The Heroic Enthusiast, Part II (Gli Eroici Furori) - An Ethical Poem
by Giordano Bruno
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An Ethical Poem













The second part of "The Heroic Enthusiasts" which I am now sending to the press is on the same subject as the first, namely the struggles of the soul in its upward progress towards purification and freedom, and the author makes use of lower things to picture and suggest the higher. The aim of the Heroic Enthusiast is to get at the Truth and to see the Light, and he considers that all the trials and sufferings of this life, are the cords which draw the soul upwards, and the spur which quickens the mind and purifies the will.

The blindness of the soul may signify the descent into the material body, and "visit the various kingdoms" may be an allusion to the soul passing through the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms before it arrives at man.

It is interesting to note that in the first part of "The Heroic Enthusiasts" (page 122), Bruno makes a distinct allusion to the power of steam, and in the second part, one might almost think, that in using the number nine in connexion with the blind men, he intended a reference to electricity, for we read in "The Secret Doctrine," by H.P. Blavatsky, "There exists an universal agent unique of all forms and of life, that is called Od, Ob, and Aour, active and passive, positive and negative, like day and night; it is the first light in creation; and the first light of the primordial Elo-him—the A-dam,—male and female, or, (scientifically) Electricity and Life. Its universal value is nine, for it is the ninth letter of the alphabet and the ninth door of the fifty portals or gateways, that lead to the concealed mysteries of being.... Od is the pure life-giving Light or magnetic fluid."

The notices of the press upon the first half of this work, were for the most part such, as to lead me to hope that the appearance of the second part will meet with a favourable reception.

When I first began this translation little was known about Giordano Bruno except through the valuable works of Sig. Berti and Sig. Levi, and since then Mrs. Firth has given us a life of the Nolan, written in English, and several able articles in the magazines have been published, in one of which, by C.E. Plumptre (Westminster Review, August, 1889), an interesting parallel is drawn between Shelley and Bruno.

I will close this short notice with a sentence from an article in the Nineteenth Century, September, 1889, entitled "Criticism as a trade." "There is probably no author who does not feel how much he owes to the writers who have reviewed his books, whether he has occasion to acknowledge it or not. It is humiliating to find how many errors remain in writings that seemed comparatively free from them. Everyone who knows his subject, and has any modesty, is aware that there are defects in his work which his own eye has not seen; and he is more than grateful for the correction of every error that is pointed out to him by an honest censor." If this is the case with authors who produce original work, it may be still more aptly said of translators, especially of those who attempt to translate books so full of difficulties as those presented in the works of Giordano Bruno.





First Dialogue.




CES. It is said that the best and most excellent things are in the world when the whole universe responds from every part, perfectly, to those things; and this it is said takes place as the planets arrive at Aries, being when that one of the eighth sphere again reaches the upper invisible firmament, where is also the other Zodiac;[A] and low and evil things prevail when the opposite disposition and order supervene, and thus through the power of change comes the continual mutation of like and unlike, from one opposite to another. The revolution then of the great year of the world is that space of time in which, through the most diverse customs and effects, and by the most opposite and contrary means, it returns to the same again. As we see in particular years such as that of the sun, where the beginning of an opposite tendency is the end of one year, and the end of this is the beginning of that. Therefore now that we have been in the dregs of the sciences, which have brought forth the dregs of opinions, which are the cause of the dregs of customs and of works, we may certainly expect to return to the better condition.

[A] Astronomers distinguish between a fixed and intellectual zodiac; and the movable and visible zodiac. According to the former, Aries still stands as the first of the signs; that is to say, the first thirty degrees of the zodiacal circle, reckoning from the equinoctial point in spring, are allotted to Aries in the intellectual zodiac.... Astronomers generally choose to reckon by the fixed and intellectual zodiac.—(Drummond's "Oedipus Judaicus.")

MARICONDO. Know, my brother, that this succession and order of things is most true and most certain; but as regards ourselves in all ordinary conditions whatever, the present afflicts more than the past, nor can these two together console, but only the future, which is always in hope and expectation as you may see designated in this figure which is taken from the ancient Egyptians, who made a certain statue which is a bust, upon which they placed three heads, one of a wolf which looks behind, one of a lion with the face turned half round, and the third of a dog who looks straight before him; to signify that things of the past afflict by means of thoughts, but not so much as things of the present which actually torment, while the future ever promises something better; therefore behold the wolf that howls, the lion that roars and the dog that barks (applause).

CES. What means that legend that is written above?

MAR. See, that above the wolf is Lam, above the lion Modo, above the dog Praeterea, which are words signifying the three parts of time.

CES. Now read the tablet.

MAR. I will do so.


A wolf, a lion, and a dog appear At dawn, at midday, and dark night. That which I spent, retain and for myself procure, So much was given, is given, and may be given; For that which I did, I do, and have to do. In the past, in the present and in the future, I do repent, torment myself and re-assure, For the loss, in suffering and in expectation. With sour, with bitter and with sweet Experience, the fruits, and hope, Threatens, afflict, and comforts me. The age I lived, do live and am to live, Affrights me, shakes me and upholds In absence, presence and in prospect. Much, too much and sufficient Of the past, of now, and of to come, Put me in fear, in anguish and in hope.

CES. This is precisely the humour of a furious lover, though the same may be said of nearly all mortals who are seriously affected in any way. We cannot say that this accords with all conditions in a general way, but only with those mortals who were, and who are, wretched. So that to him who sought a kingdom and obtained it, belongs the fear of losing the same; and to one who has laboured to secure the fruits of love, such as the special grace of the beloved, belongs the tooth of jealousy and suspicion. Thus, too, with the states of the world; when we find ourselves in darkness and in adversity we may surely prophecy light and prosperity, and when we are in a state of happiness and discipline, doubtless we have to expect the advent of ignorance and distress. As in the case of Hermes Trismegistus, who, seeing Egypt in all the splendour of the sciences and of occultism, so that he considered that men were consorting with gods and spirits and were in consequence most pious, he made that prophetic lament to Asclepios, saying that the darkness of new religions and cults must follow, and that of the then present things nothing would remain but idle tales and matter for condemnation. So the Hebrews, when they were slaves in Egypt, and banished to the deserts, were comforted by their prophets with the hope of liberty and the re-acquisition of their country; when they were in authority and tranquillity they were menaced with dispersion and captivity. And as in these days there is no evil nor injury to which we are not subject, so there is no good nor honour that we may not promise ourselves. Thus does it happen to all the other generations and states, the which, if they endure and be not destroyed entirely by the force of vicissitude, it is inevitable that from evil they come to good, from good to evil, from low estate to high, from high to low, out of obscurity into splendour, out of splendour into obscurity, for this is the natural order of things; outside of which order, if another should be found which destroys or corrects it, I should believe it and not dispute it, for I reason with none other than a natural spirit.[B]

[B] As in long-drawn systole and long-drawn diastole, must the period of Faith, alternate with the period of Denial; must the vernal growth, the summer luxuriance of all Opinions, Spiritual Representations and Creations, be followed by, and again follow the autumnal decay, the winter dissolution.—("Sartor Resartus.")

MAR. We know that you are not a theologian but a philosopher, and that you treat of philosophy and not of theology.

CES. It is so. But let us see what follows.


CES. I see a smoking thurible, supported by an arm, and the legend which says: "Illius aram," and then the following:—


Now who shall say the breath of my desire Of high and holy worship is demeaned If decked in divers forms ornate she come Through vows I offer to the shrine of Fame? And if another work should call, and lead me on, Who would aver that more it might beseem If that, of Heaven so loved and eulogized, Should hold me not in its captivity. Leave, oh leave me, every other wish, Cease, fretting thoughts, and give me peace; Why draw me forth from looking at the sun, From looking at the sun that I so love. You ask in pity, wherefore lookest thou On that, on which to look is thy undoing? Wherefore so captivated by that light? And I will say, because to me this pain Is dearer than all other pleasures are.

