lalighieri text integral passage complete quotation of the sources comedies works historical literary works in prose
and in verses
Translated by Steven Botterill
Since I find that no one, before myself, has dealt in any way with the theory of eloquence in the vernacular, and since we can plainly see that such eloquence is necessary to everyone - for not only men, but also women and children strive to acquire it, as far as nature allows - I shall try, inspired by the Word that comes from above, to say something useful about the language of people who speak the vulgar tongue, hoping thereby to enlighten somewhat the understanding of those who walk the streets like the blind, ever thinking that what lies ahead is behind them. Yet, in so doing, I shall not bring to so large a cup only the water of my own thinking, but shall add to it more potent ingredients, taken or extracted from elsewhere, so that from these I may concoct the sweetest possible mead. But since it is required of any theoretical treatment that it not leave its basis implicit, but declare it openly, so that it may be clear with what its argument is concerned, I say, hastening to deal with the question, that I call 'vernacular language' that which infants acquire from those around them when they first begin to distinguish sounds; or, to put it more succinctly, I declare that vernacular language is that which we learn without any formal instruction, by imitating our nurses. There also exists another kind of language, at one remove from us, which the Romans called gramatica [grammar]. The Greeks and some - but not all - other peoples also have this secondary kind of language. Few, however, achieve complete fluency in it, since knowledge of its rules and theory can only be developed through dedication to a lengthy course of study. Of these two kinds of language, the more noble is the vernacular: first, because it was the language originally used by the human race; second, because the whole world employs it, though with different pronunciations and using different words; and third because it is natural to us, while the other is, in contrast, artificial. And this more noble kind of language is what I intend to discuss.
This, in truth, is our primary language. I do not, though, say 'our' because there is or could be any other kind of language than that of human beings; for, of all creatures that exist, only human beings were given the power of speech, because only to them was it necessary. It was not necessary that either angels or the lower animals should be able to speak; rather, this power would have been wasted on them, and nature, of course, hates to do anything superfluous. Now, if we wish to define with precision what our intention is when we speak, it is clearly nothing other than to expound to others the concepts formed in our minds. Therefore, since the angels possess, in order to communicate their own glorious conceptions, a ready and ineffable sufficiency of intellect - through which either they make themselves, in themselves, completely known to each other, or, at least, are reflected, in the fullness of their beauty and ardour, by that resplendent mirror which retains an image of all of them - they seem not to have needed signs to represent speech. And if it be objected that some angels have fallen from heaven, a twofold answer may be made. First, that when we are discussing things that are necessary for a rightly ordered life, we should leave the fallen angels aside, since, in their perversity, they chose not to wait on God's care; second, and better, that these demons, in order to demonstrate their corruption to each other, need only to know, of anyone of their number, the nature and the degree of his fallen condition. And this they already know, for they knew each other before their ruin. As for the lower animals, since they are guided only by their natural instinct, it was not necessary for them to be given the power of speech. For all animals that belong to the same species are identical in respect of action and feeling; and thus they can know the actions and feelings of others by knowing their own. Between creatures of different species, on the other hand, not only was speech unnecessary, but it would have been injurious, since there could have been no friendly exchange between them. And if it be objected that the serpent addressed the first woman, or that the ass did likewise to Balaam, and that they did so by speaking, I reply that an angel (in the latter case) and the devil (in the former) brought it about that the animals in question manipulated their vocal organs in such a way that a sound came out that resembled real speech; but to the ass this was nothing more than braying, to the serpent, only hissing. Moreover, if anyone finds a contrary argument in what Ovid, in the fifth book of the Metamorphoses, says about talking magpies, I reply that this is said figuratively, and means something else. And if it be claimed that, to this day, magpies and other birds do indeed speak, I say that this is not so; for their act is not speaking, but rather an imitation of the sound of the human voice - or it may be that they try to imitate us in so far as we make a noise, but not in so far as we speak. So that, if to someone who said 'pica' [magpie] aloud the bird were to return the word 'pica', this would only be a reproduction or imitation of the sound made by the person who uttered the word first. And so it is clear that the power of speech was given only to human beings. But now I shall try briefly to investigate why it should have been necessary for them.
Since, therefore, human beings are moved not by their natural instinct but by reason, and since that reason takes diverse forms in individuals, according to their capacity for discrimination, judgement, or choice - to the point where it appears that almost everyone enjoys the existence of a unique species - I hold that we can never understand the actions or feelings of others by reference to our own, as the baser animals can. Nor is it given to us to enter into each other's minds by means of spiritual reflection [speculationem], as the angels do, because the human spirit is so weighed down by the heaviness and density of the mortal body. So it was necessary that the human race, in order for its members to communicate their conceptions among themselves, should have some signal based on reason and perception. Since this signal needed to receive its content from reason and convey it back there, it had to be rational; but, since nothing can be conveyed from one reasoning mind to another except by means perceptible to the senses, it had also to be based on perception. For, if it were purely rational, it could not make its journey; if purely perceptible, it could neither derive anything from reason nor deliver anything to it. This signal, then, is the noble foundation that I am discussing; for it is perceptible, in that it is a sound, and yet also rational, in that this sound, according to convention, is taken to mean something.
So the power of speech was given only to human beings, as is plain from what was said above. I think it now also incumbent upon me to find out to which human being that power was first granted, and what he first said, and to whom, and where, and when; and also in what language that primal utterance was made. According to what it says at the beginning of Genesis, where sacred scripture describes the origin of the world, we find that a woman spoke before anyone else, when the most presumptuous Eve responded thus to the blandishments of the Devil: 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees that are in Paradise: but God has forbidden us to eat or to touch the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of Paradise, lest we die'. But although we find in scripture that a woman spoke first, I still think it more reasonable that a man should have done so; and it may be thought unseemly that so distinguished an action of the human race should first have been performed by a woman rather than a man. Therefore it is reasonable to believe that the power of speech was given first to Adam, by Him who had just created him. As to what was first pronounced by the voice of the first speaker, that will readily be apparent to anyone in their right mind, and I have no doubt that it was the name of God or El, in the form either of a question or of an answer. It is manifestly absurd, and an offence against reason, to think that anything should have been named by a human being before God, when he had been made human by Him and for Him. For if, since the disaster that befell the human race, the speech of every one of us has begun with 'woe!', it is reasonable that he who existed before should have begun with a cry of joy; and, since there is no joy outside God, but all joy is in God and since God Himself is joy itself, it follows that the first man to speak should first and before all have said 'God'. From this arises a question: if, as I said above, the first man spoke in the form of an answer, was that answer addressed to God? For if it was, it would seem that God had already spoken - which would appear to raise an objection to the argument offered above. To this, however, I reply that Adam may well have answered a question from God; nor, on that account, need God have spoken using what we would call language. For who doubts that everything that exists obeys a sign from God, by whom, indeed, all things are created, preserved, and, finally, maintained in order? Therefore, if the air can be moved, at the command of the lesser nature which is God's servant and creation, to transformations so profound that thunderbolts crash, lightning flashes, waters rage, snow falls, and hailstones fly, can it not also, at God's command, so be moved as to make the sound of words, if He distinguishes them who has made much greater distinctions? Why not? On this account, I think that such an answer is adequate for both this and other questions.
Thinking, therefore, not without reasonable grounds derived both from above and from below, that the first man addressed his first speech to God Himself, I say, equally reasonably, that this first speaker spoke immediately - as soon, indeed, as God's creative power had been breathed into him. For we hold that it is more truly human for a human being to be perceived than to perceive, as long as he or she is perceived and perceives as a human being. So if our creator, that source and lover of perfection, completed our first ancestor by infusing all perfection into him, I find it reasonable that this most noble creature should not have begun to perceive before he was perceived. If, though, someone should object to this, saying that there was no need for him to speak, since he was the only human being yet in existence, and since God knows all our secrets without our putting them into words (indeed, before we know them ourselves), I reply, with all the reverence that we must feel when expressing an opinion about the eternal will of God, that even if God knew (or rather foreknew, which is the same thing where God is concerned) the first speaker's conception without his having to speak, yet He still wished that Adam should speak, so that He who had freely given so great a gift should be glorified in its employment. And likewise, we must believe that the fact that we rejoice in the ordered activity of our faculties is a sign of divinity in us. And from this we can confidently deduce where the first speech was uttered: for I have clearly shown that, if God's spirit was breathed into man outside Paradise, then it was outside Paradise that he spoke; if indeed inside, then the place of the first speech was in Paradise itself.
Since human affairs are now carried on in so many different languages, so that many people are no better understood by others when they use words than when they do not, it behooves us to hunt for the language believed to have been used by the man who never had a mother nor drank her milk, the man who never saw either childhood or maturity. In this, as in many other matters, Pietramala is a great city indeed, the home of the greater part of the children of Adam. For whoever is so misguided as to think that the place of his birth is the most delightful spot under the sun may also believe that his own language - his mother tongue, that is - is pre-eminent among all others; and, as a result, he may believe that his language was also Adam's. To me, however, the whole world is a homeland, like the sea to fish - though I drank from the Arno before cutting my teeth, and love Florence so much that, because I loved her, I suffer exile unjustly - and I will weight the balance of my judgement more with reason than with sentiment. And although for my own enjoyment (or rather for the satisfaction of my own desire), there is no more agreeable place on earth than Florence, yet when I turn the pages of the volumes of poets and other writers, by whom the world is described as a whole and in its constituent parts, and when I reflect inwardly on the various locations of places in the world, and their relations to the two poles and the circle at the equator, I am convinced, and firmly maintain, that there are many regions and cities more noble and more delightful than Tuscany and Florence, where I was born and of which I am a citizen, and many nations and peoples who speak a more elegant and practical language than do the Italians. Returning, then, to my subject, I say that a certain form of language was created by God along with the first soul; I say 'form' with reference both to the words used for things, and to the construction of words, and to the arrangement of the construction; and this form of language would have continued to be used by all speakers, had it not been shattered through the fault of human presumption, as will be shown below. In this form of language Adam spoke; in this form of language spoke all his descendants until the building of the Tower of Babel (which is interpreted as 'tower of confusion'); this is the form of language inherited by the sons of Heber, who are called Hebrews because of it. To these alone it remained after the confusion, so that our redeemer, who was to descend from them (in so far as He was human), should not speak the language of confusion, but that of grace. So the Hebrew language was that which the lips of the first speaker moulded.
