When Constantine had turned the Eagle back,
counter the course of heaven its flight pursued
behind the Ancient who Lavinia wedded,
a hundred and a hundred years and more
the Bird of God on Europe's verge abode,
hard by the mountains whence it issued first;
and 'neath the shadow of its sacred plumes
it governed there the world from hand to hand,
and, changing thus, reached mine. Caesar I was,
and am Justinian, he, who by the will
of that First Love which now I feel, withdrew
the useless and excessive from the laws.
And I, before attending to this work,
believed that Christ one only nature had,
not more, and was with such a faith content;
but blessèd Agapètus, who was then
the highest Shepherd, set me by his words
upon the pathway of the genuine faith.
Him I believed, and what was in his faith
I now see clearly, even as thou dost see
that contradictions are both false and true.
As soon as with the Church I moved my feet,
God, of His Grace, with that great task was pleased
to inspire me, and thereto I gave me wholly;
war to my Belisarius I entrusted,
to whom Heaven's right hand was so well conjoined,
it seemed a sign that from it I should rest.
Here, then, to thy first question ends my answer;
its nature, though, constrains me to go on
with something more,
that thou mayst see how rightly
against the holy Standard moves both who
appropriates, and who opposes, it.
See what great virtue caused it to deserve
respect; for from that moment it began,
when Pallas died to give it sovereignty.
Thou knowest that in Alba it sojourned
three hundred years and more, till finally
three against three fought for its sake again;
thou knowest, too, what from the Sabines' wrong,
through seven kings, till Lucretia's grief, it did,
conquering the neighboring peoples all around.
Thou knowest what it did, 'gainst Brennus borne,
and Pyrrhus, and against the other Kings
and self-ruled States, by Rome's elect, whereby
Torquatus, Quinctius, for his unkempt locks
surnamed, the Decii and Fabii,
acquired the fame which gladly I embalm.
It brought the pride of those Arabians low,
who traversed, in the wake of Hannibal,
those Alpine rocks, whence thou, Po, glidest down.
Scipio and Pompey triumphed under it
when young; and bitter to that hill it seemed,
beneath which thou wast born. Then, near the time
when willed it was by Heaven, that all the world
should be reduced to its own peaceful state,
Caesar assumes it at the hest of Rome.
And that which from the Var unto the Rhine
it did, the Saône, Isère and Seine perceived,
and every valley whence the Rhone is filled.
What next it did, when, issuing from Ravenna,
it leaped the Rubicon, was such a flight,
that neither tongue nor pen could follow it.
Toward Spain it wheeled its host around; then turned
Durazzo-ward; and smote Pharsalia so,
that to the torrid Nile the pain was felt.
Antandros and the Sìmois, whence it started,
it saw again, and there where Hector lies;
then, ill for Ptolemy, it roused itself.
Thence with the speed of lightning it swooped down
on Juba: toward your West it next turned back,
for there it heard Pompeian trumpets blow.
For what it did with its next Standard-bearer,
Brutus, and Cassius with him, barks in Hell;
Mòdena and Perugia, too, it grieved.
Sad Cleopatra, who, before it fleeing,
took from the asp a dark and sudden death,
is weeping still for what with him it did.
With him it reached the distant Red Sea's shore;
with him it brought the world to such a state
of peace, that Janus had his temple closed.
But what the Sign which causes me to speak,
had done before, and after was to do,
throughout the mortal world which owns its sway,
comes to seem small and dark, if in the hand
of its third Caesar it be looked upon
with clearly seeing eyes and spirit pure;
because the Living Justice which inspires me,
granted that Sign, when in the latter's hand,
the glory of carrying out its wrath's revenge.
Now wonder here at what I further tell thee:
when this was done, with Titus it ran on
to avenge the avenging of the ancient sin.
And later, when the tooth of Lombardy
the Holy Church had bitten, Charles the Great
came to her help by conquering 'neath its wings.
Thou now canst judge of those I charged above,
and of their sins, which all your woes produced.
Against the public Standard one sets up
the yellow Fleur-de-lys, while yet another
appropriates it to a party's use;
hence hard it is to see which sinneth most.
Let, then, the Ghibellines their tricks perform
under some other sign; for this one he
e'er follows ill, who it from justice parts!
Nor let this new Charles smite it with his Guelfs,
but let him rather fear the taloned claws,
which from a greater lion once stripped off
his hide! Often have sons ere now bewailed
their father's guilt; hence let none think that God
will for his Lilies change His Coat-of-arms!
This little star of ours adorns itself
with those good spirits who have active been,
that fame and honor might live after them;
and when, thus deviating, one's desires
tend thitherward, the rays of true love needs
must upward mount with less intensity.
But in the balancing of our rewards
with our deserts, part of our joy consists,
because we see them as nor more nor less.
Hereby the Living Justice sweetens so
our love in us, that it can nevermore
be turned aside to any kind of wrong.
Voices that differ make on earth sweet music;
so in this life of ours its different grades
produce sweet harmony among these spheres.
And in the present pearl there shines the light
of Romeo, he whose beautiful and great
performance was ungratefully repaid.
And yet the Provençals who 'gainst him worked,
laugh not; he, therefore, takes an evil path,
who to his harm another's good deeds turns.
Four daughters, and each one of them a queen,
had Raymond Berenger; and, though low-born
and alien, Romeo 't was did this for him;
then slandering words led Raymond to demand
a reckoning of this upright man, who five
and seven had rendered him for every ten.
Thereat, though poor and old, he went his way;
and if the world but knew the heart he had,
while crust by crust he begged his livelihood,
much as it praises, it would praise him more!"