Time’s Scissors, Or The Florentine Phonebook

Paradiso 16 opens with an apostrophe to our “meager nobility of blood”—“O poca nostra nobiltà di sangue” (1)—as the poet wonders at the power of family attachment and lineage. For, the poet tells us, he found himself in heaven glorying at the discovery that he has an ancestor of Cacciaguida’s stature:

O poca nostra nobiltà di sangue,
se gloriar di te la gente fai
qua giù dove l’affetto nostro langue,
mirabil cosa non mi sarà mai: 
ché là dove appetito non si torce,
dico nel cielo, io me ne gloriai.		 (Par. 16.1-6)
If here below, where sentiment is far
too weak to withstand error, I should see 
men glorying in you, nobility
of blood—a meager thing!—I should not wonder,
for even where desire is not awry,
I mean in Heaven, I too felt such pride.

The dialectical thrust of this passage is evident and is emblematic of the heaven of Mars, where family ties and affect are resurgent. The pilgrim’s “appetito” cannot err, a fact corroborated by Beatrice’s response, which is not to censure Dante for his pride in Cacciaguida, but to laugh at him (Par. 16.13-15). And yet—in a beautiful example of the Commedia’s non-renunciation of its dialectical texture—he is not immune from a sense of glory in his ancestry.

Dante’s family connections while coming of age were lackluster, perhaps even somewhat unsavory and embarrassing, as evidenced by the tenzone with Forese Donati. Here, however, he inscribes himself into the Florentine nobility. Significant from this perspective is Cacciaguida’s explicit statement, at the end of Paradiso 15, that the emperor knighted him: “ed el mi cinse de la sua milizia” (he gave me the girdle of his knighthood [Par. 15.140]).

Although the pilgrim glories in his noble ancestry, the poet registers immediately the ephemeral nature of such glory, given the depredations of time. Our metaphorical cloaks can only get shorter, unless we find new material to add on a constant basis, for time’s scissors continue to cut away at whatever we create:

Ben se’ tu manto che tosto raccorce:
sì che, se non s'appon di dì in die,
lo tempo va dintorno con le force.  	(Par. 16.7-9)
You are indeed a cloak that soon wears out,
so that if, day by day, we add no patch,
then circling time will trim you with its shears.

The menacing tone that Dante thus insinuates into the opening sequence of Paradiso 16, through the metaphor of “time [that] goes around with its scissors”—“lo tempo va dintorno con le force” (9)—sets the stage for a canto that is darker by far than its predecessor.

Paradiso 16 continues the theme of Florentine history but it problematizes Paradiso 15. As I write in The Undivine Comedy, if “Paradiso 15 creates the mythical moment outside of time and history”, then “Paradiso 16 returns us to the world of time and to the sorrow of history” (p.137).

Where Paradiso 15 presents the idyllic and idealized Florence of yore, and uses history as a lens onto the best that human society can offer, Paradiso 16 tells of Florentine decay and factionalism. Now Cacciaguida uses the past in order to compare it to the present, saying, in the canto’s last verse, that in his day discord and factional hatred had not yet made the Florentine lily blood-red: “né per division fatto vermiglio” (nor was it made bloodred by factious hatred [Par. 16.154]).

The word “division” in verse 154 takes us back to Florence as “la città partita” (the divided city) of Inferno 6.61.

The pilgrim asks Cacciaguida “quai fuor li vostri antichi” (who were your ancestors [Par. 16.23]), reminding us of Farinata’s question to the pilgrim in another Florentine canto, Inferno 10: “Chi fuor li maggior tui?” (Who were your ancestors? [Inf. 10.42]).

Cacciaguida’s reply echoes the very language of Farinata. Farinata uses the locution “li maggior tui” and Cacciaguida uses the phrase “i miei maggiori”:

Li antichi miei e io nacqui nel loco
dove si truova pria l’ultimo sesto
da quei che corre il vostro annual gioco.
Basti d’i miei maggiori udirne questo:
chi ei si fosser e onde venner quivi,
più è tacer che ragionare onesto.	 (Par. 16.40-45)
My ancestors and I were born just where
the runner in your yearly games first comes
upon the boundary of the final ward. 
That is enough concerning my forebears:
what were their names, from where they came—of that,
silence, not speech, is more appropriate.

As Dante had asked Ciacco in Inferno 6 to tell him the whereabouts of the previous generation’s great Florentines, only to learn that they are among the darkest souls of hell, now he asks Cacciaguida to recount the greatest citizens of his era: “chi eran le genti / tra esso degne di più alti scanni” (who in that flock were worthy of the highest offices [Par. 16.26-27]).

