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From A Teacher of Dante and Other Studies in Italian Literature, by Nathan Haskell Dole, New York: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1908; pp. 3-42.

A Teacher of Dante and
Other Studies in Italian Literature
Nathan Haskell Dole



DANTE and his master in their course through the inverted cone of hell, ever winding to the left, come to the third girone of the seventh circle, where “over all the sandy soil, with a slow falling, rain broad flakes of fire, like snow on windless Alps.” Along the banks of a little ruddy stream the fume of which saves the margin and the water itself from being kindled by the fire, they meet a throng of tormented souls, one of whom stretches out his hand and plucks the younger poet by the hem of his garment, crying:

“What a marvel!”

Dante, fixing his eyes on the baked visage, recognises him, and, bending over so as almost to touch his face with his hand, answers with respect in his very words, as Boccaccio expresses it in his commentary, quasi parlando admirative:

“Are you here, Ser Brunetto?”

Dante offers to sit down with him and talk, but Brunetto Latini replies:

“O son, whoever of this flock stops an instant 4 then lies a hundred years without defence when the fire strikes him.”

So they strode slowly side by side, though Dante, on a higher level of the road, not daring to go equal with him, has to bend his head “like a man who walks reverently.”

Brunetto in the course of their talk prophesies that Dante, if he follow his star, cannot miss the port of glory, and Dante replies:

“If all my demands were satisfied you would not now be banished from human nature; for in my mind is fixed and now my heart retains the dear, good, paternal image of you in the world, when hour by hour you taught me how man immortalises himself. And in what esteem I hold you it behooves me while I live to show in my tongue.”

The interview ends with the approach of a new smoke rising from the sandy soil and Brunetto Latini thus takes his leave:

“Men come with whom I must not be. Be my “Tesoro” recommended unto thee, wherein I still live, and more I ask not.”

So little is really known of Dante’s life that, as in the case of Chaucer, Shakespeare and scores of other famous men, biographers have 5 boldly amplified obscure hints into categorical statements and then built elaborate superstructures on these semi-imaginary foundations. Dante acquired his learning somewhere, and those beautifully complimentary lines —

Che in la mente m’ e fitta ed or m’ accuora
La cara buona imagine paterna
Di voi nel mondo, quando, ad ora ad ora
Mi ’nsegnavate come l’ uom s’ eterna —

certainly give a plausible basis for the statement, that is found in almost all the lives of Dante, that Brunetto Latini was his teacher. In spite of Imbriani, who learnedly argues to the contrary, and in spite of Scartazzini, who declares that the theory is now generally discredited, we will assume that such was the fact, but we will not allow ourselves to insinuate that Dante repaid former acts of discipline on the part of his preceptor by dooming him to a rain of fire midway in the pit of Inferno. We know nothing of Brunetto as an instructor, but the debt that Dante owed to him as a poet is easily demonstrated. In this sense our title is justified. It is also an instructive lesson, for it shows the immensity of the gulf that separates the two.


Brunetto Latini, ere he flies across the sandy plain like “those who at Verona run after the green pallio,” fleeting “like one who wins and not like one who loses,” recommends to Dante his “Tesoro.”

Now who was Brunetto Latini and what was his “Tesoro”?

The year of Brunetto’s birth is not certain. A portrait engraved from an oil painting in Florence gives the date of his birth as 1230; other authorities refer it back ten or even fifteen years. His father was Bonacorsi Latini, who must have died before 1254.

Villari, the Florentine chronicler, says that he was cominciatore e maestro in digrossare i Fiorentini e farli scorti in bene parlare ed in sapere la politica; in other words, that he was supreme master in rhetoric and eloquence and taught the Florentines the precepts of good government. Boccaccio calls him a valente uomo, a man of ability, in “several of the liberal arts and in philosophy, though his chief profession was that of a notary” — Burnectus notarius filius quondam Bonnacorsi Latini. Such is his affidavit on a deed of sale.


Boccaccio goes on to say that having made a mistake in a contract drawn up by him he was charged with falsita and, preferring to be called a forger to confessing his error, he let Florence in indignation and left behind him a book which he had composed called “Il Tesoretto.”

Boccaccio in this charge against Brunetto has been followed by other commentators, but the probability is that it was invented by one of his political opponents, he being a Guelf. Boccaccio also states that he went to Paris, was there for a long time and was thought to have died there. Here again Boccaccio erred, for Ricordano Malispini chronicles the fact that when Alfonso of Spain became Emperor the Guelfs of Florence sent ambassadors urging him to take their side in the great quarrel that was agitating their city: “And the ambassador was Ser Brunetto Latini, a man of great judgment; but before the mission was accomplished the Florentines were defeated at Monte Aperti, and King Manfred waxed greatly in power, winning almost all ’Talia, and the might of the church was greatly diminished.”

