Dante: The Divine Comedy
Paradiso Cantos XV-XXI
© Copyright 2000 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
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- Paradiso Canto XV:1-36 Silence: Beatrice’s eyes
- Paradiso Canto XV:37-87 All things seen in God
- Paradiso Canto XV:88-148 Cacciaguida
- Paradiso Canto XVI:1-45 Cacciaguida’s ancestry
- Paradiso Canto XVI:46-87 The growth of Florence
- Paradiso Canto XVI:88-154 The ancient families of Florence
- Paradiso Canto XVII:1-99 Cacciaguida unfolds Dante’s future
- Paradiso Canto XVII:100-142 He urges Dante to reveal his Vision
- Paradiso Canto XVIII:1-57 The Warriors of God
- Paradiso Canto XVIII:58-99 The Sixth Sphere: Jupiter: Justice
- Paradiso Canto XVIII:100-136 The lights form an Eagle
- Paradiso Canto XIX:1-90 Divine Justice
- Paradiso Canto XIX:91-148 The Christian Kings
- Paradiso Canto XX:1-72 The Eagle celebrates the Just
- Paradiso Canto XX:73-148 Trajan and Ripheus: Predestination
- Paradiso Canto XXI:1-51 The Seventh Sphere: Saturn: Temperance
- Paradiso Canto XXI:52-142 Peter Damian
Paradiso Canto XV:1-36 Silence: Beatrice’s eyes
The Benign Will, in which the Love that truly perfumes always distils itself, as greed does in the envious will, imposed silence on that sweet lyre, and stilled the sacred strings, that the right hand of Heaven plucks and loosens.
How can those beings be deaf to just prayers, who agreed to silence, so as to give me the will to pray? It is right that they should mourn endlessly who deprive themselves of this love, eternally, for the love of what does not endure.
As a meteoric flame flashes through the pure and tranquil sky, from time to time, disturbing steady vision, and seems like a star changing place, except that no star is lost from where it flamed, and it itself does not last, so, from the horn stretching to the right, a star of the constellation that shines there darted to the foot of the cross, and did not leave the arc but coursed along the radial line, like fire shining through alabaster. With such tenderness Anchises’s shade came forward when he saw his son Aeneas in Elysium, if our greatest Muse is to be believed.
‘O sanguis meus, O blood of mine, O superinfusa gratia Dei, O grace of God poured into you, sicut tibi, cui bis unquam coeli ianua reclusa, to whom was Heaven’s Gate ever opened twice, as to you?’ So the light spoke, at which I directed my attention to him. Then I turned my face towards my Lady, and on this side and on that was stunned, since such a smile was blazing in her eyes, I thought with mine I had reached the end, of my grace, and my Paradiso.
Paradiso Canto XV:37-87 All things seen in God
Then, gladdening sight and hearing, the spirit added words to his commencement that I did not understand, his speech was so profound: he hid himself from me, not out of choice, but of necessity, since his thought took place beyond the power of mortals. And when the bow of ardent love was so tuned that his speech descended towards the power of our intellect, the first words I understood were: ‘Blessed be thou, Three and One, who are so noble in my seed,’ and continued: ‘My son, in this light where I now speak to you, you have assuaged a dear, long-cherished hunger, induced by the reading of that great volume where black and white never change: thanks be to her who clothed you with wings for this high ascent.
You believe that your thought finds its way to me, from the Primal Thought, as the numbers five and six issue from one, if seen correctly, and so you do not ask who I am, or why I seem to you more joyful than others in this festive crowd. You believe rightly, since in this life great and lesser spirits, gaze in the mirror, where, before you think, your thought is seen. But so that the sacred love, in which I watch with uninterrupted vision, setting me thirsting with sweet longing, can be better fulfilled, let your voice sound out your will, your longing, safely, boldly, and delightedly, to which my answer is already given.’
I turned to Beatrice, and she heard me, before I spoke, and granted a sign to me that increased the wings of my desire. Then I began: ‘Love and intelligence became equal in weight to you, as soon as the Primal equality was visible to you, because the Sun, which warmed and lit you, with its heat and brightness, has in it such equality that all comparisons fall short. But for mortals, for reasons obvious to you, will and execution are unequally feathered wings. So that I, a mortal, feel the stress of this imbalance, and therefore only gave thanks with my heart, for your paternal greeting. But I can and do, beg you, living topaz, who are a gem of this precious jewel, to satisfy me with your name.’
Paradiso Canto XV:88-148 Cacciaguida
‘Oh, I was your root, my leaf, whom I delighted in, while only anticipating you,’ such were the opening words of his reply. Then he said: ‘He, the first Aligieri, from whom your family takes it name, and who has circled the Mount on the first terrace, for more than a hundred years, was my son, and your great-grandfather. It is fitting that you should lessen the long drawn-out labour, for him, with your works.