In responding about the people of Florence of his day, Cacciaguida returns to the theme of yet another Florentine canto, Inferno 16. There we learned about the “gente nuova e i sùbiti guadagni” (newcomers to the city and quick gains [Inf. 16.73]) who brought excess—“dismisura” (Inf. 16.74)—to the city. Now Cacciaguida insists that in his day, before the “gente nuova” came into Florence, the city was pure and “unmixed”:

Ma la cittadinanza, ch’è or mista
di Campi, di Certaldo e di Fegghine,
pura vediesi ne l’ultimo artista.  	(Par. 16.49-51)
But then the citizens, now mixed with Campi,
with the Certaldo, and with the Figline,
were pure down to the humblest artisan.

It is interesting, as we struggle with immigration in a global world, to consider that for Dante the impurity that corrupted Florence, the “confusion de le persone” (mingling of the populations [Par. 16.67]) that he so deplores, was a result of influx from rural areas still well within the province of Tuscany, some that we would now consider Florentine suburbs. Certaldo in verse 50 is the town where Boccaccio was born.

For Cacciaguida, the theme of Florentine impurity leads back to the theme of time’s scissors. Time is the great destroyer of what humans create. Given that cities themselves are subject to time, how could we not expect families and lineages to die out? They are like other human creations, and therefore they “possess their death”: “Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte” (Par. 16.79). These verses are the heart of Paradiso 16:

Se tu riguardi Luni e Orbisaglia
come sono ite, e come se ne vanno
di retro ad esse Chiusi e Sinigaglia,
udir come le schiatte si disfanno
non ti parrà nova cosa né forte,
poscia che le cittadi termine hanno.
Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte,
sì come voi; ma celasi in alcuna
che dura molto, e le vite son corte.     (Par. 16.73-81)
Consider Luni, Urbisaglia, how
they went to ruin (Sinigaglia follows,
and Chiusi, too, will soon have vanished); then,
if you should hear of families undone,
you will find nothing strange or difficult
in that—since even cities meet their end.
All things that you possess, possess their death,
just as you do; but in some things that last
long, death can hide from you whose lives are short.

The key verse is verse 79: “Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte”. In Mandelbaum’s beautiful translation: “All things that you possess, possess their death”. The rubric “vostre cose” includes:

  • cities, as in the above citation (Luni, Urbisaglia, etc.)
  • family lineages (“le schiatte” in the above passage, verse 76)
  • language (hence in the previous canto the emphasis on Cacciaguida’s earlier form of Florentine); Dante will come back to the linguistic issue in Paradiso

Indeed, all human culture falls under the tragic rubric of “Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte”. The ultimate carrier of this message in Paradiso 16 is the catalogue of Florentine names—the “Florentine phonebook” of my title. These are names of great lineages, now in decline, the “alti Fiorentini / onde è la fama nel tempo nascosa” (noble Florentines, whose reputations time has hidden [Par. 16.86-87]):

Io vidi li Ughi e vidi i Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni e Alberichi,
già nel calare, illustri cittadini; 
e vidi così grandi come antichi, 
con quel de la Sannella, quel de l’Arca,
e Soldanieri e Ardinghi e Bostichi.	 (Par. 16.88-93)
I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, Alberichi,
famed citizens already in decline, 
and saw, as great as they were venerable,
dell’Arca with della Sannella, and 
Ardinghi, Soldanieri, and Bostichi.

The fact that Cacciaguida does not expect his descendant to recognize these names, because time’s scissors have shorn them of their fame, tells us everything we need to know about what time does to human constructs. And, in passing, let me note that the model of time eclipsing fame—“la fama nel tempo nascosa”—provides the model for Petrarch’s Trionfi.

These Florentine names are analogous to the names in the catalogue of ships in Book 2 of the Iliad (since Dante did not know the Iliad, this is a topos that he encountered through Vergil rather than Homer). In other words, the recording of names is an epic topos, and the implications of writing these names have to be considered in the light of the mission of the epic poet. And, in fact, the names are still here, and we still know them.

Although Dante’s reader is confronted with the mortality of these names, he or she is also faced with the indelibility of the Florentine phonebook. For the task of the epic poet, as we shall see in the next canto, is nothing less than to record human history and thus to preserve it.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: on the canti of the heaven of Mars as the poem’s “epic core,” see The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 6, “Re-Presenting What God Presented,” pp. 137-40; Dante’s Poets, p. 281.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 16: Time’s Scissors, Or The Florentine Phonebook.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-16/

About the Commento

1O poca nostra nobiltà di sangue,
2se glorïar di te la gente fai
3qua giù dove l’affetto nostro langue,

4mirabil cosa non mi sarà mai:
5ché là dove appetito non si torce,
6dico nel cielo, io me ne gloriai.

7Ben se’ tu manto che tosto raccorce:
8sì che, se non s’appon di dì in die,
9lo tempo va dintorno con le force.

