Guido Cavalcanti

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Francesco de Sanctis (essay date 1870-71)

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SOURCE: de Sanctis, Francesco. “The Tuscans.” In History of Italian Literature, Vol. 1, translated by Joan Redfern, pp. 53-61. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959.

[In the following excerpt, first published in Italian in 1870-71, de Sanctis offers an appreciation of Cavalcanti and describes how Dante advanced Cavalcanti's poetic descriptions of science.]

It is in the technique and outward forms of his works that Cino's artistic consciousness shows itself most clearly: his main preoccupation is to develop the musical elements of the language and of verse. Never before in any other poet had the language sounded so sweetly, fined down like lovely polished marble, with every harshness and inequality rubbed away. But an artist of more profound and serious qualities than Cino was Guido Cavalcanti. He too has a perfect technique—in fact, with Cavalcanti technique is a science. He was in love with his native language, gave up every other study in order to carve and fix it, and wrote a grammar and a work on the art of speaking. Villani says of him that “he took a delight in rhetorical studies, and for this reason brought the art of rhetoric with elegance and artifice into his composition of rhymes in the vulgar tongue,” from which it is clear what a great impression this new artifice, expounded as science and applied as art, must have made on the contemporaries of Guittone and Brunetto Latini. So Guido Cavalcanti became the head of the new school, the creator of the new style, eclipsing the fame of Guido Guinicelli:

Thus hath one Guido from the other snatch'd
The letter'd prize.(1)

But glory of language did not satisfy Guido. He looked upon language and poetry as mere accessories and ornaments to the substance, which was philosophy. And so he despised Virgil, because, says Boccaccio, “he considered philosophy of greater worth than poetry, as it truly is.” He was an extremely subtle dialectician, as we are told by Lorenzo de' Medici, and brought into his poetry all the finenesses of rhetoric and scholasticism. He aimed not only at saying things well, but also at saying things that were important in themselves. His canzone on Love was studied by his contemporaries in the spirit that one would bring to a philosophical treatise; they made comments on it as though it were Aristotle or St. Thomas; later, Ficino looked to find the doctrines of Plato in it. So Guido Cavalcanti was held to be supreme, not only as an artistic and elegant user of words, but also as a philosopher. This was the position he aimed at, and the one he attained. He was first among his contemporaries; they hailed him as both scientist and artist.

Yet Guido was less a scientific than a learned man. He served science by expounding it, not by leaving on it any trace of himself. And he was less an artist than an artisan. He had perfect understanding and command of the mechanical and technical sides of art, which is no small boast, but he only touched the surface of art. His glory is in those works in which he sought a relief and an outlet for his soul. It was then that without wishing it or knowing it he revealed himself as an artist and a poet. There are men whom their contemporaries and they themselves are incapable of appreciating. Cavalcanti was one of these: he was greater than he himself and his contemporaries knew.

Guido Cavalcanti was the first Italian poet worthy of the name, because he was one of the first to have the feeling and...

(This entire section contains 2921 words.)

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love of reality. The empty generalities of the troubadours, changed next into a rhetorical and scientific content, in the hands of Guido became living things when he wrote for his own delight and outlet. He then depicted the impressions and inner feelings of the soul. Poetry, which till then had meant thought and description, now began to narrate and represent, and not in the simple and crude manner of the ancient poets, but with that grace and finish which has made possible the language that Guido mastered so perfectly. Here, for instance, are two girls, excellently characterized, who snatch from his mouth his secret of love; there we get a youthful shepherdess whom he meets in the wood, and from that he sketches a scene of love taken from real life.

The subjects of these poems are the same as those of the troubadours, but with Guido they are reality; not merely ornamented and made pretty from the outside, but given in their substance, become character, images, feelings, that is to say, become life and action. We seem to be in the very soul of the poet; now he is joyous and serene, expressing himself with ineffable grace, as in the ballad of the two country girls; now penetrated with melancholy that melts sweetly into pleasant dreams of the imagination and tenderness of feeling, as in the ballad written as an exile at Sarzana, his swan-song, his foreshadowing of death. Here the scientist disappears, the rhetorician is forgotten. All is born from within, natural, sober, simple, with perfect proportion between the feeling and the expression. The poet is not thinking of pleasing, of being effective, of imposing on people with the subtlety of his doctrine and rhetoric. His material is himself—his feelings when in certain states of mind—and he writes with no other pretension than that of unburdening himself, and expanding. It was he who pointed out the way on which Dante was to go so far. Posterity might justly apply to him what Dante said of himself:

                                                                      Count of me but as one
Who am the scribe of Love; that, when he breathes,
Take up my pen, and, as he dictates, write:(2)

words which would not apply to the notary Lentino, nor to Guittone. These two remained outside of the dolce stil nuovo, the “sweet new style,” because they exaggerated their feelings and went beyond Nature, in order to satisfy, to please, their readers:

                                                            He that seeks a grace beyond,
Sees not the distance parts one style from other.(3)

Of this dolce stil nuovo the forerunner was Guinicelli, the workman was Cino, the poet was Cavalcanti. The new school was nothing other than a clearer consciousness of art. Philosophy by itself was no longer thought enough; form was demanded. Guittone d'Arezzo had ceased to be appreciated, although, as Lorenzo de' Medici says of him, he had a “very ornate philosophy, and was grave and sententious.” But he lacked style. His writing was “rather rugged and severe, and not illuminated by any sweet light.” And Benvenuto da Imola calls his words “rugged,” and commends him for his grave maxims, but not for his style. In Florence a new sense was being born, the sense of form.

In spite of so much ferocious political warfare, literature was flowering in the whole of Tuscany, and under the most varied aspects. Dante da Maiano, with his Sicilian Nina, was an echo of the troubadours; Guittone, Brunetto, Orbiciani da Lucca, were learned but rough poets, as also were the two Bolognese, Onesto and Semprebene. But already we feel the cult of form, the love of a fine style, in several poets. Dino Frescobaldi, Rustico di Filippo, Guido Novello, Lapo Gianni, Cecco d'Ascoli, make up the group from which the figure of Guido Cavalcanti emerges.

But very soon the name of Guido Cavalcanti was to be linked with that of Dante Alighieri, in a friendship that was to last unbroken till death. Dante's “new rhymes” appeared, making an impression so great that at once he rose to the side of Cavalcanti. He seemed to have achieved the ultimate ambition of all the poets of that time, that of expressing the profundities of science in a beautiful form. And so his canzone beginning. “Donne, che avete intelletto d'amore”—“Ladies that have intelligence in love”—was immensely popular, and still more the one beginning, “V oi, che intendendo il terzo ciel movete”—“You that with wisdom do the third Heaven move.”

Dante had these same opinions. The learned disciple of Bologna aimed at expounding science by poetizing, using means that were clear and open to the common intelligence. In the canzone where he exhorts women to despise the man who “from himself hath virtue far removed,” he says:

Ma perroché 'l mio dire util vi sia,
discenderò del tutto
in parte ed in costrutto
piú lieve, perché men grave s' intenda;
ché rado sotto benda
parola oscura giugne allo 'ntelletto;
per che parlar con voi si vuole aperto.

But that my speech may be useful to you, I will descend from the whole to the detail, and make my sentences more easy and the meaning more clear; for rarely under a veil do dark words reach the understanding; therefore my speech with you must be open.

And when he is forced to hide his ideas under a veil, he adds a comment in prose to explain his doctrine, for instance, the comment he makes on the canzone, “You that with wisdom do the third Heaven move.” Thinking that without the comment the canzone, taken by itself, is outside the common intelligence, he finishes:

Canzone, i' credo che saranno radi
color che tua ragione intendan bene,
tanto lor parli faticosa e forte;
onde, se per ventura egli addiviene
che tu dinanzi da persone vadi
che non ti paian d' essa bene accorte,
allor ti priego che ti riconforte,
dicendo lor, diletta mia novella:
—Ponete mente almen com'io son bella.

My song, I believe they will be but rare who will understand thy meaning rightly, so difficult and knotty is thy speech.

If, peradventure, thou take thy way into the presence of persons who seem not rightly to fathom it, then I pray thee, take heart again, O my last-born and well-beloved, and say to them, “At least take heed how beautiful I am.”

So Dante intended to proclaim the truths of science, now in the direct form of reasoning, now under the veil of allegory, but always in such a manner that even if the meaning of his verses was not understood by the majority of readers, his poetry would still have the innate value of being lovely and giving delight. Such was the theory of the new school in its highest development, an artistic conscientiousness grown more clear and more evolved. So great was his deference to scientific truth that he asked himself how love, not being substance but an accident, could be made to laugh and speak as though it were a person. And he adduces for his defence that rhymers who make verses in the vulgar tongue have the same privileges as have poets—a name that he assigns to the Latins. Many of the ancient poets, such as Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Horace, gave movement and speech to inanimate things; this he calls “rhyming under the clothing of figuration or of rhetorical colour,” and he dismisses as foolish those who at pleasure could not “denude their words of that clothing.” It is clear, then, that Dante and Cavalcanti, whom here he calls his “first friend,” have contempt both for those stupid rhymers who make use of rhetoric that was empty and void of meaning,4 and for those who have a content of naked science without rhetoric. In this fragment is the whole of the new school of poetry, which remained the last word of Italian criticism for many centuries: that which Tasso called “seasoning the truth with soft verses.”

As a result of these theories, with this habit of mind, many of the canzoni and sonnets were reasoning illumined by rhetoric, by coloured concepts. Of this type is his canzone on gentility or nobility: “Le dolci rime d'amor ch' i' solía …”—“The pleasant rhymes of love that I was wont …”—and the other: “Amor, tu vedi ben che questa donna …”—“O Love, thou well perceiv'st that this lady …” In the latter, under the rhetorical form of a loved woman, he describes the effects that the study of philosophy produces on his soul. The phenomena of love and Nature are less represented than explained scientifically, as is winter in the canzone: “Io sono venuto al punta della rota”—“The circle's point I have attained,” and love, in the canzone: “Amor, che muovi tua virtú dal cielo”—“O Love, who sendest down thy darts from Heaven,” and beauty, in the canzone: “Amor che nella mente mi ragiona”—“Love with delight discourses in my mind.”

The best known and most popular of Dante's allegorical and scientific canzoni is that of the three women, Uprightness, Bounty, and Temperance, germane to Love, who have been chased from the world and go about begging:

          Ciascuna par dolente e sbigottita,
come persona discacciata e stanca,
cui tutta gente manca
e cui virtute e nobiltá non vale.
Tempo fu giá nel quale,
secondo il lor parlar, furon dilette;
or sono a tutti in ira ed in non cale.

Each seems mournful and dismayed, like one who is weary and deserted by all, and for whom virtue and beauty avail nought. In days of old, according to their speech, they were beloved: now they are hated and shunned by all.

Here the poet does not reason, but relates and depicts. The scientific concept is conquered by the vivacity of the picture and the loftiness of the feeling. The rhetorical colour is not merely colour but is also substance.

These scientific canzoni of Dante show a degree of force and vivacity very different from those of the two Guidos. He was his own commentator; in his Vita Nuova and the Convivio he had explained the conception of his poems, the occasions that inspired them, and their forms. And in regard to technique and use of language, versifying and rhyme, he shows in his book De vulgari eloquentia that he was familiar with all the most secret artifices. These poems were accepted by his contemporaries as being perfect examples of their school: the maximum of doctrine under the most charming dress of rhetoric.

Dante's world of poetry was the same material that had been developing, but now it had greater variety and a clearer consciousness. Its god was Love—first in the wonderments, the torments, the imaginings of youth, later in mysticism and philosophic enthusiasm. Love can only work in gentle hearts, therefore lovers are called fine and courteous. Gentleness is not born from nobility or wealth, but from virtue. And yet the Virtues are sisters of Love and keep his arrow bright until they are honoured on earth. But virtue belongs to few, and so love is therefore “di pochi vivanda”—“the food of the few.” The object of love is beauty; not external, naked beauty, but the sweet fruit conceded only to those who are friends of virtue. Beauty can be perceived only by those who understand it: love was called “understanding” by the ancients, and Dante does not speak of “feeling love,” but of “having intelligence of love.” To satisfy love it is enough to see, to contemplate. Seeing is love; love is understanding.

          E chi la vede e non se n' innamora,
d' amor non averá mai intelletto.

He that can see it and not burn with love shall never have intelligence of love.

The celestial intelligences move the stars with wisdom: “You that with wisdom do the third Heaven move.” God moves the universe by thinking: “Costei pensò chi mosse l' universo”—“Of her He thought who launched the universe.”

Man's love is the “new intelligence, which draws him upward,” bringing him near to the primal intelligence. Woman is the exemplar of beauty, the “noble intellect”:

                                        … O nobile intelletto
oggi fu l' anno che nel ciel partisti.

O noble intellect! It is just a year today that thou art gone.

So woman is the face of knowledge, the lovely face of science, which enamours man and awakens the new intelligence in his heart and makes him understand. Woman, then, is science itself, and philosophy is her lovely garment: and this is beauty, the sweet fruit granted to few. Understanding is love, and love is to act according to understanding; for this reason philosophy is “the loving use of wisdom,” science become action through the medium of love. Virtue is nothing more than wisdom, the living in accordance with the dictates of science. Therefore the lover is called wise; and the woman is wise before being beautiful:

Beltate appare in saggia donna pui
che piace agli occhi.

Beauty seen in a virtuous woman will please the eyes.

With this philosophic mysticism is joined a religious mysticism, according to which the body is the veil of the spirit, and beauty is the light of truth, the face of God, supreme intelligence, contemplation of the angels and the saints. God, the angels, Paradise, all play their part. Theology and philosophy clasp hands.

In the works of Dante this content issued forth for the first time in its integrity and with perfect consciousness. It summarized the idealism of that day and took its natural form, which was allegory. If we add the work of the imagination, which gives to the figures so great a vivacity of colouring, we have the highest degree of perfection that could be hoped for in that era.


  1. Purgatorio, XI, 97-98.

  2. Purgatorio, XXIV, 52-54.

  3. Ibid., 61-62.

  4. He says: “This, my first friend and I know well about those who rhyme so stupidly.”

  5. From the sonnet, “Era venuta nella mente mia.”—Translator.


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Guido Cavalcanti c. 1250-1300

Italian poet.

Named by Dante Alighieri his primo amico (“first friend”), Cavalcanti is one of the most celebrated of Italian poets and considered the finest before Dante himself. He is generally credited with being the creator of what is known as the dolce stil nuovo (“the sweet new style”) and was the leader of the group of poets who practiced it. The dolce stil nuovo school was notable for recognizing and expressing intellectually the value of Amore (“Love”) and for the idealization of woman in their works. In his poetry Cavalcanti discussed his conception of love scientifically, with few if any religious implications. He explained that perfect love results when a man finds his idealized image of woman matched by a real woman, and the two are united in sexual union; his ideas, based on the philosophy of Arabic medieval scholar Averroes, are best presented in his most famous canzone, “Donna mi prega” (“A Lady Asks Me”). Cavalcanti was initially Dante's greatest influence and Dante dedicated his Vita Nuova to him.

Biographical Information

Cavalcanti was born in Florence to Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, a member of an important Guelph family belonging to the White political faction. In 1267 he was engaged to Beatrice degli Uberti, daughter of a powerful Ghibelline party member, in order to help stabilize the warring sides. In 1280 he represented the Guelphs as their guarantor of peace. Although Cavalcanti and Dante were the closest of friends and exchanged sonnets, their friendship eventually soured, possibly over disagreement about the place of religion in love poetry, and perhaps over ethical, literary, and political matters. By the late 1290s disputes between the White and Black political factions resulted in assaults and attempts at murder. Cavalcanti and other leading Guelph members were exiled from Florence in June of 1300; Dante himself, fulfilling his duty as prior, was among those who signed the official order of banishment. Although Cavalcanti's exile was soon revoked, he had already contracted malaria while in Sarzana, and died from the fever in August of that same year, shortly after returning home.

Major Works

Although Cavalcanti undoubtedly composed many more, only fifty-two of his poems are extant; they consist mostly of sonnets, with some ballads and canzoni. Much of his poetry is addressed to one of two women—Giovanna or Mandetta. Of the two, Giovanna receives more attention, but her identity has never been definitively determined and some scholars now believe that she may be a poetic composite of several women, real or imagined. The two most famous English translations of Cavalcanti were published by Dante Gabriel Rosetti in 1861 and Ezra Pound in 1912; Pound revised his translations of Cavalcanti's poems many times and over the course of several decades. He also included Rosetti's work in his own editions, as the two translators made considerably different choices: Rosetti's work is acclaimed for its beauty and melody, and Pound's for its brilliant expression of Cavalcanti's individuality.

Critical Reception

Cavalcanti was greatly respected and celebrated in his own lifetime and his love poems, particularly “Donna mi prega,” were the focus of intense study and interpretation. His literary status in modern times has remained high. Pound, one of his most notable adherents, declared himself Cavalcanti's apprentice and called him “master of us all.” Pound further claimed of Cavalcanti that “no psychologist of the emotions is more keen in his understanding, more precise in his expression; we have in him no rhetoric, but always a true delineation.” J. E. Shaw examines the Canzone d'Amore and explains that the love Cavalcanti describes is “sensitive and not rational, … but it is both intellectual and sensual,” and belongs to “the whole soul-and-body.” Shaw also explores what the term dolce stil nuovo represents and discusses whether or not it has been overused or misused. Scholars have paid considerable attention to Cavalcanti by way of Dante studies. Francesco de Sanctis explored Cavalcanti's influence on Dante, while Maria Luisa Ardizzone examines the relationship between the two great poets and evaluates the numerous potential causes for the disintegration of their friendship.

J. E. Shaw (essay date 1949)

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SOURCE: Shaw, J. E. “Commentary” and “The Dolce Stil Nuovo.” In Guido Cavalcanti's Theory of Love: “The Canzone d'Amore” and Other Related Problems, pp. 9-50 and 128-45. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1949.

[In the following essays, Shaw explicates the first two stanzas of the Canzone d'Amore and explains why it is appropriate that Cavalcanti is studied as a poet of the dolce stil nuovo.]


The tradition that this canzone [The Canzone d'Amore] was written in answer to the questions in the sonnet of Guido Orlandi, Onde si muove, is based on the heading given to the sonnet in the Riccardian MS 2846 by Piero di Simone del Nero in 1581, as follows: “Guido Orlandi in nome d'una donna a Guido Cavalc. et la soprascritta Canzone è la risposta, la canzone che dice è Donna mi priega perchè etc. Onde si muove et donde nasce amore. Son.”1 Piero del Nero, according to his own statement, copied his manuscript from one that was in the handwriting of Monsignor Vincenzo Borghini, and contained the canzone Donna me prega. The first sentence of the heading, ending with “la risposta”, is presumably Borghini's, and the second, beginning “la canzone che dice”, Del Nero's, for the latter does not transcribe the canzone, omitting it and other poems already printed in the Giunti edition of 1527.

Orlandi's sonnet is no doubt addressed to Cavalcanti (“io ne domando voi Guido di lui”) and no other poem than the canzone is extant that might be an answer to it. Also the canzone covers all of Orlandi's questions, although not in the same order and without any definite mention of some of them or of Orlandi himself. On the other hand, it may be suspected that the words of Borghini's heading, “in nome d'una donna”, were suggested by the first words of Cavalcanti's poem, “Donna me prega, per ch'io voglio dire” etc. It would not be unreasonable to conjecture that this first verse reflects the superciliousness that is evident in at least two of Cavalcanti's sonnets to Orlandi, Di vil matera and Una figura, in which case it may mean: “I am willing to write this treatise on Love, which answers Orlandi's questions, because a lady asks me to do so, and for no other reason.” The views of Luigi Valli, according to whom Donna is the code word designating a member of the “Fedeli d'Amore”, so that here it would mean Orlandi, and of Angelo Lipari, who, if I understand him correctly, would say that it means Cavalcanti's muse or his ideal of poetical perfection, do not seem to me sufficiently well founded.2

A preliminary requisite for the interpretation of the poem, without which the obscure details cannot be explained coherently, is to decide and keep in mind the kind of love the poet is defining and describing. He says in the first stanza (I. 4) that his purpose is to convince those who deny the existence of this love: “sì chi lo nega possa 'l ver sentire.” It is not, therefore, a universally recognized kind of love. It is not, on the one hand, carnal love, nor, on the other, conscious love of the Supreme Good, or love of the good in general. Nor is it any of the specific kinds established by the authority of philosophers, and not denied by anyone. The first stanza, with its list of the questions to be treated, leaves us in no doubt as to the kind. For these questions are all such as are put and answered in the verse of the Provençal and Italian poets whose subject is a refined sexual love ignored by philosophers and doubted by some even of the poets themselves.3 They are the questions asked in the sonnet of Orlandi, who is certainly concerned with no other kind of love than that with which all the poets are concerned, and the last line of this canzone

che solo di costui nasce mercede

shows clearly by the use of the conventional word “mercede”, used by all the lyric poets for the reward of love-service, that Cavalcanti's Love is the love that they too have in mind.

This, then, is the kind, the fin' amors of the Provençals, the fino amore of the Italians, and the chief purpose of the poem is to provide for it a scientific basis, a place in philosophy, but as Cavalcanti describes it, it becomes evident that his own understanding of this love is not identical with that of any other poet. His view of fine sexual love is without any of the artificial and furtive connotations that belong to what is called “courtly love”, and in more than one place appears consciously opposed to that of the majority of the poets. In these places our poet makes it plain that he considers the others to be ignorant of the love they praise in their verses; he is saying to them, as St. Paul said to the Athenians: “What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you.”

Cavalcanti's Love is sensitive and not rational, as we are told in the third stanza (1-3), but it is both intellectual and sensual: not that it is a union of two separate kinds of love, but because the sensitive soul of the lover has both inner and outer faculties, and the inner faculties are intellectual in that they are pervaded by the intellect. It has a first and a second perfection, and the second perfection is its complete actuality. To use a familiar Peripatetic illustration: the sword that has been fashioned by a smith is a weapon with a sharp point, it is an actual sword; but that is only its first perfection, which is a potentiality in its relation to the second perfection. The second perfection is when the sword is used in battle, when its sharp point is actually piercing, and this second perfection is its complete actuality.4 So this love is actualized in its first perfection as an intellectual cherishing of an image of ideal feminine beauty created by the fantasy and lodged in the memory; its second perfection is when it moves with the appetites of sense to the conquest of a living woman who has been recognized as similar to the ideal image in the memory. It is, then, a passion of sense which has nevertheless not ceased to be intellectual, and this is its complete actuality.

This double nature of Love is described in the body of the poem: in the first stanza, which is introductory, there is only what may be an indication of it. The poet is to speak

d'un accidente che sovente è fero,
ed è sì altero, ch'è chiamato amore:

—“of an accident5 which is often fierce, and is so haughty,6 which is called ‘amore’.” As a physical passion it is a distressing affliction, but as a mental phenomenon it is serenely imperious.

The first stanza enumerates the questions that are to be answered in the body of the poem. They are in pairs, and each pair is treated in one of the following stanzas: where Love dwells and who brings about its creation; what are its faculty and its power; what its essence and its movements; whence comes the pleasure that makes it appropriate to call it amare, and whether it is visible.7 Each of these following stanzas, however, has a unity of its own, the two questions it answers being parts of the subject of that stanza. The second stanza describes the origins of this love, defines it, and describes its first perfection as a passionless contemplation of an image of ideal beauty. The third stanza gives this love its ethical position in the Scholastic system, defining it as a kind of desire for the good. The fourth defines its second perfection when it becomes a passion, and describes its effects. The fifth explains the passage from the first perfection to the second, and shows the result as a whole possessing both perfections. Then comes the Commiato.

The whole poem is couched in scientific language, and all that is said is in agreement with the psychological science of the time. It would be useful to know what were Cavalcanti's sources, besides the poetical tradition of the Provençal and Italian poets. There is a marked Neo-Platonic element in the poem, but other elements are definitely Scholastic, and a large part of the psychological information might have been taken from any of the commentators of Aristotle. It is not to be presumed that the poet had only one source: it is more likely that he was acquainted with the works of several philosophers. It happens, however, that there is only one from whom all of the science might have been taken, and that one is Albert the Great, the “Doctor Universalis” who borrows largely from the most widely divergent philosophies, and undertakes reconciliations which at first sight seem impossible. There are ideas and expressions in the poem that remind one of St. Albert,8 and it is not surprising that Salvadori was of the opinion that he is Cavalcanti's chief authority. This opinion ought not to cause us to disregard other possible sources, but wherever the meaning of our text can be elucidated by utterances of St. Albert I have preferred to look to him first for light, even though the same or similar views can be found in other philosophers, Scholastic or Neo-Platonic. The fact that Aldobrandino de' Cavalcanti, Bishop of Orvieto, prior of the Dominican convent of Sta. Maria Novella and founder of the church, head of the Dominican order, and the most conspicuous personality in the Cavalcanti family, was a kinsman of our Guido is an assurance that the works of St. Albert would not be overlooked by the young student of philosophy; nor would those of St. Thomas Aquinas, although his reputation was not as great in Guido's time as it became later.9 In fact, since the treatise of St. Thomas “De Passionibus Animae” in the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologica is the most complete account of the passions that was available to Guido, it is reasonable to think that he may have used it.