MAR. In reference to this I told you that although one should be attached to corporeal and external beauty yet he may honourably and worthily be so attached; provided that, through this material beauty, which is a glittering ray of spiritual form and action, of which it is the trace and shadow, he comes to raise himself to the consideration and worship of divine beauty, light and majesty; so that, from these visible things his heart becomes exalted towards those things which are more excellent in themselves and grateful to the purified soul, in so far as they are removed from matter and sense. Ah me! he will say, if beauty so shadowy, so dim, so fugitive, painted on the surface of bodily matter pleases me so much, and moves my affections so much, and stamps upon my spirit I know not what of reverence for majesty, captivates me, softly binds me, and draws me, so that I find nothing that comes within the senses that satisfies me so much,—how will it be with the substantially, originally, primitively beautiful? How will it be with my soul, the divine intellect, and the law of nature? It is right, then, that the contemplation of this vestige of light lead me, through the purification of my soul, to the imitation, and to conformity and participation in that which is more worthy and higher, into which I am transformed and unto which I unite myself: for I am certain that nature, which has placed this beauty before my eyes and has gifted me with an interior sense, through which I am able to infer a deeper and incomparably greater beauty, wills that I be promoted to the altitude and eminence of more excellent kinds. Nor do I believe that my true divinity, as she shows herself to me in symbols and vestiges, will scorn me if in symbols and vestiges I honour her and sacrifice to her; as my heart and affections are always so ordered as to look higher. For who may he be, that can honour in essence and real substance, if in such manner he cannot understand it?

It is in and through Symbols that man, consciously or unconsciously, lives, works, and has his being. For is not a Symbol ever, to him who has eyes for it, some dimmer or clearer revelation, of the Godlike?—("Sartor Resartus.")

CES. Right well do you demonstrate how, to men of heroic spirit, all things turn to good and how they are able to turn captivity into greater liberty, and the being vanquished into an occasion for greater victory. Well dost thou know that the love of corporeal beauty to those who are well disposed, not only does not keep them back from higher enterprises, but rather does it lend wings to arrive at these, when the necessity for love is converted into a study of the virtuous, through which the lover is forced into those conditions in which he is worthy of the thing loved and perchance of even a still higher, better and more beautiful thing; so that he comes to be either contented to have gained that which he desires, or so satisfied with its own beauty, that he can despise that of others, which comes to be, by him, vanquished and overcome, so that he either remains tranquil, or else he aspires to things more excellent and grand. And so will the heroic spirit ever go on trying until it becomes raised to the desire of divine beauty itself, without similitude, figure, symbol, or kind, if it be possible, and what is more one knows that he will reach that height.

MAR. You see, Cesarino, how this enthusiast is justified in his anger against those who reproach him with being in captivity to a low beauty, to which he dedicates his vows, and attributes these forms, so that he is deaf to those voices which call him to nobler enterprises: for these low things are derived from those, and are dependent upon them, so that through these you may gain access to those, according to their own degrees. These, if they be not God, are things divine, are living images of Him, in the which, if He sees Himself adored, He is not offended. For we have a charge from the supernal spirit which says: Adorate sgabellum pedum eius. And in another place a divine messenger says: Adorabimus ubi steterunt pedes eius.

CES. God, the divine beauty, and splendour shines and is in all things; and therefore it does not appear to me an error to admire Him in all things, according to the way in which we have communion with them. Error it would surely be if we should give to another the honour due to Him alone. But what means the enthusiast when he says, "Leave, leave me, every other wish"?

MAR. That he banishes every thought presented to him by different objects, which have not the power to move him and which would rob him of the sight of the sun which comes to him through that window more than through others.

CES. Why, importuned by thoughts, does he continually gaze at that splendour which destroys him, and yet does not satisfy him, as it torments him ever so fiercely?

MAR. Because all our consolations in this state of controversy are not without their discouragements, however vast those consolations may be. Just as the fear of a king for the loss of his kingdom, is greater than that of a mendicant who is in peril of losing ten farthings; and more important is the care of a prince over a republic, than that of a rustic over a herd of swine; as perchance the pleasures and delights of the one are greater than the pleasures and delights of the other. Therefore the loving and aspiring higher, brings with it greater glory and majesty, with more care, thought, and pain: I mean in this state, where the one opposite is always joined to the other, finding the greatest contrariety always in the same genus, and consequently about the same subject, although the opposites cannot be together. And thus proportionally in the love of the supernal Eros, as the Epicurean poet declares of vulgar and animal desire when he says:—

Fluctuat incertis erroribus ardor amantum, Nec constat, quid primum oculis, manibusque fruantur: Quod petiere, premunt arte, faciuntque dolorem Corporis, et dentes inlidunt saepe labellis, Osculaque adfigunt, quia non est pura voluptas, Et stimuli subsunt, qui instigant laedere id ipsum, Quodcunque est, rabies, unde illa haec germina surgunt. Sed leviter poenas frangit Venus inter amorem, Blandaque refraenat morsus admixta voluptas; Namque in eo spes est, unde est ardoris origo, Restingui quoque posse ab eodem corpore flammam.

Behold, then, with what condiments the skill and art of nature works, so that one is wasted with the pleasure of that which destroys him, is happy in the midst of torment, and tormented in the midst of all the satisfactions. For nothing is produced absolutely from a homoeogeneous (pacifico) principle, but all from opposite principles, through the victory and dominion of one part of the opposites, and there is no pleasure of generation on one side without the pain of corruption on the other: and where these things which are generated and corrupted are joined together and as it were compose the same subject, the feeling of delight and of sadness are found together; so that it comes to be called more easily delight than sadness, if it happens that this predominates, and solicits the senses with greater force.


CES. Now let us take into consideration the following image which is that of a phoenix, which burns in the sun, and the smoke from which almost obscures the brightness of that by which it is set on fire, and here is the motto which says: Neque simile, nec par mar.



This phoenix set on fire by the bright sun, Which slowly, slowly to extinction goes, The while she, girt with splendour burning lies; Yields to her star antagonistic fief Through that which towards the sky to Heaven ascends. Black smoke, and sombre fog of murky hue Concealing thus his radiance from our eyes, And veiling that which makes her burn and shine. And so my soul, illumined and inflamed By radiance divine, would fain display The brightness of her own effulgent thought; The lofty concept of her song sends forth. In words which do but hide the glorious light, [C]While I dissolve and melt and am destroyed. Ah me! this lowering cloud, this smoky fire of words Abases that which it would elevate.

[C] But not till the whole personality of the man is dissolved and melted—not until it is held by the divine fragment which has created it, as a mere subject for the grave experiment and experience—not until the whole nature has yielded and become subject unto its higher self, can the bloom open.—("Light on the Path.")

CES. This fellow then says that as this phoenix set on fire by the sun and accustomed to light and flame comes to send upwards that smoke which obscures him who has rendered her so luminous, so he, the inflamed and illuminated enthusiast, through that which he does in praise of such an illustrious subject which has warmed his heart and which shines in his thought, comes rather to conceal it than to render it light for light, sending forth that smoke the effect of the flame, in which the substance of himself is resolved.

MAR. I, without weighing and comparing the studies of that fellow, repeat what I said to you the other day, that praise is one of the greatest oblations that human affection can offer to an object. And leaving on one side the proposition of the Divine, tell me, who would have known of Achilles, Ulysses, and all the other Greek and Trojan chiefs? Who would have heard of all those great soldiers, the wise and the heroes of the earth, if they had not been placed amongst the stars and deified by the oblation of praise which has lighted the fire on the altar of the heart of illustrious poets and other singers, so that usually, the sacrificant, the victim and the sanctified deity, all mounted to the skies, through the hand and the vow of a worthy and lawful priest?

CES. Well sayest thou "of a worthy and lawful priest," for the world is at present full of apostate ones, the which, as they are for the most part unworthy themselves, sing the praises of other unworthy ones, so that, asini asinos fricant. But Providence wills that these, instead of rising to the sky, should go together to the shades of Orcus, so that naught is the glory of him who extols and of him who is extolled; for the one has woven a statue of straw, or carved the trunk of a tree, or cast a piece of chalk, and the other, the idol of shame and infamy, knows not that there is no need to wait for the keen tooth of the age and the scythe of Saturn in order to be put down, for through those self-same praises he gets buried alive then and there, while he is being praised, saluted, hailed, and presented. Just as it happened in a contrary way, so that much-praised Moecenatus, who, if he had had no other glory than a soul inclined to protect and favour the Muses, for this alone merited, that the genius of so many illustrious poets should do him homage, and place him in the number of the most famous heroes who have trod this earth. His own studies and his own brightness made him prominent and grand, and not the being born of a royal race, and not the being grand secretary and councillor of Augustus. That, I say, which made him illustrious was the having made himself worthy to fulfil the promise of that poet who says:—

Fortunati ambo, si quid mea carmina possunt, Nulla dies nunquam memori vos eximet aevo, Dum domus Aeneae Capitoli immobile saxum Accolet, imperiumque pater romanus habebit.