The defeat of the Guelfs took place on the 8 4th of September, 1260. Brunetto Latini himself chronicles the fact in the last chapter of the second part of Book I. of his “Livres dou Tresor”:

“This Frederick [II.] reigned about thirty years, until by reason of the grievous persecutions which he inflicted upon the Holy Church he was excommunicated by sentence of the Apostolic fathers and finally was deposed from his dignity by sentence of Pope Innocent IV., with the unanimous consent of the general council. And after his death, as God willed, the empire was long without either king or emperor until Manfred [Mainfroiz], the son of the aforementioned Frederick, though not born in legal marriage, seized the kingdom of Naples and Sicily [le roiaume de Puille et de Secile] contrary to God and contrary to right, since it was all against Holy Church. And therefore he made many wars and divers persecutions against all the Italians who held to Holy Church, especially against the Guelf party of Florence, so that they were driven out of the city and their property was subjected to fire and destruction; and with them was driven out also maistre Brunez Latin; and by reason of this war he 9 went as an exile into France, where he wrote this book for love of his friends.”

In another passage, not found in all manuscripts, he relates how he went to France to make his living there and found a fellow citizen, also a Guelf, very rich, very polite and very sensible, who did him great honour and proved very useful to him; and as this friend was naturally a good speaker and very anxious to know what had been said by the ancients regarding rhetoric, Brunetto Latini, who was a careful student of literature and much given to the study of rhetoric, wrote the book and dedicated it to his friend.

Brunetto’s stay in Paris could not have been very long, for Manfred was defeated by King Charles on the last day of February, 1265, the Ghibellines left Florence in their turn in the following November, and the Guelfs were definitely reëstablished two years later, and in 1269 Brunetto Latini was protonotario della curia for King Charles of Sicily. In 1273 he was notary and secretary of councils of the Commune of Florence. In 1280 he was one of the signatories in the famous peace between the Guelfs and Ghibellines conducted by Cardinal 10 Latino. He had other honourable functions, which would seem to do away with Boccaccio’s indictment of him as a “forger.”

He died in Florence in 1294 and was buried in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, where the inscription reads: Sepulcrum Ser Brunetti Latini et filiorum. Villani says:

“In the said year 1294 there died in Florence a worthy citizen named Ser Brunetto Latini, who was a great philosopher and was a supreme master [sommo maestro] in rhetoric, both in theory and practice [tanto in bene sapere dire come in bene dittare], and he it was who expounded the rhetoric of Cicero and wrote the good and useful book called ‘Tesoro’ and ‘Il Tesoretto’ and many other works on philosophy and dealing with vices and virtues, and was secretary or speaker of our commune [dittatore del nostro commune].”

Dante places Brunetto Latini in that part of hell where the sins against nature are punished. Villari says fu mondano uomo, which may or may not be interpreted in a derogatory sense. Brunetto himself in the twenty-first capitolo of his “Tesoretto” gives some colour to an evil suggestion in the word. After relating his conversion he says:


Che sai che siam tenuti
Un poco mondanetti.

But on the same principle of interpretation one might charge him with being guilty of all the sins that he animadverts upon in the same chapter, and this would surely be absurd. It is easier to explain the matter by remembering that although Dante and Brunetto were both Guelfs they seemed to have belonged to rival factions. Moreover, Brunetto himself utters his indignation against those who are guilty of the horrible vice which the flakes of flame forever falling brand but never purify.

A portrait of Brunetto Latini is to be seen in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. A different one is preserved in the Chapel of the Podesta’s palace, while in the cupola of Dante’s tomb at Ravenna the four medallions decorating the vault respectively represent Vergil, Can Grande, Guido Cavalcanti and Brunetto Latini.

Brunetto Latini, as we have seen, recommends his “Tesoro” or “Thesaurus to Dante and posterity. It is an open question whether he means “Li Livres dou Tresor,” a monumental compilation written in French, but often called “Il Gran Tesoro,” or his poetical crystallisation of the 12 same written in short rhyming Italian couplets. Why did he write “Li Tresors” in French? He himself tells why:

“And if any ask why this work is written in romance, according to the language of the French, while we are Italian, I will stated that it is for two reason: first, we are in France, and secondly because French is the most agreeable and widely known than many other languages,” — or, according to other texts, “is more delightful, more ornate and more commonly known than other languages.”*

The work is divided into three books. The first, consisting of five parts, in 202 chapters, treats of the origin of the world, and contains a summary of sacred and profane history and dissertations on astronomy, geography and natural history. Some of the animals which he describes in the fifth part would add much to the attractiveness of a circus. Brunetto Latini took not a little of his information from Pliny and the fascinating bestiaries which ere 13 so popular all through the Middle Ages. He gives precious details regarding the habits of sirens, the wonderful powers of salamanders, halcyons, the phœnix and the unicorn.