10Dal ‘voi’ che prima a Roma s’offerie,
11in che la sua famiglia men persevra,
12ricominciaron le parole mie;

13onde Beatrice, ch’era un poco scevra,
14ridendo, parve quella che tossio
15al primo fallo scritto di Ginevra.

16Io cominciai: «Voi siete il padre mio;
17voi mi date a parlar tutta baldezza;
18voi mi levate sì, ch’i’ son più ch’io.

19Per tanti rivi s’empie d’allegrezza
20la mente mia, che di sé fa letizia
21perché può sostener che non si spezza.

22Ditemi dunque, cara mia primizia,
23quai fuor li vostri antichi e quai fuor li anni
24che si segnaro in vostra püerizia;

25ditemi de l’ovil di San Giovanni
26quanto era allora, e chi eran le genti
27tra esso degne di più alti scanni».

28Come s’avviva a lo spirar d’i venti
29carbone in fiamma, così vid’ io quella
30luce risplendere a’ miei blandimenti;

31e come a li occhi miei si fé più bella,
32così con voce più dolce e soave,
33ma non con questa moderna favella,

34dissemi: «Da quel dì che fu detto ‘Ave
35al parto in che mia madre, ch’è or santa,
36s’allevïò di me ond’ era grave,

37al suo Leon cinquecento cinquanta
38e trenta fiate venne questo foco
39a rinfiammarsi sotto la sua pianta.

40Li antichi miei e io nacqui nel loco
41dove si truova pria l’ultimo sesto
42da quei che corre il vostro annüal gioco.

43Basti d’i miei maggiori udirne questo:
44chi ei si fosser e onde venner quivi,
45più è tacer che ragionare onesto.

46Tutti color ch’a quel tempo eran ivi
47da poter arme tra Marte e ’l Batista,
48eran il quinto di quei ch’or son vivi.

49Ma la cittadinanza, ch’è or mista
50di Campi, di Certaldo e di Fegghine,
51pura vediesi ne l’ultimo artista.

52Oh quanto fora meglio esser vicine
53quelle genti ch’io dico, e al Galluzzo
54e a Trespiano aver vostro confine,

55che averle dentro e sostener lo puzzo
56del villan d’Aguglion, di quel da Signa,
57che già per barattare ha l’occhio aguzzo!

58Se la gente ch’al mondo più traligna
59non fosse stata a Cesare noverca,
60ma come madre a suo figlio benigna,

61tal fatto è fiorentino e cambia e merca,
62che si sarebbe vòlto a Simifonti,
63là dove andava l’avolo a la cerca;

64sariesi Montemurlo ancor de’ Conti;
65sarieno i Cerchi nel piovier d’Acone,
66e forse in Valdigrieve i Buondelmonti.

67Sempre la confusion de le persone
68principio fu del mal de la cittade,
69come del vostro il cibo che s’appone;

70e cieco toro più avaccio cade
71che cieco agnello; e molte volte taglia
72più e meglio una che le cinque spade.

73Se tu riguardi Luni e Orbisaglia
74come sono ite, e come se ne vanno
75di retro ad esse Chiusi e Sinigaglia,

76udir come le schiatte si disfanno
77non ti parrà nova cosa né forte,
78poscia che le cittadi termine hanno.

79Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte,
80sì come voi; ma celasi in alcuna
81che dura molto, e le vite son corte.

82E come ’l volger del ciel de la luna
83cuopre e discuopre i liti sanza posa,
84così fa di Fiorenza la Fortuna:

85per che non dee parer mirabil cosa
86ciò ch’io dirò de li alti Fiorentini
87onde è la fama nel tempo nascosa.

88Io vidi li Ughi e vidi i Catellini,
89Filippi, Greci, Ormanni e Alberichi,
90già nel calare, illustri cittadini;

91e vidi così grandi come antichi,
92con quel de la Sannella, quel de l’Arca,
93e Soldanieri e Ardinghi e Bostichi.

94Sovra la porta ch’al presente è carca
95di nova fellonia di tanto peso
96che tosto fia iattura de la barca,

97erano i Ravignani, ond’ è disceso
98il conte Guido e qualunque del nome
99de l’alto Bellincione ha poscia preso.

100Quel de la Pressa sapeva già come
101regger si vuole, e avea Galigaio
102dorata in casa sua già l’elsa e ’l pome.

103Grand’ era già la colonna del Vaio,
104Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifanti e Barucci
105e Galli e quei ch’arrossan per lo staio.

106Lo ceppo di che nacquero i Calfucci
107era già grande, e già eran tratti
108a le curule Sizii e Arrigucci.

109Oh quali io vidi quei che son disfatti
110per lor superbia! e le palle de l’oro
111fiorian Fiorenza in tutt’ i suoi gran fatti.

112Così facieno i padri di coloro
113che, sempre che la vostra chiesa vaca,
114si fanno grassi stando a consistoro.