Alas, how it shames me now to recall the dishonouring of the human race! But since I can make no progress without passing that way, though a blush comes to my cheek and my spirit recoils, I shall make haste to do so. Oh human nature, always inclined towards sin! Engaged in evil from the beginning, and never changing your ways! Was it not enough to correct you that, banished from the light for the first transgression, you should live in exile from the delights of your homeland? Was it not enough that, because of the all-pervading lust and cruelty of your race, everything that was yours should have perished in a cataclysm, one family alone being spared, and that the creatures of earth and sky should have had to pay for the wrongs that you had committed? It should indeed have been enough. But, as we often say in the form of a proverb, 'not before the third time will you ride' [the third time works the charm]; and you, wretched humanity, chose to mount a fractious steed. And so, reader, the human race, either forgetful or disdainful of earlier punishments, and averting its eyes from the bruises that remained, came for a third time to deserve a beating, putting its trust in its own foolish pride. Incorrigible humanity, therefore, led astray by the giant Nimrod, presumed in its heart to outdo in skill not only nature but the source of its own nature, who is God; and began to build a tower in Sennaar, which afterwards was called Babel (that is, 'confusion'). By this means human beings hoped to climb up to heaven, intending in their foolishness not to equal but to excel their creator. Oh boundless mercy of the kingdom of heaven! What other father would have borne so many insults from his child? Yet, rising up not with an enemy's whip but that of a father, already accustomed to dealing out punishment, He chastised His rebellious offspring with a lesson as holy as it was memorable. Almost the whole of the human race had collaborated in this work of evil. Some gave orders, some drew up designs; some built walls, some measured them with plumb-lines, some smeared mortar on them with trowels; some were intent on breaking stones, some on carrying them by sea, some by land; and other groups still were engaged in other activities - until they were all struck by a great blow from heaven. Previously all of them had spoken one and the same language while carrying out their tasks; but now they were forced to leave off their labours, never to return to the same occupation, because they had been split up into groups speaking different languages. Only among those who were engaged in a particular activity did their language remain unchanged; so, for instance, there was one for all the architects, one for all the carriers of stones, one for all the stone-breakers, and so on for all the different operations. As many as were the types of work involved in the enterprise, so many were the languages by which the human race was fragmented; and the more skill required for the type of work, the more rudimentary and barbaric the language they now spoke. But the holy tongue remained to those who had neither joined in the project nor praised it, but instead, thoroughly disdaining it, had made fun of the builders' stupidity. This insignificant minority - insignificant in numbers alone - were, as I believe, of the family of Shem, Noah's third son, from which descended the people of Israel, who used this most ancient language until the time of their dispersal.
The confusion of languages recorded above leads me, on no trivial grounds, to the opinion that it was then that human beings were first scattered throughout the whole world, into every temperate zone and habitable region, right to its furthest corners. And since the principal root from which the human race has grown was planted in the East, and from there our growth has spread, through many branches and in all directions, finally reaching the furthest limits of the West, perhaps it was then that the rivers of all Europe, or at least some of them, first refreshed the throats of rational beings. But, whether they were arriving then for the a first time, or whether they had been born in Europe and were now returning there, these people brought with them a tripartite language. Of those who brought it, some found their way to southern Europe and some to northern; and a third group, whom we now call Greeks, settled partly in Europe and partly in Asia. Later, from this tripartite language (which had been received in that vengeful confusion), different vernaculars developed, as I shall show below. For in that whole area that extends from the mouth of the Danube (or the Meotide marshes) to the westernmost shores of England, and which is defined by the boundaries of the Italians and the French, and by the ocean, only one language prevailed, although later it was split up into many vernaculars by the Slavs, the Hungarians, the Teutons, the Saxons, the English, and several other nations. Only one sign of their common origin remains in almost all of them, namely that nearly all the nations listed above, when they answer in the affirmative, say iò. Starting from the furthest point reached by this vernacular (that is, from the boundary of the Hungarians towards the east), another occupied all the rest of what, from there onwards, is called Europe; and it stretches even beyond that. All the rest of Europe that was not dominated by these two vernaculars was held by a third, although nowadays this itself seems to be divided in three: for some now say oc, some oïl, and some sì, when they answer in the affirmative; and these are the Hispanic, the French, and the Italians. Yet the sign that the vernaculars of these three peoples derive from one and the same language is plainly apparent: for they can be seen to use the same words to signify many things, such as 'God', 'heaven', 'love', 'sea,' 'earth', 'is', 'lives', 'dies', 'loves', and almost all others. Of these peoples, those who say oc live in the western part of southern Europe, beginning from the boundaries of the Genoese. Those who say sì, however, live to the east of those boundaries, all the way to that outcrop of Italy from which the gulf of the Adriatic begins, and in Sicily. But those who say oïl live somewhat to the north of these others, for to the east they have the Germans, on the west and north they are hemmed in by the English sea and by the mountains of Aragon, and to the south they are enclosed by the people of Provence and the slopes of the Apennines.
Now I must undertake to risk whatever intelligence I possess, since I intend to enquire into matters in which I can be supported by no authority - that is, into the process of change by which one and the same language became many. And since it is quicker and safer to travel along better-known routes, I shall set out only along that of our own language, leaving the others aside; for what can be seen to be a reason in one case can be assumed to be the cause in others. The language with which I shall be concerned, then, has three parts, as I said above: for some say oc, some say sì, and others, indeed, say oïl. And the fact - which must first of all be proved - that this language was once unitary, at the time of the primal confusion, is clear, because the three parts agree on so many words, as masters of eloquence and learning show. This agreement denies the very confusion that was hurled down from heaven at the time of the building of Babel. Learned writers in all three vernaculars agree, then, on many words, and especially on the word 'love'. Thus Giraut de Borneil: Si.m sentis fezelz amics, per ver encusera amor; [If I felt I were a genuine and accepted lover; I would indeed bring charges against love] The King of Navarre: De fin amor si vient sen et bonté; [From true love come knowledge and goodness] Master Guido Guinizzelli: Né fe' amor prima che gentil core, né gentil cor prima che amor, natura. [Nor did nature create love before the gentle heart, nor the gentle heart before love] But now we must investigate why the original language should first have split into three, and why each of the three different forms exhibits variations of its own, so that, for instance, the speech of the right side of Italy differs from that of the left (for the people of Padua speak one way and those of Pisa another). We must also ask why people who live close together still differ in their speech (such as the Milanese and the Veronese, or the Romans and the Florentines); why the same is true of people who originally belonged to the same tribe (such as those of Naples and Gaeta, or Ravenna and Faenza); and, what is still more remarkable, why it is true of people living in the same city (such as the Bolognese of Borgo San Felice and those of Strada Maggiore). It will be clear that all these differences and varieties of speech occur for one and the same reason. I say, therefore, that no effect exceeds its cause in so far as it is an effect, because nothing can bring about that which it itself is not. Since, therefore, all our language (except that created by God along with the first man) has been assembled, in haphazard fashion, in the aftermath of the great confusion that brought nothing else than oblivion to whatever language had existed before, and since human beings are highly unstable and variable animals, our language can be neither durable nor consistent with itself; but, like everything else that belongs to us (such as manners and customs), it must vary according to distances of space and time. Nor do I think that this principle can be doubted even when I apply it, as I just have, to 'time'; rather, it should be held with conviction. For, if we thoroughly examine other works of humanity, we can see that we differ much more from ancient inhabitants of our own city than from our contemporaries who live far off. On this account, therefore, I make so bold as to declare that if the ancient citizens of Pavia were to rise from the grave, they would speak a language distinct and different from that of the Pavians of today. Nor should what I have just said seem more strange than to see a young man grown to maturity when we have not witnessed his growing. For, when things happen little by little, we scarcely register their progress; and the longer the time that the changes in a thing take to be detected, the more stable we consider that thing to be. Let us not, then, be surprised that, in the opinion of men who differ little from brute beasts, it seems credible that a particular city should always have carried on its affairs in an unchanging language, since changes in a city's speech can only come about gradually, and over a vast span of time; and human life is, by its nature, very short. If, therefore, the speech of a given people changes, as I have said, with the passing of time, and if it can in no way remain stable, it must be the case that the speech of people who live distant and apart from each other also varies in many ways, just as do their manners and customs - which are not maintained either by nature or association, but arise from people's preferences and geographical proximity. This was the point from which the inventors of the art of grammar began; for their gramatica is nothing less than a certain immutable identity of language in different times and places. Its rules having been formulated with the common consent of many peoples, it can be subject to no individual will; and, as a result, it cannot change. So those who devised this language did so lest, through changes in language dependent on the arbitrary judgement of individuals, we should become either unable, or, at best, only partially able, to enter into contact with the deeds and authoritative writings of the ancients, or of those whose difference of location makes them different from us.
