that the Morals are the beauty of the Soul, that is to
say, the most excellent virtues, which sometimes through vanity or
through pride are made less beautiful or less agreeable, as in the
last treatise it was possible to perceive. And therefore I say that,
in order to shun this, one looks at that Lady, Philosophy, there where
she is the example of Humility, namely, in that part of herself which
is called Moral Philosophy. And I subjoin that by gazing at her (I
say, at Wisdom) in that part, every vicious man will become upright
and good. And therefore I say she has "a spirit to create Good
thoughts, and crush the vices." She turns gently back him who has gone
astray from the right course.

Finally, in highest praise of Wisdom, I say of her that she is the
Mother of every good Principle, saying that she is "God's thought,"
who began the World, and especially the movement of the Heaven by
which all things are generated, and wherein each movement has its
origin, that is to say, that the Divine Thought is Wisdom. She was,
when God made the World; whence it follows that she could make it, and
therefore Solomon said in the Book of Proverbs, in the person of
Wisdom: "When He prepared the Heavens, I was there: when He set a
compass upon the face of the depth; when He established the clouds
above; when He strengthened the fountains of the deep; when He gave to
the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment;
when He appointed the foundations of the Earth: then I was by Him, as
one brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always
before Him." O, ye Men, worse than dead, who fly from the friendship
of Wisdom, open your eyes, and see that before you were she was the
Lover of you, preparing and ordaining the process of your being! Since
you were made she came that she might guide you, came to you in your
own likeness; and, if all of you cannot come into her presence, honour
her in her friends, and follow their counsels, as of them who announce
to you the will of this eternal Empress! Close not your ears to
Solomon, who tells you "the path of the Just is as a shining Light,
which goeth forth and increaseth even to the day of salvation." Follow
after them, behold their works, which ought to be to you as a beacon
of light for guidance in the path of this most brief life.

And here we may close the Commentary on the true meaning of the
present Song. The last stanza, which is intended for a refrain, can be
explained easily enough by the Literal exposition, except inasmuch as
it says that I there called this Lady "disdainful and morose." Where
it is to be known that at the beginning this Philosophy appeared to me
on the part of her body, which is Wisdom, morose, for she smiled not
on me, insomuch that as yet I did not understand her persuasions; and
she seemed to me disdainful, for she turned not her glance to me, that
is to say, I could not see her demonstrations. But the defect was
altogether on my side. From this, and from that which is given in the
explanation of the Literal meaning of the Song, the Allegory of the
refrain is evident. It is time, therefore, that we proceed farther,
and this treatise end.

* * * * *

The Fourth Treatise

Soft rhymes of love I used to find
Within my thought, I now must leave,
Not without hope to turn to them again;
But signs of a disdainful mind
That in my Lady I perceive
Have closed the way to my accustomed strain.

And since time suits me now to wait,
I put away the softer style
Proper to love; rhyme subtle and severe
Shall tell how Nobleman's estate
Is won by worth, hold false and vile
The judgment that from wealth derives a Peer.

First calling on that Lord
Who dwells within her eyes,
Containing whom, my Lady learnt
Herself to love and prize.

One raised to Empire held,
As far as he could see,
Descent of wealth, and generous ways,
To make Nobility.

Another, lightly wise,
That saying turned aside,
Perchance for want of generous ways
The second source denied.

And followers of him
Are all the men who rate
Those noble in whose families
The wealth has long been great.

And so long among us
The falsehood has had sway,
That men call him a Nobleman,
Though worthless, who can say.

I nephew am, or son,
Of one worth such a sum;
But he who sees the Truth may know
How vile he has become

To whom the Truth was shown,
Who from the Truth has fled,
And though he walks upon the earth
Is counted with the dead:

Whoever shall define
The man a living tree
Will speak untruth and less than truth,
Though more he may not see.

The Emperor so erred;
First set the false in view,
Proceeding, on the other side,
To what was less than true.

For riches make not worth
Although they can defile:
Nor can their want take worth away:
They are by nature vile.

No painter gives a form
That is not of his knowing;
No tower leans above a stream
That far away is flowing.

How vile and incomplete
Wealth is, let this declare
However great the heap may be
It brings no peace, but care.

And hence the upright mind,
To its own purpose true,
Stands firm although the flood of wealth
Sweep onward out of view

They will not have the vile
Turn noble, nor descent
From parent vile produce a race
For ever eminent.

Yet this, they say, can be,
Their reason halts behind,
Since time they suit to noble birth
By course of time defined.

It follows then from this
That all are high or base,
Or that in Time there never was
Beginning to our race.

But that I cannot hold,
Nor yet, if Christians, they;
Sound intellect reproves their words
As false, and turns away.

And now I seek to tell,
As it appears to me,
What is, whence comes, what signs attest
A true Nobility.

I say that from one root
Each Virtue firstly springs,
Virtue, I mean, that Happiness
To man, by action, brings.

This, as the Ethics teach,
Is habit of right choice
That holds the means between extremes,
So spake that noble voice.

Nobility by right
No other sense has had
Than to import its subject's good,
As vileness makes him bad.

Such virtue shows its good
To others' intellect,
For when two things agree in one,
Producing one effect.

One must from other come,
Or each one from a third,
If each be as each, and more, then one
From the other is inferred.

Where Virtue is, there is
A Nobleman, although
Not where there is a Nobleman
Must Virtue be also.

So likewise that is Heaven
Wherein a star is hung,
But Heaven may be starless; so
In women and the young

A modesty is seen,
Not virtue, noble yet;
Comes virtue from what's noble, as
From black comes violet;

Or from the parent root
It springs, as said before,
And so let no one vaunt that him.
A noble mother bore.

They are as Gods whom Grace
Has placed beyond all sin:
God only gives it to the Soul
That He finds pure within.

That seed of Happiness
Falls in the hearts of few,
Planted by God within the Souls
Spread to receive His dew.

Souls whom this Grace adorns
Declare it in each breath,
From birth that joins the flesh and soul
They show it until death.

In Childhood they obey,
Are gentle, modest, heed
To furnish Virtue's person with
The graces it may need.

Are temperate in Youth,
And resolutely strong,
Love much, win praise for courtesy,
Are loyal, hating wrong.

Are prudent in their Age,
And generous and just,
And glad at heart to hear and speak
When good to man's discussed.

The fourth part of their life
Weds them again to God,
They wait, and contemplate the end,
And bless the paths they trod.

How many are deceived! My Song,
Against the strayers: when you reach
Our Lady, hide not from her that your end
Is labour that would lessen wrong,
And tell her too, in trusty speech,
I travel ever talking of your Friend.


Love, according to the unanimous opinion of the wise men who discourse
of him, and as by experience we see continually, is that which brings
together and unites the lover with the beloved; wherefore Pythagoras
says, "In friendship many become one."

And the things which are united naturally communicate their qualities
to each other, insomuch that sometimes it happens that one is wholly
changed into the nature of the other, the result being that the
passions of the beloved person enter into the person of the lover, so
that the love of the one is communicated to the other, and so likewise
hatred, desire, and every other passion; wherefore the friends of the
one are beloved by the other, and the enemies hated; and so in the
Greek proverb it is said: "With friends all things ought to be in

Wherefore I, having made a friend of this Lady, mentioned above in the
truthful exposition, began to love and to hate according to her love
and her hatred. I then began to love the followers of Truth, and to
hate the followers of Error and Falsehood, even as she does. But since
each thing is to be loved for itself and none are to be hated except
for excess of evil, it is reasonable and upright to hate not the
things, but the evil in the things, and to endeavour to distinguish
between these. And if any person has this intention, my most excellent
Lady understands especially how to distinguish the evil in anything,
which is the cause of hate; since in her is all Reason, and in her is
the fountain-head of all uprightness.