The second part treats of virtues and vices and is a sort of abridgement of Aristotle’s Ethics, complemented with the teachings of mains autres sages: the apostles, Seneca, St. Bernard, Cicero, Ovid and others. The third part is devoted to an exposition of rhetoric: les enseignemens de bone parleure, and to a brief treatise on the governmenz des villes and des cites. A Latin note, possibly emanating from the copyist and appended to the very end, states that the work was finished die xix. Augusti anno Domini MCCLXXXIII.”

Interesting as is “Li Livres dou Tresor” from an historical, literary and linguistic standpoint, there is nothing in it that throws any light upon the training of Dante. He may very likely have known “Li Tresors,” for the compilation immediately became extremely popular, as is proved by the multitudes of manuscripts, in nearly every dialect of mediæval French, that have come down to us, and by the Italian paraphrases that were made of it.


The “Tesoretto,” on the other hand, has a definite value in the study of the “Commedia.” A very superficial examination will show that Dante did not hesitate to imitate Brunetto Latini in many curious little details.

A short analysis of this poem may, therefore be interesting to Dante students who are unfamiliar with the original.

It begins with a dedication to the worthy Signore whose superior cannot be found on earth, who has no equal either in peace or in war; faultless, and of lofty lineage; a second Solomon in wisdom, in all benignity the like of Alexander, who holds as nothing lands, gold and silver; by lofty understanding of all poetry wears the crown and mantle of courage and fine valour, thus equal to the gallant Achilles in fame acquired, to the good Hector of Troy, to Lancelot and Tristan; in eloquence, either in council or in debate, the equal of the good Roman Tullius; the superior in reasoning of Seneca and Cato; in fine, the very paragon of all good qualities. To him he says:

I, Brunetto Latino,
Myself recommend to you
And now present and send to you
This Treasure which I hold
Worth more than wealth of gold.


He begs him to hold it dear and keep it as a miser keeps his treasures, for he declares that he has seen many precious things and jewels held in low esteem by people.

“I know well,” he says, “that good is much less valuable to him who keeps it hidden in himself than that which is spread abroad, just as the candle shines less on him who hides it. But I have already written things of great tenderness, both in prose and in rhyme, and then most secretly given them to some dear friend, only, and I grieve to confess it, to see them afterward in the hands of children, and so multiplied that all secrecy had vanished.”

“If such a thing should happen to this,” he says, “let it be cursed and thrown into hell.”

This long rhymed dedication leaves open the question for whom it was intended. M. Chabaille, the editor of the Imperial edition of “Li Tresors,” does not hesitate to state that Il valente Signore was the Florentine poet Rustico di Filippo, whom Brunetto mentions by name in the second chapter of his “[Faveletto],” which is sometimes considered as a part of the “Tesoretto”; but the royal comparisons which 16 he makes of his patron and the rather fulsome flattery which he heaps on him lend some plausibility to the Abbé Zannoni’s conjecture that it was written in Paris and dedicated to Louis IX., who mounted the throne in November, 1226, and died in July, 1270, who he says “was of high lineage, gallant in war, great in peace, so humble-minded and benignant that he accounted state and wealth as nothing; of vast knowledge and eloquence, strong in misfortunes and eminent in every virtue.”

If the “Tresors” was written in Paris, “Il Tesoretto” must also have been composed shortly before or at least while he had the “Gran Tesoro” already planned in his mind; because at the end of the fourteenth capitolo he says “In this little book I will speak openly [senza veste] of Courtesy and Generosity and Loyalty and Valour, of all these I will speak, but of the others I will not promise to speak or to relate; but whoever may wish to find them may search in the “Gran Tesoro” which I will write for those who have their hearts set higher, and there I will make a great endeavour to treat them more at length in the French tongue:

Cerchi nel gran Tesoro
Ch’ io farò per coloro
Ch’ hanno lo cor più alto.
Là farò il gran salto
Per dirle più distese
Nella lingua franzese.

It is evident, then, that Brunetto felt a greater tenderness for his poetical thesaurus than for his French one; that Dante took from the dedication the recommendation to his patron to treat it as a treasure.

The second chapter relates how the “Tesoretto,” which he still calls “Tesoro,” “begins at the time when Florence was flourishing and was fruitful, so that it was in all respects the mistress of Tuscany.” This wise commune, he goes on to say, sent him on an embassy to the mighty King Nanfosse, that is to say, Alfonso.