Our language now exists in a tripartite form, as I said above; yet, when it comes to assessing its constituent parts on the basis of the three types of sound that they have developed, I find myself timidly hesitating to place any of them in the scale, and not daring to prefer any one to any other for the purposes of comparison, unless it be because those who devised the rules of gramatica are known to have chosen the word sic as an adverb of affirmation: and this fact would seem to confer a certain preeminence on the Italians, who say sì. Indeed each of the three parts could call significant evidence in its own favour. Thus the language of oïl adduces on its own behalf the fact that, because of the greater facility and pleasing quality of its vernacular style, everything that is recounted or invented in vernacular prose belongs to it: such as compilations from the Bible and the histories of Troy and Rome, and the beautiful tales of King Arthur, and many other works of history and doctrine. The second part, the language of oc, argues in its own favour that eloquent writers in the vernacular first composed poems in this sweeter and more perfect language: they include Peire d'Alvernha and other ancient masters. Finally, the third part, which belongs to the Italians, declares itself to be superior because it enjoys a twofold privilege: first, because those who have written vernacular poetry more sweetly and subtly, such as Cino da Pistoia and his friend, have been its intimates and faithful servants; and second, because they seem to be in the closest contact with the gramatica which is shared by all - and this, to those who consider the matter rationally, will appear a very weighty argument. I will refrain, however, from passing judgement on this question, and, bringing the discussion back to the Italian vernacular, will try to describe the various forms it has developed, and to compare them one with another. First of all, then, I state that Italy is divided in two, a left-hand and a right hand side. If anyone should ask where the dividing-line is drawn, I reply briefly that it is the range of the Apennines; for just as from the topmost rain-gutter water is carried to the ground dripping down through pipes on each side, these likewise irrigate the whole country through long conduits, on one side and the other, as far as the two opposite shores. All this is described in the second book of Lucan. The drip-tray on the right-hand side is the Tyrrhenian Sea, while the left-hand side drips into the Adriatic. The regions of the right-hand side are Apulia (though not all of it), Rome, the Duchy, Tuscany, and the Genoese Marches; those on the left, however, are the other part of Apulia, the Marches of Ancona, Romagna, Lombardy the Marches of Treviso, and Venice. As for Friuli and Istria, they can only belong to the left-hand side of Italy, while the islands in the Tyrrhenian - Sicily and Sardinia - clearly belong to the right-hand side, or at least are to be associated with it. On each of the two sides, as well as in the areas associated with them, the language of the inhabitants varies. Thus the language of the Sicilians is different from that of the Apulians, that of the Apulians from that of the Romans, that of the Romans from that of the people of Spoleto, theirs from that of the Tuscans, that of the Tuscans from that of the Genoese, and that of the Genoese from that of the Sardinians; and, likewise, the language of the Calabrians is different from that of the people of Ancona, theirs from that of the people of Romagna, that of the people of Romagna from that of the Lombards, that of the Lombards from that of the people of Treviso and the Venetians, theirs from that of the people of Aquileia, and theirs from that of the Istrians. And I think that no Italian will disagree with me about this. So we see that Italy alone presents a range of at least fourteen different vernaculars. All these vernaculars also vary internally, so that the Tuscan of Siena is distinguished from that of Arezzo, or the Lombard of Ferrara from that of Piacenza; moreover, we can detect some variation even within a single city, as was suggested above, in the preceding chapter. For this reason, if we wished to calculate the number of primary, and secondary, and still further subordinate varieties of the Italian vernacular, we would find that, even in this tiny corner of the world, the count would take us not only to a thousand different types of speech, but well beyond that figure.
Amid the cacophony of the many varieties of Italian speech, let us hunt for the most respectable and illustrious vernacular that exists in Italy; and, so that we may have an unobstructed pathway for our hunting, let us begin by clearing the tangled bushes and brambles out of the wood. Accordingly, since the Romans believe that they should always receive preferential treatment, I shall begin this work of pruning or uprooting, as is only right, with them; and I do so by declaring that they should not be taken into account in any didactic work about effective use of the vernacular. For what the Romans speak is not so much a vernacular as a vile jargon, the ugliest of all the languages spoken in Italy; and this should come as no surprise, for they also stand out among all Italians for the ugliness of their manners and their outward appearance. They say things like 'Messure, quinto dici?' [Sir, what do you say?] After these let us prune away the inhabitants of the Marches of Ancona, who say 'Chignamente state siaté'; [be as you are] and along with them we throw out the people of Spoleto. Nor should I fail to mention that a number of poems have been composed in derision of these three peoples; I have seen one of these, constructed in perfect accordance with the rules, written by a Florentine of the name of Castra. It began like this: Una fermana scopai da Cascioli, cita cita se'n gìa'n grande aina. [I met a woman from Fermo near Cascioli; she hurried briskly away, in great haste] After these let us root out the Milanese, the people of Bergamo, and their neighbours; I recall that somebody has written a derisive song about them too: Enti l'ora del vesper, ciò fu del mes d'ochiover. [Around the hour of vespers, it was in the month of October] After these let us pass through our sieve the people of Aquileia and Istria, who belch forth 'Ces fas-to?' [What are you up to?] with a brutal intonation. And along with theirs I reject all languages spoken in the mountains and the countryside, by people like those of Casentino and Fratta, whose pronounced accent is always at such odds with that of city-dwellers. As for the Sardinians, who are not Italian but may be associated with Italians for our purposes, out they must go, because they alone seem to lack a vernacular of their own, instead imitating gramatica as apes do humans: for they say 'domus nova' [my house] and 'dominus meus'[my master].
Having thus, as best we can, blown away the chaff from among the vernaculars of Italy, let us compare those that have remained in the sieve with each other, and quickly make our choice of the one that enjoys and confers the greatest honour. First let us turn our attention to the language of Sicily, since the Sicilian vernacular seems to hold itself in higher regard than any other, first because all poetry written by Italians is called 'Sicilian', and then because we do indeed find that many learned natives of that island have written serious poetry, as, for example, in the canzoni Ancor che l'aigua per lo foco lassi [Although water flees from fire] and Amor, che lungiamente m'hai menato. [Love, who long have led me] But this fame enjoyed by the Trinacrian isle, if we carefully consider the end to which it leads, seems rather to survive only as a reproof to the princes of Italy, who are so puffed up with pride that they live in a plebeian, not a heroic, fashion. Indeed, those illustrious heroes, the Emperor Frederick and his worthy son Manfred, knew how to reveal the nobility and integrity that were in their hearts; and, as long as fortune allowed, they lived in a manner befitting men, despising the bestial life. On this account, all who were noble of heart and rich in graces strove to attach themselves to the majesty of such worthy princes, so that, in their day, all that the most gifted individuals in Italy brought forth first came to light in the court of these two great monarchs. And since Sicily was the seat of the imperial throne, it came about that whatever our predecessors wrote in the vernacular was called 'Sicilian'. This term is still in use today, and posterity will be able to do nothing to change it. Racha, racha! [Thou fool] What is the noise made now by the trumpet of the latest Frederick, or the bells of the second Charles, or the horns of the powerful marquises Giovanni and Azzo, or the pipes of the other warlords? 'Only Come, you butchers! Come, you traitors! Come, you devotees of greed!' But I should rather return to my subject than waste words like this. So I say that, if by Sicilian vernacular we mean what is spoken by the average inhabitants of the island - and they should clearly be our standard of comparison - then this is far from worthy of the honour of heading the list, because it cannot be pronounced without a certain drawl, as in this case: Tragemi d'este focora se t'este a bolontate. [Get me out of this fire, if you would be so kind] If, however, we mean what emerges from the mouths of the leading citizens of Sicily - examples of which may be found in the canzoni quoted above - then it is in no way distinguishable from the most praiseworthy variety of the vernacular, as I shall show below. The people of Apulia, to continue, whether through their own native crudity or through the proximity of their neighbours (the Romans and the people of the Marches), use many gross barbarisms: they say: Bòlzera che chiangesse lo quatraro. [I would like the boy to cry] But although the inhabitants of Apulia generally speak in a base fashion, some of the most distinguished among them have managed to attain a more refined manner, by including courtlier words in their poetry. This will be clear to anyone who examines their works, such as Madonna, dir vi voglio, [Lady, I wish to tell you] and Per fino amore vo sì letamente. [I go so happily for true love's sake] Therefore, if we take due account of what was said above, it seems irrefutable that neither Sicilian nor the language of Apulia can be the most beautiful of the Italian vernaculars, since, as I have shown, the most eloquent natives of the two regions have preferred not to use them.
After this, we come to the Tuscans, who, rendered senseless by some aberration of their own, seem to lay claim to the honour of possessing the illustrious vernacular. And it is not only the common people who lose their heads in this fashion, for we find that a number of famous men have believed as much: like Guittone d'Arezzo, who never even aimed at a vernacular worthy of the court, or Bonagiunta da Lucca, or Gallo of Pisa, or Mino Mocato of Siena, or Brunetto the Florentine, all of whose poetry, if there were space to study it closely here, we would find to be fitted not for a court but at best for a city council. Now, since the Tuscans are the most notorious victims of this mental intoxication, it seems both appropriate and useful to examine the vernaculars of the cities of Tuscany one by one, and thus to burst the bubble of their pride. When the Florentines speak, they say things like: 'Manichiamo, introcque che noi non facciamo altro' [Let's eat, since there's nothing else to do]. The Pisans: 'Bene andonno li fatti de Fiorensa per Pisa' [The business at Florence went well for Pisa]. The people of Lucca: 'Fo voto a Dio ke ingrassarra eie lo comuno de Lucca' [I swear to God, the city of Lucca is really in the pink]. The Sienese: 'Onche renegata avess'io Siena. Chée chesto?' [If only I'd left Siena for good! What's up now?]. The people of Arezzo: 'Vuo' tu venire ovelle?' [Do you want to go somewhere?]. I have no intention of dealing with Perugia, Orvieto, Viterbo, or Città di Castello, because of their inhabitants' affinity with the Romans and the people of Spoleto. However, though almost all Tuscans are steeped in their own foul jargon, there are a few, I feel, who have understood the excellence of the vernacular: these include Guido, Lapo, and one other, all from Florence, and Cino, from Pistoia, whom I place unworthily here at the end, moved by a consideration that is far from unworthy. Therefore, if we study the languages spoken in Tuscany, and if we think what kind of distinguished individuals have avoided the use of their own, there can be no doubt that the vernacular we seek is something other than that which the people of Tuscany can attain. If there is anyone who thinks that what I have just said about the Tuscans could not be applied to the Genoese, let him consider only that if, through forgetfulness, the people of Genoa lost the use of the letter z, they would either have to fall silent for ever or invent a new language for themselves. For z forms the greater part of their vernacular, and it is, of course, a letter that cannot be pronounced without considerable harshness.
