The Marks of Cain

Paradiso 2 opens with an address to the readers that may be unique in literary history, in that it is an admonition not to continue reading. Here Dante tells us, his readers, to turn back to our shores rather than to set out on so deep a sea as the text that lies before us. The haunting evocation of a little ship out on the perilous watery deep, alone on the mighty ocean, reverberates to the Commedia’s Ulyssean lexicon, as well of course to the previous canto’s ontological metaphor of the “great sea of being” (Par. 1.113). Also very Dantean is the heroic stance of the poet, presented with no ambiguity as the unique and essential conduit to this journey. If we lose him (“perdendo me”), we will be lost:

O voi che siete in piccioletta barca,
desiderosi d’ascoltar, seguiti
dietro al mio legno che cantando varca,
tornate a riveder li vostri liti:
non vi mettete in pelago, ché forse,
perdendo me, rimarreste smarriti. (Par. 2.1-6)
O you who are within your little bark,
eager to listen, following behind
my ship that, singing, crosses to deep seas,
turn back to see your shores again: do not
attempt to sail the seas I sail; you may,
by losing sight of me, be left astray.

As we read, we should work to keep track of the extraordinary repertory of Ovidian characters who populate the Paradiso: like Marsyas and Glaucus in Paradiso 1, here we don’t get too far into the canto before we arrive at the Argonauts and Jason. Similarly, we need to hang on to the threads of plot-line that the author throws our way. The “story” picks up in Paradiso 2.19, where we learn that Dante and Beatrice are rising; in verse 30 we learn that Dante has been “joined” to the first “star” or heaven:

«Drizza la mente in Dio grata», mi disse,
«che n’ha congiunti con la prima stella».(Par. 2.29-30)
“Direct your mind to God in gratefulness,”
she said; “He has brought us to the first star.”

Dante is in the heaven of the moon. The narrator lets us know that the co-penetration of his body (“corpo” in Par. 2.37) with the body of the sphere of the moon is miraculous, and that the question of how two bodies can coexist in the same place at the same time should awaken in us a desire to understand how our nature was united with God:

Per entro sé l’etterna margarita
ne ricevette, com’acqua recepe
raggio di luce permanendo unita.
S’io era corpo, e qui non si concepe
com’una dimensione altra patio,
ch’esser convien se corpo in corpo repe,
accender ne dovrìa più il disio
di veder quella essenza in che si vede
come nostra natura e Dio s’unio. (Par. 2.34-42)
Into itself, the everlasting pearl
received us, just as water will accept
a ray of light and yet remain intact.
If I was body (and on earth we can
not see how things material can share
one space—the case, when body enters body),
then should our longing be still more inflamed
to see that Essence in which we discern
how God and human nature were made one.

The co-penetration of bodies, something that cannot happen on earth, in space-time as we know it, can happen in the alternate dimension of reality that Dante has now entered.

Dante-pilgrim poses a question about the cause of the “dark spots” on the surface of the moon, referring to the popular legend of Cain’s imprisonment there:

che son li segni bui
di questo corpo, che là giuso in terra
fan di Cain favoleggiare altrui? (Par. 2.49-51)
What are the dark marks
on this planet’s body, that there below, on earth,
have made men tell the tale of Cain?

This is an issue that Dante cares deeply about, and which he had tackled previously. He had addressed this same question in his philosophical treatise Convivio (circa 1304-1306), where he had espoused the very solution that Beatrice will now discard as mistaken. In effect, then, Paradiso 2 demonstrates the existence of three levels of explanation for the problem of moon spots, and perhaps, by extrapolation, for other problems as well: the popular and legendary explanation regarding Cain; the materialist explanation of the Convivio; and the metaphysical explanation of the Commedia.

The question offers the opportunity to “translate” a problem from the material/corporeal to the immaterial/metaphysical. The “wrong” answer that he had once accepted as correct in the Convivio, and which is based on a material understanding of the substances and issues involved, is that the dark spots are caused by one substance that is disposed in such a way that it is thick in some places and thin in others (“i corpi rari e densi” [Par. 2.60]).

To show why the above answer is wrong, Dante suddenly transitions from the moon to what he will explain is the analogous problem of the eighth heaven. This is the key move that the reader must grasp: once we realize that Dante has made this rhetorical leap in his argument, then this explanation falls nicely into place. I have mentioned that the Paradiso will seek to provide its answers from first principles, and this is a good example. Rather than answer the specific query about the moon’s dark spots, Beatrice tackles the problem of difference itself. To do that, she makes the leap to the eighth sphere, the heaven where difference originates.

