The Banquet (Il Convito)
Dante Alighieri

Part 4 out of 5

increases is always one; the desire for knowledge is not always one,
but is many; and one desire fulfilled, another comes; so that,
properly speaking, its expansion is not its increase, but it is
advance of a succession of smaller things into great things. For if I
desire to know the principles of natural things, as soon as I know
these, that desire is satisfied and there is an end of it. If I then
desire to know the why and the wherefore of each one of these
principles, this is a new desire altogether. Nor by the advent of that
new desire am I deprived of the perfection to which the other might
lead me. Such an expansion as that is not the cause of imperfection,
but of new perfection. That expansion of riches, however, is properly
increased which is always one, so that no succession is seen therein,
and therefore no end and no perfection.

And if the adversary would say, that if the desire to know the first
principles of natural things is one thing, and the desire to know what
they are is another, so is the desire for a hundred marks one thing,
and the desire for a thousand marks is another, I reply that it is not
true; for the hundred is part of the thousand and is related to it, as
part of a line to the whole of the line along which one proceeds by
one impulse alone; and there is no succession there, nor completion of
motion in any part. But to know what the principles of natural things
are is not the same as to know what each one of them is; the one is
not part of the other, and they are related to each other as diverging
lines along which one does not proceed by one impulse, but the
completed movement of the one succeeds the completed movement of the
other. And thus it appears that, because of the desire for knowledge,
knowledge is not to be called imperfect in the same way as riches are
to be called imperfect, on account of the desire for them, as the
question put it; for in the desire for knowledge the desires terminate
successively with the attainment of their aims; and in the desire for
riches, NO; so that the question is solved.

Again, the adversary may calumniate, saying that, although many
desires are fulfilled in the acquisition of knowledge, the last is
never attained, which is the imperfection of that one desire, which
does not gain its end; and that will be both one and imperfect.

Again one here replies that it is not a truth which is brought forward
in opposition, that is, that the last desire is never attained; for
our natural desires, as is proved in the third treatise of this book,
are all tending to a certain end; and the desire for knowledge is
natural, so that this desire compasses a certain end, although but
few, since they walk in the wrong path, accomplish the day's journey.
And he who understands the Commentator in the third chapter, On the
Soul, learns this of him; and therefore Aristotle says, in the tenth
chapter of the Ethics, against Simonides the Poet, that man ought to
draw near to Divine things as much as is possible; wherein he shows
that our power tends towards a certain end. And in the first book of
the Ethics he says that the disciplined Mind demands certainty in its
knowledge of things in proportion as their nature received certainty,
in which he proves that not only on the side of the man desiring
knowledge, but on the side of the desired object of knowledge,
attention ought to be given; and therefore St. Paul says: "Not much
knowledge, but right knowledge in moderation." So that in whatever way
the desire for knowledge is considered, either generally or
particularly, it comes to perfection.

And since knowledge is a noble perfection, and through the desire for
it its perfection is not lost, as is the case with the accursed
riches, we must note briefly how injurious they are when possessed,
and this is the third notice of their imperfection. It is possible to
see that the possession of them is injurious for two reasons: one,
that it is the cause of evil; the other, that it is the privation of
good. It is the cause of evil, which makes the timid possessor
wakeful, watchful, and suspicious or hateful.

How great is the fear of that man who knows he carries wealth about
him, when walking abroad, when dwelling at home, when not only wakeful
or watching, but when sleeping, not only the fear that he may lose his
property, but fear for his life because he possesses these riches!
Well do the miserable merchants know, who travel through the World,
that the leaves which the wind stirs on the trees cause them to
tremble when they are bearing their wealth with them; and when they
are without it, full of confidence they go singing and talking, and
thus make their journey shorter! Therefore the Wise Man says: "If the
traveller enters on his road empty, he can sing in the presence of
thieves." And this Lucan desires to express in the fifth book, when he
praises the safety of poverty: "O, the safe and secure liberty of the
poor Life! O, narrow dwelling-places and thrift! O, not again deem
riches to be of the Gods! In what temples and within what palace walls
could this be, that is to have no fear, in some tumult or other, of
striking the hand of Caesar?"

And Lucan says this when he depicts how Caesar came by night to the
little house of the fisher Amyclas to cross the Adriatic Sea. And how
great is the hatred that each man bears to the possessor of riches,
either through envy, or from the desire to take possession of his
wealth! So true it is, that often and often, contrary to due filial
piety, the son meditates the death of the father; and most great and
most evident experience of this the Italians can have, both on the
banks of the Po and on the banks of the Tiber. And therefore Boethius
in the second chapter of his Consolations says: "Certainly Avarice
makes men hateful."

Nay, their possession is privation of good, for, possessing those
riches, a man does not give freely with generosity, which is a virtue,
which is a perfect good, and which makes men magnificent and beloved;
which does not lie in possession of those riches, but in ceasing to
possess them. Wherefore Boethius in the same book says: "Then money is
good when, bartered for other things, by the use of generosity one no
longer possesses it." Wherefore the baseness of riches is sufficiently
proved by all these remarks of his; and therefore the man with an
upright desire and true knowledge never loves them; and, not loving
them, he does not unite himself to them, but always desires them to be
far from himself, except inasmuch as they are appointed to some
necessary service; and it is a reasonable thing, since the perfect
cannot be united with the imperfect. So we see that the curved line
never joins the straight line, and if there be any conjunction, it is
not of line to line, but of point to point. And thus it follows that
the Mind which is upright in desire, and truthful in knowledge, is not
disheartened at the loss of wealth: as the text asserts at the end of
that part. And by this the text intends to prove that riches are as a
river flowing in the distance past the upright tower of Reason, or
rather of Nobility; and that these riches cannot take Nobility away
from him who has it. And in this manner in the present Song it is
argued against riches.


Having confuted the error of other men in that part wherein it was
advanced in support of riches, it remains now to confute it in that
part where Time is said to be a cause of Nobility, saying, "Descent of
wealth;" and this reproof or confutation is made in that part which
begins: "They will not have the vile Turn noble." And in the first
place one confutes this by means of an argument taken from those men
themselves who err in this way; then, to their greater confusion, this
their argument is also destroyed; and it does this when it says, "It
follows then from this." Finally it concludes, their error being
evident, and it being therefore time to attend to the Truth; and it
does this when it says, "Sound intellect reproves."

I say, then, "They will not have the vile Turn noble." Where it is to
be known that the opinion of these erroneous persons is, that a man
who is a peasant in the first place can never possibly be called a
Nobleman; and the man who is the son of a peasant in like manner can
never be Noble; and this breaks or destroys their own argument when
they say that Time is requisite to Nobility, adding that word
"descent." For it is impossible by process of Time to come to the
generation of Nobility in this way of theirs, which declares it to be
impossible for the humble peasant to become Noble by any work that he
may do, or through any accident; and declares the mutation of a
peasant father into a Noble son to be impossible. For if the son of
the peasant is also a peasant, and his son again is also a peasant,
and so always, it will never be possible to discover the place where
Nobility can begin to be established by process of Time.

And if the adversary, wishing to defend himself, should say that
Nobility will begin at that period of Time when the low estate of the
ancestors will be forgotten, I reply that this goes against
themselves, for even of necessity there will be a transmutation of
peasant into Noble, from one man into another, or from father to son,
which is against that which they propound.

And if the adversary should defend himself pertinaciously, saying that
indeed they do desire that it should be possible for this
transmutation to take place when the low estate of the ancestors
passes into oblivion, although the text takes no notice of this, it is
right that the Commentary should reply to it. And therefore I reply
thus: that from this which they say there follow four very great
difficulties, so that it cannot possibly be a good argument. One is,
that in proportion as Human Nature might become better, the slower
would be the generation of Nobility, which is a very great
inconvenience; since in proportion as a thing is honoured for its
excellence, so much the more is it the cause of goodness; and Nobility
is reckoned amongst the good. What this means is shown thus: If
Nobility, which I understand as a good thing, should be generated by
oblivion, Nobility would be generated in proportion to the speediness
with which men might be forgotten, for so much the sooner would
oblivion descend upon all. Hence, in proportion as men might be
forgotten, so much the sooner would they be Noble; and, on the
contrary, in proportion to the length of time during which they were
held in remembrance, so much the longer it would be before they could
be ennobled.

The second difficulty is, that in nothing apart from men would it be
possible to make this distinction, that is to say, Noble or Vile,
which is very inconvenient; since, in each species of things we see
the image of Nobility or of Baseness, wherefore we often call one
horse noble and one vile; and one falcon noble and one vile; and one
pearl noble and one vile. And that it would not be possible to make
this distinction is thus proved; if the oblivion of the humble
ancestors is the cause of Nobility, or rather the baseness of the
ancestors never was, it is not possible for oblivion of them to be,
since oblivion is a destruction of remembrance, and in those other
animals, and in plants, and in minerals, lowness and loftiness are not
observed, since in one they are natural or innate and in an equal
state, and Nobility cannot possibly be in their generation, and
likewise neither can vileness nor baseness; since one regards the one
and the other as habit and privation, which are possible to occur in
the same subject; and therefore in them it would not be possible for a
distinction to exist between the one and the other.

And if the adversary should wish to say, that in other things Nobility
is represented by the goodness of the thing, but in a man it is
understood because there is no remembrance of his humble or base
condition, one would wish to reply not with words, but with the sword,
to such bestiality as it would be to give to other things goodness as
a cause for Nobility, and to found the Nobility of men upon
forgetfulness or oblivion as a first cause.

The third difficulty is, that often the person or thing generated
would come before the generator, which is quite impossible; and it is
possible to prove this thus: Let us suppose that Gherardo da Cammino
might have been the grandson of the most vile peasant who ever drank
of the Sile or of the Cagnano, and that oblivion had not yet overtaken
his grandfather; who will be bold enough to say that Gherardo da
Cammino was a vile man? and who will not agree with me in saying that
he was Noble? Certainly no one, however presumptuous he may wish to
be, for he was so, and his memory will always be treasured. If
oblivion had not yet overtaken his ancestor, as is proposed in
opposition, so that he might be great through Nobility, and the
Nobility in him might be seen so clearly, even as one does see it,
then it would have been first in him before the founder of his
Nobility could have existed; and this is impossible in the extreme.

The fourth difficulty is, that such a man, the supposed grandfather,
would have been held Noble after he was dead who was not Noble whilst
alive; and a more inconvenient thing could not be. One proves it thus:
Let us suppose that in the age of Dardanus there might be a
remembrance of his low ancestors, and let us suppose that in the age
of Laomedon this memory might have passed away, and that oblivion had
overtaken it. According to the adverse opinion, Laomedon was Noble and
Dardanus was vile, each in his lifetime. We, to whom the remembrance
of the ancestors of Dardanus has not come, shall we say that Dardanus
living was vile, and dead a Noble? And is not this contrary to the
legend which says that Dardanus was the son of Jupiter (for such is
the fable, which one ought not to regard whilst disputing
philosophically); and yet if the adversary might wish to find support
in the fable, certainly that which the fable veils destroys his
arguments. And thus it is proved that the argument, which asserted
that oblivion is the cause of Nobility, is false.


Since, by their own argument, the Song has confuted them, and proved
that Time is not requisite to Nobility, it proceeds immediately to
confound their premisses, since of their false arguments no rust
remains in the mind which is disposed towards Truth; and this it does
when it says, "It follows then from this." Where it is to be known
that if it is not possible for a peasant to become a Noble, or for a
Noble son to be born of a humble father, as is advanced in their
opinion, of two difficulties one must follow.

