Now that by way of a preface my bread has been sufficiently prepared in the preceding book through my own assistance, time calls and requires my ship to leave port; thus, having set the sail of my reason to the breeze of my desire, I enter upon the open sea with the hope of a smooth voyage and a safe and praiseworthy port at the end of my feast. But so that this food of mine may be more profitable, I wish to show, before it appears, how the first course must be eaten.
As I stated in the first chapter, this exposition must be both literal and allegorical. To convey what this means, it is necessary to know that writings can be understood and ought to be expounded principally in four senses. The first is called the literal, and this is the sense that does not go beyond the surface of the letter, as in the fables of the poets. The next is called the allegorical, and this is the one that is hidden beneath the cloak of these fables, and is a truth hidden beneath a beautiful fiction. Thus Ovid says that with his lyre Orpheus tamed wild beasts and made trees and rocks move toward him, which is to say that the wise man with the instrument of his voice makes cruel hearts grow tender and humble and moves to his will those who do not devote their lives to knowledge and art; and those who have no rational life whatsoever are almost like stones. Why this kind of concealment was devised by the wise will be shown in the penultimate book. Indeed the theologians take this sense otherwise than do the poets; but since it is my intention here to follow the method of the poets, I shall take the allegorical sense according to the usage of the poets.(1)
The third sense is called moral, and this is the sense that teachers should intently seek to discover throughout the scriptures, for their own profit and that of their pupils; as, for example, in the Gospel we may discover that when Christ ascended the mountain to be transfigured, of the twelve Apostles he took with him but three, the moral meaning of which is that in matters of great secrecy we should have few companions.(2)
The fourth sense is called anagogical, that is to say, beyond the senses; and this occurs when a scripture is expounded in a spiritual sense which, although it is true also in the literal sense, signifies by means of the things signified a part of the supernal things of eternal glory, as may be seen in the song of the Prophet which says that when the people of Israel went out of Egypt, Judea was made whole and free.(3) For although it is manifestly true according to the letter, that which is spiritually intended is no less true, namely, that when the soul departs from sin it is made whole and free in its power. In this kind of explication, the literal should always come first, as being the sense in whose meaning the others are enclosed, and without which it would be impossible and illogical to attend to the other senses, and especially the allegorical. It would be impossible because in everything that has an inside and an outside it is impossible to arrive at the inside without first arriving at the outside; consequently, since in what is written down the literal meaning is always the outside, it is impossible to arrive at the other senses, especially the allegorical, without first arriving at the literal.
Moreover, it would be impossible because in every natural or artificial thing it is impossible to proceed to the form unless the subject on which the form must be imposed is prepared first–just as it is impossible for a piece of jewelry to acquire its form if the material (that is, its subject) is not first arranged and prepared, or a chest to acquire its form if the material (that is, the wood) is not first arranged and prepared. Consequently, since the literal meaning is always the subject and material of the other senses, especially of the allegorical, it is impossible to come to an understanding of them before coming to an understanding of it. Moreover, it would be impossible because in every natural or artificial thing it is impossible to proceed unless the foundation is laid first, as in a house or in studying; consequently, since explication is the building up of knowledge, and the explication of the literal sense is the foundation of the others, especially of the allegorical, it is impossible to arrive at the other senses without first arriving at it.
Moreover, even supposing it were possible, it would be illogical, that is to say out of order, and would therefore be carried out with great labor and much confusion. Consequently as the Philosopher says in the first book of the Physics, nature wills that we proceed in due order in our learning, that is, by proceeding from that which we know better to that which we know not so well; I say that nature wills it since this way of learning is by nature innate in us.(4) Therefore if the senses other than the literal are less understood (which they are, as is quite apparent), it would be illogical to proceed to explain them if the literal had not been explicated first. For these reasons, therefore, I shall on each occasion discuss first the literal meaning concerning each canzone, and afterwards I shall discuss its allegory (that is, the hidden truth), at times touching on the other senses, when opportune, as time and place deem proper.
To begin, then, I say that after the passing of that blessed Beatrice who lives in heaven with the angels and on earth with my soul, the star of Venus had twice revolved in that circle of hers, which at different times of the year makes her appear in the evening or in the morning,(5) when that gentle lady, of whom I made mention at the end of the New Life, first appeared before my eyes, accompanied by Love, and took a place within my mind.(6)
As I have recounted in the above-mentioned little book, it came to pass that I consented to be hers more because of her gentleness than through choice of my own; for she showed herself to be impassioned by so great a pity for my widowed life that the spirits of my eyes became most friendly toward her. And having accomplished this, they then so fashioned her within me that my pleasure was content to wed itself to that image. But because love is not born and does not grow and reach perfection in a moment but requires time and nourishment of thought, especially where there are opposing thoughts that impede it, it was necessary before this new love could become perfect that there be much strife between the thought that nourished it and the one that opposed it, which still held the citadel of my mind on behalf of that glorious Beatrice.(7) For the one was continually reinforced by the part of the memory in front, and the other by the part of the memory in back; and the support in front, being that which hindered me from turning my gaze in any way backward, increased with each day, which the other could not do; hence it seemed to me so wonderful and also so hard to endure that I could not bear it. And almost crying out aloud, to excuse myself for the change in which I seemed to show a lack of strength, I directed my voice to that quarter from which the victory of the new thought emerged, which was most powerful, like celestial virtue; and I began by saying You whose intellect the third sphere moves.(8)
To apprehend the meaning of this canzone properly it is first necessary to know its parts, so that afterwards it will be easy to perceive its meaning. And so that there should be no need of placing these words in front of the expositions of the other canzoni, I say that the order which will be adopted in this book I intend to maintain also for the others.
I say then that the canzone before us is composed of three principal parts. The first is the first stanza of the canzone: here certain Intelligences, or Angels, as we are more accustomed to call them, which preside over the revolution of the heaven of Venus as its movers, are invited to listen to what I intend to say. The second comprises the three stanzas which follow the first: here is shown what was heard within, spiritually, between the different thoughts. The third is the fifth and last stanza: here one generally addresses the work itself, as if to encourage it. All three of these parts, as has been indicated above, will be explicated in order.
In order to discern more clearly the literal sense of the first part according to the division made above (which is our present concern), we must know who and how many they are who are summoned to hear me, and what this third heaven is which I say they move; first I will speak of the heaven, and then I will speak of those whom I address. Although these things can be but little known with respect to their true reality, that portion of them that human reason sees brings more delight than the plenitude and the certainty of the things which we judge more fully, according to the opinion of the Philosopher in his book On Animals.
I say then that concerning the number and the position of the heavens many different opinions are held, although the truth has at last been discovered. Aristotle, merely following the longstanding ignorance of the astrologers, believed that there were only eight heavens, of which the outermost, containing the whole, was the one on which the stars are fixed, namely, the eighth sphere, and that beyond it there was no other. Moreover, he believed that the heaven of the Sun was contiguous to that of the Moon, that is to say, was second from us. Anyone who wishes can find this extremely erroneous opinion of his in the second book of his Heaven and the World, which is in the second of the books about Nature. However, he excuses himself for this in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, where he plainly shows that he was only following the opinion of others where he was obliged to speak of astrology.
Later Ptolemy, perceiving that the eighth sphere moved with several movements (since he saw that its circle deviated from the true circle which turns everything from east to west) and constrained by the principles of philosophy, which necessitated the simplest primum mobile, supposed that another heaven existed beyond that of the Fixed Stars which made this revolution from east to west, a revolution that, I say, is completed in about twenty-four hours (that is, in twenty-three hours and fourteen out of fifteen parts of another, roughly speaking).(9)
So that according to him and according to the received opinion in astrology and in philosophy since the time those movements were first perceived, there are nine moving heavens; and their position is manifest and determined by the art called optics, and by arithmetic and geometry, as is perceived by the senses and by reason, and by other demonstrations to the senses. Thus during an eclipse of the Sun it appears to our senses that the Moon lies below the Sun, and this is also the testimony of Aristotle who with his own eyes (as he tells us in the second book of Heaven and the World) saw the Moon, half-full, pass below Mars with her dark side forward, and Mars remain hidden till it reappeared from the other, bright side of the Moon, which was facing west.