Besides the two great Dominicans, the reputation of the commentaries of Averroes was so great at the time that he too should be considered as a possibly direct source, although there is nothing either in this poem or in any other of Cavalcanti's that is peculiarly Averroistic. Of Plato our poet probably knew no more than Dante. Neither of them knew the Symposium—if they had, it would have transformed their theories of love—but Dante knew the Timaeus either in the translation of Chalcidius or from Cicero's Timaeus. He probably knew none of the other dialogues or he would have mentioned them, since he had a high regard for Plato whom he mentions often.10 Of Neo-Platonic works Dante knew the De Coelesti Hierarchia and the De Divinis Nominibus of the Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Liber de Causis attributed to Aristotle, but he seems not to have known any of the Alexandrian Neo-Platonists directly. His citations from Arabic Neo-Platonists, Avicenna, Alfarabi, Algazel, seem to be taken at second hand. In the works of St. Albert both Dante and Cavalcanti would find frequent citations of all three, particularly of Avicenna.

The poem is not written for the uneducated. In the first stanza the author says that he does not expect to be understood by anyone but a “conoscente”, that is a person who is acquainted with mediaeval science, because he intends to prove all his conclusions by “natural dimostramento”, by the use of natural science.11

Ed a presente conoscente chero,
perch'io no spero ch'om di basso core(12)
a tal ragione(13) porti canoscenza;
ché, senza natural dimostramento
non ho talento di voler provare. …

Accordingly, we must not mistake any of his statements for loose expressions or fanciful metaphors. I mean, for example, that where he says that “veduta forma”, form perceived by sight, takes its place in the “possibile intelletto”, he does not mean that it takes its place in the mind in general, but in the Possible Intellect defined by philosophers, and when he speaks of a “scuritate la qual da Marte vene”, he does not mean a poetical darkness such as might represent metaphorically the turbulence of passion, but a real darkness in a philosophical sense.14 The poem is intended to be a scientific treatise, and, considering the seriousness of the author, the sentences that are not clear on the surface can be explained convincingly only if they can be shown to be expressing a scientific meaning accurately: if they cannot be so explained all conviction vanishes.


In quella parte dove sta memora
prende suo stato,. …

Love has its dwelling (“là dove posa”), its headquarters—no matter where else it may manifest itself—in that part of the soul where memory is. We have to decide whether the intellectual or the sensitive memory is intended. Most of the commentators have decided for the sensitive memory, and I think they are right, for if by “memora” were meant the exclusively intellectual memory, the part where it is would have to be the “anima rationalis” as distinguished from the “anima sensitiva”, and in that case we should be unable to explain how it can be said, at the beginning of the next stanza, that Love is derived from a faculty which is “non razionale, ma che sente”. The intellectual memory, indeed, as distinguished from the sensitive memory, is a faculty attributed properly to departed spirits who have no sensitive memory, and whether attributed to them or to living human beings it is only the intellect itself considered as retentive.15 St. Albert's view, in De Anima, De Memoria, and De Homine, is that the memory is sensitive per se, and intellectual only per accidens.16

Whereas the intellectual memory is an obscure concept, no more distinguishable from the intellect itself than it is in Plato, the sensitive memory is well recognized by all mediaeval philosophers, clearly defined and described as a faculty of sense which has a physical organ in the back of the brain. When, therefore, Cavalcanti identifies a part of the soul as “that part where memory is”, he must mean by “memory” the sensitive memory. The sensitive memory, however, is also intellectual per accidens, inasmuch as it preserves representations of the abstract ideas received by the intellect. These representations are not themselves abstract concepts (intelligibilia) but individual phantasmata created by the Fantasy co-operating with the Speculative Intellect.

Love is not said to be in the memory but in that part where memory is. What part is that? The question is answered by St. Albert in the chapter of his De Memoria entitled “Cuius partis animae sit memoria”, which presupposes and refers to what has already been said about memory in the De Anima, and is in agreement with what is said in the De Homine. In this chapter he says that memory belongs to that part of the sensitive soul that, on the one hand, comprehends magnitude, figure, and time, and, on the other hand, preserves phantasmata. It depends, on the one hand, on the Common Sense, from which it receives impressions of common sensibles and unified impressions derived from the perceptions of the external senses, and, on the other, on the Fantasy, which constructs phantasmata representing those unified impressions and common sensibles, and out of these phantasmata also constructs others to represent the universals possessed by the Possible Intellect. The Memory receives impressions of all these phantasmata, which are “memorabilia per se”, whereas the universals (intelligibilia) possessed by the Intellect can only be remembered by means of the individual phantasmata that represent them, so that they are only “memorabilia per accidens”.17 The “part where memory is” can therefore be defined as that part which possesses sensibilia communia such as magnitude and time, and phantasmata: this is the domain of the internal senses, one of which is Memory. It is there that Love takes up its permanent abode, its “stato”.

The internal senses, according to St. Albert in the De Homine (Q. XXXV), are “imaginatio, phantasia, aestimatio, memoria et reminiscentia.”18 They are a group of faculties distinguished from the external senses by the fact that they operate without the presence of an external object. Their objects are images and notions derived from the external senses: images preserved in the Imaginatio, with qualitative impressions attached to them by the Aestimativa, and whole compositions, both true and fictitious, created by the Phantasia from these images and impressions, all of which phantasmata are treasured in the Memoria and recalled for the use of either Phantasia or Intellectus by the Reminiscentia.

For these internal senses, in the human soul, co-operate closely with the Intellect, which, as Agent Intellect, abstracts from the phantasmata contained by them the universal ideas that are received by the Possible Intellect, and then, as Speculative Intellect, turns again to the phantasmata, recognizing them as particular representations of the general concepts, and enabling the Fantasy to construct from them more adequate representations of the universal ideas. These latter phantasmata are also received and preserved in the Memory.

The internal senses, therefore, although they have physical organs in the brain, are as intellectual as faculties of sense can be, and they co-operate so closely with one another that they constitute an essential unity which may reasonably be called the Sensitive Intellect.19 Since Cavalcanti's Love is a quality of sense which is also intellectual and takes up its abode in “quella parte dove sta memora”, it is reasonable to suppose that by “quella parte” is meant not the Sensitive Soul in general (including the external senses), as some of the commentators have said, but the restricted sphere of the internal senses, that part of the sensitive soul “accipientis quantitatem et tempus, cuius est etiam phantasma”, as St. Albert says.20

The editions of the poem reproduce the first verses of the second stanza with a comma or no stop at all after lome, and with a full stop after demora, as follows:

In quella parte dove sta memora
prende suo stato, sì formato come
diafan da lome, d'una scuritate
la qual da Marte vene e fa demora.
Elli è creato ed ha sensato nome. …

The period after demora makes it necessary to consider “Elli è creato ecc.” as a new sentence which, if it is to make sense, has to be understood as an assertion that Love is a creature, not a god.21 The fact that poets had often debated whether love were a god or not makes such an understanding quite reasonable. But the question is not one of those propounded in the first stanza, nor is it among those mentioned in the sonnet of Guido Orlandi, to which this canzone is generally thought to be an answer. More important still: the first stanza, with its question “chi lo fa creare” and its epithet “accidente”, takes for granted that Love is a creature. For these reasons it seems to me better to understand “elli è creato” as belonging to the previous sentence which I would begin with a capital letter, reading: “D'una scuritate / la qual da Marte vene e fa demora / elli è creato”, with a period after lome, and a comma after diafan, as follows:

In quella parte dove sta memora
prende suo stato, sì formato come
diafan, da lome. D'una scuritate
la qual da Marte vene e fa demora
elli è creato, ed ha sensato nome,

to be translated:

“In that part where memory is it takes up its abode, formed, like the diaphanous, by light. From an obscurity that comes from Mars and stays, it is created, and has. …”22

Love in the Sensitive Intellect (the part where memory is) is formed by light, like the diaphanous. The diaphanous is the medium of visibility: it receives its actual form from light, without which a diaphanous body is dark and only potentially diaphanous.23 The light that informs the diaphanous, here used for illustration, is physical light, but the “lome” that brings Love into being is evidently not physical, since the love it produces is not physical but mental; if it is not physical light it must be either another kind of light, which is not physical although real, or else it is a poetical metaphor for something that is not “lome” at all—beauty, for example, or an image of beauty, as some of the commentators have said. This latter alternative seems to me incompatible with the scientific character of the poem, and I cannot believe, after the serious warning in the first stanza, that we are here being offered a figure of speech instead of a scientific statement.24 Fortunately, many philosophical works which were accessible to our author have a great deal to say about a kind of light that is real light although not physical.

This “lome”—left standing in the verse, without any qualification whatever (if I am right as to the construction of the sentence), like a challenge to the “conoscente”—is, I think, the metaphysical Intellectual Light that is properly called Neo-Platonic because it has so large a part in the doctrine of the Neo-Platonists from Plotinus on, although it also existed in early Greek and oriental religious thought, and in the writings of Philo Judaeus. Like other Neo-Platonic ideas it was adopted by St. Augustine and by later Christian theologians who believed in the authenticity of the works attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, in which this light occurs continually, and by Arabian and Scholastic commentators of Aristotle. It occurs also in the Theologia Aristotelis and in the well-known Liber de Causis, both of which were attributed to Aristotle.25

St. Albert makes abundant use of this metaphysical theory of light, chiefly in his De Causis et Processu Universitatis and his De Intellectu et Intelligibili, but also in other works.26

This light is the light of the First Cause, the “Intellectus universaliter agens” which itself is pure light. It creates everything and illuminates everything in the universe.27 As creator it produces all the orders of being, from “Intelligentia”, the Intellectual Principle, to the angelic Intelligences, the motors of the spheres, to material forms on earth. It is the power that creates eternal things directly and temporal things indirectly, for it constitutes the natural influence of the moving heavens. As illuminator it is the source of all intellectual activity, from that of the Intelligences to that of the human intellect.28 It is by virtue of this light that the intellectual senses, in the place where Love is said to reside, are able to operate; it is desirable and moves all its creatures, including the human soul, by its desirability;29 it confers beauty on all its creatures, and makes that beauty desirable.30

Those of the Italian poets that were imbued with philosophy (Dante and Guinizelli for example) were well acquainted with this light: it was of it that the latter was thinking when he wrote:

Splende in la intelligenza de lo cielo
Deo creator, più ch'a nostri occhi il sole.(31)

For the Christian philosopher this Intellectual Light is the power, the wisdom, and the love of God, one in three, so that St. Thomas Aquinas speaking, in Dante's Paradiso, of the perfect wisdom of Christ whose human nature was the perfect product of the “caldo amor”, and the “chiara vista” of “la prima virtù”,32 says:

… chè quella viva luce che si mea
dal suo lucente, che non si disuna
da lui nè da l'amor ch'a lor s'intrea,
per sua bontate il suo raggiare aduna,
quasi specchiato, in nove sussistenze,
eternalmente rimanendosi una.
Quindi discende a l'ultime potenze
giù d'atto in atto, tanto divenendo,
che più non fa che brevi contingenze;
e queste contingenze esser intendo
le cose generate, che produce
con seme e sanza seme il ciel movendo.(33)

The creative Light descending from the First Cause produces each of the orders of being “in the shadow” of the order immediately above it, that is, the light becomes less and less brilliant as it descends from order to order. In the material world, far removed from its source, it is only a dim reflection of the light that emanates directly from that source. Of the celestial spheres the infinite Empyrean is all pure light,34 whereas the lowest, the sphere of the moon, is the least bright. In immaterial substances, the angelic Intelligences and the human soul, the light is only slightly dimmed, with, however, the analogous variation in degree of brightness, but the sensitive soul is darker than the intellectual, and the vegetative darker than the sensitive.35 The immortal intellectual human soul is as if immersed in a cloud, the relative darkness of the physical part of the composite soul-and-body, which is generated and complected by the movement of the heavenly spheres.36

It is common Scholastic doctrine that whereas the direct creation, producing immortal things, is the direct act of God, the indirect creation, producing temporal things—in a word the work of nature—is due to the influence of the spheres, which are moved by heavenly motors. The creative and illuminating Light of the First Cause according to St. Albert, however, is the active principle that produces all things both in the direct and in the indirect creation.37 The Intelligences, that is the heavenly motors, are not creators: they are merely instruments used by the creative power as tools are used by the craftsman.38 The Light contains all forms and all virtues in its own simple essence: the Intelligences transmit the Light with its formative virtue from sphere to sphere, multiplying its simplicity by determining it to smaller and smaller effects. By moving the spheres they also produce generation on earth, determining the light they receive to substantial and accidental forms in matter: mingling the elements and the primary qualities, and thus producing differently complected bodies, according to the differences and combinations of the particular qualities that belong to each sphere.39

The forms and the virtues of all created things are derived from the creative Light; the function of the Intelligences and the spheres they move is to restrict the Light; that which they contribute of their own, independently of the Light, is nothing but coarctatio, determinatio, obumbratio, privatio: the influences of the spheres are all, in this sense, obscurities.40

Characteristic in St. Albert is the juxtaposition of the three ideas: that both creation and illumination are the work of the Intellectual Light; that substantial and accidental forms in nature are produced by the revolutions of the spheres; that the influence of the motors of the spheres consists in restricting and determining the Light. He has two favourite illustrations of this process: the way by which a craftsman produces a work of art, and the way by which sunlight produces colours. It is the idea in the mind of the craftsman that produces the work of art, and that idea is the same for the hand and for the instrument that he uses, but the hand and the tools do not contribute anything to the idea, in fact they limit it to the particular object that they can produce.41 It is the light in the diaphanous that produces colours, and although the secondary colours are formed by the mixture of primary colours, all their being comes from the light, and their differences are determined by the privation of light and colour rather than by anything positive in the primary colours.42

The poet is comparing the human soul, which is a potentially loving compound of soul and body, to a diaphanous body. The diaphanousness or transparency (“diafan”) of this body is actualized by the light, without which the diaphanousness is only potential, the body being immersed in darkness, the privation of the light. So the love of the human soul-and-body is actualized by the Intellectual Light, without which its love is only potential, the soul being immersed in the darkness which is the privation of the Intellectual Light. It must be remembered, however, that privation is not a mere negative, the absence of something. It has a positive side in that it is a potentiality: unless light were possible, obscurity would be impossible.43 Just as—to use St. Albert's illustration—privation of sunlight contributes to producing colours in the diaphanous so privation of the Intellectual Light contributes to producing love.

The Light that emanates from the First Cause creates the immortal intellectual soul directly and illuminates it directly; it creates the body indirectly by means of the influences of the spheres, and in the process of producing that body and endowing it with qualities and inclinations it becomes so darkened that it is obscurity compared with the directly creative and illuminating Light. Love in the senses of the soul-and-body is at first only a natural, indeterminate craving for the good. In the internal senses it is a craving of an intellectual kind, as intellectual as a disposition of sense can be; in the external senses it is a sensual disposition, potential sensual appetite.44

This obscure indeterminate craving, whether in the internal or external senses, is love in mere potentiality. In order to become actual it has to be presented with an object, and this happens first in the internal senses (“quella parte dove sta memora”) where the Intellectual Light, illuminating the mind directly, presents it with a beautiful representation of a concept abstracted from sense-perceptions, as is described a few verses farther on (verses 7-14, beginning “Ven da veduta forma”). In this way Love is formed by the Intellectual Light as the diaphanous is formed by physical light, emerging, like the diaphanous, from the obscurity of its potentiality. This is the first perfection of Love, to be completed later by its second perfection, the full actuality described in the following verses (3-6) beginning:

                                                                      D'una scuritate
la qual da Marte vene e fa demora
elli è creato, …

As in the case of the mind and the internal senses, so the indeterminate craving in the heart and the external senses can pass from potentiality to the actuality of sensual appetite only when an appropriate object is presented to it. What that object is, and how it presents itself, and how it becomes identified with the object of Love in the internal senses, is left to be explained in the last stanza. In this second stanza which is concerned with describing the two stages of Love, and their origins, the poet is content with telling us that the second stage, which completes the first, is produced by a particular influence that comes from the planet Mars. This is the answer to the question, “chi lo fa creare”: it is Mars that brings about the being of Love (the “essere” as it is called in the first verse of the fourth stanza) in its second and complete actuality.

We have seen that, according to St. Albert's theory of metaphysical light, all the influences of the spheres are obscurities, since they are nothing but restrictions of the creative Light for the purpose of producing diversified effects in matter, as colours are produced by various restrictions of the sunlight. The body itself, and every property of sense (not intellect), is the result of the operation of these obscurities, and the mixing of elementary qualities to form the complexions of creatures is the special task of the seven planetary spheres45: it is not, therefore, surprising that the special influence of Mars should be called “una scuritate”.

The influence that comes from Mars, according to the astrologers, who all follow Ptolemy more or less closely, is an extraordinarily vigorous energy which produces good and bad qualities according to the situation of the planet,46 but particularly important for us is the Platonic theory according to which human souls have their homes in native stars, from which they descend, according to some Neo-Platonists, by the gateway of Cancer through the planetary spheres to be incorporated in earthly bodies, and to which they return after the death of the body, if they have lived righteous lives on earth. On their way downward the souls acquire from each of the spheres through which they pass, different faculties and qualities suitable to their life on earth. St. Albert discusses this doctrine at length in several places, rejecting it, of course, but at the same time expressing doubts as to whether it were intended to be taken literally,47 and interpreting it as intended to convey the truth that the influences of the spheres generate the body and condition it to receive the immortal soul, contributing qualities to the composite body-and-soul by means of the mixture of elements.48

In the De Homine he quotes the Somnium Scipionis of Macrobius, mentioning qualities acquired by the soul in the different spheres: “… in Saturni sphaera ratiocinationem et intelligentiam …, in Jovis vim agendi …, in Martis animositatis ardorem …, in Solis sentiendi opinandique naturam …, desiderii vero motum … in Veneris. …”49 In the De Anima he attributes a like series of derivations to Plato: “… unde dicit Plato animam in sphaera Saturni accipere memoriam longam, et in sphaera Jovis accipere ratiocinationem probabilium sive opinionum, in sphaera Martis irascibilem, … et in sphaera Veneris concupiscibilitatem, …”50

The “scuritate la qual da Marte vene” is, then, probably the “irascibilis”, which is what is meant, according to St. Albert, by the “animositatis ardor” of Macrobius.51 This “irascibilis” is one of the two appetites which together constitute the general appetite of sense, the other being the concupiscibilis.52 Of the two the concupiscibilis is the passive and the irascibilis the active.53 The concupiscibilis is moved by the desirable or the detestable in objects, to covet them or shrink from them, but the irascibilis moves to overcome difficulties in the way of obtaining the desirable, and to destroy or avoid the detestable object54: the irascibilis is a fighting, enterprising appetite.

Since love, in as far as it is sensitive, belongs to the concupiscibilis, according to Aristotle55 and all his commentators, it may seem strange that Cavalcanti should attribute his Love to the influence of Mars, without mentioning Venus, to whose influence sexual love is traditionally attributable. Some of the commentators of our poem, indeed, who believed that Cavalcanti's Love is carnal love, remembering the astrological saying that people who are born under the conjunction of Venus and Mars are likely to be violently lustful, felt obliged to suppose that the mention of Mars was intended to include that of Venus. Wrong as they were in supposing that this Love of Cavalcanti's is carnal lust, they were right in thinking that “sensitive love” cannot be separated from the concupiscibilis. St. Thomas Aquinas says that “amor” is the first of the passions of the concupiscibilis, and the cause of all the others. It is an inclination to the good in any object, “complacentia boni”, which, generically speaking, is intellectual, but specifically belongs to the concupiscibilis.56 Whatever else love may be, in as far as it is an appetite of sense (and in the external senses it is a sensual appetite) it is appetitus concupiscibilis.

It was not necessary, therefore, for Cavalcanti to mention the concupiscibilis or to drag in Venus. The irascibilis, the “scuritate la qual da Marte vene”, which makes possible the full perfection of Cavalcanti's Love as a violent passion, presupposes the concupiscibilis and cannot exist without it. It is concerned with nothing but the objects of the concupiscibilis; begins with it and ends with it, struggling, as it does, either to obtain the good desired by its fellow-appetite, or to defeat the evil from which its fellow-appetite is suffering, and thus achieve satisfaction.57

There are special reasons, too, why Cavalcanti should prefer not to mention Venus and her influence. The concupiscibilis is treated severely by St. Albert. Although its object may be truly good, it is said to be chiefly concerned with degrading pleasure, especially carnal pleasure, and holy men, notably St. Augustine, consider it as “corrupta et infecta”.58 The poet would not tolerate any suggestion that might degrade his Love, which is a proud passion (“ed è sì altero”, I. 3) and an attribute, for the most part, of worthy people (“che 'n gente di valor lo più si trova,” IV. 7). The irascibilis, besides, is the nobler of the two appetites. Its proper object is the difficult;59 its virtue is fortitude, which, in the matter of love, is that “soffrenza” that is a necessary quality of the fine lover;60 it joins with the concupiscibilis and supplies the required energy to obtain their common object, but, unlike the concupiscibilis, it often prefers pain to pleasure in attaining the object; it listens to reason more often than the other appetite, and prefers final satisfaction to immediate pleasure;61 and when there is a conflict of desires, a more reasonable against a less reasonable one, it supports the more reasonable, and does its best to eradicate the other.62

Cavalcanti has chosen the irascibilis to represent the sensual appetite because it is its active constituent, whereas the concupiscibilis is the passive constituent.63 The passive desire is necessarily taken for granted, but Love in its full perfection is the passion of conflict and distress described in the fourth stanza. Conflict and mortal distress are the active essence of this Love as defined in that stanza, and this view of it is confirmed by many other poems of our author. Without the irascibilis Love would be only a passive desire, an appetite without conation, that is without pursuit or avoidance.64

The appetite of sense, needless to say, is not a temporary affection, but a permanent attribute of the soul-and-body. It has been contributed to the body in generation by the influence of the planets, and therefore to the soul as well. The irascibilis that comes from Mars has come to stay (“e fa demora”) whether it remain latent in a potential state for lack of an object, or whether it be roused into actuality by the presence of an appropriate object.

                                        … ed ha sensato nome,
d'alma costome, e de cor volontate.

When Love has been created in its pure perfection, by the actualization of the irascibilis (the conative appetite contributed by the influence of Mars), it has been extended from the internal senses to the external, and has become an affection not only of the mind but of the whole soul-and-body. This becomes possible, as we are told later, by the identification of the object of Love in the mind with an object of the appetite in the external sense. It is then the passion that Cavalcanti calls “amore”: intellectually sensitive and sensually passionate at the same time. It has a sensuous name, since amore is the common word for the sexual appetite;65 a habit of the mind, since it is a contemplation of an ideal image in the memory;66 and a desire of the heart, since the heart is the seat of the sensual passions.67

Ven da veduta forma che s'intende,
che prende nel possibile intelletto,
come in subietto, loco e dimoranza.

After defining the origins of the first perfection and the complete perfection of Love, in answer to the questions “là dove posa, e chi lo fa creare”, the poet goes on to describe the object of Love, which is one of its necessary causes.68 That object is “form perceived by sight”, which becomes an abstract concept in the Possible Intellect.