Let us now traverse the leafy shoulders of the Apennines, and continue our hunt, in the accustomed manner, on the left-hand side of Italy, beginning from the east. Our first encounter, therefore, is with the language of Romagna, of which I say that in this part of Italy are found two vernaculars which stand in direct opposition to each other because of certain contradictory features. One of them is so womanish, because of the softness of its vocabulary and pronunciation, that a man who speaks it, even if in a suitably virile manner, still ends up being mistaken for a woman. This is spoken by everybody in Romagna, especially the people of Forlì, whose city, despite being near the edge of the region, none the less seems to be the focal point of the whole province: they say 'deuscì' [God, yes!] when they wish to say 'yes'; and to seduce someone they say 'oclo meo' [My eye] and 'corada mea' [My heart]. I have heard that some of them depart from their native speech in their poetry; these include Tommaso, and Ugolino Bucciòla, both of Faenza. There is also another vernacular, as I said, so hirsute and shaggy in its vocabulary and accent that, because of its brutal harshness, it not only destroys the femininity of any woman who speaks it, but, reader, would make you think her a man. This is the speech of all those who say 'magarà' [If only], such as the citizens of Brescia, Verona and Vicenza; and the Paduans also speak like this, when they cruelly cut short all the participles ending in tus and the nouns in tas, saying 'mercò' [Traded] and 'bontè' [Goodness]. Along with these I will mention the people of Treviso, who, like those of Brescia and their neighbours, abbreviate their words by pronouncing consonantal u as f, saying 'nof' for 'nove' [nine] and 'vif' for 'vivo' [Alive]. This I denounce as the height of barbarism. Nor can the Venetians be considered worthy of the honour due to the vernacular for which we are searching; and if any of them, transfixed by error, be tempted to take pride in his speech, let him remember if he ever said: Per le plaghe di Dio to no verras. [By God's wounds, you won't come] Among all these peoples I have heard only one individual who tried to break free of his mother-tongue and aspire to a vernacular worthy of the court, and that was Aldobrandino Padovano. So on all the vernaculars that have presented themselves before the tribunal of the present chapter I pronounce the following verdict: that neither the language of Romagna, nor its opposite described above, nor Venetian is that illustrious vernacular which we are seeking.
I shall now try to bring to a rapid conclusion our hunt through what remains of the Italian forest. I say, then, that perhaps those are not wrong who claim that the Bolognese speak a more beautiful language than most, especially since they take many features of their own speech from that of the people who live around them, in Imola, Ferrara and Modena I believe that everybody does this with respect to his own neighbours, as is shown by the case of Sordello of Mantua, on the borders of Cremona, Brescia, and Verona: this man of unusual eloquence abandoned the vernacular of his home town not only when writing poetry but on every other occasion. So the above-mentioned citizens of Bologna take a soft, yielding quality from those of Imola, and from the people of Ferrara and Modena, on the other hand, a certain abruptness which is more typical of the Lombards (to whom it was left, I believe, after the mingling of the original inhabitants of the area with the invading Longobards). And this is why we find that no one from Ferrara, Modena, or Reggio has written poetry; for, being accustomed to their native abruptness, they could not approach the high poetic vernacular without betraying a certain lack of sophistication. And the same must also be thought, with still greater conviction, of the people of Parma, who say 'monto' when they mean 'molto' [very]. If, then, the Bolognese take from all sides, as I have said, it seems reasonable to suggest that their language, tempered by the combination of opposites mentioned above, should achieve a praiseworthy degree of elegance; and this, in my opinion, is beyond doubt true. Therefore, if theirs is put forward as the most admirable of vernaculars on the basis of a comparison of all the languages actually spoken in the different cities of Italy, I will agree wholeheartedly; if, however, it were to be suggested that the Bolognese vernacular should be given pride of place in absolute terms, then, dissenting, I must register my firm disagreement. For it is not what we could call 'aulic' or 'illustrious' language; if it were, Bolognese poets like the great Guido Guinizzelli, or Guido Ghislieri, or Fabruzzo or Onesto or many others, would never have left off using it. Yet these were distinguished men of learning, who fully understood the nature of the vernacular. The great Guido wrote Madonna, 'l fino amore ch'io vi porto; [Lady, the true love that I bear you] Guido Ghislieri: Donna, lo fermo core; [Lady, the faithful heart] Fabruzzo: Lo meo lontanogire; [My distant wandering] Onesto: Più non attendo il tuo soccorso, amore. [No longer do I expect your help, love] All these words are very different from what you will hear in the heart of Bologna. As for the remaining cities located on the furthest edges of Italy, I do not think that anyone can have doubts about them - and if he has, I will waste no explanations on him. So there remains little to be said about our present subject. On which account, and in order to survey quickly what is left (for I am anxious to lay down my sieve), I say that Trento and Turin, in my opinion, along with Alessandria, are situated so close to the boundaries of Italy that they could not possibly speak a pure language. So, even if they possessed the most beautiful of vernaculars - and the ones they do have are appalling - I would deny that their speech is truly Italian, because of its contamination by that of others. I conclude, therefore, that if we are hunting an illustrious form of Italian, our prey is not to be found in any of these cities.
Now that we have hunted across the woodlands and pastures of all Italy without finding the panther we are trailing, let us, in the hope of tracking it down, carry out a more closely reasoned investigation, so that, by the assiduous practice of cunning, we can at last entice into our trap this creature whose scent is left everywhere but which is nowhere to be seen. Accordingly, I take up my equipment once more for the hunt, and state that in any kind of thing there needs to be one instance with which all others can be compared, against which they can be weighed, and from which we derive the standard by which all others are measured. Thus, in arithmetic, all numbers are measured by comparison with the number one, and are deemed larger or smaller according to their relative distance from or closeness to that number. Likewise with colours, all are measured against white, and held to be brighter or darker as they approach or recede from that colour. And I hold that what can be said of things that have quantity and quality is also true of any predicate whatever, and even of substances: in short, that everything can be measured, in so far as it belongs to a genus, by comparison with the simplest individual found in that genus. Therefore, when dealing with human actions, in so far as these can be allotted to different categories, we must be able to define a standard against which these too can be measured. Now, in so far as we act simply as human beings, we possess a capacity to act - a 'virtue', if we understand this in a general sense - and according to this we judge people to be good or bad. Insofar as we act as human beings who are citizens, we have the law, by whose standards we can describe a citizen as good or bad; insofar as we act as human beings who are Italians, there are certain very simple features, of manners and appearance and speech, by which the actions of the people of Italy can be weighed and measured. But the most noble actions among those performed by Italians are proper to no one Italian city, but are common to them all; and among these we can now place the use of the vernacular that we were hunting above, which has left its scent in every city but made its home in none. Its scent may still be stronger in one city than another, just as the simplest of substances, which is God, is more clearly present in human beings than in animals, in animals than in plants, in plants than in minerals, in minerals than in the basic element, and in fire than in earth; or as the simplest quantity, one, is more apparent in odd numbers than in even; or as the simplest colour, white, shines more visibly in yellow than in green. So we have found what we were seeking: we can define the illustrious, cardinal, aulic, and curial vernacular in Italy as that which belongs to every Italian city yet seems to belong to none, and against which the vernaculars of all the cities of the Italians can be measured, weighed, and compared.
Now, however, it becomes necessary to explain why what we have found should be given the epithets 'illustrious', 'cardinal', 'aulic', and 'curial'; and by so doing I shall reveal more clearly what the phenomenon is in itself. First of all, therefore, I shall explain what I mean when I use the term 'illustrious', and why it is applied to the vernacular. Now when we call something 'illustrious', we mean that it gives off light or reflects the light that it receives from elsewhere: and we call men 'illustrious' in this sense, either because, enlightened by power, they shine forth justice and charity upon other people, or because, excellently taught, they teach most excellently, like Seneca or Numa Pompilius. And this vernacular of which I speak is both sublime in learning and power, and capable of exalting those who use it in honour and glory. That it is sublime in learning is clear when we see it emerge, so outstanding, so lucid, so perfect and so civilised, from among so many ugly words used by Italians, so many convoluted constructions, so many defective formations, and so many barbarous pronunciations - as Cino da Pistoia and his friend show us in their canzoni. That it is exalted in power is plain. And what greater power could there be than that which can melt the hearts of human beings, so as to make the unwilling willing and the willing unwilling, as it has done and still does? That it raises to honour is readily apparent. Does not the fame of its devotees exceed that of any king, marquis, count or warlord? There is no need to prove this. And I myself have known how greatly it increases the glory of those who serve it, I who, for the sake of that glory's sweetness, have the experience of exile behind me. For all these reasons we are right to call this vernacular 'illustrious'.
Nor are we without justification if we adorn this illustrious vernacular with our second epithet, by calling it 'cardinal'. For, just as the whole structure of a door obeys its hinge, so that in whatever direction the hinge moves, the door moves with it, whether it opens towards the inside or the outside, so the whole flock of languages spoken in the cities of Italy turns this way or that, moves or stands still, at the behest of this vernacular, which thus shows itself to be the true head of their family. Does it not daily dig up thorn-bushes growing in the Italian forest? Does it not daily make new grafts or prick out seedlings? What else do its gardeners do, if they are not uprooting or planting, as I said earlier? For this reason it has fully earned the right to deck itself out with so noble an epithet. The reason for calling this vernacular 'aulic' [royal court], on the other hand, is that if we Italians had a royal court, it would make its home in the court's palace. For if the court is the shared home of the entire kingdom, and the honoured governor of every part of it, it is fitting that everything that is common to all yet owned by none should frequent the court and live there; and indeed no other dwelling-place would be worthy of such a resident. And this certainly seems to be true of this vernacular of which I speak. So this is why those who frequent any royal court always speak an illustrious vernacular; it is also why our illustrious vernacular wanders around like a homeless stranger, finding hospitality in more humble homes - because we have no court. It is right to call this vernacular 'curial' [law-court], because the essence of being curial is no more than providing a balanced assessment of whatever has to be dealt with; and because the scales on which this assessment is carried out are usually found only in the most authoritative of tribunals, whatever is well balanced in our actions is called 'curial'. Therefore, since this vernacular has been assessed before the most excellent tribunal in Italy, it deserves to be called 'curial'. Yet it seems contradictory to say that it has been assessed in the most excellent tribunal in Italy, since we have no such tribunal. The answer to this is simple. For although it is true that there is no such tribunal in Italy - in the sense of a single institution, like that of the king of Germany - yet its constituent elements are not lacking. And just as the elements of the German tribunal are united under a single monarch, so those of the Italian have been brought together by the gracious light of reason. So it would not be true to say that the Italians lack a tribunal altogether, even though we lack a monarch, because we do have one, but its physical components are scattered.
