SEV. You will see the origin of the nine blind men, who state nine
reasons and special causes of their blindness, and yet they all agree in
one general reason and one common enthusiasm.
MIN. Begin with the first!
SEV. The first of these, notwithstanding that he is blind by nature, yet
he laments, saying to the others that he cannot persuade himself that
nature has been less courteous to them than to him; seeing that although
they do not (now) see, yet they have enjoyed sight, and have had
experience of that sense, and of the value of that faculty, of which
they have been deprived, while he came into the world as a mole, to be
seen and not to see, to long for the sight of that which he never had
MIN. Many have fallen in love through report alone.
SEV. They have, says he, the happiness of retaining that Divine image
present in the mind, so that, although blind, they have in imagination
that which he cannot have. Then in the sistine he turns to his guide and
begs him to lead him to some precipice, so that he may no longer endure
this contempt and persecution of nature. He says then:
_The first blind man_.
Ye now afflicted are, who erst were glad,
For ye have lost the light that once was yours,
Yet happy, for ye have the twin lights known.
These eyes ne’er lighted were, and ne’er were quenched;
But a more grievous destiny is mine
Which calls for heavier lamentation.
Who will deny that nature upon me
Has frowned more harshly than on you?
Conduct me to the precipice, my guide,
And give me peace, for there will I a cure
For this my dolour and affliction find;
For to be seen, yet not to see the light,
Like an incapable and sightless mole,
Is to be useless and a burden on the earth.
Now follows the other, who, bitten by the serpent of jealousy, became
affected in the organ of sight. He wanders without any guide, unless he
has jealousy for his escort. He begs some of the bystanders, that seeing
there is no remedy for his misfortune, they should have pity upon him,
so that he should no longer feel it; that he might become as unmanifest
to himself as he is to the light, and that they bury him together with
his own misfortune. He says then:
_The second blind man_.
Alecta has torn from out her dreadful hair,
The infernal worm that with a cruel bite,
Has fiercely fastened on my soul,
And of my senses, torn the chief away,
Leaving the intellect without its guide.
In vain the soul some consolation seeks.
That spiteful, rabid, rancorous jealousy
Makes me go stumbling along the way.
If neither magic spell nor sacred plant,
Nor virtue hid in the enchanter’s stone,
Will yield me the deliverance that I ask:
Let one of you, my friends, be pitiful,
And put me out, as are put out my eyes,
That they and I together be entombed.
The other follows, who says that he became blind through having been
suddenly brought out of the darkness into a great light: accustomed to
behold ordinary beauties, a celestial beauty was suddenly presented
before his eyes–a sun-god–in this manner his sight became dull and the
twin lights which shine at the prow of the soul were put out: for the
eyes are like two beacons, which guide the ship, and this would happen
to one brought up in Cimmerian obscurity if he fixed his eyes suddenly
upon the sun. In the sistine he begs for free passage to Hades, because
darkness alone is suitable to a dark condition. He says:
_The third blind man_.
If sudden on the sight, the star of day
Should shed his beams on one in darkness reared,
Nurtured beneath the black Cimmerian sky,
Far from the radiance of the glorious sun,
The double light, the beacon of the soul
He quenches: then as a foe he hides.
Thus were my eyes made dull, inept,
Used only, wonted beauties to behold.
Conduct me to the land where darkness reigns!
Wherefore being dead, speak I amidst the folk?
A chip of Hell, why do I mix and move
Amongst the living, wherefore do I drink
The hated air, since all my pain
Is due to having seen the highest good?
The fourth blind man comes forward, not blind for the same reason as the
former one. For as that one was blinded through the sudden aspect of
the light, this one is so, from having too frequently beheld it, or
through having fixed his eyes too much upon it, so that he has lost the
sense of all other light, but he does not consider himself to be blind
through looking at that one which has blinded him: and the same may be
said of the sense of sight as of the sense of hearing, that those whose
ears are accustomed to great noises, do not hear the lesser, as is well
known of those who live near the cataracts of the great river Nile which
fall precipitously down to the plain.
MIN. Thus, all those who have accustomed the body and the soul to things
more difficult and great, are not apt to feel annoyed by smaller
difficulties. So that fellow ought not to be discontented about his
SEV. Certainly not. But one says, voluntarily blind, of one who desires
that every other thing be hidden because it annoys him to be diverted
from looking at that which alone he wishes to behold. Meanwhile he prays
the passers-by to prevent his coming to mischief in any encounter, while
he goes so absorbed and captivated by one principal object.
MIN. Repeat his words!
SEV. He says:
_The fourth blind man_.