So in 1260 he took companions and went to Spain and accomplished the mission which had been entrusted to him, and then without delay started to return; but on the road through the plain of Roncesvalles he fell in with student on a bay mule coming from Bologna, and when he demanded news of Tuscany in gentle and plain speech, the traveller told him courteously that the Guelfs of Florence had by evil 18 providence and force of war been banished and many had suffered imprisonment and death. And he says he turned to Nature; for though every man who comes into the world is born first to his parents, then for his relatives, and then for his Commune, still Nature is, in last analysis, the mother of all.

And as he goes his heart almost bursts with grief to think of the great honour, the wealth and the power — ricca potenza — which Florence once enjoyed, and as he walks along he loses the highway and finds himself in the midst of a strange forest. Brunetto Latini’s selva diversia is, of course, the selva oscura in which Dante finds himself “in the midst of the road of this our life.”

Brunetto, suddenly coming to himself, looks toward a mountain and beholds a vast throng of strange animals — such, perhaps, as he afterward described in the bestiary division of his “Tresors” — “men and women, beasts, serpents 19 and wild creatures and fish in great schools and every kind of flying birds and herbs and fruits and flowers and stones and pearls such as are greatly prized and so great a multitude of other things that no speaking man could name them or classify them.”

But he could see “that they obeyed a figure and in accordance with her commands finished and began, died and generated, and took their characteristics.”

This figure, which is the personification or incarnation of Nature, touches the very sky, which appears her veil, and sometimes causes it to change and sometimes to grow stormy. At her command the Firmament moves and unfolds, so that the whole world seems to be enclosed in her arms. Now her face smiles and then again it displays anger and pain. And Brunetto says:

“And I, beholding the lofty circumstance and her mighty power and her arbitrary will [some editions, however, read clemenza instead of licenza], awakened from my melancholy thoughts and resolved on sufficient hardihood to come into her presence with all reverence, so that I might see all her power and learn surely of her state.”


As he regards her closer he beholds that the hair of her head is of fine gold, parted without tresses, and all the other charms which are united under her white brow — the beautiful eyes and eyebrows and the rosy lips and the clear-cut nose and the pearly teeth. That last detail is literally dente argentato — silvery — for the sake of the rhyme; for it must be confessed that the exigencies of these settenarie couplets sometimes lead Ser Brunetto into forced rhymes, into quaint obscurities, and the really fine imagery of personified Nature which distinguishes the third chapter is not kept up to the end.

As he regards her he knoww that not in speech or in writing could he or any man do justice to her beauty or her might in air, or in earth, or in the sea, in creation and in destruction, however life begins or however it ends.

But as soon as this majestic personage beholds him she smiles on him and says: Io sono la Natura.

I am Nature
And I am the creature
Of the Sovereign Creator.
By Him was I created,
By Him was I begun;
21 But His almighty power
Had no beginning hour.
It has no end or limit,
But all that I create,
Whate’er illuminate,
Must meet its final fate.
He is omnipotent —
But nothing can I do
Unless He wills me to.
He foresees everything,
His eye is everywhere,
He knows all that is past
And what the future ’ll bring
And what is doing now.
Save what He may allow,
I am quite impotent.
I make whate’er he wills,
Through me all life fulfills;
I am his working hand
And act at His command.
And thus in earth and air
I am his own vicaire.

She goes on to speak at length, and very didactically, of the “four modes” set in operation at the beginning of time, the seven days of Creation, of the birth of Christ, His Mother pure and wholly chaste, a Virgin uncorrupted, His death that men might live. Then, descending to particulars, she relates the details of creation day by day — on the first, the jocund light — la 22 luce gioconda — the sky, the earth, the sea, the air, and the angels, each separately and from nothing; on the second, the Firmament; on the fourth all the luminaries, the diverse and varied stars; on the fifth every creature that swims in aqua pura, and so on till the sixth day, when Adam and Eve were created, only to be driven from Paradise and to become mortal and to entail all manner of woes on their descendants, because the ancient serpent, our enemy, seduced in such a shameful way that first woman.

Then it seems to him that all creatures and things approach Nature to ask her permission to fulfil their mission, and so great is his anxiety to know the truth of all that she had said that each hour seemed to him longer than a day, and instead of going on his way he kneels down and begs Nature to complete her great story — tutta la grande storia.