So now we can say that this vernacular, which has been shown to be illustrious, cardinal, aulic, and curial, is the vernacular that is called Italian. For, just as one vernacular can be identified as belonging to Cremona, so can another that belongs to Lombardy; and just as one can be identified that belongs to Lombardy, so can another that belongs to the whole left-hand side of Italy; and just as all these can be identified in this way, so can that which belongs to Italy as a whole. And just as the first is called Cremonese, the second Lombard, and the third half-Italian, so this last, which belongs to all Italy, is called the Italian vernacular. This is the language used by the illustrious authors who have written vernacular poetry in Italy, whether they came from Sicily, Apulia, Tuscany Romagna, Lombardy, or either of the Marches. And since my intention, as I promised at the beginning of this work, is to teach a theory of the effective use of the vernacular, I have begun with this form of it, as being the most excellent; and I shall go on, in the following books, to discuss the following questions: whom I think worthy of using this language, for what purpose, in what manner, where, when, and what audience they should address. Having clarified all this, I shall attempt to throw some light on the question of the less important vernaculars, descending step by step until I reach the language that belongs to a single family.
Once more I call upon the resources of my swift-moving intellect, take up once more the pen used in my fruitful labours, and first of all declare that the illustrious Italian vernacular may as fittingly be used for writing prose as for writing poetry. But, because writers of prose most often learn the vernacular from poets, and because what is set out in poetry serves as a model for those who write prose, and not the other way about - which would seem to confer a certain primacy - I shall first expound the principles according to which the illustrious vernacular is used for writing poetry, following the order of treatment laid down at the end of the first book. Let us first ask, then, whether all who write poetry in the vernacular should use it in its illustrious form. To a superficial enquirer it might seem that they should, because anyone who writes poetry should embellish his lines as much as possible; and therefore, since nothing provides as splendid an ornament as does the illustrious vernacular, it seems that any writer of poetry should use it. Moreover, anything that is the best of its kind, if it be mixed with what is inferior to it, not only takes nothing away from the lesser material, but actually improves it; and therefore if poets, however crude the verses they write, mix the illustrious vernacular with their own crudities, they not only do the right thing but, it seems, are obliged to do so: those of limited ability stand much more in need of help than those with greater skill. And so it seems obvious that all poets have the right to use the illustrious vernacular. Yet this is completely untrue, because not even the best of poets should use it on every occasion, as will be made clear by the thorough discussion below. The illustrious vernacular requires, in fact, that those who use it have true affinity with it, as is the case with our other customs and symbols of authority: so magnificence requires those capable of great deeds, and purple calls for noble men; and, in the same way, the illustrious vernacular demands writers of outstanding intelligence and knowledge, and spurns all others, as will become clear below. For whatever is suited to us is so because we belong to a genus, or a species, or because we are who we are: this is true, for instance, of our having sense-perceptions, or laughing, or riding a horse. But the illustrious vernacular is not suited to us because we belong to a genus - otherwise it would also be suited to brute beasts; nor because we belong to a species - otherwise it would be suited to every human being, which is unthinkable (for no one would suggest that it is appropriate for mountain-dwellers discussing country matters); so it must be suited to us as individuals. But nothing suits an individual except in respect of the particular qualities that he possesses, as in the cases of carrying on a trade, or riding a horse, or governing. Therefore, if the various degrees of suitability reflect qualities, as they do in worthy individuals, so that some are worthy, some worthier, and some most worthy, it is clear that good things are suited to the worthy, better to the more worthy, and the best to the most worthy. And since language is nothing other than the vehicle indispensable to our thinking, as a horse is to a knight, and since the best horses are suited to the best knights, as I said, the best language is suited to the best thinking. But the best thinking is not to be found except where knowledge and intelligence are also present; therefore the best language is suited only to those who possess intelligence and knowledge. And so the best language is not suitable for all versifiers, since most of them write their verses without knowledge or intelligence; and, as a consequence, the best type of vernacular is not suitable for them either. On this account, if the illustrious vernacular is not appropriate for all, then not everyone should use it, since no one should do anything that is inappropriate. And as for my remark that anyone should embellish his lines as much as he can, I declare that this is true; but we would not call an ox well-adorned if it were dressed up to look like a horse, or a sow if it wore a sword-belt - rather, we would laugh at their disfiguring get-up, for true adornment consists in the addition of something appropriate. As for the point that superior material mixed with inferior enhances the inferior, I say that this is true when the distinction between the two is lost, as when gold is blended with silver; but if the distinction survives, then the inferior material actually loses value, as when beautiful women are seen in the company of ugly ones. So, since poets' thought is mixed with their words but can always be distinguished from them, when that thought is not of the best it will not seem better for being mixed with the best type of vernacular, but worse - as would an ugly woman swathed in gold or silk.
Now that I have explained that not all poets, but only the very best of them, should use the illustrious vernacular, it becomes necessary to establish whether or not it can be used to discuss all subjects; and, if not, to show separately which subjects are worthy of it. To this end, it will first be necessary to decide what we mean when we say something is 'worthy'. Now we call 'worthy' that which possesses worthiness, as we do 'noble' that which possesses nobility; and if, having learned to recognise distinguishing features, we can recognise the object they distinguish in so far as it is of its kind, so, having learned to recognise worthiness, we shall also be able to recognise what is worthy. Worthiness is, in fact, the effect or culmination of what one has deserved; so that, when someone has deserved well of us, we say that he has achieved worthiness of good, or, if the contrary is true, of evil. So a good soldier achieves worthiness of victory, or a good ruler of his kingdom, just as a liar achieves worthiness of shame or a thief of death. But, since comparisons can be made among those who have deserved well (as well as among others), so that some deserve well, some better, and some the best (or some badly, some worse, and some the worst), and since comparisons of this kind can only be made on the basis of the culmination of merit that we call worthiness (as has been said), it is plain that degrees of worthiness, greater and lesser, can be established by comparing them with each other, so that some are great, some greater, and some greatest. It follows that some things are worthy, some worthier, and some most worthy. And since this comparison of degrees of worthiness is not applied to a single object, but to different ones, so that we can call 'worthier' what is worthy of greater things and 'most worthy' what is worthy of the greatest (because nothing can be worthier of the same), it is clear that the best is worthy of the best, according to the intrinsic nature of things. So since the vernacular I call illustrious is the best of all vernaculars, it follows that only the best subjects are worthy to be discussed in it, and those, of the subjects that can be discussed, are the ones we call most worthy. Now, however, let us track down what they are. In order to define them accurately, it is necessary first to know that, just as human beings possess a soul with three aspects - vegetative, animal, and rational - so they follow a threefold path. For in so far as they are vegetable beings, they seek the useful, and they have this in common with plants; in so far as they are animal, they seek pleasure, and this they share with beasts; and in so far as they are rational, they seek the good, and in this they stand alone, or may be related to the nature of angels. Clearly, it is in pursuit of these three ends that we do whatever we do; and because in each area there are some things of greater importance and some of greatest, they are to be treated according to their importance, the most important in the loftiest mode and, therefore, in the highest form of vernacular. But we must discuss what these things of greatest importance may be. To begin with what is useful: here, if we carefully ponder the goal of all those who seek what is useful, we will find that it is nothing other than their own well-being. Secondly, what is pleasurable: here I say that what is most pleasurable is what is the most highly valued object of our desires; and this is love. Thirdly, what is good: and here no-one will doubt that the most important thing is virtue. So these three things, well-being, love, and virtue, appear to be those most important subjects that are to be treated in the loftiest style; or at least this is true of the themes most closely associated with them, prowess in arms, ardour in love, and control of one's own will. On these themes alone, if I remember rightly, we find that illustrious individuals have written poetry in the vernacular: Bertran de Born on arms, Arnaut Daniel on love, Giraut de Borneil on integrity; Cino da Pistoia on love, his friend on integrity. So Bertran says: Non posc mudar c'un cantar non exparia; [I cannot refrain from sending forth my song] Arnaut: L'aura amara fa.l bruol brancuz clarzir [The bitter breeze makes the leafy copses whiten] Giraut: Per solaz reveilar che s'es trop endormiz; [To re-awaken the joys of company which have sunk into too sound a sleep] Cino: Digno sono eo di morte; [I am worthy of death] his friend: Doglia mi reca ne lo core ardire. [Grief brings boldness to my heart] As for arms, I find that no Italian has yet treated them in poetry. Having seen this, then, the subjects fit for poetry in the highest form of vernacular will become clear.
Now, however, let us quickly try to find out how the themes that are worthy of such a vernacular are to be constrained. Wishing, then, to explain how these worthy themes are to be connected in poetry, I shall first say that it ought to be remembered that writers of poetry in the vernacular have composed their poems using many different forms, some writing canzoni, some ballate, some sonnets, and some using other illegitimate and irregular forms, as will be shown below. Of all these forms, however, I hold that the canzone form is far and away the most excellent; and so, if excellent things are worthy of the excellent, as was proved above, those subjects that are worthy of the most excellent vernacular are also worthy of the most excellent form, and, in consequence, are to be treated in the canzone. That the canzone form is everything I have said can be shown using a number of arguments. First, that although everything composed in verse involves song, only canzoni have had that term allotted to them - which could not have happened without ancient authority. Further, everything that brings about unaided the purpose for which it was created is seen as more noble than that which requires outside help; and canzoni do everything that they need to do unaided, unlike ballate - for those need dancers, for whom they were written in the first place. It follows, therefore, that canzoni are to be deemed more noble than ballate; and, as a result, their form is the most noble of all, since no one doubts that ballate excel sonnets in point of nobility of form. Moreover, those things are seen as more noble that bring greater honour to those who create them; but canzoni bring more honour to their creators than ballate; therefore they are more noble, and, in consequence, theirs is the noblest form of all. Furthermore, the noblest things are preserved with the greatest care; but, among the things that are sung, canzoni are preserved the most carefully, as is clear to anyone who looks at books; therefore, canzoni are most noble, and theirs is the noblest of forms. Yet further, among the products of human ingenuity, the noblest are those that most fully exploit the technical possibilities of the art; since things that are sung are products of human ingenuity, and only in canzoni are the technical possibilities of the art fully exploited, so canzoni are most noble, and the noblest of poetic forms. That the technical possibilities of singing in poetry are fully exploited only in canzoni is apparent from the fact that whatever features of the art are found in other forms are also found in canzoni - but the converse is not true. Proof of what I am arguing is readily available: for whatever has flowed down to the lips of illustrious poets from the loftiest reaches of their minds is found only in canzoni. So for our purposes it is plain that whatever is worthy of the highest form of the vernacular should be treated in canzoni.
