Dedicated to the Most Illustrious Sir Philip Sidney
Most illustrious knight, it is indeed a base, ugly and contaminated wit that is constantly occupied and curiously obsessed with the beauty of a female body! What spectacle, oh good God, more vile and ignoble can be presented to a mind of clear sensibilities than a rational man afflicted, tormented, gloomy, melancholic, who becomes now hot, now cold and trembling, now pale, now flushed, now confused, or now resolute; one who spends most of his time and the choice fruits of his life letting fall drop by drop the elixir of his brain by putting into conceits and in writing, and sealing on public monuments those continual tortures, dire torments, those persuasive speeches, those laborious complaints and most bitter labours inevitable beneath the tyranny of an unworthy, witless, stupid and odoriferous foulness!
What a tragicomedy! What act, I say, more worthy of pity and laughter can be presented to us upon this world's stage, in this scene of our consciousness, than of this host of individuals who became melancholy, meditative, unflinching, firm, faithful, lovers, devotees, admirers and slaves of a thing without trustworthiness, a thing deprived of all constancy, destitute of any talent, vacant of any merit, without acknowledgment or any gratitude, as incapable of sensibility, intelligence or goodness, as a statue or image painted on a wall; a thing containing more haughtiness, arrogance, insolence, contumely, anger, scorn, hypocrisy, licentiousness, avarice, ingratitude and other ruinous vices, more poisons and instruments of death than could have issued from the box of Pandora? For such are the poisons which have only too commodious an abode in the brain of that monster! Here we have written down on paper, enclosed in books, placed before the eyes and sounded in the ear a noise, an uproar, a blast of symbols, of emblems, of mottoes, of epistles, of sonnets, of epigrams, of prolific notes, of excessive sweat, of life consumed, shrieks which deafen the stars, laments which reverberate in the caves of hell, tortures which affect living souls with stupor, sighs which make the gods swoon with compassion, and all this for those eyes, for those cheeks, for that breast, for that whiteness, for that vermilion, for that speech, for those teeth, for those lips, that hair, that dress, that robe, that glove, that slipper, that shoe, that reserve, that little smile, that wryness, that window-widow, that eclipsed sun, that scourge, that disgust, that stink, that tomb, that latrine, that menstruum, that carrion, that quartan ague, that excessive injury and distortion of nature, which with surface appearance, a shadow, a phantasm, a dream, a Circean enchantment put to the service of generation, deceives us as a species of beauty.
This is a beauty which comes and goes, is born and dies, blooms and decays; and is eternally beautiful for so very short a moment and within itself truly and lastingly contains a cargo, a store-house, an emporium, a market of all the filth, toxins and poisons which our step-mother nature is able to produce; who having collected that seed of which she makes use, often recompenses us by a stench, by repentance, by melancholy, by languor, by a pain in the head, by a sense of undoing, by many other calamities which are evident to everyone, so that one suffers bitterly, where formerly he suffered only a little.
But what am I doing? What am I thinking? Do I perhaps despise the sun? Do I regret perhaps my own and others having come into this world? Do I perhaps wish to restrict men from gathering the sweetest fruit which the garden of our earthly paradise can produce? Am I perhaps for impeding nature's holy institution? Must I attempt to withdraw myself or any other from the beloved sweet yoke which divine providence has placed about our necks? Have I perhaps to persuade myself and others that our predecessors were born for us, but that we were not born for our descendents? No, may God not desire that this thought should ever come into my head! In fact, I add, that for all the kingdoms and beatitudes which might ever be proposed or chosen for me, never was I so wise and good that there could come to me the desire to castrate myself or to become a eunuch. In fact I should be ashamed, whatever may be my appearance, if I should desire ever to be second to any one who worthily breaks bread in the service of nature and the blessed God. And that such participation can be of assistance to one's good intentions I leave for the consideration of him who can judge for himself. But I do not believe I am caught. For I am certain that all the snares and nooses which those people devise and have devised who specialize in knotting snares and entanglements will never suffice for my enemies to ensnare and entangle me. They would avail themselves (if I dare say it) of death itself, in order to do me mischief. Nor do I believe myself to be frigid, for I do not think that the snows of Mt. Caucusus or Ripheus would suffice to cool my passion. See then if it is reason or some insufficiency which makes me speak.