Beatrice explains that the eighth heaven, also known as the heaven of the fixed stars, is the generator of difference in the universe. Each of the different stars in the “spera ottava” (Par. 2.64) embodies substantial difference, difference in essence or form (Par. 2.64-66). The words “essence,” “substance,” and “form” are synonyms in Dante’s Aristotelian usage. In other words, the difference embodied by the different stars of the eighth sphere is not merely apparent (and material), but essential (and metaphysical)

If, as the pilgrim had suggested, difference were but one material substance differently disposed, thicker in some places and thinner in others, then there would be only one substance, one essence, shared by all the stars of the eighth sphere, and that one essence would be differentially distributed, more or less in different locations:

Se raro e denso ciò facesser tanto,
una sola virtù sarebbe in tutti,
più e men distributa e altrettanto. (Par. 2.67-69)
If rarity and density alone caused this,
then all the stars would share one power
distributed in lesser, greater, or in equal force.

If “una sola virtù” (Par. 2.68) were shared by all the stars in the heaven of the fixed stars, then all the stars would be essentially the same, the same in essence, just thicker in some places and thinner in others. If all the stars in the heaven of the fixed stars were the same in essence, there would be no true (metaphysical) difference in the cosmos.

The whole point of this exercise is to make the opposite point: that difference is metaphysically real (like one of Plato’s ideas), that it is an “essential” principle of God’s creation (“essential principle” = “princìpi formali” in Par. 2.71 and “formal principio” in Par. 2.147).

The difference that we see in the universe must be rooted in different essences, different formal principles:

Virtù diverse esser convegnon frutti
di princìpi formali, e quei, for ch’uno,
seguiterìeno a tua ragion distrutti. (Par. 2.70-72)
But different powers must be fruits
of different formal principles; were you correct,
one only would be left, the rest destroyed.

Difference must exist as an ontological principle, for it is an integral part of God’s creation. Indeed, God’s creation is the making of difference:

The one made the many: “distinctio et multitudo rerum est a Deo”—“the

difference and multiplicity of things come from God” (ST 1a.47.1). In the

act that we call creation, God made difference, in Thomas’s words, “so that

his goodness might be communicated to creatures and re-enacted through

them” (ibid; Blackfriars 1967, 8:95). (The Undivine Comedy, p. 174)

This idea is set forth in the great creation discourse that starts in verse 112, whose goal is to emphasize the difference that creates the universe. In this speech Dante starts in the “heaven of divine peace” (“ciel de la divina pace” [Par. 2.112]), the Empyrean heaven where God resides, and makes his way down through the heavens: to the ninth heaven or Primum Mobile (first moving heaven) in Paradiso 2.113-14, thence to the eighth heaven or heaven of the fixed stars (Par. 2.115-17) and so on down through the lower heavens, always emphasizing the creation of difference, or rather difference as the essential manifestation of God’s creative impulse.

Beatrice’s speeches of Paradiso 1 and 2—both devoted to illuminating the order of the universe—are complementary, book-ends as it were. The speech on the order of the universe in Paradiso 1 illustrates all of creation returning to the One, whereas the speech on the order of the universe in Paradiso 2 illustrates the One emanating into the many. The heavens actualize being—the actualization of being occurs in the ninth heaven, or Primum Mobile—and subsequently differentiate it. The process of differentiation begins in the eighth heaven and continues down, ultimately manifesting itself in the dark spots on the moon, the spots that cause the unlearned to speak of Cain.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, pp. 177-80.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 2: The Marks of Cain.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-2/

About the Commento

1O voi che siete in piccioletta barca,
2desiderosi d’ascoltar, seguiti
3dietro al mio legno che cantando varca,

4tornate a riveder li vostri liti:
5non vi mettete in pelago, ché forse,
6perdendo me, rimarreste smarriti.

7L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse;
8Minerva spira, e conducemi Appollo,
9e nove Muse mi dimostran l’Orse.

10Voialtri pochi che drizzaste il collo
11per tempo al pan de li angeli, del quale
12vivesi qui ma non sen vien satollo,

13metter potete ben per l’alto sale
14vostro navigio, servando mio solco
15dinanzi a l’acqua che ritorna equale.

16Que’ glorïosi che passaro al Colco
17non s’ammiraron come voi farete,
18quando Iasón vider fatto bifolco.

19La concreata e perpetüa sete
20del deïforme regno cen portava
21veloci quasi come ’l ciel vedete.