It is the concise brevity of the poem that is the chief cause of its obscurity. A long poem of many stanzas might have explained the whole matter clearly, but the poet has condensed it all into four, leaving the reader, who, he insists, must be a “conoscente”, to supply the details that are omitted. From the beginning we have to understand the much that is implied, as well as the little that is said. Here too in these verses 7-9, it is assumed that the reader is acquainted with the complicated process by which material forms perceived by the external senses become abstract concepts possessed by the Possible Intellect.69

“Veduta forma” is a generic name for form perceived by sight: the forms with which sexual love is concerned are those of beautiful women. The abstract concept corresponding to them in the Possible Intellect is Feminine Beauty.70 The forms of beautiful women become phantasmata in the Sensitive Intellect (the association of internal senses). These phantasmata are produced by the Fantasy (“Phantasia”) which is the master faculty of the internal senses. Seated in its organ in the brain, between those of the Imagination and Memory—the treasuries of images and complete notions of external forms—the Fantasy handles the whole fund of images, impressions, and complete notions, combining them and separating them as it pleases, distinguishing between the true and the false, and at times creating wholly fantastic representations only distantly related to the original objects.71 All these phantasmata are retained in the memory and from them the Agent Intellect (“Intellectus Agens”) abstracts the “quiddity” which is received by the Possible Intellect (“Intellectus Possibilis”) as a pure abstract concept. Then the Speculative Intellect (“Intellectus Speculativus”) which is the act of the Possible Intellect (“Intellectus in Actu”) returns to the phantasmata and compares them with the concept which has been abstracted from them: thus the soul is enabled to know the idea Feminine Beauty, and to know that beautiful women are particular examples of the idea, and that they are beautiful in the degree in which they correspond to the idea.

This comparison, however, of the universal concept (Feminine Beauty) which is in the Possible Intellect, with the particular phantasmata (forms of beautiful women) which are in the memory, cannot take place without the formation of another phantasma, a particular representation of the general idea. For the idea Feminine Beauty cannot be in the memory except “per accidens” as such a particular representation,72 and the particular forms of beautiful women cannot be in the Possible Intellect. The Intellect is itself unable to consider the abstract idea without forming an image of it73—just as the triangle cannot be understood without a figure of a triangle—but it can easily construct such an image by using the Fantasy. The Fantasy is the means by which the Intellect communicates with the brain and the rest of the body;74 it is the thinking faculty of sense,75 and its organ in the brain is the organ used by the Speculative Intellect.76 The Possible Intellect in itself, as the receptacle of abstract concepts (“locus specierum”), is not in communication with the body, but when it is in action, as Speculative, it communicates with the body by means of the Fantasy. In as far as the Intellect is operating in the brain it is indistinguishable from the Fantasy.77 In order, then, to consider the concept Feminine Beauty, Intellect and Fantasy construct a phantasma which is an image of ideal feminine beauty, corresponding to the idea as faithfully as a particular image can correspond to an abstract idea. They construct it out of the materials that are available in the inner senses, images and notions (“intentiones”) in the “Imaginatio” and “Memoria”, and combinations of images and notions, the previously constructed phantasmata out of which the pure concept itself has already been abstracted by the Intellectus Agens. Those previously constructed phantasmata were beautiful and attractive, but this new phantasma, the best representation of ideal feminine beauty that the mind can contrive, is satisfactory to it, for it sees in it its own ideal of feminine charm.78

The satisfied contemplation of this phantasma, which, like the others, is preserved in the memory, is Cavalcanti's Love in its first perfection. It is the Intellectual Light shining in the inner sense—“quella parte dove sta memora”79—where it is indistinguishable from the Fantasy; but the Fantasy, which in this way becomes indistinguishable from the Intellect, is also the master faculty of the inner senses.80

The fact of its being in the inner sense, which is intellectual as well as sensitive, gives to Love, in this its first stage, the double character that belongs to the inner senses. In as far as the phantasma that is being contemplated is the means for considering the pure concept Feminine Beauty, Love is intellectual, but in as far as the phantasma is the image of an imaginary woman of ideal beauty, Love is sensitive.

The object of Love, then, has been defined: it is the image of an ideally attractive woman, constructed by the Fantasy to represent Ideal Feminine Beauty, and preserved in the Memory. This is its permanent and only object, for although Love in its full perfection—belonging to the heart and external sense as well as to the mind and the inner sense—is a passion for a real living woman, the full perfection is never achieved, the passion is never aroused, until a living woman is recognized as the counterpart of the ideal image, and the two are identified, so that there is never more than one object. There is, however, a great difference between the two stages, the two perfections of love, for whereas the second stage, as we shall see, is full of pain and distress as well as pleasure, the first stage is without those qualities.

In quella parte mai non ha pesanza,
perché da qualitate non descende;
resplende in sé, perpetuale effetto;
non ha diletto ma consideranza,
perché non pote largir simiglianza.

“In quella parte” means “In quella parte dove sta memora”, that is in the internal sense, where is the object of Love that has just been described. It does not mean in the Possible Intellect, as some of the commentators have supposed. To place love in the Intellectus Possibilis would be a loose inaccuracy which could only be defended by supposing that the author, having in mind the fact that the Intellect is always one, whether passive or engaged in various activities, does not care to make any distinction between the Possible Intellect and the Speculative Intellect. In that case “quella parte” would be referring to the “possibile intelletto” not as locus specierum, the receptacle of abstract concepts, but as Speculativus, engaged in active consideration (Intellectus in Actu). But in verses 7-9 it has been said that “veduta forma” finds “loco e dimoranza” in the “possibile intelletto”, which is, therefore, evidently being thought of as locus specierum, and Love has been said to be in that part where memory is, which is not the Possible Intellect. The awkward contradiction between verses 1 and 10, which would arise if “in quella parte” did not mean the same in both verses, is unnecessary and improbable.81

In that part Love is accompanied by no sadness (“non ha pesanza”) and no pleasure (“non ha diletto”). As long as it is confined to the internal senses (“quella parte”)—that is, before it is extended to the heart and the external senses—Love is without any of the passions of the sensual appetites, the concupiscibilis and the irascibilis. Sadness and pleasure are two of the passions of the concupiscibilis, which, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, are “amor”, “desiderium”, “delectatio”, for bonum, and “odium”, “fuga”, “tristitia”, for malum: they arise in the order given. Guido's “pesanza” is St. Thomas' “tristitia”, and Guido's “diletto” is St. Thomas' “delectatio”.82 These two are the final passions of the two series beginning with “amor” for bonum and “odium” for malum: the two opposite effects of the concupiscibilis in act.83

The reason why Love in the internal sense is without sadness or sensual pleasure is that it is not derived from physical quality (“da qualitate non descende”), that is, it is not caused by physical transmutation, as are all the passions of sense.84 The word quality commonly denotes the elementary physical qualities, heat, cold, etc., by which physical bodies are affected,85 and the passions of sense which belong to the soul-and-body are also called qualities because they are physical movements and the physical qualities are essential to them.86 These passions are aroused only by forms of real external objects, objects of the external senses.87

The object of the internal senses which arouses Love “in quella parte” is, as we have seen, no image of a real woman but an imaginary representation of ideal feminine charm. No physical transmutation in the body of the lover disturbs him as he contemplates this image which his fantasy has created.88 It causes no sensual desire in him, because he knows it is not real. We do not become frightened when we see a picture of a lion, so long as we know that it is only a picture, says St. Albert, and he adds that the “idolum” or imaginary phantasma is even farther removed from reality than a picture.89 The apprehension of such an object is sensitive but the appetite for it is intellectual: it comes under the head of St. Thomas' amor understood communiter not proprie, a “complacentia boni” which is an intellectual passion, a wilful inclination to the good.90

The good that is loved in this case is not only bonum but also pulchrum, not accidentally but essentially, since it is a vision of ideal beauty. Pulchrum is that kind of bonum the very apprehension of which gives satisfaction.91 The satisfaction in this case is intellectual, not sensual, it is not delectatio (“diletto”) but what St. Thomas calls “gaudium”.92

Love in the internal sense is awakened by the shining of the Intellectual Light upon the beautiful image: the image of ideal feminine beauty which has been created by the intellect and fantasy and lodged in the memory. It is the Intellectus in Actu, using the Phantasia Cognitiva to consider the idea Pulchrum Muliebre as represented by that image. The light shines upon the image and upon all the phantasmata related to the image, and is reflected so that it returns upon itself (“resplende in sé”). Instead of sensual pleasure (“diletto”) it has “consideranza”, a thoughtful consideration which we call reflection, borrowing the term from the traditional philosophical description of this complicated process as a going out of the mind to the objects and a return to itself (conversio in seipsum).93

This preoccupation with ideal feminine charm is a permanent habit of the mind (“perpetuale effetto”). In the fourth stanza, where the poet is describing the passion for a real woman—the second perfection of Love—he says that it does not last long (“poco soggiorna”, IV. 6), but this intellectual-sensitive cherishing of an ideal—the first perfection which is the potentiality of the second—is enduring: it remains constant no matter how many times Love rises to its full perfection as a passion for one woman after another.

The reason why Love has no “diletto” is that “non pote largir simiglianza”, that is, Love can confer on the ideal image none of that affinity with the lover that is necessary for sensual satisfaction, “delectatio”. It is similarity, says Boethius according to St. Albert, that accounts for the attraction that one thing has for another.94 Even to understand anything a certain similarity is necessary between the knower and the known, and there can be no love without affinity (St. Thomas calls it “connaturalitas”) between the lover and the beloved.95 This Love in the Sensitive Intellect for an image of ideal beauty is no exception, but the affinity between lover and loved is of an intellectual kind. Inasmuch, however, as this Love is sensitive as well as intellectual, it contains the potentiality of sensual love, and if the beloved object could be made similar to the lover in a sensual way—that is, if the phantasma could become the image of a real woman—then amor concupiscibilis would arise, followed by concupiscentia and delectatio.96 But so long as Love is confined to the internal sense (“quella parte”) it has no power to bestow that “simiglianza” upon the phantasma it is considering: it has “consideranza”, and, as we have seen, it has gaudium (intellectual joy), but no “diletto”, no sensual pleasure.

The second stanza has told us, as the first stanza promised, where Love dwells (“là dove posa”) and who brings about its creation (“chi lo fa creare”).97 It dwells permanently in that part of the soul where memory is, and where the fantasy is also, the realm of the inner senses, where intellect and fantasy cooperate. Its full perfection as a passion of the whole soul-and-body is brought about by the influence of the planet Mars.

These are the answers to the questions mentioned in the first stanza, but the rest of what is said and implied in this second stanza can only be understood after studying the whole poem. When we have examined the other stanzas it will appear, I hope, that the explanatory comment I have already given is justified. At the risk of boring the reader with repetitions that may seem unnecessary, I beg to recapitulate that comment as follows:

Love is a combination of intellect and sense, of light and darkness. The intellect is created directly and illuminated directly by the light that descends from the First Cause. The sense is also created by the same light, but indirectly, in the natural process of the generation and growth of the body, and the light becomes so limited and obscured in the process that all the faculties of sense are darkness compared with the illuminating light, but the darkness of the inner senses is light compared to the darkness of the external senses.

Love is produced first in the inner senses by the intellectual light illuminating their obscurity and presenting them with an object which is a representation of ideal beauty the very apprehension of which gives satisfaction. The mind of the lover is cherishing with fond imagination an image of its own construction representing the kind of feminine beauty that is most attractive to it. There is no occasion for violent emotion; the imaginary beauty does not appeal to his external senses, causes him no distress or sensual pleasure.

In this first stage Love is an intellectual emotion, an actuality, not the mere potentiality which subsists in every creature endowed with intellect and sense. It is, however, a potentiality with regard to the second stage, the passion of the whole soul-and-body, of the heart and the external senses, as well as the mind and the internal senses. In this second stage Love is in its full actuality, the “accidente che sovente è fero, ed è sì altero” which is Cavalcanti's “amore”, the subject of the poem. It enters this second stage (as we are told later) when the eyes of the lover meet those of a real living woman who seems to him to be the counterpart of the ideal image in his mind, so that her image, perceived by the external sense, abstracted in the usual manner, and confided to the memory by the fantasy, becomes identified with the ideal image. The intellectual light shines upon this image, which has now acquired that “simiglianza”, that affinity with the lover, which had before been lacking: the sensual appetites are aroused.

The obscurity of the senses is only a relative obscurity. It is the “privatio” or “coarctatio” which occurs in the “determinatio” of the light in the indirect creation (natural generation) to lesser effects than the immortal intellect. Among these lesser effects is the sensual appetite, the active constituent of which is the irascibilis, the particular result of the “privatio” or “coarctatio lucis” that is operated by the planet Mars in the mingling of the elements by which the soul is fitted with its body.

Love, then, in its full perfection, is produced by “lome”, the intellectual light, acting almost directly in the intellectual internal senses, and indirectly in the external senses, where it is a “scuritate”. It is this second factor, however, that makes Love the formidable passion defined in the fourth stanza as an abnormally excessive desire; it is the appetitus irascibilis that provides its full being; it is Mars that “lo fa creare”. Thus created, it belongs to the whole soul-and-body, for it has both a habit of mind and a desire of the heart, as well as a traditionally sensuous name which does it little justice.



Considering the difference between Dante's philosophical theory of love and that of Cavalcanti, how can the two poets be classed together as belonging to what is commonly called “the school of the Dolce Stil Nuovo” after Dante's expression in Purgatorio, xxiv, 57?

Although every reader who is interested in the matter we are considering is familiar with the interview between Dante and Bonagiunta da Lucca, it will be useful to have the text before us,98 which is as follows:

“Ma dì s'i' veggio qui colui che fore
trasse le nove rime, cominciando
‘Donna ch'avete intelletto d'amore’.”
E io a lui: “I' mi son un che quando
Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo
ch'e' ditta dentro vo significando.”
“O frate, issa vegg'io” diss'elli “il nodo
che 'l Notaro e Guittone e me ritenne
di qua dal dolce stil novo ch'i' odo.
Io veggio ben come le vostre penne
di retro al dittator sen vanno strette,
che de le nostre certo non avvenne;
e qual più a riguardare oltre si mette,
non vede più da l'uno a l'altro stilo.”
E, quasi contentato, si tacette.(99)

If, as many of us believe, the poets of the dolce stil nuovo are distinguished from the others by their common understanding of the value of Amore, the inclusion of Cavalcanti among them seems at first sight difficult, to say the least. There is no difficulty, however, for those who accept Rossi's interpretation, according to which the novelty of the new poetry consists not in any common understanding of love but in the combination of genuine feeling and direct expression in verse, of any kind of love:

“Il canone d'arte enunciato dall'Alighieri afferma dunque la necessità d'un contenuto sentito e intuito dal poeta (‘quando Amor mi spira, noto’) e insieme d'una forma che ne sia nitido specchio (‘ed a quel modo Che ditta dentro, vo significando’) Per conseguenza rileva il carattere prettamente individuale, cioè il principal contrassegno della poesia grande e vera; la quale non nasce se non da fantasie alte e potenti, che per la luminosità piena delle loro visioni riescano a vincere la ardue difficoltà della perfetta espressione.”100

“E il principio vale, qualunque significato si voglia dare alla parola ‘amore’, canti il poeta gli ardori d'un amore terreno o l'estasi d'una spirituale adorazione o il tormento e la gioia dell'apprendere o le sudate conquiste del pensiero; sia egli un umile stornellator popolare o il più abile fabbro di canzoni allegoriche o dottrinali.”101

“La vera, la grande novità stava dunque nello stile, inteso nella sua più nobile e—diciamo pure—moderna accezione …, come espressione fedele e diretta degli alti stati dell'anima, lucidamente intuiti dalla fantasia; …”102

In other words Dante is announcing a law (“canone d'arte”) defining true poetry, a law which in Rossi's words has an exceedingly modern appearance, as he himself admits, and reminds one of the aesthetic theory of Benedetto Croce. The difference between the “stil novo” and the old-fashioned poetry is that the former is true poetry because it is the faithful expression of the intuition of the creative imagination, a perfect fusion of thought and feeling, of form and content. Anyone can see that the verse of the Notaro and of Guittone and Bonagiunta does not fit the definition, and that some of Guinizelli's, and of others earlier than Dante, does, as does a large part of Cavalcanti's. Nevertheless there remains a large part of the verse of poets who are accepted as poets of the dolce stil nuovo, Cino, Lapo Gianni, Gianni Alfani, and Dino Frescobaldi, which can by no means be thought of as fulfilling the requirements of this definition of true poetry. Indeed, this theory of poetry, this “canone d'arte”, seems to me too modern to be also mediaeval. Imagination and spontaneous expression are not enough to produce good poetry, according to Dante in the De Vulgari Eloquentia, especially when the subject is one of the great three, “Salus, Amor et Virtus”. It can never be done without ingeniousness, training, and learning: “nunquam sine strenuitate ingenii et artis assiduitate scientiarumque habitu fieri potest.”103 In his excellent review of Rossi's essay, Parodi points out that Dante had no aesthetic theory of poetry that excluded the “ornato rettorico”: “… egli credeva in certe occasioni suo dovere di ‘far dello stile’, cioè di ricercare volutamente gli effetti rettorici, anche là dove la materia non era ribelle alla poesia.”104 It also seems unnecessarily daring to suppose that the “Amor” that inspires Dante (Bonagiunta's “dittator”) may be any kind of love, even a common carnal inclination, and not the love defined in Amore e 'l cor gentil sono una cosa. The conversation between the two poets has arisen from Bonagiunta's appreciation of Dante's Donne che avete, and the latter is on his way to meet the lady for whom that canzone was written: it is improbable that he is here representing himself, or the poets he approves, as inspired by a love that may be less than admirable, or not sexual at all.

In the first chapter of his thorough-going work Il Dolce Stil Novo, Fernando Figurelli, reminding us that the interview between Dante and Bonagiunta begins with the latter's quotation of Donne che avete intelletto d'amore, concludes that both poets are thinking of this poem of Dante's as the standard of demarcation between the new style and the old. Having in mind what Dante tells us in the Vita Nuova about the making of the canzone, brought about by the desire to express a “matera nuova e più nobile che la passata”, he also concludes that the novelty intended is meant to be confined to Dante's own poetry, and not only to Dante's own poetry but to those poems of Dante which begin with and follow Donne che avete, that is the poems della lode. The novelty consists in the expression of the kind of love that inspires these latter verses, an “amore perfetto”, purely spiritual, a kind of love not understood by anyone but Dante himself, and not understood even by him before the experiences which led to the writing of Donne che avete. The expression “dolce stil novo” applies only to Dante's own new poetry.

But since Bonagiunta, after saying that he perceives the “nodo”, the difficulty, which hindered the Notaro, Guittone, and himself from attaining to the “dolce stil novo”, goes on to speak of “le vostre penne” which follow the dictation of love closely, as “le nostre” did not—thus including with Dante other poets similar to him, who are also superior to the old-fashioned poets—it is necessary to understand that the speaker is extending what has been said about Dante's new verse, at least partially, to others like Dante. These others followed the dictation of love closely, that is, expressed the inspiration of love exactly, as Dante himself had done, and as the Notaro, Guittone, and Bonagiunta had not. These others are those who are usually called the poets of the dolce stil nuovo, as well as Guinizelli and a few others belonging to the generation preceding that of Dante. They have in common with Dante, not the kind of love that determined Dante's new style, but the exact expression of the kind of love that was Dante's before his conversion to the poetry della lode, that is before Donne che avete, a kind similar only in a general way to Dante's new kind. Figurelli prefers to refer to their poetry as “dolce stile” without the adjective “nuovo”. In a word, whereas the novelty of Dante's new poetry consists in the new kind of love that inspires it, as well as in the exact expression, that which distinguishes the others of Dante's circle from the old-fashioned poets is the exact expression alone, a characteristic which they share with him. By exact expression is meant the poetic faculty, “quell'assiduità d'arte e costume scientifico (artis assiduitas scientiarumque habitus) indispensabile a eguagliare il modo de l'espressione al modo dell'interna dettatura”, of which Dante speaks in the De Vulgari Eloquentia.105

Figurelli's subtle distinctions between Dante's Amore and that of the other poets of his kind, between inspiration and exact expression, between “dolce stil novo” and “dolce stile”, are certainly not idle subtleties. They are prompted by the critic's realization of the superiority of Dante's understanding of love, which alone seems to him to present novelty. He is aware, too, that if one considers Dante and a number of other poets as exponents of a dolce stil nuovo the novelty of which consists in the direct expression of a genuine inspiration, it will be difficult to find evidence of that genuine inspiration in many of the poems of most of them. It is, indeed, much to his credit that instead of concentrating on the best examples of poetry by members of the supposedly new school, he has carefully examined all of it. Nevertheless I think one may be pardoned for doubting whether the above-mentioned distinctions are really made in the interview of Dante and Bonagiunta.

The “Amor” that inspires Dante seems to be the same as the “dittator” who is followed closely by “le vostre penne”, and any poet who is able to follow the dictation closely is undoubtedly inspired by the dictator. It seems to me unnecessary to suppose that because Bonagiunta calls the canzone Donne che avete “nove rime”, he is drawing a distinction between the poesia della lode and Dante's previous verse. There is no reason for supposing that he is recalling the episode of the Vita Nuova where Dante tells how he was led to undertake the “matera nuova e più nobile che la passata”, and to embrace the Guinizellian conception of love, no matter how important that episode is in the history of Dante's education in love, which is the subject of the Vita Nuova. Certainly the presence of the adjective nuovo in both the expressions “nove rime” and “matera nuova” is not sufficient to establish a reference to the poesia della lode,106 and that Bonagiunta, who is Dante's mouthpiece, should choose Donne che avete as the typical example of the admired new style is only natural, since it was Dante's own favourite.107

It would, I think, be beyond the purpose of Bonagiunta in this passage to distinguish two kinds of Dante's own poetry, and between Dante's poetry and that of the poets he approves. His whole purpose is to persuade Dante that now that he is dead he understands what Amore really is, as the Sicilians and the Guittoniani had not.108 He is now at one with Dante in a common understanding of the nature of love, and although this common understanding is certainly superior to that of the other poets included under “le vostre penne”, they are all credited with some sort of understanding of the true Amore, and the differences among them are not considered. They were all writing under the dictation of true love, whereas the Notaro and Guittone and Bonagiunta himself had written about a conventional idea which was not Amore at all, or about an inferior love artificially idealized, which also was not Amore. The poems of Guinizelli that had been an inspiration to Dante and those of “li altri miei miglior che mai / rime d'amore usar dolci e leggiadre”109 (perhaps Chiaro Davanzati and Monte Andrea) are no doubt included under “le vostre penne”. It is natural that Bonagiunta, who belonged to the generation preceding Dante's and who was a contemporary of Guinizelli, should look upon these poems as new, and we know that he had objected in verse to Guinizelli's innovations.110

If, then, as I propose, we should return to the view discarded by Figurelli, the view that the expression “dolce stil novo” applies to all the poetry that is akin to that of Dante, and if we think that, according to Dante, the novelty of the dolce stil nuovo consists in the poet's understanding of true Amore, we shall have to say why we think Dante credited these poets with that understanding.

For Figurelli has been led to his conclusions by being unable to find any real novelty of ideas in the poetry of those he himself calls poets of the “dolce stile”, except in Dante, and Figurelli is by no means alone in realizing this difficulty. In fact all those who have concerned themselves with defining the essential character of the dolce stil nuovo have noted, as he does, that these poets seem to be saying the same sort of things about love and the lady that other poets, Provençal and Italian, have said.

Vossler alone succeeded in isolating an idea which, according to him, distinguished the new poetry from the old. It is the idea of the “donna angelicata”, to use the expression coined long ago by Adolfo Bartoli, the lady transformed into the symbol of an angel, to adopt Vossler's own way of expressing it. The inferior position of woman according to Scholastic philosophy conflicted with the exalted position given to the lady who is the object of supersensuous love; the only way of avoiding this conflict was to transform the lady into the symbol of a superhuman being, an angel. Wherever the poet becomes conscious of the conflict, and moves toward this solution, there is the dolce stil nuovo. “Die neue, dem dolce still nuovo wesentliche Auffassung der Minne beginnt gerade hier, an diesem Punkt: d.h. demselben Augenblick, wo sich der Liebesdichter des Widerspruches bewusst wird, in den er unvermerkt geraten ist.” “… wo die Frau noch keine symbolische Geltung hat, ist's noch der alte Stil. Wer diese Definition nicht festhält, wird nie zur Klarheit kommen.”111

The new feature is a conscious attempt by the poet to reconcile a mystical devotion to a woman, either religious as in Dante or intellectualistic as in Cavalcanti, with the prevailing philosophical notions of the time, either Scholastic or Averroistic or both.

A clear-cut test like this for the novelty in the dolce stil nuovo is very attractive, and it is so well supported by Vossler's illuminating review of the currents of thought which penetrated the air breathed by the lyric poets, that one cannot but be eager to apply it, but the test is not easy to apply. The exact meaning of “symbolische Geltung” and “Symbolizierung der Frauenliebe” is not quite clear to me. These expressions certainly mean more than a mere comparison of the lady to an angel, but if they mean exaltation of the lady to the status of an altogether exceptional being, superior to all other women, and even supernatural, that is a feature that is traditional in the love-lyric.