I, following her as much as I could in her work as in her love,
abominated and despised the errors of the people with infamy or
reproach, not cast on those lost in error, but on the errors
themselves; by blaming which, I thought to create displeasure and to
separate the displeased ones from those faults in them which were
hated by me. Amongst which errors one especially I reproved, which,
because it is hurtful and dangerous not only to those who remain in
it, but also to others who reprove it, I separate it from them and

This is the error concerning Human Goodness, which, inasmuch as it is
sown in us by Nature, ought to be termed Nobility; which error was so
strongly entrenched by evil custom and by weak intellect that the
opinion of almost all people was falsified or deceived by it; and from
the false opinion sprang false judgments, and from false judgments
sprang unjust reverence and unjust contempt; wherefore the good were
held in vile disdain, and the evil were honoured and exalted. This was
the worst confusion in the world; even as he can see who looks subtly
at that which may result from it. And though it seemed that this my
Lady had somewhat changed her sweet countenance towards me, especially
where I gazed and sought to discover whether the first Matter of the
Elements was created by God, for which reason I strengthened myself to
frequent her presence a little, as if remaining there with her assent,
I began to consider in my mind the fault of man concerning the said
error. And to shun sloth, which is an especial enemy of this Lady, and
to describe or state this error very clearly, this error which robs
her of so many friends, I proposed to cry aloud to the people who are
walking in the path of evil, in order that they might direct their
steps to the right road; and I began a Song, in the beginning of which
I said, "Soft rhymes of love I used to find," wherein I intend to lead
the people back into the right path, the path of right knowledge
concerning true Nobility, as by the knowledge of its text, to the
explanation of which I now turn my attention, any one will be able to

And since the intention of this Song is directed to a remedy so
requisite, it was not well to speak under any figure of speech; but it
was needful to prepare this medicine speedily, that speedy might be
the restoration to health, which, being so corrupted, hastened to a
hideous death. It will not, then, be requisite in the exposition of
this Song to unveil any allegory, but simply to discuss its meaning
according to the letter. By my Lady I always mean her who is spoken of
in the preceding Song, that is to say, that Light of supreme virtue,
Philosophy, whose rays cause the flowers of true Nobility to blossom
forth in mankind and to bear fruit in the sons of men; concerning
which true Nobility the proposed Song fully intends to treat.


In the beginning of the explanation now undertaken, in order to render
the meaning of the proposed Song more clear and distinct, it is
requisite to divide that first part into two parts, for in the first
part one speaks in the manner of a Proem or Preface; in the second,
the subject under discussion is continued; and the second part begins
in the commencement of the stanza, where it says:

One raised to Empire held,
As far as he could see,
Descent of wealth, and generous ways,
To make Nobility.

The first part, again, can be comprehended in three divisions or
members. In the first it states why I depart from my usual mode of
speech; in the second, I say of what it is my intention to discourse;
in the third, I call upon that Helper who most can aid me to establish
Truth. The second member, clause, or division begins: "And since time
suits me now." The third begins: "First calling on that Lord." I say
then that I was compelled to abandon the soft rhymes of Love which I
was accustomed to search for in my thoughts, and I assign the reason
or cause; wherefore I say that it is not because I have given up all
intention of making rhymes of Love, but because new aspects have
appeared in my Lady which have deprived me of material for present
speech of Love. Where it is to be known that it does not here say that
the gestures of this Lady are disdainful and angry according to
appearance only, as may be seen in the tenth chapter of the preceding
treatise; for at another time I say that the appearance is contrary to
the Truth; and how this can be, how one self-same thing can be sweet
and appear bitter, or rather be clear and appear obscure, may there be
seen clearly enough.

Afterwards when I say, "And since time suits," I say, even as has been
said, what that is whereof I intend to discourse. And that which it
says in the words "time suits" is not here to be passed over with a
dry foot, because there is a most powerful reason for my action; but
it is to be seen how reasonably time must wait on all our acts, and
especially on speech.

Time, according to what Aristotle says in the fourth chapter of
Physics, is the number of movement, first, second, and onwards; and
the number of the celestial movement, which prepares the things here
below to receive in various ways any informing power. For the Earth is
prepared in one way in the beginning of Spring to receive into itself
the informing power of the herbs and flowers, and the Winter
otherwise; and in one manner is one season prepared to receive the
seed, differing from another. And even so our Mind, inasmuch as it is
founded upon the temper of the body, which has to follow the
revolution of the Heaven, at one time is disposed in one way, at
another time in another way; wherefore words, which are, as it were,
the seeds of actions, ought very discreetly to be withheld or uttered;
they should be spoken with such sound judgment that they may be well
received, and good fruit follow from them; not withheld or spent so
sparingly that barrenness is the result of their defective utterance.
And therefore a suitable time should be chosen, both for him who
speaks and for him who must hear: for if the speaker is badly
prepared, very often his words are injurious or hurtful; and if the
hearer is ill-disposed, those words which are good are ill received.
And therefore Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: "There is a time to speak,
and a time to be silent." Wherefore I, feeling within myself that my
disposition to speak of Love was disturbed, for the cause which has
been mentioned in the preceding chapter, it seemed to me that the time
might suit me now, time which bears with it the fulfilment of every
desire, and appears in the guise of a generous giver to those who
grudge not to await him patiently. Wherefore St. James says in his
Epistle, in the fifth chapter: "Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the
precious fruit of the Earth, and hath long patience for it, until he
receive the early and the latter rain." For all our sorrows, or cares,
or vexations, if we inquire diligently into their origin, proceed, as
it were, from not knowing the use of time. I say, "since the time
suits," I will leave my pen alone, that is to say, the sweet or gentle
style I used when I sang of Love; and I say that I will speak of that
worth whereby a man is truly noble.

And as it is possible to understand worth in many ways, here I intend
to assume worth to be a power of Nature, or rather a goodness bestowed
by her, as will be seen in what follows; and I promise to discourse on
this subject with a "rhyme subtle and severe."

Wherefore it is requisite to know that rhyme may be considered in a
double sense, that is to say, in a wide and in a narrow sense. In the
narrow sense, it is understood as that concordance which in the last
and in the penultimate syllable it is usual to make. In the wide
sense, it is understood for all that language which, with numbers and
regulated time, falls into rhymed consonance; and thus it is desired
that it should be taken and understood in this Proem. And therefore it
says "severe," with reference to the sound of the style, which to such
a subject must not be sweet and pleasing; and it says "subtle," with
regard to the meaning of the words, which proceed with subtle argument
and disputation.

And I subjoin: "hold false and vile The judgment;" where again it is
promised to confute the judgment of the people full of error: false,
that is, removed from the Truth; and vile, that is to say, affirmed
and fortified by vileness of mind. And it is to be observed that in
this Proem I promise, firstly, to treat of the Truth, and then to
confute the False; and in the treatise the opposite is done, for, in
the first place, I confute the False, and then treat of the Truth,
which does not appear rightly according to the promise. And therefore
it is to be known that, although the intention is to speak of both,
the principal intention is to handle the Truth; and the intention is
to reprove the False or Untrue, in so far as by so doing I make the
Truth appear more excellent.

And here, in the first place, the promise is to speak of the Truth
according to the chief intention, which creates in the minds of the
hearers a desire to hear; for in the first treatise I reprove the
False of Untrue in order that, the false opinions being chased away,
the Truth may be received more freely. And this method was adopted by
the master of human argument, Aristotle, who always in the first place
fought with the adversaries of Truth, and then, having vanquished
them, revealed or demonstrated Truth itself.

Finally, when I say, "First calling on that Lord," I appeal to Truth
to be with me, Truth being that Lord who dwells in the eyes of
Philosophy, that is to say, in her demonstrations. And indeed Truth is
that Lord; for the Soul espoused to Truth is the bride of Truth, and
otherwise it is a slave or servant deprived of all liberty.

And it says, "my Lady learnt Herself to love and prize," because this
Philosophy, which has been said in the preceding treatise to be a
loving use of Wisdom, beholds herself when the beauty of her eyes
appears to her. And what else is there to be said, except that the
Philosophic Soul not only contemplates this Truth, but again
contemplates her own contemplation and the beauty of that, again
revolving upon herself, and being enamoured with herself on account of
the beauty of her first glance?

And thus ends this which, as a Proem or Preface in three divisions,
heads the present treatise.


Having seen the meaning of the Proem, we must now follow the treatise,
and, to demonstrate it clearly, it must be divided into its chief
parts, which are three.

In the first, one treats of Nobility according to the opinion of other
men; in the second, one treats of it according to the true opinion; in
the third, one addresses speech to the Song by way of ornament to that
which has been said. The second part begins: "I say that from one root
Each Virtue firstly springs." The third begins: "How many are
deceived! My Song, Against the strayers." And after these general
parts, it will be right to make other divisions, in order to make the
meaning of the demonstration clear. Therefore, let no one marvel if it
proceed with many divisions, since a great and high work is now on my
hands, and one that is but little entered upon by authors; the
treatise must be long and subtle into which the reader now enters with
me, if I am to unfold perfectly the text according to the meaning
which it bears.

I say, then, that this first part is now divided into two: for in the
first, the opinions of others are placed; in the second, those
opinions are confuted; and this second part begins: "Whoever shall
define The man a living tree." Again, the first part which remains has
two clauses: the first is the variation of the opinion of the Emperor;
the second is the variation of the opinion of the Common People, which
is naked or void of all reason; and this second clause or division
begins: "Another, lightly wise." I say then, "One raised to Empire,"
that is to say, such an one made use of the Imperial Office. Where it
is to be known that Frederick of Suabia, the last Emperor of the
Romans (I say last with respect to the present time, notwithstanding
that Rudolf, and Adolphus, and Albert were elected after his death and
from his descendants), being asked what Nobility might be, replied
that "it was ancient wealth, and good manners."