Florence, lived in peace, sober and chaste, behind the ancient circle of wall, from which she still hears the Badia’s tierce and nones. There were no wreathes and gold-chains, no dressed-up women, no sash that set people staring at it, more than at she who wore it. The birth of a daughter did not yet dismay fathers since dowry and bride’s age were fitting, the one not too high the other not too low. There were no empty mansions. Sardanapalus had not yet arrived to show what might be done to make a room luxurious. The first sight of Florence, from Ucellatoio, did not yet surpass Rome’s from Montemalo, which will be surpassed in the fall, as well as the rising.
I have seen Bellincion Berti dressed in leather, clasped with bone, and have seen his lady come from her mirror with her face unpainted. I have seen men of the Nerlo and Vecchio families, content with only clothing of skins, and their ladies themselves handling flax and spindle. Oh fortunate women! Each one certain of her burial place, and none deserted in their beds because of France. One kept watch over the cradle, and spoke in that soothing way, that is the first delight of fathers and mothers: another as she drew thread from the distaff, would tell her family about Troy, Rome, and Fiesole.
Then a shrew like Cianghella, or a corrupt lawyer like Lapo Salterello, would have been as amazing then as a Cornelia or a Cincinnatus now. Mary, called on, with deep moans, gave me to such a restful, lovely life among the citizens, to such faithful citizenship, such sweet being, and in your ancient Baptistery, I became, in the one, moment, Cacciaguida and a Christian.
Moronto and Eliseo were my brothers: my wife came to me from the valley of the River Po, and your surname was derived from hers, Alighiera. Then I followed the Emperor Conrad the Third, who made me a knight, since I advanced myself so greatly in his grace. I marched in his ranks, against the infamy of that religion whose infidel people usurp, shame on your pastors, that which is yours by right. There, by those wretched folk, I was disrobed of that deceitful world, whose love corrupts many a spirit, and came, from martyrdom, to this peace.’
Paradiso Canto XVI:1-45 Cacciaguida’s ancestry
O our little nobility of the blood! If you make people glory in you down here, where our affection languishes, it will never make me wonder again, since I gloried in it there where appetite is uncorrupted, I mean in Heaven. Yet, you are indeed a cloak that shrinks, so that if nothing is added, day by day, time circles it with its shears. I began again with that voi, for you, that Rome first allowed for Julius, which her families persevere with least, at which Beatrice, who was a little apart from us, smiled and seemed like the Lady of Malehaut who coughed at Guinevere’s first indiscretion, as it is written.
I began: ‘You are my father, you give me full authority to speak, you lift me so that I am greater than myself. My Mind is filled with joy from so many springs, it delights in itself that it can suffer it and not be destroyed. Tell me then, dear source of me, what was your ancestry, and what did the years record in your youth. Tell me about the sheepfold of Saint John, how great Florence was then, and who were the people worthy of highest places there.’
As a coal bursts into flame at a breath of wind, so I saw that light shine out at my flattering words, and even as it grew more beautiful to my sight, so, in a voice sweeter and gentler, but not in this current dialect of ours, he said: ‘From the day that Ave was first spoken, to the day of my birth, when my mother, now a saint, unburdened herself of my weight, this burning planet returned to his own constellation of the Lion, five hundred and eighty times, to relight itself under his feet.
My predecessors and I were born in the place where he who runs in the Corso, your annual race, first encounters the last sesto of Saint Peter. Let that be enough about my ancestors, silence about who they were and where they came from is more fitting than speech.’
Paradiso Canto XVI:46-87 The growth of Florence
‘At that time, between the statue of Mars, at the Ponte Vecchio, and the Baptistery, all who were capable of bearing arms were only a fifth of those living now. But the citizenship saw itself as pure in blood, down to the humblest worker, that is now contaminated by the blood of Campi, Certaldo and Fighine, the towns of the Contado.
O how much better it would be to have these people as your neighbours, and your boundary south at Galuzzo, and north at Trespiano, than to have them inside, and bear the foulness of that villain Baldo from Aguglion, or him of Signa, Fazio, whose eye is keen for abuse of office! Had that race, the most degenerate on earth, been benign, like a mother to her son, and not been a hostile stepmother to Caesar, one of those who is a Florentine now, merchant and moneychanger, would have been sent back to Simifonte, where his grandfather was a beggar. Montemurlo would still house the Conti, the Cerchi would still be in Acone’s parish, and the Buondelmonti perhaps still in Val di Greve.
Confusion of people was always the source of the city’s sorrows, as mixed food is of the body’s. And a blind bull falls more heavily than a blind lamb, and one sword often cuts keener, and deeper, than five. If you look how the cities of Luni and Urbisaglia, are done for, and Chiusi and Sinaglia following them, it will not seem strange or difficult to understand how families destroy themselves, since even cities have an end.
