Baptism In Troy

In the previous canto Dante poses the question of how it can be just to condemn the perfectly virtuous man born on the banks of the Indus. This hypothetical person is someone whom the message of Christ has not reached, and who is damned by a lack of knowledge that is not his fault and despite his perfect virtue.

The qualities of this man are much like the qualities of Virgilio. However, as discussed in the Introduction to Paradiso 19, Dante uses the heaven of justice to transpose the problematic of the virtuous pagan from the poem’s dominant temporal or chronological axis focused on pagan antiquity (Virgilio did not know Christ because he was born before Christ) to the spatial or geographical axis of the man born on the banks of the Indus (he does not know Christ because he was born too far away from Christ, outside of the reach of Christ’s word).

In the heaven of justice, where Dante puts the legitimacy of exclusion from grace on the table for discussion, the question of how it can be just that some are damned through no fault of their own is articulated in language that, while clearly evoking the character Virgilio, replaces the temporal framing of the issue with a geographical frame, conjuring not a non-believer of antiquity but a contemporary born on the banks of the Indus. This switch of frames gives a heightened relevance to a thematic that might seem far from our own concerns today.

In my view, Dante gives both a direct answer to the challenge expressed in Paradiso 19 and an indirect answer. The direct answer is what the eagle of Justice says to the pilgrim: accept your limits as a human and give up trying to understand that which human intellects are not equipped to fathom. The indirect answer takes the form of the suggestion that at the Judgment Day the Ethiopian may be saved whilst many Christians are damned. The Ethiopian of course is a non-believer on the spatial or geographical axis, and thus belongs to the same category as the man born on the banks of the Indus.

A further indirect answer to the pilgrim’s challenge to God’s injustice comes in Paradiso 20, where Dante returns to the temporal or chronological axis, and offers a spectacular final inclusion to the Commedia‘s roster of saved pagans. Delving deeper into the pagan past than he has ever done before, Dante now features, among the souls of the heaven of justice, a just Trojan named Ripheus.

Before focusing on Ripheus, let us go back to verse 31 of Paradiso 20, where the eagle begins to present the souls that form its eye. These souls are like a hypertext linked to the basic issues of the poem, from poetic self-fashioning to virtuous pagans to the relative domains of Church and State (invoked through the presence of the emperor Constantine): “click” on these names and you will connect to core themes in every part of the poem.

The eagle’s pupil, the brightest soul, is David, the biblical king and author of the Psalms. He is a key figure in the second of the three bas-reliefs of the terrace of pride. David is presented in language that is a precise evocation of Purgatorio 10:

Colui che luce in mezzo per pupilla,
fu il cantor de lo Spirito Santo,
che l'arca traslatò di villa in villa . . .   (Par. 20.37-39)
He who gleams in the center, my eye's pupil—
he was the singer of the Holy Spirit,
who bore the ark from one town to another . . .

The eagle’s eyebrow is formed of five souls. In order of presentation, they are: Trajan, the Roman emperor; the Biblical Hezekiah; the Roman emperor Constantine; William II of Sicily; and Ripheus the Trojan.

Trajan, like David, is presented in language that is a precise evocation of Purgatorio 10, where he is a key figure of the third bas-relief. In the heaven of Justice he is described, as he was in the bas-relief, as “colui che . . . la vedovella consolò del figlio” (the one who . . . comforted the widow for her son [Par. 20.44-45]).  Trajan is the first saved pagan of Dante’s paradise. Unlike Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity occurred on the historical record (in other words, it “really happened”), Trajan’s conversion was a matter of legend and popular belief. The story was that Pope Gregory the Great was so moved by Trajan’s justness that he prayed for him to come back to life. Trajan was duly resurrected, and in that brief moment of Christian experience, he converted, and died a second time as a Christian. Dante alludes to Trajan’s experience of Limbo, the first circle of hell, when he writes:

ora conosce quanto caro costa 
non seguir Cristo, per l’esperienza 
di questa dolce vita e de l’opposta.	   (Par. 20.46-48)
now he has learned the price one pays for not
following Christ, through his experience
of this sweet life and of its opposite.