And I say that there was another of less wisdom, who, pondering and
revolving this definition in every part, removed the last particle,
that is, the good manners, and held to the first, that is, to the
ancient riches. And as he seems to have doubted the text, perhaps
through not having good manners, and not wishing to lose the title of
Nobility, he defined it according to that which made himself noble,
namely, possession of ancient wealth.

And I say that this opinion is that of almost all, saying that after
it go all the people who make those men noble who have a long
pedigree, and who have been rich through many generations; since in
this cry do almost all men bark.

These two opinions (although one, as has been said, is of no
consequence whatever) seem to have two very grave arguments in support
of them. The first is, that the Philosopher says that whatever appears
true to the greatest number cannot be entirely false. The second is,
the authority of the definition by an Emperor. And that one may the
better see the power of the Truth, which conquers all other authority,
I intend to argue with the one reason as with the other, to which it
is a strong helper and powerful aid.

And, firstly, one cannot understand Imperial authority until the roots
of it are found. It is our intention to treat or discourse of them in
an especial chapter.


The radical foundation of Imperial Majesty, according to the Truth, is
the necessity of Human Civilization, which is ordained to one end,
that is, to a Happy Life. Nothing is of itself sufficient to attain
this without some external help, since man has need of many things
which one person alone is unable to obtain. And therefore the
Philosopher says that man is naturally a companionable animal. And as
a man requires for his sufficient comfort the domestic companionship
of a family, so a house requires for its sufficient comfort a
neighbourhood; otherwise there would be many wants to endure which
would be an obstacle to happiness. And since a neighbourhood cannot
satisfy all requirements, there must for the satisfaction of men be
the City. Again, the City requires for its Arts and Manufactures to
have an environment, as also for its defence, and to have brotherly
intercourse with the circumjacent or adjacent Cities, and thence the

But since the human mind in restricted possession of the Earth finds
no peace, but always desires to acquire Glory, as we see by
experience, discords and wars must arise between realm and realm.
These are the tribulation of Cities; and through the Cities, of the
neighbourhoods; and through the neighbourhoods, of the houses; and
through the houses, of men; and thus is the happiness of man prevented
or obstructed. Wherefore, in order to prevent these wars, and to
remove the causes of them through all the Earth, so far as it is given
to the Human Race to possess it, there must of necessity be Monarchy,
that is to say, one sole principality; and there must be one Prince,
who, possessing all, and not being able to desire more, holds the
Kings content within the limits of the kingdoms, so that peace may be
between them, wherein the Cities may repose, and in this rest the
neighbouring hamlets may dwell together in mutual love; in this love
the houses obtain all they need, which, being obtained, men can live
happily, which is that end for which man was born. And to these
reasons might be applied the words of the Philosopher, for he says, in
the book On Politics, that when many things are ordained to one end,
one of those must be the ruling power, and all the others must be
governed by that. Even as we see in a ship that the different offices
and the different means to different ends in that ship are ordained to
one end alone, that is to say, to reach the desired port by a safe
voyage, where as each officer orders his own work to the proper end,
even so there is one who considers all these ends, and ordains those
to the final one; and this is the Pilot, whose voice all must obey.

We see this also in the religious bodies and in the military bodies,
in all those things which are ordained to one end, as has been said.
Wherefore it can plainly be seen that to attain the perfection of the
Universal Union of the Human Race there must be one Pilot, as it were,
who, considering the different conditions of the World, and ordaining
the different and needful offices, may hold or possess over the whole
the universal and incontestable office of Command. And this office is
well designated Empire, without any addition, because it is of all
other governments the government; and so he who is appointed to this
office is designated Emperor, because of all Governors he is the
Governor, and what he says is Law to all, and ought by all to be
obeyed; and every other government derives vigour and authority from
the government of this man. And thus it is evident that the Imperial
Majesty and Authority is the most exalted in the Human Family.

No doubt it would be possible for some one to cavil, saying, that
although the office of Empire may be required in the World, that does
not make the authority of the Roman Prince rationally supreme, which
it is the intention of the treatise to prove; since the Roman Power
was acquired, not by Reason nor by decree of Universal Election, but
by Force, which seems to be opposed to Reason. To this one can easily
reply, that the election of this Supreme Official must primarily
proceed from that Council which foresees all things, that is, God;
otherwise the election would not have been of equal benefit for all
the people, since, before the pre-ordained Official, there was none
who had the good of all at heart.

And since a gentler nature in ruling, and a stronger in maintaining,
and a more subtle in acquiring never was and never will be than that
of the Latin People, as one can see by experience, and especially that
of the Holy People, in whom was blended the noble Trojan blood; to
that office it was elected by God. Wherefore, since, to obtain it, not
without very great power could it be approached, and to employ it a
most exalted and most humane benignity was required, this was the
people which was most fitly prepared for it. Hence not by Force was it
assumed in the first place by the Roman People but by Divine
Ordinance, which is above all Reason. And Virgil is in harmony with
this in the first book of the AEneid, when he says, speaking in the
person of God: "On these [that is, on the Romans] I impose no limits
to their possessions, nor to their duration; to them I have given
boundless Empire." Force, then, was not the moving cause, as he
believed who was cavilling; but there was an instrumental cause even
as the blows of the hammer are the cause of the knife, and the soul of
the workman is the moving and the efficient cause; and thus, not
force, but a cause, even a Divine Cause, has been the origin of the
Roman Empire.

And that this is so it is possible to see by two most evident reasons,
which prove that City to be the Empress, and to have from God an
especial birth, and to have from God an especial success. But since in
this chapter without too great length it would not be possible to
discuss this subject, and long chapters are the enemies of Memory, I
will again make a digression in another chapter in order to prove the
reasons here alluded to, which are not without and may give great


It is no cause for wonder if the Divine Providence, which surpasses
beyond measure all angelic and human foresight, often appears to us to
proceed mysteriously, since many times human actions conceal their
motives from men. But there is great cause for wonder when the
execution of the Eternal Counsel proceeds so evidently that our reason
can discern it. And therefore in the beginning of this chapter I can
speak with the mouth of Solomon, who, in the person of Wisdom, says in
his Proverbs: "Hear, for I will speak of excellent things!"

The Divine Goodness unmeasureable, desiring to conform again to Itself
the Human Creature, which, through the sin of the prevarication of the
first Man, was separated from God and deformed thereby, it was
decided, in that most exalted and most united Divine Consistory of the
Trinity, that the Son of God should descend to the Earth to accomplish
this union. And since at His advent into the world, not only Heaven,
but Earth, must be in the best disposition; and the best disposition
of the Earth is when it is a Monarchy, that is to say, all subject to
one Prince, as has been said above, by Divine Providence it was
ordained what people and what city should fulfil this, and that people
was the Roman nation, and that city was glorious Rome. And since the
Inn also wherein the Heavenly King must enter must of necessity be
most cleanly and most pure, there was ordained a most Holy Race, from
which, after many excellent or just ancestors, there should be born a
Woman more perfect than all others, who should be the abode of the Son
of God. And this race was the Race of David, from which was born the
glory and honour of the Human Race, that is to say, Mary. And
therefore it is written in Isaiah: "A virgin shall be born of the stem
of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." And Jesse was the
father of the aforesaid David. And it happened at one period of time
that when David was born, Rome was born, that is to say, AEneas then
came from Troy to Italy, which was the origin of the most noble Roman
City, even as the written word bears witness. Evident enough,
therefore, is the Divine election of the Roman Empire by the birth of
the Holy City, which was contemporaneous with the root of the race
from which Mary sprang.

And incidentally it is to be mentioned that, since this Heaven began
to revolve, it never was in a better disposition than when He
descended from on high, He who had made it and who is its Ruler, even
as again by virtue of their arts the Mathematicians may be able to
discover. The World never was nor ever will be so perfectly prepared
as then, when it was governed by the voice of one man alone, Prince
and Commander of the Roman people, even as Luke the Evangelist bears
witness. And therefore there was Universal Peace, which never was
again nor ever will be, for the Ship of the Human Family rightly by a
sweet pathway was hastening to its rightful haven. Oh, ineffable and
incomprehensible Wisdom of God, which in Heaven above didst prepare,
so long beforehand, for Thy advent into Syria and here in Italy at the
same time! And oh, most foolish and vile beasts who pasture in the
guise of men--you who presume to speak against our Faith, and profess
to know, as ye spin and dig, what God has ordained with so much
forethought--curses be on you and your presumption, and on him who
believes in you!