What then do I mean? What conclusion do I wish to arrive at? What do I wish to decide? What I would conclude and say, oh illustrious knight, is that what belongs to Caesar be rendered unto Caesar and what belongs to God be rendered unto God. I mean that although there are cases when not even divine honors and adoration suffice for women, yet this does not mean that we owe them divine honors and worship. I desire that women should be honored and loved as women ought to be loved and honored. Loved and honored for such cause, I say, and for so much, and in the measure due for the little they are, at that time and occasion when they show the natural virtue peculiar to them. That natural virtue is the beauty, the splendor, and the humility without which one would esteem them to have been born in this world more vainly than a poisonous fungous occupying the earth to the detriment of better plants, more odious than any snake or viper which lifts its head from the dust. I mean that everything in the universe, in order that it have stability and constancy, has its own weight, number, order and measure, so that it may be ordered and governed with all justice and reason. Therefore Silenus, Bacchus, Pomona, Vertunnus, the god of Lampsacus and similar gods of the drinking hall, gods of strong beer, and humble wine, do not sit in heaven to drink nectar and taste ambrosia at the banquet of Jove, Saturn, Pallus, Phoebus and similar gods; and their vestments, temples, sacrifices and rites must differ from those of the great gods.
Finally, I mean that these heroic frenzies have a heroic subject and object, and therefore can no more be esteemed as vulgar and physical loves than one can see dolphins in the trees of the forests or savage bears under the rocks of the sea.
However, to deliver all from such suspicion, I thought at first of giving this book a title similar to the book of Solomon which under the guise of lovers and ordinary passions contains similarly divine and heroic frenzies, as the mystics and cabbalistic doctors interpret; I wished, in fact, to call it Canticle. But in the end I restrained myself for many reasons, of which I shall report but two. One for the fear which I conceived of the austere frown of certain Pharisees, who would judge me profane for usurping sacred and supernatural titles in my natural and physical discourse, while they, consummate scoundrels, and ministers of every ribaldry, usurp more basely than one can say the names of holy ones, of saints, of divine preachers, of the sons of God, of priests, of kings. But then we await that divine judgment which will make manifest their malicious ignorance and doctrines; our simple liberty and their malicious rules, censures and institutions. The other for the great dissimilarity which is seen between the appearance of this work and that one, even though the same mystery and psychic substance is concealed under the shadow of the one and the other; for no one doubts that the first idea of the Sage was to represent things divine rather than to present other things; with him the figure is openly and manifestly a figure, and the metaphorical sense is understood in such a way that it cannot be denied to be metaphorical, when you hear of those eyes of doves, that neck like a tower, that tongue of milk, that fragrance of incense, those teeth that seem a flock of sheep returning from the bath, those tresses that resemble goats descending the mountain of Galaad. But this poem does not show us a face which so keenly invites one to seek a latent and occult sense; so that through the ordinary mode of speech and by similitudes more adapted to the sentiments which gentle lovers usually employ, and experienced poets put in verse and rime, sentiments are expressed similar to those used by the poets who spoke of Cythereida, or Licoris, or Doris or Cynthia, Lesbia, Corynna, Laura and other such ladies. Thus anyone could be easily persuaded that my primary and fundamental intention may have been to express an ordinary love, which may have dictated certain conceits to me, and afterwards, because it had been rejected, may have borrowed wings for itself and become heroic; for it is possible to convert any fable, romance, dream and prophetic enigma, and to employ it by virtue of metaphor and allegorical disguise in such a way as to signify all that pleases him who is skillful at tugging at the sense, and is thus adept at making everything of everything, to follow the word of the profound Anaxagoras. But think who will as it seems to him and pleases him, in the end, willy nilly, if one is to be just, each must understand and define it as I understand and define it, and not I as he would understand it and depict it; for just as the passions of that Hebrew have their own proper modes, succession and names, which no one has been able to understand and could never explain better than he, if he were present, so these canticles of mine have their own names, succession and modes which no one can explain better and understand than myself, since I am not absent.