This traditional idealization of the lady, it is true, is not a conscious solution of the problem of the incompatibility of sexual and supersensuous love, but the only poets who consider the problem consciously are Guinizelli, Dante, and Cavalcanti. Cino da Pistoia and the other reputed exponents of the new ideas are not concerned with this or with any other philosophical problem, and even the three older poets find no common solution for it. Guinizelli has none at all to propose, although he hopes there may be one; Cavalcanti declares the problem insoluble; Dante is the only one who solves it.

There is, nevertheless, a general resemblance which justifies the historian in classifying together all the poets who have so often been called “of the dolce stil nuovo”. This resemblance is in form rather than in ideas.112 It is the result of influence and imitation: Cavalcanti and Guinizelli influence Dante; Cavalcanti at times imitates Guinizelli; Cino frequently imitates all three, and so do Lapo Gianni, Alfani, and Frescobaldi.

Figurelli, examining the whole body of the “dolce stile”, and not merely the best poems, finds it to be on the whole unpoetical: “… sentimenti, sospiri, pianti, angosce, preghiere, esaltazioni, ma sempre ad essi si affianca, ed in essi si inserisce e si frammette il pesante bagaglio intellettualistico.”113 He notes: “… i continui artifici rettorici e dottrinali; quella certa pesantezza sostenuta e raziocinizzante; quello spirito dialettico e dimostrativo; quel continuo cadere nelle formule, negli schemi, nelle convenzioni della scuola, …”114

He does not admit in these poets any common fund of new ideas, but he mentions two common characteristics. The less important of the two is a mysticism which is the effect of the religious atmosphere of the thirteenth century.115 The more important is an intellectual quality derived from the current philosophical ideas, an element of “razionalità” which produces a solemn rhetorical tone, and conventional abstractions. In spite of their generally unpoetical character, these poems, he says, often express genuine sentiment, but even then the sentiment is always clothed in intellectual language: “Quand'anche quindi il sentimento abbia profondità di vita, nell'espressione, se non altro, acquisterà, quell'elemento di riflessione e di razionalità, che dà a quella poesia quel particolare tono di robustezza e di solennità che le è proprio, e che si potrebbe dire forse la chiave della poesia del dolce stile.”116 He concludes: “L'elemento mistico e l'elemento razionalistico furono quelli che, non estranei alla lirica precedente, fusi nella personalità del poeta e variamente atteggiati secondo la sua natura spirituale, operarono dentro e fuori l'ispirazione poetica determinando i principali caratteri della poesia del dolce stile.”117

Of these two characteristics which Figurelli calls the “elemento mistico e l'elemento razionalistico”, it is the second that is more conspicuous in the love poetry of Cavalcanti and Cino as well as in that of Dante. I should prefer to call it the studious and cultivated treatment of love. This, I think, is the novelty that Dante had in mind.118

For if we are to understand what Dante meant by “dolce stil novo”, we must relegate to a position of secondary importance any opinion we ourselves are able to form as to the value or homogeneousness of the poetry we include under that title, and do our best to look at the matter with Dante's eyes. It has often been pointed out that Bonagiunta is comparing the new poetry not with that of the Provençals but with that of the bulk of the Italian poets, the Sicilians and the Guittoniani, “'l Notaro e Guittone e me”.119 Dante never criticizes any of the Provençals adversely, but he criticizes Italians bitterly, especially Guittone and his followers. In the De Vulgari Eloquentia he blames them for ignorance of the “vulgare illustre”. “… puta Guittonem Aretinum, qui nunquam se ad curiale vulgare direxit, Bonagiunta lucensem, Gallum pisanum … : quorum dicta, si rimari vacaverit, non curialia, sed municipalia tantum invenientur.”120 “Subsistant igitur ignorantiae sectatores Guittonem Aretinum et quosdam alios extollentes, nunquam in vocabulis atque constructione plebescere desuetos!”121 He makes it plain enough, however, that their inability to use any but plebeian language is only a part of their general ignorance. It is knowledge and culture that distinguish the few good Tuscan poets from the others: “Sed quanquam fere omnes Tusci in suo turpiloquio sint obtusi, nonnullos vulgari excellentiam cognovisse sentimus, scilicet Guidonem, Lapum et unum alium, florentinos, et Cinum pistoriensem, …”122 The use of the “vulgare illustre” requires learning and intelligence: “… excellentes ingenio et scientia querit et alios aspernatur; …”123

The subject love, which is one of the three “tractandorum dignissima”,124 “illa magnalia quae sint maxime pertractanda”,125 requires the “vulgare illustre” of which the Guittoniani are ignorant;126 it also requires the tragic style, “summus … stilorum”,127 and the tragic style is a combination of serious thought, dignified verse, elaborate construction, and excellent words: “Stilo equidem tragico tunc uti videmur, quando cum gravitate sententiae tam superbia carminum quam constructionis elatio et excellentia vocabulorum concordat.”128 It is impossible to sing of the great subjects properly (“pure cantare”) without vigorous intelligence, trained skill, and the habit of science, “sine strenuitate ingenii et artis assiduitate scientiarumque habitu. … Et ideo confutetur eorum stultitia, qui, arte scientiaque immunes, de solo ingenio confidentes, ad summa summe canenda prorumpunt; et a tanta presumptuositate desistant; et si anseres natura vel desidia sunt, nolint astripetem aquilam imitari.”129 There can be no doubt that the Guittoniani are included among the “anseres”: they may not be without talent, but they are ignorant, and in their ignorance do not shrink from attempting even the most dignified kind of poem, the canzone: “Pudeat ergo, pudeat ydiotas tantum audere deinceps, ut ad cantiones prorumpant! Quos non aliter deridemus, quam cecum de coloribus distinguentem.”130 They are blind ignoramuses, “ydiotas”.

So much for Guittone, Bonagiunta, and the rest, but what was Dante's opinion of the Notaro, whom he does not mention anywhere else? In De Vulgari Eloquentia, I, xii, 8, the canzone Madonna, dir vi voglio, which is certainly by Giacomo da Lentino, is cited along with Per fino amore vo sì letamente by Rinaldo d'Aquino, to show that “quamvis terrigene Apuli loquantur obscene comuniter, prefulgentes eorum quidam polite locuti sunt, vocabula curialiora in suis cantionibus compilantes, …” It would seem from these words that Dante attributed the first-mentioned canzone to an Apulian, not to the Notaro. The only other passage which may throw some light on the question is in Vita Nuova, XXV, 5, where the author says: “E la cagione per che alquanti grossi ebbero fama di sapere dire, è che quasi fuoro li primi che dissero in lingua di sì.” It is not unlikely that Giacomo is included in these “alquanti grossi”, since he was among the very earliest poets, and was certainly well known. In the absence of real evidence we are reduced to guessing, but it is a reasonable guess that the shallowness of Giacomo's view of love did not escape Dante. Instead of profound knowledge, “scientia”, there is imitation of the Provençal models; instead of seriousness in the treatment of the magnificent subject, there is conventional triffling which veils politely the simple fleshliness of the poet's feeling. The ideas and feelings we conceive regarding the three great subjects, “Salus, Amor et Virtus, et que propter ea concipimus”, should be expressed in the tragic style, provided they are not degraded in any way—“dum nullo accidente vilescant”.131 The verses of the Notaro da Lentino fall far below this standard.

It is clear, I think, that what Figurelli calls “pesante bagaglio intellettualistico” and “pesantezza sostenuta e raziocinizzante” would not displease Dante: on the contrary he would call it “gravitas sententiarum” and regard it as showing the poet's consciousness of the dignity of his subject. Why else would he have chosen Arnaut Daniel as the poet of love par excellence among the Provençals, and caused Guinizelli to praise him so highly in Purgatorio, xxvi? But what, then, about inspiration? Did Dante not appreciate it, and does not “quando Amor mi spira” mean “when Love inspires me”? Of course it does, and the many places in the Commedia where Dante prays for inspiration, especially in the presence of great artistic difficulties, show how he valued it. He also valued the creative imagination, the “fantasia” or “imaginativa” which he often mentions with reverence and wonder,132 but for him inspiration and thought are not separate, nor are phantasy and intellect: “Minerva spira, e conducemi Apollo”.133 He has no inkling of the modern theory that poetry can be damaged by too much thought, and where he tells us that the first line of Donne che avete came to him suddenly after much thought about how he should begin, he is not intimating that thought must become intuition before it can be expressed aesthetically. On the contrary when love dictates to the poet it addresses his mind, and he follows the dictation only if he can understand it.

Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona. …
E certo e' mi convien lasciare in pria, …
ciò che lo mio intelletto non comprende; …
Però, se le mie rime avran difetto …
di ciò si biasmi il debole intelletto
e 'l parlar nostro, che non ha valore
di ritrar tutto ciò che dice Amore.

There can be no inspiration without knowledge; the ignorant are barred. Genuine experience of love is taken for granted, included in the understanding of it (“Donne che avete intelletto d'amore”). The superior nature of love also goes without saying: it is not necessary to assert, as the older poets often did, and among the later ones Guido Orlandi,134 that the love they are writing of is not carnal. And the poet's understanding of love implies, besides genuine experience, a reverent appreciation of the dignity of the subject, serious consideration of it nourished by learning, and a corresponding cultivation of the art of poetry with which to treat it. Poets who have these qualifications are writing according to the inspiration of Amore.

Cino and Cavalcanti both qualify. It is true that the latter's more human view of love insists that it is a passion of sense, but it is not commonplace: even as a passion of sense it has within it an inextinguishable intellectuality, and its source is in the phantasy illuminated by the Intellectual Light. It is not necessary for the poet who is inspired by Amore to have risen to the height of Dante's own conception of love as the power of good in the universe, the love of God moving the world and manifesting itself also as perfect love for an angelic woman. Bonagiunta, now that he lives in the world of spirits, shares this view with Dante, but Cino and Cavalcanti and the others included in “le vostre penne”, although concerned with sexual love alone, have truly sensed its majesty and write learnedly of it, and the others follow in their footsteps. Dante is well aware that his own understanding of love is superior to that of the poets he is praising, and although he mentions Cino repeatedly with affection in the De Vulgari Eloquentia, and singles him out as the poet of love among the Italians,135 he knows that not all his poems measure up to the required standard. He did not hesitate to reprove him for frivolity in love.136 He knows, too, that Cavalcanti's theory of love is the one which he himself held at one time and abandoned later. He himself has progressed from that view to a larger understanding but the earlier view was not false, it was a narrower view based on genuine experience and profound consideration of fine sexual love, not conventional and not frivolous.

When Bonagiunta, after hovering near Dante waiting for an opportunity to address him, compliments him on the canzone which is Dante's own favourite,137 the latter replies deprecatingly that the credit is due to Amore who had inspired him; he himself is only the mouthpiece of Amore. This gives Bonagiunta the opening he is looking for, the chance to declare that now that he is dead (“issa”) he sees what it was that made it impossible for the old-fashioned, famous poets whom he had followed, to approach the sweet style of the newer poets headed by Dante himself. He and Guittone and the Notaro had trusted in their own skill as versifiers, and had written ignorantly and presumptuously. They had not understood the might and dignity of Amore undegraded by any accident. They were ill-prepared to hear his dictation: they had been like blind men dissertating about colour. Now all that is clear to him (“Io veggio ben” etc.) and no one, not even the most penetrating critic, sees the difference between the two styles more clearly than he does now (“e qual più a riguardare oltre si mette, non vede più”). He has said his say and is satisfied; he has his duty in Purgatory to attend to, and is gone.138

The word “dolce” is used, I think, in spite of the contrary opinion of Rossi,139 to indicate the subject Amore. It is in this way that Dante uses the adjective in the third canzone of the Convivio:

Le dolci rime d'amor ch'i' solia
cercar ne' miei pensieri,
convien ch'io lasci; …
diporrò giù lo mio soave stile,
ch'i'ho tenuto nel trattar d'amore;

and in the commentary: “Dico adunque che a me conviene lasciare le dolci rime d'amore … ; e la cagione assegno, perchè dico che ciò non è per intendimento di più non rimare d'amore, ma però che ne la donna mia nuovi sembianti sono appariti li quali m'hanno tolto materia di dire al presente d'amore.”140

He is going to take up the purely moral question of the true nature of nobility: when he again writes about Amore his “rime” will again be “dolci”. It is true that, as Rossi says, the sweetness of the verses is not the same thing as their subject, but that does not hinder the sweetness from being a special attribute of “rime d'amor”.141 He says “Dante scrive anche rime d'amor ‘aspre’”, and quotes Così nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro, but in that poem the subject is not Amore, the quality of the cor gentil, but a frank passion of lust for “questa scherana micidiale e latra”, “quella donna / che m'ha ferito il core e che m'invola / quello ond'io ho più gola”. The rime aspre are the proper expression of this kind of passion, which is certainly not the Amore that Dante and Bonagiunta are contemplating.142

I do not think that the words “dolce stil novo” were intended as a name for any school of poetry, any more than I think that Dante's words “I' mi son un che quando / Amor mi spira” etc. were intended as a scientific description of true poetry. Those three words uttered by Bonagiunta, in whose mouth the adjective “novo” is more suitable than it would be if uttered by Dante himself, are intended to designate poetry of a serious and intellectual kind about genuine fine love, including poems by Guinizelli and those whom Dante calls “gli altri miei miglior”. All such poetry in Italy (Provençal poetry is excluded) is either contemporary with Bonagiunta or later: the earlier Italian love poetry is either merely conventional or ingenious or simply sensuous and sentimental expression of a love that is without grandeur: ignorant verse in Dante's view.

The modern view is different. We do not value erudition or polished language for their own sakes in poetry; they are acceptable to us only when combined with the direct expression of real feeling. In the great volume of early Italian verse there are many passages and some whole poems in which the words seem to us to well up from the poet's heart like fresh water from a spring. We put our finger on these passages and say “Here is true poetry”, and we judge that the Rosa fresc'aulentissima and Rinaldo d'Aquino's Giamai non mi conforto are far better poems than Guinizelli's Tegnol di folle 'mpresa and Cino's Sì mi stringe l'Amore, not to mention Cavalcanti's Donna me prega, which to most moderns is not poetry at all. The difference between us and Dante is not that he did not appreciate the direct expression of feeling; he no doubt felt the beauty of Guinizelli's I'vo' del ver la mia donna laudare, of Cavalcanti's Avete 'n voi li fiori e la verdura, of his own perfect Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare, and he would have shown it somehow if he had written his fourth book of the De Vulgari Eloquentia, which was to deal with ballate and sonnets; but just as sonnets and ballate are inferior to the canzone—a form which the Guittoniani, he says, had no right to attempt—so all uncouth verse and all poetry by uneducated people is beneath the magnificence of the great subject Amore: half-educated poets cannot be inspired by Amore. As Cavalcanti said to Orlandi:

Perché sacciate balestra legare, …
e certe fiate aggiate Ovidio letto, …
non pò venire per la vostra mente
là dove insegna Amor, sottile e piano,
di sua manera dire e di su' stato.(143)

In Cavalcanti, whose example had served him well at first, Dante missed the religiousness which led him later to discard the elder poet as his master. He recognized in him, however, the required combination of feeling and thought, of genius and training, of learning and reverence for the grandeur of the subject, that characterizes the love poetry he admired, and he mentions Donna me prega with respect.144


  1. See Casini in GSLIt, III (1884), 175, and Arnone ed., pp. xlii-xliii.

  2. Valli, p. 210. Lipari, Part I, chap. II and Part II, chap. III; and Italica, XV (1938), 137-8.

  3. Cf. Pietro della Vigna: “Manti ne son de sì fole sapire / che credeno ch'Amore sia niente.” Santangelo, p. 191. Also the sonnets of Jacopo Mostazzo and L'Abate di Tivoli, ibid., pp. 190 and 121.

  4. Albertus, De Homine, Q. IV, Art. II, Sol.: “Et ideo dicit Avicenna in 6 de naturalibus: Perfectio prima est propter quam species fit species in effectu. Perfectio autem 2 est aliquid ex his quae consequuntur speciem rei, aut ex actionibus eius aut ex passionibus, sicut incidere est ensis, et sicut cognoscere et cogitare et sentire est motus hominis. …” Aquinas, Comm. Ethic., I, Lectio 10 (near beginning): “Forma autem est perfectio prima, sed operatio est perfectio secunda.”

  5. An accident is that which is not substance, but is dependent on substance. Cf. Dante, Vita Nuova, XXV, 1. All human passions are accidents.

  6. Meaning: “and is, at the same time, so haughty [as the poets tell us]”. I think this is probably a reference to the frequent descriptions of Love as an imperious, inexorable master. “Amor, ched è signore altero” in the sonnet I'sono alcuna volta dimandato wrongly attributed to Cavalcanti himself, Rivalta ed. (1), p. 76. In this way the “ch'[è]” would be a relative pronoun referring to “accidente”, and would not be dependent on “sì”. Di Benedetto so understands it. The objection to the usual interpretation—“so haughty that it is called ‘Amore’”—is that in stanza II, verse 5, “amore” is said to be a “sensato nome”, a name connoting sense, such, that is, as may belong to any erotic passion.

  7. I shall refrain from commenting on the meaning of these questions until we can consider the answers to them in each of the following stanzas.

  8. See below, e.g., pp. 17-18, 30, 52-3, 54-5, 86, note 24.

  9. Salvadori (2), p. 35, suggests that Guido's studies were directed by Aldobrandino, who died in 1279, when Guido was at least twenty and perhaps twenty-nine years old. When the peace between hostile factions and families, which had been prepared for by Aldobrandino, was ratified by the Cardinal Latino a few months later, Guido was one of the mallevadori. See also Salvadori (1), pp. 7-9. Zingarelli (I, 189) says that Aldobrandino was Guido's uncle, without citing any authority.

  10. The Meno and the Phaedo had been translated by Aristippus of Catania. See Sarton, II, 346-7.

  11. See Dante, Convivio, II, xiii, 17: “… ne la scienza naturale è subietto lo corpo mobile, … e la sua considerazione principalissima è considerare li principii de le cose naturali, li quali sono tre, cioè materia, privazione e forma. …” And see the notes in the edition of Busnelli and Vandelli quoting St. Thomas (Comm. Physic., I, Lectio 1): “De his igitur quae habent in se principium motus est scientia naturalis.” “Et quia ad scientiam pertinet non solum considerare subiecta, sed etiam passiones, … ideo subiungit [Philosophus] quod naturalis scientia existit circa praedictorum passiones et motus; …” Comm. De Coelo et Mundo, I, Lectio 1.

  12. “… cioè di basso intendimento. …” Egidio. “… bestialis et depressi intellectus. …” Dino del Garbo. Similarly other commentators. Heart can be used for mind or soul, because it is the organ by which the soul operates all its faculties in the body. Cf. Albertus, De Anima, II, I, cap. vii: “… et tunc dicendum quod anima est in corde …” “… in corde, quod est organum essentiae animae deputatum. …” Ibid. Cf. Dante, Vita Nuova, XXXI, 11: “Non è di cor villan sì alto ingegno.” There is no reference here to Guinizelli's doctrine of the “cuor gentile”, as the context shows. The poet demands a scholarly audience because he is going to use no arguments other than scientific.

  13. “Ragione” means discussion. Cf. Albertus, De Anima, I, II, cap. ix (end): “Redeuntes autem ad id unde ratio nostra est, dicimus. …”

  14. “… crediamo che si debba credere a le sue parole come elle suonano, poi che in questa Canzone per lo più fa professione di Filosofo e non di Poeta, nè procede come fanno essi Poeti sotto velami o finzioni.” Paolo del Rosso, p. 20.

  15. See Busnelli, pp. 152-3.

  16. De Homine, Q. XL, Art. I (Ad aliud … contra quintam): “… memoria sensibilis est per se, et intelligibilis per accidens.” Q. LVII, Art. V, Sol.: “Sine praeiudicio aliorum dicimus quod anima rationalis proprie loquendo non habeat memoriam.”

  17. De Memoria etc., Tr. I, cap. iii (2nd paragraph) (Paris ed., vol. IX, p. 102a): “Videamus igitur qua parte animae accipitur continuum et figura et tempus, et tunc sciemus cuius partis animae sit memoria. … Diximus autem in libro de anima quod phantasia est passio sensus communis sicut efficientis, quoniam est motus et passio a sensu communi facta. Quare manifestum est quod in primo sensitivo quod est sensus communis prima horum cognitio fit: memoria autem … etiam illa quae est intelligibilium, non fit sine phantasmate, ergo memoria, ex eis quae sunt apud animam, reflectitur in res per accidens quidem intelligibilium, eo quod ipsa reflexio aliquando incipit ab intelligibili prius accepto. Per se autem est primi sensitivi, eo quod perfectio memoriae nunquam fit sine eo quod acceptum est a primo sensitivo, quod est magnitudo determinata et tempus.”

    Ibid. (end): “Manifestum igitur ex dictis cuius partis animae sit memoria principaliter. Est enim partis sensibilis accipientis quantitatem et tempus, cuius est etiam phantasma. Haec enim quae accipiuntur sic per se sunt memorabilia, quia illorum est phantasma. Secundum autem accidens memorabilia sunt quaecunque sunt cum phantasia sicut sunt intellecta intellectus possibilis, quae ex phantasmatibus prius accipiuntur et postea phantasmatibus iterum applicantur quando ex intellectis anima reflectitur in rem prius per sensum acceptam.”

  18. In the De Anima, like most of the commentators of Aristotle, St. Albert includes the Common Sense, reducing the number to five by considering Memory and Reminiscence as one faculty: “Sic igitur sicut sunt quinque sensus exteriores … ita sunt quinque sensus interiores: sensus communis, imaginatio, aestimativa, phantasia et memoria.” III, I, cap. ix. The Common Sense earns the right to be considered an internal sense by the formative act of judgment that distinguishes it, but in the De Homine St. Albert prefers to treat it as an external sense in order to emphasize the exclusive homogeneousness of the internal senses.

  19. “… et hoc modo videntur omnes istae vires animae sensibilis esse interiores in una essentialitate communi et substantia, differentes autem secundum esse materiale in diversis partibus cerebri, in quo organizantur istae potentiae, quae omnes sunt organicae.” Albertus, De Anima, II, I, cap. iii. “Sensus quos anima secum trahit [after death] non sunt isti exteriores sensus sed interiores, qui scilicet ad partem intellectivam pertinent, quia intellectus interdum sensus appellatur, …” Aquinas, Comm. Sent., IV, Dist. 44, Q. 3, A. 3, Sol. 1 (Ad secundum).

  20. This is the understanding of Egidio Romano and Paolo del Rosso. The importance of determining the exact meaning of “quella parte” will appear later, when it will be seen that, in the production of Love, a very important part is played by the Fantasy, which is the most active and the most intellectual of the internal senses, and that Memory alone could not be the abode of Love.

  21. Azzolina (p. 44) understands it in this way; other commentators either leave it unexplained or, like Frachetta, labour helplessly over it. Some, however, read: “Elli è creato e da sensato nome”, which is especially difficult to explain.

  22. By punctuating and consequently translating in this way I am dismissing all the interpretations based on the previous punctuation. I shall mention them in the appendix on the commentaries, and I hope it will then be apparent that I have not dismissed them without careful reflection.

  23. “Et ideo lumen est receptus habitus in natura diaphani, et lumen est actus eius et perfectio eius secundum quod est diaphanum: potentia autem lucidum est id subiectum quod est susceptibile luminis et tenebrarum.” Albertus, De Anima, II, III, cap. viii (§ 69).

  24. See above pp. 14-16.

  25. The best historical account of the theory of Intellectual Light is in Clemens Baeumker's Witelo, pp. 357-514. The De Intelligentiis attributed to Witelo, who spent much of his life in Italy in the second half of the thirteenth century, is full of the theory.

  26. Albertus, De Anima, I, II, cap. xiii (“Sciendum igitur” etc.); III, II, cap. xviii (end: “Cum enim” etc.). De Intellectu et Intellig., I, III, cap. i (end: “quia intellectus” etc.). Ethicorum, I, VI, cap. vi; I, IX, cap. iv (“Ita est in omni” etc.). De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, II (passim); I, IV, especially cap. ii; II, I, capp. i, ii, and xxv. St. Albert derived the theory from many sources, but largely from Avicenna and Algazel. See Miller, especially chap. VII.

  27. De Causis et Proc. Univ., II, I, cap. xxv: “… causa prima est quae nunquam cessat illuminare causatum suum: lumine enim suo producit ipsum et lumine suo irradiat super ipsum, et ipsa causa prima non illuminatur a lumine alio. Causa enim prima lumen purum est, super quod non est aliud lumen.” These are words taken from the Liber de Causis, § 5.