And, as has been said above, at the end of the preceding chapter, the
Roman People had from God not only an especial birth, but an especial
success; for, briefly, from Romulus, who was the first father of Rome,
even to its most perfect era, that is, to the time of its predicted
Emperor, its success was achieved not only by human, but by Divine
means. For if we consider the Seven Kings who first governed
it--Romulus, Numa, Tullus, Ancus Martius, Servius Tullius, and the
Tarquins, who were, as it were, the nurses and tutors of its
Childhood--we shall be able to find, by the written word of Roman
History, especially by Titus Livius, those to have been of different
natures, according to the opportunity of the advancing tract of time.
If we consider, then, its Adolescence, when it was emancipated from
the regal tutorship by Brutus, the first Consul, even to Caesar, its
first supreme Prince, we shall find it exalted, not with human, but
with Divine citizens, into whom, not human, but Divine love was
inspired in loving Rome; and this neither could be nor ought to be,
except for an especial end intended by God through such infusion of a
heavenly spirit. And who will say that there was no Divine inspiration
in Fabricius when he rejected an almost infinite amount of gold
because he was unwilling to abandon his country? or in Curius, whom
the Samnites attempted to corrupt, who said, when refusing a very
large quantity of gold for love of his country, that the Roman
citizens did not desire to possess gold, but the possessors of the
gold? Who will say there was no Divine inspiration in Mutius burning
his own hand because it had failed in the blow wherewith he had
thought to deliver Rome? Who will say of Torquatus, who sentenced his
own son to death from love to the Public Good, that he could have
endured this without a Divine Helper? Who will say this of the Brutus
before mentioned? Who will say it of the Decii and of the Drusi, who
laid down their lives for their country? Who will say of the captive
Regulus of Carthage, sent to Rome to exchange the Carthaginian
prisoners for Roman prisoners of war, who, after having explained the
object of his embassy, gave counsel against himself; through pure love
to Rome, that he was moved to do this by the impulse of Human Nature
alone? Who will say it of Quinctius Cincinnatus, who, taken from the
plough and made dictator, after the time of office had expired,
spontaneously refusing its continuance, followed his plough again? Who
will say of Camillus, banished and chased into exile, who, having come
to deliver Rome from her enemies, and having accomplished her
liberation, spontaneously returned into exile in order not to offend
against the authority of the Senate, that he was without Divine
inspiration? O, most sacred heart of Cato, who shall presume to speak
of thee? Truly, to speak freely of thee is not possible; it were
better to be silent and to follow Jerome, when, in the Preface of the
Bible where he alludes to Paul, he says that it were better to be
silent than say little. Certainly it must be evident, remembering the
lives of these men and of the other Divine citizens, that such wonders
could not have been without some light of the Divine Goodness, added
to their own goodness of nature. And it must be evident that these
most excellent men were instruments with which Divine Providence
worked in the building up of the Roman Empire, wherein many times the
arm of God appeared to be present. And did not God put His own hand to
the battle wherein the Albans fought with the Romans in the beginning
for the chief dominion, when one Roman alone held in his hands the
liberty of Rome? And did not God interfere with His own hands when the
Franks, having taken all Rome, attacked by stealth the Capitol by
night, and the voice alone of a goose caused this to be known? And did
not God interfere with His own hands when, in the war with Hannibal,
having lost so many citizens that three bushels of rings were carried
into Africa, the Romans wished to abandon the land, if the blessed
Scipio the younger had not undertaken his expedition into Africa for
the recovery of freedom? And did not God interfere with His own hands
when a new citizen of humble station, Tullius, defended, against such
a citizen as Catiline, the Roman liberty? Yes, surely. Wherefore one
should not need to inquire further to see that an especial birth and
an especial success were in the Mind of God decreed to that holy City.
And certainly I am of a firm opinion that the stones which remain in
her walls are worthy of reverence; and it is asserted and proved that
the ground whereon she stands is worthy beyond all other that is
occupied by man.


Above, in the third chapter of this treatise, a promise was made to
discourse of the supremacy of the Imperial Authority and of the
Philosophic Authority. And since the Imperial Authority has been
discussed, my digression must now proceed further in order to consider
that of the Philosopher, according to the promise made.

And here we must first see what is the meaning of this word; since
here there is a greater necessity to understand it than there was
above in the argument on the Imperial Authority, which, on account of
its Majesty, does not seem to be doubted. It is then to be known that
Authority is no other than the act of the Author.

This word, that is to say, Auctore, without this third letter,
_c_, can be derived from two roots. One is from a verb, whose use
in grammar is much abandoned, which signifies to bind or to tie words
together, that is, A U I E O; and whoso looks well at it in its first
vowel or syllable will clearly perceive that it demonstrates it
itself, for it is constituted solely of a tie of words, that is, of
five vowels alone, which are the soul and bond of every word, and
composed of them in a twisted way, to figure the image of a ligature;
for beginning with the A, then it twists round into the U, and comes
straight through the I into the E, then it revolves and turns round
into the O: so that truly this figure represents A, E, I, O, U, which
is the figure or form of a tie; and how much _Autore_ (Author)
derives its origin from this word, one learns from the poets alone,
who have bound their words together with the art of harmony; but on
this signification we do not at present dwell. The other root from
which the word "Autore" (Author) is derived, as Uguccione testifies in
the beginning of his Derivations, is a Greek word, "Autentim," which
in Latin means "worthy of faith and obedience." And thus "Autore"
(Author), derived from this, is taken for any person worthy to be
believed and obeyed; and thence comes this word, of which one treats
at the present moment, that is to say, Authority. Wherefore one can
see that Authority is equivalent to an act worthy of faith and

[Here is a small break in the original, containing some such words
as--Worthy, nay, most worthy, of obedience and of faith is Aristotle:]
hence it is evident that his words are a supreme and chief Authority.
That Aristotle is most worthy of faith and obedience, one can thus
prove. Amongst workmen and artificers of different Arts and
Manufactures, which are all directed to one final work of Art, or to
one building, the Artificer or Designer of that work must be
completely believed in, and implicitly obeyed by all, as the man who
alone beholds the ultimate end of all the other ends. Hence the
sword-cutler must believe in the knight, so must the bridle-maker and
saddle-maker and the shield-maker, and all those trades which are
appointed to the profession of knighthood. And since all human actions
require an aim, which is that of human life, to which man is appointed
inasmuch as he is man, the master and artificer who considers that aim
and demonstrates it ought especially to be believed in and obeyed; and
he is Aristotle; wherefore he is most worthy of faith and obedience.
And in order to see how Aristotle is the master and leader of Human
Reason in so far as it aims at its final operation, it is requisite to
know that this our aim of life, which each one naturally desires, in
most ancient times was searched for by the Wise Men; and since those
who desire this end are so numerous, and their desires are as it were
all singularly different, although they exist in us universally, it
was nevertheless very difficult to discern that end whereon rightly
each human appetite or desire might repose.

There were then many ancient philosophers, the first and the chief of
whom was Zeno, who saw and believed this end of human life to be
solely a rigid honesty, that is to say, rigid without regard to any
one in following Truth and Justice, to show no sorrow, to show no joy,
to have no sense of any passion whatever. And they defined thus this
honest uprightness, as that which, without bearing fruit, is to be
praised for reason of itself. And these men and their sect were called
Stoics; and that glorious Cato was one of them, of whom in the
previous chapter I had not courage enough to speak.

Other philosophers there were who saw and believed otherwise; and of
these the first and chief was a philosopher, who was named Epicurus,
who, seeing that each animal as soon as it is born is as it were
directed by Nature to its right end, which shuns pain and seeks for
pleasure, said that this end or aim of ours was enjoyment. I do not
say greedy enjoyment, voluntade, but I write it with a _p_,
voluptate, that is, delight or pleasure free from pain; and therefore
between pleasure and pain no mean was placed. He said that pleasure
was no other than no pain; as Tullius seems to say in the first
chapter De Finibus. And of these, who from Epicurus are named
Epicureans, was Torquatus, a noble Roman, descended from the blood of
the glorious Torquatus mention of whom I made above. There were
others, and they had their rise from Socrates, and then from his
successor, Plato, who, looking more subtly, and seeing that in our
actions it was possible to sin, and that one sinned in too much and in
too little, said that our action, without excess and without defect,
measured to the due mean of our own choice, is virtue, and virtue is
the aim of man; and they called it action with virtue. And these were
called Academicians, as was Plato and Speusippus, his nephew; they
were thus called from the place where Plato taught, that is, the
Academy; neither from Socrates did they take or assume any word,
because in his Philosophy nothing was affirmed. Truly Aristotle, who
had his surname from Stagira, and Xenocrates of Chalcedon, his
companion, through the genius, almost Divine, which Nature had put
into Aristotle, knowing this end by means of the Socratic method, with
the Academic file, as it were, reduced Moral Philosophy to perfection,
and especially Aristotle. And since Aristotle began to reason while
walking hither and thither, they were called, he, I say, and his
companions, Peripatetics, which means the same as walkers about. And
since the perfection of this Morality by Aristotle was attained, the
name of Academician became extinct, and all those who attached
themselves to this sect are called Peripatetics, and these people hold
the doctrine of the government of the World through all its parts: and
it may be termed a catholic opinion, as it were. Wherefore it is
possible to see that Aristotle was the Indicator and the Leader of the
people to this mark. And this is what I wished to prove.