Of one thing I wish the world to be assured: what I have essayed in this preliminary preface, wherein I address you in particular, excellent sir, and in the dialogues formed upon the subsequent articles, sonnets and stanzas, is to have everyone know that I should deem myself most shameful and bestial, if with much thought, study and labor I should have ever delighted or relished imitating (as they say) an Orpheus who adores a living woman, and proposes after her death (if it be possible) to rescue her from hell; when in fact I would hardly esteem her (without blushing) to be worthy of being loved naturally even in that instant when her beauty is in flower and when she has the power of bringing offspring to nature and to God: so much the less would I desire to appear similar to certain poets and versifiers who glory in a perpetual perseverance in such love, as in such a pertinacious madness, which can certainly compete with all the other species of folly that can reside in a human brain. So much, I say, am I removed from that most vain, most vile and most infamous glory, that I cannot believe any man who possesses a grain of sense and spirit can expend any more love on such a thing than I have spent in the past and intend to spend in the present. And, by my faith, if I wish to employ myself in defending the nobility of that Tuscan poet, who showed himself so distraught on the banks of the Sorgue for a lady of Valclusa, and not say that he was a madman fit to be chained, I shall have to believe and force myself to persuade others, that for lack of genius apt for higher things he set himself the task of nourishing his melancholy, and belaboring his wit in confusion, by analyzing the effects of an obstinate vulgar love, animal and bestial, as so many others have done who formerly have sung the praises of a fly, a beetle, an ass, of Silenus, of Priapus, of apes, and those who have in our time sung the praises of urinals, of the shepherd's pipe, of beans, of the bed, of lies, of dishonor, of the furnace, of the knife, of famine, and of the plague, things which perhaps give the appearance of being no less lofty and proud by reason of the celebrated voices of those who sing of them than these and other ladies I have mentioned are, perhaps by reason of the poets who have celebrated them.
Yet (that there be no mistake) I do not wish that here should be taxed the dignity of those ladies who have been worthily praised and who are praiseworthy: and those, especially, who may and do reside in this British land, to whom we owe the love and fidelity of the guest; for even if one were to find fault with the whole worold, one could not find fault with this nation, which in this respect is not the terrestrial world, nor a part of it, but is entirely separated from it, as you know: so that any discourse regarding the whole feminine sex could not and would not include any of your women, who must not be considered part of that sex; because they are not women, they are not ladies, but, in the guise of ladies, they are nymphs, goddesses and of celestial substance, among whom it is permitted to contemplate that unique Dianba, whom I do not desire to name in the rank or category of women. [Queen Elizabeth] Let it be understood, then, that I mean only the ordinary genus. And I should unworthily and unjustly persecute any individual of this class: because to no particular person ought the weakness and condition of the sex be imputed, just as as defect or vice of constitution, assuming there is some fault or error there, must be attributed to the species or to nature, and not in particular to the individuals of the class. Truly, with respect to that sex, what I abominate is that zealous and disordered venereal love which some are accustomed to expend for it, so that they come to the point of making their wit the slave of woman, and of degrading the noblest powers and actions of the intellectual soul. If my intentions are understood, far from being saddened and becoming vexed with me because of my natural and truthful discourse, every honest and chaste woman will rather agree with me and love me the more because of it; and they will allow that the venereal love women have for men is a dishonorable thing, as I actively reprove the venereal love men have for women. Therefore, with a determined heart, mind, opinion and purpose, I affirm that my first and principal, secondary and subordinate, final and ultimate design in this work to which I have been called, was and is to signify divine contemplation and present the eye and ear with other frenzies, not those caused by vulgar love, but those caused by heroic love. These frenzies will be explained in two parts, each of which will be divided into five dialogues.
In the first dialogue of the first part there are five articles,  whence, in order: in the first is shown the causes and principal intrinsic motives under the names and figures of the mountain, and the river, and of the muses which declare themselves present, not because they have been summoned, invoked, and searched for, but rather as if they had often importunately offered themselves. By this is signified that the divine light is ever present, that it forever offers itself, ever calls and knocks at the doors of our senses and other powers of cognition and apprehension, as it is indicated in the Song of Solomon where it is said, "En ipse stat post parietem nostrum, respicinse per cancellos et prospiciens per fenestras", [Cant. 2:9: "Behold He standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices..."] which light very often through various occasions and impediments remains excluded and withheld. In the second article is shown what are those subjects, objects, affections, instruments, and effects by which this divine light enters, shows itself, and takes possession of the soul, in order to raise it and convert it unto God. In the third, the intention, definition, and determination which the well-informed soul makes with regard to the one, perfect and ultimate end. In the fourth, the civil war which follows and breakis out against the spirit after such determination, whence the Canticle says, "Noli mirare, quia nigra sum: decoloravit enim me sol, quia fratres mei pugnaverunt contra me, quam posuerunt custodem in vineis". [Cant. 1:5: "Do not consider me that I am brown, for the sun has altered my color: for my brothers have fought against me, whom they have made the keeper in the vineyards..."] In that place are represented as four standard bearers the affection, the fatal impulse, an appearance of the good, and the conscience, which are followed by the numberless cohorts of the many, contrary, varied and diverse powers, together with their ministers, intermediaries, and organs which exist in this organization. In the fifth is described a natural contemplation through which it is shown that every contrary is reduced to friendship, whether through the victory of one of the contraries, or through harmony and conciliation, or by some vicissitude, every discord to concord, every diversity to unity; which doctrine has been developed by us in the discourses of other dialogues.