The first is, that there can be no Nobility; the other is, that the
World may have been always full of men, so that from one alone the
Human Race cannot be descended; and this it is possible to prove.

If Nobility is not generated afresh, and it has been stated many times
that such is the basis of their opinion, the peasant man not being
able to beget it in himself, or the humble father to pass it on to his
son, the man always is the same as he was born; and such as the father
was born, so is the son born; and so this process from one condition
onwards is reached even by the first parent; for such as was the first
father, that is, Adam, so must the whole Human Race be, because from
him to the modern nations it will not be possible to find, according
to that argument, any change whatever. Then, if Adam himself was
Noble, we are all Noble; if he was vile, we are all vile or base;
which is no other than to remove the distinction between these
conditions, and thus it is to remove the conditions.

And the Song states this, which follows from what is advanced, saying,
"That all are high or base." And if this is not so, then any nation is
to be called Noble, and any is to be called vile, of necessity.
Transmutation from vileness into Nobility being thus taken away, the
Human Race must be descended from different ancestors, that is, some
from Nobles and some from vile persons, and so the Song says, "Or that
in Time there never was Beginning to our race," that is to say, one
beginning; it does not say beginnings. And this is most false
according to the Philosopher, according to our Faith, which cannot
lie, according to the Law and ancient belief of the Gentiles. For
although the Philosopher does not assert the succession from one first
man, yet he would have one essential being to be in all men, which
cannot possibly have different origins. And Plato would have that all
men depend upon one idea alone, and not on more or many, which is to
give them only one beginning. And undoubtedly Aristotle would laugh
very loudly if he heard of two species to be made out of the Human
Race, as of horses and asses; and (may Aristotle forgive me) one might
call those men asses who think in this way. For according to our Faith
(which is to be preserved in its entirety) it is most false, as
Solomon makes evident where he draws a distinction between men and the
brute animals, for he calls men "all the sons of Adam," and this he
does when he says: "Who knows if the spirits of the sons of Adam mount
upwards, and if those of the beasts go downwards?" And that it is
false according to the Gentiles, let the testimony of Ovid in the
first chapter of his Metamorphoses prove, where he treats of the
constitution of the World according to the Pagan belief, or rather
belief of the Gentiles, saying: "Man is born "--he did not say "Men;"
he said, "Man is born," or rather, "that the Artificer of all things
made him from Divine seed, or that the new earth, but lately parted
from the noble ether, retained seeds of the kindred Heaven, which,
mingled with the water of the river, formed the son of Japhet into an
image of the Gods, who govern all." Where evidently he asserts the
first man to have been one alone; and therefore the Song says, "But
that I cannot hold," that is, to the opinion that man had not one
beginning; and the Song subjoins, "Nor yet if Christians they." And it
says Christians, not Philosophers, or rather Gentiles, whose opinion
also is adverse, because the Christian opinion is of greater force,
and is the destroyer of all calumny, thanks to the supreme light of
Heaven, which illuminates it.

Then when I say, "Sound intellect reproves their words As false, and
turns away," I conclude this error to be confuted, and I say that it
is time to open the eyes to the Truth; and this is expressed when I
say, "And now I seek to tell, As it appears to me." It is now evident
to sound minds that the words of those men are vain, that is, without
a crumb or particle of Truth; and I say sound not without cause. Our
intellect may be said to be sound or unsound. And I say intellect for
the noble part of our Soul, which it is possible to designate by the
common word "Mind." It may be called sound or healthy, when it is not
obstructed in its action by sickness of mind or body, which is to know
what things are, as Aristotle expresses it in the third chapter on the

For, owing to the sickness of the Soul, I have seen three horrible
infirmities in the minds of men.

One is caused by natural vanity, for many men are so presumptuous that
they believe they know everything, and, owing to this, they assert
things to be facts which are not facts. Tullius especially execrates
this vice in the first chapter of the Offices, and St. Thomas in his
book against the Gentiles, saying: "There are many men, so
presumptuous in their conceit, who believe that they can compass all
things with their intellect, deeming all that appears to them to be
true, and count as false that which does not appear to them." Hence it
arises that they never attain to any knowledge; believing themselves
to be sufficiently learned, they never inquire, they never listen;
they desire to be inquired of, and when a question is put, bad enough
is their reply. Of those men Solomon speaks in Proverbs: "Seest thou a
man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of

Another infirmity of mind is caused by natural weakness or smallness,
for many men are so vilely obstinate or stubborn that they cannot
believe that it is possible either for them or for others to know
things; and such men as these never of themselves seek knowledge, nor
ever reason; for what other men say, they care not at all. And against
these men Aristotle speaks in the first book of the Ethics, declaring
those men to be insufficient or unsatisfactory hearers of Moral
Philosophy. Those men always live, like beasts, a life of grossness,
the despair of all learning.

The third infirmity of mind is caused by the levity of nature; for
many men are of such light fancy that in all their arguments they go
astray, and even when they make a syllogism and have concluded, from
that conclusion they fly off into another, and it seems to them most
subtle argument. They start not from any true beginning, and truly
they see nothing true in their imagination. Of those men the
Philosopher says that it is not right to trouble about them, or to
have business with them, saying, in the first book of Physics, that
against him who denies the first postulate it is not right to dispute.
And of such men as these are many idiots, who may not know their A B
C, and who would wish to dispute in Geometry, in Astrology, and in the
Science of Physics.

Also through sickness or defect of body, it is possible for the Mind
to be unsound or sick; even as through some primal defect at birth, as
with those who are born fools, or through alteration in the brain, as
with the madmen. And of this mental infirmity the Law speaks when it
says: "In him who makes a Will or Testament, at the time when he makes
the Will or Testament, health of mind, not health of body, is

But to those intellects which from sickness of mind or body are not
infirm, but are free, diligent, and whole in the light of Truth, I say
it must be evident that the opinion of the people, which has been
stated above, is vain, that is, without any value whatever, worthless.

Afterwards the Song subjoins that I thus judge them to be false and
vain; and this it does when it says, "Sound intellect reproves their
words As false, and turns away." And afterwards I say that it is time
to demonstrate or prove the Truth; and I say that it is now right to
state what kind of thing true Nobility is, and how it is possible to
know the man in whom it exists; and I speak of this where I say:

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


"The King shall rejoice in God, and all those shall be praised who
swear by him, for closed is the mouth of those who speak wicked
things." These words I can here propound in all truth; because each
true King ought especially to love the Truth. Wherefore it is written
in the Book of Wisdom, "Love the Light of Wisdom, you, who stand
before, the people," and the Light of Wisdom is this same Truth. I
say, then, every King shall rejoice that the most false and most
injurious opinion of the wicked and deceitful men who have up to this
time spoken iniquitously of Nobility is confuted.

It is now requisite to proceed to the discussion of the Truth
according to the division made above, in the third chapter of the
present treatise. This second part, then, which begins, "I say that
from one root Each Virtue firstly springs," intends to describe this
Nobility according to the Truth, and this part is divided into two:
for in the first the intention is to prove what this Nobility is; and
in the second how it is possible to recognize him in whom it dwells,
and this second part begins, "Such virtue shows its good." The first
part, again, has two parts; for in the first certain things are sought
for which are needful in order to perceive the definition of Nobility;
in the second, one looks for its definition, and this second part
begins, "Where virtue is, there is A Nobleman."

That we may enter perfectly into the treatise, two things are to be
considered in the first place. The one is, what is meant by this word
Nobility, taken alone, in its simple meaning; the other is, in what
path it is needful to walk in order to search out the before-named
definition. I say, then, that, if we will pay attention to the common
use of speech, by this word Nobility is understood the perfection of
its own nature in each thing; wherefore it is predicated not only of
the man, but also of all things; for the man calls a stone noble, a
plant or tree noble, a horse noble, a falcon noble, whatever is seen
to be perfect in its nature. And therefore Solomon says in
Ecclesiastes, "Blessed is the land whose King is Noble;" which is no
other than saying, whose King is perfect according to the perfection
of the mind and body; and he thus makes this evident by that which he
says previously, when he writes, "Woe unto the land whose King is a
child." For that is not a perfect man, and a man is a child, if not by
age, yet by his disordered manners and by the evil or defect of his
life, as the Philosopher teaches in the first book of the Ethics.

There are some foolish people who believe that by this word Noble is
meant that which is to be named and known by many men; and they say
that it comes from a verb which stands for _to know_, that is,
_nosco_. But this is most false, for, if this could be, those
things which were most named and best known in their species would in
their species be the most noble. Thus the obelisk of St. Peter would
be the most noble stone in the world; and Asdente, the shoemaker of
Parma, would be more Noble than any one of his fellow-citizens; and
Albuino della Scala would be more Noble than Guido da Castello di
Reggio. Each one of those things is most false, and therefore it is
most false that _nobile_ (noble) can come from _cognoscere_,
to know. It comes from _non vile_ (not vile); wherefore
_nobile_ (noble) is as it were _non vile_ (not vile).

This perfection the Philosopher means in the seventh chapter of
Physics, when he says: "Each thing is especially perfect when it
touches and joins its own proper or relative virtue; and then it is
especially perfect according to its nature. It is, then, possible to
call the circle perfect when it is truly a circle, that is, when it is
joined with its own proper or relative virtue, it is then complete in
its nature, and it may then be called a noble circle." This is when
there is a point in it which is equally distant from the
circumference. That circle which has the figure of an egg loses its
virtue and it is not Noble, nor that circle which has the form of an
almost full moon, because in that its nature is not perfect. And thus
evidently it is possible to see that commonly, or in a general sense,
this word Nobility, expresses in all things perfection of their
nature, and this is that for which one seeks primarily in order to
enter more clearly into the discussion of that part which it is
intended to explain.

Secondly, it remains to be seen how one must proceed in order to find
the definition of Human Nobility to which the present argument leads.
I say, then, that since in those things which are of one species, as
are all men, it is not possible by essential first principles to
define their highest perfection, it is necessary to know and to define
that by their effects. Therefore one reads in the Gospel of St.
Matthew, when Christ speaks, "Beware of false prophets: by their
fruits ye shall know them." And in a direct way the definition we seek
is to be seen by the fruits, which are the moral and intellectual
virtues of which this Nobility is the seed, as in its definition will
be fully evident.

And these are those two things we must see before one can proceed to
the others, as is said in the previous part of this chapter.


Since those two things which it seemed needful to understand before
the text could be proceeded with have been seen and understood, it now
remains to proceed with the text and to explain it, and the text then

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

And I subjoin:

This, as the Ethics teach,
Is habit of right choice;

placing the whole definition of the Moral Virtues as it is defined by
the Philosopher in the second book of Ethics, in which two things
principally are understood. One is, that each Virtue comes from one
first principle or original cause; the other is, that by "Each Virtue"
I mean the Moral Virtues, and this is evident from the words, "This,
as the Ethics teach"

Hence it is to be known that our most right and proper fruits are the
Moral Virtues, since on every side they are in our power; and these
are differently distinguished and enumerated by different
philosophers. But it seems to me right to omit the opinion of other
men in that part where the divine opinion of Aristotle is stated by
word of mouth, and therefore, wishing to describe what those Moral
Virtues are, I will pass on, briefly discoursing of them according to
his opinion.