Wherefore, collecting all together, the principal intention is
manifest, that is to say, that the authority of him whom we understand
to be the supreme Philosopher is full of complete vigour, and in no
way repugnant to Imperial Authority. But the Imperial without the
Philosopher is dangerous; and this without that is weak, not of
itself, but through the disorder of the people: but when one is united
with the other they are together most useful and full of all vigour;
and therefore it is written in that Book of Wisdom: "Love the Light of
Wisdom, all you who are before the people," that is to say, unite
Philosophic Authority with the Imperial, in order to rule well and
perfectly. O, you miserable ones, who rule at the present time! and O,
most miserable ones, you who are ruled! For no Philosophic Authority
is united with your governments, neither through suitable study nor by
counsel; so that to all it is possible to repeat those words from
Ecclesiastes: "Woe to thee, O land, when thy King is a child, and thy
Princes eat in the morning;" and to no land is it possible to say that
which follows: "Blessed art thou, O land, when thy King is the son of
nobles, and thy Princes eat in due season, for strength and not for

Ye enemies of God, look to your flanks, ye who have seized the
sceptres of the kingdoms of Italy. And I say to you, Charles, and to
you, Frederick, Kings, and to you, ye other Princes and Tyrants, see
who sits by the side of you in council, and count how many times a day
this aim of human life is indicated to you by your councillors. Better
would it be for you, like swallows, to fly low down than, like kites,
to make lofty circles over carrion.


Since it is seen how much the Imperial Authority and the Philosophic
are to be revered, which must support the opinions propounded, it is
now for us to return into the straight path to the intended goal. I
say, then, that this last opinion of the Common People has continued
so long that without other cause, without inquiry into any reason,
every man is termed Noble who may be the son or nephew of any brave
man, although he himself is nothing. And this is what the Song says:

And so long among us
This falsehood has had sway,
That men call him a Nobleman,
Though worthless, who can say,

I nephew am, or son,
Of one worth such a sum.

Wherefore it is to be observed that it is most dangerous negligence to
allow this evil opinion to take root; for even as weeds multiply in
the uncultivated field, and surmount and cover the ear of the corn, so
that, looking at it from a distance, the wheat appears not, and
finally the corn is lost; so the evil opinion in the mind, neither
chastised nor corrected, increases and multiplies, so that the ear of
Reason, that is, the true opinion, is concealed and buried as it were,
and so it is lost. O, how great is my undertaking in this Song, for I
wish now to weed the field so full of wild and woody plants as is this
field of the common opinion so long bereft of tillage! Certainly I do
not intend to cleanse all, but only those parts where the ears of
Reason are not entirely overcome; that is, I intend to lift up again
those in whom some little light of Reason still lives through the
goodness of their nature; the others need only as much care as the
brute beasts: wherefore it seems to me that it would not be a less
miracle to lead back to Reason him in whom it is entirely extinct than
to bring back to Life him who has been four days in the grave.

Then the evil quality of this popular opinion is narrated suddenly, as
if it were a horrible thing; it strikes at that, springing forth from
the order of the confutation, saying, "But he who sees the Truth will
know How vile he has become," in order to make people understand its
intolerable wickedness, saying, that those men lie especially, for not
only is the man vile, that is, not Noble, who, although descended from
good people, is himself wicked, but also he is most vile; and I quote
the example of the right path being indicated, where, to prove this,
it is fit for me to propound a question, and to reply to that question
in this way.

There is a plain with certain paths, a field with hedges, with
ditches, with rocks, with tanglewood, with all kinds of obstacles;
with the exception of its two straight paths. And it has snowed so
much that the snow covers everything, and presents one smooth
appearance on every side, so that no trace of any path is to be seen.
Here comes a man from one part of the country, and he wishes to go to
a house which is on the other side; and by his industry, that is,
through prudent foresight and through the goodness of genius, guided
solely by himself, he goes through the right path whither he meant to
go, leaving the prints of his footsteps behind him. Another comes
after this man, and he wishes to go to that mansion, and to him it is
only needful to follow the footprints left there; but through his own
fault this man strays from the path, which the first man without a
guide has known how to keep; this man, though it is pointed out to
him, loses his way through the brambles and the rocks, and he goes not
to the place whither he is bound.

Which of these men ought to be termed excellent, brave, or worthy? I
reply: He who went first. How would you designate that other man? I
reply: "As most vile." Why is he not called unworthy or cowardly, that
is to say, vile? I reply: Because unworthy, that is, vile, he should
be called who, having no guide, might have failed to walk
straightforward; but since this man had a guide, his error and his
fault can rise higher; and therefore he is to be called, not vile, but
most vile. And likewise he who, by his father or by some elder of his
race is ennobled, and does not continue in a noble course, not only is
he vile, but he is most vile, and deserving of as much contempt and
infamy as any other villain, if not of more. And because a man may
preserve himself from this vile baseness, Solomon lays this command on
him who has had a brave and excellent ancestor, in the twenty-second
chapter of Proverbs: "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy
fathers have set," And previously he says, in the fourth chapter of
the said book: "The path of the Just," that is, of the worthy men, "is
as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day;
the way of the wicked is as darkness, and they know not at what they

Finally, when it says, "And though he walks upon the earth Is counted
with the dead," to his greater disgrace I say that this most
worthless man is dead, seeming still alive. Where it is to be known
that the wicked man may be truly said to be dead, and especially he
who goes astray from the path trodden by his good ancestor. And this
it is possible to prove thus: as Aristotle says in the second book On
the Soul, to live is to be with the living; and since there are many
ways of living--as in the plants to vegetate; in the animals to
vegetate and to feel and to move; in men to vegetate, to feel, to
move, and to reason, or rather to understand; and since things ought
to be denominated by the noblest part, it is evident that in animals
to live is to feel--in the brute animals, I say; in man, to live is to
use reason. Wherefore, if to live is the life or existence of man, and
if thus to depart from the use of Reason, which is his life, is to
depart from life or existence, even thus is that man dead.

And does he not depart from the use of Reason who does not reason or
think concerning the aim of his life? And does he not depart from the
use of Reason who does not reason or think concerning the path which
he ought to take? Certainly he does so depart; and this is evident
especially in him who has the footprints before him, and looks not at
them; and therefore Solomon says in the fifth chapter of Proverbs: "He
shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he
shall go astray," that is to say, he is dead who becomes a disciple,
and who does not follow his master; and such an one is most vile.

And of him it would be possible for some one to say: How is he dead
and yet he walks? I reply, that as a man he is dead, but as a beast he
has remained alive; for as the Philosopher says in the second book On
the Soul, the powers of the Soul stand upon itself, as the figure of
the quadrangle stands upon the triangle, and the pentagon stands upon
the quadrangle; so the sensitive stands upon the vegetative, and the
intellectual stands upon the sensitive. Wherefore, as, by removing the
last side of the pentagon, the quadrangle remains, so by removing the
last power of the Soul, that is, Reason, the man no longer remains,
but a thing with a sensitive soul only, that is, the brute animal.

And this is the meaning or intention of the second part of the devised
Song, in which are placed the opinions of others.


The most beautiful branch which grows up from the root of Reason is
Discretion. For as St. Thomas says thereupon in the prologue to the
book of Ethics, to know the order of one thing to another is the
proper act of Reason; and this is Discretion. One of the most
beautiful and sweetest fruits of this branch is the reverence which
the lesser owes to the greater. Wherefore Tullius, in the first
chapter of the Offices, when speaking of the beauty which shines forth
in Uprightness, says that reverence is part of that beauty; and thus
as this reverence is the beauty of Uprightness, so its opposite is
baseness and want of uprightness; which opposite quality it is
possible to term irreverence, or rather as impudent boldness, in our
Vulgar Tongue.

And therefore this Tullius in the same place says: "To treat with
contemptuous indifference that which others think of one, not only is
the act of an arrogant, but also of a dissolute person," which means
no other except that arrogance and dissolute conduct show want of
self-knowledge, which is the beginning of the capacity for all
reverence. Wherefore I, desiring (and bearing meanwhile all reverence
both to the Prince and to the Philosopher) to remove the infirmity
from the minds of some men, in order afterwards to build up thereupon
the light of truth, before I proceed to confute the opinions
propounded, will show how, whilst confuting those opinions, I argue
with irreverence neither against the Imperial Majesty nor against the
Philosopher. For if in any part of this entire book I should appear
irreverent, it would not be so bad as in this treatise; in which,
whilst treating of Nobility, I ought to appear Noble, and not vile.

And firstly I will prove that I do not presume against the authority
of the Philosopher; then I will prove that I do not presume against
Imperial Majesty.

