The Banquet

Play Audio | Get the Book | Del.icio.us

H.M.

_April_ 1887.

THE

BANQUET OF DANTE ALIGHIERI

* * * * *

The First Treatise.

CHAPTER I.

As the Philosopher says in the beginning of the first Philosophy, "All men naturally desire Knowledge." The reason of which may be, that each thing, impelled by the intuition of its own nature, tends towards its perfection, hence, forasmuch as Knowledge is the final perfection of our Soul, in which our ultimate happiness consists, we are all naturally subject to the desire for it.

Verily, many are deprived of this most noble perfection, by divers causes within the man and without him, which remove him from the use of Knowledge.

Within the man there may be two defects or impediments, the one on the part of the Body, the other on the part of the Soul. On the part of the Body it is, when the parts are unfitly disposed, so that it can receive nothing as with the deaf and dumb, and their like. On the part of the Soul it is, when evil triumphs in it, so that it becomes the follower of vicious pleasures, through which it is so much deceived, that on account of them it holds everything in contempt.

Without the man, two causes may in like manner be understood, of which one comes of necessity, the other of stagnation. The first is the management of the family and conduct of civil affairs, which fitly draws to itself the greater number of men, so that they cannot live in the quietness of speculation. The other is the fault of the place where a person is born and reared, which will ofttimes be not only without any School whatever, but may be far distant from studious people. The two first of these causes--the first of the hindrance from within, and the first of the hindrance from without--are not deserving of blame, but of excuse and pardon; the two others, although the one more than the other, deserve blame and are to be detested.

Hence, he who reflects well, can manifestly see that they are few who can attain to the enjoyment of Knowledge, though it is desired by all, and almost innumerable are the fettered ones who live for ever famished of this food.

Oh, blessed are those few who sit at that table where the Bread of Angels is eaten, and wretched those who can feed only as the Sheep. But because each man is naturally friendly to each man, and each friend grieves for the fault of him whom he loves; they who are fed at that high table are full of mercy towards those whom they see straying in one pasture with the creatures who eat grass and acorns.

And forasmuch as Mercy is the Mother of Benevolence, those who know how, do always liberally offer their good wealth to the true poor, and are like a living stream, whose water cools the before-named natural thirst. I, then, who sit not at the blessed table, but having fled from the pasture of the common herd, lie at the feet of those who sit there and gather up what falls from them, by the sweetness which I find in that which I collect little by little, I know the wretched life of those whom I have left behind me; and moved mercifully for the unhappy ones, not forgetting myself, I have reserved something which I have shown to their eyes long ago, and for this I have made them greatly desirous. Wherefore, now wishing to prepare for them, I mean to make a common Banquet of this which I have shown to them, and of that needed bread without which food such as this could not be eaten by them at their feast; bread fit for such meat, which I know, without it, would be furnished forth in vain. And therefore I desire that no one should sit at this Banquet whose members are so unfitly disposed that he has neither teeth, nor tongue, nor palate: nor any follower of vice; inasmuch as his stomach is full of venomous and hurtful humours, so that it will retain no food whatever. But let those come to us, whosoever they be, who, pressed by the management of civil and domestic life, have felt this human hunger, and at one table with others who have been in like bondage, let them sit. But at their feet let us place all those who have been the slaves of sloth, and who are not worthy to sit higher: and then let these and those eat of my dish, with the bread which I will cause them to taste and to digest.

Next Page