115L’oltracotata schiatta che s’indraca
116dietro a chi fugge, e a chi mostra ’l dente
117o ver la borsa, com’ agnel si placa,

118già venìa sù, ma di picciola gente;
119sì che non piacque ad Ubertin Donato
120che poï il suocero il fé lor parente.

121Già era ’l Caponsacco nel mercato
122disceso giù da Fiesole, e già era
123buon cittadino Giuda e Infangato.

124Io dirò cosa incredibile e vera:
125nel picciol cerchio s’entrava per porta
126che si nomava da quei de la Pera.

127Ciascun che de la bella insegna porta
128del gran barone il cui nome e ’l cui pregio
129la festa di Tommaso riconforta,

130da esso ebbe milizia e privilegio;
131avvegna che con popol si rauni
132oggi colui che la fascia col fregio.

133Già eran Gualterotti e Importuni;
134e ancor saria Borgo più quïeto,
135se di novi vicin fosser digiuni.

136La casa di che nacque il vostro fleto,
137per lo giusto disdegno che v’ha morti
138e puose fine al vostro viver lieto,

139era onorata, essa e suoi consorti:
140o Buondelmonte, quanto mal fuggisti
141le nozze süe per li altrui conforti!

142Molti sarebber lieti, che son tristi,
143se Dio t’avesse conceduto ad Ema
144la prima volta ch’a città venisti.

145Ma conveniesi a quella pietra scema
146che guarda ’l ponte, che Fiorenza fesse
147vittima ne la sua pace postrema.

148Con queste genti, e con altre con esse,
149vid’ io Fiorenza in sì fatto riposo,
150che non avea cagione onde piangesse.

151Con queste genti vid’io glorïoso
152e giusto il popol suo, tanto che ’l giglio
153non era ad asta mai posto a ritroso,

154né per divisïon fatto vermiglio».

If here below, where sentiment is far
too weak to withstand error, I should see
men glorying in you, nobility

of blood—a meager thing!—I should not wonder,
for even where desire is not awry,
I mean in Heaven, I too felt such pride.

You are indeed a cloak that soon wears out,
so that if, day by day, we add no patch,
then circling time will trim you with its shears.

My speech began again with you, the word
that Rome was the first city to allow,
although her people seldom speak it now;

at this word, Beatrice, somewhat apart,
smiling, seemed like the woman who had coughed—
so goes the tale—at Guinevere’s first fault.

So did my speech begin: “You are my father;
you hearten me to speak with confidence;
you raise me so that I am more than I.

So many streams have filled my mind with gladness—
so many, and such gladness, that mind must
rejoice that it can bear this and not burst.

Then tell me, founder of my family,
who were your ancestors and, in your boyhood,
what were the years the records registered;

and tell me of the sheepfold of St. John—
how numerous it was, who in that flock
were worthy of the highest offices.”

As at the breathing of the winds, a coal
will quicken into flame, so I saw that
light glow at words that were affectionate;

and as, before my eyes, it grew more fair,
so, with a voice more gentle and more sweet—
not in our modern speech—it said to me:

“Down from that day when Ave was pronounced,
until my mother (blessed now), by giving
birth, eased the burden borne in bearing me,

this fire of Mars had come five—hundred—fifty
and thirty more times to its Lion—there
to be rekindled underneath its paw.

My ancestors and I were born just where
the runner in your yearly games first comes
upon the boundary of the final ward.

That is enough concerning my forebears:
what were their names, from where they came—of that,
silence, not speech, is more appropriate.

All those who, at that time, between the Baptist
and Mars, were capable of bearing arms,
numbered one fifth of those who live there now.

But then the citizens, now mixed with Campi,
with the Certaldo, and with the Figline,
were pure down to the humblest artisan.

Oh, it would be far better if you had
those whom I mention as your neighbors (and
your boundaries at Galuzzo and Trespiano),

than to have them within, to bear the stench
of Aguglione’s wretch and Signa’s wretch,
whose sharp eyes now on barratry are set.

If those who, in the world, go most astray
had not seen Caesar with stepmothers’ eyes,
but, like a mother to her son, been kind,

then one who has become a Florentine
trader and money changer would have stayed
in Semifonte, where his fathers peddled,

the Counts would still be lords of Montemurlo,
the Cerchi would be in Acone’s parish,
perhaps the Buondelmonti in Valdigreve.

The mingling of the populations led
to evil in the city, even as
food piled on food destroys the body’s health;

the blind bull falls more quickly, more headlong,
than does the blind lamb; and the one blade can
often cut more and better than five swords.

Consider Luni, Urbisaglia, how
they went to ruin (Sinigaglia follows,
and Chiusi, too, will soon have vanished); then,

if you should hear of families undone,
you will find nothing strange or difficult
in that—since even cities meet their end.