MAR. I remember what Seneca says in certain letters where he refers to the words of Epicurus to a friend, which are these: "If the love of glory is dear to thy breast, these letters of mine will make thee more famous and known than all those other things which thou honourest, by which thou art honoured, and of which thou mayest boast. The same might Homer have said if Achilles or Ulysses had presented themselves before him, or Eneas and his offspring before Virgil; as that moral philosopher well said; Domenea is more known through the letters of Epicurus, than all the magicians, satraps and royalties upon whom depended his title of Domenea and the memory of whom was lost in the depths of oblivion. Atticus does not survive because he was the son-in-law of Agrippa and ancestor of Tiberius, but through the epistles of Tully; Drusus, the ancestor of Caesar, would not be found amongst the number of great names if Cicero had not inserted it. Many, many years may pass over our heads, and in all that time not many geniuses will keep their heads raised.

Now to return to the question of this enthusiast, who, seeing a phoenix set on fire by the sun, calls to mind his own cares, and laments that like the phoenix he sends, in exchange for the light and heat received, a sluggish smoke from the holocaust of his melted substance. Wherefore not only can we never discourse about things divine, but we cannot even think of them without detracting from, rather than adding to the glory of them; so that the best thing to be done with regard to them is, that man, in the presence of other men, should rather praise himself for his earnestness and courage, than give praise to anything, as complete and perfected action; seeing that no such thing can be expected where there is progress towards the infinite, where unity and infinity are the same thing and cannot be followed by the other number, because there is no unity from another unity, nor is there number from another number and unity, because they are not the same absolute and infinite. Therefore was it well said by a theologian that as the fountain of light far exceeds not only our intellects, but also the divine, it is decorous that one should not discourse with words, but that with silence alone it should be magnified.[D]

[D] Now, it may be asked, what is the state of a man who followeth the true Light to the utmost of his power? I answer truly, it will never be declared aright, for he who is not such a man, can neither understand nor know it, and he who is, knoweth it indeed; but he cannot utter it, for it is unspeakable.—("Theologia Germanica.")

CES. Not, verily, with such silence as that of the brutes who are in the likeness and image of men, but of those whose silence is more exalted than all the cries and noise and screams of those who may be heard.[E]

[E] "Speech is of time, silence is of eternity."—("Sartor Resartus.")


MAR. Let us go on and see what the rest means.

CES. Say, if you have seen and considered it, what is the meaning of this fire in the form of a heart with four wings, two of which have eyes and the whole is girt with luminous rays and has round about it this question: Nitimur incassum?

MAR. I remember well, that it signifies the state of the mind, heart and spirit and eyes of the enthusiast, but read the sonnet!


[F]Splendour divine, to which this mind aspires, The intellect alone cannot unveil. The heart, which those high thoughts would animate, Makes not itself their lord; nor spirit, which Should cease from pleasure for a space, Can ever from those heights withdraw. The eyes which should be closed at night in sleep, Awake remain, open, and full of tears. Ah me, my lights! where are the zeal and art With which to tranquillize the afflicted sense? Tell me my soul; what time and in what place Shall I thy deep transcendent woe assuage? And thou my heart, what solace can I bring As compensation to thy heavy pain? When, oh unquiet and perturbed mind, Wilt thou the soul for debt and dole receive With heart, with spirit and the sorrowing eyes?

[F] Let no one suppose that we may attain to this true light and perfect knowledge by hearsay, or by reading and study, nor yet by high skill and great learning.—("Theologia Germanica.")

The mind which aspires to the divine splendour flees from the society of the crowd and retires from the multitude of subjects, as much as from the community of studies, opinions and sentences; seeing that the peril of contracting vices and illusions is greater, according to the number of persons with whom one is allied. In the public shows, said the moral philosopher, by means of pleasure, vices are more easily engendered. If one aspires to the supreme splendour, let him retire as much as he can, from union and support, into himself (Di sorte che non sia simile a molti, per che son molti; e non sia nemico di molti per che son dissimili), so that he be not like unto many, because they are many; and be not adverse to many, because they are dissimilar; if it be possible, let him retain the one and the other; otherwise he will incline to that which seems to him best. Let him associate either with those whom he can make better or with those through whom he may be made better, through brightness which he may impart to those or that he may receive from them. Let him be content with one ideal rather than with the inept multitude. Nor will he hold that he has gained little, when he has become such an one who is wise unto himself, remembering what Democritus says: Unus mihi pro populo est, et populus pro uno; and what Epicurus said to a companion of his studies, writing to him: "Haec tibi, non multis! Satis enim magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus."

The mind, then, which aspires high, leaves, for the first thing, caring about the crowd, considering that that divine light despises striving and is only to be found where there is intelligence, and yet not every intelligence, but that which is amongst the few, the chief, the first among the first, the principal one.

CES. How do you mean that the mind aspires high? For example, by looking at the stars? At the empyreal heaven above the ether?

MAR. Certainly not! but by plunging into the depths of the mind, for which there is no great need to open the eyes to the sky, to raise the hands, to direct the steps to the temple, nor sing to the ears of statues in order to be the better heard, but to come into the inner self believing that, God is near, present and within, more fully than man himself,[G] being soul of souls, life of lives, essence of essences: for that which you see above or below, or round about, or however you please to say it, of the stars, are bodies, are created things, similar to this globe on which we are, and in which the divinity is present neither more nor less than he is in this globe of ours or in ourselves. This is how, then, one must begin to withdraw oneself from the multitude into oneself. One ought to arrive at such a point to despise and not to overestimate every labour, so that, the more the desires and the vices contend with each other inwardly and the vicious enemies dispute outwardly, so much the more should one breathe and rise, and with spirit, if possible, surmount this steep hill. Here there is no need for other arms and shield than the majesty of an unconquered soul and a tolerant spirit, which maintains the quality and meaning of that life which proceeds from science and is regulated by the art of considering attentively things low and high, divine and human, in the which consists that highest good, and in reference to this, a moral philosopher wrote to Lucillus that one must not linger between Scylla and Charybdis, penetrate the wilds of Candavia and the Apennines or lose oneself in the sandy plains, because the road is as sure and as blythe as Nature herself could make it. "It is not," says he, "gold and silver that makes one like God, because these are not treasure to Him; nor vestments, for God is naked; nor ostentation and fame, for He shows Himself to few, and perhaps not one knows Him, and certainly many, and more than many, have a bad opinion of Him. Not all the various conditions of things which we usually admire, for not those things of which we desire to have copies, make one rich, but the contempt for those things."

[G] For, in this (degree), God cannot be tasted, felt, seen, because he is more ourselves than ourselves, is not distinct from us.—("Spiritual Torrents.")

CES. Well. But tell me in what manner will this fellow tranquillize the senses, assuage the woes of the spirit, compensate the heart and give its just debts to the mind, so that with this aspiration of his he come not to say: "Nitimur incassum"?

MAR. He will be present in the body in such wise that the best part of himself will be absent from it, and will join himself by an indissoluble sacrament to divine things, in such a way that he will not feel either love or hatred of things mortal. Considering himself as master, and that he ought not to be servant and slave to his body, which he would regard only as the prison which holds his liberty in confinement, the glue which smears his wings, chains which bind fast his hands, stocks which fix his feet, veil which hides his view. Let him not be servant, captive, ensnared, chained, idle, stolid and blind, for the body which he himself abandons cannot tyrannize over him, so that thus, the spirit in a certain degree comes before him as the corporeal world, and matter is subject to the divinity and to nature. Thus will he become strong against fortune, magnanimous towards injuries, intrepid towards poverty, disease and persecution.

CES. Well is the heroic enthusiast instructed!


CES. Close by is to be seen that which follows. See the wheel of time, which moves round its own centre, and there is the legend: "Manens moveor." What do you mean by that?

MAR. This means that movement is circular where motion concurs with rest, seeing that in orbicular motion upon its own axis and about its own centre is understood rest and stability according to right movement, or, rest of the whole and movement of the parts; and from the parts which move in a circle is understood two different kinds of motion, inasmuch as some parts rise to the summit and others from the summit descend to the base successively; others reach the medium differences, and others the extremes of high and low. And all this seems to me suitably expressed in the following:


That which keeps my heart both open and concealed, Beauty imprints and honesty dispels; Zeal holds me fast; all other care comes to me By that same path whence all care to the soul doth come: Seek I myself from pain to disengage, Hope sustains me then, whoso scourges, tires;—(altrui rigor mi lassa) Love doth exalt and reverence abase me What time I yearn towards the highest good. High thoughts, holy desires, and mind intent Upon the labours and the cunning of the heart Towards the immense divine immortal object, So do, that I be joined, united, fed, That I lament no more; that reason, sense, attend, Discourse and penetrate to other things.