22Beatrice in suso, e io in lei guardava;
23e forse in tanto in quanto un quadrel posa
24e vola e da la noce si dischiava,

25giunto mi vidi ove mirabil cosa
26mi torse il viso a sé; e però quella
27cui non potea mia cura essere ascosa,

28volta ver’ me, sì lieta come bella,
29«Drizza la mente in Dio grata», mi disse,
30«che n’ha congiunti con la prima stella».

31Parev’ a me che nube ne coprisse
32lucida, spessa, solida e pulita,
33quasi adamante che lo sol ferisse.

34Per entro sé l’etterna margarita
35ne ricevette, com’ acqua recepe
36raggio di luce permanendo unita.

37S’io era corpo, e qui non si concepe
38com’ una dimensione altra patio,
39ch’esser convien se corpo in corpo repe,

40accender ne dovria più il disio
41di veder quella essenza in che si vede
42come nostra natura e Dio s’unio.

43Lì si vedrà ciò che tenem per fede,
44non dimostrato, ma fia per sé noto
45a guisa del ver primo che l’uom crede.

46Io rispuosi: «Madonna, sì devoto
47com’ esser posso più, ringrazio lui
48lo qual dal mortal mondo m’ha remoto.

49Ma ditemi: che son li segni bui
50di questo corpo, che là giuso in terra
51fan di Cain favoleggiare altrui?».

52Ella sorrise alquanto, e poi «S’elli erra
53l’oppinïon», mi disse, «d’i mortali
54dove chiave di senso non diserra,

55certo non ti dovrien punger li strali
56d’ammirazione omai, poi dietro ai sensi
57vedi che la ragione ha corte l’ali.

58Ma dimmi quel che tu da te ne pensi».
59E io: «Ciò che n’appar qua sù diverso
60credo che fanno i corpi rari e densi».

61Ed ella: «Certo assai vedrai sommerso
62nel falso il creder tuo, se bene ascolti
63l’argomentar ch’io li farò avverso.

64La spera ottava vi dimostra molti
65lumi, li quali e nel quale e nel quanto
66notar si posson di diversi volti.

67Se raro e denso ciò facesser tanto,
68una sola virtù sarebbe in tutti,
69più e men distributa e altrettanto.

70Virtù diverse esser convegnon frutti
71di princìpi formali, e quei, for ch’uno,
72seguiterieno a tua ragion distrutti.

73Ancor, se raro fosse di quel bruno
74cagion che tu dimandi, o d’oltre in parte
75fora di sua materia sì digiuno

76esto pianeto, o, sì come comparte
77lo grasso e ’l magro un corpo, così questo
78nel suo volume cangerebbe carte.

79Se ’l primo fosse, fora manifesto
80ne l’eclissi del sol, per trasparere
81lo lume come in altro raro ingesto.

82Questo non è: però è da vedere
83de l’altro; e s’elli avvien ch’io l’altro cassi,
84falsificato fia lo tuo parere.

85S’elli è che questo raro non trapassi,
86esser conviene un termine da onde
87lo suo contrario più passar non lassi;

88e indi l’altrui raggio si rifonde
89così come color torna per vetro
90lo qual di retro a sé piombo nasconde.

91Or dirai tu ch’el si dimostra tetro
92ivi lo raggio più che in altre parti,
93per esser lì refratto più a retro.

94Da questa instanza può deliberarti
95esperïenza, se già mai la provi,
96ch’esser suol fonte ai rivi di vostr’ arti.

97Tre specchi prenderai; e i due rimovi
98da te d’un modo, e l’altro, più rimosso,
99tr’ambo li primi li occhi tuoi ritrovi.

100Rivolto ad essi, fa che dopo il dosso
101ti stea un lume che i tre specchi accenda
102e torni a te da tutti ripercosso.

103Ben che nel quanto tanto non si stenda
104la vista più lontana, lì vedrai
105come convien ch’igualmente risplenda.

106Or, come ai colpi de li caldi rai
107de la neve riman nudo il suggetto
108e dal colore e dal freddo primai,

109così rimaso te ne l’intelletto
110voglio informar di luce sì vivace,
111che ti tremolerà nel suo aspetto.

112Dentro dal ciel de la divina pace
113si gira un corpo ne la cui virtute
114l’esser di tutto suo contento giace.

115Lo ciel seguente, c’ha tante vedute,
116quell’ esser parte per diverse essenze,
117da lui distratte e da lui contenute.

118Li altri giron per varie differenze
119le distinzion che dentro da sé hanno
120dispongono a lor fini e lor semenze.