The order of their position is as follows.(10) The first in number is the one in which the Moon resides; the second is the one in which Mercury resides; the third is the one in which Venus resides; the fourth is the one in which the Sun resides; the fifth is that of Mars; the sixth is that of Jupiter; the seventh is that of Saturn; the eighth is that of the Stars; the ninth is the one which is not perceptible to the senses except for the movement mentioned above, and which many call the Crystalline (that is to say, the diaphanous or completely transparent) Heaven. Moreover, outside all of these the Catholics place the Empyrean Heaven, which is to say, the “heaven of flame,” or “luminous heaven”; and they hold it to be motionless because it has in itself, with respect to each of its parts, that which its matter desires. This is the reason why the Primum Mobile has the swiftest movement; for because of the most fervent desire that each part of the ninth heaven has to be conjoined with every part of that divinest, tranquil heaven, to which it is contiguous, it revolves beneath it with such desire that its velocity is almost incomprehensible. Stillness and peace are the qualities of the place of that Supreme Deity which alone completely beholds itself. This is the place of the blessed spirits, according to the will of the Holy Church, which cannot lie. Aristotle, to anyone who rightly understands him, seems to hold the same opinion in the first book of Heaven and the World. This is the supreme edifice of the universe in which all the world is enclosed and beyond which there is nothing; it is not itself in space but was formed solely in the Primal Mind, which the Greeks call Protonoe.(11) This is that magnificence of which the Psalmist spoke when he says to God: “Your magnificence is exalted above the heavens.”(12) So to sum up what has been said, it is apparent that there are ten heavens, of which the heaven of Venus is the third, mention of which is made in that part of the canzone which I now intend to explicate.
We should know that each heaven beneath the Crystalline has two stationary poles, stationary with respect to itself; and in the ninth they are stationary and fixed, and immutable in every respect. Each one, the ninth as well as the rest, has a circle which may be called the equator of its own heaven, which in every part of its revolution is equally distant from both poles, as anyone can see from experience by spinning an apple or any other round object. In every heaven this circle has greater swiftness of movement than any other part of its heaven, as anyone can see upon careful consideration. And each part moves faster the nearer it is to the equator, and slower the farther away it is from it and closer to the pole, because its revolution is smaller and must of necessity be completed in the same period of time as the greater. I say, moreover, that the nearer a heaven is to the equatorial circle, the more noble it is in comparison to its poles, because it has more movement and more actuality and more life and more form, and it approaches more closely the heaven which is above it, and consequently has more virtue. Therefore the stars of the Starry Heaven are more full of virtue, compared with each other, the nearer they are to this circle.
On the outer edge of this circle, in the heaven of Venus, which we are treating at present, there is a small sphere which revolves by itself in that heaven, whose circle the astrologers call an epicycle.(13) And just as the great sphere revolves on two poles, so does this small one; and so does this small one have its equatorial circle, and so is it nobler the nearer it is to this; and upon the arc or outer edge of this circle is fixed that most brilliant star of Venus. Although we have said that according to strict truth there are ten heavens, this number does not comprise them all; for the one just mentioned, namely, the epicycle on which the star is fixed, is a heaven or sphere in and of itself, and is not of one essence with that which carries it, although it shares its nature more with it than with the others, and is spoken of as one heaven with it, and both are named after the star. How it is with the other heavens and the other stars is not to be dealt with at present; let suffice what has been said of the truth of the third heaven, with which I am at present concerned and about which all that is necessary for the present has been fully explained. Chapter 4
Now that in the preceding chapter it has been shown what this third heaven is and how it is ordered in itself, it remains to show who they are who move it. And so we must first know that its movers are substances separate from matter, namely Intelligences, which the common people call Angels. Although the truth is now known, different people have held different opinions about these creatures as they have about the heavens. There were certain philosophers, among whom seems to be Aristotle in his Metaphysics (although in the first book on Heaven he appears incidentally to think otherwise), who believed that there were only as many of these beings as there were circular movements in the heavens, and no more, saying that any others would have existed in vain for eternity and have lacked all activity, which would be impossible since their being consists of their activity. There were others, like Plato, a most eminent man, who maintained that there are not only as many Intelligences as there are movements in heaven but also as many as there are species of things, just as there is one species for all men, another for all gold, another for all dimensions, and so on. They held that just as the Intelligences of the heavens brought them into being, each its own, so other Intelligences brought into being all other things and exemplars, each its own species; and Plato called them “ideas,” which is as much as to say universal forms and natures.
The pagans call them Gods and Goddesses, although they did not think of them in a philosophical sense as did Plato, and they venerated images of them and built great temples to them, as, for example, to Juno whom they called goddess of power, to Pallas or Minerva whom they called goddess of wisdom, to Vulcan whom they called god of fire, or to Ceres whom they called goddess of grain. These matters and opinions are made evident by the testimony of the poets, who depict in various places the custom of the pagans both in their sacrifices and in their creed, and they are also manifest in the many ancient names which survive as names or surnames of places and of ancient buildings, as anyone who wishes can easily discover.
Although the above-mentioned opinions were the product of human reason and no scant observation, they nevertheless did not perceive the truth because of both a deficiency of reason and a lack of instruction; for even by reason alone it can be perceived that the creatures mentioned above are of far greater number than are the effects which men can apprehend. One reason is this: no one, whether philosopher, pagan, Jew, Christian, or member of any sect, doubts that they are full of all blessedness, either all or the greater part of them, or that these blessed ones are in the most perfect state of being. Consequently, since human nature as it exists here has not only one blessedness but two, namely that of the civil life and that of the contemplative life, it would be illogical for us to find that these beings have the blessedness of the active (that is, of the civil) life, in governing the world, and not that of the contemplative life, which is more excellent and more divine. And since the one that has the blessedness of governing cannot have the other because their intellect is one and perpetual, there must be others outside this ministry who live by contemplation alone. Because this life is more divine, and the more divine a thing is the more it is like God, it is manifest that this life is more loved by God; and if it is more loved, the more has its blessedness been bountiful; and if it has been more bountiful, the more living beings has he given to it than to the other. We conclude from this that the number of these creatures is much greater than the effects reveal.
This does not run counter to what Aristotle seems to say in the tenth book of the Ethics, namely that the contemplative life alone befits separate substances.(14) Although the contemplative life alone befits them, to the contemplative life of just a certain number of them falls the circular movement of the heaven, which is the governing of the world, which is a kind of civil order conceived within the contemplation of its movers.
The other reason is that no effect is greater than its cause, because the cause cannot give what it does not have; consequently, since the divine intellect is the cause of everything, above all of the human intellect, it obtains that the human intellect does not transcend the divine, but is out of all proportion transcended by it. Therefore if for the above reasons and for many others we understand that God could have created almost innumerable spiritual creatures, it is manifest that he has made this greater number of them. Many other reasons can be adduced, but let these suffice for the present.