I say, then, that when the Philosopher says, "that which appears to
the most is impossible to be entirely false," I do not mean to speak
of the external appearance, that is, the sensual, but of that which
appears within, the rational; since the sensual appearance, according
to most people, is many times most false, especially in the common
things appreciable by the senses, wherein the sense is often deceived.
Thus we know that to most people the Sun appears of the width of a
foot in diameter; and this is most false, for, according to the
inquiry and the discovery which human reason has made with its skill,
the diameter of the body of the Sun is five times as much as that of
the Earth and also one-half time more, since the Earth in its diameter
is six thousand five hundred miles, the diameter of the Sun, which to
the sense of sight presents the appearance of the width of one foot,
is thirty-five thousand seven hundred and fifty miles. Wherefore it is
evident that Aristotle did not understand or judge it by the
appearance which it presents to the sense of sight. And therefore, if
I intend only to oppose false trust in appearance according to the
senses, that is not done against the intention of the Philosopher, and
therefore I do not offend against the reverence which is due to him.

And that I intend to confute the appearance according to the sense is
manifest; for those people who judge thus, judge only by what they
feel or think of those things which fortune can give and take away.
For, because they see great alliances made and high marriages to take
place, and the wonderful palaces, the large possessions, great
lordships, they believe that all those things are the causes of
Nobility--nay, they believe them to be Nobility itself. For if they
could judge with any appearance of reason, they would say the
contrary, that is, that Nobility is the cause of these things, as will
be seen in the sequel of this treatise. And even as it may be seen
that I speak not against the reverence due to the Philosopher whilst
confuting this error, so I speak not against the reverence due to the
Empire; and the reason I intend to show. But when he reasons or argues
before the adversary, the Rhetorician ought to use much caution in his
speech, in order that the adversary may not derive thence material
wherewith to disturb the Truth. I, who speak in this treatise in the
presence of so many adversaries, cannot speak briefly; wherefore, if
my digressions should be long, let no one marvel.

I say, then, that, in order to prove that I am not irreverent to the
Majesty of the Empire, it is requisite, in the first place, to see
what reverence is. I say that reverence is no other than a confession
of due submission by an evident sign; and, having seen this, it
remains to distinguish between them. Irreverent expresses privation,
not reverent expresses negation; and, therefore, irreverence is to
disavow the due submission by a manifest sign. The want of reverence
is to refuse submission as not due. A man can deny or refuse a thing
in a double sense. In one way, the man can deny offending against the
Truth when he abstains from the due confession, and this properly is
to disavow. In another way, the man can deny offending against the
Truth when he does not confess that which is not, and this is proper
negation; even as for the man to deny that he is entirely mortal is to
deny properly speaking. Wherefore, if I deny or refuse reverence due
to the Imperial Authority, I am not irreverent, but I am not reverent;
which is not against reverence, forasmuch as it offends not that
Imperial Authority; even as not to live does not offend Life, but
Death, which is privation of that Life, offends; wherefore, to die is
one thing and not to live is another thing, for not to live is in the
stones. And since Death expresses privation, which cannot be except in
decease of the subject, and the stones are not the subject of Life,
they should not be called dead, but not living. In like manner, I, who
in this case ought not to have reverence to the Imperial Authority, am
not irreverent if I deny or refuse it, but I am not reverent, which is
neither boldness, nor presumption, nor a thing to be blamed. But it
would be presumption to be reverent, if it could be called reverence,
since it would fall into greater and more true irreverence, that is,
into irreverence of Nature and of Truth, as will be seen in the
sequel. Against this error that Master of Philosophers, Aristotle,
guards, in the beginning of the book of Ethics, when he says: "If the
friends are two, and one is the Truth, their one mind is the Truth's."
If I have said that I am not reverent, that is, to deny reverence, or
by a manifest sign to deny or refuse a submission not due. It is to be
seen how this is to deny and not to disavow, that is to say, it
remains to be seen how, in this case, I am not rightfully subject to
the Imperial Majesty. It must be a long argument wherewith I intend to
prove this in the chapter next following.


To see how in this case, that is, in approving or in not approving the
opinion of the Emperor, I am not held in subjection to him, it is
necessary to recall to mind that which has been argued previously
concerning the Imperial Office, in the fourth chapter of this
treatise, namely, that to promote the perfection of human Life,
Imperial Authority was designed; and that it is the director and ruler
of all our operations, and justly so, for however far our operations
extend themselves, so far the Imperial Majesty has jurisdiction, and
beyond those limits it does not reach. But as each Art and Office of
mankind is restricted by the Imperial Office within certain limits, so
this Imperial Office is confined by God within certain bounds. And it
is not to be wondered at, for the Office and the Arts of Nature in all
her operations we see to be limited. For if we wish to take Universal
Nature, it has jurisdiction as far as the whole World, I say as far as
Heaven and Earth extend; and this within a certain limit, as is proved
by the third chapter of the book on Physics, and by the first chapter,
of Heaven and the World. Then the jurisdiction of Universal Nature is
limited within a certain boundary, and consequently the individual; of
which also He is the Limiter who is limited by nothing, that is, the
First Goodness, that is, God, who alone with infinite capacity
comprehends the Infinite. And, that we may see the limits of our
operations, it is to be known that those alone are our operations
which are subject to Reason and to Will; for, if in us there is the
digestive operation, that is not human, but natural. And it is to be
known that our Reason is ordained to four operations, separately to be
considered; for those are operations which Reason only considers and
does not produce, neither can produce, any one of them, such as are
the Natural facts and the Supernatural and the Mathematics. And those
are operations which it considers and does in its own proper act which
are called rational, such as are the arts of speech. And those are
operations which it considers and does in material beyond itself, such
as are the Mechanical Arts. And all these operations, although the
considering them is subject to our will, they in their essential form
are not subject to our will; for although we might will that heavy
things should mount upwards naturally, they would not be able to
ascend; and although we might will that the syllogism with false
premisses should conclude with demonstration of the Truth, it could
not so conclude; and although we might will that the house should
stand as firmly when leaning forward as when upright, it could not be;
since of those operations we are not properly the factors, we are
their discoverers; Another ordained them and made them, the great
Maker, who alone can Will and Do All--God.

There also are operations which our Reason considers and which lie in
the act of the Will, such as to offend and to rejoice; such as to
stand firm in the battle and to fly from it; such as to be chaste and
to be lewd; these are entirely subject to our will, and therefore we
are called from them good and evil, because such acts are entirely our
own; for so far as our will can obtain power, so far do our operations
extend. And since in all these voluntary operations there is some
equity to preserve and some iniquity to shun--which equity may be lost
through two causes, either through not knowing what it is, or through
not wishing to follow it--the written Reason, the Law, was invented,
both to point it out to us and to command its observance. Wherefore
Augustine says: "If men could know this, that is, Equity, and knowing
it would obey it, the written Reason, the Law, would not be needful."
And therefore it is written in the beginning of the old Digests or
Books of the Civil Law: "The written Reason is the Art of Goodness and
of Equity." To write this, to show forth and to enforce this, is the
business of that Official Post of which one speaks, that of the
Emperor, to whom, as has been said, in so far as our own operations
extend, we are subject, and no farther. For this reason in each Art
and in each trade the artificers and the scholars are and ought to be
subject to the chief and to the master of their trades and Art: beyond
their callings the subjection ceases, because the superiority ceases.
So that it is possible to speak of the Emperor in this manner, if we
will represent his office figuratively, and say that he may be the
rider of the Human Will, of which horse how it goes without its rider
through the field is evident enough, and especially in miserable
Italy, left without any means for its right government. And it is to
be considered that in proportion as a thing is more fit for the
Master's art, so much the greater is the subjection; for the cause
being multiplied, so is the effect multiplied. Wherefore it is to be
known that there are things which are such pure or simple Arts that
Nature is their instrument; even as rowing with an oar, where the Art
makes its instrument by impulsion, which is a natural movement; as in
the threshing of the corn, where the Art makes its instrument, which
is a natural quality. And in this especially a man ought to be subject
to the chief and master of the Art. And there are things in which Art
is the instrument of Nature, and these are lesser Arts; and in these
the artificers are less subject to their chief, as in giving the seed
to the Earth, where one must await the will of Nature; as to sail out
of the harbour or port, where one must await the natural disposition
of the weather; and therefore we often see in these things contention
amongst the artificers, and the greater to ask counsel of the lesser.
And there are other things which are not Arts, but appear to have some
relationship with them; and therefore men are often deceived; and in
these the scholars are not subject to a master, neither are they bound
to believe in him so far as regards the Art. Thus, to fish seems to
have some relationship with navigation; and to know the virtue of the
herb or grass seems to have some relationship with agriculture; for
these Arts have no general rule, since fishing may be below the Art of
hunting, and beneath its command; to know the virtue of the herb may
be below the science of medicine, or rather below its most noble

Those things which have been argued concerning the other Arts in like
manner may be seen in the Imperial Art, for there are rules in those
Arts which are pure or simple Arts, as are the laws of marriage, of
servants, of armies, of successors in offices of dignity; and in all
these we may be entirely subject to the Emperor without doubt and
without any suspicion whatever. There are other laws which are the
followers of Nature, such as to constitute a man of sufficient age to
fill some office in the administration; and to such a law as this we
are entirely subject; there are many others which appear to have some
relationship with the Imperial Art; and here he was and is deceived
who believes that the Imperial judgment in this part may be authentic,
as of youth, whose nature is laid down by no Imperial judgment, as it
were, of the Emperor. Render, therefore, unto God that which is God's.
Wherefore it is not to be believed, nor to be allowed, because it was
said by Nero the Emperor that youth is beauty and strength of body;
but credit would be given to the philosopher who should say that youth
is the crown or summit of the natural life. And therefore it is
evident that to define Nobility is not the function of the Art
Imperial; and if it is not in the nature of the Art, when we are
treating of Nobility we are not subject to it; and if we are not
subject, we are not bound to yield reverence therein; and this is the
conclusion we have sought.