121Questi organi del mondo così vanno,
122come tu vedi omai, di grado in grado,
123che di sù prendono e di sotto fanno.

124Riguarda bene omai sì com’ io vado
125per questo loco al vero che disiri,
126sì che poi sappi sol tener lo guado.

127Lo moto e la virtù d’i santi giri,
128come dal fabbro l’arte del martello,
129da’ beati motor convien che spiri;

130e ’l ciel cui tanti lumi fanno bello,
131de la mente profonda che lui volve
132prende l’image e fassene suggello.

133E come l’alma dentro a vostra polve
134per differenti membra e conformate
135a diverse potenze si risolve,

136così l’intelligenza sua bontate
137multiplicata per le stelle spiega,
138girando sé sovra sua unitate.

139Virtù diversa fa diversa lega
140col prezïoso corpo ch’ella avviva,
141nel qual, sì come vita in voi, si lega.

142Per la natura lieta onde deriva,
143la virtù mista per lo corpo luce
144come letizia per pupilla viva.

145Da essa vien ciò che da luce a luce
146par differente, non da denso e raro;
147essa è formal principio che produce,

148conforme a sua bontà, lo turbo e ’l chiaro».

O you who are within your little bark,
eager to listen, following behind
my ship that, singing, crosses to deep seas,

turn back to see your shores again: do not
attempt to sail the seas I sail; you may,
by losing sight of me, be left astray.

The waves I take were never sailed before;
Minerva breathes, Apollo pilots me,
and the nine Muses show to me the Bears.

You other few who turned your minds in time
unto the bread of angels, which provides
men here with life—but hungering for more—

you may indeed commit your vessel to
the deep salt—sea, keeping your course within
my wake, ahead of where waves smooth again.

Those men of glory, those who crossed to Colchis,
when they saw Jason turn into a ploughman
were less amazed than you will be amazed.

The thirst that is innate and everlasting—
thirst for the godly realm—bore us away
as swiftly as the heavens that you see.

Beatrice gazed upward. I watched her.
But in a span perhaps no longer than
an arrow takes to strike, to fly, to leave

the bow, I reached a place where I could see
that something wonderful drew me; and she
from whom my need could not be hidden, turned

to me (her gladness matched her loveliness):
“Direct your mind to God in gratefulness,”
she said; “He has brought us to the first star.”

It seemed to me that we were covered by
a brilliant, solid, dense, and stainless cloud,
much like a diamond that the sun has struck.

Into itself, the everlasting pearl
received us, just as water will accept
a ray of light and yet remain intact.

If I was body (and on earth we can
not see how things material can share
one space—the case, when body enters body),

then should our longing be still more inflamed
to see that Essence in which we discern
how God and human nature were made one.

What we hold here by faith, shall there be seen,
not demonstrated but directly known,
even as the first truth that man believes.

I answered: “With the most devotion I
can summon, I thank Him who has brought me
far from the mortal world. But now tell me:

what are the dark marks on this planet’s body
that there below, on earth, have made men tell
the tale of Cain?” She smiled somewhat, and then

she said: “If the opinion mortals hold
falls into error when the senses’ key
cannot unlock the truth, you should not be

struck by the arrows of amazement once
you recognize that reason, even when
supported by the senses, has short wings.

But tell me what you think of it yourself.”
And I: “What seems to us diverse up here
is caused—I think—by matter dense and rare.”

And she: “You certainly will see that your
belief is deeply sunk in error if
you listen carefully as I rebut it.

The eighth sphere offers many lights to you,
and you can tell that they, in quality
and size, are stars with different visages.

If rarity and density alone
caused this, then all the stars would share one power
distributed in lesser, greater, or

in equal force. But different powers must
be fruits of different formal principles;
were you correct, one only would be left,

the rest, destroyed. And more, were rarity
the cause of the dim spots you question, then
in part this planet would lack matter through

and through, or else as, in a body, lean
and fat can alternate, so would this planet
alternate the pages in its volume.

To validate the first case, in the sun’s
eclipse, the light would have to show through, just
as when it crosses matter that is slender.

This is not so; therefore we must consider
the latter case—if I annul that too,
then your opinion surely is confuted.

If rarity does not run through and through
the moon, then there must be a limit where
thickness does not allow the light to pass;

from there, the rays of sun would be thrown back,
just as, from glass that hides lead at its back,
a ray of colored light returns, reflected.

Now you will say that where a ray has been
reflected from a section farther back,
that ray will show itself to be more dim.

Yet an experiment, were you to try it,
could free you from your cavil—and the source
of your arts’ course springs from experiment.