Accordingly she explains to him the subtle genius and power of the human mind. How first and foremost God created at the head of all created things the angelic substance which is of His own nature and gave them all good things and precious, all virtues and eternal 23 salvation and beauty of limbs and complexion and immortality; how then into Lucifer’s mind entered pride and he felt himself equal to God; but in the struggle he was thrust out of the kingdom with all those who held with him and fell as if rained into hell, into sempiternal fire. How afterward, in the guise of a serpent, he deceived Eve and then Adam, thus bringing on man pain and discord and sorrow and travail. From that moment began the division of time:

Il giorno e l’ mese e l’ anno
Venne da quell’ inganno —

and sorrow of bearing and labour in the earth and war and homicide and sin.

She cannot go into the divine subtlety of creation of the fruitful earth without any sowing of seed or affair of living man, but she calls his attention to the fact that nature is full of variety — no two animals are alike nor is there any concordance either in form or in face. But this she declares is certain — that man stands above all created things and that God omnipotent desires that all his trials should end for the best; according to the proverb that the end will crown the work; man, therefore, is the noblest and 24 worthiest and most precious of all things and has sovereignty over all the earth. Other animals face the ground, signifying the great baseness of their condition, being without reason, but man has noble speech, reason and science, and the mind of man is so worthy and dear and noble and excellent that it is lodged in the head and is the light and crown of the whole person; is able to discern good and evil.

“In the head,” she says, “are three cells. The one in front is the seat or receptacle of all the intellect and the power of learning whatever you can understand. In the middle one are reason and discretion, the power of discernment of good and evil and of the crooked and the straight. The one behind contains the glory of good memory, which retains whatever comes into it, the source of the five senses whose functions are to bring to the cells good and evil, facts and fancies.”

She goes on to tell of the four humours of different colours which make the different complexions or temperaments of man — the melancholy, the sanguine, the phlegmatic and the choleric; of the four elements — air, water, fire, earth, and how cold is opposed to heat, dry to 25 wet. Then of the seven planets, each in its parete or circle, and of the twelve signs of the zodiac with their specific duty of giving the different qualities of weather. There is a hint of the astrological importance of these heavenly phenomena, but Brunetto was evidently more interested in what he calls storlomia, or astronomy, than in the more subtle division of mediæval science.

When she has finished her long genesis which is very curious in comparison with Milton’s cosmogony, both perhaps being in no small measure derived from Boethius, Nature causes him actually to behold the principal rivers, four in number, flowing out of Paradise; Euphrates, rolling down toward Hipotania precious stones and gems of vast value and purest water; Gion, bathing the whole land of Egypt, restoring the injury that Egypt gets in never having rain; the Tigris, never seen by living man, the Phison, so distant and strange that none ever navigates it, dividing from us the Levant, where are jewels of priceless value: balsam and amber and purple, aloes and [cardamon], ginger and cinnamon and many other spices, the best and purest and most medicinal; and tigers and griffons, 26 elephants (leofanti) and lions, camels and dragumenes, basilisks, hyenas and panthers and beavers and ants of gold and many other animals, the names of which happen to fall conveniently into rhyme.

The golden ants — formiche dell’ oro — of which he makes mention are more fully described in “Li Tresors.” They were Ethiopian insects as big as dogs, and they dig up the gold with their feet, and then guard it so faithfully that none can get at it and live! The Ethiopians, however, had a method of outwitting these gold-loving creatures, and thus they grew richer than other nations. Brunetto Latini thus anticipated Edgar Allen Poe’s “Gold-Bug,” as well as Dante. Then the potent Queen extends her hand toward the ocean-sea which girdles and encloses the land, and has a nature hard to comprehend, growing greatly for some hours and then sinking again; and near this ocean-sea are the great columns which Hercules the powerful set up as signs to all nations that here the land ended; and hence extends the navigation from Spain to Pisa and Greece and Tuscany and Egypt; but what he learned in this visit he will tell in prose, and 27 therefore you will find it in the geographical part of his “Gran Tesoro,” written, as he repeatedly informs us, in French.

Then, since Nature perceives that it is time for him to depart, she begins with grace and love to speak her farewell, and gives him directions how to go safely through the forest until he shall see Filosofia and all her sisters and hear news from the four Virtues, and, if he likes, may find Ventura — that is to say, Fortune — and if he would put his trust in one who has no certain way he will see Baratteria — that is, Barter — who gives good and ill. If he is fearless he may see God and Love and many people in bliss and woe.

Then, having kissed her feet, he sees her no more. Brunetto Latini sets forth

Through the narrow road
Seeking to see
To touch and to know
Whatever is fated.

And soon he finds himself in the desert, where is neither certain road nor path. His exclamation:

De che paese fero
Trovai in quelle parti! —


“Ah, what a wild country I found in those parts” — corresponds closely enough with Dante’s

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
Questa selva selvaggia ed aspra e forte !