So that the continual movement of one part supposes and carries with it the movement of the whole, in such a way that the attraction of the posterior parts is consequent upon the repulsion of the anterior parts; thus the movement of the superior parts results of necessity from that of the inferior, and from the raising of one opposite power, follows the depression of the other opposite. Therefore the heart, which signifies all the affections generally, comes to be concealed and open, held by zeal, raised by magnificent thoughts, sustained by hope, weakened by fear, and in this state and condition will it ever be seen and found.


CES. That is all well. Let us come to that which follows. I see a ship floating on the waves; its ropes are attached to the shore and there is the legend: Fluctuat in portu. Deliberate about the signification of this, and when you are decided about it, explain.

MAR. Both the legend and the figure have a certain connexion with the present legend and figure, as may be easily understood, if one considers it a little. But let us read the sonnet.


If I by gods, by heroes and by men Be re-assured, so that I not despair, Nor fear, pain, nor the impediments Of death of body, joy and happiness, Yet must I learn to suffer and to feel. And that I may my pathways clearly see, Let doubts arise, and dolour, and the woe Of vanished hopes, of joy and all delight. But if he should behold, should grant, and should attend My thoughts, my wishes, and my reasoning, Who makes them so uncertain, hot, and vague, Such dear conceits, such acts and speech, Will not be given nor done to him, who stays From birth, through life, to death in sheltered home.

Non da, non fa, non ha qualunque stassi De l'orto, vita e morte a le magioni.

From what we have considered and said in the preceding discourses one is able to understand these sentiments, especially where it is shown that the sense of low things is diminished and annulled whenever the superior powers are strongly intent upon a more elevated and heroic object. The power of contemplation is so great, as is noted by Jamblichus, that it happens sometimes, not only that the soul ceases from inferior acts, but that it leaves the body entirely. The which I will not understand otherwise than in such various ways as are explained in the book of thirty seals, wherein are produced so many methods of contraction, of which some infamously, others heroically operate, that one learns not to fear death, suffers not pain of body, feels not the hindrances of pleasures: wherefore the hope, the joy, and the delight of the superior spirit are of so intense a kind that they extinguish all those passions which may have their origin in doubt, in pain and all kinds of sadness.

CES. But what is that, of which he requests that it consider those thoughts which it has rendered so uncertain, fulfil those desires which it has made so ardent, and listen to those discourses which it has rendered so vague?

MAR. He means the Object, which he beholds when it makes itself present; for to see the Divine is to be seen by it, as to see the sun concurs with the being seen of the sun. Equally, to be heard by the Divine, is precisely to listen to it, and to be favoured by it, is the same as to offer to it; for from the one immoveable and the same, proceed thoughts uncertain and certain, desires ardent and appeased, and reasonings valid and vain, according as the man worthily or unworthily puts them before himself, with the intellect, the affections and actions. As that same pilot may be said to be the cause of the sinking or of the safety of the ship, according as he is present in it or absent from it; with this difference, that the pilot through his defectiveness or his efficiency ruins or saves the ship; but the Divine potency which is all in all does not proffer or withhold except through assimilation or rejection by oneself.[H]

[H] Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.—("St. Matthew.")


MAR. It seems to me that the following figure is closely connected and linked with the above; there are two stars in the form of two radiant eyes, with the legend: Mors et vita.

CES. Read the sonnet!

MAR. I will do so:


Writ by the hand of Love may each behold Upon my face the story of my woes. But thou, so that thy pride no curb may know, And I, unhappy one, eternally might rest, Thou dost torment, by hiding from my view Those lovely lights beneath the beauteous lids. Therefore the troubled sky's no more serene, Nor hostile baleful shadows fall away. By thine own beauty, by this love of mine (So great that e'en with this it may compare), Render thyself, oh Goddess, unto pity! Prolong no more this all-unmeasured woe, Ill-timed reward for such a love as this. Let not such rigour with such splendour mate If it import thee that I live! Open, oh lady, the portals of thine eyes, And look on me if thou wouldst give me death!

Here, the face upon which the story of his woes appears is the soul; in so far as it is open to receive those superior gifts, for the which it has a potential aptitude, without the fulness of perfection and act which waits for the dew of heaven. Thus was it well said: Anima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi; and again: Os meum operui; and again: Spiritum, quia mandata tua desiderabam. Then "pride which knows no curb" is said in metaphor and similitude, as God is sometimes said to be jealous, angry, or that He sleeps, and that signifies the difficulty with which He grants so much even as to show his shoulders, which is the making himself known by means of posterior things and effects. So the lights are covered with the eyelids, the troubled sky of the human mind does not clear itself by the removal of the metaphors and enigmas. Besides which, because he does not believe that all which is not, could not be, he prays the divine light, that by its beauty, which ought not to be entirely concealed, at least according to the capacity of whoever beholds it, and by his love, which, perchance, is equal to so much beauty (equal, he means, of the beauty, in so far as he can comprehend it) that it surrender itself to pity, that is, that it should do as those who are compassionate, and who from being capricious and gloomy become gracious and affable and that it prolong not the evil which results from that privation, and not allow that its splendour, for which it is so much desired, should appear greater than that love by means of which it communicates itself, seeing that in it all the perfections are not only equal but are also the same. In fine, he begs that it will no further sadden by privation, for it can kill with the glance of its eyes and can also with those same give him life.

CES. Does he mean that death of lovers, which comes from intense joy, called by the Kabalists, mors osculi, which same is eternal life, which a man may anticipate in this life and enjoy in eternity?

MAR. He does.


MAR. It is time to proceed to the consideration of the following design, similar to those previously brought forward, and with which it has a certain affinity. There is an eagle, which with two wings cleaves the sky; but I do not know how much and in what manner it comes to be retarded by the weight of a stone which is tied to its leg. There is the legend: Scinditur incertum. It is certain that it signifies the multitude, number and character (volgo) of the powers of the soul, to exemplify which, that verse is taken: Scinditur incertum studia in contraria vulgus. The whole of which character (volgo) in general is divided into two factions; although subordinate to these, others are not wanting, of which some appeal to the high intelligence and splendour of rectitude, while others incite and force in a certain manner to the low, to the uncleanness of voluptuousness and compliance with natural desires. Therefore says the sonnet:


I would do well—to me 'tis not allowed. With me my sun is not, although I be with him, For being with him, I'm no more with myself: The farther from myself—the nearer unto him; The nearer unto him, the farther from myself. Once to enjoy, doth cost me many tears, And seeking happiness, I meet with woe. For that I look aloft, so blind am I. That I may gain my love, I lose myself. Through bitter joy, and through sweet pain, Weighted with lead, I rise towards the sky. Necessity withholds, goodness conducts me on, Fate sinks me down, and counsel raises me, Desire spurs me, fear keeps me in check. Care kindles and the peril backward draws. Tell me, what power or what subterfuge Can give me peace and bring me from this strife, If one repels, the other draws me on.

The ascension goes on in the soul through the power and appulsion in the wings, which are the intellect, or intellectual will upon which she naturally depends and through which she fixes her gaze toward God, as to the highest good, and primal truth, as to absolute goodness and beauty. Thus everything has an impetus towards its beginning retrogressively, and progressively towards its end and perfection, as Empedocles well said, and from which sentence I think may be inferred that which the Nolan said in this octave:

The sun must turn and reach his starting-point, Each wandering light must go towards its source, That which is earth to earth itself reverts, The rivers from the sea to sea return, And thither, whence desires have life and grow Must they aspire as to revered divinity, So every thought born of my lady fair Comes back perforce to her, my goddess dear.

The intellectual power is never at rest, it is never satisfied with any comprehended truth, but ever proceeds on and on towards that truth which is not comprehended. So also the will which follows the apprehension, we see that it is never satisfied with anything finite. In consequence of this, the essence of the soul is always referred to the source of its substance and entity. Then as to the natural powers, by means of which it is turned to the protection and government of matter, to which it allies itself, and by appulsion benefits and communicates of its perfection to inferior things, through the likeness which it has to the Divine, which in its benignity communicates itself or produces infinitely, i.e. imparts existence to the universal infinite and to the innumerable worlds in it, or, finitely, produces this universe alone, subject to our eyes and our common reason. Thus then in the one sole essence of the soul are found these two kinds of powers, and as they are used for one's own good and for the good of others, it follows that they are depicted with a pair of wings, by means of which it is potent towards the object of the primal and immaterial potencies, and with a heavy stone, through which it is active and efficacious towards the objects of the secondary and material potencies. Whence it follows that the entire affection of the enthusiast is bifold, divided, harassed, and placed in a position to incline itself more easily downwards than to force itself upwards: seeing that the soul finds itself in a low and hostile country, and reaches the far-off region of its more natural home where its powers are the weakest.