Everything of yours comes to an end, as you will, but in things that last a while, it is not noticed, because your lives are short. And as the turning of the lunar sphere covers and uncovers the shoreline, endlessly, so Fortune handles Florence, so that it should not seem remarkable when I speak of the noble Florentines, whose fame is buried by time.’
Paradiso Canto XVI:88-154 The ancient families of Florence
‘I have seen the Ughi, seen the Catellini, the Filippi, Grechi, Ormanni and Alberichi, illustrious families already on the wane. And with Sannella, as great as ancient, I have seen Arca, Soldanieri, Ardhingi and Bostichi.
Over the gate of Porta San Piero, which is now heavy with the Cerchi’s new crimes, that will soon lead to shipwreck, the Ravignani lived, from whom the Conti Guidi are descended, and those who have since taken noble Bellincioni’s name.
The Della Pressa already knew how to govern, and Galigaio, in his house, already had the gilded hilt and pommel of knighthood. The vair column of the Pigli was already great, the Sacchetti, Giuochi, Fifanti and Barucci, the Galli, and the Chiaramontesi who blush for falsifying the measure.
The stock the Calfucci sprang from was great already, and the Sizii and Arrigucci were already civic dignitaries. Oh how great I have seen them, those Uberti, now destroyed by pride! And the Lamberti’s device of the golden balls adorned Florence in all her great actions. So did their fathers, who, now, whenever the Bishop’s See is vacant stand guzzling in the consistory.
The outrageous race, the house of Adimari, that is a dragon to those who flee it, and is as quiet as a lamb to those who show their teeth, or purse, was rising already, but from humble people, so that Ubertino Donati was not pleased when Bellincion his father-in-law made him a relative of them by marriage.
Caponsacco had already come down from Fiesole to the marketplace, and Giuda and Infangato were already good citizens. I will tell you something unbelievable but true, the little circle of walls was entered by a gate, named after the Della Pera.
Everyone who carries any of the fair device of the great Baron, Hugo of Brandenburg, whose name and worth is kept alive by the festival of Saint Thomas, derived knighthood and privilege from him, though the Della Bella who fringes it with gold, has now joined the party of the people.
There were Gualterotti and Importuni already, and the Borgo Santi Apostoli would be a quieter place if they did not have the Buondelmonti for new neighbours. The house, the Amidei, from which, O Buondelmonte, your grief sprang, because of righteous anger which murdered you and put an end to your joyful life, was honoured, it, and its associates. How wrong you were to reject its marriage-rite at another’s prompting! Many would have been happy who are now saddened, if God had committed you to the small stream, the Ema, the first time you crossed it to reach the city. But it was fitting that Florence should sacrifice a victim to that mutilated stone of Mars, that guards the bridge, in her last time of peace.
I saw Florence in such calm repose, with these men and others like them, that she had no reason for grief. I saw her people, so glorious and just, with these men to serve them, that her arms of the white lily were never reversed on the standard, nor the lily dyed red by division.’
Paradiso Canto XVII:1-99 Cacciaguida unfolds Dante’s future
As Phaethon, he who still makes father’s give grudgingly to their sons, came to his mother, Clymene, to receive reassurance, of what he had heard thrown back at him, so I: and so did I seem to Beatrice, and that sacred flame, who had already changed his position for my sake. At which my Lady said: ‘Emit the heat of your desire, so that it may flow, truly stamped with the internal seal, not so that our knowledge increases by your speaking, but so that you may learn how to speak of your thirst, so that men may quench it.’
‘Dear ground of myself, in which I am rooted, who are lifted up so high, that, gazing on that point, to which all time is present, you see contingent things, before they themselves exist, as earthbound minds see that two obtuse angles cannot exist in one triangle, heavy words were said to me, about my future, while Virgil accompanied me, descending through the dead world, and around the Mount that purifies souls: though I feel well set to resist Fortune’s blows, so that my mind would be content to hear what fate comes towards to me, since the arrow seen in advance arrives less suddenly.’ So I spoke, to that same light who had addressed me previously, and confessed my wish, as Beatrice wanted.
That paternal love, revealed or hidden by its own smile, did not reply in dark prophecies that misled the foolish ancients, before the Lamb of God who takes away sin, was killed, but in clear words, and with precise statements: ‘Contingent things, which do not extend beyond your world of matter, are all outlined in the eternal gaze, though pre-determination does not follow from this, no more than a boat slipping downstream is driven by the eye in which it is reflected. From that, what is in store for you is visible to me, as a sweet harmony comes from an organ.