Taking three mirrors, place a pair of them
at equal distance from you; set the third
midway between those two, but farther back.

Then, turning toward them, at your back have placed
a light that kindles those three mirrors and
returns to you, reflected by them all.

Although the image in the farthest glass
will be of lesser size, there you will see
that it must match the brightness of the rest.

Now, just as the sub—matter of the snow,
beneath the blows of the warm rays, is stripped
of both its former color and its cold,

so is your mind left bare of error; I
would offer now to you a new form, light
so living that it trembles in your sight.

Within the heaven of the godly peace
revolves a body in whose power lies
the being of all things that it enfolds.

The sphere that follows, where so much is shown,
to varied essences bestows that being,
to stars distinct and yet contained in it.

The other spheres, in ways diverse, direct
the diverse powers they possess, so that
these forces can bear fruit, attain their aims.

So do these organs of the universe
proceed, as you now see, from stage to stage,
receiving from above and acting downward.

Now do attend to how I pass by way
of reason to the truth you want that—then—
you may learn how to cross the ford alone.

The force and motion of the holy spheres
must be inspired by the blessed movers,
just as the smith imparts the hammer’s art;

and so, from the deep Mind that makes it wheel,
the sphere that many lights adorn receives
that stamp of which it then becomes the seal.

And as the soul within your dust is shared
by different organs, each most suited to
a different potency, so does that Mind

unfold and multiply its bounty through
the varied heavens, though that Intellect
itself revolves upon its unity.

With the dear body that it quickens and
with which, as life in you, it too is bound,
each different power forms a different compound.

Because of the glad nature of its source,
the power mingled with a sphere shines forth,
as gladness, through the living pupil, shines.

From this, and not from matter rare or dense,
derive the differences from light to light;
this is the forming principle, producing,

conforming with its worth, the dark, the bright.”

O YE, who in some pretty little boat,
Eager to listen, have been following
Behind my ship, that singing sails along,

Turn back to look again upon your shores;
Do not put out to sea, lest peradventure,
In losing me, you might yourselves be lost.

The sea I sail has never yet been passed;
Minerva breathes, and pilots me Apollo,
And Muses nine point out to me the Bears.

Ye other few who have the neck uplifted
Betimes to th’ bread of Angels upon which
One liveth here and grows not sated by it,

Well may you launch upon the deep salt—sea
Your vessel, keeping still my wake before you
Upon the water that grows smooth again.

Those glorious ones who unto Colchos passed
Were not so wonder—struck as you shall be,
When Jason they beheld a ploughman made!

The con—created and perpetual thirst
For the realm deiform did bear us on,
As swift almost as ye the heavens behold.

Upward gazed Beatrice, and I at her;
And in such space perchance as strikes a bolt
And flies, and from the notch unlocks itself,

Arrived I saw me where a wondrous thing
Drew to itself my sight; and therefore she
From whom no care of mine could be concealed,

Towards me turning, blithe as beautiful,
Said unto me:”Fix gratefully thy mind
On God, who unto the first star has brought us.”

It seemed to me a cloud encompassed us,
Luminous, dense, consolidate and bright
As adamant on which the sun is striking.

Into itself did the eternal pearl
Receive us, even as water doth receive
A ray of light, remaining still unbroken.

If I was body, (and we here conceive not
How one dimension tolerates another,
Which needs must be if body enter body,)

More the desire should be enkindled in us
That essence to behold, wherein is seen
How God and our own nature were united.

There will be seen what we receive by faith,
Not demonstrated, but self—evident
In guise of the first truth that man believes.

I made reply:”Madonna, as devoutly
As most I can do I give thanks to Him
Who has removed me from the mortal world.

But tell me what the dusky spots may be
Upon this body, which below on earth
Make people tell that fabulous tale of Cain ?”

Somewhat she smiled; and then,”If the opinion
Of mortals be erroneous,”she said,
“Where’er the key of sense doth not unlock,

Certes, the shafts of wonder should not pierce thee
Now, forasmuch as, following the senses,
Thou seest that the reason has short wings.

But tell me what thou think’st of it thyself.”
And I:”What seems to us up here diverse,
Is caused, I think, by bodies rare and dense.”

And she:”Right truly shalt thou see immersed
In error thy belief, if well thou hearest
The argument that I shall make against it.

Lights many the eighth sphere displays to you
Which in their quality and quantity
May noted be of aspects different.

If this were caused by rare and dense alone,
One only virtue would there be in all
Or more or less diffused, or equally.

