Epistole (VI, 1-27)

(1) Dantes Alagherii florentinus et exul inmeritus scelestissimis Florentinis intrinsecis. (1) Dante Alighieri, a Florentine undeservedly in exile, to the most iniquitous Florentines within the city.
(2) [1]. Eterni pia providentia Regis, qui dum celestia sua bonitate perpetuat, infera nostra despiciendo non deserit, sacrosancto Romanorum Imperio res humanas disposuit gubernandas, ut sub tanti serenitate presidii genus mortale quiesceret, et ubique, natura poscente, civiliter degeretur. (2) The gracious providence of the Eternal King, who in his goodness ever rules the affairs of the world above, yet ceases not to look down upon our concerns here below, committed to the Holy Roman Empire the governance of human affairs, to the end that mankind might repose in the peace of so powerful a protection, and everywhere, as nature demands, might live as citizens of an ordered world.
(3) Hoc etsi divinis comprobatur elogiis, hoc etsi solius podio rationis innixa contestatur antiquitas, non leviter tamen veritati applaudit quod, solio augustali vacante, totus orbis exorbitat, quod nauclerus et remiges in navicula Petri dormitant, et quod Ytalia misera, sola, privatis arbitriis derelicta omnique publico moderamine destituta, quanta ventorum fluentorumve concussione feratur verba non caperent, sed et vix Ytali infelices lacrimis metiuntur. (3) And though the proof of this is to be found in holy writ, and though the ancients relying on reason alone bear witness thereto, yet is it no small confirmation of the truth, that when the throne of Augustus is vacant, the whole world goes out of course, the helmsman and rowers slumber in the ship of Peter, and unhappy Italy, forsaken and abandoned to private control, and bereft of all public guidance, is tossed with such buffeting of winds and waves as no words can describe, nay as even the Italians in their woe can scarce measure with their tears.
(4) Igitur in hanc Dei manifestissimam voluntatem quicunque temere presumendo tumescunt, si gladius Eius qui dicit «Mea est ultio» de celo non cecidit, ex nunc severi iudicis adventante iudicio pallore notentur. (4) Wherefore let all who in mad presumption have risen up against this most manifest will of God, now grow pale at the thought of the judgement of the stern Judge, which is nigh at hand, if so be the sword of Him who saith, 'Vengeance is mine', be not fallen out of heaven.
(5) [2]. Vos autem divina iura et humana transgredientes, quos dira cupiditatis ingluvies paratos in omne nefas illexit, nonne terror secunde mortis exagitat, ex quo, primi et soli iugum libertatis horrentes, in romani Principis, mundi regis et Dei ministri, gloriam fremuistis, atque iure prescriptionis utentes, debite subiectionis officium denegando, in rebellionis vesaniam maluistis insurgere? (5) But you, who transgress every law of God and man, and whom the insatiable greed of avarice has urged all too willing into every crime, does the dread of the second death not haunt you, seeing that you first and you alone, shrinking from the yoke of liberty, have murmured against the glory of the Roman Emperor, the king of the earth, and minister of God; and under cover of prescriptive right, refusing the duty of submission due to him, have chosen rather to rise up in the madness of rebellion?
(6) An ignoratis, amentes et discoli, publica iura cum sola temporis terminatione finiri, et nullius prescriptionis calculo fore obnoxia? (6) Have you to learn, senseless and perverse as you are, that public right can be subject to no reckoning by prescription, but must endure so long as time itself endures?
(7) Nempe legum sanctiones alme declarant, et humana ratio percontando decernit, publica rerum dominia, quantalibet diuturnitate neglecta, nunquam posse vanescere vel abstenuata conquiri; nam quod ad omnium cedit utilitatem, sine omnium detrimento interire non potest, vel etiam infirmari; et hoc Deus et natura non vult, et mortalium penitus abhorreret adsensus. (7) Verily the sacred precepts of the law declare, and human reason after inquiry has decided, that public control of affairs, however long neglected, can never become of no effect, nor be superseded, however much it be weakened. For nothing which tends to the advantage of all can be destroyed, or even impaired, without injury to all -- a thing contrary to the intention of God and nature, and which would be utterly abhorrent to the opinion of all mankind.
