Sacred Texts  Christianity Index  Divine Comedy Index  Previous: Paradise Canto 15  Next: Paradise Canto 17 

 Canto XVI
      Cacciaguida relates the time of his birth; and, describing the extent of
 Florence when he lived there, recounts the names of the chief families who
 then inhabited it. Its degeneracy, and subsequent disgrace, he attributes to
 the introduction of families from the neighboring country and villages, and to
 their mixture with the primitive citizens.
 O slight respect of man's nobility!
 I never shall account it marvellous,
 That our infirm affection here below
 Thou movest to boasting; when I could not chuse,
 E'en in that region of unwarp'd desire,
 In Heaven itself, but make my vaunt in thee.
 Yet cloak thou art soon shorten'd; for that Time,
 Unless thou be eked out from day to day,
 Goes round thee with his shears. Resuming then,
 With greeting[1] such as Rome was first to bear,
 But since hath disaccustom'd, I began:
 And Beatrice, that a little space
 Was sever'd, smiled; reminding me of her,
 Whose cough embolden'd (as the story holds)
 To first offence the doubting Guenever.[2]
 [1: "With greeting." The Poet, who had addressed the spirit, not
 knowing him to be his ancestor, with a plain "Thou," now uses more ceremony,
 and calls him "You," according to a custom of the Romans in the latter times
 of the empire.]
 [2: Beatrice's smile reminded him of the female servant who, by her
 coughing, emboldened Queen Guenever to encourage Lancelot. See Hell, Canto v.
 "You are my sire," said I: "you give me heart
 Freely to speak my thought: above myself
 You raise me. Through so many streams with joy
 My soul is fill'd, that gladness wells from it;
 So that it bears the mighty tide, and bursts not.
 Say then, my honour'd stem! what ancestors
 Were those you sprang from, and what years were mark'd
 In your first childhood? Tell me of the fold,[3]
 That hath Saint John for guardian, what was then
 Its state, and who in it were highest seated!"
 [3: Florence, of which John the Baptist was the patron saint.]
 As embers, at the breathing of the wind,
 Their flame enliven; so that light I saw
 Shine at my blandishments; and, as it grew
 More fair to look on, so with voice more sweet,
 Yet not in this our modern phrase, forthwith
 It answer'd: "From the day,[4] when it was said
 'Hail Virgin!' to the throes by which my mother,
 Who now is sainted, lighten'd her of me
 Whom she was heavy with, this fire had come
 Five hundred times and fourscore, to relume
 Its radiance underneath the burning foot
 Of its own lion. They, of whom I sprang,
 And I, had there our birth - place, where the last[5]
 Partition of our city first if reach'd
 By him that runs her annual game. Thus much
 Suffice of my forefathers: who they were,
 And whence they hither came, more honourable
 It is to pass in silence than to tell.
 All those, who at that time were there, betwixt
 Mars and the Baptist, fit to carry arms,
 Were but the fifth of them this day alive.
 But then the citizen's blood, that now is mix'd
 From Campi and Certaldo and Fighine,[6]
 Ran purely through the last mechanic's veins.
 O how much better were it, that these people[7]
 Were neighbours to you; and that at Galluzzo
 And at Trespiano ye should have your boundary;
 Than to have them within, and bear the stench
 Of Aguglione's hind, and Signa's,[8] him,
 That hath his eye already keen for bartering.
 Had not the people,[9] which of all the world
 [4: From the incarnation of our Lord to the birth of Cacciaguida, the
 planet Mars had returned 580 times to the constellation of Leo, with which it
 is supposed to have a congenial influence. As Mars then completed his
 revolution in a period of forty - three days short of two years, Cacciaguida
 was born about 1090.]
 [5: The city was divided into four compartments. The Elisei, the
 ancestors of Dante, resided near the entrance of that named from the Porta S.
 Piero, which was the last reached by the competitor in the annual race at
 [6: Country places near Florence.]
 [7: "That the inhabitants of the above - mentioned places had not
 been mixed with the citizens; nor the limits of Florence extended beyond
 Galluzzo and Trespiano."]
 [8: Baldo of Aguglione, and Bonifazio of Signa.]
 [9: If Rome had continued in her allegiance to the Emperor, and the
 Guelfi - Ghibelline factions had thus been prevented, Florence would not have
 been polluted by a race of upstarts, nor lost her best element.]
 Degenerates most, been stepdame unto Caesar,
 But, as a mother to her son, been kind,
 Such one, as hath become a Florentine,
 And trades and traffics, hath been turn'd adrift
 To Simifonte,[10] where his grandsire plied
 The beggar's craft: the Conti were possest
 Of Montemurlo[11] still: the Cerchi still
 Were in Acone's parish: nor had haply
 From Valdigreve passed the Buondelmonti.
 The city's malady hath ever source
 In the confusion of its persons, as
 The body's, in variety of food:
 And the blind bull falls with a steeper plunge,
 Than the blind lamb: and oftentimes one sword
 Doth more and better execution,
 Than five. Mark Luni; Urbisaglia[12] mark;
 How they are gone; and after them how go
 Chiusi and Sinigaglia![13] and't will seem
 No longer new, or strange to thee, to hear
 That families fail, when cities have their end.
 All things that appertain to ye, like yourselves,
 Are mortal: but mortality in some
 Ye mark not; they endure so long, and you
 Pass by so suddenly. And as the moon
 Doth, by the rolling of her heavenly sphere,
 Hide and reveal the strand unceasingly;
 So fortune deals with Florence. Hence admire not
 At what of them I tell thee, whose renown
 Time covers, the first Florentines. I saw
 The Ughi, Catilini, and Filippi,
 The Alberichi, Greci, and Ormanni,
 Now in their wane, illustrious citizens;
 And great as ancient, of Sannella him,
 With him of Arca saw, and Soldanieri,
 [10: A castle dismantled by the Florentines. The person here alluded
 to is not known.]
