Dante: The Divine Comedy

Notes to Dante's Paradiso


ParNote 1. Structure

The pattern of three, divided to make seven, augmented to nine and then ten, is the fundamental architecture of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. (The keynote of Hell is Charity or Pity, of the Purgatorio, Hope, and of the Paradiso, Faith.)

Dante follows the earth-centred Ptolemaic view of the solar system, and the order of the planets is as our own with the earth and sun interchanged i.e. from the earth outwards, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The other planets were not known.

The Paradisial planetary orbits, through which Dante ascends, are concentric spheres, arranged in three groups, divided into seven spheres. These are the infra-solar, where Dante meets spirits weakened by some impairment of faith, hope, or love, namely (Spheres 1-3) of the Moon (Inconstancy), Mercury (Ambition), and Venus( Earthly Love); the solar (Sphere 4) that of the Sun (Prudence) the leader of the cardinal virtues; and the supra-solar spheres of the remaining cardinal virtues (Spheres 5-7) namely Mars (Fortitude), Jupiter (Justice) and Saturn (Temperance).

This pattern of seven is augmented to nine by the addition of the Stellar Heaven of souls, and the Primum Mobile of the Angels.

Finally all symbolic places and times are subsumed in the ultimate vision of the Empyrean, the place of God and all spirits, in the eternal, completing the tenfold structure.

ParNote 2. Chronology, See also the Chronology of the Inferno and the Purgatorio.

Canto I:43-44

Paradiso Canto I:37-72. Dante will rise into Heaven at midday on Thursday (in Purgatory, it is midnight at Jerusalem). He then goes round the world with the day, so that, for him, it remains mid-day, and no ‘earth-time’ passes. The sun is in Aries throughout, since it is at the equinox.

Canto XXII:97-120 and 127-154

Paradiso Canto XXII:100-154. Beatrice raises Dante into his sun-sign of Gemini. He looks down, from the sphere of Saturn, on earth and the preceding spheres, and sees the earth from ‘ridge to river-mouth’ from Jerusalem to the Ganges. (It is noon at Jerusalem, sunset on the Ganges).

Canto XXVII:79-87

Paradiso Canto XXVII:67-96. Dante, in Gemini, is separated from the sun, in Aries, by the sign of Taurus. It is now sunset over Jerusalem. (Jupiter snatched Europa from Phoenician Tyre, the modern Lebanon, at the longitude of Jerusalem) Dante looking down sees from the dark of sunset at Jerusalem to sunlit Gibraltar.

The action of the Divine Comedy has therefore taken a week, as follows:

Prior to the Poem: Dante spends Thursday night in the wood.

Inferno: From Good Friday am, in Italy, to Easter Monday am, at the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, opposite Jerusalem.

Purgatorio: From Monday am to noon on Thursday, on the mountain, and in the Earthly Paradise (six hours).

Paradiso: From Thursday noon, in Purgatory, to Thursday noon, over Italy ( Midnight in Jerusalem to the following sunset in Jerusalem.)

There is a switch in time from Inferno time to Purgatory time, of twelve hours, at the end of the Inferno, and a change in position from Purgatory opposite Jerusalem, to a position over Italy, occupying eighteen hours of earth-time, during the Paradiso, which compensates for the twelve hours gained, and takes the time from midday at Jerusalem (morning in Italy) at the start of the poem, to evening in Jerusalem (noon in Italy) at the end.

ParNote 3. Four circles in three crosses.

Paradiso Canto I:37-72. At the equinox, at sunrise, the celestial circles of the Ecliptic, and the Equinoctial and Equatorial colures, cross the celestial circle of the Horizon at the same point. Each of the three then forms a cross with the Horizon. Allegorically, God most influences the world through the four Cardinal virtues (Temperance, Fortitude, Justice, and Prudence) when they are joined to form the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity). The happiest constellation is Aries, the sign in which the Sun was at the Creation.

ParNote 4. Dante is lifted towards the Heavens.

Paradiso Canto I:73-99. Dante is lifted into the Heavens at noon.

See Second Corinthians xii 2. The soul is a new creation of God’s, not generated by nature.

According to Aristotle, God causes the eternal movement of the celestial spheres through the love and longing he inspires in the universe.

The sphere of fire surrounds the sphere of air with ‘a second atmosphere’. Air is relatively light, and fire absolutely light.