There are eleven Virtues named by the said Philosopher. The first is
called Courage, which is sword and bridle to moderate our boldness and
timidity in things which are the ruin of our life. The second is
Temperance, which is the law and bridle of our gluttony and of our
undue abstinence in those things requisite for the preservation of our
life. The third is Liberality, which is the moderator of our giving
and of our receiving things temporal. The fourth is Magnificence,
which is the moderator of great expenditures, making and supporting
those within certain limits. The fifth is Magnanimity, which is the
moderator and acquirer of great honours and fame. The sixth is the
Love of Honour, which is the moderator and regulator to us of the
honours of this World. The seventh is Mildness, which moderates our
anger and our excessive or undue patience against our external
misfortunes. The eighth is Affability, which makes us live on good
terms with other men. The ninth is called Truth, which makes us
moderate in boasting ourselves over and above what we are, and in
depreciating ourselves below what we are in our speech. The tenth is
called Eutrapelia, pleasantness of intercourse, which makes us
moderate in joys or pleasures, causing us to use them in due measure.
The eleventh is Justice, which teaches us to love and to act with
uprightness in all things.

And each of these Virtues has two collateral enemies, that is to say,
vices; one in excess and one in defect. And these Moral Virtues are
the centres or middle stations between them, and those Virtues all
spring from one root or principle, that is to say, from the habit of
our own good choice. Wherefore, in a general sense, it is possible to
say of all, that they are a habit of choice standing firm in due
moderation; and these are those which make a man happy in their active
operation, as the Philosopher says in the first book of the Ethics
when he defines Happiness, saying that Happiness is virtuous action in
a perfect life.

By many, Prudence, that is, good, judgment or wisdom, is well asserted
to be a Moral Virtue. But Aristotle numbers that amongst the
Intellectual Virtues, although it is the guide of the moral, and
points out the way by which they are formed, and without it they could
not be. Verily, it is to be known that we can have in this life two
happinesses or felicities by following two different roads, both good
and excellent, which lead us to them: the one is the Active Life and
the other is the Contemplative Life, which (although by the Active
Life one may attain, as has been said, to a good state of Happiness)
leads us to supreme Happiness, even as the Philosopher proves in the
tenth book of the Ethics; and Christ affirms it with His own Lips in
the Gospel of Luke, speaking to Martha, when replying to her: "Martha,
Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: verily, one
thing alone is needful," meaning, that which thou hast in hand; and He
adds: "Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away
from her." And Mary, according to that which is previously written in
the Gospel, sitting at the feet of Christ, showed no care for the
service of the house, but listened only to the words of the Saviour.

For if we will explain this in the moral sense, our Lord wished to
show thereby that the Contemplative Life was supremely good, although
the Active Life might be good; this is evident to him who will give
his mind to the words of the Gospel.

It would be possible, however, for any one to say, in argument against
me: Since the happiness of the Contemplative Life is more excellent
than that of the Active Life, and both may be, and are, the fruit and
end of Nobility, why not rather have proceeded in the argument along
the line of the Intellectual Virtues than of the Moral? To this it is
possible to reply briefly, that in all instruction it is desirable to
have regard to the capability of the learner, and to lead him by that
path which is easiest to him. Wherefore, since the Moral Virtues
appear to be, and are, more general and more required than the others,
and are more seen in outward appearances, it was more convenient and
more useful to proceed along that path than by the other; for thus
indeed we shall attain to the knowledge of the bees by arguing of
profit from the wax, as well as by arguing of profit from the honey,
for both the one and the other proceed from them.


In the preceding chapter has been determined how each Moral Virtue
comes from one root, or first principle, that is, a good habit of
choice; and the present text bears upon that, until the part which
begins: "Nobility by right." In this part, then, it proceeds, by a way
that is allowable, to teach that each Virtue mentioned above, taken
singly, or otherwise generally, proceeds from Nobility as an effect
from its cause, and it is founded upon a philosophical proposition,
which says that, when two things are found to meet in one, both these
things must be reduced to a third, or one to the other, as an effect
to a cause: because one thing having stood first and of itself, it
cannot exist except it be from one; and if those two could not be both
the effect of a third, or else one the effect of the other, each would
have had a separate first cause, which is impossible. It says, then,

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 it is to be known that here one does not proceed by an evident
demonstration; as it would be to say that the cold is the generative
principle of water, when we see the clouds; but certainly by a
beautiful and suitable induction. For if there are many laudable
things in us, and one is the principle or first cause of them all,
reason requires each to be reduced to that first cause, which
comprehends more things; and this ought more reasonably to be called
the principle of those things than that which comprehends in itself
less of their principle. For as the trunk of a tree, which contains or
encloses all the other branches, ought to be called the first
beginning and cause of those branches, and not those branches the
cause of the trunk, so Nobility, which comprehends each and every
Virtue (as the cause contains the effect) and many other actions or
operations of ours which are praiseworthy, it ought to be held for
such; that the Virtue may be reduced to it, rather than to the other
third which is in us. Finally it says that the position taken (namely,
that each Moral Virtue comes from one root, and that such Virtue and
Nobility unite in one thing, as is stated above, and that therefore it
is requisite to reduce the one to the other, or both to a third; and
that if the one contains the value of the other and more, from that it
proceeds rather than from the other third) may be considered as a rule
established and set forth, as was before intended.

And thus ends this passage and this present part.


Since in the preceding part are discussed three certain definite
things which were necessary to be seen before we define, if possible,
this good thing of which we speak, it is right to proceed to the
following part, which begins: "Where Virtue is, there is A Nobleman."
And it is desirable to reduce this into two parts. In the first a
certain thing is proved, which before has been touched upon and left
unproved; in the second, concluding, the definition sought is found;
and this second part begins; "Comes virtue from what's noble, as From
black comes violet."

In evidence of the first part, it is to be recalled to mind that it
says previously that, if Nobility is worth more and extends farther
than Virtue, Virtue rather will proceed from it, which this part now
proves, namely, that Nobility extends farther, and produces a copy of
Heaven, saying that wherever there is Virtue there is Nobility. And
here it is to be known that (as it is written in the Books of the Law,
and is held as a Rule of the Law) in those things which of themselves
are evident there is no need of proof; and nothing is more evident
than that Nobility exists wherever there is Virtue, and each thing,
commonly speaking, that we see perfect according to its nature is
worthy to be called Noble. It says then: "So likewise that is Heaven
Wherein a star is hung, But Heaven may be starless." So there is
Nobility wherever there is Virtue, and not Virtue wherever there is
Nobility. And with a beautiful and suitable example; for truly it is a
Heaven in which many and various stars shine. In this Nobility there
shine the Moral and the Intellectual Virtues: there shine in it the
good dispositions bestowed by nature, piety, and religion; the
praiseworthy passions, as Modesty and Mercy and many others; there
shine in it the good gifts of the body, that is to say, beauty,
strength, and almost perpetual health; and so many are the stars which
stud its Heaven that certainly it is not to be wondered at if they
produce many and divers effects in Human Nobility; such are the
natures and the powers of those stars, assembled and contained within
one simple substance, through the medium of which stars, as through
different branches, it bears fruit in various ways. Certainly, with
all earnestness, I make bold to say that Human Nobility, so far as
many of its fruits are considered, excels that of the Angel, although
the Angelic may be more Divine in its unity.

Of this Nobility of ours, which fructifies into such fruits and so
numerous, the Psalmist had perception when he composed that Psalm
which begins: "O Lord our God, how admirable is Thy Name through all
the Earth!" where he praises man, as if wondering at the Divine
affection for this Human Creature, saying: "What is man, that Thou,
God, dost visit him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the
Angels; Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, and placed him
over the works of Thy hands." Then, truly, it was a beautiful and
suitable comparison to compare Heaven with Human Nobility.

Then, when the Song says, "In women and the young A modesty is seen,
Not virtue, noble yet," it proves that Nobility extends into parts
where Virtue is not; and it says, "noble yet," alluding to Nobility as
indeed a true safeguard, being where there is shame or modesty, that
is to say, fear of dishonour, as it is in maidens and youths, where
shame or modesty is good and praiseworthy; which shame or modesty is
not virtue, but a certain good passion. And it says, "In women and the
young," that is to say, in youths; because, as the Philosopher
expresses it in the fourth book of the Ethics, shame, bashfulness,
modesty, is not praiseworthy nor good in the old nor in men of
studious habits, because to them it is fit that they beware of those
things which would lead them to shame. In youths and maidens such
caution is not so much required, and therefore in them the fear of
receiving dishonour through some fault is praiseworthy. It springs
from Nobility, and it is possible to account their timid bashfulness
to be Nobility. Baseness and ignoble ways produce impudence: wherefore
it is a good and excellent sign of Nobility in children and persons of
tender years when, after some fault, their shame is painted in their
face, which blush of shame is then the fruit of true Nobility.


When it proceeds to say, "Comes virtue from what's noble, as From
black comes violet," the text advances to the desired definition of
Nobility, by which one may see what this Nobility is of which so many
people speak erroneously. It says then, drawing a conclusion from that
which has been said before, that each Virtue, or rather its generator,
that is to say, the habit of right choice, which stands firm in due
moderation, will spring forth from this, that is, Nobility. And it
gives an example in the colours, saying, as from the black the violet,
so this Virtue springs from Nobility. The violet is a mixed colour of
purple and black, but the black prevails, and the colour is named from
it. And thus the Virtue is a mixed thing of Nobility and Passion; but,
because Nobility prevails, the Virtue takes its name from it, and is
called Goodness. Then afterwards it argues, by that which has been
said, that no man ought to say boastfully, "I am of such and such a
race or family;" nor ought he to believe that he is of this Nobility
unless the fruits of it are in him. And immediately it renders a
reason, saying that those who have this Grace, that is to say, this
Divine thing, are almost Gods as it were, without spot of vice, and no
one has the power to bestow this except God alone, with whom there is
no respect of persons, even as Divine Scripture makes manifest. And it
does not appear too extravagant when it says, "They are as Gods," for
as it is argued previously in the seventh chapter of the third
treatise, even as there are men most vile and bestial so are men most
Noble and Divine. And this Aristotle proves in the seventh chapter of
Ethics by the text of Homer the poet; therefore, let not those men who
are of the Uberti of Florence, nor those of the Visconti of Milan,
say, "Because I am of such a family or race, I am Noble," for the
Divine seed falls not into a race of men, that is, into a family; but
it falls into individual persons, and, as will be proved below, the
family does not make individual persons Noble, but the individual
persons make the family Noble.

Then when it says, "God only gives it to the Soul," the argument is of
the susceptive, that is, of the subject whereon this Divine gift
descends, which is indeed a Divine gift, according to the word of the
Apostle: "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above,
proceeding from the Father of Light." It says then that God alone
imparts this Grace to the Soul that He sees pure, within the Soul of
that man whom He sees to be perfectly prepared and fit to receive in
his own proper person this Divine action; for, according as the
Philosopher says in the second chapter Of the Soul, things must be
prepared for their agents and qualified to receive their acts;
wherefore if the Soul is imperfectly prepared, it is not qualified to
receive this blessed and Divine infusion, even as a precious stone, if
it is badly cut or prepared, wherever it is imperfect, cannot receive
the celestial virtue; even as that noble Guido Guinizzelli said, in a
Song of his which begins: "To gentle hearts Love ever will repair." It
is possible for the Soul to be unqualified through some defect of
temper, or perhaps through some sinister circumstances of the time in
which the person lives, and into a Soul so unhappy as this the Divine
radiance never shines. And it may be said of such men as these, whose
Souls are deprived of this Light, that they are as deep valleys turned
towards the North, or rather subterranean caves wherein the light of
the Sun never enters unless it be reflected from another part which
has caught its rays.

