Home  »  The Divine Comedy  »  Paradise

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


Canto XV ARGUMENT.—The spirit of Cacciaguida, our Poet’s ancestor, glides rapidly to the foot of the cross; tells who he is; and speaks of the simplicity of the Florentines in his days, since then much corrupted.

TRUE love, that ever shows itself as clear

In kindness, as loose appetite in wrong,

Silenced that lyre harmonious, and still’d

The sacred cords, that are by Heaven’s right hand

Unwound and tighten’d. How to righteous prayers

Should they not hearken, who, to give me will

For praying, in accordance thus were mute?

He hath in sooth good cause for endless grief,

Who, for the love of thing that lasteth not,

Despoils himself forever of that love.

As oft along the still and pure serene,

At nightfall, glides a sudden trail of fire,

Attracting with involuntary heed

The eye to follow it, erewhile at rest;

And seems some star that shifted place in Heaven,

Only that, whence it kindles, none is lost,

And it is soon extinct: thus from the horn,

That on the dexter of the cross extends,

Down to its foot, one luminary ran

From mid the cluster shone there; yet no gem

Dropp’d from its foil: and through the beamy list,

Like flame in alabaster, glow’d its course.

So forward stretch’d him (if of credence aught

Our greater muse may claim) the pious ghost

Of old Anchises, in the Elysian bower,

When he perceived his son. “O thou, my blood!

O most exceeding grace divine! to whom,

As now to thee, hath twice the heavenly gate

Been e’er unclosed?” So spake the light: whence I

Turn’d me toward him; then unto my dame

My sight directed: and on either side

Amazement waited me; for in her eyes

Was lighted such a smile, I thought that mine

Had dived unto the bottom of my grace

And of my bliss in Paradise. Forthwith,

To hearing and to sight grateful alike,

The spirit to his proem added things

I understood not, so profound he spake:

Yet not of choice, but through necessity,

Mysterious; for his high conception soar’d

Beyond the mark of mortals. When the flight

Of holy transport had so spent its rage,

That nearer to the level of our thought

The speech descended; the first sounds I heard

Were, “Blest be thou, Triunal Deity!

That hast such favour in my seed vouchsafed.”

Then follow’d. “No unpleasant thirst, though long,

Which took me reading in the sacred book,

Whose leaves or white or dusky never change,

Thou hast allay’d, my son! within this light,

From whence my voice thou hear’st: more thanks to her,

Who, for such lofty mounting, has with plumes

Begirt thee. Thou dost deem thy thoughts to me

From Him transmitted, who is first of all,

E’en as all numbers ray from unity;

And therefore dost not ask me who I am,

Or why to thee more joyous I appear,

Than any other in this gladsome throng.

The truth is as thou deem’st; for in this life

Both less and greater in that Mirror look,

In which thy thoughts, or e’er thou think’st, are shown.

But, that the love, which keeps me wakeful ever,

Urging with sacred thirst of sweet desire,

May be contented fully; let thy voice,

Fearless, and frank, and jocund, utter forth

Thy will distinctly, utter forth the wish,

Whereto my ready answer stands decreed.”

I turn’d me to Beatrice; and she heard

Ere I had spoken, smiling an assent,

That to my will gave wings; and I began:

“To each among your tribe, what time ye kenn’d

The nature, in whom naught unequal dwells,

Wisdom and love were in one measure dealt;

For that they are so equal in the Sun,

From whence ye drew your radiance and your heat,

As makes all likeness scant. But will and means,

In mortals, for the cause ye well discern,

With unlike wings are fledged. A mortal, I

Experience inequality like this;

And therefore give no thanks, but in the heart,

For thy paternal greeting. This howe’er

I pray thee, living topaz! that ingemm’st

This precious jewel; let me hear thy name.”

“I am thy root, O leaf! whom to expect

Even, hath pleased me.” Thus the prompt reply

Prefacing, next it added: “He, of whom

Thy kindred appellation comes, and who,

These hundred years and more, on its first ledge

Hath circuited the mountain, was my son,

And thy great-grandsire. Well befits, his long

Endurance should he shorten’d by thy deeds.

“Florence, within her ancient limit-mark,

Which calls her still to matin prayers and noon,

Was chaste and sober, and abode in peace.

She had no armlets and no head-tires then;

No purfled dames; no zone, the caught the eye

More than the person did. Time was not yet,

When at his daughter’s birth the sire grew pale,

For fear the age and dowry should exceed,

On each side, just proportion. House was none

Void of its family: nor yet had come

Sardanapalus, to exhibit feats

Of chamber prowess. Montemalo yet

O’er our suburban turret rose; as much

To be surpass in fall, as in its rising.

I saw Bellincion Berti walk abroad

In leathern girdle, and a clasp of bone;

And, with no artful colouring on her cheeks,

His lady leave the glass. The sons I saw

Of Nerli, and of Vecchio, well content

With unrobed jerkin; and their good dames handling

The spindle and the flax: O happy they!

Each sure of burial in her native land,

And none left desolate a-bed for France.

One waked to tend the cradle, hushing it

With sounds that lull’d the parent’s infancy:

Another, with her maidens, drawing off

The tresses from the distaff, lectured them

Old tales of Troy, and Fesole, and Rome.

A Salterello and Cianghella we

Had held a strange a marvel, as ye would

A Cincinnatus or Cornelia now.

“In such composed and seemly fellowship,

Such faithful and such fair equality,

In so sweet household, Mary at my birth

Bestow’d me, call’d on with loud cries; and there,

In your old baptistery, I was made

Christian at once and Cacciaguida; as were

My brethren, Eliseo and Moronto.

“From Valdipado came to me my spouse;

And hence thy surname grew. I follow’d then

The Emperor Conrad: and his knighthood he

Did gird on me; in such a good part he took

My valiant service. After him I went

To testify against that evil law,

Whose people, by the Shepherd’s fault, possess

Your right usurp’d. There I by that foul crew

Was disentangled from the treacherous world

Whose base affection many a spirit soils;

And from the martyrdom came to this peace.”