CES. Do you think that this difficulty can be overcome?

MAR. Perfectly well; but the beginning is most difficult, and according as we make more and more fruitful progress in contemplation we arrive at a greater and greater facility. As happens to whoever flys up high, the more he rises above the earth the more air he has beneath to uphold him, and consequently the less he is affected by gravitation; he may even rise so high that he cannot, without the labour of cleaving the air, return downwards, although one might imagine it were more easy to cleave the air downwards towards the earth than to rise on high towards the stars.

CES. So that with progress of this kind a greater and greater facility is acquired for mounting on high?

MAR. So it is; therefore well said Tansillo:—

"The more I feel the air beneath my feet So much the more towards the wind I bend My swiftest pinions And spurn the world and up towards Heaven I go."

As every part of bodies and of their elements, the nearer they come to their natural place, the greater the impetus and force with which they move, until at last, whether they will or not, they must prevail. That which we see then in the parts of bodies and in the bodies themselves we ought also to allow of intellectual things towards their proper objects, as their proper places, countries, and ends. Whence you may easily comprehend the entire significance of the figure, the legend, and the verses.

CES. So much so that whatsoever you might add thereto would appear to me superfluous.


CES. Let us see what is here represented by those two radiating arrows upon a target around which is written: Vicit instans.

MAR. The continual struggle in the soul of the enthusiast, the which, in consequence of the long familiarity which it had with matter was hard and incapable of being penetrated by the rays of the splendour of the Divine intelligence and the species of the Divine goodness; during which time, he says that the heart was enamelled with diamond, that is, the affection was hard and not capable of being heated and penetrated, and it rejected the blows of love which assailed it on innumerable sides. That is, it did not feel itself wounded by those wounds of eternal life of which the Psalmist speaks when he says: Vulnerasti cor meum, o dilecta, vulnerasti cor meum. The which wounds are not from iron or other material through the vigour and strength of nerves, but are darts of Diana, or of Phoebus, that is, either from the goddess of the deserts—of contemplation of truth, that is, from Diana, who is the order of the second intelligences, which transfer the splendour received from the first and communicate it to the others, who are deprived of a more open vision; or else from the principal god Apollo, who with his own, and not a borrowed splendour, sends his darts, that is, his rays, so many and from such innumerable points, which are all the species of things, which are indications of Divine goodness, intelligence, beauty, and wisdom, according to the various degrees, from the simple comprehension, to the becoming heroic enthusiasts; because the adamantine subject does not reflect from its surface the impression of the light, but, destroyed and overcome by the heat and light, it becomes in substance luminous—all light—so that it is penetrated within the affection and conception. This is not immediately, at the beginning of generation, when the soul comes forth fresh from the intoxication of Lethe, and drenched with the waves of forgetfulness and confusion, so that the spirit comes into captivity to the body, and is put into the condition of growth; but little by little, it goes on digesting, so as to become fitted for the action of the sensitive faculty, until, through the rational and discursive faculty, it comes to a purer intellectual one, so that it can present itself to the mind, without feeling itself befogged by the exhalations of that humour, which, through the exercise of contemplation, has been saved from putrefaction in the stomach and is duly digested. In this state, the present enthusiast shows himself to have remained thirty years, during which time he had not reached that purity of conception which would make him a suitable habitation for the wandering species, which offering themselves to all, equally, knock, ever at the door of the intelligence. At last, Love, who in various ways and at different times had assaulted him as it were in vain—as the light and heat of the sun are said to be useless to those who are in the opaque depths and bowels of the earth—having located itself in those sacred lights, that is having shown forth the Divine Beauty through two intelligible species the which bound his intellect through the reasoning of Truth and warmed his affections through the reasoning of Goodness; while the material and sensitive desires became superseded, which aforetime used, as it were, to triumph, remaining intact, notwithstanding the excellence of the soul. Because those lights which made present the illuminating, acting intellect and sun of intelligence found easy ingress through his eyes; that of Truth (the intellect of Truth?) through the door of the intellectual faculty; that of Goodness (intellect of Goodness?) through the door of the appetitive faculty, to the heart, that is, the substance of the general affection. This was that double ray, which came as from the hand of an irate warrior, who showed himself, now, as ready and as bold, as aforetime he had appeared weak and negligent.[I]

Then, when he first felt warmed and illuminated in his conception, was that victorious point and moment of which it is said: Vicit instans.

[I] He takes it by assault, without offering battle: the heart is unable to resist him.—("Spiritual Torrents.")

Thus you can understand the sense of the following figure, legend and sonnet, which says:—


I fought with all my strength, 'gainst Love Divine When he assailed with blows from every side This cold, enamelled, adamantine heart, Whence my desires defeated his intent. At last, one day, 'twas as the heavens had willed. Encamped I found him in those holy lights Which, through mine own alone, of all the rest An easy entrance to my heart could find. 'Twas then upon me fell that double bolt, Flung as from hand of irate warrior Who had for thirty years besieged in vain. He marked that place and strongly there he held, Planted the trophy there, and evermore He holds my fleet wings in restrainment. Meanwhile since then with more solemnity of preparation The anger and the ire of my sweet enemy Cease not to wound my heart.

Rare moment was that; the end of the beginning and perfection of victory; rare were those two species which amongst all others found easy entrance, seeing that they contain in themselves the efficacy and the virtue of all the others; for what higher and more excellent form can present itself than that of the beauty, goodness and truth, which are the source of every other truth, beauty, and goodness? "He marked that place"—that is, took possession of the affections, noted them, and impressed upon them his own character; "and strongly there he held;" he confirmed and established them and sanctified them so that he can never again lose them; for it is not possible that one should turn to love any other thing when once he has conceived in his mind the Divine Beauty, and it is as impossible that he can do other than love it, as it is impossible that his desires should fall otherwise than towards good, or species of good. Therefore his inclination is in the highest degree towards the primal good. So again, the wings, which used to be so fleet to go downwards with the weight of matter, are kept in restrainment, and the sweet augers which are the efficacious assaults of the gracious enemy, who has been for so long time kept back, and excluded, a stranger and a pilgrim, never cease to wound, soliciting the affections and awakening thought. But now, the sole and entire possessor and disposer of the soul, for she neither wills nor wishes to will other, nor is she pleased, nor will she that any other please her, whence he often says:—

Dolci ire, guerra dolce, dolci dardi, Dolci mie piaghe, miei dolci dolori!


CES. It would seem that we have nothing more to consider upon this proposition. Let us see now, how this quiver and bow of Eros display the sparks around, and the knot of the string, which hangs down with the legend, which is: Subito, clam.

MAR. Well do I remember having seen it expressed in the sonnet. But let us read it first.


Eager to find the much desired food, The eagle towards the sky spreads out his wings And warns of his approach both bird and beast, The third flight bringing him upon the prey. And the fierce lion roaring from his lair Spreads horror all around and mortal fear; And all wild beasts, admonished and forewarned, Fly to the caves and cheat his cruel jaw. The whale, ere he the dumb Protean herd Hungry pursues, sends forth his nuncio, From caves of Thetys spouts his water forth. Lions and eagles of the earth and sky, And whales, lords of the seas, come not with treachery, But the assaults of Love come stealing secretly.

The animal kingdom is divided into three, and is composed of various elements: the earth, the water, the air, and there are three species—beasts, fishes, and birds. Into three kinds are the principles of nature settled and defined, in the air the eagle, on earth the lion, in the water the whale; of the which, each one, as it displays more strength and command over the others, makes a show of magnanimous action, or apparently magnanimous. Therefore it is observed, that the lion, before he starts on the hunt trumpets forth his roar, which resounds through the whole forest, like to the poetical description of the fury-hunter.

At saeva e speculis tempus dea nacta nocendi, Ardua tecta petit, stabuli et de culmine summo Pastorale canit signum, cornuque recurvo Tartaream intendit vocem, qua protinus omne Contremuit nemus, et silvae intonuere profundae.

The eagle again, before he proceeds to his venery, first rises straight from the nest in a perpendicular line upwards, and generally speaking at the third time he swoops from above with greater impetus and swiftness than if he were flying in a direct line, so that at the time when he is gaining the greatest velocity of flight, he is able also to speculate upon his success with the prey, and after three inspections he knows whether he will succeed or fail.

