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(Inferno, L 18.) " The spiritual and intelligible Sun, which is
God." (Convito, Tr. III. c. 12.) His light " enlighteneth every
man that cometh into the world," but his dwelling is in the hea
vens. He who wilfully deprives himself of this light is spiritually
dead in sin. So when in Mars he beholds the glorified spirits of
the martyrs he exclaims, " Helios, who so arrayest them ! "
(Paradiso, XIV. 96.) Blanc (Vocabolario, sub voce) rejects this
interpretation. But Dante, entering the abode of the Blessed,
invokes the " good Apollo," and shortly after calls him divina
virtu. We shall have more to say of this hereafter.

* Convito, Tr. III. c. 12.



DANTE 185

and her smile is her persuasions in which the in
terior light of wisdom is shown under a certain
veil, and in these two is felt that highest pleasure
of beatitude which is the greatest good in para
dise." l " It is to be known that the beholding this
lady was so largely ordained for us, not merely to
look upon the face which she shows us, but that
we may desire to attain the things which she keeps
concealed. And as through her much thereof is
seen by reason, so by her we believe that every
miracle may have its reason in a higher intellect,
and consequently may be. Whence our good faith
has its origin, whence comes the hope of those
unseen things which we desire, and through that
the operation of charity, by the which three virtues
we rise to philosophize in that celestial Athens
where the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Epicureans
through the art of eternal truth accordingly concur
in one will." 2

As to the double scope of Dante's philosophy we
will cite a passage from the Convito, all the more
to our purpose as it will illustrate his own method

1 Convito, Tr. III. c. 15. Recalling how the eyes of Beatrice
lift her servant through the heavenly spheres, and that smile of
hers so often dwelt on with rapture, we see how Dante was in the
habit of commenting and illustrating his own works. We must
remember always that with him the allegorical exposition is the
true one (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 1), the allegory being a truth which
is hidden under a beautiful falsehood (Convito, Tr. II. c. 1), and
that Dante thought his poems without this exposition "under
some shade of obscurity, so that to many their beauty was more
grateful than their goodness" (Convito, Tr. I. c. 1), "because
the goodness is in the meaning, and the beauty in the ornament of
the words" (Convito, Tr. II. c. 12).

Convito, Tr. III. c. 14.



186 DANTE

of allegorizing. "Verily the use of our mind is
double, that is, practical and speculative, the one
agd the other most delightful, although that of con
templation be the more so. That of the practi
cal is for us to act virtuously, that is, honorably,
with prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.
[These are the four stars seen by Dante, Purgato-
rio, I. 22, 27.] That of the speculative is not to
act for ourselves, but to consider the works of God
and nature. . . . Verily of these uses one is more
full of beatitude than the other, as it is the specu
lative, which without any admixture is the use of
our noblest part. . . . And this part in this life
cannot have its use perfectly, which is to see God,
except inasmuch as the intellect considers him and
beholds him through his effects. And that we
should seek this beatitude as the highest, and not
the other, the Gospel of Mark teaches us if we will
look well. Mark says that Mary Magdalene, Mary
the mother of James, and Mary Salome went to
find the Saviour at the tomb and found him not,
but found a youth clad in white who said to them,
4 Ye seek the Saviour, and I say unto you that he
is not here ; and yet fear ye not, but go and say
unto his disciples and Peter that he will go before
them into Galilee, and there ye shall see him even
as he told you.' By these three women may be un
derstood the three sects of the active life, that is,
the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Peripatetics,
who go to the tomb, that is, to the present life,
which is a receptacle of things corruptible, and seek
the Saviour, that is, beatitude, and find him not,



DANTE 187

but they find a youth in white raiment, who, ac
cording to the testimony of Matthew and the rest,
was an angel of God. This angel is that nobleness
of ours which conies from God, as hath been said,
which speaks in our reason and says to each of
these sects, that is, to whoever goes s'eeking beati
tude in this life, that it is not here, but go and say
to the disciples and to Peter, that is, to those who
go seeking it and those who are gone astray (like
Peter who had denied), that it will go before them
into Galilee, that is, into speculation. Galilee is
as much as to say Whiteness. Whiteness is a
body full of corporeal light more than any other,
and so contemplation is fuller of spiritual light
than anything else here below. And he says, * it
will go before,' and does not say, ' it will be with
you,' to give us to understand that God always goes
before our contemplation, nor can we ever over
take here Him who is our supreme beatitude. And
it is said, ' There ye shall see him as he told you,'
that is, here ye shall have of his sweetness, that is,
felicity, as is promised you here, that is, as it is or
dained that ye can have. And thus it appears that
we find our beatitude, this felicity of which we are
speaking, first imperfect in the active life, that is,
in the operations of the moral virtues, and after
wards wellnigh perfect in the operation of the in
tellectual ones, the which two operations are speedy
and most direct ways to lead to the supreme beati
tude, the which cannot be had here, as appears by
what has been said." 1

1 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.