Read the first lines of the first canto of the Inferno and then read these lines of Brunetto:

Quivi non ha viaggio
Quivi non ha persone,
Quivi non ha mangione,
Non bestia, non uccello,
Non fiume, non ruscello,
Non formica, ne mosca,
Ne cosa che’ i’ conosca: —

All savage, no way, no person, no dwelling, no beast, no bird, no river, no brook, no ant, no fly, nothing that he had ever seen! And as he looks about he gives himself up for dead, for this wilderness — quel paese snagiato — stretches three hundred miles in every direction, but he plucks up courage, and at the end of the third day he finds himself in a great jocund plain, the gayest in the world and the most delightful, and he will not relate all he finds and sees, nor can he believe his eyes, for he sees emperors and kings and grand signors and masters of science and, above all, says he:


I saw an empress
Whose name the people said
Was Virtue and the head
And salvation
Of all politeness
And of good manners
And of the good rules
Whereby the people live.
And with my own eyes I saw
Four queenly daughters born of her.

These four daughters are Prudence, Temperance, Bravery and Justice, and by a miracle they seem now together one and then separate and divided. And each in this quality of division having her own lineage and course and affairs, has her court and state.

He goes first to the court of Prudence, where she is served by four royal women: Providence, Respect, Knowledge and Instruction; then to the palace of Temperance with her retinue of five grand princesses: Exactness, Honesty, Chastity, Understanding and Restraint, corresponding to the five senses and holding together rich converse of great edification; thence to the great fortress where Bravery (Fortezza or Prodezza) dwells surrounded by six countesses: Magnificence, Faithfulness, Security, Magnanimity, Patience and Firmness. Thence a little farther 30 on and he sees “the crowned lady in a hall holding high festival and over the entrance in gilded letters: ‘I am called Justice everywhere,” and elsewhere he sees four maestre grandi, to whose commands almost all the nations are obedient.

These eighteen, or as Brunetto says, for the sake of the meter, these twenty donne reali, royal ladies, the offspring of Virtue, have such grandeur and nobleness that no tongue or pen could do justice to them; but those who are most worshipful and useful to men are four:

Cortesia e Larghezza
E Leanza e Prodezza —

Courtesy and Generosity and Loyalty and Prowess. Three of these he finds in the casa di Giustizia. First, Generosity gives him at considerable length her instructions in regard to all wise living and shows him how no man by generosity ever comes to poverty, how he is broad and sage who spends his money to save his penny. She expands the Latin proverb bis dat qui cito dat into the jingling couplet —

Che donar tostamente
E donar doppiamente.

But she guards against foolish giving and all 31 vain glory or spending in taverns and throwing away money in drink. “I have seen,” she says, “persons buying capons, partridges or a great fish where there was no gain from the expenditure!”

In the companionship of a cavalier valente to whom Larghezza directed him he next goes in search of Cortesia and she likewise gives him good advice: to refrain from tattling, not to use injurious language, not to lie or say any villainy of others, not to speak even under provocation a vulgar word; then from negative she comes to positive commands and shows him how he may walk through the city with those of lower or of higher rank: “If your companion is of lower rank,” she says, “you may walk a step in advance, and if you ride on horseback see that you go very courteously, ride gracefully cavalca bellamente with the head a little bent, since to ride with loose rein seems great barbarism, and do not hold the head so high as to look at all the house-tops!”

Then still in company with his cavalier giocoso e molto confortoso, who shows in his face the delight he had felt in hearing Courtesy’s words, Brunetto Latini passes on to Leanza, Loyalty, who begins her discourse by a warning 32 against lying, for the lie returns in shame and has brief run. She preaches devotion to the Commune and love and faith in the Holy Church and honour to Christ and the saints.

Prodezza, Bravery, or Prowess, has similar good advice to offer and she cautions against fear of death: “No screen hast thou to hide a man from death when death comes” is the teaching. “Then be fearless, injure no living man, even if thou art stronger, all the more be on thy guard; use gentle speech and go with sense, but if sense avail not, then put force against force”; and this brings her to speak of private and public quarrels and the proper behaviour of a gentleman:

“If perchance the commune send out an army of cavalry I will that thou go in their ranks bearing thyself with baron’s state and showing thyself greater than thou really art; and display thy valour and make fine show of intrepidity and be not slow or late, for no coward ever wins honour or becomes great.”