CES. Can one imagine why, if at the first his prey presents itself before his eyes, he does not instantly pounce upon it?

MAR. No; unless it be to see whether anything better, or more easily taken, comes to sight. At the same time I do not believe that this is always so, but most often it is. But to return. Of the whale it is manifest that, being such a huge animal, he cannot divide the waters without making his presence known through the repulsion of the waves, besides which there are several species of this fish, that when they move or breathe, spout forth a windy tempest of water. Thus from these three principal species of animals, the inferior kinds have warning to enable them to get away, so that they do not conduct themselves as deceivers and traitors. But Love, who is stronger and greater and who has supreme dominion in heaven, on earth, and in the seas, and who in comparison ought perhaps to show greater magnanimity, as he also has more power, does nothing of the kind, but assaults and wounds suddenly and swiftly.

Labitur totas furor in medullas, Igne furtivo populante venas, Nec habet latum data plaga frontem; Sed vorat tectas penitas medullas, Virginum ignoto ferit igne pectus.

As you perceive, the tragic poet calls him a furtive fire, an unknown flame. Solomon calls it furtive waters. Samuel named it the whisper of a gentle wind. The which three significations show with what sweetness, gentleness, and astuteness, in seas, on earth, in sky, does this fellow come and tyrannize over the whole universe.

CES. There is no vaster empire, no worse tyranny, no better dominion, no more necessary magistracy, nothing more sweet and dear, no food to be found more hard and bitter, no deity more violent, no god more pleasing, no agent more treacherous and false, no author more regal and faithful, and, in fine, it seems to me that Love is all and does all, of him all may be said, and all may refer itself to him.

MAR. You say well. Love then, as he who works chiefly through the sight, which is the most spiritual of all the senses, and which reaches swiftly the known ends of the earth, and without stretch of time takes in the whole horizon of the visible, comes to be quick, furtive, sudden and instantaneous. Besides which, we must remember what the ancients say, that Love precedes all the other gods, and therefore it is no use to imagine that Saturn shows him the way except by following him. Now must we find out, whether Love appears and makes himself known externally, whether his home is the soul itself, his bed the heart itself, and whether he consists of the same composition as our own substance, the same impulse as our own powers. Finally everything naturally desires the beautiful and the good, and therefore it is useless to argue and discuss, because the affection informs and confirms itself, and in one instant desire joins itself to the desirable, as the sight to the visible.


CES. Let us see here, what is the meaning of that burning arrow, around which is the legend: Cui nova plaga loco? Explain what part does this seek to wound?

MAR. Read the sonnet which says:—


That all the ears of corn that may be reaped In burning Apuleia, or sunbrowned Lybia, With all that they unto the winds entrust, Or that the rays from the great planet sent, Should number those sad pains of my glad soul, Which she from those two burning stars receives With mournful joy in sweetest agony, Forbid me Sense and Reason to believe. What would'st thou more, sweet foe? What wish is that which moves thee still to hurt, Since this my heart of but one wound is made? So that there lies no part that now may be By thee or others printed, stabbed, or pierced, Turn thee aside, turn otherwhere thy bow, For thou dost waste thy powers, oh beauteous god! In slaying him who lies already dead.

The meaning of all this is metaphorical, like the rest, and may be understood in the same sense as that. Here the number of darts which have wounded and do wound the heart, signify the innumerable individuals and species of things, in which shine the splendour of Divine Beauty, according to their degrees, and whence the affection for the good, well proposed and well apprehended warms us. The which through the causes of potentiality and actuality, of possibility and of effect, crucify and console, give the sense of sweetness and also make the bitter to be felt. But where the entire affection is all turned towards God, that is towards the Idea of Ideas, from the light of intelligible things, the mind becomes exalted to the super-essential unity, and, all love, all one, it feels itself no longer solicited by various objects, which distract it, but is one sole wound, in the which the whole affection concurs and which comes to be one and the same affection. Then there is no love or desire of any particular thing, that can urge, nor even present itself before the will; for there is nothing more straight than the straight, nothing more beautiful than beauty, nothing better than goodness, nothing can be found larger than size, nor anything lighter than that light which with its presence darkens and obliterates all lights.

CES. To the perfect, if it be perfect, there is nothing that can be added; therefore the will is not capable of any other desire, when that which is of the perfect is present with it, highest and best. Therefore I understand the conclusion where he says to Love, "Turn otherwhere thy bow," and wherefore should he try to kill him who is already dead, that is, he, who has no more life nor sense about other things, so that he cannot be stabbed or pierced or become exposed to other species. And this lament proceeds from him, who having tasted of the highest unity, desires to be in all things severed and withdrawn from the multitude.

MAR. You understand quite well.


CES. Now here is a boy in a boat, which little by little is being submerged in the tempestuous waves, and he, languid and tired, has abandoned the oars; around it the legend "Fronti nulla, fides." There is no doubt that this signifies that he was induced, by the serene aspect of the waters, to venture on the treacherous sea, which having suddenly become troubled, the boy, in mortal fear, and in his impotence to still the tempest, has lost his head, his hope, and the power of his arm. But let us see the rest:—


Oh, gentle boy, that from the shore didst loose The baby bark, and to the slender oar Didst set thy unskilled hand; lured by the sea! Late hast thou seen the evil of thy plight. See there the traitor rolls his fatal waves, The prow of thy frail bark, now sinks, now mounts. The soul borne down with anxious cares Prevaileth not against the swollen floods. Thy oars thou yieldst to thy fierce enemy, Waiting for death with calm collected thought, With eyelids closed, lest thou shouldst see him come. If thee no friendly aid should quickly reach Thou surely must the full result soon feel, Of thy inquisitive temerity. My cruel fate is like unto thine own, For I too, lured, enticed by Love, must feel, The rigour keen of this most treacherous one.

In what manner and why Love is a traitor and deceiver we have just seen; but as I see the following without figure or legend, I believe that it must have connection with the above. Therefore let us go on and read it.


Methought to leave the shelter of my port, And from maturer studies rest awhile: When, looking round me to enjoy my ease, Sudden I saw those unrelenting fates. These have inflamed me with so ardent fires. Vainly I strive some safer shores to reach, Vainly from pitying hands invoke some aid, And swift deliverance from my enemies. Weary and hoarse I yield me, impotent, And seek no more to elude my destiny, Or make endeavour to escape my death: Let every other life to me be null, And let not the extremest torment fail, Which my hard fate for me prescribed. Type of my own deep ills, Is that which thou for pastime didst entrust To hostile breast. Oh, careless boy.

Here I would not pretend to understand or determine all that the enthusiast means. Yet there is well expressed the strange condition of a soul cast down by the knowledge of the difficulty of the operation, the amount of the labour, the vastness of the work on one side, and on the other the ignorance, want of knowledge of the way, weakness of nerves and peril of death. He has no knowledge suitable to the business, he does not know where and how to turn, no place of flight or refuge presents itself; and he sees that, from every side, the waves threaten, with frightful, fatal impetus. Ignoranti portum, nullus suus ventus est. Behold him, who has committed himself indeed to fortuitous things, and has brought upon himself trouble, prison, ruin, and drowning. See how fortune deludes us, and that which we put carefully into her hands, she either breaks or lets it fall from her hands, or causes it to be removed by the violence of another, or suffocates and poisons, or taints with suspicion, fear, and jealousy to the great hurt and ruin of the possessor. Fortunae au ulla putatis dona carcere dolis? For strength which cannot give proof of itself is dissipated; magnanimity, which cannot prevail, is naught, and vain is study without results; he sees the effects of the fear of evil, which is worse than evil itself. Peior est morte timor ipse mortis. He already suffers, through fear, that which he fears to suffer, terror in the limbs, imbecility in the nerves, tremors in the body, anxiety of the spirit, and that which has not yet appeared becomes present to him, and is certainly worse than whatsoever may happen. What can be more stupid than to be in pain about future things and absent ones which at present are not felt?

CES. These considerations are on the surface and belong to the external of the figure. But the proposition of the heroic enthusiast, I think, deals with the imbecility of human nature (ingegno) which, intent on the Divine undertaking, finds itself all at once engulphed in the abyss of incomprehensible excellence, and the sense and the imagination become confused and absorbed, and not knowing how to pass on, nor to go back, nor where to turn, vanishes and loses itself as a drop of water vanishes in the sea, or as a small spirit, becomes attenuated, losing its own substance in the space and immensity of the atmosphere.