In the second dialogue is more explicitly described the order and action of the conflict which is in the substance of this complex of the frenzied one, to wit: in the first article are shown three sorts of contraries. The first is the conflict of two opposed affections or acts, as for example where hopes are cold and desires hot. The second treats of the same desires and acts in themselves, not only that different times, but at the same time, when each one, for instance, dissatisfied with himself, looks to another, and at the same time loves and hates. The third is between the power that follows and aspires and the object which flees and eludes it. In the second article is described the opposition which results from two impulses which are opposed in general, to which are related all the particular and subordinate contraries, for example, when one climbs or descends toward two opposite places or goals at the same time. Thus it happens to the complex being by reason of the diversity of the inclinations which are in his several parts and the variety of dispositions which result from these, that he rises men and falls at the same time, goes forward and backward, withdraws himself from himself and also withdraws into himself. The third article discusses the consequence of such oppositions.
In the third dialogue is disclosed how much power belongs to the will in this combat, for to the will alone pertains the organizing, the initiating, the execution and completion; for it is the will the Canticle addresses when it says, "Arise, hasten, my dove, and come: for already winter is passed, the rain is gone, the flowers have appeared in our land; the time of pruning is come." (Cant. 2:10-12) It is the will that in any ways bestows power to the other potencies; and bestows power especially to itself, when it reflects upon itself and increases itself two-fold, when it wishes to desire, and is pleased with what it desires; it withdraws itself, on the contrary, when it dislikes the object of its desire, and is displeased to desire it. Thus everywhere and in everything it approves what is good and what the justice of natural law prescribes for it, and never approves at all what deviates from that law. And this is how much the first and second article explain. In the third article is seen the double fruit of a similar power. Accordingly, as the result of the passion which draws and ravishes them, lofty things become base, and base things become lofty. Thus it is customary to say that by the force of vicissitude and vertiginous attraction, the element of fear is condensed into air, vapor and water, while water is refined into vapor, air, and fire.
In the seven sections of the fourth dialogue are contemplated the impetus and vigor of the intellect which carries the affection away without it; the development of the thoughts into which the frenzied lover is divided, and the sufferings of the soul under the government of this so turbulent republic. There it becomes clear who the hunter is, the birdcatcher, the wild beast, the dogs, offspring, the cave, the noose, the rock, the prey, the issue of so many labors, peace, rest, and the desired end of so laborious a conflict.
Into the fifth dialogue is further described the state of the frenzied one and is shown the order, condition and reason for his labors and fortunes. In the first article is shown what pertains to the pursuit of the object which withdraws itself; in the the second is shown the continuous and relentless competition of the passions; in the third the lofty and cold, because vain purposes; in the fourth the voluntary desire; in the fifth the prompt rescue and powerful bulwark. In the following articles are shown in their variety, according to their reasons and appropriateness, the vicissitudes of his fortune, condition, and labors, each article expressing them by antitheses, comparisons, and similitudes.