Now that I have, not without difficulty, elucidated some tricky problems - who and what is worthy of the aulic vernacular, as well as which form I consider worthy of such honour as, alone, to be suited for the vernacular at its highest - I wish, before moving on to other matters, to enquire thoroughly into the canzone form, which many clearly employ more at random than according to the rules; and since, so far, all this has been taken for granted, I will now throw open the workshop of that art (leaving the forms of ballata and sonnet aside for the moment, since I plan to explain them in the fourth book of the present work, which will deal with the middle level of the vernacular). Looking back, then, at what was said above, I recall that I frequently called those who write verse in the vernacular 'poets'; and this presumptuous expression is beyond question justifiable, since they are most certainly poets, if we understand poetry aright: that is, as nothing other than a verbal invention composed according to the rules of rhetoric and music. Yet they differ from the great poets, that is, those who obey the rules, since those great ones wrote their poetry in a language, and with a technique, governed by rules, whereas these write at random, as I said above. Thus it comes about that, the more closely we try to imitate the great poets, the more correctly we write poetry. So, since I am trying to write a theoretical work about poetry, it behoves me to emulate their learned works of poetic doctrine. First of all I declare that anyone must adjust the weight of his material to suit his own shoulders, lest the excessive burden bearing down upon them overcome his strength and send him sprawling in the mud; and this is what our master Horace teaches at the beginning of his Ars poetica, where he says 'Choose your subject'. Then, when dealing with the various subjects that are suitable for poetry, we must know how to choose whether to treat them in tragic, comic, or elegiac style. By 'tragic' I mean the higher style, by 'comic' the lower, and by 'elegiac' that of the unhappy. If it seems appropriate to use the tragic style, then the illustrious vernacular must be employed, and so you will need to bind together a canzone. If, on the other hand, the comic style is called for, then sometimes the middle level of the vernacular can be used, and sometimes the lowly; and I shall explain the distinction in Book Four. If, though, you are writing elegy, you must only use the lowly. But let us leave the other styles aside and, as is appropriate, discuss only the tragic here. The tragic style is clearly to be used whenever both the magnificence of the verses and the lofty excellence of construction and vocabulary accord with the gravity of the subject-matter. Therefore, remembering well that (as has been proved above) whatever is highest is worthy of the highest, and seeing that the style we call 'tragic' is the highest kind of style, the subjects that we have defined as requiring to be treated in the highest style must be treated in that style alone. And those subjects are well-being, love, and virtue, and the thoughts that they inspire in us, as long as no accidental circumstance intervenes to defile them. [Caveat ergo quilibet et discernat ea que dicimus; et quando hec tria pure cantare intendit, vel que ad ea directe ac pure secuntur, prius Elicone potatus, tensis fidibus ad supremum, secure plectrum tum movere incipiat. Sed cautionem atque discretionem hanc accipere, sicut decet, hoc opus et labor est, quoniam nunquam sine strenuitate ingenii et artis assiduitate scientiarumque habitu fieri potest. Et hii sunt quos poeta Eneidorum sexto Dei dilectos et ab ardente virtute sublimatos ad ethera deorumque filios vocat, quanquam figurate loquatur. Et ideo confutetur illorum stultitia, qui arte scientiaque immunes, de solo ingenio confidentes, ad summa summe canenda prorumpunt; et a tanta presumptuositate desistant, et si anseres natura vel desidia sunt, nolint astripetam aquilam imitari.]
It seems to me that enough has now been said as to the gravity of subject-matter, or at least as much as is relevant for the purpose of my work, so I shall move quickly onto the magnificence of the verses. On this topic it must first be realised that our predecessors used lines of varying lengths in their canzoni, as do our contemporaries; but I have not yet found any case in which the number of syllables in a single line exceeds eleven or falls short of three. And although Italian poets have used trisyllabic lines, and hendecasyllables, and every type of line in between, the most popular have been the lines of five, seven, and eleven syllables, with the trisyllable most favoured among those that remain. Of all these lines the most splendid is clearly the hendecasyllable, both for its measured movement and for the scope it offers for subject matter, constructions, and vocabulary; and the beauty of all these features is most greatly magnified by this metre, as will be readily apparent: for whenever things of value are magnified, their value itself is magnified also. And all the best poets seem to have accepted this, and have begun their illustrious canzoni with a hendecasyllable. Thus Giraut de B.: Ara ausirez encabalitz cantarz [Now you shall hear first-class songs] (Though this line may appear to have only ten syllables, it is, in fact, a hendecasyllable, for the two final consonants do not belong to the preceding syllable, and although they have no vowel of their own, they do not lose their value as syllables on that account. The proof of this is that here the rhyme is completed with a single vowel, which would not be possible except by virtue of another whose presence here is understood.) The King of Navarre: De fin amor si vient sen et bonté [From true love come kowledge and goodness] (Here, if we take stress and its motivation into account, it will be clear that this is a hendecasyllable.) Guido Guinizzelli: Al cor gentil repara sempre amore; Delle Colonne, the judge of Messina: Amor, che lungiamente m'hai menato; [Love, who long have led me] Rinaldo dAquino: Perfino amor vo sì letamente; [I go so happily for true love's sake] Cino da Pistoia: Non spero che giamai per mia salute; [I have no hope that ever for my benefit] and his friend: Amor, che movi tua virtù da cielo. [Love, who send your power down from heaven] And although this line I have been discussing is rightly seen as the most celebrated of all, should it enter into a kind of co-operative bond with the seven-syllable line, or heptasyllable (where it still retains, as it were, the senior partnership), it will appear yet more exalted and distinguished in its pride. But let me leave this point to be developed later on. And I say that the heptasyllable comes immediately after this line, which reaches the highest peak of celebrity. After this I would place the five-syllable line, or pentasyllable, and the trisyllable. The nine-syllable line, on the otherhand, being a kind of threefold trisyllable, has either never been highly thought of or has dropped out of use because it was found boring. Lines with an even number of syllables are only used rarely today because of their lack of sophistication; for they retain the nature of the numbers that govern them, which are inferior to odd numbers as material is to form. And so, to recapitulate what has been said, the hendecasyllable may be seen as the most splendid of lines; and this is what we were trying to determine. Now, however, we must still explore the question of lofty constructions and refined vocabulary; and then, once the sticks and the cords have been gathered, I shall explain how our promised bundle, the canzone, is to be bound together.
Since the object of my attention is the illustrious vernacular, which is the noblest of all, and since I have determined what are the subjects worthy of that vernacular - the three noblest subjects, as explained above - and have reserved for them the form of the canzone, as being the greatest of all forms, and since, in order to teach the use of that form more thoroughly, I have dealt above with some aspects of it, namely its style and its metre, let us now turn to the matter of construction. You need to know that we call 'construction' a group of words put together in regulated order, such as 'Aristotle philosophised in Alexander's time'. Here we have, in fact, five words arranged in a regular fashion, and they make up one construction. On this subject it must first be taken into account that some constructions are congruent, and some, on the other hand, incongruent. And since, as you should well recall from our principle of distinction, we are hunting only for the best, there is no place on our expedition for the incongruent type of construction, because it has not been awarded even the lowest place on the scale of quality. Let the ignorant, then, not dare from now on to lay rough hands on canzoni; for we laugh at them as we would at a blind man choosing among colours. It is, as will be plain, the congruent construction that we pursue. But a distinction no less tricky than this must be made before we can find what we seek, which is the construction with the highest possible degree of urbanity. For there are many degrees of construction. There is the flavourless, for example, which is typical of the uncultured: 'Peter loves Miss Bertha a lot'. There is one that is, flavoured and no more, typical of pedantic students and teachers: 'I am stricken with sorrow more than most, for whoever drags out his life in exile, revisiting his native land only in dreams'. There is one that is graceful as well as flavoured, which is found among those who have made a superficial study of rhetoric: 'The laudable discretion of the Marquis of Este, and his widely displayed generosity, make him beloved of all'. And there is the flavoured one that is graceful and also striking, and this is typical of illustrious writers: 'The greater part of your flowers, o Florence, having been snatched from your breast, the second Totila advanced in vain towards Trinacria'. This is the degree of construction that I call most excellent, and this is what we are looking for when we hunt the best, as I said. Illustrious canzoni are composed using this type of construction alone, as in this one by Giraut: Si per mon Sobretos non fos; [If it were not for my Above-All] Folquet de Marselha: Tan m'abellis l'amoros pensamen; [So greatly does the thought of love please me] Arnaut Daniel: Sols sui che sai lo sobraffan che.m sorz; [I am the only one who knows the overwoe that rises] Aimeric de Belenoi: Nuls hom non pot complir addreciamen; [No man can accomplish fittingly] Aimeric de Peguilhan: Si con l'arbres che per sobrecarcar; [Like the tree that, because it is weighed down] The King of Navarre: Ire d'amor que en mon cor repaire; [Passion of love that dwells in my heart] The Judge of Messina: Ancor che l'aigua per lo foco lassi; [Although water flees from fire] Guido Guinizzelli: Tegno de folle empresa a lo ver dire; [I think it a foolish business, to tell the truth] Guido Cavalcanti: Poi che di doglia cor conven ch'io porti; [Since it is fitting that I bear a heart full of sorrow] Cino da Pistoia: Avegna che io aggia più per tempo; [Although I have for a long time] and his friend: Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona. [Love that speaks to me in my mind] Nor should you be surprised, reader, if so many authorities are recalled to your memory here; for I could not make clear what I mean by the supreme degree of construction other than by providing examples of this kind. And perhaps it would be most useful, in order to make the practice of such constructions habitual, to read the poets who respect the rules, namely Virgil, the Ovid of the Metamorphoses, Statius, and Lucan, as well as others who have written excellent prose, such as Livy, Pliny, Frontinus, Paulus Orosius, and many others whom an affectionate interest invites us to consult. So let the devotees of ignorance cease to cry up Guittone d'Arezzo and others like him, for never, in either vocabulary or construction, have they been anything but commonplace.
