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The Banquet (Il Convito) online

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Produced by Paul Murray, Marc André Selig and PG Distributed Proofreaders





Translated By

Elizabeth Price Sayer

With An Introduction By Henry Morely
LL.D., Professor Of English Literature At
University College, London



This translation of Dante's Convito - the first in English - is from the
hand of a lady whose enthusiasm for the genius of Dante has made it a
chief pleasure of her life to dwell on it by translating, not his
Divine Comedy only, but also the whole body of his other works. Among
those works the Vita Nuova and the Convito have a distinct place, as
leading up to the great masterpiece. In the New Life, Man starts on
his career with human love that points to the divine. In the Banquet,
he passes to mature life and to love of knowledge that declares the
power and the love of God in the material and moral world about us and
within us. In the Divine Comedy, the Poet passes to the world to come,
and rises to the final union of the love for Beatrice, the beatifier,
with the glory of the Love of God. Of this great series, the crowning
work has, of course, had many translators, and there have been
translators also of the book that shows the youth of love. But the
noble fragment of the Convito that unites these two has, I believe,
never yet been placed within reach of the English reader, except by a
translation of its poems only into unrhymed measure in Mr. Charles
Lyell's "Poems of the Vita Nuova and the Convito," published in 1835.

The Convito is a fragment. There are four books where fifteen were
designed, including three only of the intended fourteen songs. But the
plan is clear, and one or two glances forward to the matter of the
last book, which would have had Justice for its theme, show that all
was to have been brought to a high spiritual close.

Its aim was no less than the lifting of men's minds by knowledge of
the world without them and within them, bound together in creation,
showing forth the Mind of the Creator. The reader of this volume must
not flinch from the ingenious dialectics of the mediæval reasoner on
Man and Nature. Dante's knowledge is the knowledge of his time.
Science had made little advance since Aristotle - who is "the
Philosopher" taken by Dante for his human guide - first laid its
foundations. It is useful, no doubt, to be able in a book like this,
shaped by a noble mind, to study at their best the forms of reasoning
that made the science of the Middle Ages. But the reader is not called
upon to make his mind unhappy with endeavours to seize all the points,
say, of a theory of the heavens that was most ingenious, but in no
part true. The main thing is to observe how the mistaken reasoning
joins each of the seven sciences to one of the seven heavens, and here
as everywhere joins earth to heaven, and bids man lift his head and
look up, Godward, to the source of light. If spiritual truth could
only come from right and perfect knowledge, this would have been a
world of dead souls from the first till now; for future centuries, in
looking back at us, will wonder at the little faulty knowledge that we
think so much. But let the known be what it may, the true soul rises
from it to a sense of the divine mysteries of Wisdom and of Love.
Dante's knowledge may be full of ignorance, and so is ours. But he
fills it as he can with the Spirit of God. He is not content that men
should be as sheep, and look downward to earth for all the food they
need. He bids them to a Banquet of another kind, whose dishes are of
knowledge for the mind and heavenward aspiration for the soul.

Dante's Convito - of which the name was, no doubt, suggested by the
Banquets of Plato and Xenophon - was written at the close of his life,
after the Divine Comedy, and no trace has been found of more of its
songs than the three which may have been written and made known some
time before he began work on their Commentary. Death stayed his hand,
and the completion passed into a song that joined the voice of Dante
to the praise in heaven.


_April_ 1887.



* * * * *

The First Treatise.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

That which most adorns and commends human actions, and which most
directly leads them to a good result, is the use of dispositions best
adapted to the end in view; as the end aimed at in knighthood is
courage of mind and strength of body. And thus he who is ordained to
the service of others, ought to have those dispositions which are
suited to that end; as submission, knowledge and obedience, without

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