Headlong from on high, to the abyss,
The cataract of the Nile falls down and dulls the senses
Of the joyless folk to every other sound,
So stood I too, with spirit all intent
Upon the living light, that lights the world;
Dead henceforth to all the lesser splendours,
While that light shines, let every other thing
Be to the voluntary blind concealed.
I pray you save me stumbling ‘mongst the stones,
Make me aware of the wild beast,
Show me whether up or down I go;
So that the miserable bones fall not,
Into a low and cavernous place,
While I, without a guide, am stepping on.
To the blind man that follows, it happens that having wept so much, his
eyes are become dim, so that he is not able to extend the visual ray, so
as to distinguish visible objects, nor can he see the light, which in
spite of himself, through so many sorrows, he at one time was able to
see. Besides which he considers that his blindness is not from
constitution, but from habit, and is peculiar to himself, because the
luminous fire which kindles the soul in the pupil, was for too long a
time and with too much force, repressed and restrained by a contrary
humour, so that although he might cease from weeping, he cannot be
persuaded that this would result in the longed-for vision. You will hear
what he says to the throng in order that they should enable him to
proceed on his way:
_The fifth blind man_.
Eyes of mine, with waters ever full,
When will the bright spark of the visual ray,
Darting, spring through each veiling obstacle,
That I may see again those holy lights
That were the alpha of my darling pain?
Ah, woe! I fear me it is quite extinct,
So long oppressed and conquered by its opposite.
Let the blind man pass on!
And turn your eyes upon these founts
Which overcome the others one and all.
Should any dare dispute it with me,
There’s one would surely answer him again;
That in one eye of mine an ocean is contained.
The sixth blind man is sightless because, through so much weeping, there
remains no more moisture, not even the crystalline and moisture through
which, as a diaphanous medium, the visual ray was transmitted, and the
external light and visible species were introduced, so that the heart
became compressed because all the moist substance, whose office it is to
keep united the various parts and opposites, was absorbed, and the
amorous affection remains without the effect of tears. Therefore the
organ is destroyed through the victory of the other elements, and it is
consequently left without sight and without consistency of the parts of
the body altogether. He then proposes to the bystanders that which
you shall hear:
_The sixth blind man_.
Eyes, no longer eyes, fountains no longer founts,
Ye have wept out the waters that did keep
The body, soul, and spirit joined in one,
And thou, reflecting crystal, which from without
So much unto the soul made manifest,
Thou art consumed by the wounded heart.
So towards the dark and cavernous abyss,
I, a blind arid man, direct my steps.
Ah, pity me, and do not hesitate
To help my speedy going. I who
So many rivers in the dark days spread out,
Finding my only comfort in my tears,
Now that my streams and fountains all are dry,
Towards profound oblivion lead the way.
The next one avers that he has lost his sight through the intensity of
the flame, which, proceeding from the heart, first destroyed the eyes,
and then dried up all the remaining moisture of the substance of the
lover, so that being all melted and turned to flame, he is no longer
himself, because the fire whose property it is to resolve all bodies
into their atoms, has converted him into impalpable dust, whereas by
virtue of water alone, the atoms of other bodies thicken, and are welded
together to make a substantial composition. Yet he is not deprived of
the sense of the most intense flame. Therefore, in the sistine he would
have space made for him to pass; for if anybody should be touched by his
fires he would become such that he would have no more feeling of the
flames of hell, for their heat would be to him as cold snow.
_The seventh blind man_.
Beauty, which through the eyes rushed to the heart,
And formed the mighty furnace in my breast,
Absorbing first the visual moisture; then,
Spouting aloft its grasping flashing flame,
Devouring every other fluid,
To set the dryer element at rest,
Has thus reduced me to a boneless dust,
Which now to its own atoms is resolved,
If anguish infinite your fears should rouse
Make space, give way, oh peoples!
Beware of my fierce penetrating fire,
For if it should invade and touch you, ye
Would feel and know the fires of hell
To be like winter’s cold.
The eighth follows, whose blindness is caused by the dart which love has
caused to penetrate from the eyes to the heart. Hence, he laments not
only as being blind, but furthermore because he is wounded and burnt so
fiercely, that he believes no other can be equally so. The sense of it
is easily expressed in this sonnet:–
_The eighth blind man_.
Vile onslaught, evil struggle, unrighteous palm,
Fine point, devouring fire, strong nerve,
Sharp wound, impious ardour, cruel body,
Dart, fire and tangle of that wayward god
Who pierced the eyes, inflamed the heart, bound the soul,
Made me at once sightless, a lover, and a slave,
So that, blind I have at all times, in all ways and places,
The feeling of my wound, my fire, my noose.