MAR. Well. But let us go towards our chamber and talk as we go, for it is night.

Second Dialogue

MARICONDO. Here you see a flaming yoke enveloped in knots round which is written: Levius aura; which means that Divine love does not weigh down, nor carry his servant captive and enslaved to the lowest depths, but raises him, supports him and magnifies him above all liberty whatsoever.

CES. Prithee, let us read the sonnet, so that we may consider the sense of it in due order with propriety and brevity.

MAR. It says thus:—


She who my mind to other love did move, To whom all others vile and vain appear, In whom alone is sovereign beauty seen, And excellence Divine is manifest. She from the forest coming, I beheld, Huntress of myself, beloved Artemis, 'Midst beauteous nymphs, with air of nascent bells. Then said I unto Love: See, I am hers. And he to me: Oh, happy lover thou! Delectable companion of thy fate! That she alone of all the numberless, That hold within their bosom life and death, Who most with virtues high the world adorns, Thou didst obtain, through will and destiny, Within the Court of Love. So happy thou in thy captivity Thou enviest not the liberty of man or God.

See how contented he is under that yoke, that marriage which has joined him to her whom he saw issuing from the forest, from the desert, from the woods, that is, from parts removed from the crowd, and from the conversation of the vulgar who have but small enlightenment. Diana, the splendour of the intelligible species, and huntress; because with her beauty and grace she first wounded him, and then bound him and holds him in her power, more contented than otherwise he could possibly have been. He speaks of her "amidst beauteous nymphs," that is, the multitude of other species, forms and ideas, and "air of bells," that is the genius and the spirit which displayed itself at Nola, which lies on the plain of the Campanian horizon.[J] He acknowledges her, and she, more than any other, is praised by Love, who considers him so fortunate, because amongst all those present or absent to mortal eyes, she does more highly adorn the world, and makes man glorious and beautiful. Hence he says that his mind is raised towards the highest love, and that it learns to consider "every other goddess," that is, the care or observation of every other kind, as vile and vain.[K] Now, in saying that she has roused his mind to high love, he takes occasion to magnify the heart through the thoughts, desires and works, as much as possible, and (to say) that we ought not to be entertained with low things which are beneath our faculties, as happens to those who, through avarice or through negligence, or indolence, become in this brief life attached to unworthy things.

[J] Does he allude to the fact that bells were first used in Christian Churches at Nola?—(Tr.)

[K] The delights which are perceived in things corporeal are vile; for every delight is such that it becomes viler the more it proceeds to external things, and happier, the more it proceeds to things internal.—("Spiritual Torrents.")

CES. There must be artisans, mechanics, agriculturists, servants, trotters, ignoble, low, poor, pedants and such like, for otherwise there could not be philosophers, meditators, cultivators of souls, masters, captains, nobles, illustrious ones, rich, wise, and the rest who may be heroes like to gods. Now why should we force ourselves to corrupt the state of nature which has separated the universe into things major and minor, superior and inferior, illustrious and obscure, worthy and unworthy, not only outside ourselves but also inside in the substance of us, even to that part of us which is said to be immaterial?

So of the intelligences: some are low, others are pre-eminent, some serve and some obey, some command and govern. I believe, however, that this ought not to be brought forward as an example, so that subjects wishing to be superiors, and the ignoble to equal the noble, the order of things would become perverted and confounded, so that a sort of neutrality would supervene, and a brutal equality, such as is found in certain deserts and uncultured republics. Do you not see what damage has been done to science through this: i.e. pedants wishing to be philosophers; to treat of natural things, and mix themselves with and decide about things Divine? Who does not see how much evil has happened, and does happen, through the mind having been moved through similar facts to exalted affections? Who is there, of good sense, who cannot see what a fine thing Aristotle made of it, when, being a master of belles lettres at Alexandria, he set himself to oppose and make war against the Pythagorean doctrine, and that of natural philosophy; seeking by means of his logical ratiocination to propose definitions and notions, certain fifth entities and other abortive portions of fantastical cogitations, as principles and substance of things, more anxious about the esteem of the vulgar stupid crowd, which is influenced and governed by sophisms and appearances which are found in the superficies of things rather than by the Truth, which is occult and hidden in the substance of them, and is the substance itself of them? He roused his mind, not to make himself a mediator, but judge and censor of things which he had never studied, nor well understood. Thus in our day, that little which Aristotle can bring, is peculiar for its inventive reasoning, its suggestiveness, its metaphysics, and is useful for other pedants, who work with the same "Sursum corda," who institute new dialectics and modes of forming the reason (judgment?) which are as much viler than those of Aristotle, as may be the philosophy of Aristotle is incomparably viler than that of the ancients. And it has been caused by this, that certain grammarians having grown old in the birching of children, and in anatomizing phrases and words, have sought to rouse the mind to the formation of new logic and metaphysics, judging and sentencing those which they had never studied nor understood: as also these by the approbation of the ignorant multitude, with whose mind they have most affinity, can easily demolish the humanities and ratiocination of Aristotle, as the latter was the executioner of the Divine philosophies of others. See, then, what it comes to, if all should aspire to the sacred splendour, and yet are occupied about things low and vain.


Ride, si sapis, o puella, ride, Pelignus, puto, dixerat poeta; Sed non dixerat omnibus puellis; Et si dixerat omnibus puellis, Non dixit tibi. Tu puella non es.

Thus the "Sursum corda" is not the measure for all; but for those that have wings. We see that pedantry has never been held in such esteem for the government of the world as in our times, and it offers as many paths of the true intelligible species and objects of infallible and sole truth as there are individual pedants. Therefore in this present time it is proper that noble spirits equipped with truth and enlightened with the Divine intelligence, should arm themselves against dense ignorance by climbing up to the high rock and tower of contemplation.[L]

[L] If meditation be a nobler thing Than action, wherefore, then, great Keśava! Dost thou impel me to this dreadful fight?

—("Song Celestial.")

To them it is seemly that they hold every other object as vile and vain. Nor should these spend their time in light and vain things; for time flies with infinite velocity; the present rushes by with the same swiftness with which the future draws near. That which we have lived is nothing; that which we live is a point; that which we have to live is not yet a point, but may be a point which, together, shall be and shall have been. And with all this we crowd our memories with genealogies: this one is intent upon the deciphering of writings, that other is occupied in multiplying childish sophisms, and we shall see, for example, a volume full of: Cor est fons vitae. Nix est alba, ergo cornix est fons vitae alba, and one prattles about the noun; was it first, or the verb; the other, whether the sea was first or the springs; again, another tries to revive obsolete vocabularies which, because they were once used and approved by some old writer, must now be exalted to the stars. Yet another takes his stand upon the false or the true orthography, and so on, with various similar nonsense only worthy of contempt. They fast, they become thin and emaciated, they scourge the skin, and lengthen the beard, they rot, and in these things they place the anchor of their highest good. They despise fortune, and put up these as shield and refuge against the strokes of fate. With such-like most vile thoughts they think to mount to the stars, to be equal to gods, and to understand the good and the beautiful which philosophy promises.

CES. A grand thing, indeed, that time, which does not suffice for necessary things, however carefully we use it, should come to be chiefly consumed about superfluous things, and things vile and shameful.

Is it not rather a thing to laugh at than to praise in Archimedes, that at the time when the city was in confusion, everything in ruins, fire broken out in his room, enemies there at his back who had it in their power to make him lose his brain, his life, his art; that he, meanwhile, having abandoned all desire or intention of saving his life, lost it while he was inquiring, perhaps, into the proportion of the curve to the straight line, of the diameter to the circle, or other similar mathesis, as suitable for youth, as it were unsuitable for one who, being old, should be intent upon things more worthy of being put as the end of human desires?

MAR. In connection with this I like what you said just now, that there must be all sorts of persons in the world, and that the number of the imperfect, the ugly, the poor, the unworthy and the villanous, should be the greater, and, in short, it ought not to be otherwise than as it is. The long life of Archimedes, of Euclid, of Priscian, of Donato, and others, who were found up to their death occupied with numbers, lines, diction, concordances, writings, dialectics, syllogisms, forms, methods, systems of science, organs, and other preambles, is ordained for the service of youth, so that they may learn to receive the fruits of the mature age of those (sages) and be full of the same even in their green age, so that when they are older they may be fit and ready to arrive without hindrance to higher things.