188 DANTE

At first sight there may seem to be some want of
agreement in what Dante says here of the soul's
incapacity of the vision of God in this life with the
triumphant conclusion of his own poem. But here
as elsewhere Dante must be completed and ex
plained by himself. " We must know that every
thing most greatly desires its own perfection, and
in that its every desire is appeased, and by that
everything is desired. [That is, the one is drawn
toward, the other draws.] And this is that desire
which makes every delight maimed, for no delight
is so great in this life that it can take away from
the soul this thirst so that desire remain not in the
thought." l " And since it is most natural to wish
to be in God, the human soul naturally wills it
with all longing. And since its being depends on
God and is preserved thereby, it naturally desires
and wills to be united with God in order to fortify
its being. And since in the goodnesses of human
nature is shown some reason for those of the Divine,
it follows that the human soul unites itself in a
spiritual way with those so much the more strongly
and quickly as they appear more perfect, and this
appearance happens according as the knowledge of
the soul is clear or impeded. And this union is
what we call Love, whereby may be known what is
within the soul, seeing those it outwardly loves.
. . . And the human soul which is ennobled with
the ultimate potency, that is, reason, participates
in the Divine nature after the manner of an eternal
Intelligence, because the soul is so ennobled and

1 Convito, Tr. III. c. 6.



DANTE 189

denuded of matter in that sovran potency that the
Divine light shines in it as in an angel." 1 This
union with God may therefore take place before
the warfare of life is over, but is only possible for
souls perfettamente naturati, perfectly endowed by
nature. 2 This depends on the virtue of the gener
ating soul and the concordant influence of the
planets. " And if it happen that through the pu
rity of the recipient soul, the intellectual virtue be
well abstracted and absolved from every corporeal
shadow, the Divine bounty is multiplied in it as in
a thing sufficient to receive the same." 3 "And
there are some who believe that if all the aforesaid
virtues [powers] should unite for the production
of a soul in their best disposition, so much of the
Deity would descend into it that it would be al
most another incarnate God." 4 Did Dante believe
himself to be one of these ? He certainly gives us
reason to think so. He was born under fortunate
stars, as he twice tells us, 5 and he puts the middle
of his own life at the thirty-fifth year, which is the
period he assigns for it in the diviner sort of men. 6
The stages of Dante's intellectual and moral

1 Convito, Tr. III. c. 2. By potenzia and potenza Dante means
the faculty of receiving influences or impressions. (Paradiso,
XIII. 61 ; XXIX. 34.) Reason is the " sovran potency" because
it makes us capable of God.

2 " O thou well-born, unto whom Grace concedes
To see the thrones of the Eternal triumph,
Or ever yet the warfare be abandoned."

(Paradiso, V. 115-118.)
3 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 21. - * Convito, Tr. IV. c. 21.

5 Inferno, XV. 55, 56; Paradiso, XXII. 112-117.

6 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 23 (cf. Inferno, I. 1).



190 DANTE

growth may, we think, be reckoned with some ap
proach to exactness from data supplied by himself.
In the poems of the Vita Nuova, Beatrice, until
her death, was to him simply a poetical ideal, a
type of abstract beauty, chosen according to the
fashion of the day after the manner of the Proven-
93! poets, but in a less carnal sense than theirs.
" And by the fourth nature of animals, that is, the
sensitive, man has another love whereby he loves
according to sensible appearance, even as a beast.
. . . And by the fifth and final nature, that is, the
truly human, or, to speak better, angelic, that is,
rational, man has a love for truth and virtue. . . .
Wherefore, since this nature is called mind, I said
that love discoursed in my mind to make it under
stood that this love was that which is born in the
noblest of natures, that is, [the love] of truth and
virtue, and to shut out every false opinion by which
it might be suspected that my love was for the de
light of sense." 1 This is a very weighty affirma
tion, made, as it is, so deliberately by a man of
Dante's veracity, who would and did speak truth
at every hazard. Let us dismiss at once and for
ever all the idle tales of Dante's amours, of la
Montanina, Gentucca, Pietra, Lisetta, and the
rest, to that outer darkness of impure thoughts la
onde la stoltezza dipartille. 2 We think Miss Eos