Having thus heard all that the four great mistresses of morals have to say, Brunetto with his mysterious companion, the cavalier, who in Dante of course is Vergil, takes the road to the 33 right, and, passing by vales and mountains, groves, forests and seas, they reach a beautiful meadow such as in Dante described as the home of the philosophic family. It is full of flowers, the richest in the world. It is a mysterious place, for he says: “Now it seemed round, now square, now dark, now bright and shining. Now I see many people, now I see no one; now I see a pavilion, now I see houses and towers. One lies prone, another races; one flies, another chases; one stands, another strives; one enjoys, another goes mad; one weeping, the other consoling.”

Here he finds a confessional and is absolved from all sin and given courage to proceed, and a little farther he finds four children whom in courtesy he begs to show him the way and tell him of the place and the people, and the wisest of them tells him briefly:

Thou must know, Mastro Brunetto,
That here is monsignore,
The Head and God of Love.
If thou believest me,
Pass on and thou shalt see
Whereof I dare not speak.

They vanish in an instant, he knows not how or whither, nor does he know their signs or 34 their names. But going farther he sees many people, some joyous and some sad, and before the signore appears another throng making a great noise, and then he sees a fresh young child standing erect and naked, with bow and arrows, and he has wings and feathers, but he is blind and he often shoots off his arrows at haphazard.

This infant’s name is Piacere, or sensual love, and near him are four donne valenti, who hold the mastery over men, and he sees the measure and reason of their mastery, and their names he hears:

Paura e Disianza
E Amore e Speranza: —

Fear and Longing and Love and Hope, each exercising her arts and power and knowledge to her utmost, thus Desire swaying the mind and compelling it to get possession of the object desired without thought of honour or reputation or death.

These four passions so affect a man that when he falls in love he yearns and fears and hopes and loves and the keen arrows from Pleasure’s bow pierce him and make him desire corporeal delight, so much is love a matter of 35 the heart. And these four though acting in different fields, and even in opposition (Fear against Hope), yet work in common for one end.

Brunetto confesses that he himself in spite of his efforts to shield himself from the infant’s darts yet fell into the power of Love. But suddenly turning round he sees in a rich mantle Ovid, the great master who had told of the acts of Love and put them into verse, and at his request Ovid tells him frankly:

E lo bene e lo male
Del Fante delle ale —

both the good and the evil qualities of the winged infant. Ovid replies to his questions, not in Latin, but in volgare, that is in Italian, showing that this popular language was already beginning to appeal even to learned men: he says that no one who had failed to experience the power of Love knows anything about it and bids him search into his own heart for the good and the delight and the evil and error which is born of Love:

Cercati fra lo petto
Del bene e del diletto,
Del male e dell’ errore
Che nasce per amore.


And when he would fain have fled he finds himself, as it were, rooted to the spot, but Ovid, by his art, gives him the mastery, so that he finds his way again. But such had been his fear and weariness and pain that he is resolved to turn to God and his saints, and humbly confess his sins to the priests and friars and to submit to them his libretto, begging them to correct it and collate this a well as all his writings with the teachings of the Christian faith.

Here really ends the “Tesoretto,” and the twentieth chapter begins the “Penitenza,” which, in two quite long cantos, leads in turn to the “Favoletto,” dedicated to his friend Rustico di [Felippo].

Findin that Fortune turns her wheel in the wrong direction, that all earthly things are sinful and painful and that man is vanity, that even Julius Cæsar, the first Emperor, and Samson, the strongest man, were soon laid low in their graves, and Alexander, the conqueror of the world, Absalom the beautiful, Hector the generous, Solomon the wise, Octavian the rich — not one lived a day beyond their appointed time, while flowers, leaves and fruits, birds, beasts and fishes are alike subject to 37 death: therefore he reasons that Solomon is right in saying that all things are vanitate vana.

“Friend,” he says, “engage in war, and travel through all the earth, and go ploughing the sea before the wind; wear costly things and eat rich food; gain silver and gold; amass great treasure! What does it all amount to? — wrath, fatigue and shame!”

Seeing, therefore, that he is a guilty man, a sinner, and on the road to perdition, he determines to desist in time. So he enters the confessional at Monposlieri, by which he means Montpensier, and tells the friars all his sins: “Ah lasso! how corrupt I was! What evil deeds worse than crimes I had committed! What sins worse than death!”

And he especially confesses to the charge of having been rather dissolute or worldly:

Che sai che siam tenuti
Un poco mondanetti.

He had wrecked himself on the rocks of pride. Had he loved his Creator with all his heart, or been obedient to His commands; had he boasted of what he had done of good or folly; had he been hypocritical; had he been proud and haughty by reason of riches and good breeding, 38 grand relatives, praise for his actions? Through pride, the head and root of evil and sin, had he claimed to have what he had not? He anticipates Shakespeare in his per orgogliamento — fallio l’ angel matto — “Through pride fell the mad angel, and Eve broke the compact, and the death of Abel and the tower of Babel, and the Trojan war.”