All things that you possess, possess their death,
just as you do; but in some things that last
long, death can hide from you whose lives are short.

And even as the heaven of the moon,
revolving, respiteless, conceals and then
reveals the shores, so Fortune does with Florence;

therefore, there is no cause for wonder in
what I shall tell of noble Florentines,
of those whose reputations time has hidden.

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, Alberichi,
famed citizens already in decline,

and saw, as great as they were venerable,
dell’Arca with della Sannella, and
Ardinghi, Soldanieri, and Bostichi.

Nearby the gate that now is burdened with
new treachery that weighs so heavily
that it will bring the vessel to shipwreck,

there were the Ravignani, from whose line
Count Guido comes and all who—since—derive
their name from the illustrious Bellincione.

And della Pressa knew already how
to rule; and Galigaio, in his house,
already had the gilded hilt and pommel.

The stripe of Vair had mightiness already,
as did the Giuochi, Galli, and Barucci,
Fifanti, and Sacchetti, and those who

blush for the bushel; and the stock from which
spring the Calfucci was already mighty,
and Sizzi and Arrigucci were already

raised to high office. Oh, how great were those
I saw—whom pride laid low! And the gold balls,
in all of her great actions, flowered Florence.

Such were the ancestors of those who now,
whenever bishops’ sees are vacant, grow
fat as they sit in church consistories.

The breed—so arrogant and dragonlike
in chasing him who flees, but lamblike, meek
to him who shows his teeth or else his purse—

was on the rise already, but of stock
so mean that Ubertin Donato, when
his father—in—law made him kin to them,

was scarcely pleased. Already Caponsacco
had come from Fiesole down to the market;
already citizens of note were Giuda

and Infangato. I shall tell a thing
incredible and true: the gateway through
the inner walls was named for the della Pera.

All those whose arms bear part of the fair ensign
of the great baron—he whose memory
and worth are honored on the feast of Thomas—

received knighthood and privilege from him,
though he whose coat of arms has fringed that ensign
has taken sides now with the populace.

The Gualterotti and the Importuni
were there already; were the Borgo spared
new neighbors, it would still be tranquil there.

The house of Amidei, with which your sorrows
began—by reason of its just resentment,
which ruined you and ended years of gladness—

was honored then, as were its close companions.
O Buondelmonte, through another’s counsel,
you fled your wedding pledge, and brought such evil!

Many would now rejoice, who still lament,
if when you first approached the city, God
had given you unto the river Ema!

But Florence, in her final peace, was fated
to offer up—unto that mutilated
stone guardian upon her bridge—a victim.

These were the families, and others with them:
the Florence that I saw—in such repose
that there was nothing to have caused her sorrow.

These were the families: with them I saw
her people so acclaimed and just, that on
her staff the lily never was reversed,

nor was it made bloodred by factious hatred.”

O THOU our poor nobility of blood,
If thou dost make the people glory in thee
Down here where our affection languishes,

A marvellous thing it ne’er will be to me;
For there where appetite is not perverted,
I say in Heaven, of thee I made a boast!

Truly thou art a cloak that quickly shortens,
So that unless we piece thee day by day
Time goeth round about thee with his shears!

With _You,_ which Rome was first to tolerate,
(Wherein her family less perseveres,)
Yet once again my words beginning made;

Whence Beatrice, who stood somewhat apart,
Smiling, appeared like unto her who coughed
At the first failing writ of Guenever.

And I began: “You are my ancestor,
You give to me all hardihood to speak,
You lift me so that I am more than I.

So many rivulets with gladness fill
My mind, that of itself it makes a joy
Because it can endure this and not burst.

‘Then tell me, my beloved root ancestral,
Who were your ancestors, and what the years
That in your boyhood chronicled themselves ?

Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John,
How large it was, and who the people were
Within it worthy of the highest seats.”

As at the blowing of the winds a coal
Quickens to flame, so I beheld that light
Become resplendent at my blandishments.

And as unto mine eyes it grew more fair,
With voice more sweet and tender, but not in
‘This modern dialect, it said to me:

“From uttering of the _Ave,_ till the birth
In which my mother, who is now a saint,
Of me was lightened who had been her burden,

Unto its Lion had this fire returned
Five hundred fifty times and thirty more,
To reinflame itself beneath his paw.

My ancestors and I our birthplace had
Where first is found the last ward of the city
By him who runneth in your annual game.

Suffice it of my elders to hear this;
But who they were, and whence they thither came,
Silence is more considerate than speech.

All those who at that time were there between
Mars and the Baptist, fit for bearing arms,
Were a fifth part of those who now are living;

But the community, that now is mixed
With Campi and Certaldo and Figghine,
Pure in the lowest artisan was seen.