No one should be surprised if these and other reasons which we might have concerning this matter are not fully demonstrated; but nevertheless we should admire the excellence of these creatures–which transcends the eyes of the human mind, as the Philosopher says in the second book of the Metaphysics–and affirm their existence. For although we cannot perceive them with the senses (from which our knowledge originates), yet there shines in our intellect some light of their most lively existence insofar as we perceive the above-mentioned reasons and many others–just as one whose eyes are closed may affirm that the air is luminous because some slight radiance or ray of light, such as passes through the pupils of a bat, reaches him. For in just this way the eyes of our intellect are closed, as long as the soul is bound and imprisoned by the organs of our body. Chapter 5
It has been said that because of a lack of instruction the ancients did not perceive the truth concerning spiritual creatures, even though the people of Israel were in part taught by their prophets, “through whom, by many manners of speech and in many ways, God had spoken to them,” as the Apostle says.(15) But we have been taught about this by him who came from him, by him who made them, by him who preserves them, that is by the Emperor of the Universe, who is Christ, son of the sovereign God and son of the Virgin Mary, the true woman and daughter of Joachim and of Adam, the true man who was slain by us, by which he brought us to life. “He was the light that shines for us in the darkness,” as John the Evangelist says; and he told us the truth concerning those things which without him we could not know nor truly perceive.(16)
The first thing and the first secret that he showed us was one of the above-mentioned creatures, and this was his great ambassador who came to Mary, a young maiden thirteen years of age, on behalf of the heavenly Healer. Our Saviour said with his own lips that the Father was able to give him many legions of angels; when he was told that the Father had ordered the Angels to minister unto and serve him, he did not deny it was true. Consequently it is evident to us that those creatures exist in extraordinary numbers, for his spouse and secretary the Holy Church–of whom Solomon says “Who is this that comes from the desert, laden with those things that give delight, leaning upon her friend?”–affirms, believes, and preaches that these most noble creatures are all but innumerable.(17) And she divides them into three hierarchies, which is to say three holy or divine principalities, each hierarchy having three orders, so that the Church holds and affirms that there are nine orders of spiritual creatures.(18)The first is that of the Angels, the second of the Archangels, the third of the Thrones; and these three orders make up the first hierarchy: not first in order of nobility, nor of creation (for the others are nobler and all were created at one time), but first in the order of our ascent to their degree of elevation. Then come the Dominations, next the Virtues, then the Principalities, and these make up the second hierarchy. Above these are the Powers and the Cherubim, and above all are the Seraphim, and these make up the third hierarchy.
The principal motive of their contemplation lies in the numerical position in which the hierarchies and in which the orders reside. For, since the Divine Majesty exists in three persons who have one substance, it is possible to contemplate them in a threefold manner. For it is possible to contemplate the supreme power of the Father, upon which the first hierarchy gazes, that is, the one which is first in nobility and which we count as last. It is also possible to contemplate the supreme wisdom of the Son; this the second hierarchy gazes upon. And it is possible to contemplate the supreme and most fervent love of the Holy Spirit; this the last hierarchy gazes upon, which being nearest to us bestows upon us the gifts which it receives. Since each person of the divine Trinity can be considered in a threefold manner, there are in each hierarchy three orders that contemplate in different ways. It is possible to consider the Father with regard to but him alone, and this contemplation the Seraphim perform, who perceive more of the First Cause than any other angelic nature. It is possible to consider the Father with respect to the relation he has to the Son, that is, how he is separated from him and how united with him; and this the Cherubim contemplate. It is further possible to consider the Father with respect to how the Holy Spirit proceeds from him, and how it is separated from him and how united with him; and this contemplation the Powers perform. In this same way it is possible to contemplate the Son and the Holy Spirit: consequently it is appropriate that there should be nine classes of contemplative spirits, to gaze upon the light which can only be completely beheld by itself.
Here one word must not be left unsaid. I say that of all these orders a certain number were lost as soon as they were created, perhaps one-tenth in number, for the restoration of which part human nature was afterwards created.(19) The moving heavens, which are nine, declare the numbers, the orders, and the hierarchies, and the tenth proclaims the very unity and stability of God. Therefore the Psalmist says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”(20) Consequently it is reasonable to believe that the movers of the heaven of the Moon belong to the order of the Angels, and those of Mercury to that of the Archangels, and those of Venus to that of the Thrones; all of whom, receiving their nature from the love of the Holy Spirit, perform their operation, which is innate in them, namely, the movement of that heaven, filled with love, from which the form of the said heaven derives a potent ardor by which the souls here below are kindled to love, according to their disposition. Because the ancients recognized that this heaven was the cause of love here below, they said that Love was the son of Venus, as Vergil attests to in the first book of the Aeneid, where Venus says to Love: “My son, my power, son of the supreme father, who heeds not the darts of Typhoeus”;(21) and Ovid, in the fifth book of theMetamorphoses, when he says that Venus said to Love: “My son, my arms, my power.”(22)
These Thrones, who are assigned to govern this heaven, are not great in number, though the philosophers and the astrologers have estimated it diversely according to how diversely they have estimated its rotations, although all are agreed on this point: that there are as many of them as there are movements made by the heaven. According to the best demonstration of the astrologers as we find it summarized in the book of the Constellations of the Stars, these movements are three: one according to which the star moves along its epicycle; a second according to which the epicycle moves together with the whole heaven in concert with that of the Sun; a third according to which that whole heaven moves, following the movement of the starry sphere, from west to east, one degree every one hundred years.(23) Thus for these three movements there are three movers. Moreover, the whole of this heaven moves and revolves with the epicycle from east to west once every day. Whether this movement derives from some intellect or from the pull of the Primum Mobile, only God knows, for it seems to me presumptuous to reach a conclusion on this point.
These movers by their intellect alone produce the revolution in that proper subject which each one moves. The most noble form of heaven, which has in itself the principle of this passive nature, revolves at the touch of the motive power which understands it; and by touch I mean contact, though not in a bodily sense, with the virtue which is directed toward it. These are the movers to whom my speech is addressed and about whom I make my inquiry. Chapter 6
According to what was said above in the third chapter of this book, it was necessary, in order to understand properly the first part of the canzone before us, to speak of those heavens and of those who move them, and in the preceding three chapters this has been discussed. I say then to those whom I have shown to be the movers of the heaven of Venus: You whose intellect–that is, whose intellect alone, as has been said above–the third sphere moves, Now listen to the speech; and I do not say “listen” as though they should hear sound, for they have no sense perception, but I say “listen,” that is, with that hearing which they do have, which is understanding by the intellect.(24) I say: Listen to the speech that is in my heart, that is, within me, for it has not yet appeared without. And we must know that throughout this entire canzone, according to the one sense and the other, the “heart” is to be taken as the secret place within and not as some special part of the soul or body.
After I have summoned them to listen to what I wish to say, I assign two reasons why it is fitting for me to speak to them. One is the strangeness of my condition, which not having been experienced by other men could not be so well understood by them as by those beings who understand their own effects in their operation; and this reason I touch on when I say For I cannot speak to others, so strange it seems. The other reason is that when a person receives a benefit or an injury, he must first relate it to the one who has brought it about, if he can, rather than to others; so that if it is a benefit, he who receives it shows himself grateful toward his benefactor; and if it is an injury, he should move the malefactor with gentle words to kind compassion. I touch on this reason when I say The heaven that moves according to your power Draws me, O noble creatures that you are, into the state in which I find myself–that is to say, your operation (that is, your revolution) is what has drawn me into my present condition. Consequently I conclude by stating that my speech must be to them, as has been said; and this I say with the words And hence these words about the life I live Should properly be addressed to you.
After assigning these reasons, I beg them to listen to me when I sayAnd so I pray that you will listen to me. But because in every kind of discourse the speaker should above all be intent on persuading (that is, on charming) his audience to listen–for this is the beginning of all other persuasions, according to the practice of the rhetoricians–and since the most potent persuasion for rendering the listener attentive is to promise to tell new and momentous things, I arrange to have this persuasion (that is, this charm) follow after the petition to be heard, announcing my intention to them, which is to speak of new things (that is, of the division that is in my soul) and of momentous things (that is, of the influence of their star). And this I say in the last words of this first part: I shall recount the strangeness in my heart, How here within my sad soul weeps And how against her speaks a spirit that comes Upon the rays descending from your star.