Finally, it deduces, from that which has been previously said, that
the Virtues are the fruit of Nobility, and that God places that
Nobility in the Soul which has a good foundation. For to some, that
is, to those who have intellect, who are but few, it is evident that
human Nobility is no other than the seed of Happiness

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

that is to say, whose body is in every part perfectly prepared,
ordered, or qualified.

For if the Virtues are the fruit of Nobility, and Happiness is
pleasure or sweetness acquired through or by them, it is evident that
this Nobility is the seed of Happiness, as has been said. And if one
considers well, this definition comprehends all the four arguments,
that is to say, the material, the formal, the efficient, and the
final: material, inasmuch as it says, "to the Soul spread to receive,"
which is the material and subject of Nobility; formal, inasmuch as it
says, "That seed;" efficient, inasmuch as it says, "Planted by God
within the Soul;" final, inasmuch as it says, "of Happiness," Heaven's
blessing. And thus is defined this our good gift, which descends into
us in like manner from the Supreme and Spiritual Power, as virtue into
a precious stone from a most noble celestial body.


That we may have more perfect knowledge of Human Goodness, as it is
the original cause in us of all good that can be called Nobility, it
is requisite to explain clearly in this especial chapter how this
Goodness descends into us.

In the first place, it comes by the Natural way, and then by the
Theological way, that is to say, the Divine and Spiritual. In the
first place, it is to be known that man is composed of Soul and body;
but that Goodness or Nobility is of the Soul, as has been said, and is
after the manner of seed from the Divine Virtue. By different
philosophers it has been differently argued concerning the difference
in our Souls; for Avicenna and Algazel were of opinion that Souls of
themselves and from their beginning were Noble or Base. Plato and some
others were of opinion that they proceeded by the stars, and were
Noble more or less according to the nobility of the star. Pythagoras
was of opinion that all were of one nobility, not only human Souls,
but with human Souls those of the brute animals and of the trees and
the forms of minerals; and he said that all the difference in the
bodies is form. If each one were to defend his opinion, it might be
that Truth would be seen to be in all. But since on the surface they
seem somewhat distant from the Truth, one must not proceed according
to those opinions, but according to the opinion of Aristotle and of
the Peripatetics. And therefore I say that when the human seed falls
into its receptacle, that is, into the matrix, it bears with it the
virtue or power of the generative Soul, and the virtue or power of
Heaven, and the virtue or power of the aliments united or bound
together, that is the involution or complex nature of the seed. It
matures and prepares the material for the formative power or virtue
which the generating Soul bestows; and the formative power or virtue
prepares the organs for the celestial virtue or power, which produces,
from the power of the seed, the Soul in life; which, as soon as
produced, receives from the power of the Mover of the Heaven the
passive intellect or mind, which potentially brings together in itself
all the universal forms according as they are in its producer, and so
much the less in proportion as it is farther removed from the first

Let no one marvel if I speak what seems difficult to understand; for
to myself it seems a miracle how it is possible even to arrive at a
conclusion concerning it, and to perceive it with the intellect. It is
not a thing to reveal in language, especially the language of the
Vulgar Tongue; wherefore I will say, even as did the Apostle: "Oh,
great is the depth of the riches of Wisdom of God: how incomprehensible
are Thy judgments, and Thy ways past finding out!" And since the
complex nature of the seed may be better and less good, and the
disposition of the receiver of the seed may be better and less good,
and the disposition of the dominant Heaven to this effect may be good
and better and best, which varies in the constellations, which are
continually transformed; it befalls that from the human seed and from
these virtues or powers the Soul is produced more or less pure; and
according to its purity there descends into it the virtue or power of
the possible or passive intellect, as it is called, and as it has been
spoken of. And if it happen that through the purity of the receptive
Soul the intellectual power is indeed separate and absolute, free from
all corporeal shadow, the Divine Goodness multiplies in it, as in a
thing sufficient to receive that good gift; and then it multiplies in
the Soul of this intelligent being, according as it can receive it;
and this is that seed of Happiness of which we speak at present. And
this is in harmony with the opinion of Tullius in that book on Old Age
when, speaking personally of Cato, he says: "For this reason a
celestial spirit descended into us from the highest habitation, having
come into a place which is adverse to the Divine Nature and to
Eternity." And in such a Soul as this there is its own individual
power, and the intellectual power, and the Divine power; that is to
say, that influence which has been mentioned. Therefore it is written
in the book On Causes: "Each Noble Soul has three operations, that is
to say, the animal, the intellectual, and the Divine." And there are
some men who hold such opinions that they say, if all the preceding
powers were to unite in the production of a Soul in their best
disposition, arrangement, order, that into that Soul would descend so
much of the Deity that it would be as it were another God Incarnate;
and this is almost all that it is possible to say concerning the
Natural way.

By the Theological way it is possible to say that, when the Supreme
Deity, that is, God, sees His creature prepared to receive His good
gift, so freely He imparts it to His creature in proportion as it is
prepared or qualified to receive it. And because these gifts proceed
from ineffable Love, and the Divine Love is appropriate to the Holy
Spirit, therefore it is that they are called the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, which, even as the Prophet Isaiah distinguishes them, are
seven, namely, Wisdom, Intelligence, Counsel, Courage, Knowledge,
Pity, and the Fear of God. O, good green blades, and good and
wonderful the seed!

And O, admirable and benign Sower of the seed, who dost only wait for
human nature to prepare the ground for Thee wherein to sow! O, blessed
are those who till the land to fit it to receive such seed!

Here it is to be known that the first noble shoot which germinates
from this seed that it may be fruitful, is the desire or appetite of
the mind, which in Greek is called "hormen;" and if this is not well
cultivated and held upright by good habits, the seed is of little
worth, and it would be better if it had not been sown.

And therefore St. Augustine urges, and Aristotle also in the second
book of Ethics, that man should accustom himself to do good, and to
bridle in his passions, in order that this shoot which has been
mentioned may grow strong through good habits, and be confirmed in its
uprightness, so that it may fructify, and from its fruit may issue the
sweetness of Human Happiness.


It is the commandment of the Moral Philosophers that, of the good
gifts whereof they have spoken, Man ought to put his thought and his
anxious care into the effort to make them as useful as possible to the
receiver. Wherefore I, wishing to be obedient to such a mandate,
intend to render this my BANQUET [Convito] as useful as possible in
each one of its parts. And because in this part it occurs to me to be
able to reason somewhat concerning the sweetness of Human Happiness, I
consider that there could not be a more useful discourse, especially
to those who know it not; for as the Philosopher says in the first
book of Ethics, and Tullius in that book Of the Ends of Good and Evil,
he shoots badly at the mark who sees it not. Even thus a man can but
ill advance towards this sweet joy who does not begin with a
perception of it. Wherefore, since it is our final rest for which we
live and labour as we can, most useful and most necessary it is to see
this mark in order to aim at it the bow of this our work. And it is
most essential to make it inviting to those who do not see the mark
when simply pointed out. Leaving alone, then, the opinion which
Epicurus the philosopher had concerning it, and that which Zeno
likewise had, I intend to come summarily to the true opinion of
Aristotle and of the other Peripatetics. As it is said above, of the
Divine Goodness sown and infused in us, from the original cause of our
production, there springs up a shoot, which the Greeks term "hormen,"
that is to say, the natural appetite of the soul.

And as it is with the blades of corn which, when they first shoot
forth, have in the beginning one similar appearance, being in the
grass-like stage, and then, by process of time, they become unlike, so
this Natural appetite, which springs from the Divine Grace, in the
beginning appears as it were not unlike that which comes nakedly from
Nature; but with it, even as the herbage born of various grains of
corn, it has the same appearance, as it were: and not only in the
blades of corn, but in men and in beasts there is the same similitude.
And it appears that every animal, as soon as it is born, both rational
and brute beast, loves itself, and fears and flies from those things
which are adverse to it, and hates them, then proceeding as has been
said. And there begins a difference between them in the progress of
this Natural appetite, for the one keeps to one road, and the other to
another; even as the Apostle says: "Many run to the goal, but there is
but one who reaches it." Even thus these Human appetites from the
beginning run through different paths, and there is one path alone
which leads us to our peace; and therefore, leaving all the others
alone, it is for the treatise to follow the course of that one who
begins well.

I say, then, that from the beginning a man loves himself, although
indistinctly; then comes the distinguishing of those things which to
him are more or less; to be more or less loved or hated; and he
follows after and flies from either more or less according as the
right habit distinguishes, not only in the other things which he loves
in a secondary manner, for he even distinguishes in himself which
thing he loves principally; and perceiving in himself divers parts,
those which are the noblest in him he loves most. But, since the
noblest part of man is the Mind, he loves that more than the Body; and
thus, loving himself principally, and through himself other things,
and of himself loving the better part most, it is evident that he
loves the Mind more than the Body or any other thing; and the Mind it
is that, naturally, more than any other thing he ought to love.

Then, if the Mind always delights in the use of the beloved thing,
which is the fruit of love, the use of that thing which is especially
beloved is especially delightful: the use of our Mind is especially
delightful to us, and that which is especially delightful to us
becomes our Happiness and our Beatitude, beyond which there is no
greater delight or pleasure, nor any equal to it, as may be seen by
him who looks well at the preceding argument.

And no one ought to say that every appetite is Mind; for here one
understands Mind solely as that which belongs to the Rational part,
that is, the Will and the Intellect; so that if any one should wish to
call Mind the appetite of the Senses, here it has no place, nor can it
have any abiding; for no one doubts that the Rational appetite is more
noble than the Sensual, and therefore more to be loved; and so is this
of which we are now speaking.

The use of our Mind is double, that is to say, Practical and
Speculative (it is Practical insomuch as it has the power of acting);
both the one and the other are delightful in their use, but that of
Contemplation is the most pleasing, as has been said above. The use of
the Practical is to act in or through us virtuously, that is to say,
honestly or uprightly, with Prudence, with Temperance, with Courage,
and with Justice. The use of the Speculative is not to work or act
through us, but to consider the works of God and of Nature. This and
the other form our Beatitude and Supreme Happiness, which is the
sweetness of the before-mentioned seed, as now clearly appears. To
this often such seed does not attain, through being ill cultivated, or
through its tender growing shoots being perverted. In like manner it
is quite possible, by much correction and cultivation of him into whom
this seed does not fall primarily, to induce it by the process of
steady endeavour after goodness, so that it may attain to the power of
bearing this fruit. And it is, as it were, a method of grafting the
nature of another upon a different stock.

No man, therefore, can hold himself excused; for if from his natural
root the man does not produce sweet fruit, it is possible for him to
have it by the process of grafting; and in fact there would be as many
who should be grafted as those are who, sprung from a good root, allow
themselves to grow degenerate.

Of the two ways of goodness, one is more full of bliss than the other,
as is the Speculative, which is the use of our noblest part without
any alloy, and which, for the root, Love, as has been said, is
especially to be loved as the intellect. And in this life it is not
possible to have the use of this part perfectly, which is to see God,
who is the Supreme Being to be comprehended by the Mind, except
inasmuch as the intellect considers Him and beholds Him through His
effects, His Works. And that we may seek this Beatitude as the
supreme, and not the other, that is, that of the Active Life, the
Gospel of St. Mark teaches us, if we will look at it well.

