The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri


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Canto XVI


O thou our poor nobility of blood,
If thou dost make the people glory in thee
Down here where our affection languishes,

A marvellous thing it ne'er will be to me;
For there where appetite is not perverted,
I say in Heaven, of thee I made a boast!

Truly thou art a cloak that quickly shortens,
So that unless we piece thee day by day
Time goeth round about thee with his shears!

With 'You,' which Rome was first to tolerate,
(Wherein her family less perseveres,)
Yet once again my words beginning made;

Whence Beatrice, who stood somewhat apart,
Smiling, appeared like unto her who coughed
At the first failing writ of Guenever.

And I began: "You are my ancestor,
You give to me all hardihood to speak,
You lift me so that I am more than I.

So many rivulets with gladness fill
My mind, that of itself it makes a joy
Because it can endure this and not burst.

Then tell me, my beloved root ancestral,
Who were your ancestors, and what the years
That in your boyhood chronicled themselves?

Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John,
How large it was, and who the people were
Within it worthy of the highest seats."

As at the blowing of the winds a coal
Quickens to flame, so I beheld that light
Become resplendent at my blandishments.

And as unto mine eyes it grew more fair,
With voice more sweet and tender, but not in
This modern dialect, it said to me:

"From uttering of the 'Ave,' till the birth
In which my mother, who is now a saint,
Of me was lightened who had been her burden,

Unto its Lion had this fire returned
Five hundred fifty times and thirty more,
To reinflame itself beneath his paw.

My ancestors and I our birthplace had
Where first is found the last ward of the city
By him who runneth in your annual game.

Suffice it of my elders to hear this;
But who they were, and whence they thither came,
Silence is more considerate than speech.

All those who at that time were there between
Mars and the Baptist, fit for bearing arms,
Were a fifth part of those who now are living;

But the community, that now is mixed
With Campi and Certaldo and Figghine,
Pure in the lowest artisan was seen.

O how much better 'twere to have as neighbours
The folk of whom I speak, and at Galluzzo
And at Trespiano have your boundary,

Than have them in the town, and bear the stench
Of Aguglione's churl, and him of Signa
Who has sharp eyes for trickery already.

Had not the folk, which most of all the world
Degenerates, been a step-dame unto Caesar,
But as a mother to her son benignant,

Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,
Would have gone back again to Simifonte
There where their grandsires went about as beggars.

At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,
The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,
Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti.

Ever the intermingling of the people
Has been the source of malady in cities,
As in the body food it surfeits on;

And a blind bull more headlong plunges down
Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts
Better and more a single sword than five.

If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia,
How they have passed away, and how are passing
Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them,

To hear how races waste themselves away,
Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard,
Seeing that even cities have an end.

All things of yours have their mortality,
Even as yourselves; but it is hidden in some
That a long while endure, and lives are short;

And as the turning of the lunar heaven
Covers and bares the shores without a pause,
In the like manner fortune does with Florence.

Therefore should not appear a marvellous thing
What I shall say of the great Florentines
Of whom the fame is hidden in the Past.

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,
Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi,
Even in their fall illustrious citizens;

And saw, as mighty as they ancient were,
With him of La Sannella him of Arca,
And Soldanier, Ardinghi, and Bostichi.

Near to the gate that is at present laden
With a new felony of so much weight
That soon it shall be jetsam from the bark,

The Ravignani were, from whom descended
The County Guido, and whoe'er the name
Of the great Bellincione since hath taken.

He of La Pressa knew the art of ruling
Already, and already Galigajo
Had hilt and pommel gilded in his house.

Mighty already was the Column Vair,
Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifant, and Barucci,
And Galli, and they who for the bushel blush.

The stock from which were the Calfucci born
Was great already, and already chosen
To curule chairs the Sizii and Arrigucci.

O how beheld I those who are undone
By their own pride! and how the Balls of Gold
Florence enflowered in all their mighty deeds!

So likewise did the ancestors of those
Who evermore, when vacant is your church,
Fatten by staying in consistory.

The insolent race, that like a dragon follows
Whoever flees, and unto him that shows
His teeth or purse is gentle as a lamb,

Already rising was, but from low people;
So that it pleased not Ubertin Donato
That his wife's father should make him their kin.

Already had Caponsacco to the Market
From Fesole descended, and already
Giuda and Infangato were good burghers.

I'll tell a thing incredible, but true;
One entered the small circuit by a gate
Which from the Della Pera took its name!

Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon
Of the great baron whose renown and name
The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh,

Knighthood and privilege from him received;
Though with the populace unites himself
To-day the man who binds it with a border.

Already were Gualterotti and Importuni;
And still more quiet would the Borgo be
If with new neighbours it remained unfed.

The house from which is born your lamentation,
Through just disdain that death among you brought
And put an end unto your joyous life,

Was honoured in itself and its companions.
O Buondelmonte, how in evil hour
Thou fled'st the bridal at another's promptings!

Many would be rejoicing who are sad,
If God had thee surrendered to the Ema
The first time that thou camest to the city.

But it behoved the mutilated stone
Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provide
A victim in her latest hour of peace.

With all these families, and others with them,
Florence beheld I in so great repose,
That no occasion had she whence to weep;

With all these families beheld so just
And glorious her people, that the lily
Never upon the spear was placed reversed,

Nor by division was vermilion made."

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