1 Convito, Tr. IIL c. 3 ; Paradiso, XVIIL 108-130.

2 See an excellent discussion and elucidation of this matter by
Witte, who so highly deserves the gratitude of all students of
Dante, in Dante AlighierTs Lyrische Gedichte, Theil II. pp. 48-
57- It was kindly old Boccaccio, who, without thinking any harm,
first set this nonsense a-going. His Life of Dante is mainly



DANTE 191

setti a little hasty in allowing that in the years
which immediately followed Beatrice's death Dante
gave himself up " more or less to sensual gratifica
tion and earthly aim." The earthly aim we in a
certain sense admit ; the sensual gratification we
reject as utterly inconsistent, not only with Dante's
principles, but with his character and indefatigable
industry. Miss Rossetti illustrates her position by
a subtle remark on " the lulling spell of an intel
lectual and sensitive delight in good running par
allel with a voluntary and actual indulgence in
evil." The dead Beatrice beckoned him toward
the life of contemplation, and it was precisely dur
ing this period that he attempted to find happiness

a rhetorical exercise. After making Dante's marriage an excuse
for revamping all the old slanders against matrimony, he adds
gravely, " Certainly I do not affirm these things to have happened
to Dante, for I do not know it, though it be true that (whether
things like these or others were the cause of it), once parted froifl
her, he would never come where she was nor suffer her to come
where he was, for all that she was the mother of several children
by him." That he did not come to her is not wonderful, for he
would have been burned alive if he had. Dante could not send
for her because he was a homeless wanderer. She remained in
Florence with her children because she had powerful relations and
perhaps property there. It is plain, also, that what Boccaccio
says of Dante's lussuria had no better foundation. It gave him a
chance to turn a period. He gives no particulars, and his general
statement is simply incredible. Lionardo Bruni and Vellutello
long ago pointed out the trifling and fictitious character of this
Life. Those familiar with Dante's allegorical diction will not
lay much stress on the literal meaning of pargoletta in Purgatorio,
XXXI. 59. Gentucca, of course, was a real person, one of those
who had shown hospitality to the exile. Dante remembers them
all somewhere, for gratitude (which is quite as rare as genius)
was one of the virtues of his unforgetting nature. Boccaccio's
Comment is later and far more valuable than the Life.



192 DANTE

in the life of action. " Verily it is to be known
that we may in this life have two felicities, follow
ing two ways, good and best, which lead us thither.
The one is the active, the other the contemplative
life, the which (though by the active we may at
tain, as has been said, unto good felicity) leads us
to the best felicity and blessedness." 1 " The life
of my heart, that is, of my inward self, was wont
to be a sweet thought which went many times to
the feet of God, that is to say, in thought I contem
plated the kingdom of the Blessed. And I tell
the final cause why I mounted thither in thought
when I say, * Where it [the sweet thought] beheld
a lady in glory,' that I might make it understood
that I was and am certain, by her gracious revela
tion, that she was in heaven, [not on earth, as I
had vainly imagined,] whither I went in thought,
so often as was possible to me, as it were rapt." 2
This passage exactly answers to another in Purgar
torio, XXX. 109-138:

" Not only by the work of those great wheels
That destine every seed unto some end,
According as the stars are in conjunction,
But by the largess of celestial graces,

Such had this man become in his New Life
Potentially, that every righteous habit
Would have made admirable proof in him ;

Some time did I sustain him -with my look (volto) ;
Revealing unto him my youthful eyes,
I led him with me turned in the right way.

1 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 17 ; Purgatorio, XXVII. 100-10&

2 Convito, Tr. IL c. 8.



DANTE 193

As soon as ever of my second age

I was upon the threshold and changed life,
Himself from me he took and gave to others.

When from the flesh to spirit I ascended,

And beauty and virtue were in me increased,
I was to him less dear and less delightful ;

And into ways untrue he turned his steps,
Pursuing the false images of good,
That never any promises fulfil 1

Nor prayer for inspiration me availed, 2

Sy means of which in dreams and otherwise
I called him back, so little did he heed them.

