Dante’s Convito—of which the name was, no doubt, suggested by the Banquets of Plato and Xenophon—was written at the close of his life, after the Divine Comedy, and no trace has been found of more of its songs than the three which may have been written and made known some time before he began work on their Commentary. Death stayed his hand, and the completion passed into a song that joined the voice of Dante to the praise in heaven.
BANQUET OF DANTE ALIGHIERI
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The First Treatise.
As the Philosopher says in the beginning of the first Philosophy, “All men naturally desire Knowledge.” The reason of which may be, that each thing, impelled by the intuition of its own nature, tends towards its perfection, hence, forasmuch as Knowledge is the final perfection of our Soul, in which our ultimate happiness consists, we are all naturally subject to the desire for it.
Verily, many are deprived of this most noble perfection, by divers causes within the man and without him, which remove him from the use of Knowledge.
Within the man there may be two defects or impediments, the one on the part of the Body, the other on the part of the Soul. On the part of the Body it is, when the parts are unfitly disposed, so that it can receive nothing as with the deaf and dumb, and their like. On the part of the Soul it is, when evil triumphs in it, so that it becomes the follower of vicious pleasures, through which it is so much deceived, that on account of them it holds everything in contempt.
Without the man, two causes may in like manner be understood, of which one comes of necessity, the other of stagnation. The first is the management of the family and conduct of civil affairs, which fitly draws to itself the greater number of men, so that they cannot live in the quietness of speculation. The other is the fault of the place where a person is born and reared, which will ofttimes be not only without any School whatever, but may be far distant from studious people. The two first of these causes—the first of the hindrance from within, and the first of the hindrance from without—are not deserving of blame, but of excuse and pardon; the two others, although the one more than the other, deserve blame and are to be detested.