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The Banquet (Il Convito) online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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