So low he fell, that all appliances

For his salvation were already short,

Save showing him the people of perdition."

Now Dante himself, we think, gives us the clue,
by following which we may reconcile the contra
diction, what Miss Rossetti calls " the astounding
discrepancy," between the Lady of the Vita Nuova
who made him unfaithful to Beatrice, and the same
Lady in the Convito, who in attributes is identical
with Beatrice herself. We must remember that
the prose part of the Convito, which is a comment
on the Canzoni, was written after the Canzoni
themselves. How long after we cannot say with
certainty, but it was plainly composed at intervals,
a part of it probably after Dante had entered upon
old age (which began, as he tells us, with the forty-
fifth year), consequently after 1310. Dante had

1 That is, wholly fulfil, rendono intera.

2 We should prefer here,

" Nor inspirations won by prayer availed,"

as better expressing Ne V impetrare spirazion. Mr Longfellow's
translation is so admirable for its exactness as well as its beauty
that it may be thankful for the minutest criticism, such only be
ing possible.



194 DANTE

then written a considerable part of the Divina
Commedia, in which Beatrice was to go through
her final and most ethereal transformation in his
mind and memory. We say in his memory, for
such idealizations have a very subtle retrospective
action, and the new condition of feeling or thought
is uneasy till it has half unconsciously brought into
harmony whatever is inconsistent with it in the
past. The inward life unwillingly admits any
break in its continuity, and nothing is more com
mon than to hear a man, in venting an opinion
taken up a week ago, say with perfect sincerity,
"I have always thought so and so." Whatever
belief occupies the whole mind soon produces the
impression on us of having long had possession of
it, and one mode of consciousness blends so insensi
bly with another that it is impossible to mark by
an exact line where one begins and the other ends.
Dante in his exposition of the Canzoni must have
been subject to this subtlest and most deceitful of
influences. He would try to reconcile so far as he
conscientiously could his present with his past.
This he could do by means of the allegorical inter
pretation. "For it would be a great shame to
him," he says in the Vita Nuova, " who should
poetize something under the vesture of some figure
or rhetorical color, and afterwards, when asked,
could not strip his words of that vesture in such
wise that they should have a true meaning." Now
in the literal exposition of the Canzone beginning,
** Voi che intendendo il terzo ciel movcte," 1 he
1 Which he cites in the Paradise, VUL 37.



DANTE

tells us that the grandezza of the Donna Gentil
was " temporal greatness " (one certainly of the
felicities attainable by way of the vita attiva), and
immediately after gives us a hint by which we may
comprehend why a proud 1 man might covet it.
" How much wisdom and how great a persistence
in virtue (abito virtuoso) are hidden for want of
this lustre ! " 2 When Dante reaches the Terres
trial Paradise 3 which is the highest felicity of this
world, and therefore the consummation of the Ac
tive Life, he is welcomed by a Lady who is its
symbol,

" Who went along
Singing and culling floweret after floweret,"

and warming herself in the rays of Love, or " ac
tual speculation," that is, " where love makes its
peace felt." 4 That she was the symbol of this is
evident from the previous dream of Dante, 5 in
which he sees Leah, the universally accepted type
of it,

" Walking in a meadow,

Gathering flowers ; and singing she was saying,
' Know whosoever may my name demand

That I am Leah, and go moving round

My beauteous hands to make myself a garland,' "

that is to say, of good works. She, having " washed
him thoroughly from sin," 6

1 Dante confesses his guiltiness of the sin of pride, which (as
appears by the examples he gives of it) included ambition, in Pur
gatorio, XIII. 136, 137.

2 Convito, Tr. II. c. 11. 8 Purgatorio, XXVIII.

4 Purgatorio, XXVIII. 40-44 ; Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.

5 Purgatorio, XXVII. 94-105.

6 Psalm li. 2. " And therefore I say that her [Philosophy's]



196 DANTE

"All dripping brought
Into the dance of the four beautiful," 1

who are the intellectual virtues Prudence, Justice,
Temperance, and Fortitude, the four stars, guides
of the Practical Life, which he had seen when he
came out of the Hell where he had beheld the re
sults of sin, and arrived at the foot of the Mount
of Purification. That these were the special vir
tues of practical goodness Dante had already told
us in a passage before quoted from the Convito. 2
That this was Dante's meaning is confirmed by
what Beatrice says to him, 3