(8) Quid, fatua tali oppinione summota, tanquam alteri Babilonii, pium deserentes imperium nova regna temptatis, ut alia sit Florentina civilitas, alia sit Romana? Cur apostolice monarchie similiter invidere non libet, ut si Delia geminatur in celo, geminetur et Delius? (8) Wherefore, then, being disabused of such an idle conceit, do you abandon the Holy Empire, and, like the men of Babel once more, seek to found new kingdoms, so that there shall be one polity of Florence, and another of Rome? And why should not the Apostolic government be the object of a like envy, so that, if the one twin of Delos have her double in the heavens, the other should have his likewise?
(9) Atqui si male ausa rependere vobis terrori non est, territet saltim obstinata precordia quod non modo sapientia, sed initium eius ad penam culpe vobis ablatum est. (9) But if reflection upon your evil designs bring you no fears, at least let this strike terror into your hardened hearts, that as the penalty for your crime not only wisdom, but the beginning of wisdom, has been taken from you.
(10) Nulla etenim conditio delinquentis formidolosior, quam impudenter et sine Dei timore quicquid libet agentis. Hac nimirum persepe animadversione percutitur impius, ut moriens obliviscatur sui qui dum viveret oblitus est Dei. (10) For no condition of the sinner is more terrible than that of him who, shamelessly and without the fear of God, does whatsoever he lists. Full often, indeed, the wicked man is smitten with this punishment, that as during life he has been oblivious of God, so when he dies he is rendered oblivious of himself.
(11) [3]. Sin prorsus arrogantia vestra insolens adeo roris altissimi, ceu cacumina Gelboe, vos fecit exsortes, ut Senatus eterni consulto restitisse timori non fuerit, nec etiam non timuisse timetis; nunquid timor ille perniciosus, humanus videlicet atque mundanus, abesse poterit, superbissimi vestri sanguinis vestreque multum lacrimande rapine inevitabili naufragio properante? (11) But if your insolent arrogance has so deprived you of the dew from on high, like the mountain-tops of Gilboa, that you have not feared to resist the decree of the eternal senate, and have felt no fear at not having feared, shall that deadly fear, to wit human and worldly fear, not overwhelm you, when the inevitable shipwreck of your proud race, and the speedy end of your deeply to be rued lawlessness, shall be seen to be hard at hand?
(12) An septi vallo ridiculo cuiquam defensioni confiditis? O male concordes! o mira cupidine obcecati! Quid vallo sepsisse, quid propugnaculis et pinnis urbem armasse iuvabit, cum advolaverit aquila in auro terribilis, que nunc Pirenen, nunc Caucason, nunc Athlanta supervolans, militie celi magis confortata sufflamine, vasta maria quondam transvolando despexit? quid, cum adfore stupescetis, miserrimi hominum, delirantis Hesperie domitorem? (12) Do you put your trust in defences, in that you are girt about by a contemptible rampart? O you of one mind only for evil! O you blinded by wondrous greed! What shall it avail you to have girt you with a rampart, and to have fortified yourselves with bulwarks and battlements, when, terrible in gold, the eagle shall swoop down upon you, which, soaring now over the Pyrenees, now over Caucasus, now over Atlas, ever strengthened by the support of the host of heaven, gazed down of old on the vast expanse of ocean in its flight? What shall these avail you, most wretched of men, when you stand confounded in the presence of him who shall subdue the raging of Hesperia?
(13) Non equidem spes, quam frustra sine more fovetis, reluctantia ista iuvabitur, sed hac obice iusti regis adventus inflammabitur amplius, ac, indignata, misericordia semper concomitans eius exercitum avolabit; et quo false libertatis trabeam tueri existimatis, eo vere servitutis in ergastula concidetis. (13) The hopes which you vainly cherish in your unreason will not be furthered by your rebellion; but by this resistance the just wrath of the king at his coming will be but the more inflamed against you, and mercy, which ever accompanies his army, shall fly away indignant; and where you think to defend the threshold of false liberty, there in sooth shall you fall into the dungeon of slavery.