Now, therefore, with all freedom, with all liberty of mind, it remains
to strike to the heart the vicious opinions, thereby causing them to
fall to earth, in order that the Truth by means of this my victory may
hold the field in the mind of him for whom it is good that this Light
should shine clear.


Since the opinions of others concerning Nobility have now been brought
forward, and since it has been shown that it is lawful for me to
confute those opinions, I shall now proceed to discourse concerning
that part of the Song which confutes those opinions, beginning, as has
been said above: "Whoever shall define The man a living tree." And
therefore it is to be known that in the opinion of the Emperor,
although it states it defectively in one part, that is, where he spoke
of "generous ways," he alluded to the manners of the Nobility; and
therefore the Song does not intend to reprove that part: the other
part, which is entirely opposed to the nature of Nobility, it does
intend to confute, which cites two things when it says: "Descent of
wealth," "The wealth has long been great," that is, time and riches,
which are entirely apart from Nobility, as has been said, and as will
be shown farther on; and, therefore, in this confutation two divisions
are made: in the first we deny the Nobility of riches, then confute
the idea that time can cause Nobility. The second part begins: "They
will not have the vile Turn noble."

It is to be known that, riches being reproved, not only is the opinion
of the Emperor reproved in that part which alludes to the riches, but
also entirely that opinion of the common people, which was founded
solely upon riches. The first part is divided into two: in the first
it says in a general way that the Emperor was erroneous in his
definition of Nobility; secondly, it shows the reason why or how that
is; and this begins that second part, "For riches make no Nobleman."

I say, then, "Whoever shall define The man a living tree," that,
firstly, he will speak untruth, inasmuch as he says "tree," and "less
than truth," inasmuch as he says "living," and does not say rational,
which is the difference whereby Man is distinguished from the Beast.
Then I say that in this way he was erroneous in his definition, he who
held Imperial Office, not saying Emperor, but "one raised to Empire,"
to indicate, as has been said above, that this question is beyond the
bounds of the Imperial Office. In like manner I say that he errs who
places a false subject under Nobility, that is, "descent of wealth,"
and then proceeds to a defective form, or rather difference, that is,
"generous ways," which do not contain any essential part of Nobility,
but only a small part, as will appear below. And it is not to be
omitted, although the text may be silent, that my Lord the Emperor in
this part did not err in the parts of the definition, but only in the
mode of the definition, although, according to what fame reports of
him, he was a logician and a great scholar; that is to say, the
definition of Nobility can be made more sufficiently by the effects
than by the principles or premisses, since it appears to have the
place of a first principle or premiss, which it is not possible to
notify by first things, but by subsequent things. Then, when I say,
"For riches make not worth," I show how they cannot possibly be the
cause of Nobility, because they are vile. And I prove that they have
not the power to take it away, because they are disjoined so much from
Nobility. And I prove these to be vile by an especial and most evident
defect; and I do this when I say, "How vile and incomplete." Finally,
I conclude, by virtue of that which is said above:

And hence the upright mind,
To its own purpose true,
Stands firm although the flood of wealth
Sweep onward out of view;

which proves that which is said above, that those riches are disunited
from Nobility by not following the effect of union with it. Where it
is to be known that, as the Philosopher expresses it, all the things
which make anything must first exist perfectly within the being of the
thing out of which that other thing is made. Wherefore he says in the
seventh chapter of the Metaphysics: "When one thing is generated from
another, it is generated of that thing by being in that Being."

Again, it is to be known that each thing which becomes corrupt is thus
corrupted by some change or alteration, and each thing which is
changed or altered must be conjoined with the cause of the change,
even as the Philosopher expresses it in the seventh chapter of the
book on Physics and in the first chapter on Generation. These things
being propounded, I proceed thus, and I say that riches, as another
man believed, cannot possibly bestow Nobility, and to prove how great
is the difference between them I say that they are unable to take
Nobility away from him who possesses it. To bestow it they have not
the power, since by nature they are vile, and because of their
vileness they are opposed to Nobility. And here by vileness one means
baseness, through degeneracy, which is directly opposite to Nobility:
for the one opposite thing cannot be the maker of the other, neither
is it possible to be, for the reason given above, which is briefly
added to the text, saying, "No painter gives a form That is not of his
knowing." Wherefore no painter would be able to depict any figure or
form if he could not first design what such figure or form ought to

Again, riches cannot take it away, because they are so far from
Nobility; and, for the reason previously narrated, that which alters
or corrupts anything must be conjoined with that thing, and therefore
it is subjoined: "No tower leans above a stream That far away is
flowing," which means nothing more than to accord with that which has
been previously said, that riches cannot take Nobility away, saying
that Nobility is, as it were, an upright tower and riches a river
flowing swiftly in the distance.


It now remains only to prove how vile riches are, and how disjoined
and far apart they are from Nobility; and this is proved in two little
parts of the text, to which at present it is requisite to pay
attention, and then, those being explained, what I have said will be
evident, namely, that riches are vile and far apart from Nobility, and
hereby the reasons stated above against riches will be perfectly

I say then, "How vile and incomplete Wealth is," and to make evident
what I intend to say it is to be known that the vileness or baseness
of each thing is derived from the imperfection of that thing, and
Nobility from its perfection: wherefore in proportion as a thing is
perfect, it is noble in its nature; in proportion as it is imperfect,
it is vile. And therefore, if riches are imperfect, it is evident that
they are vile or base. And that they are imperfect, the text briefly
proves when it says: "However great the heap may be, It brings no
peace, but care;" in which it is evident, not only that they are
imperfect, but most imperfect, and therefore they are most vile; and
Lucan bears witness to this when he says, speaking of those same
riches: "Without strife or contention or opposition, the Laws would
perish, and you, Riches, the basest part of things, you move or are
the cause of Battles." It is possible briefly to see their
imperfection in three things quite clearly: firstly, in the
indiscriminate manner in which they fall to a person's lot; secondly,
in their dangerous increase; thirdly, in their hurtful possession.

And, firstly, that which I demonstrate concerning this is to clear up
a doubt which seems to arise, for, since gold, pearls, and lands, may
have in their essential being perfect form and act, it does not seem
true to say that they are imperfect. And therefore one must
distinguish that inasmuch as by themselves, of them it is considered,
they are perfect things, and they are not riches, but gold and pearls;
but inasmuch as they are appointed to the possession of man they are
riches, and in this way they are full of imperfection; which is not an
unbecoming or impossible thing, considered from different points of
view, to be perfect and imperfect. I say that their imperfection
firstly may be observed in the indiscretion, or unwisdom, or folly, of
their arrival, in which no distributive Justice shines forth, but
complete iniquity almost always; which iniquity is the proper effect
of imperfection. For if the methods or ways by which they come are
considered, all may be gathered together in three methods, or kinds of
ways: for, either they come by simple chance, as when without
intention or hope they come upon some discovery not thought of; or
they come by fortune which is aided by law or right, as by will, or
testament, or succession; or they come by fortune, the helper of the
Law, as by lawful or unlawful provision; lawful, I say, when by art,
or skill, or by trade, or deserved kindness; unlawful, I say, when
either by theft or rapine. And in each one of these three ways, one
sees that inequitable character of which I speak, for more often to
the wicked than to the good the hidden treasures which are discovered
present themselves; and this is so evident, that it has no need of
proof. I saw the place in the side of a hill, or mountain, in Tuscany,
which is called Falterona, where the most vile peasant of all the
country, whilst digging, found more than a bushel of the finest
Santelena silver, which had awaited him perhaps for more than a
thousand years. And in order to see this iniquity, Aristotle said that
in proportion as the Man is subject to the Intellect, so much the less
is he the slave of Fortune. And I say that oftener to the wicked than
to the good befall legal inheritance and property by succession; and
concerning this I do not wish to bring forward any proof, but let each
one turn his eyes round his own immediate neighbourhood, and he will
see that concerning which I am silent that I may not offend or bring
shame to some one. Would to God that might be which was demanded by
the Man of Provence, namely, that the man who is not the heir of
goodness should lose the inheritance of wealth. And I say that many
times to the wicked more than to the good comes rich provision, for
the unlawful never comes to the good, because they refuse it; and what
good man ever would endeavour to enrich himself by force or fraud?
That would be impossible, for by the mere choice of the enterprise he
would no more be good. And the lawful gains of wealth but rarely fall
to the lot of the good, because, since much anxiety or anxious care is
required therein, and the solicitude of the good is directed to
greater things, the good man is rarely solicitous enough to seek them.
Wherefore it is evident that in each way these riches fall unjustly or
inequitably; and therefore our Lord called them wicked or unrighteous
when He said, "Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of
unrighteousness," inviting and encouraging men to be liberal with good
gifts, which are the begetters of friends. And what a beautiful
exchange he makes who gives freely of these most imperfect things in
order to have and to acquire perfect things, such as are the hearts of
good and worthy men! This exchange it is possible to make every day.
Certainly this is a new commerce, different from the others, which,
thinking to win one man by generosity, has won thereby thousands and
thousands. Who lives not again in the heart of Alexander because of
his royal beneficence? Who lives not again in the good King of
Castile, or Saladin, or the good Marquis of Monferrat, or the good
Count of Toulouse, or Beltramo dal Bornio, or Galasso da Montefeltro,
when mention is made of their noble acts of courtesy and liberality?
Certainly not only those who would do the same willingly, had they the
power, but those even who would die before they would do it, bear love
to the memory of these good men.


