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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From the ‘Convito’
By Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)
 
Translation of Charles Eliot Norton

I
The Consolation of Philosophy

“WHEN the first delight of my soul was lost, of which mention has already been made, I remained pierced with such affliction that no comfort availed me. Nevertheless, after some time, my mind, which was endeavoring to heal itself, undertook, since neither my own nor others’ consoling availed, to turn to the mode which other comfortless ones had adopted for their consolation. And I set myself to reading that book of Boethius, not known to many, in which he, a prisoner and an exile, had consoled himself. And hearing, moreover, that Tully had written a book in which, treating of friendship, he had introduced words of consolation for Lælius, a most excellent man, on the death of Scipio his friend, I set myself to read that. And although it was difficult for me at first to enter into their meaning, I finally entered into it, so far as my knowledge of Latin and a little of my own genius permitted; through which genius I already, as if in a dream, saw many things, as may be seen in the ‘New Life.’ And as it sometimes happens that a man goes seeking silver, and beyond his expectation finds gold, which a hidden occasion affords, not perchance without Divine guidance, so I, who was seeking to console myself, found not only relief for my tears, but the substance of authors, and of knowledge, and of books; reflecting upon which, I came to the conclusion that Philosophy, who was the Lady of these authors, this knowledge, and these books, was a supreme thing. And I imagined her as having the features of a gentle lady; and I could not imagine her in any but a compassionate act; wherefore my sense so willingly admired her in truth, that I could hardly turn it from her. And after this imagination I began to go there where she displayed herself truly, that is to say, to the school of the religious, and to the disputations of the philosophers, so that in a short time, perhaps in thirty months, I began to feel so much of her sweetness that the love of her chased away and destroyed every other thought.”
‘The Banquet,’ ii. 13.    
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II
The Desire of the Soul

  The supreme desire of everything, and that first given by Nature, is to return to its source; and since God is the source of our souls and Maker of them in his own likeness, as is written, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” to him this soul desires above all to return. And as a pilgrim, who goes along a road on which he never was before, thinks every house he sees afar off to be his inn, and not finding it so, directs his trust to the next, and thus from house to house till he comes to the inn, so our soul at once, on entering the new and untraveled road of this life, turns her eyes to the goal of her supreme good, and therefore whatever thing she sees which seems to have in it some good, she believes to be that. And because her knowledge at first is imperfect, not being experienced or instructed, small goods seem to her great, therefore she begins with desiring them. Wherefore we see children desire exceedingly an apple; and then proceeding further, desire a little bird; and further still a beautiful dress; and then a horse, and then a woman, and then riches not great, and then greater, and then as great as can be. And this happens because in none of these does she find that which she is seeking, and she trusts to find it further on….
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  Truly this way is lost by error as the roads of earth are; for as from one city to another there is of necessity one best and straightest way, and another that always leads away from it, that is, one which goes in another direction, and many others, some less diverging, and some approaching less near, so in human life are divers roads, of which one is the truest, and another the most deceitful, and certain ones less deceitful, and certain less true. And as we see that that which goes straightest to the city fulfills desire, and gives repose after weariness, and that which goes contrary never fulfills it, and can never give repose, so it falls out in our life: the good traveler arrives at the goal and repose, the mistaken never arrives there, but with much weariness of his mind always looks forward with greedy eyes.
‘The Banquet,’ iv. 12.    
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III
The Noble Soul at the End of Life

  The noble Soul in old age returns to God as to that port whence she set forth on the sea of this life. And as the good mariner, when he approaches port, furls his sails, and with slow course gently enters it, so should we furl the sails of our worldly affairs and turn to God with our whole mind and heart, so that we may arrive at that port with all sweetness and peace. And in regard to this we have from our own nature a great lesson of sweetness, that in such a death as this there is no pain nor any bitterness, but as a ripe fruit is easily and without violence detached from its twig, so our soul without affliction is parted from the body in which it has been. And just as to him who comes from a long journey, before he enters into the gate of his city, the citizens thereof go forth to meet him, so the citizens of the eternal life come to meet the noble Soul; and they do so through her good deeds and contemplations: for having now rendered herself to God, and withdrawn herself from worldly affairs and thoughts, she seems to see those whom she believes to be nigh unto God. Hear what Tully says in the person of the good Cato:—“With ardent zeal I lifted myself up to see your fathers whom I had loved, and not them only, but also those of whom I had heard speak.” The noble Soul then at this age renders herself to God and awaits the end of life with great desire; and it seems to her that she is leaving the inn and returning to her own house, it seems to her that she is leaving the road and returning to the city, it seems to her that she is leaving the sea and returning to port…. And also the noble Soul at this age blesses the past times; and well may she bless them, because revolving them through her memory she recalls her right deeds, without which she could not arrive with such great riches or so great gain at the port to which she is approaching. And she does like the good merchant, who when he draws near his port, examines his getting, and says: “Had I not passed along such a way, I should not have this treasure, nor have gained that which I may enjoy in my city to which I am drawing near;” and therefore he blesses the way which he has come.
‘The Banquet,’ iv. 28.    
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