O how much better ’twere to have as neighbours
The folk of whom I speak, and at Galluzzo
And at Trespiano have your boundary,

Than have them in the town, and bear the stench
Of Aguglione’s churl, and him of Signa
Who has sharp eyes for trickery already.

Had not the folk, which most of all the world
Degenerates, been a step—dame unto Caesar,
But as a mother to her son benignant,

Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,
Would have gone back again to Simifonte
There where their grandsires went about as beggars.

At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,
The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,
Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti.

Ever the intermingling of the people
Has been the source of malady in cities,
As in the body food it surfeits on;

And a blind bull more headlong plunges down
Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts
Better and more a single sword than five.

If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia,
How they have passed away, and how are passing
Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them,

To hear how races waste themselves away
Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard
Seeing that even cities have an end.

All things of yours have their mortality,
Even as yourselves; but it is hidden in some
That a long while endure, and lives are short;

And as the turning of the lunar heaven
Covers and bares the shores without a pause,
In the like manner fortune does with Florence.

Therefore should not appear a marvellous thing
What I shall say of the great Florentines
Of whom the fame is hidden in the Past.

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi,
Even in their fall illustrious citizens;

And saw, as mighty as they ancient were,
With him of La Sannella him of Arca,
And Soldanier, Ardinghi, and Bostichi.

Near to the gate that is at present laden
With a ne felony of so much weight
That soon it shall be jetsam from the bark,

The Ravignani were, from whom descended
The County Guido, and whoe’er the name
Of the great Bellincione since hath taken.

He of La Pressa knew the art of ruling
Already, and already Galigajo
Had hilt and pommel gilded in his house.

Mighty already was the Column Vair,
Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifant, and Barucci,
And Galli, and they who for the bushel blush.

The stock from which were the Calfucci born
Was great already, and already chosen
To curule chairs the Sizii and Arrigucci.

O how beheld I those who are undone
By their own pride! and how the Balls of Gold
Florence enflowered in all their mighty deeds!

So likewise did the ancestors of those
Who evermore, when vacant is your church,
Fatten by staying in consistory.

The insolent race, that like a dragon follows
Whoever flees, and unto him that shows
His teeth or purse is gentle as a lamb,

Already rising was, but from low people;
So that it pleased not Ubertin Donato
That his wife’s father should make him their kin.

Already had Caponsacco to the Market
From Fesole descended, and already
Giuda and Infangato were good burghers.

I’ll tell a thing incredible, but true;
One entered the small circuit by a gate
Which from the Della Pera took its name!

Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon
Of the great baron whose renown and name
The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh,

Knighthood and privilege from him received;
Though with the populace unites himself
To—day the man who binds it with a border.

Already were Gualterotti and Importuni;
And still more quiet would the Borgo be
If with new neighbours it remained unfed.

The house from which is born your lamentation,
Through just disdain that death among you brought
And put an end unto your joyous life,

Was honoured in itself and its companions.
O Buondelmonte, how in evil hour
Thou fled’st the bridal at another’s promptings!

Many would be rejoicing who are sad,
If God had thee surrendered to the Ema
The first time that thou camest to the city.

But it behoved the mutilated stone
Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provide
A victim in her latest hour of peace.

With all these families, and others with them,
Florence beheld I in so great repose,
That no occasion had she whence to weep;

With all these families beheld so just
And glorious her people, that the lily
Never upon the spear was placed reversed,

Nor by division was vermilion made.”

If here below, where sentiment is far
too weak to withstand error, I should see
men glorying in you, nobility

of blood—a meager thing!—I should not wonder,
for even where desire is not awry,
I mean in Heaven, I too felt such pride.

You are indeed a cloak that soon wears out,
so that if, day by day, we add no patch,
then circling time will trim you with its shears.

My speech began again with you, the word
that Rome was the first city to allow,
although her people seldom speak it now;

at this word, Beatrice, somewhat apart,
smiling, seemed like the woman who had coughed—
so goes the tale—at Guinevere’s first fault.

So did my speech begin: “You are my father;
you hearten me to speak with confidence;
you raise me so that I am more than I.

So many streams have filled my mind with gladness—
so many, and such gladness, that mind must
rejoice that it can bear this and not burst.

Then tell me, founder of my family,
who were your ancestors and, in your boyhood,
what were the years the records registered;

and tell me of the sheepfold of St. John—
how numerous it was, who in that flock
were worthy of the highest offices.”

As at the breathing of the winds, a coal
will quicken into flame, so I saw that
light glow at words that were affectionate;

and as, before my eyes, it grew more fair,
so, with a voice more gentle and more sweet—
not in our modern speech—it said to me:

“Down from that day when Ave was pronounced,
until my mother (blessed now), by giving
birth, eased the burden borne in bearing me,

this fire of Mars had come five—hundred—fifty
and thirty more times to its Lion—there
to be rekindled underneath its paw.