To convey the full meaning of these words, I say that this spirit is nothing other than a frequent thought to praise and adorn this new lady; and this soul is nothing other than another thought accompanied by an act of assent, which, opposing the former, praises and adorns the memory of that glorious Beatrice.(25) But since the final verdict of my mind (that is, its act of assent) was still held fast by this thought which my memory reinforces, I call it souland the other spirit; just as we are used to calling a “city” those who hold it and not those who are attacking it, even though both are citizens. I say, moreover, that this spirit comes upon the rays of the star, because it is necessary to know that the rays of each heaven are the paths along which their virtue descends upon these things here below. Since rays are nothing other than the shining which comes from the source of the light through the air to the thing illuminated, and there is no light except from the body of the star, because the rest of the heaven is diaphanous (that is, transparent), I do not say that this spirit (that is, this thought) comes from their heaven as a whole but from their star. This star, by reason of the nobility of those who move it, is of such great virtue that it has immense influence upon our souls and upon all things belonging to us, notwithstanding that its distance from us, when it is nearest to us, is 167 times the distance to the center of the earth (and more), which is 3250 miles. This is the literal exposition of the first part of the canzone. Chapter 7
The literal meaning of the first part may be sufficiently understood by the above words; consequently the second must now be attended to, which reveals what I experienced of conflict within. And this part has a further division, for in the first, that is, in the first stanza, I relate the nature of these conflicting thoughts which were within me, according to their root; then I relate what each of these conflicting thoughts said: first what the side that lost said (that is, in the stanza which is the second of this part and the third of the canzone) and then what the new thought said (that is, in the stanza which is the third of this part and the fourth of the canzone).
To make clear then the meaning of the first division, we must observe that things should be named according to the highest nobility of their form, as, for example, man from reason and not from the senses, nor anything else that is less noble. Therefore when we say that man lives, what is meant to be understood is that he uses his reason, which is his special life and the actualizing of his most noble part. Therefore he who departs from his reason and uses merely his sensitive part lives not as a man but as a beast; as that most excellent Boethius says, “He lives the life of an ass.”(26) Rightly so, I say, because thought is an act peculiar to reason, for beasts do not think, since they have no reason; and I say this not only of the lesser beasts, but of those that have the semblance of a man and the spirit of a sheep or some other detestable animal.
I say, then, that the life of my heart (that is, of my inner self) used to be a sweet thought (“sweet” is the same as “suasive,” that is, charming, gentle, pleasing, and delightful), a thought which would often go to the feet of the Lord of those beings whom I address, namely God; this is to say that I, in thought, contemplated the kingdom of the blessed. And immediately I tell the final cause of my ascending there in thought when I say Where it would see a lady in glorious light, to make it understood that it is because I was certain, and still am, by reason of her gracious revelation, that she was in heaven. So to the extent of my ability I often went there in thought, as if I had been seized.
Then subsequently I tell the effect of this thought, which was so great that to make its sweetness understood it made me long for death, so as to go where it had gone, and this I say with the words Of whom it would speak to me so sweetly That my soul would say: “I wish to go there.” This is the root of one of the conflicting thoughts within me. It should also be known that what ascended to behold that blessed one is here called “thought” and not “soul,” because it was a thought especially conceived for that act. By soul is meant, as was said in the previous chapter, thought in general with assent.
Then when I say Now one appears who puts it to flight, I tell of the root of the other conflicting thought, saying that just as this thought, mentioned above, used to be my life, so another appears which makes that one cease to exist. I say “to flight,” to show this one to be contrary, for by nature one contrary flees another, and the one that flees shows that it flees for lack of strength. And I say that this new thought that appears has the power to seize me and to conquer my entire soul, saying that it so rules that the heart (that is, my inner self) trembles, and my outer self shows it by a certain new semblance.
Subsequently I show the power of this new thought by its effect, saying that it makes me gaze upon a lady and addresses words of flattery to me (that is, speaks before the eyes of my intellectual affection in order the better to draw me over, promising me that the sight of her eyes is its salvation). And the better to convince the experienced soul of this, it says that the eyes of this lady are not to be looked upon by anyone who fears sighs of anguish. It is a fine rhetorical figure which makes a thing seem outwardly lacking in beauty, while inwardly making it truly beautiful. The new thought of love could not better induce my mind to give consent than by speaking so profoundly on the virtue of that lady’s eyes. Chapter 8
Now that it has been shown how and why love is born and what conflict embattled me, it is appropriate to disclose the meaning of that part in which conflicting thoughts contend within me.(27) I say that first it is appropriate to speak on the side of the soul (that is, of the old thought) and then of the other, for this reason: that what the speaker intends above all to stress must be reserved for the last, because what is said last remains most in the mind of the listener. Consequently since I intend to say and speak more about that which the work of those beings whom I address does than that which it undoes, it was reasonable first to mention and discuss the condition of the side which was being destroyed, and afterwards of that which was being brought to birth.
Here, however, arises a doubt which cannot be passed over without clarification. Someone might ask: “Since love is the effect of these Intelligences whom I address, and the former thought was love as much as the latter, why does their power destroy the one and give birth to the other, since it should rather preserve the former, for the reason that every cause loves its own effect, and, loving the one, preserves the other?” This question may easily be answered by saying that their effect is love, as has been said; and since they cannot preserve it except in those subjects which come under the influence of their revolution, they transfer it from that region which is outside of their power to that which is within it, that is to say, from the soul departed from this life to the soul which is still in it; just as human nature transfers its own preservation in the human form from father to son, because it cannot preserve its effect perpetually in the father. I say “effect” in that the soul conjoined with the body is its effect; for the soul, once it is departed, endures perpetually in a nature which is more than human. Thus the question is settled.
But since the immortality of the soul has been touched on here, I will make a digression and discuss this topic; for with this discussion it will be well to finish speaking of that blessed living Beatrice, of whom as a matter of purpose I do not intend to speak further in this work. I say that of all the follies the most foolish, the basest, and the most pernicious is the belief that beyond this life there is no other; for, if we look through all the books of both the philosophers and the other sages who have written on this topic, they all agree in this: that there is some part of us which is immortal. Aristotle seems to confirm this above all in his book On the Soul; every Stoic seems above all to confirm this; Tully seems to confirm this, especially in his short bookOn Old Age; every poet who has spoken according to the pagan faith seems to confirm this; every creed confirms this–whether Jews, Saracens, Tartars, or whoever else lives according to any principle of reason. If all of these were in error, there would exist an impossibility too horrible even to relate. Everyone is certain that human nature is the most perfect of all natures here below. No one denies this, and Aristotle affirms it when he says in the twelfth book On the Animalsthat man is the most perfect of all the animals.(28) Consequently since many living creatures are entirely mortal, as for example the brute beasts, and all are, while they are alive, without this hope (that is, of another life), if our hope were vain, the defect in us would be greater than in any other animal, because many people have already lived who have given up this life for the other. So it would follow that the most perfect animal, namely man, was the most imperfect–which is impossible–and that that part which is his greatest perfection, namely reason, was the cause of the greatest defect in him–which seems a very strange thing to say.
Moreover, it would follow that nature had placed this hope within the human mind in opposition to itself, since it has been said that many have hastened the death of the body in order to live in the other life; and this is likewise impossible.
Moreover, we see continual proof of our immortality in the divinations of our dreams, which we could not have if there were not some immortal part within us, since the revealer, whether corporeal or incorporeal, must necessarily be immortal, if we give the matter careful thought–and I say “corporeal or incorporeal” because of the diversity of opinion which I find on this point; and that which is set in motion by or receives its form directly from an informing agent must stand in proportion to the informing agent, and between the mortal and the immortal there is no proportion.
Moreover, we are made certain of this by the most truthful teaching of Christ, which is the way, the truth, and the light: the way, because by it we proceed without impediment to the happiness of this immortality; the truth, because it is not subject to error; the light, because it illuminates us in the darkness of earthly ignorance. This teaching, I say, makes us certain above all other reasons, for he has given it to us who sees and measures our immortality, which we cannot see perfectly while our immortal part is mixed with our mortal part; but we see it perfectly by faith, and by reason we see it with a shadow of obscurity, which happens because of the mixture of the mortal with the immortal. This should be the strongest argument that there exist in us the one and the other; and I therefore believe, affirm, and am certain that I shall pass to another and better life after this one, where that lady lives in glory, of whom my soul was enamored when I was caught up in my struggle, as will be discussed in the following chapter. Chapter 9
Returning to the subject, I say that in the stanza which begins The humble thought, I intend to reveal what my soul discoursed within me–that is, the old thought in opposition to the new. First I briefly reveal the cause of her sorrowful words when I say The humble thought that used to speak to me Of an angel who is crowned in heaven Encounters now a foe who slays it. This is that special thought of which it is said above that it was once The life of my grieving heart. Then when I say The soul cries out, for this still grieves her, I show that my soul is still on its side and speaks with sadness; and I say that she speaks words while lamenting, almost as if she were amazed at the sudden transformation, saying: Alas, how he is fled, The compassionate one who once consoled me. Well may she say “consoled,” for in her great loss this thought, which ascended to heaven, had given her much consolation.