" Short while shalt thou be here a forester (silvano)
And thou shalt be with me f orevermore
A citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman " ;

for by a " forest " he always means the world of life
and action. 4 At the time when Dante was writing
the Canzoni on which the Convito was a comment,
he believed science to be the " ultimate perfection
itself, and not the way to it," 5 but before the Con
vito was composed he had become aware of a higher
and purer light, an inward light, in that Beatrice,
already clarified wellnigh to a mere image of the
mind, " who lives in heaven with the angels, and on
earth with my soul." 6

beauty, that is, morality, rains flames of fire, that is, a righteous
appetite which is generated in the love of moral doctrine, the
which appetite removes us from the natural as well as other
vices." (Convito, Tr. HI. c. 15.)

1 Ptirgatorio, XXXI. 103, 104. 2 Tr. IV. c. 22.

8 Purgatorio, XXXII. 100-102.

4 Such is the sdva oscura (Inferno, I. 2), such the selva erronea
di questa vita (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24).

6 Convito, Tr. I. c. 13. 6 Convito, Tr. II. c. 2.



DANTE 197

So spiritually does Dante always present Bea
trice to us, even where most corporeal, as in the
Vita Nuova, that many, like Biscione and Rossetti,
have doubted her real existence. But surely we
must consent to believe that she who speaks of

" The fair limbs wherein
I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth,"

was once a creature of flesh and blood,

" A creature not too bright and good
For human nature's daily food."

When she died, Dante's grief, like that of Con
stance, filled her room up with something fairer
than the reality had ever been. There is no ideal-
izer like unavailing regret, all the more if it be a
regret of fancy as much as of real feeling. She
early began to undergo that change into something
rich and strange in the sea 1 of his mind which so
completely supernaturalized her at last. It is not
impossible, we think, to follow the process of trans
formation. During the period of the Convito Can-
zoni, when he had so given himself to study that
to his weakened eyes " the stars were shadowed
with a white blur," 2 this star of his imagination
was eclipsed for a time with the rest. As his
love had never been of the senses (which is bes
tial 3 ), so his sorrow was all the more ready to be
irradiated with celestial light, and to assume her to
be the transmitter of it who had first awakened in
him the nobler impulses of his nature,

1 Mar di tutto il senno, he calls Virgil (Inferno, VIII. 7). Those
familiar with his own works will think the phrase singularly ap
plicable to himself.

2 Convito, Tr. III. c. 9. 8 Convito, Tr. HI. c. 3.



198 DANTE

(" Such had this man become in his New Life
Potentially,")

and given him the first hints of a higher, nay, of
the highest good. With that turn for double mean
ing and abstraction which was so strong in him,
her very name helped him to allegorize her into
one who makes blessed (beat), and thence the step
was a short one to personify in her that Theosophy
which enables man to see God and to be mystically
united with him even in the flesh. Already, in the
Vita Nuova, 1 she appears to him as afterwards in
the Terrestrial Paradise, clad in that color of flame
which belongs to the seraphim who contemplate
God in himself, simply, and not in his relation to
the Son or the Holy Spirit. 2 When misfortune
came upon him, when his schemes of worldly activ
ity failed, and science was helpless to console, as it
had never been able wholly to satisfy, she already
rose before him as the lost ideal of his youth, re
proaching him with his desertion of purely spirit
ual aims. It is, perhaps, in allusion to this that he
fixes the date of her death with such minute pre
cision on the 9th June, 1290, most probably his
own twenty-fifth birthday, on which he passed the
boundary of adolescence. 3

That there should seem to be a discrepancy be
tween the Lady of the Vita JVuova and her of the

1 Vita Nuova, XL. 2 Convito, Tr. II. c. 6.

8 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24. The date of Dante's birth is uncer
tain, but the period he assigns for it (Paradise, XXII. 112-117)
extends from the middle of May to the middle of June. If we
understand Buti's astrological comment, the day should fall in
June rather than May.



DANTE 199

Convito, Dante himself was already aware when
writing the former and commenting it. Explain
ing the sonnet beginning Gentil pensier, he says,
" In this sonnet I make two parts of myself ac
cording as my thoughts were divided in two. The
one part I call heart, that is, the appetite, the
other soul, that is, reason. ... It is true that
in the preceding sonnet I take side with the heart
against the eyes [which were weeping for the lost
Beatrice], and that appears contrary to what I
say in the present one ; and therefore I say that


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