Men, heroes, and gods!
Who be on earth, or near to Ditis or to Jove,
I pray ye say, when, how, and where did ye
Feel ever, hear, or see in any place
Woes like to these, amongst the oppressed
Amongst the damned, ‘mongst lovers?
Finally comes the last one, who is also mute through not having been
able, or having dared, to say that which he most desired to say, for
fear of offending or exciting contempt, and he is deprived of speaking
of every other thing: therefore, it is not he who speaks, but his guide
who relates the affair, about which I do not speak, but only bring you
the sense thereof:
_The guide of the ninth blind man_.
Happy are ye, oh all ye sightless lovers,
That ye the reason of your pains can tell,
By virtue of your tears you can be sure
Of pure and favourable receptions.
Amongst you all, the latent fire of him
Whose guide I am, rages most fiercely,
Though he is mute for want of boldness
To make known his sorrows to his deity.
Make way! open ye wide the way,
Be ye benign unto this vacant face,
Oh people full of grievous hindrances,
The while this harassed weary trunk
Goes knocking at the doors
To meet a death less painful, more profound.
Here are mentioned nine reasons, which are the cause that the human mind
is blind as regards the Divine object and cannot fix its eyes upon it.
And of these, the first, allegorized through the first blind man, is
the quality of its own species, which in so far as the degree in which
he finds himself admits, he aspires certainly higher, than he is able to
MIN. Because no natural desire is vain, we are able to assure ourselves
of a more excellent state which is suitable to the soul outside of this
body, in the which it may be possible to unite itself, or to approach
more nearly, to its object.
SEV. Thou sayest well that no natural impulse or power is without strong
reason; it is in fact the same rule of nature which orders things. So
far, it is a thing most true and most certain to well-disposed
intellects, that the human soul, whatever it may show itself while it is
in the body, that same, which it makes manifest in this state, is the
expression of its pilgrim existence in this region; because it aspires
to the truth and to universal good, and is not satisfied with that which
comes on account of and to the profit of its species.
The second, represented by the second blind man, proceeds from some
troubled affection, as in the question of Love and Jealousy, the which
is like a moth, which has the same subject, enemy and father, that is,
it consumes the cloth or wood from which, it is generated.
MIN. This does not seem to me to take place with heroic love.
SEV. True, according to the same reason which is seen in the lower kind
of love; but I mean according to another reason similar to that which
happens to those who love truth and goodness, which shows itself when
they are angry against those who adulterate it, spoil it, or corrupt it,
or who in other ways would treat it with indignity, as has been the case
with those who have brought themselves to suffer death and pains, and to
being ignominiously treated by ignorant peoples and vulgar sects.
MIN. Certainly no one truly loves the truth and the good who is not
angry against the multitude; as no one loves in the ordinary way who is
not jealous and fearful about the thing loved.
SEV. And so he comes to be really blind in many things, and according to
the common opinion he is quite infatuated and mad.
MIN. I have noted a place which says that all those are infatuated and
mad, who have sense beyond and outside of the general sense of other
men. But such extravagance is of two kinds, according as one goes beyond
and ascends up higher than the greater number rise or can rise, and
these are they who are inspired with Divine enthusiasm; or by going
down lower where those are found who have greater defect of sense and
of reason than the many, and the ordinary; but in that kind of madness,
insensibility and blindness, will not be found the jealous hero.
SEV. Although he is told that much learning makes him mad, yet no one
can really abuse him. The third, represented by the third blind man,
proceeds from this: that Divine Truth according to supernatural
reasoning, called metaphysics, manifests itself to those few to whom it
shows itself, and does not proceed with measure of movement and time as
occurs in the physical sciences, that is, those which are acquired by
natural light, the which, in discoursing of a thing known to reason by
means of the senses, proceed to the knowledge of another thing, unknown,
the which discourse is called argument; but immediately and suddenly,
according to the method which belongs to such efficiency. Whence a
divine has said: “Attenuati sunt oculi mei suspicientes in excelsum.” So
that it does not require a useless lapse of time, fatigue, and study,
and inquisitorial act to have it, but it is taken in quickly, as the
solar light, without hesitation, and makes itself present to whoever
turns himself to it and opens himself to it.
MIN. Do you mean then, that the student and the philosopher are not more
apt to receive this light than the ignorant?
SEV. In a certain way no, and in a certain way yes. There is no
difference, when the Divine mind through its providence comes to
communicate itself without disposition of the subject; I mean to say
when it communicates itself because it seeks and elects its subject; but
there is a great difference, when it waits and would be sought, and then
according to its own good will and pleasure it makes itself to be found.