Then afterwards to excuse her I say that all my thought (that is, the soul), which I call this anguished one, turns and speaks against my eyes; and this is made manifest by the words And of my eyes this anguished one remarks. And I tell how she says three things about them and against them. The first is that she curses the hour when this lady looked on them. Here it should be known that although many things can enter the eye at the same time, nevertheless that which enters along a straight line into the center of the pupil is the only one that is truly seen and which stamps itself upon the imagination. This is because the nerve along which the visual spirit runs is pointed in this direction; and therefore one eye cannot really look into another eye without being seen by it; for just as the one which looks receives the form in the pupil along a straight line, so along that same line its own form proceeds into the one it looks at; and many times along the extension of this line is discharged the bow of him against whom all arms are light. Therefore when I say thatsuch a lady looked on them, it is as much as to say that her eyes and mine looked upon one another.
The second thing she says is that she reprimands their disobedience, when she says Why would they not believe my word of her? Then she proceeds to the third, saying that she should not reproach herself, as though she had not foreseen, but should reproach them for not having obeyed, since she says that on occasion in speaking of this lady she would say: In her eyes would reside power over me, if she opened the pathway to it; and this she says with the words And I: `Now surely in her eyes.’ And indeed we must believe that my soul knew that its own disposition was capable of receiving the actuality of this lady, and therefore feared her; for the actuality of the agent is apprehended in the patient disposed toward it, as the Philosopher says in the second book of On the Soul.(29)And therefore if wax had the spirit of fear, it would more greatly fear encountering the rays of the sun than would a stone, because its disposition receives the rays with greater efficacy.
Finally the soul makes manifest in her discourse that the eyes’ presumption endangered them, when she says But my perceiving this did not avail, For still they gazed on him, whereby I’m slain; she says gazed on him, on the one about whom she had earlier said the one who slays the likes of me. With this she ends her words, to which the new thought replies, as will be explained in the following chapter. Chapter 10
We have thus explained the meaning of the part in which the soul speaks (that is, of the old thought which was destroyed). Subsequently the meaning of the part in which the new and opposing thought speaks must now be explained; and this part is completely contained in the stanza which begins You are not slain. To be correctly understood, this part must be divided in two: in the first part the opposing thought reprimands the soul for cowardice; and later in the second, beginning with the words See how compassionate she is, he declares what this reprimanded soul must do.
He says then, continuing from her last words: it is not true that you are slain; but the reason that you seem to be slain is the bewilderment into which you have fallen so abjectly for this lady who has appeared. Here it must be noted that, as Boethius says in hisConsolation, “no sudden change in things can take place without some perturbation of the mind.”(30) This is the meaning of the reprimand made by this thought, which is called a “little spirit of love,” to indicate that my consent inclined towards him; and so we can understand this all the better and recognize his victory, since he already says “our soul,” thereby making himself intimate with her. Then as has been said, he declares what this reprimanded soul must do in order to come to him, and he says to her See how compassionate she is, and humble, for the appropriate remedy to fear, by which the soul seems possessed, consists of two things; and these, especially when joined, are what cause a person to have good hope, and above all compassion, which makes every other goodness shine with its light. This is why Vergil, in speaking of Aeneas, sings his greatest praise by calling him compassionate. And compassion is not what the common people think it is, namely, grieving over another’s misfortune, which is one of its special effects that is called pity, and is an emotion. Compassion, however, is not an emotion, but rather a noble disposition of the mind, ready to receive love, pity, and other emotions arising out of charity.
Then he says: See also how she is courteous and wise in her magnificence. Here he speaks of three things which, among those that can be acquired by us, especially make a person pleasing. He says “wise”: now what is more beautiful in a woman than to be wise? He says “courteous”: nothing is more becoming in a woman than courtesy. And the wretches of the common herd should not be deceived as well by this word, thinking courtesy nothing other than liberality; for liberality is a special, not a general, kind of courtesy! Courtesy and dignity are one and the same; and because in the courts in times past virtue and fine manners were practiced, just as the contrary is now the case, this word was derived from courts and “courtesy” was as much as to say “the custom of the court.” If this word were derived from the courts of the present day, especially those of Italy, it would mean nothing but rudeness.
He says in her magnificence. Temporal greatness, which is meant here, is most of all becoming when accompanied by the two previously mentioned goodnesses, because it is the light which clearly reveals the good and its opposite in a person. How much wisdom and how much habit of virtue go unnoticed for lack of this light! How much stupidity and how many vices are discerned by possessing this light! It would be better for the wretched, stupid, foolish, and despicable nobles to dwell in low estate, for neither in this world nor in the afterlife would they be so disgraced. Indeed it is for them that Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun, namely riches preserved for their owner’s ruin.”(31) Then he subsequently compels her, my soul that is, to call this one her lady, promising her that she will be gladdened by this when she becomes aware of her adornments; and this he says with the words Unless you err through self-deceit you’ll see. Nor does he say anything else for the remainder of this stanza. This completes the literal meaning of all that I say in this canzone in addressing these celestial Intelligences. Chapter 11
Finally, as the letter of this commentary stated above when it divided this canzone into its principal parts, I address my discourse directly to the canzone itself, and speak to it. In order that this may be more fully understood, I say that in every canzone this is generally called a “tornata,” because the poets who first made a practice of employing it did so in order that when the canzone had been sung they might return to it with a certain part of the melody.(32) But I have rarely employed it with that intention, and so that others might perceive that this is the case, rarely have I composed it according to the metrical pattern of the canzone, with regard to the number of verses which are required for the melody; but I have employed it for the adornment of the canzone when there was a need to say something lying outside its meaning, as may be seen in this one and in the others. Therefore I say here that the goodness and the beauty of every discourse are separate and different from one another; for goodness lies in the meaning, and beauty in the adornment of the words; and both the one and the other give pleasure, although goodness is especially pleasing. And so, since the goodness of this canzone was difficult to perceive because of the diversity of persons in it who are presented as speakers, where many distinctions are required, and since its beauty was easy to perceive, it seemed to me necessary for the canzone that others consider its beauty more than its goodness. And this is what I say in this part.
But since it often happens that an admonition appears presumptuous, a rhetorician is accustomed in certain circumstances to speak to people indirectly, addressing his words not to the person for whom they are meant, but to another. This method is in fact adopted here, for the words are addressed to the canzone and their meaning to men. I say therefore, “My song, I think they will be few indeed,” that is to say quite few, “who understand you well.” And I give the reason, which is twofold. First, because your speech is complex–I say “complex” for the reason that has been mentioned; and second, because your speech is difficult–I say “difficult” with regard to the newness of the meaning. Now afterwards I admonish it and say: So if by chance it comes to pass that you should find yourself with some who appear perplexed by your argument, do not be dismayed, but say to them: Since you do not perceive my goodness, consider at least how fair I am. For I mean nothing by this, as has been said above, save: You men who cannot perceive the meaning of this canzone, do not therefore reject it; rather consider its beauty, which is great by virtue of its composition, which is the concern of the grammarians, by virtue of the order of its discourse, which is the concern of the rhetoricians, and by the virtue of the rhythm of its parts, which is the concern of the musicians. These things can be perceived within it as beautiful by anyone who looks closely.