You must be exiled from Florence, as Hippolytus was exiled from Athens, through the spite and lies of Phaedra, his stepmother. It is already willed so, and already planned, and will be accomplished soon, by Boniface who ponders it, in that place where, every day, Christ is sold. The cry will put the blame on the injured party, as is usual, but truth will bear witness to itself, by the revenge it takes.
You will lose everything you love most dearly: that is the arrow that Exile’s bow will fire. You will prove how bitter the taste of another man’s bread is, and how hard it is to descend, and climb, another man’s stair. And what will bow your shoulders down will be the vicious and worthless company with whom you will fall into this abyss, since they will all be ungrateful, fierce and disrespectful to you: but not long after, their cheeks, not yours will blush for it. Their fate will demonstrate their brutishness, so that it will be to your credit to have formed a party of one.
Your first refuge and first lodging will be by courtesy of the great Lombard, Bartolomeo della Scala, whose arms are the sacred eagle atop a ladder, since he will cast such a friendly gaze on you, that, between you, in request and fulfilment, that will be first, which between others comes last. With him will be Can Grande, the one who was so marked at birth by this potent planet that his actions will be notable.
People have not yet taken due regard of him, because of his age, since these spheres have only revolved round him for nine years. But before Pope Clement the Fifth, the Gascon, has deceived the Emperor, Henry the Seventh, the gleam of his virtue will be apparent in his indifference to money or to hard labour. His generous actions will eventually be known, so that even his enemies will not be able to stay silent about them. Look to him and to his gifts. Many people will be changed by him their conditions altered, the wealthy and the poor: and you will carry it inscribed in your memory of him, but will not speak it’: and he told me many things incredible even to those who shall see them.
Then he added: ‘Son, these are my comments on what has been said to you: see the difficulties hidden by a few rotations. But I would not want you to be envious of your neighbours, since you will live far beyond the punishment that will fall on their infamies.’
Paradiso Canto XVII:100-142 He urges Dante to reveal his Vision
When the sacred soul, by his silence, showed that he had finished passing the weft through the warp I had stretched out ready for him, I began, like a man who, doubting, longs for advice from one who sees straight, wills the right, and loves: ‘My father, I see clearly how time comes spurring at me, to give me such a blow, one heaviest to those who lose themselves, so that it is best for me to arm myself with foresight, so that if the dearest place is denied me, I do not lose all other refuge because of my writings.
Down in the world, endlessly bitter, and around the Mount from whose summit my Lady’s eyes raised me, and, afterwards, through the Heavens from light to light, I have learnt things, that if I tell them again, will savour of acrid pungency to many: and if I am a shrinking friend to truth, I fear to lose life among those who will call this time ancient.’
That light, in which my treasure, that I had found there, was smiling, first coruscated like a golden mirror in the sun’s rays, then answered: ‘A conscience darkened by its own shame, or another’s, will truly find your words harsh, but reveal all your Vision nonetheless, avoid all lies, and let them scratch if they find a scab, since though your words may be bitter at first tasting, they will still be vital food afterwards when they digest them.
This outcry of yours, will do as the wind does, that strikes the highest summits hardest, and that will be no small cause of honour. So, only spirits known for their fame have been shown to you, in these spheres, along the Mount, and in the sad depths, since the souls of those who hear will not be content with, or truly believe in, examples that have unknown and hidden roots, nor any other obscure argument.’
Paradiso Canto XVIII:1-57 The Warriors of God
That mirror of the blessed was already joying only in his own discourse, and I was tasting mine, tempering the sweet with the bitter: and that Lady who was leading me to God said: Change your thoughts, remember that I am near to Him, who disburdens us of every wrong.’
I turned to the beloved voice of my comfort, and I forgo speaking here of what love I saw, in those sacred eyes: not merely because I am diffident about my words, but because of my memory which cannot climb again, so far beyond itself, unless another guides it. I can only say this much, about that moment, that as I gazed at her, my affections were free of any other desire, while the eternal joy that shone directly on to Beatrice, contented me with its reflection from her lovely face.
Overcoming me with the light of her smile, she said to me: ‘Turn now, and listen, for not only in my eyes is Paradise.’ Just as we sometimes read affection, here, in a face, if it is so great that the whole mind is seized by it, so in the flaming of his sacred glow to which I turned, I knew the desire in him to speak to me still. He started: ‘In this fifth canopy of the tree, which takes life from its crown, and is always in fruit, never shedding leaves, are spirits, who are blessed, who had great names below, before they came to Heaven, so that every Muse would be made richer by them. So look at the horns of the cross, and he whom I will name, will there enact the lightning in a cloud.’