The seven planetary spheres produce divine harmonies like the seven strings of a lyre (expressly rejected by Aristotle).

Paradiso Canto I:100-142. The Empyrean which is not spatial does not move, and has no poles, It surrounds the Primum Mobile, the ninth heaven, the outermost and swiftest of the spheres, with light and love.

ParNote 5. The Three Mirrors experiment.

Brightness is the ratio of the quantity of light reaching the eyes to the apparent size of the object. These both diminish as the square of the distance, so the brightness remains constant. This ignores absorption by the medium, and the reflective capability of a coarse surface like the moon.

ParNote 6. The Divine Influence.

Paradiso Canto II:106-148. Beatrice explains the diffusion of the Divine Spirit from the Empyrean where all space is here and time is now, and where God is, and the Angels, and Blessed spirits truly are (as opposed to merely manifesting themselves) down to the lowest sphere of the Moon. The Primum Mobile, or ninth Heaven, where the Angels manifest themselves (in symbolic meeting) contains all Nature. It receives the Divine influence and communicates it downwards to the eighth sphere of the Stellar Heavens, where the Blessed Souls are all manifest. The Stellar Heaven divides it among the stars. Each of the seven lower Heavens (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon, in the Ptolemaic system) likewise receives the influence from the sphere above, and passes it to the sphere below (as in the emanations of medieval mysticism). See the General Structure, Note 1, for the attributes of the spheres. Each of the lower spheres virtue and motion derives from an Angelic presence, which is melded to each planetary body, and the mingled virtue of Angel and planet shines throughout that sphere. The Stellar Heaven is, likewise, animated by the deep spirit of the Cherubim. Each Angel is connected with its sphere, but still distinct within it. The combination is an alloy, a union, a mingling, a melding. The virtue that shines there is likewise the personality of the Angel mingled with the creative and inspirational power of God.

Groups of blessed spirits manifest themselves in the lower spheres as symbolic meeting places with Dante, appropriate to them.

Note that in Hell spirits are fixed in their location, below Limbo, ‘unable to go forward, or to go back’: in Purgatory they progress through time, until the will is free: and in Paradise they are free and timeless, but manifest in the appropriate sphere, ‘all places being Paradise that are in Heaven’. The journey therefore allows increasing degrees of freedom, until freedom itself becomes an irrelevance within God’s will.

ParNote 7. The Singing in Paradise

Paradiso Canto III:97-130. Piccarda sings the ‘Ave Maria: Hail Mary

Paradiso Canto VII:1-54. Justinian sings the Hosanna. ‘Osanna Sanctus Deus Sabaoth, superillustrans claritate tua felices ignes horum malachoth! Hosanna, Holy God of Sabaoth, illuminating the blessed fires of these kingdoms, with your brightness from above!’

Paradiso Canto XXIII:88-139. Regina Coeli laetare: O Queen of Heaven: the Easter antiphon of the Blessed Virgin is sung by the Apostles in the Stellar Heaven.

ParNote 8. Justininian’s speech concerning the Empire.

Paradiso Canto VI:1-111. Aeneas, coming from Troy, landed in Italy, took Lavinia as his bride, and fought Turnus. Aeneas was allied with Evander, whose kingdom was based on the seven hills of the site of Rome. Evander’s son and heir Pallas led these allies and was killed by Turnus, and avenged by Aeneas.

Aeneas founded his kingdom at Lavinium, and it was transferred by his son Ascanius (Iulus) to Alba Longa where it remained for more than three hundred years till in the reign of Tullus Hostilius (670-638BC) Alba fell to Rome, when the three Curiatii, the Alban champions, were defeated by the survivor of the three Horatii, the Roman champions. Rome had been founded by Romulus, an Alban outcast, on the Palatine, one of the seven hills, and the Romans made wives of the Sabine women.