Now that the literal meaning has been sufficiently explained, we must proceed to the allegorical and true exposition. Therefore, beginning again from the beginning, I say that when I lost the first delight of my soul, of which mention is made above, I was pierced by such sorrow that no comfort availed me.(33) Nevertheless after some time my mind, which was endeavoring to heal itself, resolved (since neither my own consolation nor that of others availed) to resort to a method which a certain disconsolate individual had adopted to console himself; and I began to read that book of Boethius, not known to many, in which, while a prisoner and an exile, he had found consolation.(34) And hearing further that Tully had written another book in which, while discussing Friendship, he had addressed words of consolation to Laelius, a man of the highest merit, upon the death of his friend Scipio, I set about reading it.(35) Although it was difficult for me at first to penetrate their meaning, I finally penetrated it as deeply as my command of Latin and the small measure of my intellect enabled me to do, by which intellect I had perceived many things before, as in a dream, as may be seen in the New Life.
And just as it often happens that a man goes looking for silver and apart from his intention finds gold, which some hidden cause presents, perhaps not without divine ordinance, so I who sought to console myself found not only a remedy for my tears but also the words of authors, sciences, and books. Pondering these, I quickly determined that Philosophy, who was the lady of these authors, sciences, and books, was a great thing. I imagined her fashioned as a gentle lady, and I could not imagine her in any attitude except one of compassion, so that the part of my mind that perceives truth gazed on her so willingly that I could barely turn it away from her. I began to go where she was truly revealed, namely to the schools of the religious orders and to the disputations held by the philosophers, so that in a short period of time, perhaps some thirty months, I began to feel her sweetness so much that the love of her dispelled and destroyed every other thought.
Consequently, feeling myself raised from the thought of that first love to the virtue of this one, almost in amazement I opened my mouth to speak the words of the canzone before us, revealing my condition beneath the figure of other things, because no rhyme in any vernacular was worthy to treat openly of the lady of whom I was enamored; nor were the listeners so well prepared that they would have understood the fictive words so easily; nor would they have given credence to their true meaning, as they did to the fictive, because in fact they fully believed that I was disposed toward this love, and not, as they believed, to the other. I began therefore to sayYou whose intellect the third sphere moves. Since this lady, as has been said, was the daughter of God, queen of all things, most noble and beautiful Philosophy, we must consider who were these movers and this third heaven. And first I will speak of the heaven, according to the order already employed. Here it will not be necessary to proceed by dividing and explaining the text word by word; for, by turning the fictive words from what they say into what they mean, the meaning will be sufficiently clear from the exposition already given.
To see what is meant by the third heaven we must first see what I mean by the word “heaven” itself; and then it will be seen how and why it was necessary to speak of this third heaven. I say that by heaven I mean “science” and by heavens “the sciences,” because of three kinds of similarity that the heavens have above all with the sciences, and by the order and number in which they seem to agree, as will be seen in speaking of the word “third.”
The first kind of similarity consists of the revolution of the one and the other around something that is motionless with respect to it. For each moving heaven turns on its center, which is not moved by the motion of the heaven; and likewise each science moves around its subject, without moving it, because no science demonstrates its own subject, but presupposes it.
The second similarity is the illuminating power of the one and the other; for each heaven illuminates visible things, and likewise each science illuminates things that are intelligible.
The third similarity consists of bringing about perfection in those things disposed thereto. Concerning the bringing about of perfection, insofar as the first perfection is concerned, namely substantial generation, all philosophers agree that the heavens are the cause, although they explain it differently, some imputing it to the movers, as do Plato, Avicenna, and Algazel; some to the stars themselves, especially in the case of human souls, as do Socrates and also Plato and Dionysius the Academician; and some to celestial virtue which is in the natural heat of the seed, as do Aristotle and the other Peripatetics. Similarly, the sciences are the cause in us of bringing about the second perfection, by the possession of which we are able to contemplate the truth, which is our ultimate perfection, as the Philosopher says in the sixth book of the Ethics when he says that truth is the good of the intellect. Because of these as well as many other kinds of similarity, science may be called “heaven.”
Now it remains to be seen why “third” heaven is said. For this it is necessary to give consideration to a comparison that obtains between the order of the heavens and that of the sciences. As was stated above, then, the seven heavens nearest to us are those of the planets; next come two heavens above them, which are in motion, and one above them all, which is still. To the first seven correspond the seven sciences of the Trivium and the Quadrivium, namely Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, and Astrology. To the eighth sphere, namely the Starry Heaven, corresponds natural science, which is called Physics, and the first science, which is called Metaphysics; to the ninth sphere corresponds Moral Science; and to the still heaven corresponds Divine Science, which is called Theology. And the reason why this is so must be briefly considered.
I say that the heaven of the Moon resembles Grammar because it may be compared to it; for if the Moon is closely examined, two things will be seen peculiar to it which are not seen in the other stars: one is the shadow in it, which is nothing but the rarity of its substance in which the rays of the Sun cannot terminate and be reflected back as in its other parts; the other is the variation of its luminosity, which shines now on one side, now on the other, according as the Sun looks upon it.(36) These two properties Grammar possesses; for because of its infinitude the rays of reason are not terminated, especially in the particular of words; and it shines now on this side, now on that, insofar as certain words, certain declensions, and certain constructions are now in use which formerly were not, and many were formerly in use which will yet be in use again, as Horace says at the beginning of his Poetics, when he says: “Many words shall be born which have long since fallen out of use.”(37)
The heaven of Mercury may be compared to Dialectics because of two properties: for Mercury is the smallest star of heaven, because the magnitude of its diameter is not more than 232 miles, according to Alfraganus, who says it is 1/28th of the diameter of the earth, which is 6500 miles; the other property is that in its passage it is veiled by the rays of the sun more than any other star. These two properties are found in Dialectics, for Dialectics is less in substance than any other science, for it is entirely constituted by and contained within that text alone which is found in the Old Art and in the New; and its passage is veiled more than that of any science, in that it proceeds by a more sophistical and polemical mode of argument than any other.
The heaven of Venus may be compared to Rhetoric because of two properties: one is the brightness of its aspect, which is sweeter to look upon than that of any other star; the other is its appearance now in the morning, now in the evening. And these two properties are found in Rhetoric: for Rhetoric is sweeter than all of the other sciences, since this is what it principally aims at; and it appears in the morning when the rhetorician speaks before the face of his hearer, and it appears in the evening (that is, behind) when the rhetorician speaks through writing, from a distance.
The heaven of the Sun may be compared to Arithmetic because of two properties: one is that all the other stars are informed by its light; the other is that the eye cannot look at it. And these two properties are found in Arithmetic: for by its light all sciences are illuminated, because all their subjects are considered under some numerical aspect, and in considering them we always proceed by number. For example, in Natural Science, the subject is a body in motion, which body in motion has in itself the principle of continuity, and this has in itself the principle of infinite number; and its foremost consideration is to consider the principles of natural things, which are three–namely matter, privation, and form–in which we perceive this numerical aspect. Number exists not only in all of them together, but also, upon careful reflection, in each one individually; for this reason Pythagoras, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Physics, laid down even and odd as the principles of natural things, considering all things to have numerical aspect.(38) The other property of the Sun is also seen in number, of which Arithmetic is the science: the eye of the intellect cannot look upon it, because number insofar as it is considered in itself is infinite, and this we cannot comprehend.
The heaven of Mars may be compared to music because of two properties: one is its most beautiful relation, for in counting the moving heavens, from whichever we begin, whether from the lowest or the highest, this heaven of Mars is the fifth and the middlemost of them all, that is, of the first, second, third, and fourth pairs. The other, as Ptolemy says in the Quadripartitus, is that Mars dries things out and incinerates them because its heat is like that of fire;(39) and this is why it appears fiery in color, sometimes more and sometimes less, according to the density or rarity of the vapors which accompany it, which often ignite by themselves, as is established in the first book of Meteorics.(40) For this reason Albumassar says that the ignition of these vapors signifies the death of kings and the changing of kingdoms, because they are effects of the lordship of Mars, and this is why Seneca says that at the death of the Emperor Augustus he saw on high a ball of fire. This is also why in Florence, at the beginning of its ruin, there was seen in the sky in the shape of a cross a great quantity of these vapors which accompany the star of Mars. And these two properties are found in Music, which consists entirely of relations, as we see in harmonized words and in songs, whose harmony is so much the sweeter the more the relation is beautiful, which relation is the principal beauty in this science, because it is its principal aim. Moreover, Music attracts to itself the human spirits, which are, as it were, principally vapors of the heart, so that they almost completely cease their activity; this happens likewise to the entire soul when it hears music, and the virtue of all of them, as it were, runs to the spirit of sense which receives the sound.