These sins are perhaps by implication, for he puts them apparently into the friar’s mouth, and follows them up with a long homily against envy and irreverence and presumption and other mortal sins. After inveighing, for instance, against he sin of passing a false florin, which probably Brunetto Latini was never even tempted to do, the friar proceeds:

“The man who is too avaricious [scarso] — I believe has his heart burnt within him, and he who has no pity on the poor or those in prison falls wholly into hell. Through avarice only arises gluttony, whereby come weariness and sickness and inebriation, the source of scorn. And from ghiottornia the road leads straight to sensuality — lussuria — and how shameful this sin is in an old man — a double sin [doppio peccato]!


Thence he goes on to speak of those special forms of lussuria which Dante punishes in the fourteenth and fifteenth cantos of the Inferno. Dante takes him at his word and adjudges him guilty of the terrible indictment:

Ma tra questi peccati
Son vie più condannati
Que’ che son soddomiti.
Deh come son periti
Que’ che contra natura
Brigen cotal lussura.

“Now,” says the friar, “behold, my dear friend, and heed what I say. See how may sins I have told you of, an all are mortal, and thou knowest that thou art guilty of such — very few of which are cured. See, it is no joking matter [non è gioco] to fall into sin, and I advise thee in all friendliness to beware lest the world entice thee!”

Brunetto having received absolution — and this surely ought to have given him a chance at the purification of Purgatory — he returns to the forest on a festal day, and on the morning after he finds himself on the monte d’ Olempo, on its very summit, from which he sees the whole world and how it is round, and all the land and the sea and the air and the fire above 40 the air; that is to say, the four elements which are the sustenance of all creatures according to their natures; and turning he beholds a white mantle near a great broom tree, and when he looks more closely he beholds a being with a white visage with a long beard spreading over the beast, and when he approaches it proves to be Ptolemy, the

Mastro di storlomia
E di filosofia.

Ptolemy, who corresponds to Statius in Dante, receives him politely and gives him a full explanation of the cause and reason and nature of the four elements and of their foundations. It is supposed that these teachings of Ptolemy were to have been given in Italian prose, but the prose is missing and the poem ends abruptly.

The two chapters of the “Favoletto” have no connection whatever with the “Tesoretto,” though written in the same doggerel rhyme and meter. We may therefore dismiss it with a word. Nor do the other writings of Brunetto especially interest us, not even his “Fiore de Filosofi e di Molti Savi,” which consists of short articles, all beginning with pretty much the same phrase: 41 Pittagora fue uno filosofo, Socrate fue grandissimo filosofo, and the like.

Brunetto Latini’s ingenuity in keeping up his jerky doggerel for three thousand liens or more is something wonderful. Of course, it often leads him into discursiveness, but oftentimes it gives a certain epigrammatic spiciness. It soon grows monotonous, and the occasional poetic imagery does not show for what it is worth. As a study of language, the “Tresors” and the “Tesoretto” are each interesting in their own way, but, aside from the linguistic value which the Italian has, often showing, as it does, the less sophisticated meaning of words that afterward became subtle, the student is probably right in giving more attention to “Li Tresors.”

But it seems palpable that the man himself appears in the poem and we can construct with some satisfaction an outline of his character. He was scholarly, but he was genial. He was loyal to Florence and a patriot, but he was free from that acid bitterness that seared Dante’s soul. He was more ingenious than poetical. No real poet could possibly have stuck so determinedly to a scheme of rhyme that was destined from its very nature to be largely 42 doggerel. Even the epigrammatic couplets have nothing of the popular proverb about them. There are few that cling to the memory and serve as apt quotations. It is not exaggeration to say that Dante quite obscured his feeble light as the sun obscures the light of Mercury. But by reason of Dante’s indebtedness to him, as well as form a certain quaint originality in the man himself, he is worth studying.

At the end we cannot help wondering how Dante had the heart to condemn to those regions of pitiless fire the man who, whether he was his teacher or not, left a statement of philosophy and morals that in view of its wide dissemination throughout the Middle Ages must have had a vast influence for good.


 *  Et se aucuns demandoit por quoi cist livres est escriz in romans, selonc le langage des Francois, puique nos somes Ytaliens, je diroie que se esti por ij. raisons: l’une, car nos somes en France; et l’autre porce que francois est plus delitaubles lengages et plus communs que moult d’autres.

 †  Ed io ponendo cura
    Tornai alla natura
    Ch’ audivi dir che tene
    Ogn’ uom ch’ al mondo vene
    E nasce primamente
    Al padre, e al parente
    E poi al suo Communo.


II.  Dante and the Picturesque

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