Epistola VI, Letter to the Florentines (Toynbee Translation)

Epistola VI

(‘Aeterni pia providentia ‘) To the Florentines [March 31, 1311]


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EPISTOLA VI

Dantes Alagherii Florentinus et exul immeritus scelestissimis Florentinus intrinsecis.

1. Aeterni pia providentia Regis, qui dum coelestia sua bonitate perpetuat, infera nostra despiciendo non deserit, sacrosancto Romanorum imperio res humanas disposuit gubernandas, ut sub tanti serenitate praesidii genus mortale quiesceret, et ubique, natura poscente, < civiliter degeretur.1 Hoc etsi divinis comprobatur elogiis a 2, hoc etsi solius podio rationis innixa contestatur antiquitas,3 non leviter tamen veritati applaudit, quod solio Augustali vacante totus orbis exorbitat,4 quod nauclerus et remiges in navicula Petri dormitant, 5 et quod Italia misera, sola, privatis arbitriis derelicta, omniquee publico modernamine destituta, quanta ventorum fluctuumquedconcussione feratur verba non caperent,7 sed et vix Itali infelices lacrymis metiuntur. Igitur in hanc Dei manifestissimam voluntatem quicumque temere praesumendo tumescunt, si gladius eius qui dicit, ‘mea est ultio’,1 de coelo non cecidit, ex nunc severi judicis adventante iudicio pallore notentur.

2. Vos autem divina iura et humana transgredientes, quos dira cupiditatis ingluvies paratos in omne nefas illexit, nonne terror secundae mortis2 exagitat, ex quo, primi et soli iugum libertatis 3 horrentes, in Romani principis, Mundi regis et Dei ministri, gloriam fremuistis 4 ; atque iure praescriptionis utentes, debitae subiectionis officium denegando, in rebellionis vesaniam maluistis insurgere?5 An ignoratis, amentes et discoli,6 publica iura cum sola temporis terminatione finiri, et nullius praescriptionis calculo fore obnoxiaa? Nempe legum sanctiones almaeb7declarant, et humana ratio percunctando decernit, publica rerum dominia, quantalibet diuturnitate neglecta, nunquam posse vanescere vel abstentuata conquiri e. Nam quod ad omnium cedit utilitatem, sine omnium detrimento interire non potest, vel etiam infirmari. Et hoc Deus et natura non vult, et mortalium penitus abhorreret adsensusd . Quid fatua tali opinione submota, tamquam alteri Babylonii,8 pium deserentes imperium nova regna tentatis, ut alia sit Florentina civilitas, alia sit Romana? Cur apostolica monarchine similiter invidere non libet; ut si Delia geminatur in coelo, geminetur et Delius? 1 Atqui si male ausa2 rependere vobis non est terrori,a 5 territet saltem b obstinata praecordia, quod non inodo sapientia, sed initium eius 4 ad poenam culpae vobis ablatum est. Nulla etenim conditio delinquentis formidolosior, quam impudenter et sine Dei timore quidquid libet agentis. Hac nimirum persaepe animadversione percutitur impius, ut morieins obliviscatur sui, qui dum viveret oblitus est Dei.

