Can someone explain what this quote means and give a little context?

You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs.

-- Attributed to Dante Alighieri

1 Answer 1


The quote comes from Dante's Divine Comedy, more specifically Canto 17 in Paradiso. Dante tells Beatrice that while traversing Inferno and Purgatorio in the presence of Virgil, he had heard grievous things about his future, so he wants to know what is in store for him. Beatrice answers in the following way (quoted from the English translation on Bartleby.com):

Contingency, whose verge extendeth not
Beyond the tablet of your mortal mold,
Is all depictured in the eternal sight;
But hence deriveth not necessity,
More than the tall ship, hurried down the flood,
Is driven by the eye that looks on it.
From thence, as to the ear sweet harmony
From organ comes, so comes before mine eye
The time prepared for thee. Such as driven out
From Athens, by his cruel stepdame’s wiles,
Hippolytus departed; such must thou
Depart from Florence. This they wish, and this
Contrive, and will ere long effectuate, there,
Where gainful merchandize is made of Christ
Throughout the live-long day. The common cry,
Will, as ’tis ever wont, affix the blame
Unto the party injured: but the truth
Shall, in the vengeance it dispenseth, find
A faithful witness. Thou shalt leave each thing
Beloved most dearly: this is the first shaft
Shot from the bow of exile. Thou shalt prove
How salt the savour is of other’s bread;
How hard the passage, to descend and climb
By other’s stairs. But that shall gall thee most,
Will be the worthless and vile company,
With whom thou must be thrown into these straits. (...)

Dante was exiled from Florence in 1301 and only started writing the Divine Comedy while in exile (possibly around 1308); he finished it in 1320, the year before his death. However, the story is set in the year 1300, at which point his exile is still in the future.

At some point during his exile, he went to Verona as a guest of Bartolomeo I della Scala, lord of Verona from 1301 to 1304, and later returned there as a guest of Cangrande I della Scala. At this point, it is worth looking at the Italian text (see Wikisource):

Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale.

"Stairs" in the English text is a translation of "scale". "Scale" is the plural of scala, which can mean "ladder" or "stair", but the word is also an allusion to the della Scala family, who supported him for many years.

  • 1
    In this context, it may be worth noting that bread is baked without salt in Tuscany and with salt in the rest of Italy.
    – Charo
    Jun 18, 2021 at 15:58

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