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Dante's Noble Ancestry. Cacciaguida's Discourse of the Great Florentines.

O thou our poor nobility of blood,

If thou dost make the people glory in thee

Down here where our affection languishes,

A marvellous thing it ne'er will be to me;

For there where appetite is not perverted,

I say in Heaven, of thee I made a boast!

Truly thou art a cloak that quickly shortens,

So that unless we piece thee day by day

Time goeth round about thee with his shears!

With 'You,' which Rome was first to tolerate,

(Wherein her family less perseveres,)

Yet once again my words beginning made;

Whence Beatrice, who stood somewhat apart,

Smiling, appeared like unto her who coughed

At the first failing writ of Guenever.

And I began: "You are my ancestor,

You give to me all hardihood to speak,

You lift me so that I am more than I.

So many rivulets with gladness fill

My mind, that of itself it makes a joy

Because it can endure this and not burst.

Then tell me, my beloved root ancestral,

Who were your ancestors, and what the years

That in your boyhood chronicled themselves?

Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John,

How large it was, and who the people were

Within it worthy of the highest seats."

As at the blowing of the winds a coal

Quickens to flame, so I beheld that light

Become resplendent at my blandishments.

And as unto mine eyes it grew more fair,

With voice more sweet and tender, but not in

This modern dialect, it said to me:

"From uttering of the 'Ave,' till the birth

In which my mother, who is now a saint,

Of me was lightened who had been her burden,

Unto its Lion had this fire returned

Five hundred fifty times and thirty more,

To reinflame itself beneath his paw.

My ancestors and I our birthplace had

Where first is found the last ward of the city

By him who runneth in your annual game.

Suffice it of my elders to hear this;

But who they were, and whence they thither came,

Silence is more considerate than speech.

All those who at that time were there between

Mars and the Baptist, fit for bearing arms,

Were a fifth part of those who now are living;

But the community, that now is mixed

With Campi and Certaldo and Figghine,

Pure in the lowest artisan was seen.

O how much better 'twere to have as neighbours

The folk of whom I speak, and at Galluzzo

And at Trespiano have your boundary,

Than have them in the town, and bear the stench

Of Aguglione's churl, and him of Signa

Who has sharp eyes for trickery already.

Had not the folk, which most of all the world

Degenerates, been a step-dame unto Caesar,

But as a mother to her son benignant,

Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,

Would have gone back again to Simifonte

There where their grandsires went about as beggars.

At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,

The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,

Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti.

Ever the intermingling of the people

Has been the source of malady in cities,

As in the body food it surfeits on;

And a blind bull more headlong plunges down

Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts

Better and more a single sword than five.

If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia,

How they have passed away, and how are passing

Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them,

To hear how races waste themselves away,

Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard,

Seeing that even cities have an end.

All things of yours have their mortality,

Even as yourselves; but it is hidden in some

That a long while endure, and lives are short;

And as the turning of the lunar heaven

Covers and bares the shores without a pause,

In the like manner fortune does with Florence.

Therefore should not appear a marvellous thing

What I shall say of the great Florentines

Of whom the fame is hidden in the Past.

I saw the Ughi, saw the Catellini,

Filippi, Greci, Ormanni, and Alberichi,

Even in their fall illustrious citizens;

And saw, as mighty as they ancient were,

With him of La Sannella him of Arca,

And Soldanier, Ardinghi, and Bostichi.

Near to the gate that is at present laden

With a new felony of so much weight

That soon it shall be jetsam from the bark,

The Ravignani were, from whom descended

The County Guido, and whoe'er the name

Of the great Bellincione since hath taken.

He of La Pressa knew the art of ruling

Already, and already Galigajo

Had hilt and pommel gilded in his house.

Mighty already was the Column Vair,

Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifant, and Barucci,

And Galli, and they who for the bushel blush.

The stock from which were the Calfucci born

Was great already, and already chosen

To curule chairs the Sizii and Arrigucci.

O how beheld I those who are undone

By their own pride! and how the Balls of Gold

Florence enflowered in all their mighty deeds!

So likewise did the ancestors of those

Who evermore, when vacant is your church,

Fatten by staying in consistory.

The insolent race, that like a dragon follows

Whoever flees, and unto him that shows

His teeth or purse is gentle as a lamb,

Already rising was, but from low people;

So that it pleased not Ubertin Donato

That his wife's father should make him their kin.

Already had Caponsacco to the Market

From Fesole descended, and already

Giuda and Infangato were good burghers.

I'll tell a thing incredible, but true;

One entered the small circuit by a gate

Which from the Della Pera took its name!

Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon

Of the great baron whose renown and name

The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh,

Knighthood and privilege from him received;

Though with the populace unites himself

To-day the man who binds it with a border.

Already were Gualterotti and Importuni;

And still more quiet would the Borgo be

If with new neighbours it remained unfed.

The house from which is born your lamentation,

Through just disdain that death among you brought

And put an end unto your joyous life,

Was honoured in itself and its companions.

O Buondelmonte, how in evil hour

Thou fled'st the bridal at another's promptings!

Many would be rejoicing who are sad,

If God had thee surrendered to the Ema

The first time that thou camest to the city.

But it behoved the mutilated stone

Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provide

A victim in her latest hour of peace.

With all these families, and others with them,

Florence beheld I in so great repose,

That no occasion had she whence to weep;

With all these families beheld so just

And glorious her people, that the lily

Never upon the spear was placed reversed,

Nor by division was vermilion made."