3. Sin prorsus arrogantia vestra insolens adeo roris altissimi, ceu cacumina Gelboe,5 vos fecit exsoites ut senatus aeterni consulto restitisse timori non fuerit, nec etiam non timuisse timetis; numquid timor ille perniciosus, humanus vidlicet atque mundanus, abesse poterit, superbissimi vestri sanguinis vestraeque multum lacrymandae rapinae inevitabili naufragio properante? An septi vallo ridiculo cuiquam defensioni confiditisc 0 male concordes! 0 mira cupidine obcaecati d 6 Quid vallo sepsisse, quid propugnaculis vos et pinnis vallo sepsisse, quid propugnaculis vosa a et pinnisb 1 armasse iuvabit,2quum advolaverit aquila in auro terribilis,3 quae nunc Pirenen, nunc Caucnson, nunc Atlanta4 supervolans, militiae coeli5 magis confortata sufflamine6 vasta maria quondam transvolando despexit? Quid, quum adfore stupescetis, miserrimi hominum, delirantis Hesperiae7domitorem? Non equidem spes quam frustra sine more fovetis, reluctantia ista iuvabitur, sed hac obiceaiusti regis adventus inflammabitur ampliusb, ac indignata misericordia semper concomitans eius exercitum avolabit; et quo falsae libertatis trabeam1tueri existimatis, eo verae servitutis in ergastula concidetis. Miro namque Dei iudicio quandoque agi credendum est,ut unde digna supplicia impiusddeclinare arbitratur, indee in ea gravius praecipitetur; et qui divinae voluntati reluctatus est et sciens et volens, eidem militet nesciens atque nolens.2

4. Videbitis aedificia vestra non necessitati prudenter instructa, sed delitiis inconsulte mutata, quae Pergama rediviva3 non cingunt, tam ariete ruere, tristes, quam igne cremari. Videbitis plebem circumquaque furentem nunc in contraria, pro et contra, deindef in idem adversus vos horrenda clamantem, quoniam simul et g ieiuna et timida nescit esse.4 Templa quoque spoliata, quotidie matronarum frequentata concursa, parvulosque adinirantes et inscios peccata patrum luere destinatos videre pigebit. Et si praesaga mens6 mea non fallitur, sic signis veridicis, sicut inexpugnabilibus argumentis instructa praenuntians, urbem diutino moerore confectam in manus alienorum tradi finaliter, plurima vestri parte seu necea seu captivitateb deperdita, perpessuric exilium pauci cam fletu cernetis. Utque breviter colligam, quas tuit calamitates illa civitas gloriosa in fide pro libertate, Saguntum1, ignominiose vos eas in perfidia pro servitute subire necesse est.

5. Nec ab inopina Parmensium fortuna sumatis audaciam, qui, malesuada fame2 urgente, murmurnntes in invicem, ‘prius moriamurd et in media arina ruamus’,3 in castra Caesaris, absente Caesare, proruperunt. Nam et hi, quinquam de Victoria victoriam sinte 4 adepti,5 nihilominus ibi sunt de dolore dolorem memorabiliter consecuti. Sed recensete fulmina Federici prioris; Mediolanum consulite pariter et Spoletum1; quoniam ipsorum perversione simul et eversione discussa viscera vestra nimium dilatata frigescent, et corda vestra nimium ferventia contrahentur.2 Haa Tuscorum vanissimi, tam natura qunm vitio insensati b Quamc in in noctis tenebris malesnae mentis pedes 3 oberrent ante oculos pennatorum,4 nec perpenditis necd figuratis ignari. Vident namque vos pennati et immaculati in via,1 quasi stantes in limine a carceris, et miserantem quempiam, ne forte vos liberet captivatos et b 2 in compedibus adstrictos et manicis, propulsantes. Nec advertitis dominantem cupidinem, quia caeci estis, venenoso susurrio d 3 blandientem, mnis frustatoriis 4cohibentem, nec non captivanteme vos in lege peccati,5 ac sacratissimis legibus, quae iustitiae naturalis imitantur imaginem, parere vetantem; observantia quarum, si laeta, si libera, non tantum non servitus esse probatur, quin immo, perspicaciter intuenti, liquet6 ut est ipsa summa libertas. Nam quid aliud haec nisi liber cursus voluntatis in actum, quem suis leges mansuetis expediunt? Itaque sulis existentibus liberis qui voluntarie legi obediunt, quosgvos esse censebitis, qui, dum praetenditis libertatis affectum, contrn leges universas in legum principem conspiratis?