The next section of our progress through this subject now requires me to comment on vocabulary, which should be sublime, and therefore worthy to contribute to the style defined above. I shall begin by admitting that classifying words is not the least demanding of the tasks that exercise our reason, since we can plainly see that many varieties are to be found. For some words can be seen as infantile, some as womanish, some as virile; and of the virile some are thought rustic and some urbane; and of those we call urbane some are combed and glossy, some shaggy and unkempt. Of all these it is the combed and the shaggy that we call sublime, while calling glossy and unkempt those that have a superfluity of resonance. In the same way, among major enterprises, some reveal greatness of spirit and some are smoke; and although to the superficial observer they may seem to offer a way upwards, yet, as soon as they step aside from the line laid down by virtue, it will be clear to the sensible that they lead not upwards but to a headlong fall down the opposite slope. You should pay careful attention, then, reader, to the work you have in store in order to sift out the words of superior quality from the rest; for if you concentrate on the illustrious vernacular, which tragic poets in the vernacular should use, as explained above (and it is tragic poets that I seek to train), you will take care that only the noblest of words remain in your sieve. And among these you will not be able to make any room at all for infantile words (such as mamma [mummy] and babbo [daddy], or mate [mummy] and pate [daddy]), because of their simplicity; or for the womanish (like dolciada [sweetened] or placevole [pleasant]), because of their yielding quality; or for the rustic (like greggia [flock] and cetra [lyre]), because of their roughness; or for the urbane, smooth or unkempt, like femina [woman] or corpo [body]. So you will see that all you have left are urbane words that are combed or shaggy; these are the most noble, and belong to the illustrious vernacular. And I define as 'combed' those words that, having three syllables (or very close to that number), and neither aspiration, nor acute or circumflex accent, nor doubled z or x, nor twinned liquid consonants, nor such consonants placed immediately after a mute, instead seem, as it were, polished, and leave a certain sweetness in the mouths of those who utter them: such as amore [love], donna [lady], disio [desire], virtute [virtue], donare [give], letitia [joy], salute [health], securtate [safety] and defesa [defense]. By 'shaggy' I mean all words, except those defined above, that seem either necessary or decorative when used in the illustrious vernacular. And I call necessary all those words that we simply cannot do without, such as monosyllables like sì [yes], no [no], me [me], te [you], se [him], a [at], e [and], i [the], o [or], ù [where], as well as exclamations and many others. As for 'decorative', I so call all polysyllabic words that, when mixed with combed ones, make the harmony of the whole structure beautiful, even though they may have some harshness of aspiration, or accent, or doubled consonants, or liquid ones, or may simply be too long: these are words like terra [land], honore [honour], speranza [hope], gravitate [weight], alleviato [alleviated], impossibilità [impossibility], impossibilitate [impossibility], benaventuratissimo [most fortunately], inanimatissimamente [most inanimately], disaventuratissimamente [most unfortunately], and sovramagnificentissimamente [super-magnificently], which last is a hendecasyllable all on its own. A word or term with even more syllables might still be found, but, since it would exceed the limits of all the lines that we use, it would not be very useful for our present purpose: one such is the well-known honorificabilitudinitate, which is twelve syllables long in the vernacular, and reaches thirteen in two oblique cases that exist in gramatica. As for the question of how shaggy words of this type are to be reconciled with combed ones within a metrical form, I shall postpone instruction on that point until later. And now let what I have said about the sublimity of words suffice for those with innate discernment.
Now that we have gathered the sticks and cords for our bundle, the time has come to put the bundle together. But since understanding of any operation should be achieved before it is carried out, just as you should be able to see your target before you shoot an arrow or throw a javelin, let us consider, first and primarily, exactly what this bundle that I intend to put together may be. This bundle, then, if we recall to mind all the evidence laid out above, is the canzone. Let us therefore find out what a canzone is, and what we mean when we say 'canzone'. A canzone, according to the true meaning of the word cantio, is an act of singing, in an active or passive sense, just as lectio means an act of reading, in an active or passive sense. But let me define more precisely what I have just said, according, that is, to whether this act of singing is active or passive. And on this point it must be taken into account that cantio has a double meaning: one usage refers to something created by an author, so that there is action - and this is the sense in which Virgil uses the word in the first book of the Aeneid, when he writes 'arma virumque canò' [I sing of arms and a man]; the other refers to the occasions on which this creation is performed, either by the author or by someone else, whoever it may be, with or without a musical accompaniment - and in this sense it is passive. For on such occasions the canzone itself acts upon someone or something, whereas in the former case it is acted upon; and so in one case it appears as an action carried out by someone, in the other as an action perceived by someone. And because it is acted upon before it acts in its turn, the argument seems plausible, indeed convincing, that it takes its name from the fact that it is acted upon, and is somebody's action, rather than from the fact that it acts upon others. The proof of this is the fact that we never say 'that's Peter's song' when referring to something Peter has performed, but only to something he has written. Furthermore, we must now discuss whether the word canzone should be used to refer to a composition made up of words arranged with due regard to harmony, or simply to a piece of music. To which I answer that a piece of music as such is never given the name canzone, but is rather called 'sound'; or 'tone', or 'note', or 'melody'. For no player of a wind or keyboard or stringed instrument ever calls his melody a canzone, except when it is wedded to a real canzone; but those who harmonise words call their works canzoni, and even when we see such words written down on the page, in the absence of any performer, we call them canzoni. And so it seems clear that the canzone is nothing else than the self-contained action of one who writes harmonious words to be set to music; and so I shall assert that not only the canzoni we are discussing here, but also ballate and sonnets and all arrangements of words, of whatever kind, that are based on harmony, whether in the vernacular or in the regulated language, should be called canzoni. But because I am concerned here only with poems in the vernacular, and am not discussing those in the regulated language, I say that there is one form of vernacular poetry that excels all others, and that, on account of its pre-eminence, we call the canzone; and that the canzone is pre-eminent was proved in the third chapter of this book. And because what has just been defined seems to be common to the majority of instances, I shall now take up afresh what has been defined generically, and identify more precisely, through a series of distinctions, what it is we are seeking, and that alone. So I say that the canzone, in so far as it is so called for its pre-eminence, which is what we too are seeking, is a connected series of equal stanzas in the tragic style, without a refrain, and focused on a single theme, as I showed when I wrote Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore. [Ladies who have understanding of love] If I say 'a connected series in the tragic style', it is because, were the style of the stanzas comic, we would use the diminutive and call it a canzonetta, a form I intend to discuss in the fourth book of the present work. And now it is clear what a canzone is, whether we are using the term in a general sense or on account of the form's outstanding excellence. It seems plain enough what we mean when we call something a canzone, and, in consequence, what this bundle we are preparing to tie together may be.
Since, as I have said, a canzone is a connected series of stanzas, those who do not know what a stanza is must also fail to understand a canzone, for the understanding of a thing that requires definition flows from familiarity with the elements that compose it; and so, in consequence, I must now discuss the stanza, by enquiring exactly what it may be and just what we mean when we use the term. And about this you must know that this word was coined solely for the purpose of discussing poetic technique, so that the object in which the whole art of the canzone was enshrined should be called a stanza, that is, a capacious storehouse or receptacle for the art in its entirety. For just as the canzone is the lap of the whole of its subject-matter, so the stanza enlaps its whole technique; and the later stanzas of the poem should never aspire to add any new technical device, but should only dress themselves in the same garb as the first. So it will be clear that that of which we speak will be the enlapment or frame of all the technical principles on which the canzone draws; and, when we have defined these, the description we seek will stand out clearly. The whole technique of the canzone, then, is plainly based on these three principles: first, the articulation of the melody, second, the organisation of the parts, and third, the number of lines and syllables. I make no mention of rhyme here, because it is not exclusive to the technique of the canzone. For it is permissible to introduce new rhymes into any stanza, or to repeat those already used according to choice; which, if rhyme belonged only to canzone technique, would scarcely be allowable - as I have said. If there are aspects of the use of rhyme that are relevant to the technique under discussion, they will be included when I discuss the organisation of parts. So from all that has now been said we can assemble the elements of a definition, and say that a stanza is a coherent arrangement of lines and syllables governed by a particular melody and a clearly defined organisation.
If we know that a human being is a rational animal, and that an animal consists of a body and a sensitive soul, but do not know what that soul is, nor yet that body, we cannot have a perfect understanding of the human being; for the perfect understanding of anything must take into account its basic elements, as the master of those who know affirms at the beginning of his Physics. Therefore, in order to acquire that understanding of the canzone at which we aim, let us now briefly undertake the definition of the things that define the canzone itself, beginning with its melody, moving on to its organisation, and finally discussing its lines and syllables. I say, then, that every stanza is constructed harmoniously for the purpose of having a particular melody attached to it. But it is clear that stanzas differ in form. For some are accompanied by an uninterrupted melody, in an ordered progression from beginning to end - that is, without any repetition of musical phrases or any diesis (and by diesis I mean a movement from one melody to another, which we call a 'turn' when speaking the vernacular). Stanzas of this kind were used by Arnaut Daniel in nearly all his canzoni, and I followed him when I wrote Al poco giorno a al gran cerchio d'ombra. [To the short day and the great circle of shadow] Some stanzas, on the other hand, tolerate diesis: but there can be no diesis, in the sense in which I use the term, unless one melody be repeated, either before the diesis, or after it, or on either side. If the repetition occurs before the diesis, we say that the stanza has 'feet' [pedes]; and it should have two of these, although cases do occur - albeit very rarely - where it has three. If the repetition comes after the diesis, we say that the stanza has 'verses' [versus]. If there is no repetition before the diesis, we say the stanza has a 'forehead' [frons]; if there is none after, then we say it has a 'tail' [sirma, cauda]. So you can see, reader, how much room for manoeuvre is available to those who write canzoni, and you should consider why poetic practice has bestowed such extensive discretionary powers on itself. If reason has guided you along the right path, you will see that what I describe has only come about in recognition of the stature of authoritative models. It should now be clear enough what the technique of the canzone has to do with the articulation of the melody; and so let us move on to its organisation.