CES. I am not wrong in the proposition I moved just now when I spoke of those who make it their study to appropriate to themselves the place and the fame of the ancients with new works which are neither better nor worse than those already existing, and spend their life in considering how to turn wheat into tares,[M] and find the work of their life in the elaboration of those studies which are suited for children and are generally profitable to no one, not even to themselves.

[M] E spendono la vita su le considerazioni da mettere avanti lana di capra, o l'ombra de l'asino.

MAR. But enough has been said about those who neither can nor dare to have their mind roused to highest love. Let us now come to the consideration of the voluntary captivity and of the pleasant yoke under the dominion of the said Diana; that yoke, I say, without which, the soul is impotent to rise to that height from which it fell, and which renders it light and agile, while the noose renders it more active and disengaged.

CES. Speak on then!

MAR. To begin, to continue, and to conclude in order; I consider that all which lives must feed itself and nourish itself in a manner suitable to the way in which it lives. Therefore, nothing squares with the intellectual nature but the intellectual, as with the body nothing but the corporeal; seeing that nourishment is taken for no other reason, but that it should go to the substance of him who is to be nourished. As then the body does not transmute into spirit, nor the spirit into body,—for every transmutation takes place, when matter, which was in one form, comes to be in another,[N]—so the spirit and the body are not the same matter; in that that, which was subject to one should come to be subject to the other.

[N] Carlyle says, "For matter, were it never so despicable, is spirit: were it never so honourable, can it be more?"—("Sartor Resartus.")

CES. Surely, if the soul should be nourished with body, it would carry itself better there, where the fecundity of the material is, (as Jamblichus argues); so that when a large fat body presents itself, we should imagine that it were the habitation of a strong soul, firm, ready and heroic, and we should say: Oh, fat soul, oh, fecund spirit, oh, fine nature, oh, divine intelligence, oh, clear mind, oh, blessed repast, fit to spread before lions, or verily for a banquet for dogs. On the other hand, an old man shrivelled, weak, of failing strength, would be held to be of little savour and of small account. But go on.

MAR. Now, it must be said that the outcome of the mind is that alone which is always by it desired, sought for, and embraced, and that which is more enjoyed than anything else, with which it is filled, comforted and becomes better,—that is Truth, towards which, in all times, in every state, and in whatsoever condition man finds himself, he always aspires, and for the which he despises every fatigue, attempts every study, makes no account of the body, and hates this life. Therefore Truth is an incorporeal thing; and neither physics, metaphysics, nor mathematics can be found in the body, because we see that the eternal human essence is not in individuals, who are born and die. It (Truth) is specific unity, said Plato, not the numerical multitude that holds the substance of things. Therefore he called Idea one and many, movable and immovable because as incorruptible species it is intelligible and one, and as it communicates itself to matter and is subject to movement and generation, it is sensible and many. In this second mode it has more of non-entity than of entity; seeing that it is one and another and is ever running but never diminishes.[O] In the first mode it is an entity, and true. See now, the mathematicians take it for granted, that the true figures are not to be found in natural bodies, nor can they be there through the power either of nature or of art. You know, besides, that the truth (reality) of supernatural substances is above matter. We must therefore conclude that he who seeks the truth must rise above the reason of corporeal things. Besides which it must be considered, that he who feeds has a certain natural memory of his food, especially when it is most required; it leaves in the mind the likeness and species of it, in an elevated manner, according to the elevation and glory of him who aims, and of that which is aimed at. Hence it is that everything has, innate, the intelligence of those things which belong to the conservation of the individual and species, and furthermore its final perfection depends upon efforts to seek its food through some kind of hunting or chase. Therefore it is necessary that the human soul should have the light, the genius, and the instruments suitable for its pursuit. And here contemplation comes to aid, and logic, the fittest mode for the pursuit of truth, to find it, to distinguish it, and to judge of it. So that one goes rambling amongst the wild woods of natural things, where there are many objects under shadow and mantle, for it is in a thick, dense, and deserted solitude that Truth most often has its secret cavernous retreat, all entwined with thorns and covered with bosky, rough and umbrageous plants; it is hidden, for the most part, for the most excellent and worthy reasons, buried and veiled with utmost diligence, just as we hide with the greatest care the greatest treasures, so that, sought by a great variety of hunters, of whom some are more able and expert, some less, it cannot be discovered without great labour.

Pythagoras went seeking for it with his imprints and vestiges impressed upon natural objects, which are numbers, the which display its progress, reasons, modes and operations in a certain manner, because in the number (of) multitude, the number (of) measures, and the number (of) moment or weight, the truth and Being are found in all things.[P]

[O] Atteso che sempre e altro ed altro, e corre eterno per la privazione.

[P] Number is, as the great writer (Balzac) thought, an Entity, and at the same time, a Breath emanating from what he called God, and what we call the ALL, the breath which alone could organize the physical Kosmos.—("The Secret Doctrine.")

Anaxagoras and Empedocles considered that the omnipotent and all-producing divinity fills all things, and with them nothing was so small that it did not contain within it the occult in every respect, although they were always progressing onwards to where it was predominant, and where it found a more magnificent and elevated expression.

The Chaldeans sought for Truth by means of subtraction, not knowing how to affirm anything about it; and proceeded without these dogs of demonstrations and syllogisms, but solely forcing themselves to penetrate by removing and digging and clearing away by means of negations of every kind and discourses both open and secret.

Plato went twisting and turning and tearing to pieces and placing embankments so that the volatile and fugacious species should be as it were caught in a net and held behind the hedges of definitions, and he considered that superior things were, by participation, and according to similitude, reflected in those inferior, and these in those according to their greater dignity and excellence, and that the truth was in both the one and the other, according to a certain analogy, order and scale, in which the lowest of the superior order agrees with the highest of the inferior order. So that progress was from the lowest of nature to the highest, as from evil to good, from darkness to light, from the simple power to the simple action.

Aristotle boasts of being able to arrive at the desired booty by means of the imprints of tracks and vestiges, while he believes the effects will lead to the cause, although he, above all others who have occupied themselves with this sort of chase, has most deviated from the path, so as to be able hardly to distinguish the footsteps. Theologians there are, who, nourished in certain sects, seek the truth of nature in all her specific natural forms in which they see the eternal essence, the specific substantial perpetuator of the eternal generation and mutation of things, which are called after their founders and builders and above them all presides the form of forms,[Q] the fountain of light, very truth of very truth, God of gods, through whom all is full of divinity, truth, entity, goodness. This truth is sought as a thing inaccessible, as an object not to be objectized, incomprehensible. But yet, to no one does it seem possible to see the sun, the universal Apollo, the absolute light through supreme and most excellent species; but only its shadow, its Diana, the world, the universe, nature, which is in things, light which is in the opacity of matter, that is to say, so far as it shines in darkness.

[Q] A discerning of the Infinite in the Finite.—("Sartor Resartus.")

Many then wander amongst the aforesaid paths of this deserted wood, very few are those who find the fountain of Diana. Many are content to hunt for wild beasts and things less elevated, and the greater number do not understand why, having spread their nets to the wind, they find their hands full of flies. Rare, I say, are the Actaeons to whom fate has granted the power of contemplating the nude Diana and who, entranced with the beautiful disposition of the body of nature, and led by those two lights, the twin splendour of Divine goodness and beauty become transformed into stags; for they are no longer hunters, but that which is hunted. For the ultimate and final end of this sport, is to arrive at the acquisition of that fugitive and wild body, so that the thief becomes the thing stolen, the hunter becomes the thing hunted; in all other kinds of sport, for special things, the hunter possesses himself of those things, absorbing them with the mouth of his own intelligence; but in that Divine and universal one, he comes to understand to such an extent, that he becomes of necessity included, absorbed, united. Whence, from common, ordinary, civil, and popular, he becomes wild, like a stag, an inhabitant of the woods; he lives god-like under that grandeur of the forest; he lives in the simple chambers of the cavernous mountains, whence he beholds the great rivers; he vegetates intact and pure from ordinary greed, where the speech of the Divine converses more freely, to which so many men have aspired who longed to taste the Divine life while upon earth, and who with one voice have said: Ecce elongavi fugiens, et mansi in solitudine. Thus the dogs—thoughts of Divine things—devour Actaeon, making him dead to the vulgar and the crowd, loosened from the knots of perturbation of the senses, free from the fleshly prison of matter, whence they no longer see their Diana as through a hole or a window, but having thrown down the walls to the earth, the eye opens to the view of the whole horizon.[R] So that he sees all as one; he sees no more by distinctions and numbers, which, according to the different senses, as through various cracks, cause to be seen and understood in confusion.

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