In the first dialogue of the second part is offered the origin of the modes and reasons for the state of the frenzied lover. In the first sonnet is described his state beneath the wheel of time; in the second is described the defense he offers for his esteem of ignoble occupations and for the unworthy squandering of time which is so brief and narrowly measured; in the third he confesses the impotence of his studies, which, although illumined within by the excellence of their object, begin to obscure and cloud that object when they come in contact with it; in the fourth he complains of the profitless strain of the faculties of the soul as his soul seeks to rise with powers unequal to the state it desires and venerates; in the fifth is recalled the contrariety and familiar conflict found in him, a conflict which may hinder him from applying himself entirely to his end or goal. In the sixth is expressed the aspiration of desire; in the seventh is considered the poor correspondence found between him who aspires, and that to which he aspires; in the eighth is seen the distraction the soul suffers because of the conflict between external and internal things, internal things among themselves, and a similar conflict of external things among themselves; in the ninth is explained the age and the time in the course of life most propitious for the act of lofty and profound contemplation, a time when the soul is not disturbed by the ebb and flow of its vegetative constitution, but finds itself in a state of immobility and in a sort of tranquility; in the tenth is described the order and matter in which heroic love sometimes attacks, wounds, and awakens us; in the eleventh is explained the multitude of species and particular ideas which show the excellence of the mark of their unique source and are the means by which the desire toward the heavenly is aroused; in the twelfth is expressed the state of every human effort toward the divine enterprises. Much is presumed before one engages himself in them, and much during the engagement itself. But, then, when one is engulfed and penetrates more and more into the depths, this fervent spirit becomes extinguished by presumption, the nerves begin to yield, the strength is slackened, thoughts discouraged, all intentions vanish, and the soul remains confused, vanquished and reduced to nothing. Pertinently, therefore, was it said by the Sage, "he that is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory" (Prov. 25:27). In the last article is more clearly expressed what the twelfth demonstrated by similitude and figure.
In the second dialogue, in a sonnet and in the dialogue which is a commentary upon it, is made specific the first cause which subdued the strong one, softened the hard one, and reduced him to an amorous servitude under the command of Cupid, but in that way raised and disposed him to celebrate his zeal, ardor, election, and purpose.
In the third dialogue in four questions and four answers of the heart to the eyes and the eyes to the heart is explained the being and mode of the appetitive and cognitive faculties. In this dialogue is shown how the will is reawakened from sleep, given direction, urged and led by the cognition; and reciprocally how the cognition is aroused, formed, and revived by the will, the one proceeding from the other, alternately. It is doubted if the intellect or the cognitive power in general, or even the act of cognition is greater than the will or appetitive power in general, or even greater than the affection. If one cannot love more than one can understand, and if everything which in a certain mode is desired, in a certain mode is also understood, and the reverse also be true; then it is fitting to call the appetite cognition. For we see that the doctrine of the Peripatetics, which has raised and nourished us from our youth, goes so far as to call the appetite in potency and natural act cognition, so that they distinguish all effects, means and ends, principles, causes and elements into those primarily, intermediately, and ultimately known according to nature, in which, they conclude, the appetite and the cognition concur. Thus is proposed the infinite potency of matter, and the assistance of the act thanks to which that potency is not in vain. For just as the act of the will is infinite with respect to the good, so is the act of cognition infinite and endless with respect to the true: accordingly, being, truth, and goodness take on the same significance when they are referred to in the same way, that is: as infinite goals.
In the fourth dialogue are represented and in some manner explained the nine reasons for the ineptitude, disproportion, and deficiency of the human sight and apprehensive potency toward things divine. The first lover, who is blind from birth, is blind because of the nature which debases and humiliation him. The second lover, blinded by the poison of jealousy, is blind because of the irascible and concupiscible which diverts and misleads him. The third, blinded by the sudden appearance of intense light, is blind because of the brilliance of the object which dazzles him. The fourth, received and nourished for a long time in the light of the sun, is blind because of much lofty contemplation of the unity which removes him from the multitude. The fifth, whose eyes are forever filled with dense tears, is blind owing to the disproportion of means between the potency and the object which impedes him. The sixth, who through much weeping has extinguished the organic visual humour, is blind because of a lack of the true intellectual nourishment, a lack which weakens him. The seventh whose eyes are reduced to ashes by the ardor of his heart, symbolizes the burning passion which disperses, weakens, and sometimes devours the power of discernment. The eighth, blinded by the wound of an arrow's point, is blind through the very act of union with the form of the object that conquers, alters, and seduces the apprehensive potency, which is oppressed by the weight of the form and falls under the impetus of its presence; therefore, not without reason is the appearance of this object sometimes represented in the form of a penetrating thunderbolt. The ninth, because he is mute and is unable to explain the cause of his blindness, is blind for the highest reason, the secret design of God, who has given man this zeal and solicitude to search, so that he may never be able to reach higher than to the knowledge of his own blindness and ignorance, and no higher than to deem silence more worthy than speech. But this does not suggest that common ignorance is to be excused or favored, for he is doubly blind who does not see his own blindness. And there is a difference between the profitably zealous and the stupidly idle. The stupidly idle are buried in the lethargy of the incapability of judging their own blindness, and the profitably zealous are aware, awakened, and prudent judges of their own blindness, and for that reason are in quest and of the threshold of the attainment of the light from which the others are banished for a long time.
