The Divine Comedy by Dante ALIGHIERI · Digital Dante Edition with Commento Baroliniano · MMXV ·   Columbia University

Paradiso 8


Eros and Anticlimax

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 8, “Problems in Paradise: The Mimesis of Time and the Paradox of più e meno”, pp. 191-92; Dante’s Poets, pp. 57-84.

As a prelude to Paradiso 8 and 9, let us note that we are now in the heaven of Venus, named after the classical goddess of love and eros. Dante features a typology of many kinds of love in this heaven:

  1. eros: “il folle amor” of Par. 8.2; the irrational love of the vernacular courtly lyric; also, as stated here, of classical inspiration;
  1. classical eros, as in Vergil’s Eclogue 10, “omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori” (love conquers all, and we too yield to love); “la bella Ciprigna” (Par. 8.2) and alternate name “Dione” (Par. 8.7) = Venus; see also references to Cupid, Dido, Phyllis, and Hercules as lovers;
  1. love poets and lovers: Dante (poet of Voi che ’ntendendo), Cunizza da Romano (lover of Sordello), Folchetto (= the troubadour Folquet de Marselha), Raab (the biblical prostitute Rahab);
  1. friendship: Dante’s friendship with Carlo Martello, announced by Carlo in Paradiso 8:
Assai m’amasti, e avesti ben onde;
che s’io fossi giù stato, io ti mostrava
di mio amor più oltre che le fronde.   (Par. 8.55-57)
You loved me much and had good cause for that;
for had I stayed below, I should have showed
you more of my love than the leaves alone.
  1. marital love: “Carlo tuo” and his wife ”bella Clemenza” from the apostrophe that begins Paradiso 9:              
Da poi che Carlo tuo, bella Clemenza,
m’ebbe chiarito, mi narrò li ’nganni
che ricever dovea la sua semenza . . .           (Par. 9.1-3)
Fair Clemence, after I had been enlightened
by your dear Charles, he told me how his seed
would be defrauded . . .
  1. rhetorical copulation, mystical union expressed in coinages like inluiareintuareinmiare (Par. 9.72 and 81).

The heaven of Venus, let it be said at once, is an anticlimax. Although studded with many references to love of all sorts—beginning with the seductive and promising “folle amore” of Paradiso 8.2—the heaven is in fact devoted to . . . civic life and politics.

Charles Martel (1271-1294) discusses his family, the French house of Anjou, and refers to his brother, Robert of Anjou, King of Naples (1277-1343), in Paradiso 8.76. This is the very Re Roberto of whose Neapolitan court both Petrarca and Boccaccio make complimentary mention. Petrarch calls King Robert the “only ornament of our age” (“unicum seculi nostri decus”) in Familiarium rerum libri 1.2.9. But here Charles, whom we will call Carlo along with Dante, is not complimentary, accusing his brother of miserliness.

We now move into a discourse on heredity and human nature that makes the case for difference as a prerequisite for a healthy society.

The observation that King Robert’s “natura . . . di larga parca discese” (his nature descended from generous ancestors [Par. 8.82-83]) prompts the question posed in Paradiso 8.93: how can a bitter fruit come from a sweet seed? “Com’esser può, di dolce seme, amaro?” The next question shows that the pendulum has swung from the Augustinian focus of Paradiso 7 back to Aristotle:

Ond’elli ancora: «Or di’: sarebbe il peggio
per l’omo in terra, se non fosse cive?»
«Sì», rispuos’io; «e qui ragion non cheggio». (Par. 8.115-17)                   
He added: “Tell me, would a man on earth
be worse if he were not a citizen?”
“Yes,” I replied, “and here I need no proof.”

“Would it be worse for man on earth if he were not a citizen?” is a question that hearkens back to Aristotle, Politics I.1.2: “homo natura civile animal est” (“Man is by nature a social animal”). From this principle flows the corollary that difference is required in the social sphere as it is in the metaphysical.

The question that follows is: can man be a citizen—in other words, can he live a full life as a member of a social group—if there are not different ways of living in society, requiring different talents and duties?

«E puot’elli esser, se giù non si vive
diversamente per diversi offici?
Non, se ’l maestro vostro ben vi scrive». (Par. 8.118-20) 
“Can there be citizens if men below
are not diverse, with diverse duties? No,
if what your master writes is accurate.”

The answer is that we need difference in the social sphere, and therefore men are born with different dispositions and talents.

