Castiglione: The Courtier (2)

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A discourse on love

Then master Peter after a while's silence, somewhat settling himself as though he should entreat upon [discuss] a weighty matter, said thus: My Lords, to show that old men may love not only without slander, but otherwhile more happily than young men, I must be enforced to make a little discourse to declare what love is, and wherein consisteth the happiness that lovers may have. Therefore I beseech you give the hearing with heedfulness, for I hope to make you understand, that it were not unfitting for any man here to be a lover, in case [even if] he were fifteen or twenty years older than M. Morello [the oldest courtier present].

And here after they had laughed a while, M. Peter proceeded. I say therefore that according as it is defined of the wise men of old time, Love is nothing else but a certain coveting to enjoy beauty: and for so much as coveting longeth for nothing but for things known, it is requisite that knowledge go evermore before coveting, which of his own nature willeth the good, but of himself is blind, and knoweth it not. [Note 1] Therefore hath nature so ordained that to every virtue of knowledge there is annexed a virtue of longing. And because in our soul there be three manner ways to know [perceive], namely, by sense, reason, and understanding; of sense there ariseth appetite or longing, which is common to us with brute beasts; of reason ariseth election or choice, which is proper [appropriate] to man; of understanding, by the which man may be partner with Angels, ariseth will.

Even as therefore the sense knoweth not but sensible [sensual] matters, and that which may be felt, so the appetite or coveting only deserveth the same; and even as the understanding is bent but to behold things that may be understood, so is that will only fed with spiritual goods. Man, of nature endowed with reason, placed (as it were) in the middle between these two extremities, may through his choice--inclining to sense, or reaching to understanding--come nigh to the coveting sometime of the one, sometime of the other part. . .

The kind of beauty which inspires love

But speaking of the beauty that we mean, which is only it that appeareth in bodies, and especially in the face of man, and moveth this fervent coveting which we call Love, we will term it an influence of the heavenly bountifulness, the which for all it stretcheth over all things that be created (like the light of the sun) yet when it findeth out a face well proportioned, and framed with a certain lively agreement of several colours, and set forth with lights and shadows, and with an orderly distance and limits of lines, therinto it distilleth itself and appeareth most well favoured, and decketh out and lighteneth the subject where it shines with a marvellous grace and glistering [glistening] (like the sun beams that strike against beautiful plate of fine gold wrought and set with precious jewels); so that it draweth unto it men's eyes with pleasure, and piercing through them, imprinteth himself [i.e. Love] in the soul, and with an unwonted sweetness all to stirreth her [the soul] and delighteth and setting her on fire maketh her to covet him.

Errors in love

[Errors in love arise when the lover allows his desire to be purely of the senses, and therefore tries to posess the loved one.] When the soul then is taken with coveting to enjoy this beauty as a good thing, in case [if] she suffer herself to be guided with the judgement of sense, she falleth into most deep errors, and judgeth the body in which beauty is discerned to be the principal cause thereof: whereupon to enjoy it she reckoneth it necessary to join as inwardly as she can, with that body, which is false. And therefore whoso thinketh in possessing the body to enjoy Beauty, he is far deceived, and is moved to it, not with true knowledge by the choice of reason, but with false opinion by the longing of sense. Whereupon the pleasure that followeth it is also false and of necessity full of errors.

The torture of lust

And therefore into one of the two vices run all those lovers that satisfy their unhonest lusts with the women whom they love: for either as soon as they be come to the coveted end, they not only feel a fullness [satiety] and loathsomeness, but also conceive a hatred against the wight [person] beloved, as though longing repented him of his offence, and [ac]knowledged the deceit wrought him by the false judgement of sense, that made him believe the ill to be good; or else they continue in the very same coveting and greediness, as though they were not indeed come to the end which they sought for. And albeit through the blind opinion that hath made them drunken (to their seeming) in that instant they feel a contentation [momentary contentment], as the diseased otherwhile that dream they drink of some clear spring, yet be they not satisfied, nor leave off [end up] so.

And because of possessing coveted goodness there ariseth always quietness and satisfaction in the possessor's mind, in case [if] this were the true and right end of their coveting, when they possess it they would be at quietness and thoroughly satisfied, which they be not, but rather, deceived through that likeness, they forthwith return again to unbridled coveting, and with the very same trouble which they felt at the first, they fall again into the raging and most burning thirst of the thing that they hope in vain to possess perfectly.