Virtues diverse must be perforce the fruits
Of formal principles; and these, save one,
Of course would by thy reasoning be destroyed.

Besides, if rarity were of this dimness
The cause thou askest, either through and through
This planet thus attenuate were of matter,

Or else, as in a body is apportioned
The fat and lean, so in like manner this
Would in its volume interchange the leaves.

Were it the former, in the sun’s eclipse
It would be manifest by the shining through,
Of light, as through aught tenuous interfused.

This is not so; hence we must scan the other,
And if it chance the other I demolish,
Then falsified will thy opinion be.

But if this rarity go not through and through,
There needs must be a limit, beyond which
Its contrary prevents the further passing,

And thence the foreign radiance is reflected,
Even as a colour cometh back from glass,
The which behind itself concealeth lead.

Now thou wilt say the sunbeam shows itself
More dimly there than in the other parts,
By being there reflected farther back.

From this reply experiment will free thee
If e’er thou try it, which is wont to be
The fountain to the rivers of your arts.

Three mirrors shalt thou take, and two remove
Alike from thee, the other more remote
Between the former two shall meet thine eyes.

Turned towards these, cause that behind thy back
Be placed a light, illuming the three mirrors
And coming back to thee by all reflected.

Though in its quantity be not so ample
The image most remote, there shalt thou see
How it perforce is equally resplendent.

Now, as beneath the touches of warm rays
Naked the subject of the snow remains
Both of its former colour and its cold,

Thee thus remaining in thy intellect,
Will I inform with such a living light,
That it shall tremble in its aspect to thee.

Within the heaven of the divine repose
Revolves a body, in whose virtue lies
The being of whatever it contains.

The following heaven, that has so many eyes,
Divides this being by essences diverse,
Distinguished from it, and by it contained.

The other spheres, by various differences,
All the distinctions which they have within them
Dispose unto their ends and their effects.

Thus do these organs of the world proceed,
As thou perceivest now, from grade to grade
Since from above they take, and act beneath

Observe me well, how through this place I come
Unto the truth thou wishest, that hereafter
Thou mayst alone know how to keep the ford

The power and motion of the holy spheres,
As from the artisan the hammer’s craft,
Forth from the blessed motors must proceed.

The heaven, which lights so manifold make fair,
From the Intelligence profound, which turns it.
The image takes, and makes of it a seal.

And even as the soul within your dust
Through members different and accommodated
To faculties diverse expands itself,

So likewise this Intelligence diffuses
Its virtue multiplied among the stars.
Itself revolving on its unity.

Virtue diverse doth a diverse alloyage
Make with the precious body that it quickens,
In which, as life in you, it is combined.

From the glad nature whence it is derived,
The mingled virtue through the body shines,
Even as gladness through the living pupil.

From this proceeds whate’er from light to light
Appeareth different, not from dense and rare:
This is the formal principle that produces,

According to its goodness, dark and bright.”

O you who are within your little bark,
eager to listen, following behind
my ship that, singing, crosses to deep seas,

turn back to see your shores again: do not
attempt to sail the seas I sail; you may,
by losing sight of me, be left astray.

The waves I take were never sailed before;
Minerva breathes, Apollo pilots me,
and the nine Muses show to me the Bears.

You other few who turned your minds in time
unto the bread of angels, which provides
men here with life—but hungering for more—

you may indeed commit your vessel to
the deep salt—sea, keeping your course within
my wake, ahead of where waves smooth again.

Those men of glory, those who crossed to Colchis,
when they saw Jason turn into a ploughman
were less amazed than you will be amazed.

The thirst that is innate and everlasting—
thirst for the godly realm—bore us away
as swiftly as the heavens that you see.

Beatrice gazed upward. I watched her.
But in a span perhaps no longer than
an arrow takes to strike, to fly, to leave

the bow, I reached a place where I could see
that something wonderful drew me; and she
from whom my need could not be hidden, turned

to me (her gladness matched her loveliness):
“Direct your mind to God in gratefulness,”
she said; “He has brought us to the first star.”

It seemed to me that we were covered by
a brilliant, solid, dense, and stainless cloud,
much like a diamond that the sun has struck.

Into itself, the everlasting pearl
received us, just as water will accept
a ray of light and yet remain intact.

If I was body (and on earth we can
not see how things material can share
one space—the case, when body enters body),

then should our longing be still more inflamed
to see that Essence in which we discern
how God and human nature were made one.

What we hold here by faith, shall there be seen,
not demonstrated but directly known,
even as the first truth that man believes.