 [11: The Conti Guidi, unable to defend their castle from the
 Pistoians, sold it to the state of Florence.]
 [12: Cities formerly of importance, but then fallen to decay.]
 [13: The same.]
 And Ardinghi, and Bostichi. At the poop[14]
 That now is laden with new felony
 So cumbrous it may speedily sink the bark,
 The Ravignani sat, or whom is sprung
 The County Guido, and whoso hath since
 His title from the famed Bellincion ta'en.
 Fair governance was yet an art well prized
 By him of Pressa: Galigaio show'd
 The gilded hilt and pommel,[15] in his house;
 The column, clothed with verrey,[16] still was seen
 Unshaken; the Sacchetti still were great,
 Giuochi, Fifanti, Galli, and Barucci,
 With them[17] who blush to hear the bushel named.
 Of the Calfucci still the branchy trunk
 Was in its strength: and, to the curule chairs,
 Sizii and Arrigucci[18] yet were drawn.
 How mighty them[19] I saw, whom, since, their pride
 Hath undone! And in all their goodly deeds
 Florence was, by the bullets of bright gold,[20]
 O'erflourish'd. Such the sires of those,[21] who now,
 As surely as your church is vacant, flock
 Into her consistory, and at leisure
 There stall them and grow fat. The o'erweening broad,[22]
 That plays the dragon after him that flees,
 But unto such as turn and show the tooth,
 Ay or the purse, is gentle as a lamb,
 Was on its rise, but yet so slight esteem'd,
 That Ubertino of Donati grudged
 His father - in - law should yoke him to its tribe.
 [14: The Cerchi, Dante's enemies, had succeeded to the houses over
 the gate of St. Peter.]
 [15: The symbols of knighthood.]
 [16: The arms of the Pigli, or as some wrote it, the Billi.]
 [17: Either the Chiaramontesi, or the Tosinghi; one of which had
 committed a fraud in measuring out the wheat from the public granary. See
 Purgatory, Canto xii. 99.]
 [18: "These families still obtained the magistracies."]
 [19: "Them." The Uberti.]
 [20: The arms of the Abbati, or of the Lamberti.]
 [21: Of the Visdomini, the Tosinghi, and the Cortigiani, who, being
 sprung from the founders of the bishopric of Florence, are the curators of its
 revenues, which they do not spare, whenever it becomes vacant.]
 [22: This family was so little esteemed that Ubertino Donato, of the
 same stock as his wife, was offended with his father - in - law, Bellincion
 Berti, for giving another daughter to one of them.]
 Already Caponsacco[23] had descended
 Into the mart from Fesole: and Giuda
 And Infangato[24] were good citizens.
 A thing incredible I tell, though true:
 The gateway, named from those of Pera, led
 Into the narrow circuit of your wells.
 Each one, who bears the sightly quarterings
 Of the great Baron,[25] (he whose name and worth
 The festival of Thomas still revives,)
 His knighthood and his privilege retain'd;
 Albeit one,[26] who borders them with gold,
 This day is mingled with the common herd.
 In Borgo yet the Gualterotti dwelt,
 And Importuni;[27] well for its repose,
 Had it still lack'd of newer neighbourhood.[28]
 The house,[29] from whence your tears have had their spring,
 Through the just anger, that hath murder'd ye
 And put a period to your gladsome days,
 Was honour'd; it, and those consorted with it.
 O Buondelmonte! what ill counselling
 Prevail'd on thee to break the plighted bond?
 Many, who now are weeping, would rejoice,
 Had God to Ema[30] given thee, the first time
 Thou near our city camest. But so was doom'd:
 [23: The Caponsacchi, who had removed from Fiesole.]
 [24: Guida Guidi and the family of Infangati.]
 [25: The Marchese Ugo, who resided at Florence as lieutenant of the
 Emperor Otho III, gave many of the chief families license to bear his arms. A
 vision is related, in consequence of which he sold all his possessions in
 Germany, and founded seven abbeys, in one whereof his memory was celebrated at
 Florence on St. Thomas' day. "The marquis, when hunting, strayed away from
 his people, and, wandering through a forest, came to a smithy, where he saw
 black and deformed men tormenting others with fire and hammers; and, asking
 the meaning of this, he was told that they were condemned souls, who suffered
 this punishment, and that the soul of the Marchese Ugo was doomed to suffer
 the same, if he did not repent. Struck with horror, he commended himself to
 the Virgin Mary; and soon after founded the seven religious houses."]
 [26: Giano della Bella, of one of the families thus distinguished,
 who no longer retained his place among the nobility, and had yet added to his
 arms a bordure or.]
 [27: Two families in the compartment of the city called Borgo.]
 [28: Some understand this of the Bardi; and others, of the
 [29: "The house." Of Amidei.]
 [30: "To Ema." "It had been well for the city if thy ancestor had
 been drowned in the Ema when he crossed that stream on his way from Montebuono
 to Florence."]
 Florence! on that maim'd stone[31] which guards the bridge
 The victim, when thy peace departed, fell.
 [31: Near the remains of the statute of Mars, Buondelmonti was slain,
 as if he had been a victim to the god; and Florence had not since known the
 blessing of peace.]
 "With these and others like to them, I saw
 Florence in such assured tranquillity,
 She had no cause at which to grieve: with these
 Saw her so glorious and so just, that ne'er
 The lily[32] from the lance had hung reverse,
 Or through division been with vermeil dyed."
 [32: The arms of Florence had never hung reversed on the spear of her
 enemies; nor been changed from argent to gules; as they afterward were, when
 the Guelfi gained the predominance.]