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As soon as ever of my second age
I was upon the threshold and changed life,
And into ways untrue he turned his steps,
Neither here, however, nor in the Convivio2 do we find evidence of an utter apostasy from the faith such as Witte does not scruple to attribute to him. Undue absorption by philosophy is probably what is meant. Boccaccio tells us that in his riper years Dante felt shame at having written the Vita Niurva; and it is perhaps to this shame that we owe the Convivio. Disgusted with the simplicity of his early work, Dante girded himself for an allegorical exposition of his poetry as more in harmony with his mature age. In other words, he quitted the lover to become the man of science, the philosopher. His method is to select certain of his lyrics and to make them serve as texts for learned dissertations on the manifold aspects of human knowledge or speculation. Originally he proposed to treat fourteen eanzoni, but only three are actually introduced. Whether Dante projected a work on the scale that this would imply, may be doubted. It is more likely that, with the progress of the composition and the incessant flow of ideas, the need of fresh lyrical inspiration ceased to be felt.
The objective value of the Convivio is not large, and consists chiefly in the aid which it affords towards deciphering the more difficult passages of the Commedia, and especially the Pnradiso. This, however, is only another way of saying that the Convivio is prized as a key to the mind of Dante—that Dante is the real subject. These abstract studies interest us, if they do interest us, as forming the cartilage of the mighty intellect which puts on flesh and blood in the Vita Nuova and the Commedia, whereas the Convivio is the articulated skeleton, or, if you will, the nervous system laid bare to view. Dante is a schoolman, an Aristotelian. The position of Aristotle in his eyes is sufficiently indicated by such phrases as "glorious philosopher to whom Nature revealed her secrets," "master and guide of the human reason," and, in the Commedia, "master of those that know." His authority is rejected only when it conflicts with the doctrines of Christianity, as, for instance, in the theory of the Heavenly Intelligences.
1 Longfellow's tr.
2 To the English reader may bo commended Mr Hillard's translation (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner, & Co.)
In the introductory lyric Dante discusses the nature of nobility or gentleness, and corrects " the false judgwuui, ment of those who hold that the source of noiuity t gentleness is riches." This was a vital principle of the entire school, beginning with its founder. Guinicelli's great "epoch-making" poem, to which Dante refers, illustrates the point of view in a pregnant antithesis:—
"The sun strikes full upon the mud all day;
To concede that an "uomo da niente," be he of the Uberti of Florence or the Visconti of Milan, may be gentle by right of birth, would make nonsense of philosophy. As Dante states it with epigrammatic felicity, "it is not the race that ennobles the individuals, but the individuals the race." He accounts for the difference between souls in conformity with the opinions of Aristotle and the Peripatetics. A generative virtue, proceeding from Heaven or residing in the combined elements, passes with the human seed into the womb. There the formative virtue, supplied by the soul of the begetter, prepares the organs for the celestial virtue, and the soul becomes quick. It then receives from the Mover of the Heavens the potential intellect, which renders it capable of appropriating all the universal forms as they exist in its Producer, in a measure depending on its nearness or otherwise to the First Intelligence. The potential intellect is a gift from God, a divine ray, and identical with nobility. It is bestowed only on certain elect souls of happy constitution, which are naturally adapted for its reception.
"For God doth grant it only to the soul
Dante betrays a special pride in this definition of nobility as the "seed of bliss," since it embraces the four causes of the Aristotelian philosophy — the material cause in the words "nell' anima ben posta "; the formal in the words "ch' e seme"; the efficient in the words "messo da Dio nell' anima"; and the final in the words " di felicita."
If this be nobility, what is love? It is " the union of the soul and the thing beloved," a union sooner or Tu philosophy later inevitable. The soul, as it proceeds ofitm. ixova. God, is simple. Its diversities arise
from secondary causes, or from the matter into which it descends; but as the human soul is the noblest of begotten forms, it receives more of the divine nature than any other. And since its being depends on God and it is preserved by Him, it naturally desires to be united to God, in order to strengthen its own existence. As in the good qualities of Nature reason shows itself divine, it follows that the human soul unites itself with them the sooner and more thoroughly the more perfect they appear; and this appearing takes place according as the soul's cognition is clear or impeded. The union of his soul with the gentle lady Philosophy is the love to which Dante alludes in his ode "0 Love that in the mind," &c. Some passages of this poem are so warm as to suggest that it was originally indited with a quite different intention, —that it was only by an afterthought that the gentle lady to whom he gave himself after the death of Beatrice was identified with Philosophy. And this becomes more probable when we consider that Dante had a fourfold system of interpretation—the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogic,—the last, which is "above sense," having reference to those spiritual things which are spiritually discerned. It is, however, only right to point out that such a view somewhat contradicts Dante's explicit and repeated declarations that virtue, not passion, was the "moving cause," the inspiration of his poetry.
Among the distinctions with which this work
abounds is one that relates to his verse as such.
In the tomato, of the first poem—Dante
uses the term for convenience, though, as he says, he seldom conformed to the practice out of which it arose—occurs the following apostrophe:—
"O Song, I think they will be few and rare,
By way of comment on this portion of the ode, and especially the concluding line, Dante affirms that a poem has, or should have, two qualities—bonta and bellezza. Bonta has to do with the sentiment; bellezza with the embellishment of the words. In this case the bonta will be hard to reach; only a few will succeed in grasping it, but there will still remain an element of pleasure more or less attainable by all, consisting in the grammatical construction, the rhetorical order, the music of the rhythm, which things constitute the bellezza of the verse. Thus Dante, though he deems the bonta the most delightsome,