De vulgari eloquentia (I, xviii, 1-5)

(1) Neque sine ratione ipsum vulgare illustre decusamus adiectione secunda, videlicet ut id cardinale vocemus. Nam, sicut totum hostium cardinem sequitur, ut, quo cardo vertitur, versetur et ipsum, seu introrsum seu extrorsum flectatur, sic et universus municipalium vulgarium grex vertitur et revertitur, movetur et pausat, secundum quod istud, quod quidem vere paterfamilias esse videtur. Nonne cotidie exstirpat sentosos frutices de ytalia silva? Nonne cotidie vel plantas vel plantaria plantat? Quid aliud agricole sui satagunt, nisi ut amoveant et admoveant, ut dictum est? Quare prorsus tanto decusari vocabulo promeretur. (1) Nor are we without justification if we adorn this illustrious vernacular with our second epithet, by calling it 'cardinal'. For, just as the whole structure of a door obeys its hinge, so that in whatever direction the hinge moves, the door moves with it, whether it opens towards the inside or the outside, so the whole flock of languages spoken in the cities of Italy turns this way or that, moves or stands still, at the behest of this vernacular, which thus shows itself to be the true head of their family. Does it not daily dig up thorn-bushes growing in the Italian forest? Does it not daily make new grafts or prick out seedlings? What else do its gardeners do, if they are not uprooting or planting, as I said earlier? For this reason it has fully earned the right to deck itself out with so noble an epithet.
(2) Quia vero aulicum nominamus, illud causa est, quod, si aulam nos Ytali haberemus, palatinum foret. Nam si aula totius regni comunis est domus et omnium regni partium gubernatrix augusta, quicquid tale est ut omnibus sit comune nec proprium ulli, conveniens est ut in ea conversetur et habitet; nec aliquod aliud habitaculum tanto dignum est habitante. Hoc nempe videtur esse id de quo loquimur vulgare; (2) The reason for calling this vernacular 'aulic' [royal court], on the other hand, is that if we Italians had a royal court, it would make its home in the court's palace. For if the court is the shared home of the entire kingdom, and the honoured governor of every part of it, it is fitting that everything that is common to all yet owned by none should frequent the court and live there; and indeed no other dwelling-place would be worthy of such a resident.
(3) et hinc est quod in regiis omnibus conversantes semper illustri vulgari locuntur. Hinc etiam est quod nostrum illustre velut acola peregrinatur et in humilibus hospitatur asilis, cum aula vacemus. (3) And this certainly seems to be true of this vernacular of which I speak. So this is why those who frequent any royal court always speak an illustrious vernacular; it is also why our illustrious vernacular wanders around like a homeless stranger, finding hospitality in more humble homes - because we have no court.
(4) Est etiam merito curiale dicendum; quia curialitas nil aliud est quam librata regula eorum que peragenda sunt; et quia statera huiusmodi librationis tantum in excellentissimis curiis esse solet, hinc est quod quicquid in actibus nostris bene libratum est, curiale dicatur. Unde, cum istud in excellentissima Ytalorum curia sit libratum, dici curiale meretur. (4) It is right to call this vernacular 'curial' [law-court], because the essence of being curial is no more than providing a balanced assessment of whatever has to be dealt with; and because the scales on which this assessment is carried out are usually found only in the most authoritative of tribunals, whatever is well balanced in our actions is called 'curial'. Therefore, since this vernacular has been assessed before the most excellent tribunal in Italy, it deserves to be called 'curial'.
(5) Sed dicere quod in excellentissima Ytalorum curia sit libratum, videtur nugatio, cum curia careamus. Ad quod facile respondetur. Nam, licet curia, secundum quod unita accipitur, ut curia regis Alamanie, in Ytalia non sit, membra tamen eius non desunt; et sicut membra illius uno principe uniuntur, sic membra huius gratioso lumine rationis unita sunt. Quare falsum esset dicere curia carere Ytalos, quanquam principe careamus; quoniam curiam habemus, licet corporaliter sit dispersa. (5) Yet it seems contradictory to say that it has been assessed in the most excellent tribunal in Italy, since we have no such tribunal. The answer to this is simple. For although it is true that there is no such tribunal in Italy - in the sense of a single institution, like that of the king of Germany - yet its constituent elements are not lacking. And just as the elements of the German tribunal are united under a single monarch, so those of the Italian have been brought together by the gracious light of reason. So it would not be true to say that the Italians lack a tribunal altogether, even though we lack a monarch, because we do have one, but its physical components are scattered.