In the fifth dialogue two women are introduced, for whom (according to my country's custom) it is unbecoming to comment, expound, decipher, or to be so wise and learned as to usurp the office of teaching and giving men institutions, rules, and doctrines, but for whom it is fitting, when their bodies are found to have a soul, to divine well and to prophecy. Therefore the author has been content to make them merely recite the allegory, leaving to some male intelligence the care and labor of interpreting it. And even to him (in order to lighten his task, or I should say, discharge him of it), I shall explain how these nine blind men, by reason of their role, of the external causes of their blindness and of many other subjective differences, take on significance other than the nine of the preceding dialogue. According to the common imagination of the nine celestial spheres these blind men symbolize the number, order, and diversity of all things which are subsistent within an absolute unity, and in and over all of them are ordered those intelligences which, by a certain analogy, depend upon the first and the unique intelligence. The Cabalists, Chaldeans, Magi, the Platonists and Christian theologians hold that these intelligences are distinct in nine orders through the perfection of the number which governs the universality of things and in a certain way informs everything. They also hold that it is by a simple number that the divinity is symbolized, whose extension and square represents the number and substance of all things which depend upon it. All the more illustrious thinkers, whether philosophers or theologians, who speak either by reason and their own light, or by faith and a superior light, recognized in these intelligences the cycles of ascent and decent. Thus the Platonists say that by a certain revolution it happens that those who are above the fatality of time and change submit themselves once again to this fatality, while others rise and take their place. A similar revolution is alluded to by the Pythagorean poet, when he says:
All these, where the wheel of a thousand years comes round, a god summons to the river Lethe in vast train, so that they may begin again to desire the return to the body. (Virgil Aeneid vi. 748-751)
Some say that thus are to be understood the words of Revelation in which it is said that the dragon shall be conquered by chains for a thousand years, and after that period released. To this interpretation adhere those who speculate upon the many passages of Revelation which express the millenium literally, represent it by a year, by a season, by one night, or by one span time or another. Beyond a doubt the millenium itself is not to be taken according to the revolutions called solar years, but according to more than one method of calculating the order and measure upon which the fate of things depends. For the years of the stars are as different as are their particular species. As for the fact of revolution, it is given out among the Christian theologians that from each of the nine orders of spirits, a multitude of legions were cast down to low and obscure regions; and so that those seats do not remain vacant, divine Providence wishes the spirits who now live in human bodies to be drawn up to that eminence. But among the philosophers Plotinus alone, to my knowledge, has seen fit to agree with all the great theologians that such a revolution does not concern all beings, nor take place at all times, but takes place only once. And among the theologians only Origen, following all the great philosophers, has dared to say, after the Saducees and other reproved sects, that the revolution is vicissitudinal and yet eternal, and that all those who ascend must decend to the bottom; as one can see in all the elements, and in all the things which exist on the surface, in the bosom and womb of nature. For my part, I confess and confirm as very appropriate the opinion of the theologians and those whose task it is to give laws and institutions to the people; just as I do not fail to affirm and except the opinion of those who, speaking according to natural reason, address themselves to the small number of the good and wise. The latter opinion has been justifiably reproved for having been exposed to the eyes of the multitude, for since it is only with great difficulty that they can be restrained from vices and spurred to virtuous action by belief in eternal punishment, what would happen were they persuaded of some lighter condition for the reward of heroic and human deeds, and the punishment of crimes and villainies? But to conclude this progression of mine, I say that now begins an explanation and discourse upon the blindness and the light of these nine men, first clairvoyant, then blind, and finally illumined. At first they are rivals in the shadows and vestiges of the divine beauty; then they are completely blind, and finally they enjoy themselves peacefully in the more open light. While they are in the first condition, they are led to the dwelling of Circe, who represents the generative matter of all things. She is called the daughter of the sun, because from the father of forms she has inherited the possession of all those forms which, by a sprinkling of the waters -- that is to say by the act of generation and by the power of enchantment -- that is by reason of a secret harmony -- she transforms all beings, making those who see become blind. For generation and corruption are causes of oblivion and of blindness, as the