Mark says that Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Mary
Salome went to find the Saviour in the Tomb, and they found Him not,
but they found a youth clothed in white, who said to them: "You seek
the Saviour, and I tell you that He is not here; and therefore be not
affrighted, but go and tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth
before you into Galilee; and there ye shall see Him, as He said unto
you." By these three women may be understood the three sects of the
Active Life, that is to say, the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the
Peripatetics, who go to the Tomb, that is to say, to the present
World, which is the receptacle of corruptible things, and seek for the
Saviour, that is, Beatitude, and they find it not; but they find a
youth in white garments, who, according to the testimony of Matthew,
and also of the other Evangelists, was an Angel of God. And therefore
Matthew said: "The Angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came
and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His
countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow." The
Angel is this Nobility of ours which comes from God, as it has been
said, of which our argument speaks, and says to each one of these
sects, that is, to whoever seeks perfect Happiness in the Active Life,
that it is not here; but go and tell the disciples and Peter, that is,
tell those who seek for it and those who are gone astray like Peter,
who had denied Him, that He will go before them into Galilee; meaning
that the Beatitude or Happiness will go before us into Galilee, that
is, into Contemplation; Galilee is as much as to say, Whiteness.
Whiteness is a colour full of material light, more so than any other;
and thus, Contemplation is more full of Spiritual light than any other
thing which is below.

And it says, "He will go before you," but it does not say, "He will be
with you," to make us understand that in our contemplation God always
goes before. Nor is it ever possible to us to attain to Him here, to
Him, our Supreme Bliss. And it says, "There shall ye see Him, as He
said unto you;" that is to say, there you will receive of His
Sweetness, that is, of the Happiness as it is promised to you here, as
it is established that you may receive it.

And thus it appears that our Beatitude, this Happiness of which we
speak, first we are able to find imperfect in the Active Life, that
is, in the operations of the Moral Virtues, and then almost perfect in
the operations of the Intellectual Virtues; which two operations are
speedy and most direct ways to lead to the Supreme Bliss, which it is
not possible to have here below, even as appears by that which has
been said.


Since the definition of Nobility is sufficiently demonstrated, and
since in all its parts it has been made as explicit as possible, so
that we can now see who is the Nobleman, it seems right to proceed to
the part of the text which begins, "Souls whom this Grace adorns," in
whom appear the signs by which it is possible to know the Noble Man.

This part is divided into two. In the first it affirms that this
Nobility is resplendent, and that it shines forth manifestly during
the whole life of the Noble Man; in the second it appears specifically
in its glory, and this second part begins, "In Childhood they obey."
With regard to the first part, it is to be known that this Divine
seed, which has been previously spoken of, germinates immediately in
our Soul, combining with and changing its form with each form of the
Soul, according to the exigency of that power. It germinates, then, as
the Vegetative, as the Sensitive, and as the Rational, and it branches
out through the virtues or powers of all of them, guiding all those to
their perfection, and sustaining itself in them always, even to the
point when, with that part of our Soul which never dies, it returns to
the highest and the most glorious Sower of the seed in Heaven; and it
expresses this in that first part which has been mentioned. Then when
it says, "In Childhood they obey, Are gentle, modest," it shows how we
can recognize the Noble Man by the apparent signs, which are the
Divine operation of this goodness. And this part is divided into four,
as it is made to represent four different ages, such as Adolescence,
Youth, Old Age, and Extreme Old Age. The second part begins, "Are
temperate in Youth;" the third begins, "Are prudent in their Age;" the
fourth begins, "The fourth part of their life." Herein is contained
the purpose of this part in general, with regard to which it is
desirable to know that each effect, inasmuch as it is an effect,
receives the likeness of its cause in proportion as it is capable of
retaining it.

Wherefore, since our life, as has been said, and also the life of
every living creature here below, is caused by Heaven, Heaven is
revealed in all such effects as these, not, indeed, with the complete
circle, but with part of it, in them. Thus its movement must be not
only with them, but beyond them, and as one arch of life retains (and
I say retains, not only of men, but also of other living creatures)
almost all the lives, ascending and descending, they must be, as it
were, similar in appearance to the form of the arch. Returning, then,
to our course of life which at present we are seeking to understand, I
say that it proceeds after the manner of this arch, ascending and
descending. And it is to be known that the ascent of this arch should
be equal to its descent, if the material of the seed from which we
spring, so complex in its nature, did not impede the law of Human
Nature. But since the humid root is of better quality more or less,
and stronger to endure in one effect more than in another, being
subject to the nutriment of the heat, which is our life, it happens
that the arch of the life of one man is of less or of greater extent
than that of another, life being shortened by a violent death or by
some accidental injury; but that which is called natural by the people
is that span of which it is said by the Psalmist, "Thou settest up a
boundary which it is not possible to pass." And since the Master among
those here living, Aristotle, had perception of this arch of which we
now speak, and seems to be of opinion that our life should be no other
than one ascent and one descent, therefore he says, in that chapter
where he treats of Youth and of Old Age, that Youth is no other than
an increase of life. Where the top of this arch may be, it is
difficult to know, on account of the inequality which has been spoken
of above, but for the most part I believe between the thirtieth and
the fortieth year, and I believe that in the perfectly natural man it
is at the thirty-fifth year. And this reason has weight with me: that
our Saviour Jesus Christ was a perfect natural man, who chose to die
in the thirty-fourth year of His age; for it was not suitable for the
Deity to have place in the descending segment; neither is it to be
believed that He would not wish to dwell in this life of ours even to
the summit of it, since He had been in the lower part even from
childhood. And the hour of the day of His death makes this evident,
for He willed that to conform with His life; wherefore Luke says that
it was about the sixth hour when He died, that is to say, the height
or supreme point of the day; wherefore it is possible to comprehend by
that, as it were, that at the thirty-fifth year of Christ was the
height or supreme point of His age. Truly this arch is not half
distinguished in the Scriptures, but if we follow the four connecting
links of the differing qualities which are in our composition, to each
one of which appears to be appropriated one part of our age, it is
divided into four parts, and they are called the four ages. The first
is Adolescence, which is appropriated to the hot and moist; the second
is Youth, which is appropriated to the hot and dry; the third is Old
Age, which is appropriated to the cold and dry; the fourth is Extreme
Old Age, which is appropriated to the cold and moist, as Albertus
Magnus writes in the fourth chapter of the Metaura. And these parts or
divisions are made in a similar manner in the year--in Spring, in
Summer, in Autumn, and in Winter. And it is the same in the day even
to the third hour, and then even to the ninth, leaving the sixth in
the middle of this part, or division, for the reason which is
understood, and then even to vespers, and from vespers onwards. And
therefore the Gentiles said that the chariot of the Sun had four
horses; they called the first Eoo, the second Piroi, the third Eton,
the fourth Phlegon, even as Ovid writes in the second book of the
Metamorphoses concerning the parts or divisions of the day.

And, briefly, it is to be known that, as it has been said above in the
sixth chapter of the third treatise, the Church makes use of the hours
temporal in the division of the day, which hours are twelve in each
day, long or short according to the amount of sunlight; and because
the sixth hour, that is, the midday, is the most noble of the whole
day, and has in it the most virtue, the Offices of the Church are
approximated thereto in each side, that is, from the prime, and thence
onwards as much as possible; and therefore the Office of prime, that
is, the tertius, is said at the end of that part, and that of the
third part and of the fourth is said at the beginning; and therefore,
before the clock strikes in a division of the day, it is termed
half-third or mid-tertius; or mid-nones, when in that division the
clock has struck, and thus mid-vespers.

And, therefore, let each one know that the right and lawful nones
ought always to strike or sound at the beginning of the seventh hour
of the day, and let this suffice to the present digression.


Returning to the proposition, I say that Human Life is divided into
four ages or stages. The first is called Adolescence, that is, the
growth or increase of life; the second is called Youth, that is, the
age which can give perfection, and for this reason one understands
this Youth to be perfect, because no man can give except of that which
he has; the third is called Old Age; the fourth is called Senility,
Extreme Old Age, as has been said above.

Of the first no one doubts, but each wise man agrees that it lasts
even to the twenty-fifth year; and up to that time our Soul waits for
the increase and the embellishment of the body. While there are many
and very great changes in the person, the rational part cannot possess
perfectly the power of discretion; wherefore, the Civil Law wills
that, previous to that age, a man cannot do certain things without a
guardian of perfect age.

Of the second, which is the height of our life, the time is variously
taken by many. But leaving that which philosophers and medical men
write concerning it, and returning to the proper argument, we may say
that, in most men in whom one can and ought to be guided by natural
judgment, that age lasts for twenty years. And the reason which leads
me to this conclusion is, that the height or supreme point of our arc
or bow is in the thirty-fifth year; just so much as this age has of
ascent, so much it ought to have of descent; and this ascent passes
into descent, as it were, at the point, the centre, where one would
hold the bow in the hand, at which place a slight flexion may be
discerned. We are of opinion, then, that Youth is completed in the
forty-fifth year.

And as Adolescence is in the twenty-five years which proceed mounting
upwards to Youth: so the descent, that is, Old Age, is an equal amount
of time which succeeds to Youth; and thus Old Age terminates in the
seventieth year.

But because Adolescence does not begin at the beginning of
life--taking it in the way which has been said--but about eight months
from birth; and because our life strives to ascend, and curbs itself
in the descent; because the natural heat is lessened and can do
little, and the moist humour is increased, not in quantity, but in
quality, so that it is less able to evaporate and be consumed; it
happens that beyond Old Age there remains of our life an amount,
perhaps, of about ten years, a little more or a little less; and this
time of life is termed Extreme Old Age, or Senility. Wherefore we know
of Plato (of whom one may well say that he was a son of Nature, both
because of his perfection and because of his countenance, which caused
Socrates to love him when first he saw him), that he lived eighty and
one years, according to the testimony of Tullius in that book On Old
Age. And I believe that if Christ had not been crucified, and if He
might have lived the length of time which His life according to nature
could have passed over, at eighty and one years He would have been
transformed from the mortal body into the eternal.

Truly, as has been said above, these ages may be longer or shorter
according to our complexion or temper and our constitution or
composition; but, as they are, it seems to me that I observe this
proportion in all men, as has been said, that is to say, that in such
men the ages may be made longer or shorter according to the integrity
of the whole term of the natural life.

