256. The Divine Comedy III. Paradise (Paradiso), by Dante Alighieri, (1308-1320)

“O you that follow in light cockle-shells

For the song’s sake, my ship that sails before,

Carving her course and singing as she sails

Turn back and seek the safety of the shore

Tempt not the deep, lest, losing unawares

Me and yourselves, you come to port no more.”

Canto II, lines 1-6

After passing through Hell and Purgatory, Dante is now escorted through the spheres of Heaven by his lost love Beatrice until he reaches the Eympyrean, the abode of God.

My copy was the Penguin Classic edition Paradise translated and explained by the scholarly Dorothy L. Sayers.

Thoughts :

As the quote above warned me, I did feel very much more adrift reading Paradise than the previous two volumes and I floundered repeatedly. Much of the text is theological or political in nature, and combined with the poetic strains, they are often difficult arguments to follow. I wonder if modern theological colleges study or discuss Dante?

“though sense lead the way, thou’rt now aware

of heights the wings of reason cannot scale”                     Canto II, lines 56-57

Just as there were various levels to Hell and Purgatory, likewise there are levels in Heaven, marked by the planets and stars and their spheres of movement. However, whereas the souls in the first two books abide in their levels for eternity (Hell) or until they are cleansed (Purgatory), all souls in Heaven reside on the highest level with God, but are introduced to Dante on the sphere which marks their most notable feature and/or “less exalted state”. However there is no shame in the assigned level; each soul is completely satisfied with the degree of beatitude bestowed upon them.

Unlike the physical treks which Dante and Virgil had to undertake, Beatrice and Dante are transported directly and instantly between Spheres. The first Heavenly sphere (the Moon) is populated with those who were inconstant in their vows (even through no fault of their own), the second (Mercury) by the ambitious, the third (Venus) by lovers, the fourth (Sun) by theologians, historians and teachers, the fifth (Mars) by warriors, the sixth (Jupiter) by the Just, and the seventh (Saturn) by the contemplatives. After climbing the Celestial Ladder, Dante reaches the eighth Heaven (the fixed stars) of the Virgin Mary, Peter, James and John, and Adam. The ninth or Crystalline Heaven is followed by the tenth – the Eympyrean.

I’m afraid I simply could not scale the heights past the fourth Sphere although I attempted to several times. I trust Dante got there without me.

Personal rating:  3/10

In the years 1320-1329:

  • Aztecs found the city of Tenochtitlan c.1325
  • Robert Bruce invades England 1328, forcing recognition of Scotland’s independence

from The Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978.

Other reading:

I read the most bloodthirsty and violent war story I can ever remember – deaths by decapitation, fire, burning water, suffocation, poison, torture, blunt trauma, falls, crushing, and in one case skewered by a outsized crossbow bolt.  Don’t look for this in the history or general fiction section of your library or bookshop – it will probably be in the children’s section.

Redwall  is the first in a long series of animal fantasy stories about an abbey of gentle woodland folk under attack by an army of rats, stoats and weasels led by the evil rat Cluny the Scourge. The young hero mouse Mathias must recover the lost sword of Martin which is guarded by a giant poisonous adder Asmodeusssssss. I enjoyed the story which is fast-moving and exciting, but on reflection after finishing, the scale of violence was quite overwhelming. There are some lovely gentle characters in the Abbey, most of whom take just a little too much delight in the defeat of their enemies.

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