Under Romulus and his six successors Rome’s power grew until Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last king, raped Lucretia, and the monarchy was ended in 510BC. Rome then became supreme in Italy. Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus (from cincinnus, a curl) called from the plough to the dictatorship conquered the Aequiana in 458BC. One of the Fabii, and Titus Manlius Torquatus, distinguished themselves against Brennus and his Gauls (390BC etc). The Decii, three generations, died fighting against the Latins in 340BC, the Samnites in 295BC and Pyrrhus the Greek invader in 280BC. The greatest of the Fabii, Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator, defeated Hannibal, who crossed the Alps in 218BC, and Scipio Africanus the Elder, a boy of seventeen, saved his father’s life, at the defeat of Ticinus. He forced Hannibal’s withdrawal from Italy. (Dante calls the northern Africans Arabs)

Pompey who conquered the east and defeated Marius celebrated a triumph, when not yet twenty-five, in 81BC. The Romans reduced Fiesole, which overhangs Florence, and was the refuge of Catiline.

Julius Caesar campaigned in Gaul (58-50BC), crossed the Rubicon, between Ravenna and Rimini, in 49BC, leaving his province, without the Senate’s permission, and precipitating a Civil War. He overcame opposition in Spain, and besieged Pompey at Dyrrachium, defeating him at Pharsalia in Thessaly. Pompey escaped to Egypt, where he was murdered by Ptolemy. Caesar crossed the Hellespont, took Egypt from Ptolemy and gave it to Cleopatra, subdued Juba, King of Numidia, who had protected his opponents after Pharsalia, and returned to Spain in 45BC to fight Pompey’s sons.

Caesar was assassinated, and Octavian (later Augustus) his adopted son defeated Mark Antony at Modena in 43BC. He then defeated Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the assassination plot, with Antony’s help, at Philippi in 42 BC, and Lucius, Antony’s brother at Perugia in 41BC. At Actium in 31BC he defeated Antony, who committed suicide, Cleopatra his consort dying by the sting of a viper (asp)

Augustus was master of the Empire to the remotest ends of Egypt and the gates of the Temple of Janus were closed for the third time in Roman history to signal the Empire at peace.

Christ was born, and crucified in the reign of Tiberius, Augustus’s successor, and the sin of the Fall thereby avenged. Jerusalem fell to Titus and the sin of killing Christ was avenged on the Jews, with the destruction of the Temple.

The Church was defended by Charlemagne against the Lombard king Desiderius whom he dethroned in 774AD.

ParNote 9. The Sun’s movement.

The Equatorial Circle, a circle projected from the earth’s equator onto the Heavens, and the Ecliptic (Zodiac), the path of the sun against the ‘fixed’ stars, cross at the Equinoctial points (the first point of Aries, and the first point of Libra, at the Creation, with precession, the ‘wobble’ of the earth on its axis, ignored. The Spring equinox in fact now falls in Pisces due to precession, and will move into Aquarius.). The Equinoxes, of equal day and night, fall in Spring and Autumn, at latitudes away from the equator and poles. The daily apparent movement of the sun and the planets is parallel to the equator (i.e. at ninety degrees to the plane of the earth’s axis) and the apparent annual movement against the stars is along the Ecliptic. From mid-winter to mid-summer the Sun rises a little earlier and further to the north than the day before, and from mid-summer to mid-winter a little later and further south, so travelling a progressive spiral. Dante describes the movement to reach the Spring Equinox in Aries, round which the Divine Comedy is constructed.

ParNote 10. Ancient Florence.

Paradiso Canto XV:88-148. The Badia, the belltower from which the ancient canonical hours were rung (tierce at nine, nones at twelve) was close to the ancient circle of walls, within which, in Cacciaguida’s time Florence was still enclosed. The second circle of walls was built in 1173, the third circle which is still intact in part, was built at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Paradiso Canto XVI:1-45. The Patron Saint of the city was John the Baptist. An annual race was run along the Corso. Of the six sections into which Florence was divided, the sesto of San Piero was the last to be entered. The Elisei house was on the right.

Paradiso Canto XVI:46-87. The statue of Mars stood by the northern end of the Ponte Vecchio, in the south of the city by the Arno, and the Baptistery in the north, marking the old boundaries. New families filtered in from the towns of the Contado. In the eleventh century, Galuzzo and Trespiano were the southern and northern limits of Florentine territory, which did not include Aguglione or Signa. Simifonti was a fortress in the Valdelsa destroyed by the Florentines in 1202. The Conti Guidi sold their castle at Montemurlo, between Pistoia and Prato, to Florence in 1254 being unable to defend it from the Pistoians. Acone was probably in the Val de Sieve. Luni was on the Macra, the northern boundary of Tuscany. Urbisaglia was in the March of Ancona. Chiusi, is ancient Clusium, in the malarial Val di Chiana. Sinaglia is on the seashore north of Ancona.