I saw a light traced along the cross, as Joshua was named, and the word was not complete for me before the action. And at the name of the great Maccabeus, I saw another light move, revolving, and delight was like the whip to the spinning-top. So for Charlemagne and Roland, two more, followed by my keen gaze, as the eye follows a hawk in flight. Then William of Orange, Renard his brother-in-law, Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, and Robert Guiscard. At that the soul, Cacciaguida, who had spoken with me, moving, to mingle there, with the other lights, displayed the quality of his art to me, among Heaven’s singers.
I turned to my right to know my duty, from Beatrice, indicated either by speech or sign, and I saw her eyes, so clear, so glad, that her appearance exceeded all previous form, even the last.
Paradiso Canto XVIII:58-99 The Sixth Sphere: Jupiter: Justice
As a man sees that, day by day, by feeling more delight in achieving good things, his virtue increases, so I saw that my circling, with the Heavens, had increased its orbit, while I watched the miraculous vision becoming more adorned. And the change that quickly crosses a lady’s white face, when she throws off a weight of shame, was offered to my eyes, when I turned, because of the white radiance of Jupiter, the sixth, temperate planet, that had received me. In that joyous torch I saw the sparkle of the love inside it, signing letters, of our language, to my eyes.
And, as birds, rising from the river-bank, make flock in wheeling or extended shapes, as if they were delighted by their pastures, so the sacred beings in the lights sang, flying, and formed now d or i or l. First they moved to the note they were singing, then, as they shaped one of these letters, would stop for a moment and stay silent. O Muse, Goddess of the fount of Pegasus, who makes intellect glorious, and gives it enduring life, as it, with your help, does cities and countries, illuminate me with yourself, so that I can show their figures in relief, as I hold them in mind: let your power be shown in these brief words.
Then they showed themselves in thirty-five vowels and consonants, and I took note of the letters, as they appeared one by one to me: diligite justitiam: love righteousness, was the first verb and noun, of the whole vision: qui judicatis terram: you judges over earth, was the last.
Then they remained, ordered, in the m of the fifth word, so that Jupiter seemed silver in that region, pricked out with gold: and I saw other lights descending where the summit of the m was, and come to rest there, singing, I think, of the good that moves them towards Himself.
Paradiso Canto XVIII:100-136 The lights form an Eagle
Then, as innumerable sparks rise from a blow to a burning log, from which foolish people make auguries, more than a thousand lights rose, it seemed to me, and some ascended steeply, some a little, just as the Sun, that lit them, ordained: and when each one had come to rest in place, I saw an eagle’s neck and head outlined by that pricked out fire.
He who depicts it, has no one to guide him, but he himself guides, and from him that power flows into the mind, that builds the eagle’s nest: the other beatitudes, who seemed at first content to entwine the m with lilies, by a slight motion, in-filled the outline. O sweet planet, how great the quality and quantity of jewels, which made clear to me, that our justice is an effect, of that Heaven you bejewel!
So that I beg the Mind in which your motion and your power has source, to gaze at the place from which smoke rises to vitiate your light: and that the anger be roused once more, against the buying and selling, in the Temple, whose walls were built by miracle and martyrdom. O soldiers of Heaven, whom I see, pray for those who have gone awry on earth, following bad examples. It was custom once to war with the sword, now it is done by holding back spiritual bread, here and there, that the tender Father denies to no one: but you, Boniface, who only write in order to cancel out the lines, think that Paul and Peter are living still, who died for the vineyard you destroy. Though indeed, you may say: ‘I have so fixed my desires on him, en-coined, the Baptist, who lived a solitary life, and was dragged to martyrdom to serve Salome’s dance, that I do not know Paul or the Fisherman.’
Paradiso Canto XIX:1-90 Divine Justice
The marvellous image, which those entwined spirits made, joying in their sweet fruition, appeared in front of me, with outstretched wings. Each soul appeared like a ruby, in which the sun’s rays burn, so lit as to refract light to my eyes. And what I must tell now, pen never wrote, voice never spoke, nor was it ever known by imagination, since I saw and heard the eagle’s beak speaking, saying in its voice, I and Mine, when, in its form, it was We and Ours.
And it began: ‘I am exalted here to this glory, which does not allow itself to be overcome by longing, through being just and pious, and I have left a memory on Earth, so constituted that even the evil approve it, though they do not follow its path.’ As we feel one glow from many coals, so there came a single sound, out of the image, from those many points of love.
At which I said quickly: ‘O perpetual flowers of eternal delight, you who make all your perfumes seem like a single one to me, relieve, as you breathe, the great fast which has held me hungering, for a long time, because I found no food to eat on Earth. I know, in truth, that whatever other realm, of Heaven, Divine Justice takes as its mirror, your realm comprehends it without a veil. You know how eagerly I ready myself to listen: you know what the question is, which has caused my fast to be so enduring.’