6.O miserrima Faesulonorum propago,1 et iterum iam punitaa 2 a barbaries! An pnrum timoris praelibata incutiunt? Omnino vos tremere arbitror vigilantes, quamquam spem simuletis in facie verboque mendaci, atque in somniis expergisci plerumque, sive pavescentes infusa praesagia, sive diurna consilia recolentes. Verum si merito trepidantes insanisse poenitet non dolentes,3 ut in amaritudinem poenitentiae metus dolorisque rivuli b confluant, vestris amimis infigenda supersunt, quod Romanae rei baiulus,4 hic divuse 5 et triumphator6 Henricus, non sua privata sed publica mundi commoda sitiens, ardua proa a nobis aggressus est, sua sponte poenas nostras participans, tamquam ad ipsum, post Christum, digitum prophetiae propheta direxerit Isaias, quum, Spiritu Dei revelante, praedixit: ‘Vere languores nostros ipse tulit,et dolores nostros ipse portavit.’1Igitur tempus amarissime poenitendi vos temerebpraesumptorumc, si dissimulare non vultis, adesse conspicitis. Et sera poenitentia hoc a modo2 veniae genitiva non erit; quin potius tempestivae animadversionis exordium. Est enim: quoniam peccator percutitur ut sine retractatione moriatur.d 3

Scriptume pridie Kalendasf Aprilesg in finibus Tusciae4sub fonteh Sarni5, faustissimi cursus Henrici Caesaris ad Italiam anno primo.

EPISTOLA VI TRANSLATION

by Paget Toynbee

Dante Alighieri, a Florentine undeservedly in exile, to the most iniquitous Florentines within the city.

1. The gracious providence of the Eternal King, who in his goodness ever rules the affairs of the world above, yet ceases not to look down upon our concerns here below, committed to the Holy Roman Empire the governance of human affairs, to the end that mankind might repose in the peace of so powerful a protection, and everywhere, as nature demands, might live as citizens of an ordered world. And though the proof of this is to be found in holy writ, and though the ancients relying on reason alone bear witness thereto, yet is it no small confirmation of the truth, that when the throne of Augustus is vacant, the whole world goes out of course, the helmsman and rowers slumber in the ship of Peter, and unhappy Italy, forsaken and abandoned to private control, and bereft of all public guidance, is tossed with such buffeting of winds and waves as no words can describe, nay as even the Italians in their woe can scarce measure with their tears. Wherefore let all who in mad presumption have risen up against this most manifest will of God, now grow pale at the thought of the judgement of the stern Judge, which is nigh at hand, if so be the sword of Him who saith, ‘Vengeance is mine’, be not fallen out of heaven.

2. But you, who transgress every law of God and man, and whom the insatiable greed of avarice has urged all too willing into every crime, does the dread of the second death not haunt you, seeing that you first and you alone, shrinking from the yoke of liberty, have murmured against the glory of the Roman Emperor, the king of the earth, and minister of God; and under cover of prescnptive right, refusing the duty of submission due to him, have chosen rather to rise up in the madness of rebellion? Have you to learn, senseless and perverse 1 as you are, that public right can be subject to no reckoning by prescription, but must endure so long as time itself endures? Verily the sacred precepts of the law declare, and human reason after inquiry has decided, that public control of affairs, however long neglected, can never become of no effect, nor be superseded, however much it be weakened. For nothing which tends to the advantage of all can be destroyed, or even impaired, without injury to all — a thing contrary to the intention of God and nature, and which would be utterly abhorrent to the opinion of all mankind. Wherefore, then, being disabused of such an idle conceit, do you abandon the Holy Empire, and, like the men of Babel once more, seek to found new kingdoms, so that there shall be one polity of Florence, and another of Rome? And why should not the Apostolic government be the object of a like envy, so that, if the one twin of Delos have her double in the heavens, the other should have his likewise 2? But if reflection upon your evil designs bring you no fears, at least let this strike terror into your hardened hearts, that as the penalty for your crime not only wisdom, but the beginning of wisdom,3has been taken from you. For no condition of the sinner is more terrible than that of him who, shamelessly and without the fear of God, does whatsoever he lists. Full often, indeed, the wicked man is smitten with this punishment, that as during life he has been oblivious of God, so when he dies he is rendered oblivious of himself.