The heaven of Jupiter may be compared to Geometry because of two properties: one is that it moves between two heavens that are antithetical to its fine temperance, namely that of Mars and that of Saturn; consequently Ptolemy says, in the book referred to, that Jupiter is a star of temperate constitution between the cold of Saturn and the heat of Mars; the other is that among all the stars it appears white, almost silvery. And these things are found in the science of Geometry. Geometry moves between two things antithetical to it, namely the point and the circle–and I mean “circle” in the broad sense of anything round, whether a solid body or a surface; for, as Euclid says, the point is its beginning, and, as he says, the circle is its most perfect figure, which must therefore be conceived as its end. Therefore Geometry moves between the point and the circle as between its beginning and end, and these two are antithetical to its certainty; for the point cannot be measured because of its indivisibility, and it is impossible to square the circle perfectly because of its arc, and so it cannot be measured exactly.(41)Geometry is furthermore most white insofar as it is without taint of error and most certain both in itself and in its handmaid, which is called Optics.
The heaven of Saturn has two properties by which it may be compared to Astrology: one is the slowness of its movement through the 12 signs, for according to the writings of the astrologers, a time of more than 29 years is required for its revolution; the other is that it is high above all the other planets.(42) And these two properties are found in Astrology: for in completing its circle (that is to say, to master this science) a very great span of time passes, both because of its handmaids, which are more numerous than those of any of the above-mentioned sciences, and because of the experience required in it for making proper judgments. Furthermore, it is far higher than all the others, since, as Aristotle says at the beginning of On the Soul, a science is high in nobility by virtue of the nobility of its subject and by virtue of its certainty; and this one, more than any of those mentioned above, is high and noble because of its high and noble subject, which regards the movement of the heaven, and high and noble because of its certainty, which is flawless, as coming from a most perfect and regular principle. And if anyone believes that there is a flaw in it, it does not pertain to the science, but as Ptolemy says, it results from our negligence, and so must be attributed to that.(43)
After having made these comparisons concerning the first seven heavens, we must proceed to the others, which are three, as has several times been stated. I say that the Starry Heaven may be compared to Physics because of three properties, and to Metaphysics because of three others: for it displays to us two visible objects, namely the multitude of stars and the Galaxy, that is, that white circle which the common people call Saint Jacob’s Way; and it discloses one of its poles to us and keeps the other hidden; and it discloses one of its movements to us, from east to west, and keeps the other, which it makes from west to east, almost hidden from us.(44) Consequently proceeding in order we must consider first the comparison to Physics and then the one to Metaphysics.
I say that the Starry Heaven manifests many stars to us, for according to what the wise men of Egypt have observed, including the last star that appears to them in the south, they count 1022 starry bodies, and it is of them that I speak. In this respect it has a very great resemblance with Physics, if we consider very closely these three numbers: namely two, twenty, and a thousand. For by two we understand local movement, which is necessarily from one point to another. By twenty is signified the movement by alteration, for since we cannot proceed beyond ten without altering ten itself by means of the other nine or itself, and since the most beautiful alteration which it receives is its own alteration by itself; and since the first alteration occurs at twenty, it is reasonable that the above-mentioned movement should be signified by this number. By a thousand is signified the movement of growth; for this “thousand” is the largest number that has a name, and there can be no further growth except by multiplying it. And Physics manifests only these three movements, as is proved in the fifth book of the first group of books.(45)
Because of the Galaxy this heaven has a great resemblance to Metaphysics. Hence it should be known that concerning this Galaxy philosophers have held different opinions. For the Pythagoreans said that the Sun at one time strayed from its path, and, passing through other regions unsuited to its burning heat, set aflame the place through which it passed, leaving there traces of that conflagration. I believe they were influenced by the fable of Phaëton, which Ovid recounts at the beginning of the second book of the Metamorphoses.(46) Others, as for example Anaxagoras and Democritus, said that it was the light of the Sun reflected in that region, and they refuted the other opinions by demonstrative reasoning. What Aristotle said on this matter cannot be known with certainty because his opinion is not the same in one translation as in another. I believe that this is due to an error on the part of the translators; for in the New Translation he seems to say that it is a collection of vapors beneath the stars in that region, which attracts them continuously; this does not seem to have any foundation in truth.(47) In the Old Translation he says that the Galaxy is nothing but a multitude of fixed stars in that region, so small that we are unable to distinguish them from here below, though from them originates the appearance of that brightness which we call the Galaxy; this may be so, for the heaven in that region is denser, and therefore retains and throws back this light. Avicenna and Ptolemy seem to share this opinion with Aristotle. Consequently, since the Galaxy is an effect of those stars which we cannot see, except that we understand these things by their effects, and Metaphysics treats of the primal substances, which we likewise cannot understand except by their effects, it is clear that the Starry Heaven bears a great resemblance to Metaphysics.
Moreover, the pole which we see signifies the sensible things, which, taking them as a whole, Physics treats; and the pole which we do not see signifies the things that are immaterial, which are not sensible, which Metaphysics treats; and therefore the aforesaid heaven bears a great resemblance to the one science and to the other. Moreover, by its two movements it signifies these two sciences. For by the movement with which each day it revolves and completes a new circuit from point to point, it signifies the corruptible things of nature, which day by day complete their course, their matter changing from form to form; and these Physics treats. By the almost imperceptible movement which it makes from west to east at the rate of one degree in a hundred years, it signifies the incorruptible things which had their beginning through creation by God and shall have no end; and these Metaphysics treats. Therefore I say that this movement signifies these things, because this revolution had a beginning and shall have no end, for the end of a revolution consists of returning to the same point, to which this heaven, according to its movement, shall never return. For since the beginning of the world it has completed little more than one-sixth of the revolution, and yet we are already in the last age of the world and are still awaiting the consummation of the celestial movement. So it is manifest that the Starry Heaven, because of many properties, can be compared to Physics and to Metaphysics.
The Crystalline Heaven, which has previously been designated as the Primum Mobile, has a very clear resemblance to Moral Philosophy; for Moral Philosophy, as Thomas says in commenting on the second book of the Ethics, disposes us properly to the other sciences.(48)For, as the Philosopher says in the fifth book of the Ethics, “legal justice disposes the sciences for our learning, and commands that they be learned and taught in order that they not be forsaken”;(49) so with its movement the aforesaid heaven governs the daily revolution of all the others, by which every day they all receive and transmit here below the virtue of all their parts; for if the revolution of this heaven did not govern in this way, little of their virtue would reach here below, and little sight of them as well. Consequently if we suppose that it were possible for this ninth heaven not to move, there is no place on earth from which a third of the Starry Heaven could as yet have been seen; and Saturn would be hidden for 14 ½ years, from any given place on earth, and Jupiter would be hidden for 6 years, and Mars for almost a year, and the Sun 182 days and 14 hours (I say “days,” meaning the length of time which is measured by so many days), and Venus and Mercury would be hidden and visible almost as long as the Sun, and the Moon would be concealed from all mankind for a period of 14 ½ days. In truth there would be no generation here below, either of animal or of plant life; there would be no night or day, or week or month or year, but rather all the universe would be disordered, and the movement of the other heavens would be in vain. Likewise if Moral Philosophy ceased to exist, the other sciences would be hidden for some time, and there would be no generation or happiness in life, and in vain would these bodies of knowledge have been discovered and written down long ago. Consequently it is quite evident that this heaven may be compared to Moral Philosophy.