(14) Miro namque Dei iudicio quandoque agi credendum est, ut unde digna supplicia impius declinare arbitratur, inde in ea gravius precipitetur; et qui divine voluntati reluctatus est et sciens et volens, eidem militet nesciens atque nolens. (14) For by the wondrous judgement of God, as we must believe, it sometimes comes to pass that by the very means whereby the wicked man thinks to escape the punishment which is his due, he is the more fatally hurried into it; and that he who wittingly and willingly is a rebel against the divine will, is unwittingly and unwillingly a soldier in its service.
(15) [4]. Videbitis edificia vestra non necessitati prudenter instructa sed delitiis inconsulte mutata, que Pergama rediviva non cingunt, tam ariete ruere, tristes, quam igne cremari. (15) The buildings which you have raised, not in prudence to serve your needs, but have recklessly altered to gratify your wantonness, these, encircled by no walls of a renovated Troy, to your grief you shall see crumble beneath the battering-ram, and devoured by the flames.
(16) Videbitis plebem circunquaque furentem nunc in contraria, pro et contra, deinde in idem adversus vos horrenda clamantem, quoniam simul et ieiuna et timida nescit esse. Templa quoque spoliata, cotidie matronarum frequentata concursu, parvulosque admirantes et inscios peccata patrum luere destinatos videre pigebit. (16) The populace which now, divided against itself, rages indiscriminately, some for you, some against you, you shall then see united in their imprecations against you, for the starving mob knows nothing of fear. With remorse, too, you shall behold the spoliation of your temples, thronged daily by a concourse of matrons, and your children doomed in wonder and ignorance to suffer for the sins of their fathers.
(17) Et si presaga mens mea non fallitur, sic signis veridicis sicut inexpugnabilibus argumentis instructa prenuntians, urbem diutino merore confectam in manus alienorum tradi finaliter, plurima vestri parte seu nece seu captivitate deperdita, perpessuri exilium pauci cum fletu cernetis. (17) And if my prophetic soul be not deceived, which announces what it has been taught by infallible signs and incontrovertible arguments, your city, worn out with ceaseless mourning, shall be delivered at the last into the hands of the stranger, after the greatest part of you has been destroyed in death or captivity; and the few that shall be left to endure exile shall witness her downfall with tears and lamentation.
(18) Utque breviter colligam, quas tulit calamitates illa civitas gloriosa in fide pro libertate Saguntum, ignominiose vos eas in perfidia pro servitute subire necesse est. (18) Those sufferings, in short, which for liberty's sake the glorious city of Saguntum endured in her loyalty, you in your disloyalty must undergo with shame but to become slaves.
(19) [5]. Nec ab inopina Parmensium fortuna sumatis audaciam, qui malesuada fame urgente murmurantes invicem «prius moriamur et in media arma ruamus», in castra Cesaris, absente Cesare, proruperunt; nam et hii, quanquam de Victoria victoriam sint adepti, nichilominus ibi sunt de dolore dolorem memorabiliter consecuti. (19) And beware of gathering confidence from the unlooked-for success of the men of Parma, who under the spur of hunger, that evil counsellor, murmuring to one another, 'Let us rather rush into the midst of battle and meet death', broke into the camp of Caesar while Caesar was absent. For even they, though they gained a victory over Victoria, none the less reaped woe from that woe in a way not like to be forgotten.
(20) Sed recensete fulmina Federici prioris, et Mediolanum consulite pariter et Spoletum; quoniam ipsorum perversione simul et eversione discussa viscera vestra nimium dilatata frigescent, et corda vestra nimium ferventia contrahentur. (20) But bethink you of the thunderbolts of the first Frederick; consider the fate of Milan and of Spoleto; for at the remembrance of their disobedience and swift overthrow your too swollen flesh shall grow chill, and your too hot hearts shall contract.
(21) A, Tuscorum vanissimi, tam natura quam vitio insensati! Quam in noctis tenebris malesane mentis pedes oberrent ««« ante oculos pennatorum, nec perpenditis nec figuratis ignari. Vident namque vos pennati et inmaculati in via, quasi stantes in limine carceris, et miserantem quempiam, ne forte vos liberet captivatos et in compedibus astrictos et manicis, propulsantes. (21) O most foolish of the Tuscans, insensate alike by nature and by corruption, who neither consider nor understand in your ignorance how before the eyes of the full-fledged the feet of your diseased minds go astray in the darkness of night! For the full-fledged and undefiled in the way behold you standing as it were on the threshold of the prison, and thrusting aside any that has pity on you, lest haply he should deliver you from captivity and loose you from the chains that bind your hands and your feet.