My ancestors and I were born just where
the runner in your yearly games first comes
upon the boundary of the final ward.

That is enough concerning my forebears:
what were their names, from where they came—of that,
silence, not speech, is more appropriate.

All those who, at that time, between the Baptist
and Mars, were capable of bearing arms,
numbered one fifth of those who live there now.

But then the citizens, now mixed with Campi,
with the Certaldo, and with the Figline,
were pure down to the humblest artisan.

Oh, it would be far better if you had
those whom I mention as your neighbors (and
your boundaries at Galuzzo and Trespiano),

than to have them within, to bear the stench
of Aguglione’s wretch and Signa’s wretch,
whose sharp eyes now on barratry are set.

If those who, in the world, go most astray
had not seen Caesar with stepmothers’ eyes,
but, like a mother to her son, been kind,

then one who has become a Florentine
trader and money changer would have stayed
in Semifonte, where his fathers peddled,

the Counts would still be lords of Montemurlo,
the Cerchi would be in Acone’s parish,
perhaps the Buondelmonti in Valdigreve.

The mingling of the populations led
to evil in the city, even as
food piled on food destroys the body’s health;

the blind bull falls more quickly, more headlong,
than does the blind lamb; and the one blade can
often cut more and better than five swords.

Consider Luni, Urbisaglia, how
they went to ruin (Sinigaglia follows,
and Chiusi, too, will soon have vanished); then,

if you should hear of families undone,
you will find nothing strange or difficult
in that—since even cities meet their end.

All things that you possess, possess their death,
just as you do; but in some things that last
long, death can hide from you whose lives are short.

And even as the heaven of the moon,
revolving, respiteless, conceals and then
reveals the shores, so Fortune does with Florence;

therefore, there is no cause for wonder in
what I shall tell of noble Florentines,
of those whose reputations time has hidden.

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, Alberichi,
famed citizens already in decline,

and saw, as great as they were venerable,
dell’Arca with della Sannella, and
Ardinghi, Soldanieri, and Bostichi.

Nearby the gate that now is burdened with
new treachery that weighs so heavily
that it will bring the vessel to shipwreck,

there were the Ravignani, from whose line
Count Guido comes and all who—since—derive
their name from the illustrious Bellincione.

And della Pressa knew already how
to rule; and Galigaio, in his house,
already had the gilded hilt and pommel.

The stripe of Vair had mightiness already,
as did the Giuochi, Galli, and Barucci,
Fifanti, and Sacchetti, and those who

blush for the bushel; and the stock from which
spring the Calfucci was already mighty,
and Sizzi and Arrigucci were already

raised to high office. Oh, how great were those
I saw—whom pride laid low! And the gold balls,
in all of her great actions, flowered Florence.

Such were the ancestors of those who now,
whenever bishops’ sees are vacant, grow
fat as they sit in church consistories.

The breed—so arrogant and dragonlike
in chasing him who flees, but lamblike, meek
to him who shows his teeth or else his purse—

was on the rise already, but of stock
so mean that Ubertin Donato, when
his father—in—law made him kin to them,

was scarcely pleased. Already Caponsacco
had come from Fiesole down to the market;
already citizens of note were Giuda

and Infangato. I shall tell a thing
incredible and true: the gateway through
the inner walls was named for the della Pera.

All those whose arms bear part of the fair ensign
of the great baron—he whose memory
and worth are honored on the feast of Thomas—

received knighthood and privilege from him,
though he whose coat of arms has fringed that ensign
has taken sides now with the populace.

The Gualterotti and the Importuni
were there already; were the Borgo spared
new neighbors, it would still be tranquil there.

The house of Amidei, with which your sorrows
began—by reason of its just resentment,
which ruined you and ended years of gladness—

was honored then, as were its close companions.
O Buondelmonte, through another’s counsel,
you fled your wedding pledge, and brought such evil!

Many would now rejoice, who still lament,
if when you first approached the city, God
had given you unto the river Ema!

But Florence, in her final peace, was fated
to offer up—unto that mutilated
stone guardian upon her bridge—a victim.

These were the families, and others with them:
the Florence that I saw—in such repose
that there was nothing to have caused her sorrow.

These were the families: with them I saw
her people so acclaimed and just, that on
her staff the lily never was reversed,

nor was it made bloodred by factious hatred.”

O THOU our poor nobility of blood,
If thou dost make the people glory in thee
Down here where our affection languishes,

A marvellous thing it ne’er will be to me;
For there where appetite is not perverted,
I say in Heaven, of thee I made a boast!

Truly thou art a cloak that quickly shortens,
So that unless we piece thee day by day
Time goeth round about thee with his shears!

With _You,_ which Rome was first to tolerate,
(Wherein her family less perseveres,)
Yet once again my words beginning made;

Whence Beatrice, who stood somewhat apart,
Smiling, appeared like unto her who coughed
At the first failing writ of Guenever.