Paradiso Canto XVI:88-154. Cacciaguida mentions the great families of ancient Florence. The gate of St Peter was where the Cerchi lived in Dante’s time. They had purchased the houses over the gate before 1300, which had belonged to the Ravignani, from whom the Conti Guidi were descended through Bellincion Berti’s daughter Gualdrada. The Pigli arms were barred with ermine=vair. The Chiaramontesi lived in the Saint Peter quarter. One of the family, in Dante’s time, falsified the measures for the issue of salt to the Florentines. The Calfucci were a branch of the Donati. The Uberti were once the dominant Florentine family. Their pride was exhibited by Farinata. The golden balls were the device of the Lamberti, of whom Mosca was one. The ancestors of the Visdomini and Della Tosa families while having the revenues of the Bishopric of Florence in their hands were accused of perverting them to their own uses whenever the See was vacant. The Della Pera in Dante’s time had dwindled to the extent that it seemed incredible a gate of the city had been named after them. The Uccellini and Gherardini were associates of the Amidei. Associates were members of a family who joined the tower-club of another for the purposes of its military maintenance, and were legal consorts of that family. These were members of a family which had ceased to act with their true family, and were therefore regarded as no longer belonging to it. The old standard of Florence carried white lilies on a red field. The Ghibellines maintained this, but the Guelphs adopted a red lily on a white field in 1251.

ParNote 11. Cacciaguida’s unfolding of Dante’s fate.

Paradiso Canto XVII:1-99. Cacciaguida reveals Dante’s fast approaching exile from Florence, engineered by Rome. Dante was sentenced with four others to fine and banishment January 27th 1302. With fifteen others, he was sentenced to death by burning, on March 10th. The Whites were expelled from Florence on April 4th, Between June 8th 1302 and June 18th 1303 he broke away from them (becoming ‘a party of one’) in disgust and took refuge with Bartolommeo della Scala at Verona.

ParNote 12. The Julian Calendar.

Paradiso Canto XXVII:97-148. The Julian calendar (rectified in 1752) made the year 11 minutes 14 seconds too long, roughly a hundredth of a day. In Dante’s time January began a little later in the real year each time, and so eventually it would fall outside winter altogether.

ParNote13. The Chessboard.

Paradiso Canto XXVIII:58-93. The old tale has a reward being demanded of an amount of corn equal to that obtained by placing one ear on the first of the sixty-four squares of the chessboard, and then doubling the amount of the previous square, at each new square. The number obtained is 2 to the power 63 plus one, which is about 18.5 million million million.

ParNote14. The Angelic Hierarchies.

Paradiso Canto XXVIII:94-139. The Angels are divided in three Hierarchies, each of three orders, here they are three triplets of circles. In the first triplet, Seraphs with their wings, and Cherubs with their eyes emphasise movement towards God (Love) and insight into His being (Knowledge). Thrones signify the Power of God, manifested through the Angels and drawing them towards Him, they are the mirrors of his judgments, and also represent his steadfastness. Joy is connected with the Seraphim, and trust in God’s power with the Thrones. In the second triplet, the Dominions are an image of God’s dominion, the Virtues indicate Divine strength and fortitude, while the Powers represent Divine power and majesty. In the third, outermost triplet, Principalities, or Princedoms, Archangels and Angels are concerned with the things of this world, love of the Holy Spirit, and communication of the gifts of God to man. The Angels is a term applied collectively to all the nine Hierarchies, signifying ‘messengers’ and the higher Angels can execute the functions of the lower, while having their special additional qualities. So Christ is the Angel of the Great Counsel.

The circles of the Angels are in reverse order to the spheres surrounding Earth, the outermost, and fastest sphere to Earth, corresponding to the highest virtue, and therefore matching the innermost circle of the Angels concentrated on God.

ParNote15. The Oriflamme.

Paradiso Canto XXXI:94-142. Dante refers to the Oriflamme, aurea flamma, which was the standard given to the ancient Kings of France by the Angel Gabriel, representing a flame on a golden ground. Those who fought under it were invincible. The golden glow of the Virgin’s Oriflamme is in contrast that of invincible peace not of war.