As the hawk divested of its hood shakes itself and claps its wings, demonstrating its will and beautifying itself, so I saw that symbolic eagle, woven from the praise of Divine Grace, with the songs that are known to whoever rejoices there. Then it began: ‘He who drew the compass round the edges of the Universe, and marked out, inside it, so much that is shown and hidden, could not impress his greatness on all the Universe without his Word being infinitely beyond us. And this is attested by Lucifer, that first proud being, who was a pinnacle of creation, falling abortive, because he could not wait for enlightenment: and so it appears that every minor nature is too small a vessel to hold that Good which is endless, and measures itself by itself.
So our vision which must be one of the rays of that Mind by which all things are filled, cannot have such great power, without its origin seeing far beyond that which it itself can see. Therefore such perception as your world has, is lost with depth as our vision is in the ocean, since though it sees the seafloor by the shore, it cannot reach it in the open water, even though it is there, and the depth has hidden it. There is no light unless it comes from that Serenity which is never troubled: the rest is darkness, or the shadow of the flesh, or its poison.
Now the labyrinth is open enough for you, that labyrinth that hid the living justice from you, which you have questioned so incessantly: since you said: “A man is born, on the banks of the Indus, and there is no one to speak to him about Christ, or read or write of Him, and all that man’s will and action are good, as far as human reason can tell, without sin in speech or life. He dies un-baptised, and without the faith. Where is the justice, in condemning him? Why is it his fault, that he is void of faith?”
Now, who are you, to sit on the judge’s seat, a thousand miles away, with sight that sees a short span? Certainly, to him who trades subtleties with me, it would be wonderful if there were no doubts, if the Scriptures were not set above them. O earthly creatures, O coarse minds! The Primal Will, which is goodness itself, never abandons its own self, which is the supreme good. All that is in harmony with it is Just: no created goodness draws It, to itself, but It, by shining out, gives rise to it.’
Paradiso Canto XIX:91-148 The Christian Kings
As the stork sweeps over her nest when she has fed her chicks, and as the ones she fed look up at her, so did that eagle-form of the blessed, which moved its wings powered by so much wisdom, and so I raised my forehead. Wheeling it cried, and said: ‘As my cries are to you, who do not understand them, such is eternal judgement to you mortals.’
When those glowing lights of the Holy Spirit were still, though still in the form of that insignia which gained the Romans the world’s reverence, it began again: ‘No one ever rose to this region, who did not believe in Christ, not before he was nailed to the tree, nor after. But see, many call out: “Christ, Christ” who shall be further from Him at the Judgement, than those who do not know of Christ: and the Ethiopians will condemn such Christians when the two crowds part, the one rich in eternity, the other naked. What would the Persians say to your kings, when they see that volume opened in which all their ill deeds are recorded?
Amongst the actions of the Emperor Albert, that one will soon set the pen in motion, that will make Prague’s kingdom of Bohemia a desert. There will be read the sorrow that Philip the Fair is bringing to the Seine, by falsifying the coinage, he who will die by a wild boar’s wound.
There the pride will be seen that parches, and makes the Scots and Edward’s English mad, so that they cannot keep the proper borders. The lechery and effeminate life of Ferdinand of Spain, will be seen, and that of Wenceslaus of Bohemia, who never knew or willed anything of worth. For Charles the Second, ‘the Cripple’, King of Jerusalem will be seen marked with a ‘One: I’ against virtue, whereas a ‘Thousand: M’ sins will score the contrary charge.
The baseness and avarice of Frederick who holds Sicily, the Isle of Fire, where Anchises ended his long life, will be visible, and in order to understand the magnitude of his baseness, his record will be kept in tiny writing, to fit a great deal in a little space. And the foul deeds of his uncle, James of the Balearic Isles, and his brother, James of Aragon, will be shown clearly to all, who have bastardised a great nation and two crowns.
And Dionysius of Portugal, and Hakon of Norway, shall be recorded there, and Stephen of Serbia, who sadly saw the coin of Venice only to counterfeit it. O happy Hungary if she no longer allows Andrew to maul her! And happy Navarre, if she could protect herself, with the Pyrenees, that border her! And all should know, as a warning to her, that Nicosia and Famagusta already moan, and cry, by reason of their beast, Henry of Lusignan, who cannot be separated from the rest.’
Paradiso Canto XX:1-72 The Eagle celebrates the Just
When the Sun, that illumines all the world, descends so far below our hemisphere that day vanishes on every side, the sky, that was only lit by him before, now reappears in many lights, in which the one light shines. And this effect in Heaven came to mind when the insignia of the world and its leaders, closed its eagle’s beak: because all those living lights, shining far brighter, began to sing things which must slip and fall from my memory.
O sweet Love, mantled in a smile, how ardent you seemed in those flutings, breathed out only in sacred thoughts!
