De vulgari eloquentia (I, vii, 1-8)

(1) Dispudet, heu, nunc humani generis ignominiam renovare! Sed quia preterire non possumus quin transeamus per illam, quanquam rubor in ora consurgat animusque refugiat, percurremus. (1) Alas, how it shames me now to recall the dishonouring of the human race! But since I can make no progress without passing that way, though a blush comes to my cheek and my spirit recoils, I shall make haste to do so.
(2) O semper natura nostra prona peccatis! o ab initio et nunquam desinens nequitatrix! Num fuerat satis ad tui correptionem quod per primam prevaricationem eliminata, delitiarum exulabas a patria? Num satis quod per universalem, familie tue luxuriem et trucitatem, unica reservata domo, quicquid tui iuris erat cataclismo perierat, et que commiseras tu, animalia celique terreque iam luerant? Quippe satis extiterat! Sed, sicut proverbialiter dici solet Non ante tertium equitabis, misera miserum venire maluisti ad equum. (2) Oh human nature, always inclined towards sin! Engaged in evil from the beginning, and never changing your ways! Was it not enough to correct you that, banished from the light for the first transgression, you should live in exile from the delights of your homeland? Was it not enough that, because of the all-pervading lust and cruelty of your race, everything that was yours should have perished in a cataclysm, one family alone being spared, and that the creatures of earth and sky should have had to pay for the wrongs that you had committed? It should indeed have been enough. But, as we often say in the form of a proverb, 'not before the third time will you ride' [the third time works the charm]; and you, wretched humanity, chose to mount a fractious steed.
(3) Ecce, lector, quod, vel oblitus homo, vel vilipendens disciplinas priores et avertens oculos a vibicibus que remanserant, tertio insurrexit ad verbera per superbam stultitiam presumendo. (3) And so, reader, the human race, either forgetful or disdainful of earlier punishments, and averting its eyes from the bruises that remained, came for a third time to deserve a beating, putting its trust in its own foolish pride.
(4) Presumpsit ergo in corde suo incurabilis homo, sub persuasione gigantis, arte sua, non solum superare naturam, sed etiam ipsum naturantem, qui Deus est, et cepit hedificare turrim in Sennear, que postea dicta est Babel, hoc est confusio, per quam celum sperabat adscendere: intendens, inscius, non equare, sed suum superare Factorem. (4) Incorrigible humanity, therefore, led astray by the giant Nimrod, presumed in its heart to outdo in skill not only nature but the source of its own nature, who is God; and began to build a tower in Sennaar, which afterwards was called Babel (that is, 'confusion'). By this means human beings hoped to climb up to heaven, intending in their foolishness not to equal but to excel their creator.
(5) O sine mensura clementia celestis imperii! Quis patrum tot sustineret insultus a filio? Sed exurgens, non hostili scutica, sed paterna, et alias verberibus assueta, rebellantem filium pia correctione, nec non memorabili, castigavit. (5) Oh boundless mercy of the kingdom of heaven! What other father would have borne so many insults from his child? Yet, rising up not with an enemy's whip but that of a father, already accustomed to dealing out punishment, He chastised His rebellious offspring with a lesson as holy as it was memorable.
(6) Siquidem pene totum humanum genus ad opus iniquitatis coierat. Pars imperabant, pars architectabantur, pars muros moliebantur, pars amysibus regulabant, pars trullis linebant, pars scindere rupes, pars mari, pars terra vehere intendebant, partesque diverse diversis aliis operibus indulgebant, cum celitus tanta confusione percussi sunt, ut qui omnes una eademque loquela deserviebant ad opus, ab opere, multis diversificati loquelis, desinerent, et nunquam ad idem commertium convenirent. (6) Almost the whole of the human race had collaborated in this work of evil. Some gave orders, some drew up designs; some built walls, some measured them with plumb-lines, some smeared mortar on them with trowels; some were intent on breaking stones, some on carrying them by sea, some by land; and other groups still were engaged in other activities - until they were all struck by a great blow from heaven. Previously all of them had spoken one and the same language while carrying out their tasks; but now they were forced to leave off their labours, never to return to the same occupation, because they had been split up into groups speaking different languages.
(7) Solis etenim in uno convenientibus actu eadem loquela remansit: puta cunctis architectoribus una, cunctis saxa volventibus una, cunctis ea parantibus una; et sic de singulis operantibus accidit. Quot quot autem exercitii varietates tendebant ad opus, tot tot ydiomatibus tunc genus humanum disiungitur; et quanto excellentius exercebant, tanto rudius nunc barbariusque locuntur. (7) Only among those who were engaged in a particular activity did their language remain unchanged; so, for instance, there was one for all the architects, one for all the carriers of stones, one for all the stone-breakers, and so on for all the different operations. As many as were the types of work involved in the enterprise, so many were the languages by which the human race was fragmented; and the more skill required for the type of work, the more rudimentary and barbaric the language they now spoke.
(8) Quibus autem sacratum ydioma remansit, nec aderant, nec exercitium commendabant; sed graviter detestantes, stoliditatem operantium deridebant. Sed hec minima pars quantum ad numerum fuit de semine Sem, sicut conicio, qui fuit tertius filius Noe: de qua quidem ortus est populus Israel, qui antiquissima locutione sunt usi usque ad suam dispersionem. (8) But the holy tongue remained to those who had neither joined in the project nor praised it, but instead, thoroughly disdaining it, had made fun of the builders' stupidity. This insignificant minority - insignificant in numbers alone - were, as I believe, of the family of Shem, Noah's third son, from which descended the people of Israel, who used this most ancient language until the time of their dispersal.