ancients explain by the figure of souls who bathe and inebriate themselves in the waters of Lethe. Then by that which the blind men lament, when they say, Daughter and mother of darkness and horror, is signified the dismay and sadness of the soul which has lost its wings, but will be relieved when it regains hope of recovering them. By Circe's words, Take another one of my fatal vases, is signified that men carry with themselves the decree and destiny of a new metamorphoses, which is, however, said to be offered to them by Circe herself; for although one contrary has its origin in the other, it may not be efficaciously uncovered by them. For that reason she said that although her own hand was unable to open it, it could entrust the vase to them. The other meaning is that there are two kinds of water. There are the inferior waters under the firmament which enlighten. These are the waters which the Pythagoreans and the Platonists symbolized by the descent from one tropic and the ascent to another. Then by her words, Traverse the width and depth of the world, seek out all the many kingdoms, is signify that there is no immediate progress from one contrary form to another, nor immediate regression to the first form, but that it is necessary to traverse, of not all, at least a very great number of the forms contained in the wheel of natural species. Then will they be enlightened by the sight of the object in which concur the three perfections, beauty, wisdom, and truth, revealed through the sprinkling of the waters, called in the sacred books the waters of wisdom and the rivers of eternal life. These waters are not found on the mainland of the globe, but separated entirely from the earth, in the bosom of the Ocean, of the Amphitrite, of the divinity, where that river rises which takes its source from the divine throne, whose flow is not at all like the ordinary flow of natural rivers. In that river are the nymphs, who are the blessed and divine intelligences which assist and administer to the first intelligence, similar to Diana among the nymphs of the wilderness. She alone among all the others has by her triple virtue the power to open every seal, untie every knot, uncover every secret and bring to light whatever is hidden. By her unique presence, by her double splendor of goodness and truth, benevolence and beauty, she pleases all wills and intellects, sprinkling them with the salutary waters of purgition. Then there follows a long chant and song by the nine intelligences, the nine muses, whose chorus is ordered according to the number of the nine spheres, so that the harmony of each one is continued by the harmony of the following one. And that there may be no vacuum interposed among them, the end of one song coincides with the beginning of the other, and the end of the last song concurs with the beginning of the first, as the circle is closed. For the most brilliant and the most obscure, the beginning and the end, the greatest light and the most profound darkness, infinite potency and infinite act coincide, as our method of argument has explained elsewhere.
Finally one observes the harmony and concert of all the spheres, intelligences and muses in a concert of instruments, so that the heaven, the movement of worlds, the works of nature, the discourse of intellects, the contemplation of the mind, the decree of divine Providence celebrate in complete accord that lofty and magnificent vicissitude which raises the inferior to the superior waters, changes night into day, and day into night, so that the divinity may be in all, according to the mode in which the infinite goodness is infinitely communicated according to the entire capacity of each thing.
These are the discourses, then, which it seems to me cannot be conveniently addressed and recommended to anyone than to you, excellent Sir. For I would not risk doing again what I think at times I have done inadvertently, and what many others ordinarily do who present a lyre to a deaf man and a mirror to a blind one. To you then these discourses are presented without fear, because here the Italian reasons with one who understands him. My verses are submitted to the censure and the protection of a poet. My philosophy stands naked before so pure an intellect as yours. Heroic things are addressed to the heroic and generous spirit with which you are endowed. My services are offered to one who knows how to accept them graciously, and my homage to a gentleman who has ever shown myself worthy of such. And in that which particularly concerns me, I know that through your good services you have guided me with a magnanimity far greater than any recognition you may have given to others who may have since come to you. Farewell.
Oh glorious and enchanting nymphs of England,
my spirit neither shuns nor disdains you, nor dishonors
you when it deprives you of the traditional name of women,
by neither counting you among them nor excluding you.
I am sure the name of goddesses are more meet for you,
because you are endowed with more than common life,
and are upon the earth what the stars are in heaven.
Oh, Ladies mine, your sovereign beauty my sincerity
can never harm, nor does it wish to do so, because it
cannot reach your superhuman kind,
but by bitter torment, it aspires to that place
where Diana is queen above all, who is among you
what the sun is amid the stars.
Labor and art humbly offer you by invention, my
words and the strokes of my pen such as they may be.
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