Throughout all these ages this Nobility of which we speak manifests
its effects in different ways in the ennobled Soul; and it is that
which this part of the Song, concerning which we write at present,
intends to demonstrate. Where it is to be known that our good and
upright nature makes forward progress in us in the reasoning powers,
as we see the nature of the plants make forward progress; and
therefore it is that different manners and different deportment are to
be held reasonable at one age rather than at another. The ennobled
Soul proceeds in due order along a single path, employing each of its
powers in its time and season, or even as they are all ordained to the
final production of the perfect fruit. And Tullius is in harmony with
this in his book On Old Age. And putting aside the figurative sense
which Virgil holds in the AEneid concerning this different progress of
the ages, and letting that be which Egidius the hermit mentions in the
first part On the Government of Princes, and letting that be to which
Tullius alludes in his book Of Offices, and following that alone which
Reason can see of herself, I say that this first age is the door and
the path through which and along which we enter into our good life,
And this entrance must of necessity have certain things which the good
Nature, which fails not in things necessary, gives to us; as we see
that she gives to the vine the leaves for the protection of the fruit,
and the little tendrils which enable it to twine round its supports,
and thus bind up its weakness, so that it can sustain the weight of
its fruit. Beneficent Nature gives, then, to this age four things
necessary to the entrance into the City of the Good Life. The first is
Obedience, the second Suavity, the third Modesty, the fourth Beauty of
the Body, even as the Song says in the first section of this part. It
is, then, to be known that like one who has never been in a city, who
would not know how to find his way about the streets without
instruction from one who is accustomed to them, even so the adolescent
who enters into the Wood of Error of this life would not know how to
keep to the good path if it were not pointed out to him by his elders.
Neither would the instruction avail if he were not obedient to their
commands, and therefore at this age obedience is necessary. Here it
might be possible for some one to speak thus: Then, is that man to be
called obedient who shall follow evil guidance as well as he who shall
believe the good? I reply that this would not be obedience, but
transgression. For if the King should issue a command in one way and
the servant give forth the command in another, it would not be right
to obey the servant, for that would be to disobey the King; and thus
it would be transgression. And therefore Solomon says, when he intends
to correct his son, and this is his first commandment: "Listen, my
son, to the instruction of thy father." And then he seeks to remove
him immediately from the counsel and teaching of the wicked man,
saying, "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not."

Wherefore, as soon as he is born, the son clings to the breast of the
mother; even so soon as some light of the Mind appears in him, he
ought to turn to the correction of the father, and the father to
instruction. And let the father take heed that he himself does not set
him an example in work or action that is contrary to the words of the
correction; for naturally we see each son look more to the footprints
of the paternal feet than to those of other men. And therefore the
Law, which provides for this, says and commands that the life of the
father should appear to his sons always honourable and upright. Thus
it appears that obedience was necessary in this age; and therefore
Solomon writes in the Book of Proverbs, that he who humbly and
obediently sustains his just reproofs from the corrector shall be
glorious. And he says "shall be," to cause men to understand that he
speaks to the adolescent, who cannot be so in his present age. And if
any one should reflect on me because I have said obedience is due to
the father and not to other men, I say that to the father all other
obedience ought to be referred; wherefore the Apostle says to the
Colossians: "Sons, obey your fathers in all things, for such is the
will of God." And if the father be not in this life, the son ought to
refer to that which is said by the father in his last Will as a
father; and if the father die intestate, the son ought to refer to him
to whom the Law commits his authority; and then ought the masters and
elders to be obeyed, for this appears to be a reasonable charge laid
upon the son by the father, or by him who stands in the father's

But because this present chapter has been long, on account of the
useful digressions which it contains, in another chapter other things
shall be discussed.


Not only this Soul, naturally good in Adolescence, is obedient, but
also gentle; which is the other thing necessary in this age to make a
good entrance through the portal of Youth.

It is necessary, since we cannot have a perfect life without friends,
as Aristotle expresses it in the eighth book of Ethics; and the seed
of the greater number of friendships seems to be sown in the first age
of life, because in it a man begins to be gracious or the contrary.
Such graciousness is acquired by gentle rules of conduct, as are sweet
and courteous speech, gentle service courteously rendered, and actions
kindly done or performed. And therefore Solomon says to the adolescent
son: "Surely God scorneth the scorners; but He giveth grace unto the
lowly." And elsewhere he says: "Put away from thee a forward mouth,
and perverse lips put far from thee." Wherefore it appears that, as
has been said, this suavity or affability is necessary.

Likewise to this age the passion of modesty is necessary; and
therefore the nature which is good and noble shows it in this age,
even as the Song says. And since modesty is the clearest sign, in
Adolescence, of Nobility, because there it is especially necessary to
the good foundation of our life, at which the noble nature aims, it is
right to speak of it somewhat. By modesty I mean three passions or
strong feelings necessary to the foundation of our good life: the one
is wonder, the next is modesty, the third is shame, although the
common people do not discern this distinction. And all three of these
are necessary to this life, for this reason: at this age it is
requisite to be reverent and desirous for knowledge; at this age it is
necessary or requisite to be self-controlled, so as not to transgress
or pass beyond due bounds; at this age it is necessary to be penitent
for a fault, so as not to grow accustomed to doing wrong. And all
these things the aforesaid passions or strong feelings do, which
vulgarly are called shame; for wonder is an amazement of the mind at
beholding great and wonderful things, at hearing them, or feeling them
in some way or other; for, inasmuch as they appear great, they excite
reverence in him who sees them; inasmuch as they appear wonderful,
they make him who perceives them desirous of knowledge concerning
them. And therefore the ancient Kings in their palaces or habitations
set up magnificent works in gold and in marble and works of art, in
order that those who should see them should become astonished, and
therefore reverent inquirers into the honourable conditions of the
King. Therefore Statius, the sweet Poet, in the first part of the
Theban History, says that, when Adrastus, King of the Argives, saw
Polynices covered with the skin of a lion, and saw Tydeus covered with
the hide of a wild boar, and recalled to mind the reply that Apollo
had given concerning his daughters, he became amazed, and therefore
more reverent and more desirous for knowledge. Modesty is a shrinking,
a drawing-back of the mind from unseemly things, with the fear of
falling into them; even as we see in virgins and in good women, and in
adolescent or young men, who are so modest that not only when they are
tempted to do wrong, and urged to do so, but even when some fancied
joy flashes across the mind, the feeling is depicted in the face,
which either grows pale with fear, or flushes rosy-red. Wherefore the
before-mentioned poet, in the first book of the Thebaid already
quoted, says that when Acesta the nurse of Argia and Deiphile, the
daughters of King Adrastus, led them before the eyes of their holy
father into the presence of the two pilgrims, that is to say,
Polynices and Tydeus, the virgins grew pale and blushed rosy-red, and
their eyes shunned the glance of any other person, and they kept them
fixed on the paternal face alone, as if there were safety. This
modesty--how many errors does it bridle in, or repress? On how many
immodest questions and impure things does it impose silence! How much
dishonest greed does it repress! In the chaste woman, against how many
evil temptations does it rouse mistrust, not only in her, but also in
him who watches over her! How many unseemly words does it restrain!
for, as Tullius says in the first chapter of the Offices: "No action
is unseemly which is not unseemly in the naming." And furthermore, the
Modest and Noble Man never could speak in such a manner that to a
woman his words would not be decent and such as she could hear. Alas,
how great is the evil in every man who seeks for honour, to mention
things which would be deemed evil in the mouth of any woman!

Shame is a fear of dishonour through fault committed, and from this
fear there springs up a penitence for the fault, which has in itself a
bitter sorrow or grief, which is a chastisement and preservative
against future wrong-doing. Wherefore this same poet says, in that
same part, that when Polynices was questioned by King Adrastus
concerning his life, he hesitated at first through shame to speak of
the crime which he had committed against his father, and also for the
sins of Oedipus, his father, which appeared to remain in the shame of
the son; therefore he named not his father, but his ancestors, and his
country, and his mother; and therefore it does indeed appear that
shame is necessary to that age. And the noble nature reveals in this
age, not only obedience, gentleness, affability, and modesty, but it
shows beauty and agility of body, even as the Song expresses: "To
furnish Virtue's person with The graces it may need." Here it is to be
known that this work of beneficent Nature is also necessary to our
good life, for our Soul must work in the greater part of all its
operations with a bodily organ; and then it works well when the body
through all its parts is well proportioned and appointed. And when it
is well proportioned and appointed, then it is beautiful throughout
and in all its parts; for the due ordering or proportion of our limbs
produces a pleasing impression of I know not what of wonderful
harmony; and the good disposition, that is to say, the health of mind
and body, throws over all a colouring sweet to behold. And thus to say
that the noble nature takes heed for the graces of the body, and makes
it fair and harmonious, is tantamount to saying that it prepares it
and renders it fit to attain the perfection ordained for it: and those
other things which have been discussed seem to be requisite to
Adolescence, which the noble Mind, that is to say, the noble Nature,
furnishes forth to it in the first years of life, as growth of the
seed sown therein by the Divine Providence.


Since the first section of this part, which shows how we can recognize
the Noble Man by apparent signs, is reasoned out, it is right to
proceed to the second section, which begins: "Are temperate in Youth,
And resolutely strong."

It says, then, that as the noble Nature in Adolescence or the
Spring-time of Youth appears obedient, gentle, and modest, the
beautifier of its person, so in Youth it is temperate, strong, and
loving, courteous and loyal; which five things appear to be, and are,
necessary to our perfection, inasmuch as we have respect unto
ourselves. And with regard to this it is desirable to know that just
as the noble Nature prepares in the first age, it is prepared and
ordained by the care or foresight of Universal Nature, which ordains
and appoints the particular Nature where-ever existing, to attain its

This perfection of ours may be considered in a double sense. It is
possible to consider it as it has respect to ourselves, and we ought
to possess this in our Youth, which is the culminating point of our
life. It is possible to consider it as it has respect to others, and
since in the first place it is necessary to be perfect, and then to
communicate the perfection to others, it is requisite to possess this
secondary perfection after this age, that is to say, in Old Age, as
will be said subsequently. Here, then, it is needful to recall to mind
that which was argued in the twenty-second chapter of this treatise
concerning the appetite or impulse which is born in us. This appetite
or impulse never does aught else but to pursue and to flee, and
whenever it pursues that which is to be pursued, and as far as is
right, and flies from that which is to be fled from, and as much as is
right, then is the man within the limits of his perfection. Truly,
this appetite or natural impulse must have Reason for its rider; for
as a horse at liberty, however noble it may be by nature, by itself
without the good rider does not conduct itself well, even thus this
appetite, however noble it may be, must obey Reason, which guides it
with the bridle and spur, as the good knight uses the bridle when he
hunts. And that bridle is termed Temperance, which marks the limit up
to which it is lawful to pursue; he uses the spur in flight to turn
the horse away from the place from which he would flee away; and this
spur is called Courage, or rather Magnanimity, a Virtue that points
out the place at which it is right to stop, and to resist evil even to
mortal combat. And thus Virgil, our greatest Poet, represents AEneas as
under the influence of powerful self control in that part of the AEneid
wherein this age is typified, which part comprehends the fourth and
the fifth and the sixth books of the AEneid. And what self-restraint
was that when, having received from Dido so much pleasure, as will be
spoken of in the seventh treatise, and enjoying so much delectation
with her, he departed, in order to follow the upright and praiseworthy
path fruitful of good works, even as it is written in the fourth book
of the AEneid! What impetus was that when AEneas had the fortitude alone
with Sybilla to enter into Hades, to search for the Soul of his father
Anchises, in the face of so many dangers, as it is shown in the sixth
book of the AEneid. Wherefore it appears that in our Youth, in order to
be in our perfection, we must be Temperate and Brave. The good
disposition secures this for us, even as the Song expressly states.