  28. De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, II, cap. i (2nd paragraph): “… et hoc est intellectus purus universaliter agens, qui ex seipso constituit et producit et facit omne quod est: propter quod dicitur illustrans super alia et non illustratus ab alio, et propter quod omne quod emanat ab ipso, prout est purus et simplex intellectus, sive immediate emanet, sive per medium, et sive per unum medium sive per plura, proculdubio intelligibile est lumen: ab ipso enim immediate emanat lumen quod est intelligentia, lumen autem quod forma naturalis est illustrans materiam emanat ab ipso per medium unum vel plura. …” Ibid., II, II, cap. xxxvii (middle of 2nd paragraph) (Paris ed., vol. X, p. 534a): “Si autem quaeratur quid sit continuans inter intelligentiam et animam … dicendum quod hoc secundum Peripateticos est lumen intelligentiae: hoc enim per omnia penetrat sicut lumina caelestia penetrant per materiam corporalem. … Sed hoc lumen in his quae penetrant diversimode formatur secundum diversam potestatem eorum in quibus est. In anima enim nobili, quae proxima est [the “Anima Nobilis” is the “soul of the world”, the third of the primary causes, next to the “Intelligentia”], ad esse intellectivum et intellectualiter activum formatur. In his autem quae inferiora sunt, in corpore quidem … formatur ad esse intellectibile potentiale … qui vocatur intellectus possibilis sive potentialis. In aliis autem formatur aliter et aliter secundum uniuscuiusque propriam potestatem et analogiam. Et huius quidem luminis processus totus secundum substantiam a prima causa est, quae est fons omnis bonitatis.”

  29. Ibid., II, I, cap. ii (2nd paragraph) (Paris ed., vol. X, p. 436b): “Intelligentia vero est substantia intellectualis … cuius primum lumen intellectuale ab omnibus moventibus et motis est desideratum: et ideo movet immobilis omne quod est, sicut desideratum immobile movet desiderium. …”

  30. Ibid., II, I, cap. i (3rd paragraph) (Paris ed., vol. X, p. 434b): “… omnia hic considerata [i.e. in the Liber de Causis Primariis] lumine Primi venustantur, sicut etiam dicit Boethius in libro De Consolatione Philosophiae: ‘Mundum mente gerens pulchrum pulcherrimus ipse’. …” Ibid. (4th paragraph): “… ita ea quae hic determinantur sunt pulchritudines omnium rerum quarum pater generans est causa prima, ad formam pulchritudinis suae producens ea.”

  31. See Scheludko, “Guinizelli und der Neuplatonismus”, DVLG, XII (1934), 364-99.

  32. Dante, Paradiso, xiii, 79-81.

  33. Ibid., xiii, 55-66. St. Thomas had been of the opinion, in his life-time, that the word light could only be used metaphorically with regard to spiritual matters (Comm. Sent., II, Dist. 13, Q. 1, A. 2) and rejected the whole theory of metaphysical light. It is not clear what Dante's own opinion was, but there is no doubt that St. Albert, like St. Augustine, thought of this Intellectual Light as a real not metaphorical light. See De Intellectu et Intellig., II, cap. iii (1st paragraph, middle): “… universitas corporalium habet unum primum agens … quod est lux solis, super quam irradiat lux agentis primi intellectus, et nisi irradiaret super ipsum lux solis non esset effectiva formarum corporalium.” De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, IV, cap. iv (near beginning): “… lumen corporale quod luminis intellectualis in corporibus est exemplum, …”

  34. Cf. Dante, Paradiso, XXX, 40: “… luce intellettual, piena d'amore; …”

  35. Albertus, De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, IV, cap. v (beginning): “… sicut dicit Isaac [Israeli], semper posterius oritur in umbra praecedentis. Umbram autem vocamus differentiam per quam coarctatur et obumbratur amplitudo luminis a priori procedentis secundum genus cuius libet causae.” De Anima, I, II, cap. xiii (near end): “In quibusdam autem, quae aequalitati caeli magis appropinquant, … multum resultat de lumine suo, sicut in intellectuali anima … et aliquando vocatur umbra intellectus divini, eo quod lux illa … aliquantulum obumbratur ex inclinatione ad materiam corporis physici. …” De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, IV, cap. v (near beginning): “… sensibile in umbra intellectualis, et vegetabile in umbra sensibilis. …” De Intellectu et Intellig., I, I, cap. v (near end): “Haec autem essentia descendens privatur simplicitate et potestate plus et plus, sicut dicimus, usque ad ultimum ens quod minimum accipit entis differentiam et potestatem, et haec privatio est eius obumbratio vocata a Philosophis.”

  36. Albertus, Ethicorum, IX, II, cap. i: “… anima humana effectus et in ago est luminis primae causae, quamvis a forma ipsius longe differt distantia. Ex hoc enim quod conjuncta est activis et passivis, ex principiis activorum et passivorum complexionatis et compositis, est quasi lumen nubi immersum.”

  37. Albertus, Metaphysicorum, XI, II, cap. xx (end): “Iste igitur est modus quo et intelligentiae et orbes causantur a causa prima, et ex isto ordine patet qualiter prima causa irradiat super omne quod est; quia universitatem materiae continet suus orbis, et tamen lumen eius est illud cui coniungitur radius intelligentiae secundi orbis, et tamen ille inferior sic iungitur sibi et determinat ipsum; et iste sic duplicatus radius iungitur inferiori, et iterum magis determinatur. Et sic fit processus descendendo usque ad materiam generabilium in qua per qualitates et formas materiales maximam recipit determinationem.”

  38. Albertus, De Animalibus, XX, II, cap. ii (end of 1st paragraph): “Et quia intelligentia non operatur per se nisi ebullitione suae activae lucis, sicut artifex operatur ebullitione formarum intellectualium, ideo dicunt quidam stoicorum quod formae inferiores fiunt omnes a lumine intelligentiarum, quod non ita dictum est quod lumen intelligentiarum per se agat eas, sed potius prima causa agit per se, et intelligentiae motu caelestium agunt sicut instrumenta.”

  39. Albertus, De Homine, Q. V, Art. IV, Sol. (toward end): “Cum intelligentiae sint motores sphaerarum secundum philosophos, per motum illum aliquo modo causant quare anima existit in corpore, eo quod movent ad generationem corporum.” De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, IV, cap. viii (Paris ed., vol. X, p. 430a): “Si vero elementum in elementum agat sub forma caelestium corporum et virtute, hoc est quod elementa in se agant et a seinvicem patiantur non secundum qualitates proprias, sed secundum quod qualitates suae sunt informatas virtutibus caelestium et luminibus et figuris, erunt motus commixtionum secundum omnes differentias, mineralium scilicet, vegetabilium et sensibilium … ita scilicet, quod in omnibus his forma ad lumen intelligentiae referatur, virtus autem ad generans proximum, quod est formativa ipsius habens virtutes caelestium immixtas et commixtas in naturam et qualitates elementorum.” De Caelo et Mundo, II, III, cap. iii (toward end): “… lumen est propria forma stellarum et corporis caelestis, quae universaliter movet materiam generabilium ad esse, et ideo primi mobilis motus et caeli universaliter, per luminis influxum in generabilia, est sicut vita quaedam existentibus omnibus per naturam, et ideo ipsum est dissolutivum materiae, et per consequens calefactivum, et ideo calefacit calore vivifico inquantum est lumen, licet aliam proprietatem habere possit inquantum est lumen huius corporis vel illius, sicut alterius naturae est lumen Jovis et alterius naturae lumen Saturni, …”

  40. Albertus, De Causis et Proc. Univ., I, IV, cap. vi (near beginning): “Et forma qua fluit primum magis ac magis coarctatur et determinatur secundum quod fluit in secundo vel in tertio, et sic deinceps. …” Ibid., cap. v (near beginning): “… quod semper per aliquem occasum et obumbrationem prioris constituitur sequens differentia entis, sicut sensibile in umbra intellectualis, et vegetabile in umbra sensibilis; corpus autem contrarietate determinatum in umbra caeli, quod sola corporeitate determinatum est; commixta vero corpora consequenter consequuntur in umbratione et remissione qualitatum elementalium. …”

  41. Albertus, De Intellectu et Intellig., I, I, cap. iv (toward end): “Eodem autem modo est de forma artis in mente artificis quam exequitur manus et cadit in instrumentum et suscipit ferrum, quae proportionaliter in omnibus est eadem, et tamen magis determinata ad materiam in manu quam in mente artificis, et magis in malleo quam in manu, maxime autem in ferro est determinata eo quod ferrum materialiter suscipit eam. Et esset hoc in multis simile intelligentiis et causae primae et materiae generabilium si manus intellectum haberet et malleus quo conceptam formam a mente artificis explicarent et exequerentur. Unde sicut nihilominus, tali existente hypothesi, in arte erunt a mente artificis, sic omnia in praehabitis sunt a causa prima, licet intelligentiae quasdam bonitates explicent et per motum caelestem inducunt in materiam.”

  42. Ibid. (middle): “… in lumine quod est universalis causa colorum videmus quod, licet ultimos constituat per commixtionem priorum, tamen omnis constitutio coloris est per naturam perspicui participantis lumen tanquam prima colorum hypostasis, et quicquid aliquis color de natura habet coloris ab ipso habet, et si quid aliud est in ipso potius est de privatione naturae coloris quam mereatur dici coloris essentia. Omnino igitur eodem modo cum primum effluit bonitates suas super media et ultima, si aliquid esset a mediis influxum super ultima, tamen constitutio ultimorum non est nisi ex participatione bonitatum primi, et si quid aliud est in eis, est aliquid privationis. …” Ibid. (a little farther on): “Est enim in omnibus intelligentiis ordo formarum practicarum quae per ipsas in materiam generabilium descendit, et sunt formae in omnibus eaedem sed in inferioribus magis et magis determinatae, sicut forma lucis eadem in sole et in aere et nube et corpore determinato, licet lumen secundum quod magis descendit a sole magis et magis coarctetur et determinetur ad naturam coloris.”

  43. Albertus, Physicorum, I, II, cap. xvi (end): “… privatio uno modo est contrarium, et secundum hoc est privatio actus et formae, sed alio modo est aptitudo in subiecto relicta ad formam, et sic principiat motum in materia, et hoc modo est appetitus et desiderii causa.” Ibid., II, I, cap. vii (§ 15): “… privatio, propter habitualem aptitudinem quam relinquit et supponit in subiecto, forma est quodammodo, et sic privatio est natura secundum aliquem modum.”

  44. “In unoquoque autem horum appetituum amor dicitur illud quod est principium motus tendentis in finem amatum … coaptatio appetitus sensitivi vel voluntatis ad aliquid bonum, id est complacentia boni, dicitur amor sensitivus vel intellectivus, seu rationalis.” Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvi, Art. I.

  45. “Omne autem quod determinatum est mixtione et complexione primarum qualitatum est attributum septem sphaeris septem planetarum.” Albertus, Metaphysicorum, XI, II, cap. xxv (toward middle).

  46. Ptolemy, p. 192: “Mars, cum solus dominabitur moribus, in locis laudatis facit generosos … robustos … pericula spernentes, non patientes servitutis. … At in locis contrariis, iniustos, sanguinis avidos, turbulentos” etc.

  47. Dante takes the same lenient view, probably influenced by St. Albert. Paradiso, iv, 52-7:

    Dice che l'alma a la sua stella riede
    credendo quella quindi esser decisa
    quando natura per forma la diede;
    e forse sua sentenza è d'altra guisa
    che la voce non suona, ed esser puote
    con intenzion da non esser derisa.

    See also Convivio, IV, xxi, 2-4, for a similar defence of Plato.

  48. Albertus, De Natura et Origine Animae, II, cap. vii (end): “Determinationem autem eius quod factum est a primo intellectu ad vires ut ad corpus dicebat fieri Plato per inferiores intellectus et orbes. … Hoc autem voluit dicere: quod anima quidem sit a causa prima, ad similitudinem luminis intellectuum caelestium, sed inductio eius in corpus est per motum orbis. …” Summa Theol., Secunda Pars, Tr. XII, Q. LXXII, Membri Quarti Art. III (near end): “Ad dictum Platonis dicendum, quod erroneum est simpliciter. … Si tamen excusari debeat aliquo modo, tunc dicendum quod sementis non est anima, sed potius virtutes caelestes in materiam generabilium diffusae, praeparantes corpus ad generationem ut infundatur anima, … Ibid. (farther on): “Ad aliud dicendum quod non intellexit Macrobius, nec etiam Plato, quod anima rationalis vires acciperet in stellis. … Sed volebant dicere quod in corpore dispositiones ad tales actus potentiarum iuvantur a proprietatibus planetarum et stellarum. …”

  49. De Homine, Q. V, Art. III (“Item Macrobius”).

  50. De Anima, I, II, cap. vii (§ 45, near end).

  51. Cf. Albertus, ibid., III, IV, cap. i (§ 42): “… animus ab animositate dictus, qui irascibilis vocatur. …”

  52. Aquinas, Summa Theol., I, Q. lxxxi, Art. II: “… appetitus sensitivus est una vis in genere, quae sensualitas dicitur; sed dividitur in duas potentias, quae sunt species appetitus sensitivi, scilicet in irascibilem et concupiscibilem.”

  53. Aquinas, De Veritate, Q. XXV, Art. II: “Hoc autem communiter in potentiis animae invenitur, quod recipere et agere ad diversas potentias pertinet, sicut patet de intellectu agente et possibili. Et inde est quod secundum Avicennam, ad irascibilem pertinet fortitudo et debilitas cordis, quasi virtuti ordinatae ad agendum; ad concupiscibilem autem dilatatio et constrictio ipsius, quasi virtuti ordinatae ad recipiendum.”

  54. Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxiii, Art. I: “… objectum potentiae concupiscibilis est bonum vel malum sensibile simpliciter acceptum, quod est delectabile vel dolorosum. Sed quia necesse est quod interdum anima difficultatem vel pugnam patiatur in adipiscendo aliquod hujusmodi bonum, vel fugiendo aliquod hujusmodi malum, inquantum hoc est quodammodo elevatum supra facilem potestatem animalis; ideo ipsum bonum vel malum, secundum quod habet rationem ardui vel difficilis, est objectum irascibilis.” Cf. also Albertus, De Homine, Q. LXVII, Artt. I and II.

  55. Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvi, Art. I: “… Philosophus dicit … quod ‘amor est in concupiscibili’.” Cf. Dante, Epist., III (IV), 5: “… potentia concupiscibilis, que sedes amoris est. …”

  56. Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxv, Art. II (Conclusio): “Cum omnes in potentia concupiscibilis passiones ex amore causantur, primam quoque passionum concupiscibilis necesse est ipsum amorem esse.” Ibid. (farther on): “Ipsa autem aptitudo sive proportio appetitus ad bonum est amor, qui nihil aliud est quam complacentia boni.” Ibid., Q. xxvi, Art. II: “… amor est passio, proprie quidem secundum quod est in concupiscibili, communiter autem, et extenso nomine, secundum quod est in voluntate.”

  57. Aquinas, ibid., Q. xxv, Art. I: “Et sic manifestum est quod omnis passio irascibilis terminatur ad passionem concupiscibilis pertinentem ad quietem, scilicet vel ad gaudium vel ad tristitiam. Sed si comparentur passiones irascibilis ad passiones concupiscibilis quae important motum, sic manifeste passiones concupiscibilis sunt priores, eo quod passiones irascibilis addunt supra passiones concupiscibilis, sicut et objectum irascibilis addit supra objectum concupiscibilis arduitatem sive difficultatem. Spes enim supra desiderium addit quemdam contaum et quamdam elevationem animi ad consequendum bonum arduum; et similiter timor addit supra fugam seu abominationem quamdam depressionem animi propter difficultatem mali. [Hope and fear are passions of the “irascibilis”; desire and hatred belong to the “concupiscibilis”.] Sic ergo passiones irascibilis mediae sunt inter passiones concupiscibilis quae important motum in bonum vel in malum, et inter passiones concupiscibilis quae important quietem in bono vel in malo. Et sic patet quod passiones irascibilis et principium habent a passionibus concupiscibilis, et in passionibus concupiscibilis terminantur.” (It is important to understand that the irascibilis is not at all the same thing as irascibility, which is merely one of its qualities.)

  58. Albertus, De Homine, Q. LXVI, Art. III, Sol.: “… tribus de causis vis concupiscibilis prae aliis dicitur corrupta et infecta. Quarum una est quia suum obiectum est delectabile simpliciter corruptum, et idcirco vehementius movet. … Tertia ratio est quia concupiscibilis est infundens corruptionem in totam naturam per generationem, et ita non solum habet corruptionem quandam in se in pronitate ad illicitum, sed etiam est infecta et inficiens naturam.”

  59. Ibid., Q. LXVII, Art II: “… arduum et altum … proprium obiectum est irascibilis. …”

  60. See the sonnet Se vedi amore: “Se la soffrenza lo servente aiuta / Puo'di leggier conoscer nostro sire, …”

  61. Aquinas, De Veritate, Q. XXV, Art. II: “Nam quod animal appetat id quod est delectabile secundum sensum, quod ad concupiscibilem pertinet, hoc est secundum propriam rationem sensibilis animae; sed quod relicto delectabili appetat victoriam, quam consequitur cum dolore, quod ad irascibilem pertinet, competit ei secundum quod attingit aliqualiter appetitum superiorem; unde irascibilis est propinquior rationi et voluntati quam concupiscibilis.” Ibid. (farther on): “… tam conveniens delectabile quam nocivum tristabile ad concupiscibilem pertinet, secundum quod unum est fugiendum et alterum consequendum; sed habere quamdam altitudinem super utrumque, ut scilicet nocivum possit superari, et delectabile cum securitate quadam possideri, ad irascibilem pertinet.”

  62. Albertus, De Homine, Q. LXVII, Art. I (end): “… irascibilis est concupiscentiae vindex proheretice, hoc est quod violenter pugnando intendit destruere concupiscentiam et concupiscentem: bellum enim semper est propter quietem et pacem, ut dicit Augustinus.” See Albertus, De Motibus Progressivis, II, cap. i (near beginning): “Prohaeresis autem sive eligentia et aestimatio sunt communem quandam rationem habentia movendi, et intelligentiae appetitus sive desiderii.”

  63. See above, p. 32, note 23/53.

  64. On the Aristotelian orexis or conation see Brett, I, 140-1.

  65. This is the first and obvious meaning of amore. The other meanings, philosophical, theological, poetical, are metaphorical adaptations. “… namque voluptatem praesagit muta cupido. / Haec Venus est nobis: hinc autemst nomen amoris.” Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 1051-2. “Mens Bona ducetur manibus post terga retortis, / et Pudor et castris quidquid Amoris obest.” Ovid, Amores, I, II, 31-2. “Amor est passio quaedam innata … ob quam aliquis super omnia cupit alterius potiri amplexibus. …” Andreas Capellanus, p. 3.

    Aquest deziriers naturals
    Sapchatz cert que non est als
    Mas talens e afeccios
    Qu'es entre femes e masclos
    De se carnalman ajustar
    Per la natura cocervar. …

    Matfre Ermengaud, II, 412.

  66. This mental contemplation is the habitus of Love as opposed to the operatio, the first perfection as opposed to the second, like the habit of knowledge in the learned man as opposed to study: “Alius quidem [actus] enim est forma per modum habitus quiescentis in suo subiecto, et ille est sicut scientia quiescens in sciente. Alius autem est operatio essentialis procedens ab huiusmodi actu, sicut actio vitae procedit ab anima, et ille est sicut considerare, quod est actio scientis in actu considerantis.” Albertus, De Anima, II, I, cap. ii (§ 5).

  67. The soul operates all its bodily functions through the heart, and it is in the heart that sensation becomes movement. The heart is the source of all movement of the appetites, as the primum mobile is the source of motion in the heavens. Desire of the heart, therefore, implies activity of the appetites. “Dicimus quod anima est una et habet partes organicas quae omnes continuationem habent ad unam quae est cor … et tunc dicendum quod anima est in corde. …” Albertus, De Anima, II, I, cap. vii (§ 20). “Sed moveri sic ab anima est, sicut irasci aut timere, ex eo quod ex aliqua causa anima cor sic vel aliter moveat.” Ibid., I, II, cap. iv (§ 63). “Cum motu autem et alteratione corporis fiunt desiderium, mansuetudo, timor, confidentia. Adhuc etiam gaudium et amare et odire. In omnibus enim his movetur cor secundum diastolem vel systolem, et compatitur animae corpus.” Ibid., I, I, cap. vi (§ 14). “Volontate” has here the general meaning desire, not the special meaning of voluntas when it is used for the rational will, as is shown by the qualification “di cor”. “Voluntas multipliciter dicitur, communiter scilicet et proprie. Communiter dicitur voluntas omnis inclinatio alicuius ad actum, …” Albertus, Ethicorum, VI, I, cap. ii (4th paragraph) (Paris ed., vol. VII, p. 394b). “Voluntas est desiderium nondum adeptae rei. …” St. Isidore, Differentiarum, I, no. 210, in Migne ed., vol. LXXXIII. “Que fin'amor, so sapchatz, / Non es als mas voluntatz. …” Aimeric de Pegulhan, in Mahn, I, 904.

  68. “… obiecta enim sunt quae inferunt potentiis passiones, et potentiae informantur per species obiectorum. …” Albertus, De Anima, II, II, cap. i (§ 33, end).

  69. For St. Albert's view of this process see De Anima, II, IV, and III, I and II, but especially De Homine, QQ. XXXV-XLII, and LVI-LIX.

  70. Albertus, De Anima, II, III, cap. iv: “Quaecumque autem sunt communia et ita uni sicut alii, et eodem modo convenientia, absque dubio sunt ipsa universalia, quae solum accipit intellectus.” Aquinas, Summa Theol., I, Q. xiv, Art. II (Ad primum): “… species intelligibilis nostri intellectus non potest esse similitudo principiorum individualium. Et propter hoc intellectus noster singularia non cognoscit.”

  71. Albertus, De Anima, II, IV, cap. vii (past middle): “Adhuc autem nos experimur nos uti componendo et dividendo tam formis quam intentionibus, facimus enim hominem cum duobus capitibus, et aliquid compositum ex multiplici forma sensata, et componimus haec cum intentionibus quas elicitas habemus apud nos: et oportet quod faciens illud sit aliquid commune ad quod tam formae quam intentiones referuntur sicut ad quoddam commune, et hoc vocaverunt phantasiam quae existens inter memoriam in qua sunt intentiones, et imaginativam in qua sunt formae acceptae per sensum, utitur utrisque componendo et dividendo. …” Ibid., III, I, cap. iii (beginning): “De phantasia post hoc determinantes dicimus ipsam esse potentiam componentem imagines cum intentionibus, et intentiones cum imaginibus, et imagines et intentiones cum intentionibus, ad duplicem finem qui est in particularibus. Unus autem finis est cognitio particularium maior quam in sensibili anima haberi potest, et illius finis est scientia de hoc quod sit id, et de alio quod sit aliud, et sic de omne eo de quo sententia profertur per modum affirmationis vel negationis. Secundus autem finis est opus quod intenditur ex huiusmodi particularibus, sicut opus in habentibus rationem est finis artis. …” Ibid. (toward end): “… et non tantum potest componere accepta a sensibus, sed etiam fingere his similia. …” The above sentences describe the Fantasy in its restricted sense, as distinct from the Imagination, but St. Albert is not averse to considering it in a wider sense as including the Imagination. See ibid., III, I, cap. vii (§ 155, near beginning): “… accipiemus modo phantasiam generaliter pro imaginatione et phantasia, vocantes totam illam animae potentiam secundum quam nobis fit phantasma vel idolum, re non praesente: sic enim accipitur proprie, …”

  72. Albertus, De Memoria, Tr. I, cap. iii (past middle): “… memoria, autem … etiam illa quae est intelligibilium, non fit sine phantasmate: ergo memoria, ex eis quae sunt apud animam, reflectitur in res per accidens quidem intelligibilium, eo quod ipsa reflectio aliquando incipit ab intelligibili prius accepto.”