3. But if your insolent arrogance has so deprived you of the dew from on high, like the mountain-tops of Gilboa, that you have not feared to resist the decree of the eternal senate, and have felt no fear at not having feared, shall that deadly fear, to wit human and worldly fear, not overwhelm you, when the inevitable shipwreck of your proud race, and the speedy end of your deeply to be rued lawlessness, shall be seen to be hard at hand? Do you put infallible signs and incontrovertible arguments, your city, worn out with ceaseless mourning, shall be delivered at the last into the hands of the stranger, after the greatest part of you has been destroyed in death or captivity; and the few that shall be left to endure exile shall witness her downfall with tears and lamentation. Those sufferings, in short, which for liberty’s sake the glorious city of Saguntum endured in her loyalty, you in your disloyalty must undergo with shame but to become slaves.

5. And beware of gathering confidence from the unlooked-for success of the men of Parma, who under the spur of hunger, that evil counsellor, murmuring to one another, ‘Let us rather rush into the midst of battle and meet death’, broke into the camp of Caesar while Caesar was absent. For even they, though they gained a victory over Victoria, none the less reaped woe from that woe in a way not like to be forgotten. But bethink you of the thunderbolts of the first Frederick; consider the fate of Milan and of Spoleto; for at the remembrance of their disobedience and swift overthrow your too swollen flesh shall grow chilI, and your too hot hearts shall contract.4most foolish of the Tuscans, insensate alike by nature and by corruption, who neither consider nor understand in your ignorance how before the eyes of the full-fledged the feet of your diseased minds go astray in the darkness of night! For the full-fledged and undefiled in the way behold you standing as it were on the threshold of the prison, and thrusting aside any that has pity on you, lest haply he should deliver you from captivity and loose you from the chains that bind your hands and your feet. Nor are ye ware in your blindness of the overmastering greed which beguiles you with venomous whispers, and with cheating threats constrains you, yea, and has brought you into captivity to the law of sin, and forbidden you to obey the most sacred laws; those laws made in the likeness of natural justice, the observance whereof, if it be joyous, if it be free, is not only no servitude, but to him who observes with understanding is manifestly in itself the most perfect liberty. For what else is this liberty but the free passage from will to act, which the laws make easy for those who obey them? Seeing, then, that they only are free who of their own will submit to the law, what do you call yourselves, who, while you make pretence of a love of liberty, in defiance of every law conspire against the Prince who is the giver of the law?

6. 0 most wretched offshoot of Fiesole! 0 barbarians punished now a second time! Does the foretaste not suffice to terrify you? Of a truth I believe that, for you simulate hope in your looks and lying lips, yet you tremble in your waking hours, and ever start from your dreams in terror at the portents which have visited you, or rehearsing again the counsels you have debated by day. But if, while alarmed with good reason, you repent you of your madness, yet feel no remorse, then, that the streams of fear and remorse may unite in the bitter waters of repentance, bear this further in mind, that the guardian of the Roman Empire, the triumphant Henry, elect of God, thirsting not for his own but for the public good, has for our sakes undertaken his heavy task, sharing our pains of his own free will, as though to him, after Christ, the prophet Isaiah had pointed the finger of prophecy, when by the revelation of the Spirit of God he declared, ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows’. Wherefore you perceive, if you be not dissemblers, that the hour of bitter repentance for your mad presumption is now at hand. But a late repentance after this wise will not purchase pardon, rather is it but the prelude to seasonable chastisement. For ‘the sinner is smitten so that he shall surely die’.

Written from beneath the springs of Arno, on the confines of Tuscany, on the thirty-first day of March in the first year of the most auspicious passage of the Emperor Henry into Italy.

Bibliography

Toynbee, Paget, M.A., D.Litt. Dantis Alagherii Epistolae: The Letters of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920.