These kind of lovers therefore love most unluckily, for either they never come by their covetings, which is a great unluckiness; or else if they do come by them, they come by their hurt, and end their miseries with other greater miseries: for both in the beginning and middle of this love, there is never other thing felt, but affliction, torments, griefs, pining, travail, so that to be wan, vexed with continual tears and sighs, to live with a discontented mind, to be always dumb, or to lament, to covet death. In conclusion, most unlucky are the properties which (they say) belong to lovers. [Note 2]

The cause therefore of this wretchedness in men's minds is principally Sense, which in youthful age bears most sway because the lustiness of the flesh and of the blood in that season addeth unto him even so much force, as it withdraweth from reason. . .

Age and youth in love

[Older people are less likely to be deceived by the attractions of the senses.] Setting case [assuming] therefore this to be so, which is most true, I say that the contrary chanceth to come to them of a more ripe age. For in case they--when the soul is not now so much weighed down with the bodily burden, and when the natural burning assuageth [becomes less] and draweth to a warmth--if they be inflamed with beauty, and to it bend their coveting, guided by reasonable choice, they be not deceived, and possess beauty perfectly; and therefore through the possessing of it, always goodness ensueth to them, because beauty is good, and consequently the true love of it is most good and holy; and evermore [beauty] bringeth forth good fruits in the souls of them that with the bridle of reason restrain the ill disposition of sense, the which old men can much sooner do than young. . .

[Though the young can be excused their excesses, since they are natural for that age.] And I will not also hide this from you, namely, that I suppose, where sensual love in every age is naught, yet in young men it deserveth excuse, and perhaps in some case lawful; for although it putteth them in afflictions, dangers, travails and the unfortunateness that is said [above], yet are there many that to win them the good will of their ladies practise virtuous things, which for all they be not bent to a good end, yet are they good of themselves. And so of that much bitterness they pick out a little sweetness, and through the adversities which they sustain, in the end they acknowledge their error. . .

But in case after they draw in years, once they reserve still in their cold heart the fire of appetites, and bring stout reason in subjection to feeble sense, it can not be said how much they are to be blamed; for like men without sense they deserve with an everlasting shame to be put in the number of unreasonable living creatures, because the thoughts of ways of sensual love be far unfitting for ripe age. [Note 3]

A discussion

[There is some discussion of these points by the members of the court.] Here Bembo paused a while as though he would breathe him, and when all things were whist [quiet], master Morello of Ortona said: And in case there were some old man more fresh and lusty and of a better complexion than many young men, why would you not have it lawful for him love with the love that young men love?

The Duchess laughed and said: If the love of young men be so unlucky, why would you (master Morello) that old men men should also love with this unluckiness? But in case you were old (as these men say you be) you would not thus procure the hurt of old men.

Master Morello answered: The hurt of old men (me seemeth) master Peter Bembo procureth, who will have them to love after a sort that I for my part understand not; and (me think) the possessing of this beauty which he praiseth so much, without the body, is a dream.

Do you believe, master Morello (quoth then Count Lewis) that beauty is always so good a thing as master Peter Bembo speaketh of?

Not I in good sooth (answered master Morello), but I remember rather that I have seen many beautiful women of a most ill inclination, cruel, and spiteful, and it seemeth that (in a manner) it happeneth always so, for beauty maketh them proud, and pride, cruel.

Count Lewis said smiling: To you perhaps they seem cruel, because they content you not with it that you would have. But cause [ask] master Peter Bembo to teach you in what sort old men ought to covet beauty, and what to seek at their Lady's hands, and what to content themselves withal; and in not passing out of these bounds, ye shall see that they shall be neither proud nor cruel, and will satisfy you with that you shall require.

Master Morello seemed then somewhat out of patience, and said: I will not know the thing that toucheth me not, but cause you to be taught how the young men ought to covet this beauty, that are not so fresh and lusty as old men be.

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  1. Coveting (desire) can only be for things perceived (known) through the senses; desire, by its nature wishes good, but is in itself blind. [Back]
  2. Compare Shakespeare's Sonnet 129. [Back]
  3. So too with older women, according to Hamlet; see his remarks to Gertrude, 3.4.69-86. [Back]

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