In this way it does not appear to all, nor can it appear to others, than
to those who seek it. Hence it is said, “Qui quaerunt me, invenient me;”
and again: “Qui sitit, veniat et bibat!”
MIN. It is not to be denied, that the apprehension of the second manner
is made in Time. (Comes with time?)
SEV. You do not distinguish between the disposition towards the Divine
light and the apprehension of the same. Certainly I do not deny that it
requires time to dispose oneself, discourse, study and fatigue; but as
we say that change takes place in time, and generation in an instant,
and as we see that with time, the windows are opened, but the sun enters
in a moment, so does it happen similarly in this case.
The fourth, represented in the following, is not really unworthy, like
that which results from the habit of believing in the false opinions of
the vulgar, which are very far removed from the opinions of
philosophers, and are derived from the study of vulgar philosophies,
which are by the multitude considered the more true, the more they
appeal to common sense. And this habit is one of the greatest and
strongest disadvantages, because as Alcazele and Averroes showed, it is
like that which happens to those persons who from childhood and youth
are in the habit of eating poison, and have become such, that it is
converted into sweet and proper nutriment, and on the other hand, they
abominate those things which are really good and sweet according to
common nature; but it is most worthy, because it is founded upon the
habit of looking at the true light; the which habit cannot come into use
for the multitude, as we have said. This blindness is heroic, and is of
such a kind that it can worthily satisfy the present heroic blind man,
who is so far from troubling himself about it that he is able to explain
every other sight, and he would crave nothing else from the community
save a free passage and progress in contemplation, for he finds himself
usually hampered and blocked by obstacles and opposition.
The fifth results from the disproportion of the means of our cognition
to the knowable; seeing that in order to contemplate Divine things, the
eyes must be opened by means of images, analogies and other reasonings
which by the Peripatetics are comprehended under the name of fancies
(fantasmi); or, by means of Being, to proceed to speculate about
Essence, by means of its effects and the knowledge of the cause; the
which means, are so far from ensuring the attainment of such an end,
that it is easier to believe that the highest and most profound
cognition of Divine things, is through negation and not through
affirmation, knowing that the Divine beauty and goodness is not that
which can or does fall within our conception, but that which is above
and beyond, incomprehensible; chiefly in that condition called by the
philosopher speculation of phantoms, and by the theologian, vision
through analogies, reflections and enigmas, because we see, not the true
effects and the true species of things, or the substance of ideas, but
the shadows, vestiges and simulacra of them, like those who are inside
the cave and have from their birth their shoulders turned away from the
entrance of the light, and their faces towards the end, where they do
not see that which is in reality, but the shadows of that which is found
substantially outside the cave. Therefore by the open vision which it
has lost, and knows it has lost, a spirit similar to or better than that
of Plato weeps, desiring exit from the cave, whence, not through
reflexion, but through immediate conversion he may see the light again.
MIN. It appears to me that this blind man does not refer to the
difficulty which proceeds from reflective vision, but to that which is
caused through the medium between the visual power and the object.
SEV. These two modes, although they are distinct in the sensitive
cognition, or ocular vision, at the same time are united together in the
rational or intellectual cognition.
MIN. It seems to me that I have heard and read that in every vision, the
means, or the intermediary is required between the power and the object.
Because as by means of the light diffused in the air and the figure of
the thing, which in a certain way proceeds from that which is seen, to
that which sees, the act of seeing is put into effect, so in the
intellectual region, where shines the sun of the intellect, acting
between the intelligible species formed as proceeding from the object,
our intellect comes to comprehend something of the divinity, or
something inferior to it. Because, as our eye, when we see, does not
receive the light of the fire and of gold, in substance, but in
similitude; so the intellect, in whatever state it is found, does not
receive the divinity substantially, so that there should be
substantially as many gods as there are intelligences, but in
similitude; therefore they are not formally gods, but denominatively
divine, the divinity and Divine beauty being one, exalted above all
SEV. You say well; but for all your well saying, there is no need for me
to retract, because I have never said the contrary. But I must declare
and explain. Therefore, first I maintain that the immediate vision, so
called and understood by us, does not do away with that sort of medium
which is the intelligible species, nor that which is the light; but that
which is equal to the thickness and density of the crystalline or opaque
intermediate body; as happens to him who sees by means of the waters
more or less turbid, or air foggy and cloudy, who would believe he was
looking as without a medium when it was conceded to him to look through
the pure air, light and clear. All which you have explained where it
“When will the bright spark of the visual ray
Darting, spring through each veiling obstacle.”