  73. Ibid. (beginning): “Dicamus igitur … quod intellectus possibilis non sit in nobis in actu sine phantasmate. Eadem passio accidit intellectui quae accidit discretioni. Discretionem autem vocamus distinctam cognitionem unius ab alio quae fit per cognitionem quando applicatur universale particularibus, ut ex propriis particularibus distincta habeatur cognitio. Ita, nulla in intelligibilibus utentes quantitate determinata, secundum quod intelligibilia sunt, … tamen discretam cognitionem habere volentes ex intelligibilibus quae apud nos habemus, describimus ipsa intelligibilia esse finita et determinata per quantitatem et figuram, … et si etiam intellectus ut intellectus non intelligat quantitatem determinatam, tamen quando reducit intelligibilia ad res, ponit ante oculos quantitatem, quia refert ad rem figuratam quasi esset coram oculis. …” Albertus, De Anima, III, I, cap. i (toward end): “… connaturale est sibi [sc. animae] sub imaginibus corporalibus cognoscere quicquid ipsa cognoscit. …” Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, II, LXXIII (near end): “Intellectus enim possibilis, sicut et quaelibet substantia, operatur secundum modum suae naturae. Secundum autem naturam suam est forma corporis; unde intelligit quidem immaterialia, sed inspicit ea in aliquo materiali; cujus signum est quod, in doctrinis universalibus, exempla particularia ponuntur, in quibus quod dicitur inspiciatur. Alio ergo modo se habet intellectus possibilis ad phantasma quo indiget, ante speciem intelligibilem, et alio modo postquam recepit speciem intelligibilem; ante enim indiget eo ut ab eo accipiat speciem intelligibilem; unde se habet ad intellectum possibilem ut objectum movens; sed, post speciem in eo receptam, indiget eo quasi instrumento sive fundamento suae speciei; unde se habet ad phantasmata sicut causa efficiens; secundum enim imperium intellectus formatur in imaginatione phantasma conveniens tali speciei intelligibili, in quo resplendet species intelligibilis sicut exemplar in exemplato sive in imagine.”

  74. Albertus, De Anima, III, II, cap. xii (Paris ed., vol. V, p. 350a-b): “Licet autem sic dicamus intellectum esse separatum, tamen anima est coniuncta per alias virtutes suas, quae sunt naturales sibi inquantum est corporis perfectio: et ideo, licet intellectus secundum se sit separatus, tamen intellectus est potentia coniuncti, quoniam est potestas animae quae secundum potentias quasdam coniungitur corpori. Omne autem tale quod est coniuncti et non est eius secundum quod est coniunctum, licet non communicet corpori, tamen communicat communicanti corpori: et hoc est quod supra diximus, quod intellectus communicat non corpori sed potestati quae communicat corpori, scilicet phantasiae et imaginationi et sensui. …”

  75. Ibid., II, IV, cap. vii (past middle): “Phantasia autem ab apparitione dicta est, quoniam illa est maior cognitio quam habet anima sensibilis, et est ultimum virtutis eius; et haec a vulgo in hominibus vocatur cogitativa, cum tamen proprie cogitare rationis sit proprium.”

  76. Ibid., I, II, cap. ix (§ 66): “Istius tamen intellectus possibilis intelligere consumitur in senio et in morte debilitatur … alio quodam quod non est suum organum corrupto vel debilitato, et hoc est organum phantasiae et imaginationis, cum quibus communicat intellectus possibilis secundum actum intelligendo: ipsum autem intellectivum secundem se impassibile est. …”

  77. Ibid., I, I, cap. vi (§ 12, end): “Phantasia enim duplex est: quia et ipsa virtus animae quae phantasmata recipit phantasia est, dicimus quod operatio intellectus possibilis est phantasia vel non sine phantasia.”

  78. Nearly all the commentators understand “veduta forma” as meaning the form of the beloved woman, an interpretation which creates difficulty. For if it were the form of the beloved woman that is preserved and cherished in “quella parte dove sta memora” it would be unnecessary to mention the “possibile intelletto”, and the next two verses (8 and 9) would be superfluous. Secondly, if it is the form of the beloved woman that is in “quella parte dove sta memora”, it is hard to explain how the contemplation of that form in “quella parte” can continue indefinitely (“perpetuale effetto”) without “pesanza” and without “diletto”. This second consideration has led interpreters to suppose that “quella parte” of verse 10 refers to the “possibile intelletto” of verse 8, in which case the form in question would be an abstract concept, and love for it could be nothing but a potential comprehension of that concept—not love at all.

  79. Albertus, De Intellectu et Intellig., I, III, cap. i (end): “… intellectus sonat lucem incorpoream naturae intellectualis, quae, sive accipiatur in natura ipsa intellectuali, sive manans ab ipsa, sive recepta, sive terminata super intelligibile, non habet in se formalem aliquam differentiam.”

  80. Albertus, De Apprehensione, IV, 3: “Sicut omnis sensus in sensu communi tota est formalitas sic omnis virtutis sensibilis ultimum et tota formalitas in phantasia esse videtur.”

  81. Far from being in the intellect, Love is the act of the intellect itself, considering ideal feminine beauty by means of the fantasy.

  82. See Summa Theol., II, I, QQ. xxii-xlvi, the clearest and most comprehensive treatise on the passions, and Meier, Die Lehre des Thomas von Aquino. …

  83. St. Thomas' “amor” is, of course, a much broader term than Cavalcanti's “amore”, since it includes all kinds of love, whereas the poet's “amore” is only sexual. St. Thomas is not particularly concerned with sexual love, and he cares nothing for a particular refinement of sexual love like the subject of this poem; his “amor” is an inclination to the good, which, understood generically, is intellectual and belongs to the will, but specifically is the name of a sensual passion belonging to the appetitus concupiscibilis (see Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvi, Art. II). It is only related to the appetitus irascibilis in that all the passions of the irascibilis depend on those of the concupiscibilis, for whereas these latter have for their object the good or bad simpliciter, the former have for their object only the good that is difficult to obtain (bonum arduum) and the evil that is difficult to avoid (malum arduum). Cavalcanti's fine sexual “amore” is also both intellectual and sensual, but as a passion of sense it belongs particularly to the irascibilis, because (for reasons which are not hard to understand) it is always a struggle against arduum. He follows St. Thomas only as far as his “amore” does not need to be specifically distinguished from St. Thomas' “amor”.

  84. “… unde in definitione motuum appetitivae partis materialiter ponitur aliqua naturalis transmutatio organi; sicut dicitur quod ira est ‘accensio sanguinis circa cor’.” Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxii, Art. II (Ad tertium). “… passio proprie invenitur ubi est transmutatio corporalis, quae quidem invenitur in actibus appetitus sensitivi; …” Ibid., Art. III.

  85. “Amplius qualitates dicuntur quaecunque sunt passiones vel passibiles qualitates inferentes vel illatae numeratarum substantiarum, ut calor et frigiditas, et albedo et nigredo, et gravitas et levitas … : et ut universaliter dicatur, qualitates hoc modo dictae sunt quaecunque sunt talia secundum quae dicuntur mutari corpora eorum quae permutantia sunt adinvicem.” Albertus, Metaphysicorum, V, III, cap. vi (2nd paragraph). “… alteratione enim movetur [corpus] a qualitatibus primis. …” De Anima, I, II, cap. xii (§ 83).

  86. “… dicimus enim animam tristari, gaudere, confidere, sperare, et timere, amplius autem irasci et sentire. … Sunt enim omnia ista passiones sive passibiles qualitates illatae, et secundum istas diximus alterari physice in 7 physicorum … haec non sunt in anima, sed potius ab anima in corpore, …” Albertus, De Anima, I, II, cap. ix (§§ 62 and 63). Cf. Dante, Vita Nuova, XVI: “… le oscure qualità ch'Amor mi dona.”

  87. See Meier, pp. 24-5: “… und wie durch die Begehrkraft die Seele Beziehung hat zu den Aussendingen, wie sie an sich sind, … so gehen wir auch in den passiones nicht ‘Phantomen’ nach, sondern verlangen wirkliches Gut seinem natürlichen Sein nach zu besitzen.” When once aroused, these passions of sense have their effect in the internal as well as the external senses, and may be distinguished by different names. St. Thomas uses “tristitia” (Cavalcanti's “pesanza”) for the effect in the internal sense of that which he calls “dolor” in the external sense, or else he uses “dolor” for both. I have used sadness instead of pain, to indicate the different shade of meaning. St. Thomas uses “delectatio” (Cavalcanti's “diletto”) for the passion as it is in the external sense, preferring “gaudium” for the same passion in the internal sense, or else he uses “delectatio” for both. I have translated it pleasure, meaning sensual pleasure. See Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxxv, Art. II. No matter what their effect on the mind may be, these passions of sense are caused by external realities, not by imaginary objects. “… hoc est proprium desiderio sensibili scilicet quod non movetur nisi cum praesentia sensati in actu, econtrario desiderio intellectuali.” Averroes, De Anima, III, § 29.

  88. Fantasy is of two kinds: Phantasia Cognitiva and Phantasia Motiva. The former is to the latter as the Intellectus Speculativus is to the Intellectus Practicus. It is the Cognitiva that has constructed the image of ideal beauty. The Motiva, on the other hand, does rouse the appetite of sense by means of phantasmata that represent real external things. See Albertus, De Homine, Q. LXIV, Art. I.

  89. “Quando autem secundum phantasiam vel imaginationem fingimus aliquid terribile, vel de quo est confidendum, non sequitur aliqua compassio in affectu, sed habemus nos ad talia idola sicut ad ea quae non sunt in re necessario, sed sicut videmus in pariete res fictas quae non sunt in re: et ideo nemo timet leonem pictum vel lupum pictum. Imaginatio autem in phantasia adhuc minus habet de re in veritate quam in pariete, sicut fictum minus habet de veritate rei quam depictum.” De Anima, III, I, cap. vi (§ 154).

  90. “Sic ergo cum amor consistat in quadam immutatione appetitus ab appetibili, manifestum est quod amor est passio, proprie quidem secundum quod est in concupiscibili; communiter autem, et extenso nomine, secundum quod est in voluntate.” Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvi, Art. II.

  91. “… pulchrum est idem bono, sola ratione differens. Cum enim bonum sit quod omnia appetunt, de ratione boni est quod in eo quietetur appetitus. Sed ad rationem pulchri pertinet quod in ejus aspectu seu cognitione quietetur appetitus; … Et sic patet quod pulchrum addit supra bonum quemdam ordinem ad vim cognoscitivam, ita quod bonum dicatur id quod simpliciter placeat appetitui, pulchrum autem dicatur id cujus ipsa apprehensio placet.” Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvii, Art. I.

  92. “… in appetitu intellectivo, sive in voluntate, est delectatio, quae dicitur gaudium, non autem delectatio corporalis … delectatio appetitus sensibilis est cum aliqua transmutatione corporali; delectatio autem appetitus intellectivi nihil aliud est quam simplex motus voluntatis. …” Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxxi, Art. IV. “… delectatio habet rationem passionis, proprie loquendo, inquantum est cum aliqua transmutatione corporali; et sic non est in appetitu intellectivo. …” Ibid. (Ad secundum).

  93. Of the objects of the intellect, those that are not derived from sense-perception can be considered without reflection, but those that have been perceived by the senses or created by the fantasy cannot be considered without reflection because they need to be compared to other sensibles or other imaginables or to intelligibles already possessed by the intellect. “… omne igitur quod intelligit intellectus possibilis, aut intelligit intelligentia simplici … aut intelligit intelligentia circumflexa, sicut ea quae … debent intellectum suum aliis. Et hoc tripliciter variatur, quia quandoque debent intellectum suum sensibus, et quandoque imaginationibus, et quandoque intelligibilibus: et ideo triplicem oportet esse intellectus egressum et in seipsum reflexionem: et egressus quidem vocatur extensio, reflexio autem circumflexio vocatur quia terminatur intellectu a quo incipit prima extensio.” Albertus, De Anima, III, II, cap. xvi (§ 11, end). Every time the lover returns to consider Feminine Beauty, which is in his Intellectus Possibilis as a concept and in his imagination and memory as an image, he compares it to other similar imaginations and to images of beautiful women he has seen: in this way the concept becomes clearer and the phantasma a more perfect representation of it.

  94. “Adhuc autem nihil appetit et quaerit nisi quod est sibi simile: et nihil movetur ad aliquid, ut dicit Boëtius, nisi per quod est simile illi.” Albertus, De Anima, I, II, cap. xiv (1st paragraph).

  95. “… amor importat quamdam connaturalitatem vel complacentiam amantis ad amatum: unicuique autem est bonum id quod est sibi connaturale et proportionatum.” Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvii, Art. I.

  96. “Similitudo cum sit aliquorum unam formam habentium, in eaque una forma quasi unum quid existentium, facit ut unius affectus in alterum tendat, sicut in unum sibi, eique bonum velit, sicut et sibi; ac proinde amoris causa est.” Aquinas, Summa Theol., II, I, Q. xxvii, Art. III (Conclusio). “Similitudo quae amoris est causa, delectationis quoque causa est.” Ibid., Q. xxxii, Art. VII (Conclusio).

  97. Nearly all the MSS give “chi”, only two of the less important giving “che”. It must, therefore, be referring to a person or to something personified, in this case to “Marte”. Professor Spitzer of Johns Hopkins has suggested to me that “fa creare” may mean no more than “crea”. The suggested meaning belongs to the Romance languages and is common enough in OFr (cf. Meyer-Lübke, Grammaire des langues romanes, III, § 327) but examples in OIt are rare and doubtful. Ordinarily, in OIt as in the modern language, “lo fa creare” would mean causes it to be created or, as I have translated it, brings about its creation.

  98. An exquisitely sensitive critic, Edmondo Rho, dismisses Dante's words to Bonagiunta as contributing nothing to our knowledge of the poetry in question. “La formula dantesca altro non significa che affermazione di arte vera di fronte a una falsa arte; creazione, non costruzione; spontaneità e profondità, non convenzioni e superficialità.” (Rho, p. 4, note 1.) That is not, I think, an adequate interpretation of Dante's meaning, and since we are concerned with the theory of love, it is important for us to understand those words.

  99. Purgatorio, xxiv, 49-63.

  100. Rossi, p. 46.

  101. Ibid., p. 44.

  102. Ibid.

  103. De Vulg. Eloq., II, iv, 9.

  104. Parodi in BSDIt, XIII, 253.

  105. Figurelli, pp. 12-13.

  106. In a later chapter of the Vita Nuova (XXX) occurs the expression “la nuova materia che appresso viene”, which is not the same as the previous “matera nuova”.

  107. Cf. De Vulg. Eloq., II, viii, 8.

  108. In my article “Dante and Bonagiunta”, RDS, April, 1936, I have fully explained my view of the meaning of the episode in Purgatorio, xxiv. When Bonagiunta says “issa vegg'io” he means “now that I am dead I see”.

  109. Purgatorio, xxvi, 98-9.

  110. Cf. the sonnet Poi ch'avete mutata la manera. Rossi (p. 46, note 1) thinks very reasonably that in Purgatorio, xxiv, Bonagiunta is making amends for his attack on Guinizelli. Even the canzone Donne che avete, written before 1290, was not very new in 1300 when Bonagiunta is supposed to be speaking.

  111. Vossler, pp. 61-2, and 71. Cf. Vossler in LBlgrPh (1906), 409-11: “… als den dem stil nuovo zu Grunde liegenden philosophischen Prozess habe ich die Symbolisierung der Frauenliebe bezeichnet. Dieses ist die philosophische Definition des stil nuovo.”

  112. Vossler (p. 71) extends it, in agreement with Cian, to poetry other than erotic, which he would call “stil nuovo”, without the “dolce”.

  113. Figurelli, p. 141.

  114. Ibid., p. 212.

  115. Ibid., pp. 145-7.

  116. Ibid., p. 144.

  117. Ibid., p. 147.

  118. Natale Sapegno (“Sulla scuola poetica del dolce stil nuovo”, Arch. Rom., XIII (1929), 308) calls it “approfondimento e progresso dell'indagine psicologica.” “… lo stil nuovo è, preso nel suo complesso, un fenomeno di cultura prima che di poesia.”

  119. See, e.g., Torraca, p. 37; De Lollis in St. Med., I, 22, note 1; Savj-Lopez, p. 22; Spiers in PMLA, Dec., 1910, p. 672.

  120. De Vulg. Eloq., I, xiii, 1.

  121. Ibid., II, vi, 8.

  122. Ibid., I, xiii, 3.

  123. Ibid., II, i, 5.

  124. Ibid., II, ii, 5.

  125. Ibid., II, ii, 8.

  126. Ibid., II, ii, 5.

  127. “… illa que summe canenda distinximus isto solo sunt stilo canenda; videlicet, Salus, Amor et Virtus, et que propter ea concipimus, dum nullo accidente vilescant.” Ibid., II, iv, 8.

  128. Ibid., II, iv, 7.

  129. Ibid., II, iv, 9 and 10.

  130. Ibid., II, vi, 3.

  131. Ibid., II, iv, 8.

  132. See Purgatorio, xvii, 13-18, and Paradiso, xxxiii, 142.

  133. Paradiso, ii, 8.

  134. “… e non di folle amore me riprendo.” Ballata Come servo francato.

  135. De Vulg. Eloq., II, ii, 9.

  136. See the sonnet Degno fa voi, 3-4: “volgible cor … / ove stecco d'Amor mai non fè foro”, and the other, Io mi credea, 5-6: “ma perch'i' ho di voi più volte udito / che pigliar vi lasciate a ogni uncino”.

  137. Cf. De Vulg. Eloq., II, viii, 8.

  138. I refrain from elaborating and supporting this interpretation because I have already done so in the article “Dante and Bonagiunta”, RDS, April, 1936.

  139. Rossi, p. 84: “Nè si deve credere … che l'epiteto ‘dolce’ alluda necessariamente all'argomento amoroso.”

  140. Convivio, IV, ii, 3.

  141. Cf. Vita Nuova, XIII: “… lo nome d'Amore è sì dolce a udire. …” The traditional association of sweetness and “amor” is confirmed by Niccolò de' Rossi in the commentary on his Color di perla, Lega ed., p. 5: “… charitas, dilectio et amor idem est: dicitur enim charitas quasi cara unitas, dilectio duorum ligatio, amor suavis dulcedo.”

  142. Rossi's position is natural for one who holds that the Amore of the stil nuovo can be any kind of love that is spontaneously expressed.

  143. Di vil matera.

  144. De Vulg. Eloq., II, xii, 3.

Works Cited

Albertus—B. Alberti Magni … Opera … Studio … Petri Jammy. Lugduni, C. Prost …, MDCLI. 21 vols.

———B. Alberti Magni … Opera Omnia … cura Augusti Borgnet. Parisiis, … L. Vivès …, MDCCCXC. 38 vols.

Aquinas—Doctoris Angelici Divi Thomae Aquinatis … Opera Omnia … Studio … S. E. Fretté et P. Maré. … Parisiis, L. Vivès …, MDCCCLXXI-MDCCCLXXX. 34 vols.

Averroes—Summi Philosophi Aristotelis Stagyrite [Opera] cum Averrois commento. Per Bernardinum de Tridino, Venetiis, 1489.

Azzolina (L.)—IlDolce Stil Nuovo”. Palermo, Reber, 1903.

Baeumker (C.)—Witelo, ein Philosoph und Naturforscher des XIII Jahrhunderts. Münster, 1908.

Brett (G. S.)—A History of Psychology. London, Allen, 1912. 2 vols.

Busnelli (G.)—Cosmogonia e antropogenesi secondo Dante Alighieri e le sue fonti. Roma, Civiltà Cattolica, 1922.

Dante—Le Opere di Dante. Testo critico della Società Dantesca Italiana. Firenze, Bemporad, 1921.

——— Il Convivio. Ridotto a miglior lezione e commentato da G. Busnelli e G. Vandelli. … Firenze, LeMonnier, 1934, 1937. 2 vols.

Figurelli (F.)—Il Dolce Stil Novo. Napoli, Ricciardi, 1933.

Meier (M.)—Die Lehre des Thomas von Aquino De Passionibus Animae in Quellenanalytischen Darstellung. Münster, 1912. (Beitr. z. Gesch. d. Philos. des Mittelalters, Band XI, Heft 2.)

Miller (R. G.)—The Notion of the Agent Intellect in St. Albert the Great. University of Toronto dissertation (unpublished).

Ptolemy—Claudii Ptolemei: De Praedictionibus Astronomicis … Philippo Melanthone interprete. … Basileae, MDLIII.

Rho (E.)—Il dolce stil nuovo e G. Cavalcanti, estr. da Pagine critiche. Arezzo, Scheggi, 1921.

Rossi (V.)—Scritti di Critica Letteraria. Vol. I. Firenze, Sansoni, [1929].

Salvadori (1)—Giulio Salvadori: La Poesia giovanile e la canzone d'amore di Guido Cavalcanti. Roma, Soc. Editr. Dante Alighieri, 1895.

Salvadori (2)—Sulla vita giovanile di Dante. Roma, Soc. Editr. Dante Alighieri, s.a.

Santangelo (A.)—Le tenzoni poetiche nella letteratura italiana delle origini. Genève, Olschki, 1928.

Sarton (G.)—Introduction to the History of Science. Published by the Carnegie Institute, Washington; Baltimore, Williams and Wilkins, 1931. 3 vols.

Valli (L.)—Il Linguaggio segreto di Dante e dei “Fedeli d'Amore”. Roma, Casa Editr. “Optima”, 1928.

Vossler (K.)—Die philosophischen Grundlagen zum “süssen neuen Stil”. … Heidelberg, Winter, 1904.

Zingarelli (N.)—La Vita, i tempi e le opere di Dante. Milano, Vallardi, 1931. 2 vols.

Periodicals and Collections

Arch. Rom.—Archivum Romanicum.

BSDIt—Bullettino della Società Dantesca Italiana. Nuova Serie.

DVLG—Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte.

GSLIt—Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana.

Italica—Italica: The Quarterly Bulletin of the American Association of Teachers of Italian.

LBlgrPh—Literaturblatt für germanische und romanische Philologie.

Mahn (K. A. F.) ed.—Die Werke der Troubadours. … Berlin, Mahn, 1846-1853. 4 vols.

PMLA—Publications of the Modern Language Association of America.

RDS—Reports of the Dante Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

St. Med.—Studi Medievali.

Principal Works

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The Early Italian Poets [translated by Dante Gabriel Rosetti] 1861

Pound's Cavalcanti: An Edition of the Translations, Notes, and Essays [translated by Ezra Pound, 1912; edited by David Anderson] 1983

Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti [translated by Lowry Nelson, Jr.] 1986

Guido Cavalcanti: The Complete Poems [translated by Marc A. Cirigliano] 1992

Ernest Hatch Wilkins (essay date 1954)

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SOURCE: Wilkins, Ernest Hatch. “Poetry of the Latter Half of the Thirteenth Century.” In A History of Italian Literature, pp. 29-31. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954.

[In the following excerpt, Wilkins provides a brief description of Cavalcanti's life and major poetic interests.]

As Dante called Guinizelli il padre mio, so he called Guido Cavalcanti his “first friend”—though Guido, born probably between 1250 and 1255, was considerably the older of the two. The Cavalcanti were one of the great Guelf families of Florence. Guido, a man of lofty intellect and strong emotions, exceedingly proud and scornful, was deeply versed in philosophy, yet ready to take his violent share in personal or factional feuds. He came nearest, probably, to peace of mind in his hours of philosophic study, from which he gained mastery of the difficult and elaborate psychological theories of the time. He had the reputation of being an unbeliever. In 1292, whatever his motives, he started on what was ostensibly a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but he did not go beyond Toulouse. Toward the end of the century he became active as a leader of the Whites; and in June 1300, he was among the factional leaders who were banished. He became ill in exile, and was presently allowed to return to Florence, where he died in August.

Cavalcanti's poems—sonnets, several ballate, and two canzoni—are about fifty in number. The most immediately delightful of them all are three sonnets and three ballate which are poems of glowing praise, reminiscent of the similar poems of Guinizelli. But the religious quality of Guinizelli's love is not present here, and the idea of the interdependence of love and inherent nobility is not stressed. Yet these poems, in their greater human simplicity, are as vibrant and as beautiful as the sonnets of Guinizelli. One of them begins:

Who is she coming, whom all gaze upon,
Who makes the air all tremulous with light?

But these joyous poems are by no means characteristic of Cavalcanti.