Later in Paradiso 20, in verses 109-17, the eagle offers as explanation of Trajan’s presence in heaven the entire story of Gregory’s prayers and Trajan’s resurrection, conversion, and second death, filling in the brief vignette of verses 46-48 cited above.

The saved pagans Trajan and Ripheus therefore pose somewhat different cultural and interpretive puzzles, since Trajan’s salvation was a well-established medieval belief by Dante’s time, while Ripheus’s salvation is a totally Dantean invention.

Despite the pilgrim’s amazement at both the first and fifth souls of the eagle’s eyebrow, the salvation of the pagan Trajan is potentially much less shocking to the informed reader of Paradiso 20, because it is buttressed not just by Dante’s own personal inventio but by the pervasive and authoritative legend of Gregory’s intercession. Moreover, Dante had already signaled his endorsement of the legend in Purgatorio 10, where he writes that Trajan’s worth “had urged on Gregory to his great victory”: “mosse Gregorio a la sua gran vittoria” (Purg. 10.75).

The salvation of the Trojan Ripheus is another matter altogether. Who is Ripheus the Trojan? He is a tiny character in Vergil’s Aeneid, named in all human history only three times in Book 2 of the Aeneid, the book that recounts the fall of Troy. He is described by Vergil as a lover of justice, “Rhipeus, iustissimus unus / qui fuit in Teucris” (Ripheus, the most just among the Trojans [Aen. 2.426-27]):

Ripheus is mentioned three times in Aeneid II, as part of a carefully orchestrated crescendo of events: he is seen first with a group of young Trojan warriors around Aeneas, among whom is Coroebus, in love with Cassandra (II.339); then, at Coroebus’ instigation, they don the weapons of some fallen Greeks and sally forth among their enemies (II.394); finally, still in their Greek spoils, they rush to rescue Cassandra and are killed. Only now does Vergil describe Ripheus, in a way intended to heighten the pathos of his premature death: “cadit et Rhipeus, iustissimus unus / qui fuit in Teucris et servantissimus aequi / (dis aliter visum)” (Ripheus too falls, the most just among the Trojans and most observant of the right—the gods willed otherwise [II.426-428]). (Dante’s Poets, p. 254, note 65)

Dante presents Ripheus differently from the other souls in the eagle’s eyebrow, singling him out by using a rhetorical question, as though to legitimate and indeed to choreograph our readerly amazement and surprise:

Chi crederebbe giù nel mondo errante,
che Rifeo Troiano in questo tondo 
fosse la quinta de le luci sante?  	   (Par. 20.67-69)
Who in the erring world below would hold
that he who was the fifth among the lights
that formed this circle was the Trojan Ripheus?

Typically in paradise the pilgrim does not express his own queries, but hears them expressed by the souls he encounters or by Beatrice, and yet here the amazement he experiences is such that the words erupt from his mouth: “Che cose son queste?” (Can such things be? [Par. 20.82]).

Through the medium of the eagle, the question that has formed in the pilgrim’s mind is articulated. It regards in particular the first and fifth soul of the eagle’s eyebrow, Trajan and Ripheus:

La prima vita del ciglio e la quinta
ti fa maravigliar, perché ne vedi
la region de li angeli dipinta.  	    (Par. 20.100-02)
You were amazed to see the angels’ realm
adorned with those who were the first and fifth 
among the living souls that form my eyebrow.

The poet thus links the two saved pagans, and gives his own invention of Ripheus’s conversion greater legitimacy and authority by connecting it to the story of Trajan. The two stories are presented one after the other. The eagle begins by recounting the story of the “first” soul, explaining the salvation of Trajan through the medium of Pope Gregory, and then it proceeds to recount the story of the “fifth” soul, explaining the salvation of Ripheus.