When the dear, lucid stones with which I saw the sixth Heaven gemmed, had rendered silent those angelic chimes, I seemed to hear the murmuring of a river which falls from rock to rock, and reveals the copiousness of its source. And as the sound takes form from the lute’s neck, or the wind that enters from the unstopped pipe, so, the delay of anticipation over, the eagle’s murmur rose through its neck, as if it were hollow. There it became a voice and issued out of its beak, in the form of words, that the heart waited for, on which I wrote them.
It began to speak to me: ‘That part of me that sees and in mortal eagles endures the sun, must now be gazed at intensely, since the fires with which the eye in my head sparkles, are the most important, of all the crowd of those from which I construct my shape. He who shines in the middle, as the pupil does in the eye, was David, the singer of the Holy Spirit, who carried the ark from city to city. Now he knows the value of his song, in as much as it was produced by his own judgement, through the reward that matches it.
Of the five who make the arch of the profiled eyebrow, he who is closest to the beak is Trajan who consoled the widow for her son. Now he knows how dearly it costs not to follow Christ, from his experience of this sweet life and its opposite. And he who follows on the arch I speak of, on its upper arc, is Hezekiah who delayed death by his true penitence. Now he knows that the eternal judgement is not altered, when a pious prayer seems to delay today’s event until tomorrow. Constantine, the next who follows, with a good intention that produced evil consequences, made himself, the laws, and my Imperial self, Greek, in order to give way to the Shepherd. Now he knows that the evil flowing from his good action does not harm him, even though the world is destroyed by it.
And him you see on the downward slope of the arc, is William, of Sicily and Naples, which countries deplore his loss, while grieving that Charles and Frederick are alive. Now he knows how Heaven loves a righteous king, and he makes it visible still, by the appearance of his radiance.
Who would believe, down in the world of error, that the Trojan Ripheus is in this sphere, fifth of these holy lights? Now he knows much about the Divine Grace, that the world cannot see, although his sight does not reach the end of it.’
Paradiso Canto XX:73-148 Trajan and Ripheus: Predestination
Like to the lark ascending, in the air, first singing and then silent, content with the final sweetness that sates her, so that image of the imprint of eternal pleasure, seemed to me, by which, in longing for it, each thing becomes what it is. And though I was to my doubt, like the transparent glass is to the colour it surrounds, it would still not wait and bide its time in silence, but it thrust ‘What are these things?’ from my mouth by its own pressure, at which I saw great sparkles of joy. Then immediately, the insignia, blessed and with its kindling eye, replied to me, so that it would not keep me in amazed suspense: ‘I see you believe in these things because I tell you, but do not see the how, so that they are obscure, though still believed in. You are like him who knows the thing by name, but cannot see its quiddity, its whatness, unless someone else brings it to light.
Regnum Coelorum, the Kingdom of Heaven, suffers the force of hot love and living hope, which overcomes the Divine Will, not in the sense in which man overcomes man, but overcomes that Will, because it wishes to be overcome, and once overcome, in turn overcomes, with its own kindness. The lives of the first and fifth lights, along the eyebrow, cause you to marvel, because you see them decking this region of the Angels. They did not leave their bodies as Gentiles, but as Christians, with firm belief in those pierced feet, that to the first would suffer, and to the other had already suffered. Since the first, Trajan, came back to his bones from Hell, where no one ever returns to the true will, and this was the reward for living Hope: the living Hope which added power to Gregory’s prayers to raise him, so that His will might have the power to be moved. That glorious soul, of which we speak, returning to the flesh where it lived a while, believed in Him who had the power to help, and, believing, kindled so great a flame of true Love, that it was worthy of coming here, to this rejoicing, on its second death.
Ripheus, the fifth light, set all his Love below on righteousness, by that grace which wells from so deep a fount that no creature ever set eyes on its last depth, so that God, going from grace to grace, opened his eyes to our redemption yet to come: and he believed in that, and from that time did not suffer the mire of Paganism, and reproved the stubborn peoples. Those three ladies, the Virtues, whom you saw at the right wheel, of the chariot, stood as sponsors at his baptising, more than a thousand years before baptism.
O Predestination, how remote your roots are from our vision that cannot see the First Cause totally! And you mortal creatures, keep yourselves from judging, since we who see God do not yet know all those who will be elected, and such defective sight is sweet for us, because our good is refined by this good, that what God wills we also will.’
So sweet medicine was given me, by this divine image, to correct my short sight. And as a good harpist matches the quivering chord to a good singer, so that the song gives added pleasure, so, while he spoke, I remember that I saw those two sacred lights, make their fires quiver at the words, just as two eyes blink, together.