Again, at this age it is necessary to its perfection to be Loving;
because at this age it is requisite to look behind and before, as
being midway over the arch. The youth ought to love his elders, from
whom he has received his being, and his nutriment, and his
instruction, so that he may not appear ungrateful. He ought to love
his juniors, since, in loving them, he gives them of his good gifts,
for which in after-years, when the younger friends are prospering, he
may be supported and honoured by them. And the poet named above, in
the fifth book before-mentioned, makes it evident that AEneas possessed
this loving disposition, when he left the aged Trojans in Sicily,
recommended to Acestes, and set them free from the fatigues of the
voyage; and when he instructed, in the same place, Ascanius his son,
with the other young men, in jousting or in feats of arms; wherefore
it appears that to this age Love is necessary, even as the Song says.

Again, to this age Courtesy is necessary, for, although to every age
it is right or beautiful to be possessed of courteous manners, to this
age it is especially necessary, because, on the contrary, Old Age,
with its gravity and its severity, cannot possess courtesy, if it has
been wanting in this youthful period of life; and with Extreme Old Age
it is the same in a greater degree. And that most noble poet, in the
sixth book before-mentioned, proves that AEneas possessed this
courtesy, when he says that AEneas, then King, in order to pay honour
to the dead body of Misenus, who had been the trumpeter of Hector, and
afterwards accompanied AEneas, made himself ready and took the axe to
assist in cutting the logs for the fire which must burn the dead body,
as was their custom. Wherefore this courtesy does indeed appear to be
necessary to Youth; and therefore the noble Soul reveals it in that
age, as has been said.

Again, it is necessary to this age to be Loyal. Loyalty is to follow
and to put in operation that which the Laws command, and this
especially is necessary in the young man; because the adolescent, as
it has been said, on account of his minority, merits ready pardon; the
old man, on account of greater experience, ought to be just, but not a
follower of the Law except inasmuch as his upright judgment and the
Law are at one as it were; and almost without any Law he ought to be
able to follow the dictates of his own just mind. The young man is not
able to do this, and it is sufficient that he should obey the Law, and
take delight in that obedience; even as the before-said poet says, in
the fifth book previously mentioned, that AEneas did when he instituted
the games in Sicily on the anniversary of his father's death, for what
he promised for the victories he loyally gave to each victor,
according to their ancient custom, which was their Law.

Wherefore, it is evident that, to this age, Loyalty, Courtesy, Love,
Courage, and Temperance are necessary, even as the Song says, which at
present I have reasoned out; and therefore the noble Soul reveals them


That section which the text puts forward having been reasoned out and
made sufficiently clear, showing the qualities of uprightness which
the noble Soul puts into Youth, we go on to pay attention to the third
part, which begins, "Are prudent in their Age," in which the Song
intends to show those qualities which the noble Nature reveals and
ought to possess in the third age, that is to say, Old Age. And it
says that the noble Soul in Old Age is prudent, is just, is liberal
and cheerful, willing to speak kindly and for the good of others, and
ready to listen for the same reason, that is to say, that it is
affable. And truly these four Virtues are most suitable to this age.
And, in order to perceive this, it is to be known that, as Tullius
says in his book On Old Age, "Our life has a certain course, and one
simple path, that of natural moral goodness; and to each part of our
age there is given a season for certain things." Wherefore, as to
Adolescence is given, as has been said above, that by means of which
it may attain perfection and maturity, so to youth is given perfection
and maturity in order that the sweetness of its perfect fruit may be
profitable to the man himself and to others; for, as Aristotle says,
man is a civil or polite animal, because it is required of him to be
useful, not only to himself, but to others as well. Wherefore one
reads of Cato, that he believed himself to be born not only to
himself, but to his country and to all the world. Then after our own
perfection, which is acquired in Youth, there must follow that which
may give light not only to one's self, but to others as well; and a
man ought to open and broaden like a rose as it were, which can no
longer remain closed, and spread abroad the sweet odour which is bred
within; and this ought to be the case in that third age which we have
now in hand.

Then it must be Prudent, that is to say, Wise. And, in order to be
this, a good memory of the things which have been seen is requisite,
and a good knowledge of present things, and good foresight for things
of the future. And, as the Philosopher says in the sixth book of
Ethics, it is impossible for the man who is not good to be wise; and
therefore he is not to be called a wise man who acts with cunning and
with deception, but he is to be called an astute man. As no one would
call him a wise man who might indeed know how to draw with the point
of a knife in the pupil of the eye, even so he is not to be called a
wise man who knows how to do a bad thing well, in the doing of which
he must always first injure some other person. If we consider well,
good counsel springs from Prudence, which leads or guides a man, and
other men, to a good end in human affairs. And this is that gift which
Solomon, perceiving himself to be placed as ruler over the people,
asked of God, even as it is written in the Third Book of Kings; nor
does the prudent man wait for counsel to be asked of him; but of
himself, foreseeing the need for it, unasked he gives counsel or
advice; like the rose, which not only to him who goes to her for her
sweet odour freely gives it, but also to any one who passes near.

Here it would be possible for any doctor or lawyer to say: Then shall
I carry my counsel or advice, and shall I give it even before it be
asked of me, and shall I not reap fruit from my art or skill? I reply
in the words of our Saviour: "Freely ye have received, freely give." I
say, then, Master Lawyer, that those counsels which have no respect to
thine art, and which proceed alone from that good sense or wisdom
which God gave thee (which is the prudence of which we speak), thou
oughtest not to sell to the sons or children of Him who has given it
to thee. But those counsels which belong to the art which thou hast
purchased, thou mayst sell; but not in such a way but that at any time
the tenth part of them may be fitly set apart and given unto God, that
is, to those unhappy ones to whom the Divine protection is all that is

Likewise at this age it is right to be Just, in order that the
judgments and the authority of the man may be a light and a law to
other men. And because this particular Virtue, that is to say,
Justice, was seen by the ancient philosophers to appear perfect in men
of this age, they entrusted the government of the cities to those men
who had attained that age; and therefore the college of Rectors was
called the Senate. Oh, my unhappy, unhappy country! how my heart is
wrung with pity for thee whenever I read, whenever I write, anything
which may have reference to Civil Government! But since in the last
treatise of this book Justice will be discussed, to the present let
this slight notice of it suffice.

Also at this age a man ought to be liberal, because a thing is then
most suitable when it gives most satisfaction to the due requirements
of its nature: nor to the due requirements of Liberality is it ever
possible to give more satisfaction than at this age. For if we will
look well at the argument of Aristotle in the fourth book of Ethics,
and at that of Tullius in his book Of Offices, Liberality desires to
be seasonable in place and time; so that the liberal man may not
injure himself nor other men; which thing it is not possible to have
without Prudence and without Justice, Virtues that previous to this
age it is impossible to have or possess in perfection in the Natural

Alas! ye base-born ones, born under evil stars, ye who rob the widows
and orphans, who ravish or despoil those who possess least, who steal
from and occupy or usurp the homes of other men, and with that spoil
you furnish forth feasts, women, horses, arms, robes, money; you wear
wonderful garments, you build marvellous palaces; and you believe that
you do deeds of great liberality: and this is no other than to take
the cloth from the altar and to cover therewith the thief and his
table! Not otherwise one ought to laugh, O tyrants, at your bounteous
liberality than at the thief who should lead the invited guests into
his house to his feast, and place upon his table the cloth stolen from
the altar, with the ecclesiastical signs inwoven, and should not
believe that other men might perceive the sacrilege. Hear, O ye
obstinate men, what Tullius says against you in the book Of Offices:
"Certainly there are many, desirous of being great and glorious, who
rob some that they may give to others, believing themselves to be
esteemed good men if they enrich their friends with what the Law
allows. But this is so opposite or contrary to that which ought to be
done, that nothing is more wrong."

At this age also a man ought to be Affable, to speak for the good of
others, and to listen to such speech willingly, since it is good for a
man to discourse kindly at an age when he is listened to. And this age
also has with it a shadow of authority, for which reason it appears
that the aged man is more likely to be listened to than a person in a
younger period of life. And of most good and beautiful Truths it seems
that a man ought to have knowledge after the long experience of life.
Wherefore Tullius says, in that book On Old Age, in the person of Cato
the elder: "To me is increased the desire and the delight to remain in
conversation longer than I am wont." And that all four of these things
are right and proper to this age, Ovid teaches, in the seventh chapter
of Metamorphoses, in that fable where he writes how Cephalus of Athens
came to AEacus the King for help in the war which Athens had with the
Cretans. He shows that AEacus, an old man, was prudent when, having,
through pestilence caused by corruption of the air, lost almost all
his people, he wisely had recourse to God, and besought of Him the
restoration of the dead; and for his wisdom, which in patience
possessed him and caused him to turn to God, his people were restored
to him in greater number than before. He shows that he was just, when
he says that AEacus was the divider and the distributor of his deserted
land to his new people. He shows that AEacus was generous or liberal
when he said to Cephalus, after his request for aid: "O Athens! ask me
not to render assistance, but take it yourself; doubt not the strength
of the forces which this island possesses, nor the power of my state
and realm; troops are not wanting to us, nay, we have them in excess
for offence and defence; it is indeed a happy time to give you aid,
and without excuse."

Alas, how many things are to be observed in this reply! but to a good,
intelligent man it is sufficient for it to be placed here, even as
Ovid puts it. He shows that AEacus was affable when he described, in a
long speech to Cephalus, the history of the pestilence which destroyed
his people, and the restoration of the same, which he tells readily.

It is clear enough, then, that to this age four things are suitable,
because the noble Nature reveals them in it, even as the Song says.
And that the example given may be the more memorable, AEacus says that
he was the father of Telamon and Peleus and of Phocus, from which
Telamon sprang Ajax and from Peleus Achilles.


Following the section which has been discussed, we have now to proceed
to the last, that is, to that which begins, "The fourth part of their
life Weds them again to God," by which the text intends to show what
the noble Soul does in the last age, that is, in Extreme Old Age, that
is, Senility. And it says that it does two things: the one, that it
returns to God as to that port or haven whence it departed when it
issued forth to enter into the sea of this life; the other is, that it
blesses the voyage which it has made, because it has been upright,
straight, and good, and without the bitterness of storm and tempest.

And here it is to be known that, even as Tullius says in that book On
Old Age, the natural death is, as it were, a port or haven to us after
our long voyage and a place of rest. And the Virtuous Man who dies
thus is like the good mariner; for, as he approaches the port or
haven, he strikes his sails, and gently, with feeble steering, enters
port. Even thus we ought to strike the sails of our worldly affairs,
and turn to God with all our heart and mind, so that one may come into
that haven with all sweetness and all peace.

And in this we have from our own proper nature great instruction in
gentleness, for in such a death as this there is no pain nor
bitterness, but even as a ripe apple easily and without violence
detaches itself from its branch, so our Soul without grief separates
itself from the body wherein it has dwelt.