I answered: “With the most devotion I
can summon, I thank Him who has brought me
far from the mortal world. But now tell me:

what are the dark marks on this planet’s body
that there below, on earth, have made men tell
the tale of Cain?” She smiled somewhat, and then

she said: “If the opinion mortals hold
falls into error when the senses’ key
cannot unlock the truth, you should not be

struck by the arrows of amazement once
you recognize that reason, even when
supported by the senses, has short wings.

But tell me what you think of it yourself.”
And I: “What seems to us diverse up here
is caused—I think—by matter dense and rare.”

And she: “You certainly will see that your
belief is deeply sunk in error if
you listen carefully as I rebut it.

The eighth sphere offers many lights to you,
and you can tell that they, in quality
and size, are stars with different visages.

If rarity and density alone
caused this, then all the stars would share one power
distributed in lesser, greater, or

in equal force. But different powers must
be fruits of different formal principles;
were you correct, one only would be left,

the rest, destroyed. And more, were rarity
the cause of the dim spots you question, then
in part this planet would lack matter through

and through, or else as, in a body, lean
and fat can alternate, so would this planet
alternate the pages in its volume.

To validate the first case, in the sun’s
eclipse, the light would have to show through, just
as when it crosses matter that is slender.

This is not so; therefore we must consider
the latter case—if I annul that too,
then your opinion surely is confuted.

If rarity does not run through and through
the moon, then there must be a limit where
thickness does not allow the light to pass;

from there, the rays of sun would be thrown back,
just as, from glass that hides lead at its back,
a ray of colored light returns, reflected.

Now you will say that where a ray has been
reflected from a section farther back,
that ray will show itself to be more dim.

Yet an experiment, were you to try it,
could free you from your cavil—and the source
of your arts’ course springs from experiment.

Taking three mirrors, place a pair of them
at equal distance from you; set the third
midway between those two, but farther back.

Then, turning toward them, at your back have placed
a light that kindles those three mirrors and
returns to you, reflected by them all.

Although the image in the farthest glass
will be of lesser size, there you will see
that it must match the brightness of the rest.

Now, just as the sub—matter of the snow,
beneath the blows of the warm rays, is stripped
of both its former color and its cold,

so is your mind left bare of error; I
would offer now to you a new form, light
so living that it trembles in your sight.

Within the heaven of the godly peace
revolves a body in whose power lies
the being of all things that it enfolds.

The sphere that follows, where so much is shown,
to varied essences bestows that being,
to stars distinct and yet contained in it.

The other spheres, in ways diverse, direct
the diverse powers they possess, so that
these forces can bear fruit, attain their aims.

So do these organs of the universe
proceed, as you now see, from stage to stage,
receiving from above and acting downward.

Now do attend to how I pass by way
of reason to the truth you want that—then—
you may learn how to cross the ford alone.

The force and motion of the holy spheres
must be inspired by the blessed movers,
just as the smith imparts the hammer’s art;

and so, from the deep Mind that makes it wheel,
the sphere that many lights adorn receives
that stamp of which it then becomes the seal.

And as the soul within your dust is shared
by different organs, each most suited to
a different potency, so does that Mind

unfold and multiply its bounty through
the varied heavens, though that Intellect
itself revolves upon its unity.

With the dear body that it quickens and
with which, as life in you, it too is bound,
each different power forms a different compound.

Because of the glad nature of its source,
the power mingled with a sphere shines forth,
as gladness, through the living pupil, shines.

From this, and not from matter rare or dense,
derive the differences from light to light;
this is the forming principle, producing,

conforming with its worth, the dark, the bright.”

O YE, who in some pretty little boat,
Eager to listen, have been following
Behind my ship, that singing sails along,

Turn back to look again upon your shores;
Do not put out to sea, lest peradventure,
In losing me, you might yourselves be lost.

The sea I sail has never yet been passed;
Minerva breathes, and pilots me Apollo,
And Muses nine point out to me the Bears.

Ye other few who have the neck uplifted
Betimes to th’ bread of Angels upon which
One liveth here and grows not sated by it,

Well may you launch upon the deep salt—sea
Your vessel, keeping still my wake before you
Upon the water that grows smooth again.

Those glorious ones who unto Colchos passed
Were not so wonder—struck as you shall be,
When Jason they beheld a ploughman made!

The con—created and perpetual thirst
For the realm deiform did bear us on,
As swift almost as ye the heavens behold.

Upward gazed Beatrice, and I at her;
And in such space perchance as strikes a bolt
And flies, and from the notch unlocks itself,

Arrived I saw me where a wondrous thing
Drew to itself my sight; and therefore she
From whom no care of mine could be concealed,

Towards me turning, blithe as beautiful,
Said unto me:”Fix gratefully thy mind
On God, who unto the first star has brought us.”