The most elaborate of his poems is an exceedingly difficult canzone on the nature of love, beginning

Donna me prega, per ch' io voglio dire—
A lady entreats me, wherefore I am ready to speak—

a canzone famous for centuries, and the object of several commentaries. In Cavalcanti's thought, love is a human psychological phenomenon, amenable to scientific analysis and exposition. Such exposition he undertakes in this canzone; and, in spite of the intricate character of his doctrine, he succeeds in setting it forth, highly condensed, in a poem which is at the same time a metrical tour de force, and not untouched with beauty. The love with which he is concerned is of course “fine” love. He maintains that love may exist continuously in the mind as the cherishing of an ideal image of feminine beauty; that it becomes intensely active emotionally when a man cherishing such an image beholds, and is beheld by, a woman who seems to him to be the counterpart of the ideal image in his mind; that he then seeks responsiveness, being in a deathlike distress until it is attained, or if it is withdrawn; and that the active phase of love ends whenever—typically as a result of tensions inherent in the experience itself—the ideal and the real images cease to coincide in the lover's mind.

This concept of love pervades most of Cavalcanti's other lyrics, giving to many of them a somber, even a tragic quality: the words morte and morire—indicating not physical death but the quenching of vitality in the distress of love—recur constantly. Yet the sadness is compatible with great beauty.

Many of his poems are given a dramatic character by the introduction of sentences supposed to be uttered in direct discourse by various persons, real or imaginary: his lady, other ladies, friends, onlookers, love, his heart, his mind, thoughts, sighs, voices, images, the poem itself. And a great many of his poems are peopled with spiriti—fanciful personifications of psychological faculties or of special psychological phenomena. It was presumably in his philosophical studies that he first found such spiriti, and the idea appealed to him so much that he gave it his own extensive personal developments, sometimes subtle, sometimes whimsical. He could even find amusement in his own use of the idea: one of his sonnets has at least one spirito in every line.

Most of Cavalcanti's poems were written for a lady named Giovanna, to whom he gave, in poetry, the name of Primavera, “Springtime.” A few of his later poems were written for a certain Mandetta of Toulouse, who had reminded him of his own lady: these too are deeply felt, and in essence sad, but they are of a gentler and calmer sadness. Several of his sonnets were written in correspondence: they vary from one addressed to Dante in friendly anxiety to others that are in some sense humorous. One of his most beautiful ballate is modeled very skillfully upon the French pastourelle. The last of all his poems, and the most moving, is a ballata written in exile, as he felt the shadow of death closing upon him. After his death his ballata, his soul, and his voice are to go, together, to his lady:

Because I think not ever to return,
                    Ballad, to Tuscany,—
                    Go therefore thou for me
                              Straight to my lady's face,
                              Who, of her noble grace,
                    Shall show thee courtesy …
Ah! ballad, unto thy dear offices
          I do commend my soul, thus trembling;
That thou may'st lead it, for pure piteousness,
          Even to that lady's presence whom I sing.
          Ah! ballad, say thou to her, sorrowing,
                              Whereso thou meet her then:—
                              “This thy poor handmaiden
                              Is come, nor will be gone,
                              Being parted now from one
                              Who served Love painfully.”
Thou also, thou bewilder'd voice and weak,
          That goest forth in tears from my grieved heart,
Shalt, with my soul and with this ballad, speak
                    Of my dead mind, when thou dost hence depart,
                    Unto that lady (piteous as thou art!)
                                        Who is so calm and bright,
                                        It shall be deep delight
                                        To feel her presence there.
                                        And thou, Soul, worship her
                                        Still in her purity.

Cavalcanti was influential, as older companion and as exemplar, upon several younger Florentine poets; but he did not pass on to any one of them his own peculiar darkling torch.

Further Reading

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Cherchi, Paolo. “Guido Cavalcanti.” Dictionary of Italian Literature, edited by Peter Bondanella and Julia Conaway Bondanella, pp. 118-20. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Brief description of Cavalcanti's life, relationship with Dante, and major themes found in his poetry.

Additional coverage of Cavalcanti's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: Reference Guide to World Literature, 2 ed.

Frederick Goldin (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: Goldin, Frederick. “Guido Cavalcanti.” In German and Italian Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology and a History, edited by Frederick Goldin, pp. 298-311. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1973.

[In the following essay, Goldin explains Cavalcanti's influence on court poetry, particularly regarding changes in thematic and stylistic elements, and outlines his system of spirits, which allowed him to de-secularize his descriptions of inner experience.]

The poet was born in Florence to a rich and distinguished family. In 1300, the Guelphs having split into two factions and causing great civil disorder by their violent antagonism, Cavalcanti was exiled along with other leaders of both sides. (Dante at the time was one of the priors—chief magistrates—who ordered the banishment of the leaders.) Cavalcanti was recalled to Florence soon afterwards, and there he died at the end of August in that same year.

Dante was deeply devoted to Cavalcanti (who was at least six years his senior), calling him “primo amico,” his closest friend, and adopting into his own poetry the most distinctive features of Cavalcanti's style. From the time of their first meeting down to Guido's death, the poet was probably the most important influence on Dante, with respect to lyric poetry. Aside from the frequent citations in DVE [De vulgari eloquentia] and in numerous other places, the depth of Dante's devotion can be gauged from a reading of the Vita Nuova alone, which is dedicated to Guido.

The reasons for Dante's admiration are not hard to find. There had never been a poet like Guido before; and it was he—far more than Guinizelli—who set the future of the courtly tradition in Italy. What Contini puts forward as Dante's view holds good absolutely: “… if the stilnovist experiment must be reduced to a single initiative and a single name, it could not be anyone else's but Cavalcanti's.”

It was he who most resolutely took a stand against what he considered the tortuousness, bombast, and vulgarity of Guittone's style; and it seems that it was from his influence that the attitude of the stilnovisti and of succeeding generations toward Guittone was formed. It is clear that Cavalcanti knew exactly what he wanted in the way of style: his poetry is far simpler in syntax, less periodic, more direct, and—insofar as it is freer of complex rhetorical formulations—more “natural” than Guittone's. On the other hand, while he rejected Guittone's rhetorical complications, he introduced other complications of a sort that Guittone never would have dreamed of: he formed his poetry out of other learned traditions—science and medicine, especially—that had not been considered “poetic” before. The heart, for example, as a poetic image is as old as poetry itself; but rarely, if ever, before Cavalcanti was it depicted so nonfiguratively—so scientifically, as the seat, not merely of the passions, but of specific medical processes.

It was not only out of his reaction to the negative ideal of Guittone that his “new style” was formed. His themes were carefully chosen out of the traditional repertory of the courtly lyric. Salinari has defined what he kept and what he left out:

“His themes and his sentimental situations do not differ from the themes and situations already hallowed by tradition; his theories on love, though they benefit from the logical clarity of a more subtle and original background in philosophy (especially Averroism), do not reveal new aspects of the phenomenon of love … Cavalcanti conceives [of love] as violent and sensual … Thus the possibility of an ideal and edifying love is excluded, and consequently such themes are excluded from Guido's lyric poetry … It cannot escape notice that the principal motifs which are basic to his poetry (love as a battle; tears, terror, sighs, and finally the death of the heart, as effects of love; the joy of love as a fleeting consequence of the illusion that there was pity in the eyes of the lady; the love that reaches through the eyes and penetrates into the heart) correspond exactly to the fundamental aspects of love according to his theory … Nor can one overlook Cavalcanti's rejection of a great part of the themes greatly in vogue in the troubadour tradition … Gone are the slanderers, those who discredit the honor of the beloved and create differences between the lovers; gone are the walks beneath the windows, the jealousy, the conversations with the beloved, the laments for the distance, the memories of meetings and of moments passed together, of endearments and quarrels. Gone above all (except in some imitations in his youth) is every analogy with the world of nature, of science, those analogies that had been so dear to the Provençals, the Sicilians, and Guinizelli. Gone are the roses, the flowers, and the precious gems, all the delicate comparisons with which the courtly poets strove to represent the beauty of the beloved lady; gone are the ‘blond tresses’ and the ‘clear visage’ which, even in their generality, delineated a concrete and material reality. Cavalcantian praise rejects every earthly reference: the lady is beautiful, humble, gentle—so beautiful that she cannot be described … The Cavalcantian lady is deprived of face, of body, of any kind of background. She, like all of Guido's figures, moves in a scene without space and without colors …”

This passage, it should be noted, concerns itself exclusively with Cavalcanti's “tragic style”: everything in the courtly tradition that needs any kind of communal audience—especially a court—to complete its meaning is left out; everything else that does not require a specific setting is retained. The results are disheartening. For this loss of “earthly reference” must mean that love is no longer an ameliorative and integrative force. The old “courtly love” could not have existed without a social setting: it integrated the lover with his class by fixing all his lusts and aspirations on a class ideal. The recognition of his peers was his reward. But once the objective setting—the court—is dissolved, the ethical rewards of courtly love are canceled out, and the only part of it that remains is the deprivation—an unrewardable suffering that has nothing to do with “courtliness” any more. Courtly love without a court is a bad dream, sacrifice without expectations. The lover has no prospect but extinction, and the beloved lady no other rôle to play but that of La Belle Dame sans Merci.

Now there are plenty of Cavalcanti's poems in which love is a pleasant and unworrisome thing, especially when he composes in one of the traditional genres that never had a courtly setting—the pastorela (no. 33) for an obvious example. Cavalcanti composed in many styles, including the old courtly style. But when his songs are “tragic,” that is, when they are concerned exclusively with the inner experience of love, then the love they tell about is irrational, debilitating, sterile—its destructive effect is carefully spelled out in his famous theoretical canzone,Donna me prega.

The lady, too, is denigrated, though in a quite subtle way. She is never denounced, all direct abuse being reserved for Love itself, rather than the lady. But in the absence of a court, once her beauty and virtue are no longer seconded by the belief of an exalted community, all her glory is tentative. She now becomes an absolutely empty screen on which the lover sees whatever Love, firmly seated in his heart, wants him to see. Nothing the lover says about her is reliable: her indescribable beauty; the voice preceding her, foretelling her celestial return; the star arising from her image announcing the lover's salvation—all these are visions arising from the lover's need, for Love uses the lover's native forces to enslave him, even his infinite longing. For the lover's soul, like all human souls, is magnetized by the infinite; but Love knows how to mislead it, through the senses, into thinking that the lady is its goal. And so it comes about that that infinite magnetism follows the track of all the common desires that propel the lover to the lady.

The lyrics that have this lady as their subject are quite different from those that focus on the poet's subjective experience of love, for the simple reason that they have to have some kind of setting. These lyrics that praise her beauty and beneficence accomplish this praise by celebrating her effect, and so there is always some trace of a secular scene in which she appears—a street, a voice, a witnessing citizenry that instantly recognizes her perfection; though these testimonies all are illusions too. But in the lyrics of the tragic style, there is no setting outside the boundaries of the lover's being, there is only an inner space full of violence and tension caused by the unrolling of physical processes.

Just as he reduced the thematic elements of the courtly tradition and thereby achieved a powerful, urgent-sounding message, so he reduced the stylistic elements, with a corresponding effect. Foster and Boyde, as they trace the effects of Cavalcanti's influence on Dante, specify Cavalcanti's chief devices: “… the independent status of the faculties, the consecutive clauses, the use of snatches of direct speech … favourite words as paura, pensoso … the technique whereby the pensierispiriti, anima, core, are all personified as independent and autonomous agents, and the lover has no integrated personality … consecutive clauses leading to a passage in direct speech to close the frons …” Opposing this starkness of rhetoric and theme is a dazzling skill in rhyme and versification—a love of technical virtuosity that is inherent, and has remained intact, in the courtly tradition. Thus the tension and multiple conflicts of the inner life are reflected on the verbal surface.

The means by which Cavalcanti represents that inner experience is the most remarkable aspect of the new style. This is the whole complex of the “spirits.” These spirits had been around earlier but had never played such a rôle in anyone's poetry before; so prominent are they in Cavalcanti's, however, that he himself wrote a wonderful parody of the whole works (Per gli occhi fere un spirito sottile). What follows is the briefest sketch of this proliferating system. (There is a good orientation to the subject in Maurice Valency's In Praise of Love.)

These spirits are material substances, produced by the body. Their function is to serve as a medium in various relations: between the senses and their objects; between the organs of the body and the soul. They originate in the digestion of ordinary food and undergo various degrees of refinement through heat, depending upon the nature of their specific tasks.

The spiritus naturalis, the basic substance, is produced in the liver. It is superheated in the heart, the lungs acting as a cooling bellows to prevent scorching, and becomes the spiritus vitalis, which brings warmth and motion to the organs and limbs. It is further refined in the brain and becomes the spiritus animalis. The spirit is an extremely volatile and rarefied substance and, in its highest degree of refinement, as dematerialized as matter can be without ceasing to be matter. It is this hot and airy stuff that forms the nexus between all inner relations, such as that between the senses and the intellect, and outer relations, such as that between the lover and the beloved lady.

Various spirits, formed from the spiritus naturalis, are crucial to all the operations of the senses. For example, visual spirits fly from the eye, strike the object, and return bearing its shape and color. In the same way, there are tactile, olfactory, auditory, gustatory spirits, each capable of returning with a special image. These fragmentary images are integrated by the common sense, the sensus communis, which is still a physical, not a mental, faculty: all these operations so far are common to men and animals.

This integrated image of spirits passes into the heart, where it is superheated and then borne to the first of the three cells of the brain, the imagination, which is the storehouse of such images. Then it passes to the middle cell, the reason (vis aestimativa), where all of its accidents are abstracted—its color, its shape, its peculiar location in time and space, all of the traits of its secular appearance. Washed clean of every local and individualizing mark, it is no longer a visual image: in this abstract state it reveals its essence to the intellect. (On the rôle of the passive and active intellects in this operation, see the notes to Donna mi prega.) The spirit is now borne to the third and hindmost chamber, the memory. Out of this chamber the passage of the spirit continues downward to relay the intellect's judgment and command to the organs and sinews of growth and movement.

Now it can be seen why one of the deadly effects of love is caused by too much sighing, for sighs are exhalations of vital spirits: as they “flee” and “betray” the lover, he must become physically weaker, he may even die. Only a new influx of spirits issuing from the lady—a kindly look (the emission of visual spirits), a gentle smile (the emission of risible spirits)—or the return of his own fled spirits can save him now. Thus, in one sonnet (Veder poteste), Cavalcanti describes the near death of his body: afflicted by the spirit of love, the soul was on the verge of despair and desired to flee:

E po' sostenne, quando vide uscire
degli occhi vostri un lume di merzede,
che porse dentro al cor nova dolcezza.
E quel sottile spirito che vede
soccorse gli altri che volean morire,
gravati d'angosciosa debolezza.
(But then it stopped, for it saw issuing
from your eyes a light of pity,
which rendered an unknown sweetness in my heart.
And this subtle spirit of my sight
rescued every other desiring to die,
borne down by languishing weakness.)

The sighs, as visual and auditory spirits, range widely through barriers and spaces that the body cannot traverse. They bring to the beloved lady an image of the poet's inner state, which she may then come to understand—if she wishes to, that is; and they bring back to him new tidings of the lady, a new influence of her nobility and power. Sometimes these spirits return with no clear image, weak and in great confusion, their very vagueness and disorder a reflection of something ineffable, something miraculous in the lady:

Lagrime ascendon de la mente mia
sì tosto come questa donna sente,
che van facendo per li occhi una via,
per la qual passa spirito dolente;
che entra per li miei sì debilmente
ch'oltra non puote color discovrire
che il maginar vi si possa finire.

(Cavalcanti, I' prego voi)

(Tears from the depths of my soul arise
so quickly when it feels this lady near,
that going forth they make a passage through my eyes,
through which a spirit issues, full of fear.
So feeble is it when it re-enters there,
it can reveal no color, no design,
which this imagination can define.)

(The most beautiful poem ever composed upon this image of the “pilgrim spirit” is the final sonnet of the VN: [Vita Nuova] the sigh issues from the poet's heart, mounts up beyond the outermost heaven, drawn by a new understanding bestowed by Love, and comes to Beatrice in her splendor; once returned to the longing heart that sent it forth, it speaks so subtly that the poet cannot understand it, he knows only that it speaks of Beatrice. The image of her he can see, but the meaning of her glory is as yet beyond him.)

The system upon which this imagery is based is infinitely more complex than this little sketch could possibly suggest—the four humors, the four elements, the influences of the zodiac, and the various complexions of men find their places within it, and it is made to harmonize with Aristotelian and Averroistic epistemology. As a theory of knowledge it was invented in order to preserve the autonomy and supremacy of the intellect; that is, it sought to explain how the intellect could interpret sense stimuli without being subjected to them. For if the mind responded to material objects directly, it would be passive regarding them—they would be the stimuli, its act of understanding the response—and hence inferior to them (by the principles of this theory, the passive is inferior to the active).

In Cavalcanti's hands this system of spirits did great things. It enabled him to go against the current of conventional poetic usage and to find what he could believe in as the source, the spring of poetry, not yet descended through settlements and generations. And the way he found this source is the way of poets in every period, who seek the meaning of experience not so much in experience itself, as in the language that depicts it—just as great aesthetic movements arise when artists see new possibilities, not in the object, but in the resources of their art. Cavalcanti uses this medical theory of the spirits always to one purpose: the literalization of figurative language. This is a method followed by many another poets intent on redeeming the reference of “poetic” words.

It was through this system that Cavalcanti achieved what other late poets aspired to in vain: the complete desecularization of inner experience, and an objective system of describing it. The love relation now has no other setting than the inner life of the lover, and it unfolds according to the processes of that inner life, rather than any ethical or communal ideal. The inner experience of love now is no longer expressed in a pattern of conventional subjective assertions to an audience of assumed lovers who are supposed to recognize their own experience, but in terms of an autonomous process so organic and coherent that it can be “demonstrated.” Nothing is needed but an inceptive stimulus: the lady, or rather the sight of the lady, sets the machinery going, and then it goes on in its own determined course. After that, there is not much else for the lady to do except to stand in as the goal of the searching spirits.

Nothing on earth, as a matter of fact, has much of a rôle to play outside the unrolling of the poet's inner experience. There is a certain subsecular nexus of communication from spirit to spirit, the public reality of both the lover and the lady being dissolved. Aside from that, the only other intimacy possible in this system—friends, enemies, the dearly beloved's residence, all the definitions of a community having vanished—is with the great cosmic process of the heavens, which have a somewhat analogous structure (as the intellect is to the spirits, so is the Creator to the intelligences of heaven) and exert a continual influence. This, too, is spelled out in Donna me prega. Poetic language has changed that larger context which every utterance needs to complete its meaning: its reference extends beyond the human circle to the cosmos.

Thus Cavalcanti was the most successful of all the late poets of the courtly tradition. He did what badly needed doing: he found a way to write effective love poetry without any secular setting. Through the imagery of the spirits, he was able to write of a love relation that needed no geographical, communal, or ethical realm—no messengers, no customs, no code. The inner life, the individuality, of the lover becomes the terrain of a condition. His spirits and faculties populate this condition. But what makes this innovation great—what makes all great innovations great—is that it gives to the tradition it acts upon a way to live on. It preserved as much of the courtly love tradition as could be, when there were no more courts.

The love relation in his poetry, for example, is still a relation between the lover and the image of a beautiful lady; but in the absence of an exclusive, self-defining audience, the image can no longer be ideal, tutelary, emblematic, “Lady Courtliness.” The image is now materialized, consisting in part of spirits issuing from the lady, but mostly of the lover's own projected spirits returning to him in her likeness. This image does not vaguely “come to mind” now, but invades the lover's internal system through the organs of sense and eventually dominates it all the way to the intellect.

It is no longer possible for the poet to impersonate a lover and to cast the audience into various rôles—the friends and enemies are gone. But if impersonation now is obsolete, there is another, more fitting technique that Cavalcanti uses with great brilliance: he personifies the elements of a condition—the condition of love. He gives an urgent personality to the spirits and faculties in their inner scene—the spirits are afraid and run away, the soul grieves and longs to depart, the heart beholds a redeeming spirit approaching, the sighs go searching for help. In this way he dramatizes inner experience to the same extent as the earlier poets dramatized courtly experience. (This is just what other late poets—for example, Ulrich and Burkart—tried to do, with ludicrous effect.)

In the old courtly lyric, the singer would scan the various perspectives of the audience and depict his love from each point of view: in this way he revealed the ideal character of his love and proved the superiority of his noble conception to all those who mocked it. Now Cavalcanti, of course, could not do this, and he had to find another way, because some pattern of perspectives is essential to poetic language. As he changed the scene of poetry from the court to the inner world, he found a way, precisely suitable to this new scene, of making the reader's mind shift continually from one perspective to another.

His system of spirits, as we have noted, had the effect of materializing figurative language—images in the mind now are particles passing from chamber to chamber. At the same time, the conventional, figurative sense persists, for he was writing in the courtly tradition, where that language evolved. Thus, when the spirits fly in terror to the lady and render before her the figure of the poet sighing his life away, this is a way of expressing, in the language of medicine and physiology, the same thing contained in the old envoi, where the poet declared that his thoughts, or his heart, always wandered in search of the lady and dwelt with her—here, where he is, the world sees nothing but the shell of a man. The message, as such, is the same in both cases. What is different is that Cavalcanti has found a way of expressing this convention so that it comes forth as literally, unfiguratively, materially true—the doctrine of the spirits, after all, is not some sentimental effusion, it comes from Galen, and really sick people were treated in accordance with it. Sometimes they even recovered.

Cavalcanti's lines, therefore, are figurative statements denoting a real material process in the air; or purely denotative statements literalizing a figure of speech. The constant shifting of the reader's perspective between the scientific literalness and traditional figurativeness of Cavalcanti's language is the defining experience of his poetry. This is how he makes every line resound with perspective. Every time the reader is entranced by the movement of those tiny particles, he is snatched up by the recognition of the emotions they materialize; every time he reads these lines as standard effusions, he is wrenched back to see them in their guise as literal statements.

This experience of the literalness of figurative language does not occur in the courtly tradition before Cavalcanti; and out of this resolution of opposites a meaning is engendered that is new in the secular lyric genre: the theme of the astonishing relation between the soul's longings and the necessary processes of the material world. Neither realm abolishes the other, quite the contrary: the literalness of this spirituality corroborates it, proves that it is real and that it redeems reality. Above all, it confirms the sacred doctrine that the world was created for man—man comes forth as the glory of the world, for the world needs man, it is not sufficient unto itself in the blind processes that man's perception alone defines and signifies. Cavalcanti's imagery is altogether different from that of the traditional Natureingang, where the common ploy was to depict nature as reflecting or opposing the lover's emotional state. The relation in Cavalcanti's poems between the sentient lover and the atoms of his feelings is not one of reflection or opposition. Something quite different is conveyed: the sense of human intelligence transcending all these processes.

There is always the danger—and Cavalcanti never forgets it—that that intelligence can be engulfed by what it ought to transcend: in the “tragic” poems, love leads to ruination. But for all these dark shadows, Cavalcanti's poetry is incredibly optimistic and full of self-congratulation, quite in the vein of courtly song: in the earlier lyric, a representative of the courtly class sang about how good it felt to be on top of the pile; Cavalcanti celebrates the privileges of man—or rather of a very few gifted men, a small circle of poets—exalted above all things in the ordinary world. The tremendous, dwarfing presence of the Creator—the One who devised the world for man's pre-eminence—is pretty much excluded in this poetry: Cavalcanti's interest does not reach many orbits above the earth. His theme is the relation between the necessitarian sublunary world and man's redeeming presence in it, a relation already implied in the contrasting meanings of spirit: on the one hand, vision and understanding and a kinship with the eternal; on the other hand, the stuff concocted in the liver.

As we shift continually from one perspective to another, we become aware that this constant shifting is itself the final meaning of the poem, the experience it meant us to have: for that movement in our mind is a re-enactment of our duality; and it is already the fulfillment of our supreme purpose on earth: to see the world exactly and to spiritualize it—as when we are aware that the beauty of a beautiful sunset is caused by dust.

Cavalcanti's great service to the courtly lyric tradition was to save it through this literalization—to ground it in the rules of flux and thus to accredit its spirituality, when it was in danger of not being able to find a location in any sphere of life. His poetry is best understood in terms of this tradition. It is true that he often denounces love, but such denunciations are squarely in the tradition—how many poets before him sang that they were sighing their lives away and forsaking the highest things! Cavalcanti stresses this destructive aspect of love, its former ameliorative power having disappeared with the dissappearance of the courts, but not exclusively. The effect of the beloved lady sometimes leads the lover to look beyond the processes of love: “If you gaze upon this one, you will see her virtue ascended into heaven.”

It is at this point, however, that Cavalcanti's vision fades; and yet, even in the terms of the theories he adopted, love had a redemptive power, which needed to be specified as precisely as its physical processes. For the beautiful image, once purified by abstraction, could lead the intellect to a vision of Beauty. But such a thought is hard to find in Cavalcanti, except as an unexamined corollary: he had no wish to follow this track, wherever it led. The only poet who did was the one who hailed him as the dearest friend.