(22) Nec advertitis dominantem cupidinem, quia ceci estis, venenoso susurrio blandientem, minis frustatoriis cohibentem, nec non captivantem vos in lege peccati, ac sacratissimis legibus que iustitie naturalis imitantur ymaginem, parere vetantem; observantia quarum, si leta, si libera, non tantum non servitus esse probatur, quin ymo perspicaciter intuenti liquet ut est ipsa summa libertas. (22) Nor are ye ware in your blindness of the overmastering greed which beguiles you with venomous whispers, and with cheating threats constrains you, yea, and has brought you into captivity to the law of sin, and forbidden you to obey the most sacred laws; those laws made in the likeness of natural justice, the observance whereof, if it be joyous, if it be free, is not only no servitude, but to him who observes with understanding is manifestly in itself the most perfect liberty.
(23) Nam quid aliud hec nisi liber cursus voluntatis in actum quem suis leges mansuetis expediunt? Itaque solis existentibus liberis qui volontarie legi obediunt, quos vos esse censebitis qui, dum pretenditis libertatis affectum, contra leges universas in legum principem conspiratis? (23) For what else is this liberty but the free passage from will to act, which the laws make easy for those who obey them? Seeing, then, that they only are free who of their own will submit to the law, what do you call yourselves, who, while you make pretence of a love of liberty, in defiance of every law conspire against the Prince who is the giver of the law?
(24) [6]. O miserrima Fesulanorum propago, et iterum iam punita barbaries! An parum timoris prelibata incutiunt? Omnino vos tremere arbitror vigilantes, quanquam spem simuletis in facie verboque mendaci, atque in somniis expergisci plerunque, sive pavescentes infusa presagia, sive diurna consila recolentes. (24) O most wretched offshoot of Fiesole! O barbarians punished now a second time! Does the foretaste not suffice to terrify you? Of a truth I believe that, for you simulate hope in your looks and lying lips, yet you tremble in your waking hours, and ever start from your dreams in terror at the portents which have visited you, or rehearsing again the counsels you have debated by day.
(25) Verum si merito trepidantes insanisse penitet non dolentes, ut in amaritudinem penitentie metus dolorisque rivuli confluant, vestris animis infigenda supersunt, quod Romane rei baiulus hic divus et triumphator Henricus, non sua privata sed publica mundi commoda sitiens, ardua queque pro nobis aggressus est sua sponte penas nostras participans, tanquam ad ipsum, post Christum, digitum prophetie propheta direxerit Ysaias, cum, spiritu Dei revelante, predixit: «Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit». (25) But if, while alarmed with good reason, you repent you of your madness, yet feel no remorse, then, that the streams of fear and remorse may unite in the bitter waters of repentance, bear this further in mind, that the guardian of the Roman Empire, the triumphant Henry, elect of God, thirsting not for his own but for the public good, has for our sakes undertaken his heavy task, sharing our pains of his own free will, as though to him, after Christ, the prophet Isaiah had pointed the finger of prophecy, when by the revelation of the Spirit of God he declared, 'Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows'.
(26) Igitur tempus amarissime penitendi vos temere presumptorum, si dissimulare non vultis, adesse conspicitis. Et sera penitentia hoc a modo venie genitiva non erit, quin potius tempestive animadversionis exordium. Est enim: quoniam peccator percutitur, ut 'sine retractatione moriatur'. (26) Wherefore you perceive, if you be not dissemblers, that the hour of bitter repentance for your mad presumption is now at hand. But a late repentance after this wise will not purchase pardon, rather is it but the prelude to seasonable chastisement. For 'the sinner is smitten so that he shall surely die'.
(27) Scriptum pridie Kalendas Apriles in finibus Tuscie sub fontem Sarni, faustissimi cursus Henrici Cesaris ad Ytaliam anno primo. (27) Written from beneath the springs of Arno, on the confines of Tuscany, on the thirty-first day of March in the first year of the most auspicious passage of the Emperor Henry into Italy.