But let us return. The sixth, represented in the following, is caused
only by the imbecility and unreality of the body, which is in continual
motion, mutation, and change, the operations of which must follow the
condition of its faculty, the which is a result of the condition of its
nature and being. How can immobility, reality, entity, truth be
contained in that which is ever different, and always makes and is made,
other and otherwise? What truth, what picture can be painted and
impressed, where the pupils of the eyes are dispersed in water, the
water into steam, the steam into flame, the flame into air, and this in
other and other without end: the subject of sense and cognition turns
for ever upon the wheel of mutation?
MIN. Movement is change, and that which is changeable works and operates
ever differently, because the conception and affection follow the reason
and condition of the subject; and he who sees other and other different
and differently must necessarily be blind as regards that beauty which
is one and alone and is the same unity and entity.
SEV. So it is. The seventh, contained allegorically in the sentiment of
the seventh blind man, is the result of the fire of the affections,
whence some become impotent and incapable of comprehending the truth, by
making the affection precede the intellect. There are those who love
before they understand: whence it happens that all things appear to them
according to the colour of their affections, whereas he who would
understand the truth by means of contemplation, ought to be perfectly
pure in thought.
MIN. In truth, one sees how much diversity there is in meditators and
inquirers, because some, according to their habits and early fundamental
discipline, proceed by means of numbers, others by means of images,
others by means of order and disorder, others through composition and
division, others by separation and congregation, others by inquiry and
doubt, others by discussions and definitions, others by interpretations
and decypherings of voices, words, and dialects, so that some are
mathematical philosophers, some metaphysicians, others logicians, others
grammarians; so there are divers contemplators, who with different
affections set themselves to study and apply the meaning of written
sentences; whence we find that the same light of truth, expressed in the
selfsame book, serves with the same words the proposition of so
numerous, diverse, and contrary sects.
SEV. That is to say, that the affections are very powerful in hindering
the comprehension of the Truth, notwithstanding that the person may not
himself perceive it; just as it happens to a stupid invalid who does not
say that his mouth is bittered but that the food is bitter. Now that
kind of blindness is expressed by him whose eyes are changed and
deprived of their natural powers, by that which the heart has given and
imprinted upon it, powerful not only to change the sense, but besides
that, all the faculties of the soul as the present image shows.
According to the meaning of the eighth, the high intelligible object
has blinded the intellect, as the high superposed sensible has
corrupted the senses. Thus it would happen to him who should see Jove in
his majesty, he would lose his life and in consequence his senses. As he
who looks aloft sometimes is overcome by the majesty. Besides, when
he comes to penetrate the Divine species, he passes it like a ray.
Whence say the theologians that the Divine word is more penetrating than
sharp point of sword or knife. Hence is derived the form and impression
of His own footstep, upon which nothing else can be imprinted and
sealed. Therefore, that form being there confirmed and the new strange
one not being able to take its place unless the other yields,
consequently he can say, that he has no power of taking any other, if
there is one who replaces it or scatters it through the necessary want
of proportion. The ninth reason is exemplified, by the ninth who is
blind through want of confidence, through dejection of spirit, the which
is caused and brought about also by a great love which He fears to
offend by His temerity. Whence says the Psalm: “Averte oculos tuos a me,
quia ipsi me avolare fecere.” And so he suppresses his eyes so as not to
see that which most of all he desires, as he keeps his tongue from
talking with whom he most wishes to speak, from fear that a defective
look or word should humiliate him or bring him in some way into
misfortune. And this generally proceeds from the apprehension of the
excellence of the object above its potential faculty: whence the most
profound and divine theologians say, that God is more honoured and loved
by silence than by words; as one sees more by shutting the eyes to the
species represented, than by opening them, therefore the negative
theology of Pythagoras and Dionysius is more celebrated than the
demonstrative theology of Aristotle and the scholastic doctors.
* * * * *
O Eyes of God! O Head!
My strength of soul is fled.
Gone is heart’s force, rebuked is mind’s desire!
When I behold Thee so,
With awful brows a-glow,
With burning glance, and lips lighted by fire,
Fierce as those flames which shall
Consume, at close of all,
* * * * *
God is it I did see,
This unknown marvel of Thy Form! but fear
Mingles with joy! Retake,
Dear Lord! for pity’s sake,
Thine earthly shape, which earthly eyes may bear!
–(“The Song Celestial.”)
(Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation.)
MIN. Let us go; and we will reason by the way.
SEV. As you please.
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