Aristotle, in his book On Youth and Old Age, says that the death which
overtakes us in old age is without sadness. And as to him who comes
from a long journey, before he enters into the gate of his city, the
citizens thereof go forth to meet him, so do those citizens of the
Eternal Life go forth to meet the noble Soul; and they do thus because
of his good works and acts of contemplation, which were of old
rendered unto God and withdrawn from worldly affairs and thoughts.
Hear what Tullius says in the person of Cato the elder: "It seems to
me that already I see, and I uplift myself in the greatest desire to
see, your fathers, whom I loved, and not only those whom I knew
myself, but also those of whom I have heard spoken." In this age,
then, the noble Soul renders itself unto God, and awaits the end of
this life with much desire; and to itself it seems that it goes out
from the Inn to return home to the Father's mansion; to itself it
seems to have reached the end of a long journey and to have reached
the City; to itself it seems to have crossed the wide sea and returned
into the port. O, miserable men and vile, who run into this port with
sails unfurled; and there where you should find rest, are broken by
the fury of the wind and wrecked in the harbour. Truly the Knight
Lancelot chose not to enter it with sails unfurled, nor our most noble
Italian Guido da Montefeltro. These noble Spirits indeed furled the
sails after the voyage of this World, whose cares were rendered to
Religion in their long old age, when they had laid down each earthly
joy and labour. And it is not possible to excuse any man because of
the bond of matrimony, which may hold him in his old age, from turning
to Religion, even as he who adopts the habit of St. Benedict and St.
Augustine and St. Francis and St. Dominic and the like mode of life,
but also it is possible to turn to a good and true Religion whilst
remaining in the bonds of matrimony, for God asks of us no more than
the religious heart. And therefore St. Paul says to the Romans: "For
he is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision
which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly;
and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the
letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

And the Noble Soul in this age blesses likewise the time that is past,
and it may well bless it; because when Memory turns back to them, the
Noble Soul remembers her upright deeds, without which it were not
possible for her to come to the port whither she is hastening with
such wealth nor with such gain. And the Noble Soul does like the good
merchant, who, when he draws near to his port, examines his cargo, and
says: "If I had not passed along such a highway as that, I should not
possess this treasure, and I should not have wherewith to rejoice in
my city, to which I am approaching;" and therefore he blesses the
voyage he has made.

And that these two things are suitable to this age that great poet
Lucan represents to us in the second book of his Pharsalia, when he
says that Marcia returned to Cato, and entreated him that he would
take her back in his fourth and Extreme Old Age, by which Marcia the
Noble Soul is meant, and we can thus depict the symbol of it in all
Truth. Marcia was a virgin, and in that state typifies Adolescence;
she then espoused Cato, and in that state typifies Youth; she then
bore sons, by whom are typified the Virtues which are becoming to
young men, as previously described; and she departed from Cato and
espoused Hortensius, by which it is typified that she quitted Youth
and came to Old Age. She bore sons to this man also, by whom are
typified the Virtues which befit Old Age, as previously said.
Hortensius died, by which is typified the end of Old Age, and Marcia,
made a widow, by which widowhood is typified Extreme Old Age, returned
in the early days of her widowhood to Cato, whereby is typified the
Noble Soul turning to God in the beginning of Extreme Old Age. And
what earthly man was more worthy to typify God than Cato? None, of a
certainty. And what does Marcia say to Cato? "Whilst there was blood
in me [that is to say, Youth], whilst the maternal power was in me
[that is, Age, which is indeed the Mother of all other Virtues or
Powers, as has been previously shown or proved], I," says Marcia,
"fulfilled all thy commandments [that is to say, that the Soul stood
firm in obedience to the Civil Laws]." She says: "And I took two
husbands," that is to say, I have been in two fruitful periods of
life. "Now," says Marcia, "that I am weary, and that I am void and
empty, I return to thee, being no longer able to give happiness to the
other husband;" that is to say, that the Noble Soul, knowing well that
it has no longer the power to produce, that is, feeling all its
members to have grown feeble, turns to God, that is, to Him who has no
need of members of the body. And Marcia says, "Give me the ancient
covenanted privileges of the beds; give me the name alone of the
Marriage Tie;" that is to say, the Noble Soul says to God, "O my Lord,
give me now repose and rest;" the Soul says, "Give me at least
whatsoever I may have called Thine in a life so long." And Marcia
says, "Two reasons move or urge me to say this; the one is, that they
may say of me, after I am dead, that I was the wife of Cato; the other
is, that it may be said after me that thou didst not drive me away,
but didst espouse me heartily." By these two causes the Noble Soul is
stirred and desires to depart from this life as the spouse of God, and
wishes to show that God was gracious to the creature that He made. O
unhappy and baseborn men! you who prefer to depart from this life
under the name of Hortensius rather than of Cato!

From Cato's name a grace comes into the close of the discourse which
it was fit to make touching the signs of Nobility; because in him
Nobility reveals them all, through all the ages of his life.


Since the Song has demonstrated those signs which in each age or
period of life appear in the Noble Man, and by which it is possible to
know him, and without which he cannot be, even as the Sun cannot be
without light or the fire without heat, the text cries aloud to the
People in the concluding part of this treatise on Nobility, and it
says: "How many are deceived!" They are deceived who, because they are
of ancient and famous lineage, and because they are descended of
excellent and Noble fathers, believe themselves to be Noble, yet have
in themselves no Nobility. And here arise two questions, to which it
is right to attend at the end of this treatise. It would be possible
for Manfredi da Vico, who but now is called Praetor and Prefect, to
say: "Whatever I may be, I recall to mind and I represent my elders,
who deserved the Office of Prefecture because of their Nobility, and
they merited the honour of investiture at the coronation of the
Emperor, and they merited the honour of receiving the Rose of Gold
from the Roman Pontiff: I ought to receive from the People honour and
reverence." And this is one question. The other is, that it would be
possible for the scions of the families of San Nazzaro di Pavia and of
the Piscitelli of Naples to say: "If Nobility is that which has been
described, that is, that it is Divine seed graciously cast into the
human Soul, and the progeny, or offshoots, have, as is evident, no
Soul, it would not be possible to term any of its progeny or offshoots
Noble; but this is opposed to the opinion of those who assert that our
race is the most Noble in these cities."

To the first question Juvenal replies in the eighth Satire, when he
begins with exclaiming, as it were: "What is the use of all these
honours and of this glory which remain from the past, except that they
serve as a mantle or cloak to him who may wish to cover himself with
them, badly as he may live; except for him who talks of his ancestors,
and points out their great and wonderful works, giving his own mind to
miserable and vile actions?" And this satirical poet asks: "Who will
call that man Noble, because of his good race, who is not worthy of
his race? It is no other than to call the Dwarf a Giant." Then
afterwards he says to such an one as this: "Between thee and the
statue erected in memory of thine ancestor there is no other
dissimilarity except that its head is of marble and thine is alive."
And in this (with reverence I say it) I disagree with the poet, for
the statue of marble or of wood or of metal, which has remained in
memory of some worthy brave man, differs much in effect from the
wicked descendant: because the statue always confirms a good opinion
in those who have heard of the good renown or fame of him whose statue
it is, and it begets good opinion in others. But the wicked son or
nephew does quite the contrary: he weakens the good opinion of those
who have heard of the goodness of his ancestors. For some one says to
himself in his thought: "It cannot possibly be true, all this that has
been said about this man's ancestors, since from their seed one sees
an offshoot such as that." Wherefore he ought to receive not honour,
but dishonour, who bears false or evil witness against the good. And
therefore Tullius says that the son of the brave man ought to strive
to bear good witness to the father. Wherefore, in my judgment, even as
he who defames an excellent man deserves to be shunned by all people
and not listened to, even so the vile man descended from good
ancestors deserves to be banned by all; and the good man ought to
close his eyes in order not to see that infamous man casting infamy
upon the goodness which remains in Memory alone. And let this suffice
at present to the first question that was moved.

To the second question it is possible to reply that a race of itself
has no Soul; and indeed it is true that it is called Noble, but it is
in a certain way. Wherefore it is to be known that every whole is
composed of its parts, and there is a certain whole which has a simple
essence in its parts, as in one man there is one essence in all and in
each individual part; and this which is said to be in the part is said
in the same way to be in the whole. There is another whole which has
not a common essential form or essence with the parts, as a heap of
corn; but there is a secondary essence which results from many grains,
which possess in themselves a true and primary essence. And in such a
whole as this they are said to be the qualities of the parts in a
secondary way; wherefore it is called a white heap, because the grains
whereof the heap is made are white. Truly this white appearance is
more in the grains in the first place, and in the second place it
results in the whole heap, and thus secondarily it is possible to call
it white; and in such a way it is possible to call a race Noble.
Wherefore it is to be known, that as in order to make a white heap the
white grains must be most numerous, so to make a Noble race the Noble
Men must be more numerous than the others, so that their goodness,
with its good fame or renown, may cover the opposite quality which is
within. And as from a white heap of corn it would be possible to pick
up the wheat grain by grain, and substitute, grain by grain, red
maize, till, finally, the whole heap or mass would change colour, so
would it be possible for the good men of the Noble race to die out one
by one, and the wicked ones to spring up therein, who would so change
the name or fame thereof, that it would have to be called, not Noble,
but vile, or base.

And let this be a sufficient answer to the second question.


As it has been shown previously in the third chapter of this treatise,
this Song has three principal parts, whereof two have been reasoned or
argued out, the first of which begins in the aforesaid chapter, and
the second in the sixteenth (so that the first through thirteen, and
the second through fourteen chapters, passes on to an end, without
counting the Proem of the treatise on the Song, which is comprised in
two chapters), in this thirtieth and last chapter we must briefly
discuss the third principal part, which was made as a refrain and as a
species of ornament for this Song; and it begins: "My Song, Against
the strayers."

Here it is chiefly to be known that every good workman, at the end of
his work, ought to ennoble and embellish it as much as possible, that
it may leave his hands so much the more precious, and more worthy of
fame. And this I endeavour to do in this part, not as a good workman,
but as the follower of one.

I say, then, "My Song, Against the strayers." "Against the strayers"
is a phrase, as, for example, from the good friar, Thomas of Aquinas,
who, to a book of his, which he wrote to the confusion of all those
who go astray from our Faith, gave the title "Contra Gentili," Against
the Heathen. I say, then, that thou shalt go, which is as much as to
say: "Thou art now perfect, and it is now time, not to stand still,
but to go forward, for thy enterprise is great. And 'when you reach
Our Lady, hide not from her that your end Is labour that would lessen
wrong.'" Where it is to be observed that, as our Lord says, "We ought
not to cast pearls before swine," because it is not to their
advantage, and it is injury to the pearls; and, as Aesop the poet says
in the first fable, a little grain of corn is of far more worth to a
cock than a pearl, and therefore he leaves the pearl and picks up the
grain of corn: reflecting on this, as a caution, I speak and give
command to the Song that it reveal its high office where this Lady,
that is, where Philosophy, will be found. And that most noble Lady
will be found when her dwelling-place is found, that is, the Soul in
which she finds her Inn. And this Philosophy dwells not in wise men
alone, but likewise, as is proved above in another treatise, wherever
the love for her inhabits, she is there. "And to such as these," I say
to the Song, "thou mayst reveal thine office, because to them the
purpose thereof will be useful, and by them its thoughts will be
gathered in."

And I bid it say to this Lady, "I travel ever talking of your Friend."

Nobility is her Friend. For so much does the one love the other, that
Nobility always seeks her, and Philosophy does not turn aside her most
sweet glance to any other.

O, what a great and beautiful ornament is this which is given to her
in the last part of this Song, by giving to her the title of Friend,
the Friend of her whose own abode is in the most secret depths of the
Divine Mind.

* * * * *



It is natural to suppose that Dante's death at Ravenna in 1321 caused
the Convito, a work of his latter years, to be left unfinished. But
there are arguments that have been especially dwelt upon by writers
who regard the Convito as a work begun before the conception of the
Divine Comedy, and dropped when the Poet's mind became intent upon
that masterpiece.

One argument is that the Divine Comedy is nowhere mentioned or alluded
to in the Convito. But as the place designed for the Convito is midway


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