And I began: “You are my ancestor,
You give to me all hardihood to speak,
You lift me so that I am more than I.

So many rivulets with gladness fill
My mind, that of itself it makes a joy
Because it can endure this and not burst.

‘Then tell me, my beloved root ancestral,
Who were your ancestors, and what the years
That in your boyhood chronicled themselves ?

Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John,
How large it was, and who the people were
Within it worthy of the highest seats.”

As at the blowing of the winds a coal
Quickens to flame, so I beheld that light
Become resplendent at my blandishments.

And as unto mine eyes it grew more fair,
With voice more sweet and tender, but not in
‘This modern dialect, it said to me:

“From uttering of the _Ave,_ till the birth
In which my mother, who is now a saint,
Of me was lightened who had been her burden,

Unto its Lion had this fire returned
Five hundred fifty times and thirty more,
To reinflame itself beneath his paw.

My ancestors and I our birthplace had
Where first is found the last ward of the city
By him who runneth in your annual game.

Suffice it of my elders to hear this;
But who they were, and whence they thither came,
Silence is more considerate than speech.

All those who at that time were there between
Mars and the Baptist, fit for bearing arms,
Were a fifth part of those who now are living;

But the community, that now is mixed
With Campi and Certaldo and Figghine,
Pure in the lowest artisan was seen.

O how much better ’twere to have as neighbours
The folk of whom I speak, and at Galluzzo
And at Trespiano have your boundary,

Than have them in the town, and bear the stench
Of Aguglione’s churl, and him of Signa
Who has sharp eyes for trickery already.

Had not the folk, which most of all the world
Degenerates, been a step—dame unto Caesar,
But as a mother to her son benignant,

Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,
Would have gone back again to Simifonte
There where their grandsires went about as beggars.

At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,
The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,
Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti.

Ever the intermingling of the people
Has been the source of malady in cities,
As in the body food it surfeits on;

And a blind bull more headlong plunges down
Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts
Better and more a single sword than five.

If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia,
How they have passed away, and how are passing
Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them,

To hear how races waste themselves away
Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard
Seeing that even cities have an end.

All things of yours have their mortality,
Even as yourselves; but it is hidden in some
That a long while endure, and lives are short;

And as the turning of the lunar heaven
Covers and bares the shores without a pause,
In the like manner fortune does with Florence.

Therefore should not appear a marvellous thing
What I shall say of the great Florentines
Of whom the fame is hidden in the Past.

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi,
Even in their fall illustrious citizens;

And saw, as mighty as they ancient were,
With him of La Sannella him of Arca,
And Soldanier, Ardinghi, and Bostichi.

Near to the gate that is at present laden
With a ne felony of so much weight
That soon it shall be jetsam from the bark,

The Ravignani were, from whom descended
The County Guido, and whoe’er the name
Of the great Bellincione since hath taken.

He of La Pressa knew the art of ruling
Already, and already Galigajo
Had hilt and pommel gilded in his house.

Mighty already was the Column Vair,
Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifant, and Barucci,
And Galli, and they who for the bushel blush.

The stock from which were the Calfucci born
Was great already, and already chosen
To curule chairs the Sizii and Arrigucci.

O how beheld I those who are undone
By their own pride! and how the Balls of Gold
Florence enflowered in all their mighty deeds!

So likewise did the ancestors of those
Who evermore, when vacant is your church,
Fatten by staying in consistory.

The insolent race, that like a dragon follows
Whoever flees, and unto him that shows
His teeth or purse is gentle as a lamb,

Already rising was, but from low people;
So that it pleased not Ubertin Donato
That his wife’s father should make him their kin.

Already had Caponsacco to the Market
From Fesole descended, and already
Giuda and Infangato were good burghers.

I’ll tell a thing incredible, but true;
One entered the small circuit by a gate
Which from the Della Pera took its name!

Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon
Of the great baron whose renown and name
The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh,

Knighthood and privilege from him received;
Though with the populace unites himself
To—day the man who binds it with a border.

Already were Gualterotti and Importuni;
And still more quiet would the Borgo be
If with new neighbours it remained unfed.

The house from which is born your lamentation,
Through just disdain that death among you brought
And put an end unto your joyous life,

Was honoured in itself and its companions.
O Buondelmonte, how in evil hour
Thou fled’st the bridal at another’s promptings!

Many would be rejoicing who are sad,
If God had thee surrendered to the Ema
The first time that thou camest to the city.

But it behoved the mutilated stone
Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provide
A victim in her latest hour of peace.

With all these families, and others with them,
Florence beheld I in so great repose,
That no occasion had she whence to weep;

With all these families beheld so just
And glorious her people, that the lily
Never upon the spear was placed reversed,

Nor by division was vermilion made.”