It seemed to me a cloud encompassed us,
Luminous, dense, consolidate and bright
As adamant on which the sun is striking.

Into itself did the eternal pearl
Receive us, even as water doth receive
A ray of light, remaining still unbroken.

If I was body, (and we here conceive not
How one dimension tolerates another,
Which needs must be if body enter body,)

More the desire should be enkindled in us
That essence to behold, wherein is seen
How God and our own nature were united.

There will be seen what we receive by faith,
Not demonstrated, but self—evident
In guise of the first truth that man believes.

I made reply:”Madonna, as devoutly
As most I can do I give thanks to Him
Who has removed me from the mortal world.

But tell me what the dusky spots may be
Upon this body, which below on earth
Make people tell that fabulous tale of Cain ?”

Somewhat she smiled; and then,”If the opinion
Of mortals be erroneous,”she said,
“Where’er the key of sense doth not unlock,

Certes, the shafts of wonder should not pierce thee
Now, forasmuch as, following the senses,
Thou seest that the reason has short wings.

But tell me what thou think’st of it thyself.”
And I:”What seems to us up here diverse,
Is caused, I think, by bodies rare and dense.”

And she:”Right truly shalt thou see immersed
In error thy belief, if well thou hearest
The argument that I shall make against it.

Lights many the eighth sphere displays to you
Which in their quality and quantity
May noted be of aspects different.

If this were caused by rare and dense alone,
One only virtue would there be in all
Or more or less diffused, or equally.

Virtues diverse must be perforce the fruits
Of formal principles; and these, save one,
Of course would by thy reasoning be destroyed.

Besides, if rarity were of this dimness
The cause thou askest, either through and through
This planet thus attenuate were of matter,

Or else, as in a body is apportioned
The fat and lean, so in like manner this
Would in its volume interchange the leaves.

Were it the former, in the sun’s eclipse
It would be manifest by the shining through,
Of light, as through aught tenuous interfused.

This is not so; hence we must scan the other,
And if it chance the other I demolish,
Then falsified will thy opinion be.

But if this rarity go not through and through,
There needs must be a limit, beyond which
Its contrary prevents the further passing,

And thence the foreign radiance is reflected,
Even as a colour cometh back from glass,
The which behind itself concealeth lead.

Now thou wilt say the sunbeam shows itself
More dimly there than in the other parts,
By being there reflected farther back.

From this reply experiment will free thee
If e’er thou try it, which is wont to be
The fountain to the rivers of your arts.

Three mirrors shalt thou take, and two remove
Alike from thee, the other more remote
Between the former two shall meet thine eyes.

Turned towards these, cause that behind thy back
Be placed a light, illuming the three mirrors
And coming back to thee by all reflected.

Though in its quantity be not so ample
The image most remote, there shalt thou see
How it perforce is equally resplendent.

Now, as beneath the touches of warm rays
Naked the subject of the snow remains
Both of its former colour and its cold,

Thee thus remaining in thy intellect,
Will I inform with such a living light,
That it shall tremble in its aspect to thee.

Within the heaven of the divine repose
Revolves a body, in whose virtue lies
The being of whatever it contains.

The following heaven, that has so many eyes,
Divides this being by essences diverse,
Distinguished from it, and by it contained.

The other spheres, by various differences,
All the distinctions which they have within them
Dispose unto their ends and their effects.

Thus do these organs of the world proceed,
As thou perceivest now, from grade to grade
Since from above they take, and act beneath

Observe me well, how through this place I come
Unto the truth thou wishest, that hereafter
Thou mayst alone know how to keep the ford

The power and motion of the holy spheres,
As from the artisan the hammer’s craft,
Forth from the blessed motors must proceed.

The heaven, which lights so manifold make fair,
From the Intelligence profound, which turns it.
The image takes, and makes of it a seal.

And even as the soul within your dust
Through members different and accommodated
To faculties diverse expands itself,

So likewise this Intelligence diffuses
Its virtue multiplied among the stars.
Itself revolving on its unity.

Virtue diverse doth a diverse alloyage
Make with the precious body that it quickens,
In which, as life in you, it is combined.

From the glad nature whence it is derived,
The mingled virtue through the body shines,
Even as gladness through the living pupil.

From this proceeds whate’er from light to light
Appeareth different, not from dense and rare:
This is the formal principle that produces,

According to its goodness, dark and bright.”