As has been said, it is possible to see the imperfection of riches not
only in their indiscriminate advent, but also in their dangerous
increase; and that in this we may perceive their defect more clearly,
the text makes mention of it, saying of those riches, "However great
the heap may be It brings no peace, but care;" they create more thirst
and render increase more defective and insufficient. And here it is
requisite to know that defective things may fail in such a way that on
the surface they appear complete, but, under pretext of perfection,
the shortcoming is concealed. But they may have those defects so
entirely revealed that the imperfection is seen openly on the surface.
And those things which do not reveal their defects in the first place
are the most dangerous, since very often it is not possible to be on
guard against them; even as we see in the traitor who, before our
face, shows himself friendly, so that he causes us to have faith in
him, and under pretext of friendship, hides the defect of his
hostility. And in this way riches, in their increase, are dangerously
imperfect, for, submitting to our eyes this that they promise, they
bring just the contrary. The treacherous gains always promise that, if
collected up to a certain amount, they will make the collector full of
every satisfaction; and with this promise they lead the Human Will
into the vice of Avarice. And, for this reason, Boethius calls them,
in his book of Consolations, dangerous, saying, "Oh, alas! who was
that first man who dug up the precious stones that wished to hide
themselves, and who dug out the loads of gold once covered by the
hills, dangerous treasures?"

The treacherous ones promise, if we will but look, to remove every
want, to quench all thirst, to bring satisfaction and sufficiency; and
this they do to every man in the beginning, confirming promise to a
certain point in their increase, and then, as soon as their pile
rises, in place of contentment and refreshment they bring on an
intolerable fever-thirst; and beyond sufficiency, they extend their
limit, create a desire to amass more, and, with this, fear and anxiety
far in excess of the new gain.

Then, truly, they bring no peace, but more care, more trouble, than a
man had in the first place when he was without them. And therefore
Tullius says, in that book on Paradoxes, when execrating riches: "I at
no time firmly believed the money of those men, or magnificent
mansions, or riches, or lordships, or voluptuous joys, with which
especially they are shackled, to be amongst things good or desirable,
since I saw certain men in the abundance of them especially desire
those wherein they abounded; because at no time is the thirst of
cupidity quenched; not only are they tormented by the desire for the
increase of those things which they possess, but also they have
torment in the fear of losing them." And all these are the words of
Tullius, and even thus they stand in that book which has been

And, as a stronger witness to this imperfection, hear Boethius,
speaking in his book of Consolation: "If the Goddess of Riches were to
expand and multiply riches till they were as numerous as the sands
thrown up by the sea when tost by the tempest, or countless as the
stars that shine, still Man would weep."

And because still further testimony is needful to reduce this to a
proof, note how much Solomon and his father David exclaim against
them, how much against them is Seneca, especially when writing to
Lucilius, how much Horace, how much Juvenal, and, briefly, how much
every writer, every poet, and how much Divine Scripture. All Truthful
cries aloud against these false enticers to sin, full of all defect.
Call to mind also, in aid of faith, what your own eyes have seen, what
is the life of those men who follow after riches, how far they live
securely when they have piled them up, what their contentment is, how
peacefully they rest.

What else daily endangers and destroys cities, countries, individual
persons, so much as the fresh heaping up of wealth in the possession
of some man? His accumulation wakens new desires, to the fulfilment of
which it is not possible to attain without injury to some one.

And what else does the Law, both Canonical and Civil, intend to
rectify except cupidity or avarice, which grows with its heaps of
riches, and which the Law seeks to resist or prevent. Truly, the
Canonical and the Civil Law make it sufficiently clear, if the first
sections of their written word are read. How evident it is, nay, I say
it is most evident, that these riches are, in their increase, entirely
imperfect; when, being amassed, naught else but imperfection can
possibly spring forth from them. And this is what the text says.

But here arises a doubtful question, which is not to be passed over
without being put and answered. Some calumniator of the Truth might be
able to say that if, by increasing desire in their acquisition, riches
are imperfect and therefore vile, for this reason science or knowledge
is imperfect and vile, in the acquisition of which the desire steadily
increases, wherefore Seneca says, "If I should have one foot in the
grave, I should still wish to learn."

But it is not true that knowledge is vile through imperfection. By
distinction of the consequences, increase of desire is not in
knowledge the cause of vileness. That it is perfect is evident, for
the Philosopher, in the sixth book of the Ethics, says that science or
knowledge is the perfect reason of certain things. To this question
one has to reply briefly; but in the first place it is to be seen
whether in the acquisition of Knowledge the desire for it is enlarged
in the way suggested by the question, and whether the argument be
rational. Wherefore I say that not only in the acquisition of
knowledge and riches, but in each and every acquisition, human desire
expands, although in different ways; and the reason is this: that the
supreme desire of each thing bestowed by Nature in the first place is
to return to its first source. And since God is the First Cause of our
Souls, and the Maker of them after His Own Image, as it is written,
"Let us make Man in Our Image, after Our likeness," the Soul
especially desires to return to that First Cause. As a pilgrim, who
goes along a path where he never journeyed before, may believe every
house that he sees in the distance to be his inn, and, not finding it
to be so, may direct his belief to the next, and so travel on from
house to house until he reach the inn, even so our Soul, as soon as it
enters the untrodden path of this life, directs its eyes to its
supreme good, the sum of its day's travel to good; and therefore
whatever thing it sees which seems to have in itself some goodness, it
thinks to be the supreme good. And because its knowledge at first is
imperfect, owing to want of experience and want of instruction, good
things that are but little appear great to it; and therefore in the
first place it begins to desire those. So we see little children
desire above all things an apple; and then, growing older, they desire
a little bird; and then, being older, desire a beautiful garment; and
then a horse, and then a wife, and then moderate wealth, and then
greater wealth, and then still more. And this happens because in none
of these things that is found for which search is made, and as we live
on we seek further. Wherefore it is possible to see that one desirable
thing stands under the other in the eyes of our Soul in a way almost
pyramidal, for the least first covers the whole, and is as it were the
point of the desirable good, which is God, at the basis of all; so
that the farther it proceeds from the point towards the basis, so much
the greater do the desirable good things appear; and this is the
reason why, by acquisition, human desires become broader the one after
the other.

But, thus this pathway is lost through error, even as in the roads of
the earth; for as from one city to another there is of necessity an
excellent direct road, and often another which branches from that, the
branch road goes into another part, and of many others some do not go
all the way, and some go farther round; so in Human Life there are
different roads, of which one is the truest, and another the most
misleading, and some are less right, and some less wrong. And as we
see that the straightest road to the city satisfies desire and gives
rest after toil, and that which goes in the opposite direction never
satisfies and never can give rest, so it happens in our Life. The man
who follows the right path attains his end, and gains his rest. The
man who follows the wrong path never attains it, but with much fatigue
of mind and greedy eyes looks always before him.

Wherefore, although this argument does not entirely reply to the
question asked above, at least it opens the way to the reply, which
causes us to see that each desire of ours does not proceed in its
expansion in one way alone. But because this chapter is somewhat
prolonged, we will reply in a new chapter to the question, wherein may
be ended the whole disputation which it is our intention to make
against riches.


In reply to the question, I say that it is not possible to affirm
properly that the desire for knowledge does increase, although, as has
been said, it does expand in a certain way. For that which properly


Back to Full Books