Moreover, the Empyrean Heaven by its peace resembles the Divine Science, which is full of all peace and suffers no diversity of opinion or sophistical reasoning because of the supreme certainty of its subject, which is God. Christ says of this science to his disciples: “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you,” giving and leaving to them his teaching, which is this science of which I speak.(50) Solomon, speaking of this science, says: “The queens number sixty, and the concubines eighty; and of the young handmaids there is no number: one is my dove and my perfect one.”(51) He calls all sciences queens and friends and handmaids, but this one he calls perfect because it makes us see truth perfectly, in which our souls find rest.
Therefore, since the comparison of the heavens to the sciences has been discussed, we may perceive that by the third heaven I mean Rhetoric, which resembles the third heaven, as is clear from above. Chapter 15
By the resemblances discussed it may be seen who are these movers to whom I speak, who are the movers of this heaven, like Boethius and Tully, who with the sweetness of their discourse guided me, as has been said above, along the path of love–that is, into the pursuit of this most gentle lady Philosophy, by the rays of their star, which is their writing about her; for in every science the written word is a star filled with light which reveals that science. Once this is understood, we may perceive the true meaning of the first stanza of the canzone before us by means of the fictive and literal exposition.(52) By means of this same exposition the second stanza may be sufficiently understood, as far as the part where it says This one makes me behold a lady.
Here we must observe that this lady is Philosophy, who truly is a lady full of sweetness, adorned with honor, wondrous in wisdom, glorious in freedom, as will be made manifest in the third book, which will treat her nobleness. And where it says Let him who would see bliss Gaze into the eyes of this lady, the eyes of this lady are her demonstrations, which when directed into the eyes of the intellect, enamor the soul that is liberated from its earthly condition. O most sweet and ineffable looks, sudden captors of the human mind, who appear in the demonstrations of the eyes of Philosophy when she converses with her lovers! Truly in you is salvation, by which he who gazes on you is made blessed and saved from the death of ignorance and vice. Where it is said Provided he fears not the sighs of anguish, we must understand provided he fears not the strain of study and the turmoil of uncertainty which spring forth in profusion from this lady’s first glances, and then, as her light continues, fall away like morning clouds before the face of the sun, so that the intellect becomes accustomed to her and remains free and full of certainty, like the air that is purged and made luminous by the midday rays.
The third stanza is likewise understood by means of the literal exposition up to where it says The soul cries out. Here we must carefully attend to a certain moral which may be noted in these words: that a man should not, for the sake of a greater friend, forget the services rendered by a lesser one; but if indeed he must follow the one and forsake the other, he should follow the better one, abandoning the other with some honest expression of regret, whereby he gives to the one he follows cause for greater love. Then where it says And of my eyes, it means that difficult was the hour in which the first demonstration of this lady entered the eyes of my intellect, which was the most immediate cause of this love. Where it says the likes of me is meant the souls that are free from wretched and vile delights and from vulgar habits, and endowed with intellect and memory. Then it says slays, and then I’m slain, which seems contrary to what has been said above of this lady’s power to save. Therefore it should be known that one of the sides speaks here, and the other there, the two contending diversely, as has been made clear above. Hence it is not surprising that the one says “yes” and the other “no,” if we note carefully which is falling and which is rising.
Then in the fourth stanza where it says a gentle spirit of love, it means a thought that is born of my study. Here it should be known that by love in this allegory is always meant that study which is the application of the mind to that thing of which it is enamored. Then when it says you will See the beauty of such lofty miracles, it declares that through her shall the beauty of these miracles be perceived; and it speaks truly, for the beauty of wonders is the perception of their causes which she demonstrates, as the Philosopher seems to assert at the beginning of the Metaphysicswhen he says that by the sight of these beauties men began to fall in love with this lady. We will speak more fully of this word “wonder” in the following book. All the rest that follows in this canzone has been made sufficiently clear by the previous exposition. So at the end of this second book I assert and affirm that the lady of whom I was enamored after my first love was the most beautiful and honorable daughter of the Emperor of the universe, to whom Pythagoras gave the name of Philosophy.
Here ends the second book, whose purpose has been to explicate the canzone which is served as the first course.(53)
1. the usage of the poets What Dante means in distinguishing between the allegory of the poets and the allegory of the theologians is not entirely clear and has given rise to endless speculation. The theologians insist on the veracity of all four levels of meaning, and conceived of the allegorical levels (the typological, tropological, and anagogical) to depend on a literal level which was historically true. In the allegory of the poets, as exemplified by the allusion to the myth of Orpheus, the literal level is a “bella menzogna,” a beautiful fiction having no basis in historical reality. In the allegory of the theologians, moreover, the second level always refers to some aspect of Christ’s historical being, of which he is the ideal type, which is not the case with the poets. The third and fourth levels are shared in common by both modes of allegory.
3. when the people of Israel went out of Egypt The reference is to Psalm 113, In exitu Israel de Egypto. Dante employs this same psalm in his Letter to Cangrande to illustrate the various levels of allegory, and the souls of the saved sing this psalm entering Purgatory.
5. the star of Venus . . . that circle of hers The planets were considered stars that wandered through the heavens, in distinction to the Fixed Stars which were immovable and always appeared in the same position in the sky at all times of the year. Venus is a moving “star,” and the circle or orbit in which she moves in Dante’s description is her epicycle, a circle whose center lies on the main orbit which circles the earth, according to the Ptolemaic system.
6. when that gentle lady The “gentle lady” at the window who consoled Dante during his period of grief after the loss of Beatrice (see the Vita Nuova, XXXIV). The planet Venus circles the earth in 584 days, so that the period referred to is at least three years and two months after the death of Beatrice, which occurred on 8 June 1290.
8. to excuse myself for the change The text here is defective. Simonelli reads per iscusare me de la [novi]tade, Busnelli-Vandelli has v[a]ri[e]tade, and Chiappelli-Fenzi have recently returned to the reading veritade (truth). Simonelli notes that Dante uses the very word novitade in the canzone’s first stanza, verse ten.
10. the order of their position The order of the spheres discussed here reappears in Paradiso. According to medieval astronomy, the planets were attached to great, transparent, empty shell-like spheres which carried them around the earth.
13. an epicycle According to Ptolemaic cosmology, as Venus proceeds to circle the earth, it performs a second kind of circular movement, one whose center is situated on the circumference of its orbit around earth. This model was adopted to account for the fact the perceived motion of some planets did not accord with a simple revolution around the earth. Indeed, Venus and Mercury were observed to move in a retrograde motion at various times of the year. Dante will refer to the epicycle of Venus again at the beginning ofParadiso VIII.
18. nine orders of spiritual creatures Dante follows the order of angels established by Gregory the Great in Book XXXII of his Moralia. In Paradiso, he adopts the order proposed by Dionysius the Areopagite (see Par. XXVIII, 98-135): Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, Angels.
24. for they have no sense perception The angels have no body and therefore no power of sensation. Consequently they have no power nor need of language, as Dante explains in the De vulgari eloquentia I, 2.
34. that book of Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy was composed by Boethius while in prison in Pavia in the year 523 A.D. Condemned to exile and death, he was executed in the following year. Dante must have seen in him an alter ego of his own being.
36. the rarity of its substance The theory that the spots on the moon were the result of the varying density of lunar material from place to place, later rejected by Dante in Par. II, 61 ff. as false, derives from Averroes.
43. it results from our negligence The reference is to theQuadripartitus I, 1, 2. It is likely that “negligence” signifies indolence. Dante uses the same root word to describe Belacqua’s moral condition (Purg. IV, 110-111).
44. the Starry Heaven The heaven of the Fixed Stars. The Arctic Pole is considered visible because the human race lives in the northern hemisphere, but the Antarctic Pole, the site of Mt. Purgatory, was thought visible only from the southern and uninhabited hemisphere (see Inf. XXVI, 127 ff). The revolution of the Fixed Stars on its axis from east to west took place every twenty-four hours, but a second, virtually invisible motion (“almost hidden from us”), along the equinoctial circle, occurred in the opposite direction at the rate of one degree every one hundred years.
45. the fifth book of the first group of books Aristotle’s works used to place the group of books entitled Octo libri Physicorum, more generally known as the Physica, at the beginning of his published works on science.