Paradiso Canto XXI:1-51 The Seventh Sphere: Saturn: Temperance
My eyes were already fixed on my Lady’s face once more, and my mind with them, free of every other intent, and she did not smile, but said: Were I to smile, you would be like Semele, turned to ashes, since my beauty which burns more brightly, as you have seen, on the steps of the eternal palace, the higher we climb, if it were not moderated, glows so much, that your human powers, at its lightning flash, would be like the leaves the thunder shatters.
We have risen to Saturn, the seventh planet, which beams downwards, in the breast of Leo, the fiery Lion, mingling with its power. Fix your mind in your eyes, and make them mirrors, to the figure that will be shown to you, in this mirror.’ Whoever knows how my sight was fed by her blessed aspect when I changed to a different concern, would know how great a joy it was to me to obey my heavenly guide, weighing contemplation’s joy against the joy of obedience.
Inside the crystal planet, coloured like gold that reflects the ray, which, as it circles the world, carries the name of Saturn, its illustrious ruler, in whose Age every wickedness died, I saw a ladder erected so far upward my sight could not follow it. And I saw so many splendours descending the rungs that I thought every light that shines in Heaven had been poured downwards there. And as, according to their nature, the rooks set out in a flock, at dawn, to warm their cold feathers, and then some flap away, without returning, others come back to where they started, and the rest wheel in flight, it seemed to me that was also the way among that glittering of spirits, that came in a crowd, as soon as they reached a particular rung, and the spirit that landed nearest to me, became so bright in my thoughts, that I said: ‘I clearly see the Love you signal to me. But She from whom I wait for the how, and when, of speech and silence, pauses, and therefore I ask no questions, counter to my own wishes.’ At which She who sees everything, saw my silence in his look, and said: ‘Let free your burning desire.’
Paradiso Canto XXI:52-142 Peter Damian
And I began: ‘My lack of worth does not make me worthy of a reply, except for her sake who allows me to make the request: O life, blessed, who live, hidden in gladness, tell me the reason why I am placed near you, and say why the sweet symphony of Paradise is silent here, when it sounded below through the other spheres, so devotedly.’ He replied: ‘You have mortal hearing, as you have mortal sight: there is no song here for the same reason that Beatrice does not smile. I have descended so far, on the steps of the sacred ladder, only to give you joy with words, and with the light, which mantles me: nor did greater love make me swifter: since more and greater love burns higher there, as the flaming made clear to you, but the deep love, that keeps us, as ready servants to the wisdom that controls the world, assigns me here, as you see.’
I said: ‘Yes I see how love, freely, in this court, is sufficient to make you follow the eternal providence, but it is this which seems hard to me to understand: why you alone among your peers was predestined to this role.’ I had not reached the last word before the light made a centre of its mid-point, and whirled itself around like a rapid millstone. Then the love that was inside it answered: ‘Divine Light focuses itself on me from above, penetrating that in which I am involved: which power, joined to my vision, lifts me so far beyond myself, that I see the supreme essence from which it is extracted. From there comes the joy I flame with, equalling the clarity of my sight with the brightness of my flame. But neither the most illuminated soul in Heaven, nor the Seraph with eyes most fixed on God, can satisfy you as to your question, because the thing you ask lies so deep in the abyss of the eternal law that it is hidden from created sight. And, when you return to the mortal world, report this: that it should no longer presume to set its feet towards so great a goal.
The Mind, that shines here, on earth is clouded, so think if it could have that power there, below, if it does not when Heaven takes it to itself.’ His words put such constraint on me I left the question, and restricted myself to asking, humbly, who he was himself.
‘Between Italy’s two coasts, the Apennine mountains rise, not far from your native place, and so high that the thunder sounds far lower down, and make a hump called Catria, beneath which a monastery was consecrated, which used only to be given over to prayer.’ So he began his third speech to me, and then continued: ‘There I became so rooted in God’s service that I treated heat and cold lightly, ate Lenten-fare cooked with olive-oil, was satisfied with contemplative thought. That hermitage once yielded fruitfully to Heaven, and now is barren, so that before long it must be exposed.
I was Peter Damian in that place, and was Peter the Sinner, in the house of Our Lady on the Adriatic shore. Little of mortal life was left to me, when I was called and drawn to the cardinal’s hat, which passes now from bad wearer to worse. Saint Peter, Cephas, came, and Saint Paul, the great vessel of the Holy Spirit, lean and unshod, taking their food from any place. Now the modern shepherds have to be buttressed on both sides, and have someone to lead them, they are so fat and heavy, and someone to support them from behind. They cover their ponies with cloaks, so that two creatures go under one hide: O patience that endures so much!’
At his voice, I saw more flames descend, gyring, from rung to rung, and every gyration made them more beautiful. They came and rested, and made a sound so deep, that there is nothing here to compare it to, and I did not understand its meaning: its thunder overcame me so.