Società Dantesca Italiana
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a cura del comitato scientifico della SDI

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The Banquet - tr. Ryan - Trattato I - Capitolo i

1As the Philosopher says at the beginning of the Metaphysics, all men naturally desire to posess knowledge. This can, and should, be traced to the fact that every being has a drive inherent in its own nature directing it towards its own perfection. Since knowledge is the highest perfection of our soul, in which our supreme happiness is found, we are all by our very nature driven by the desire to attain this.
2Many, however, are deprived of this most noble perfection by various causes, both internal and external to man, which preclude his possessing knowledge.
3There are two possible deficiencies or hindrances internal to man, one pertaining to his body, the other to his soul. The one pertaining to his body occurs when his bodily organs are improperly formed, leaving him incapable of receiving impressions through them, as happens with deafmutes and the like. The one pertaining to his soul occurs when the soul is dominated by evil through making itself a devotee of harmful pleasures; these bring such disillusionment that the soul, on account of its experience with them, holds everything to be worthless.
4Likewise two causes external to man can be specified, one resulting in unavoidable constraint, the other in laziness. The first is family and civic responsibilities, which quite properly absorb the energies of the majority of men, with the result that they cannot find the leisure required for cultivating the mind. The other is a deficiency in the place where a person is born and raised: this is sometimes such that it not only lacks any institute of higher learning, but is even remote from the company of learned people.
5Two of these causes, the first in each of the above pairs, do not merit censure, and deserve rather to be excused and pardoned. The other two, though in different measure, do deserve blame and abhorrence.
6Anyone who reflects on this can clearly see that there are only a few people who can attain what all desire to possess, and that those who are hindered from so doing, and pass their entire lives starved of this food, are almost beyond number.
7Blessed indeed are those few who sit at the table where they feed on the bread of angels! And pitiful are those who share the food of sheep!
8However, since every man is by nature a friend of every other man, and every friend is grieved by a deficiency in the one he loves, those who are fed at such an exalted table do not lack compassion towards those whom they see wandering around in animal pastures feeding on grass and acorns.
9Since, too, compassion is the mother of kind action, those who possess knowledge always give generously from their true wealth to those who really are poor; they are like a living fountain whose waters slake the natural thirst spoken of above.
10Such is my intention here. Not that I sit at that blessed table; but, having myself fled the pasture of the common people, and taking my place at the feet of those who are seated, I gather some of what they let fall. And, filled with the sweetness I experience in what I gather up little by little, I recognize the pitifulness of the life of those I have left behind. So, moved by compassion, without forgetting myself, I set aside something for those pitiful wretches, which I placed before their eyes quite some time ago, and in so doing heightened their desire.
11I now intend to respond to their want by providing a full-scale banquet of the food I displayed before their eyes, by supplying also the bread that must accompany such food, without which they would find the food too rich.
12This banquet, which demands that bread, has food of such quality that I have no intention of seeing it served in vain. So let no one take a seat who is incapacitated from eating properly because he lacks teeth or tongue or palate, nor anyone given to vice, for his stomach is full of poisonous fluids incompatible with my food which would prevent him keeping it down.
13But let everyone come here whose truly human hunger remains unassuaged because of pressures of family or civic responsibilities; he is invited to take his place at table with all the others who have been similarly impeded. All whom laziness has held back may make a place for themselves at the others' feet, for they do not deserve a higher seat. And let each group take my food along with the bread provided, which will enable them both to taste and assimilate it.
14The food for this banquet will be served as fourteen courses, that is, as fourteen canzoni, treating of both love and virtue. When the bread provided here was lacking, these canzoni were veiled in a certain obscurity, so that many drew pleasure from their beauty rather than from their goodness.
15But this bread, that is, the present commentary, will be the light that will bring out every hue of their meaning.
16I may add that if in the present work, entitled The Banquet – which is what I wish it to be – the subject matter is treated in a more mature fashion than in The New Life, this does not mean that I intend in anyway to disparage that earlier work. My intention is, rather, that this work give added weight to the former, by making it clear how reasonable it is that the earlier work should be fervent and passionate and this one be temperate and mature.
17For what is required of us in our speaking and acting varies from one stage of life to another, because certain ways of behaving that are appropriate and laudable at one stage rank as demeaning and blameworthy at another, as I shall explain in detail below. In that earlier work my voice is that of someone just entering on his maturity; in this later one it is that of someone well advanced in that stage.
18And since the meaning I really intended to convey in the canzoni mentioned above was other than the obvious, I intend to explain them according to their allegorical significance after discussing the literal narrative, so that those invited to this meal may savour both senses.
19I beg all of these that, should the banquet turn out not to be as splendid as the announcement proclaiming it would lead them to expect, they deem me wanting not in my will but in my powers of execution, for here my will is moved by perfect and warm-hearted liberality.