Cavalcanti's vision, then, was pretty much confined to the sublunary world, the heavens being mostly a vast analogy to the inner life. But the temptation to read back from Dante is very great, especially in some passages. For example, Cavalcanti calls the lady donna angelicata in one lyric; in another, the thrice abstracted essence of the beloved announces his salvation. But however often passages like this can be adduced, Cavalcanti was not on the road that Dante followed. The phrase donna angelicata in its context simply means “angelic lady” and so it takes its place in the register of compliments at the disposal of courtly love poets since the beginning.

But it is tempting to stress the participial form and to see in the beloved what would amount to an angelicized lady, a forebear of Beatrice—though such an idea does not fit the context. Dante himself, in a famous passage in the VN (xxiv), took her name, Giovanna, and the season she was compared to (Spring, Primavera) and depicted an overwhelming concept: in the unrolling of his life, there was an analogous re-creation of the great order of salvation, for as Beatrice is his savior, so Giovanna recreates Saint John, announcing her (prima verrà, “she will come first”).

But, of course, this is all Dante's idea, it is none of Cavalcanti's, and to look for it in Cavalcanti is to misread and misprize him. He had nothing like this in mind. What he wanted to do, and what he did so wonderfully, was to revivify traditional courtly poetry, to make it fit the circumstances of belief in his generation. As such it was no different from the ambition of Guinizelli and of the Sicilians before him—and of many fine poets ever since the first “new generation.” The special problem of these late poets, as we have observed, was that they were continuing a theme created for a scene that was gone, and they had only the inner life and the vast air as possibilities for a setting. What Dante did has nothing to do with them, nor were they concerned with what concerned him.

The best way to read a poem like Fresca rosa novella, for example, is to forget about Dante first of all, and to stay within the confines that the poet has marked out: the poem, the inner life, the universal analogy. Then there arises from the text itself—from the images and the verbal forms—a certain pattern, a continuous alternation between activity and passivity, between the emission and reception of transforming energy. It is this pattern that determines the passive form angelicata. It is this pattern, also, that gives the ending, with its reiterated forza, a dramatic and triumphant effect; and a retroactive resonance to the beginning. Fresca rosa novella comes to denote one elemental integrity—the repetition of the -a ending, apart from its grammatical necessity, has the effect of a ligature. These words now signify, not a thing with two attributes, but the integrity of a creature whose youth and miraculousness are of its essence—a new reality at the beginning and at the end of the worldwide process of spring.

In this personification and dramatic play of forces lies Cavalcanti's special gift. And it is instructive to see this in a poem like Fresca rosa novella, for that is one of his most joyous and least doctrinaire lyrics, not at all in the “tragic style,” which is usually regarded as most characteristic, and to which most of this introduction has been devoted.

Text: Guido Favati, ed. Guido Cavalcanti, le Rime. Documenti di Filologia, 1. Milan and Naples: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1957; with some changes in punctuation.

Ezra Pound (essay date 1983)

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SOURCE: Pound, Ezra. “The ‘Introduction’ to Sonnets and Ballate.” In Pound's “Cavalcanti”:An Edition of the Translations, Notes, and Essays, edited by David Anderson, pp. 11-20. 1932. Reprint with notes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1932, with notes by Anderson added in 1983, Pound describes Cavalcanti's genius and his own attempts to render his style in translation.]

Cimabue thought that in portraiture
          He held the field; now Giotto hath the cry
          And all the former fame is turned obscure;
Thus hath one Guido from the other reft
          The glory of our tongue, and there's perchance
          One born who shall un-nest both him and him.(1)

Even the qualification in the last line of this speech which Oderesi, honour of Agobbio, illuminator of fair pages, makes to Dante in the terrace for the purgation of Pride, must be balanced by Dante's reply to Guido's father among the burning tombs (Inferno X), sic.

Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti:
                                        If by the height of genius thou dost go
Through this blind prison house; where is my son?
Why is he not with thee?
                                                                                                              I come not of myself,
But he, who awaiteth there (Virgil) doth lead me

After these passages from the Commedia there should be small need of my writing introductions to the poems of Guido Cavalcanti, for if he is not among the major prophets, he has at least his place in the canon, in the second Book of the Arts, with Sappho and Theocritus; with all those who have sung, not all the modes of life, but some of them, unsurpassedly; those who in their chosen or fated field have bowed to no one.

It is conceivable the poetry of a far-off time or place requires a translation not only of word and of spirit, but of “accompaniment,” that is, that the modern audience must in some measure be made aware of the mental content of the older audience, and of what these others drew from certain fashions of thought and speech. Six centuries of derivative convention and loose usage have obscured the exact significances of such phrases as: “The death of the heart,” and “The departure of the soul.”

Than Guido Cavalcanti no psychologist of the emotions is more keen in his understanding, more precise in his expression; we have in him no rhetoric, but always a true delineation,2 whether it be of pain itself, or of the apathy that comes when the emotions and possibilities of emotion are exhausted, or of that stranger state when the feeling by its intensity surpasses our powers of bearing and we seem to stand aside and watch it surging across some thing or being with whom we are no longer identified.

The relation of certain words in the original to the practice of my translation may require gloze. L'anima and la Morte are feminine, but it is not always expeditious to retain this gender in English. Gentile is ‘noble’; ‘gentleness’ in our current sense would be soavitate. Mente is ‘mind,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘apperception.’ The spiriti are the ‘senses,’ or the ‘intelligence3 of the senses,’ perhaps even ‘the moods,’ when they are considered as ‘spirits of the mind.’ Valore is ‘power.’ Virtute, ‘virtue,’ ‘potency,’ requires a separate treatise. Pater has explained its meaning in the preface to his The Renaissance, but in reading a line like

Vedrai la sua virtù nel ciel salita.

one must have in mind the connotations alchemical, astrological, metaphysical, which Swedenborg would have called the correspondences.

The equations of alchemy were apt to be written as women's names and the women so named endowed with the magical powers of the compounds. La virtù is the potency, the efficient property of a substance or person. Thus modern science shows us radium with a noble virtue of energy. Each thing or person was held to send forth magnetisms of certain effect; in sonnet XXXV the image of his lady has these powers.

It is a spiritual chemistry, and modern science and modern mysticism are both set to confirm it.

Vedrai la sua virtù nel ciel salita.

The heavens were, according to the Ptolemaic system, clear concentric spheres with the earth as their pivot; they moved more swiftly as they were far removed from it, each one endowed with its virtue, its property for affecting man and destiny; in each its star, the sign visible to the wise and guiding them. A logical astrology, the star a sort of label of the spiritual force, an indicator of the position and movement of that spiritual current. Thus “her” presence, his Lady's, corresponds with the ascendency of the star of that heaven which corresponds to her particular emanation or potency. Likewise,

Vedrai la sua virtù nel ciel salita.

Thou shalt see the rays of this emanation going up to heaven as a slender pillar of light, or more strictly, in accordance with the stanza preceding: thou shalt see depart from her lips her subtler body, and from that a still subtler form ascends and from that a star, the body of pure flame surrounding the source of the virtù, which will declare its nature.4

I would go so far as to say that “Il Paradiso” and the form of the Commedia might date from this line; very much as I think I find in Guido's “Place where I found people whereof each one grieved overly of Love,” some impulse that has ultimate fruition in Inferno V.

These are lines in the sonnets; is it any wonder that “F. Z.” is able to write:

“His (Guido's) canzone solely on the nature of love was so celebrated that the rarest intellects, among them “il beato Egidio Colonna,” set themselves to illustrating it with commentaries, of which the most cited is that of Mazzuchelli.”

Another line, of which Rossetti completely loses the significance is

E la beltate per sua Dea la mostra.

(sonnet VII, 11)

“Beauty displays her for her goddess.” That is to say, as the spirit of God became incarnate in the Christ, so is the spirit of the eternal beauty made flesh dwelling among us in her. And in the line preceding,

Ch'a lei s'inchina ogni gentil virtute

means, that “she” acts as a magnet for every “gentil virtute,” that is, the noble spiritual powers, the invigorating forces of life and beauty bend toward her; not

To whom are subject all things virtuous.(5)

The inchina implies not the homage of an object but the direction of a force.

In the matter of these translations and of my knowledge of Tuscan poetry, Rossetti is my father and my mother, but no one man can see everything at once.6

The twelfth ballata, being psychological and not metaphysical, needs hardly be explained. Exhausted by a love born of fate and of the emotions, Guido turns to an intellectual sympathy,

Love that is born of loving like delight,

and in this new force he is remade,

formando di disio nova persona

yet with some inexplicable lack. His sophistication prevents the complete enthusiasm. This “new person” which is formed about his soul

amar già non osa

knowing “The end of every man's desire.”

The facts of Guido's life, as we know them from other evidence than that of his own and his friends' poems, are about as follows: Born 1250 (circa), his mother probably of the Conti Guidi. In 1266 or 1267 “Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti gave for wife to his son Guido one of the Uberti,” i.e. the daughter of Farinata. Thus Villani. Some speak of it as a “betrothal.” In 1280 he acted as one of the sureties of the peace arranged by Cardinal Latino. We may set 1283 as the date of his reply to Dante's first sonnet. In 1284 he was a member of the grand council with Dino Compagni and Brunetto Latini. In party feuds of Florence Guelf, then a “White” with the Cerchi, and most violent against Corso Donati. 1292-96 is the latitude given us for the pilgrimage to the holy house of Galicia. Corso, it is said, tried to assassinate him on this pilgrimage. It is more plausible to accept 1292 as the date of the feud between the Cavalcanti and the Buondelmonti, dating so the sonnet to Neronne. For upon his return from the pilgrimage, which had extended only to Toulouse, Guido attacks Corso in the streets of Florence, and for the general turmoil ensuing, the leaders of both factions were exiled. Guido was sent with the “Whites” to Sarzana, where he caught his death fever. Dante at this time (1300) being a prior of Florence, was party to the decree of exile, and perhaps aided in procuring Cavalcanti's speedy recall. “Il nostro Guido” was buried on August 29, whence writes Villani, “and his death is a great loss, for as he was philosopher, so was he man of parts in more things, although somewhat punctilious and fiery.” Boccaccio considers him “probably” the “other just man,” in Dante's statement that there were two in Florence.

Benvenuto says so positively, “alter oculus Florentiae.” In the Decameron we hear that “he was of the best logicians in the world, a very fine natural philosopher. Thus was he leggiadrissimo,” and there is much in this word with which to confute those who find no irony in his sonnets; “and habile and a great talker.” On the “sixth day” (novel nine) the queen herself tells how he leapt over an exceeding great tomb to escape from that bore Betto Brunelleschi. Sacchetti's anecdote shows him so absorbed in a chess game that a small boy is able to nail down his coat-tails, first scrunching up several folds of the cloth, so that the nail might get a good hold.7 Other lines we have of him as: “noble and pertinent and better than another at whatever he set his hand to”; among the critics, Crescimbene notes, “robustezza e splendore”; Cristoforo Landiano, “sobrio e dotto, and surpassed by a greater light he became not as the moon to the sun. Of Dante and Petrarch, I speak elsewhere.”

Filippo Villani, with his translator Mazzuchelli, set him above Petrarch, speaking of him as “Guido of the noble line of the Cavalcanti, most skilled in the liberal arts, Dante's contemporary and very intimate friend, a man surely diligent and given to speculation, physicus (? natural philosopher) of authority … worthy of laud and honour for his joy in the study of rhetoric,8 he brought over the fineness of this art into the rhyming compositions of the common tongue (eleganter traduxit). For canzoni in vulgar tongue and in the advancement of this art he held second place to Dante, nor hath Petrarch taken it from him.”

Dino Compagni, who knew him, has perhaps left us the most apt description, saying that Guido was cortes' e ardito, ma sdegnoso e solitario, at least I would so think of him, “courteous, bold, haughty and given to being alone.” It is so we find him in the poems themselves.

Dante delays in answering the elder Cavalcanti's question (Inferno X) “What said you? ‘He (Guido) had?’ Lives he not still, with the sweet light beating upon his eyes?” This delay is, I think, a device for reminding the reader of the events of the year 1300. One who had signed a decree of exile against his friend, however much civic virtue was displayed thereby, might well delay his answer.

And if that matchless and poignant ballad,

Perch'io non spero di tornar già mai

had not reached Florence before Dante saw the vision, it was at least written years before he wrote the tenth canto of the Inferno.

Guido left two children, Andrea and Tancia. Mandetta of Toulouse is an incident. As to the identity of “our own Lady,” that Giovanna “presumably” of whom Dante writes in the Vita Nuova, sonnet fourteen, and the prose preceding, weaving his fancy about Primavera, the first coming Spring, St. John the Forerunner, with Beatrice following Mona Vanna, as the incarnate love; again in the sonnet of the enchanted ship, “Guido vorrei …” we find her mentioned in the chosen company. One modern writer would have us follow out the parallels between the Commedia and The Book of His Youth, and identify her with “Matilda” of the Earthly Paradise. By virtue of her position and certain similarities of phrasing in Purgatory XXVIII and one of the lives of the saint, we know that Matilda in some way corresponds to or balances John the Baptist. Dante is undoubtedly reminded of his similar equation in the Vita Nuova and shows it in his

Tu mi fai rimembrar dove e qual era
          Proserpina nel tempo che perdette
          La madre lei, ed ella primavera.

Dante's commentators in their endless search for exact correspondences, seem never to suspect him of poetical innuendo, of calling into the spectrum of the reader's mind associated things which form no exact allegory. So far as the personal Matilda is concerned, the great Countess of Tuscany has some claims, and we have nothing to show that Giovanna was dead at the time of the vision.

As to the actual identity of Guido's lady—granting her to have been one and not several—no one has been rash enough to suggest that il nostro Guido was in love with his own wife, to whom he had been wedded or betrothed at sixteen. True, it would have been contrary to the laws of chivalric love, but Guido was not one to be bound by a convention if the whim had taken him otherwise.9 The discussion of such details and theories is futile except in so far as it may serve to bring us more intimately in touch with the commune of Florence and the year of grace one thousand three hundred.

As for the verse itself: I believe in an ultimate and absolute rhythm as I believe in an absolute symbol or metaphor. The perception of the intellect is given in the word, that of the emotions in the cadence. It is only, then, in perfect rhythm joined to the perfect word that the two-fold vision can be recorded. I would liken Guido's cadence to nothing less powerful than line in Blake's drawing.

In painting the colour is always finite. It may match the colour of the infinite spheres, but it is in a way confined within the frame and its appearance is modified by the colours about it. The line is unbounded, it marks the passage of a force, it continues beyond the frame.

Rodin's belief that energy is beauty holds thus far, namely that all our ideas of beauty of line are in some way connected with our ideas of swiftness or easy power of motion, and we consider ugly those lines which connote unwieldy slowness in moving.

Rhythm is perhaps the most primal of all things known to us. It is basic in poetry and music mutually, their melodies depending on a variation of tone quality and of pitch respectively, as is commonly said, but if we look more closely we will see that music is, by further analysis, pure rhythm; rhythm and nothing else, for the variation of pitch is the variation in rhythms of the individual notes, and harmony the blending of these varied rhythms. When we know more of overtones we will see that the tempo of every masterpiece is absolute, and is exactly set by some further law of rhythmic accord. Whence it should be possible to show that any given rhythm implies about it a complete musical form—fugue, sonata, I cannot say what form, but a form, perfect, complete. Ergo, the rhythm set in a line of poetry connotes its symphony, which, had we but a little more skill, we could score for orchestra. Sequitur, or rather inest: the rhythm of any poetic line corresponds to emotion.

It is the poet's business that this correspondence be exact, i.e. that it be the emotion which surrounds the thought expressed. For which cause I have set here Guido's own words, that those few of you who care may read in them the signs of his genius. By the same token, I consider Carducci and Arnone blasphemous in accepting the reading

E fa di claritate tremar l'are

instead of following those mss. which read

E fa di clarità l'aer tremare.

I have in my translations tried to bring over the qualities of Guido's rhythm, not line for line, but to embody in the whole of my English some trace of that power which implies the man. The science of the music of words and the knowledge of their magical powers has fallen away since men invoked Mithra by a sequence of pure vowel sounds. That there might be less interposed between the reader and Guido, it was my first intention to print only his poems and an unrhymed gloze. This has not been practicable. I cannot trust the reader to read the Italian for the music after he has read the English for the sense.

These are no sonnets for an idle hour. It is only when the emotions illumine the perceptive powers that we see the reality. It is in the light born of this double current that we look upon the face of the mystery unveiled. I have lived with these sonnets and ballate daily month in and month out, and have been daily drawn deeper into them and daily into contemplation of things that are not of an hour. And I deem, for this, that voi altri pochi who understand, will love me better for my labour in proportion as you read more carefully.

For the rest, I can but quote an envoi, that of Guido's canzone Donna mi prega:

Thou mayest go assurèd, my Canzone,
Whither thou wilt, for I have so adorned thee
That praise shall rise to greet thy reasoning
Mid all such folk as have intelligence;
To stand with any else, thou'st no desire.(10)


  1. From Dante's Purgatorio XI. In Sonnets and Ballate, the Italian text of Purgatorio XI, 79-102 appeared on the page facing the beginning of the “Introduction.”

  2. Both editions of Sonnets and Ballate read: “… a true description, …”

  3. 1912 SB and 1912 SBb: intelligences.

  4. 1912 SB:

    “Thou shalt see the rays of this emanation going up to heaven as a slender pillar of light.” Or returning and correlating this line with the first stanza of the ballata, one subtle body issues from the lips of the lady, from that a subtler body, and from that a body of pure flame, “the star,” in which is heard the voice.

  5. 1912 SB adds: “… virtuous, as Rossetti translates it.”

  6. 1912 SB: “… but one man cannot be expected to see everything.”

  7. The previous sentence was added in 1929 and was elaborated in the following note: “As bearing on the position of the Cavalcanti, I have also come on the notice of an ‘instrument’ for freeing certain slaves, drawn up for Cunizza sister of Eccelin Romano, in 1265, in the house of Chavalcante de Chavalcantis. ‘Ibique dna. Cunizzapr omnip dei, pro remissione anime patris.’”

  8. 1912 SBb contains the following note: “‘Rhetoric’ must not here be understood in the current sense of our own day. ‘Exact and adequate speech’ might be a closer rendering.”

  9. 1912 SB adds: “Such explanations might give us one more reason, which were superfluous, for the respect paid to Farinata (Inferno X).”

  10. 1912 SB and 1912 SBb add: “Ezra Pound / November 15, 1910.”

The essay is dated “November 15, 1910” in Sonnets and Ballate, and there is no reason to believe that it was not completed, in all essentials, by that date. Pound revised a few passages between April 1912, when the Boston edition of Sonnets and Ballate appeared, and May of the same year, when the London edition was published. He added one sentence and one footnote to the biographical section of the essay in 1929, and this version finally appeared in Rime in 1932. The Translations of Ezra Pound (1953) reprinted the earlier version (from the London edition of Sonnets and Ballate), but Mardersteig (1966) reprinted the revised text of 1932. It is the 1932 text I follow here, recording the more significant variants from earlier versions in the footnotes.

Maria Luisa Ardizzone (essay date 2000)

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SOURCE: Ardizzone, Maria Luisa. “Guido Cavalcanti.” In The Dante Encyclopedia, edited by Richard Lansing, pp. 459-61. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000.

[In the following essay, Ardizzone examines the importance of Cavalcanti to Dante and discusses the reasons for the break in their friendship.]

Poet and aristocrat, friend of Dante, and ardent Guelf, Cavalcanti was born between 1250 and 1255 and later married a daughter of Farinata degli Uberti. He composed one of the most difficult philosophical poems in the Italian language, the canzone Donna me prega. Because his death occurred in August 1300, after the fictive date of Dante's vision, he does not appear in the Commedia.

Cavalcanti is described as philosopher and speculativus … auctoritatis non contemnendae in physicis (“a thinker of no mean authority on the natural sciences”) by a tradition that includes Giovanni and Filippo Villani, and by Giovanni Boccaccio as a filosofo naturale (“natural philosopher”), an Epicurean, and an unbeliever. In light of Nardi's and Corti's important studies, it is impossible today to deny that Cavalcanti's poetry is rooted in Averroistic philosophy, which spread through Europe beginning in the first half of the thirteenth century. Averroistic philosophy, which influenced Parisian thinkers like Siger of Brabant, Boethius of Dacia, and others active in Bologna, shapes the poetry of Cavalcanti and Donna me prega in particular. This poem utilizes tools of logic applied to natural philosophy in order to define the ontology of love, and the extent of its importance for Dante is still an open topic for scholars. It may be assumed, however, that the full meaning of Cavalcanti's work for Dante, initially as an object of fascination and later as representing philosophical views he opposed, is more latent than manifest, particularly in the Commedia.

At the beginning of the Vita Nuova, Dante depicts Cavalcanti as his primo amico (“first friend,” 3.14). As Dante indicates, their friendship began when he sent Cavalcanti his poem “A ciascun' alma presa e gentil core,” receiving an answer in the sonnet Vedeste, al mio parere, onne valore. Most significantly, in VN [Vita Nuova] 24 Dante analogizes Cavalcanti's lady, Giovanna, called “Primavera,” to Giovanni (John the Baptist), “who will come first” (prima verrà), suggesting that Giovanna heralds Beatrice as John heralds Christ. The first sign of rupture in their friendship is apparent in Cavalcanti's sonnet Io vegno 'l giorno a te 'nfinite volte, probably written shortly after the Vita Nuova.

One aspect to be evaluated is Dante's tepid reaction to Donna me prega, a poem recalled in De vulgare eloquentia as a strong example of a canzone written in hendecasyllables (2.11.12) rather than of a canzone illustre, for which Dante chooses “Poi che di doglia” as an exemplar (2.6.6). Considering that in DVE [De vulgare eloquentia] Dante ranks Cino da Pistoia as the most important poet, we may ascribe Dante's tepidity to the break between the two poets. According to some scholars, this break occurred not just for literary or philosophical reasons, but as a result of political positions Dante took as a member of the Florentine government, which ultimately brought about Cavalcanti's exile from the city, in June of 1300, to Sarzana in Lunigiana, along with other leaders of the White Guelfs. Although the exile was brief, Cavalcanti fell ill during his stay in Sarzana and died shortly [after] his return to Florence in August.

Whatever the reasons for the break, Cavalcanti has a central place in Dante's Vita Nuova. He is also the inspiration for some of the canzoni in the Convivio, although in these texts we can trace the gradual change from friendship to opposition. In these compositions Dante maintains that mind and body, sense and intellect, are integrated, whereas Cavalcanti, in Donna me prega for example, conceives of them as separated and opposing elements. Dante's Commedia, whose idea of love is rooted in superior transcendent values, represents a rejection of Cavalcanti's theory of love as determined by the physics of the body.

In Purg. 24.52-54, Dante's assertion of his poetics as deeply inspired by a love which ditta dentro (“dictates within”) appears once more to be related to the poet's need to explain his idea of poetry while establishing a distance between himself and the poetry written before him, specifically that of Cavalcanti. This distance is underscored in two other places in the Commedia where Cavalcanti is recalled: in Inf. 10, during Dante's conversation with Cavalcanti's father Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti; and in Purg. 11.97, where he is mentioned in connection with Guido Guinizzelli. The gloria della lingua (“glory of our language”) is recalled here in order to announce that just as Guido Cavalcanti has surpassed the glory of Guido Guinizzelli, a third poet is going to surpass both. Whoever the third poet might be, it is evident that Guido Cavalcanti and the dolce stil novo ambience in general are here confirmed as important historical references which are nonetheless about to be surpassed. The context in which Cavalcanti is recalled in Inf. 10, where his father is portrayed as an “Epicurean” who believed that the soul died with the body (10.15), suggests that philosophical differences motivated the break-up of the two poets.

Works Cited

Barolini, Teodolinda. Dante's Poets: Textuality and Truth in the Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Cavalcanti, Guido. Rime, con le Rime di Iacopo Cavalcanti. Edited by Domenico de Robertis. Turin: Einaudi, 1986.

———. The Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti. Edited and translated by Lowry Nelson, Jr. New York: Garland, 1986.

Corti, Maria. Dante a un nuovo crocevia. Florence: Sansoni, 1981.

———. La felicità mentale. Turin: Einaudi, 1983.

Nardi, Bruno. “L'Averroismo del primo amico di Dante.” In Dante e la cultura medievale. Bari: Laterza, 1942; reprint, 1985.