Sì venne deducendo infino a quici;
poscia conchiuse: «Dunque esser diverse
convien di vostri effetti le radici:
per ch’un nasce Solone e altro Serse,
altro Melchisedèch e altro quello
che, volando per l’aere, il figlio perse.» (Par. 8.121-26)
Until this point that shade went on, deducing;
then he concluded: "Thus, the roots from which
your tasks proceed must needs be different:
so, one is born a Solon, one a Xerxes,
and one a Melchizedek, and another,
he who flew through the air and lost his son.” 

One man is born with a disposition for law and governance (Solon), another with the disposition to be a warrior (Xerxes), another has inborn talents that lead him to be a priest (Melchizedech), and, finally, there is one who is born an artist, prone to reckless and daring creativity (Daedalus).

Dante in Paradiso 8.125-26 gives us a second perspective on Icarus and Daedalus, complementing the vignette of Inferno 17.109-11. There Icarus feels his wax wings unfeathering, and the father desperately calls out to his son “You’re going the wrong way!” (“Mala via tieni!” [Inf. 17.111]). Here in Paradiso Icarus has no agency or part in the story, which is telescoped into the paternal drama of a father who failed to sufficiently protect his son: “e altro quello / che, volando per l’aere, il figlio perse” (he who flew through the air and lost his son [Par. 8.125-26]).

Just as we saw that the creation of the universe requires differentiation in Paradiso 2, now we see that the creation of society requires difference as well. The answer to this question confirms that the pendulum has swung back from stressing similitude with the One in Paradiso 7 to praise of necessary difference in Paradiso 8.

Carlo explains that providence has to correct nature, which if left unguided would turn out children who were exact replicas of their parents. Providence has to intervene to make sure that we are not all identical to our parents:

Natura generata il suo cammino
simil farebbe sempre a’ generanti,
se non vincesse il proveder divino. (Par. 8.133-35)
Engendered natures would forever take
the path of those who had engendered them,
did not Divine provision intervene.

Thus Providence corrects nature in order to ensure difference, guaranteeing that we not be like our parents. And yet society is coercive, and tries to force a man to comply with a predetermined idea of what he should be, thus producing terrible results:

Ma voi torcete a la religione                
tal che fia nato a cignersi la spada,               
e fate re di tal ch’è da sermone;                   
onde la traccia vostra è fuor di strada. (Par. 8.145-48) 
But you twist to religion one whose birth               
made him more fit to gird a sword, and make                
a king of one more fit for sermoning,                  
so that the track you take is off the road. 

In other words, human beings act against their best interests and against the requirements of a healthy society. God makes sure that we are all different, and yet we try to force our sons into the pathways of their fathers.

I will conclude this Introduction by turning to Dante’s canzone Voi che ’ntendendo il terzo ciel movete, cited by Carlo Martello in Paradiso 8.37. 

Judging from the dialogue between the pilgrim and Carlo Martello, there was a friendship between them that could only have been kindled during Carlo’s brief visit to Florence in 1294. One of the ways that Carlo shows his intimacy with the pilgrim is by citing Dante’s canzone Voi che ’ntendendo il terzo ciel movete. Carlo declares his whereabouts—the third heaven—by citing his friend's canzone, appropriately addressed to the angelic intelligences of this third heaven:

Noi ci volgiam coi principi celesti               
d’un giro e d’un girare e d’una sete,               
ai quali tu del mondo già dicesti:                   
‘Voi che 'ntendendo il terzo ciel movete’ . . .     (Par. 8.34-37)
One circle and one circling and one thirst               
are ours as we revolve with the celestial               
Princes whom, from the world, you once invoked                  
‘You who, through understanding, move the third heaven’ . . . 

One might wonder why Dante would cite here a canzone, Voi che ’ntendendo il terzo ciel movete, in which he turns away from Beatrice to another love. This is a complex question which I attempt to unravel in the first chapter of Dante’s Poets. I argue that the placement of the canzone reflects the treatment of the heaven of Venus, in which eros is checked and politics is ascendant:

Voi che ’ntendendo is a poem about conflict, the conflict experienced by the poet between his love for Beatrice—his mystical, spiritual, and poetical interests—and the other chief interests of his life. Everything about the heaven of Venus speaks to the integration of concerns that on earth were viewed as separate and antagonistic; thus, the pilgrim meets a prince who can quote love poetry, a political lady who loved a poet (a political poet at that), and a poet who became a political figure. The point of the resolutely non-amatory treatment of this heaven is that love can be, and must be, integrated with political and philosophical concerns. (Dante’s Poets, p. 69)

In other words, the canzone cited by Carlo Martello is the perfect emblem of Dante’s treatment of the heaven of Venus: a heaven where love is what we expect, and what we want, but not what we receive.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. "Paradiso 8 : Eros and Anticlimax." Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2015.

Coordinated Reading