In my opinion, what I call organization is the most important aspect, as far as technique is concerned. It depends, in fact, both on the articulation of the melody and on the combination of verses and the relationship of rhymes: so it must be treated with the greatest care. To begin with, then, I say that a frons with its versus, or the pedes with their cauda or sirma, or even pedes with versus, may have differing relationships with one another within a stanza. For sometimes the frons will have more syllables and lines than the versus, or at least it can have - and I say 'can' because I have not yet actually seen a stanza arranged this way. Sometimes it may have more lines and fewer syllables, as when the frons has five lines and each of the two versus only two, but the frons is in heptasyllables and the versus in hendecasyllables. Sometimes the versus will exceed the frons in both number of syllables and number of lines, as in my canzone Traggemi de la mente amor la stiva: [Love draws the bar of my mind] This had a four-line frons, made up of three hendecasyllables and one heptasyllable; and so it could not be divided into pedes, because in the relationship between pedes it is necessary that each have an equal number of lines and syllables, as is also true of versus. And what I have already said about the frons, I will repeat when speaking of versus; for the versus may have more lines and fewer syllables than the frons, as when there are two versus, each of three lines in heptasyllables, and a five-line frons woven out of two lines of eleven syllables and three of seven. Sometimes, moreover, the pedes will have more lines and syllables than the cauda, as in my poem Amor, che movi tua virtù da cielo. [Love, who send your power down from heaven] Sometimes the pedes will be exceeded by the sirma as a whole, as in the poem in which I wrote Donna pietosa e di novella etate. [A lady, tender in heart and young] And just as I have said of the frons that it may exceed in lines and be exceeded in syllables (and vice versa), so this is also true of the sirma. Also, the pedes may exceed the versus in number, or may be exceeded by them; for there may be three pedes and two versus in a stanza, or indeed three versus and two pedes. Nor are we bound by these numbers, for it is quite feasible to go on combining pedes and versus in greater quantities. And what I have already said about the prevalence of lines and syllables in the other parts of the stanza's organisation, I now repeat about pedes and versus: for in the same way each can either gain or yield the upper hand. Nor should I fail to mention the fact that we use the term 'feet' [pedes] in a sense different from that of poets in the regulated language; for they say that a line is made up of feet, whereas for us a foot is made up of lines, as should be clear enough by now. Nor, again, should I fail to reiterate the following point: that in their mutual relationship the pedes should be equal, in both number of lines and number of syllables, as well as in their organization; for otherwise it will not be possible to repeat their melody exactly. And I hold that this principle is also to be observed in the versus.
As I said above, there is also a principle of organisation to be taken into account when weaving lines together; and so I shall now establish that, bearing in mind everything that was said above about the line itself. In our usage three kinds of line seem to enjoy the privilege of being employed most often, namely the hendecasyllable, the heptasyllable, and the pentasyllable; and I have pointed out that the trisyllable follows these more closely than the remainder. Of these it is definitely the hendecasyllable that earns the highest ranking when we try to write poems in the tragic style, because of its peculiar aptness for such composition. For there are some stanzas that seem to rejoice in being composed entirely of hendecasyllables, as in that poem of Guido of Florence: Donna me prega, perch'io voglio dire; [A lady begs me to discuss] or as I myself wrote: Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore. [Ladies who have undestanding of love] The Hispanic poets have also used this device: and by Hispanic I mean those who have written poetry in the language of oc, such as Aimeric de Belenoi: Nuls hom non pot complir adrecciamen. [No man can accomplish fittingly] There exists one kind of stanza in which a single heptasyllable is included; but this can only occur where there is a frons or a cauda, since, as I said, in pedes and versus the principle of equal numbers of lines and syllables must be strictly observed. For this reason, moreover, there cannot be an odd number of lines where there is no frons or cauda; but when these are present, or even if only one of them is, you can have odd or even numbers of lines, as you please. And just as there is a kind of stanza that includes only one heptasyllable, so it will be evident that stanzas can be composed that include two, three, four, or five of them, as long as, in the tragic style, it is the hendecasyllable that occupies the place of honour and sets the tone at the outset. It is true that I have seen cases in which a tragic poem has begun with a heptasyllable, as in these examples from Guido Guinizzelli, Guido Ghislieri, and Fabruzzo, all three from Bologna: Di fermo sofferire, and Donna, lo fermo core, [Lady, the faithful heart] and Lo meo lontano gire; [My distant wandering] and a few others. But if we are willing to analyse the meaning of these examples more subtly, we will find that this is a tragic poetry with more than a hint of the elegiac about it. The same concession, however, cannot be made for the pentasyllable: in a poem in the high style it will be enough if a single pentasyllable be inserted into the whole stanza, or two, at the most, in the pedes; and I say 'in the pedes' because of the need to maintain equality in the melody of pedes and versus. The trisyllable should most certainly not be used standing alone in the tragic style; and I say 'standing alone' because it can often be seen to be used to create an effect of echo between rhymes, as will be found in Guido of Florence's Donna me prega, [A lady begs me to discuss] and in my own poem Poscia ch'Amor del tutto m'ha lasciato. [Since Love has completely abandoned me] Here the line has no independent existence at all, but is only a segment of the hendecasyllable, answering the rhyme of the previous line like an echo. Particular attention needs to be paid to this point where the organisation of the lines is concerned, for, if a heptasyllable is included in the first foot, another must occupy the corresponding position in the second; so that, if a three-line pes has hendecasyllables in first and third place and in the middle, as the second line, a heptasyllable, then the other pes must also have a heptasyllable in the middle and a hendecasyllable on either side. Otherwise, it will not be possible to repeat the melody exactly, which is the purpose for which the pedes are designed, as I said above, and thus they will not really be pedes. And what is true of the pedes, I say is also true of the versus: it will be clear that there is no difference between pedes and versus but that of position, since the former are so called because they occur before the stanza's diesis, and the latter because they occur after it. Besides, I affirm that the rules laid down for the three-line pes are also to be followed for all other pedes; and, as for a single heptasyllable, so also for more than one, and so on with the pentasyllable and every other kind of line. From all this, reader, you should be able to work out easily enough what kinds of line are to be used for composing a stanza and what needs to be taken into account when considering the organisation of the lines themselves.
Let us now deal with the relationship of rhymes, though without, for the moment, saying anything about rhyme itself; for I have postponed a more detailed treatment of that subject to the section in which I deal with the middle level of poetic style. It will, therefore, be useful to anticipate some elements of the discussion at the beginning of this chapter. One of these is the unrhymed stanza, in which no organisation according to rhyme occurs; Arnaut Daniel used this kind of stanza very frequently, as in his Se.m fos Amor de ioi donar; [If Love were to me as broad in granting joy] and I also used it in Al poco giorno. [To the short day...] Another is the stanza in which every line ends with the same rhyme, and in this case it would obviously be superfluous to enquire further into the stanza's organisation. So all that remains is the obligation to pursue the analysis of stanzas with more than one rhyme. First of all you must know that almost all poets grant themselves a considerable degree of licence in this matter, and this is mostly what they aim at to achieve the sweetness of the overall harmony. There are some, indeed, who do not always rhyme all the endings within a single stanza, but repeat them or rhyme them in later stanzas. One who did this was Gotto of Mantua, who recited many of his excellent canzoni to me in person; he always wove one line with no matching rhyme into every stanza, and called it the key-line. And what can be done with one line can also be done with two, and perhaps with more. There are certain others, perhaps the large majority of writers of canzoni, who avoid leaving any line in a stanza unaccompanied, but always provide it with the accord offered by rhyme, whether in one line or several. And some make the rhymes in the lines that come after the diesis differ from those in the lines that come before it, while others do not do this, but instead carry the endings from the first part of the stanza forward, and weave them into the later lines. This is most often done, however, with the ending of the first line of the latter portion of the stanza, which the majority of writers rhyme with the last line of the earlier portion; and thus they achieve what is clearly none other than a beautiful linking together of the stanza as a whole. As for the organisation of rhymes, in so far as they are used in the frons or the cauda it seems that as much liberty as may be desired must be allowed; but the effect will be particularly beautiful if the endings of the last lines cause the stanza to fall silent on a rhyme. In the pedes, however, some caution is required; for here we find that some rules of organisation are to be observed. And, making a distinction, I say that a pes may be made up of an even or an odd number of lines, and that in either case its endings may or may not be matched with rhymes. No one will doubt that this is true for an even number of lines; but if anyone doubts that it is also true in the opposite case, let him recall what I said in the immediately preceding chapter about the trisyllable, when, as part of a hendecasyllable, it answers like an echo. And if there should be an ending lacking a rhyme in the first foot, a matching rhyme should at all costs be provided for it in the second. If, however, every ending in one foot has its matching rhyme, in the other you may repeat the endings or introduce new ones, as you please, either completely or partially, as long as the order of the foregoing rhymes is maintained throughout. Thus, if the outside endings of a three-line pes, that is, those of the first and third lines, are matched with each other, then the equivalent endings in the second pes must also match; and however the middle line of the first is treated, whether provided with a rhyme or not, it must re-appear likewise in the second - and the same scheme must be followed in any other type of pes. Finally, the same rule is almost always followed in the versus; though I say 'almost' because, owing to the linking together mentioned above, and to the matching of the final line endings, the order that I have described is sometimes found to be subverted. Besides all this, it seems to me most appropriate to add to this chapter a note on what to beware of when using rhyme, since I do not intend to return to the theory of rhyme as a subject anywhere in the present book. There are, then, three ways of placing rhymes that are inappropriate for a poet in the high style: one is hammering on the same rhyme, unless perhaps he thereby claims for himself something new and previously unattempted in the art; then the poet is like a knight on the day of his dubbing, who scorns to let it pass without some special exploit. This is what I tried to do here: Amor, to vedi ben che questa donna; [Love, you see well that this lady] The second thing to avoid is that superfluous kind of rhyme called 'equivocal', which always seems to detract to some extent from meaning; and the third is the use of harsh-sounding rhymes, unless they be mixed with gentle-sounding ones - for in fact it is the mingling of harsh and gentle rhymes that gives tragedy its splendour. And let this be enough about technique, as far as it concerns the organization of the stanza.
Since I have now treated two aspects of canzone technique in sufficient depth, it is clearly time to discuss a third, namely the number of lines and syllables. And first of all we must consider the matter from the point of view of the whole stanza; after which we will go on to look at its separate parts. First of all, then, I must draw a distinction among the subjects that a lend themselves to poetry, for some of them seem to require a stanza of a certain length, while others do not. For since everything we touch upon in poetry can be treated either positively or negatively [from right or left] - so that sometimes we sing to persuade and sometimes to dissuade, or sometimes sincerely and sometimes ironically, or sometimes to praise and sometimes to scorn - so the words that treat subjects negatively should always hasten to make an end, while the others should always reach their destination at an agreeably measured pace...