While Trajan’s salvation is offered as an example of faith in Christ’s past suffering, literally in “the feet that have suffered” (because Trajan came back to life centuries after the crucifixion), Ripheus’s salvation exemplifies faith in the feet that have yet to suffer:

D’i corpi suoi non uscir, come credi,
Gentili, ma Cristiani, in ferma fede
quel d’i passuri e quel d’i passi piedi.    (Par. 20.103-05)
When these souls left their bodies, they were not
Gentiles—as you believe—but Christians, one with 
firm faith in the Feet that suffered, one in Feet that were to suffer.

Ripheus did not need to be prayed for and resurrected; rather he experienced an extreme of God’s grace while still alive, in Troy. Grace caused him to love justice; through grace his eyes were opened to future redemption:

di grazia in grazia, Dio li aperse               
l'occhio a la nostra redenzion futura . . . (Par. 20.122-23)
through grace on grace, God granted him
the sight of our redemption in the future . . .

Through God’s grace, baptism was given to Ripheus not through the medium of a priest but directly by the three theological virtues, while he was alive in Troy:

Quelle tre donne li fur per battesmo
che tu vedesti da la destra rota,
dinanzi al battezzar più d’un millesmo.   (Par. 20.127-29)
More than a thousand years before baptizing,
to baptize him there were the same three women
you saw along the chariot’s right-hand side.

These verses, intratextually vertiginous, raise even higher the stakes of Dante’s radical inventio. They take us back mentally to a precise location in the poem: to the allegorical procession of Purgatorio 29. In that procession there is the chariot whose right wheel is referred to in Paradiso 20.128, the chariot on whose right-hand side danced the three theological virtues that performed Ripheus’ baptism in Troy.  The recounting of the allegorical procession of Purgatorio 29 is also the episode in which Virgilio’s presence is recorded for the last time in the Commedia, when the Roman poet shows his “stupor” at the sights unfolding in verses 56-57. As I wrote in Dante’s Poets, Dante crafts Ripheus’s presence in heaven in such a way as to draw our attention to the exclusion of Vergil, the very author from whom he learned of Ripheus’s existence.
Paradiso 20 concludes with an apostrophe to divine predestination, so impenetrable to human understanding:

O predestinazion, quanto remota 
è la radice tua da quelli aspetti 
che la prima cagion non veggion tota!  	(Par. 20.130-32)
How distant, o predestination, is 
your root from those whose vision does not see
the Primal Cause in Its entirety!

Certainly in Paradiso 20 Dante seems to have worked hard to emulate divine impenetrability! He has created a divine tetris puzzle that we can play with ad nauseam and never quite sort out.

On the one hand the salvation of two pagans offers a welcome antidote to the eagle’s rigidity in Paradiso 19, and in cultural terms Ripheus’s salvation in particular has to be viewed as an example of Dante’s atypical willingness to push the envelope. As I discuss in Dante’s Poets, though theologians acknowledged the possibility of the salvation of pagans in abstract terms, there was no great interest in the topic in practical terms:

The total omission of pagans from Paradise would not have been problematic, since, according to Foster, contemporary theologians tended to ignore the doctrine of implicit grace: “Catholic theology by and large did not much concern itself with the ultimate destiny, in God’s sight, of the pagan world whether before or since the coming of Christ …. The concept itself of fides implicita was not lacking … but it was hardly a central preoccupation of theologians, nor, in particular, do its implications for an assessment of the spiritual state of the world outside Christendom seem to have been taken very seriously” (“The Two Dantes,” pp. 171-72).

Therefore, Dante’s passionate interest in the doctrine of implicit grace, dramatized in the story of Ripheus, is very much his own contribution and one that makes for a sense of greater openness and possibility in his imagined universe.

On the other hand, Dante picks as his messenger of hope a character who, necessarily, because of his provenance in the Aeneid, brings with him not just hope but complicated feelings of loss and exclusion. Dante manages the story of Ripheus in such a way as to implicate both the author of the Aeneid, Vergil, and the memory of the character, Virgilio, a virtuous but unsaved pagan whom we last saw viewing the very same theological virtues involved in Ripheus’s baptism. The memory of Virgilio certainly does much to diminish our pleasure at encountering a saved pagan from deepest antiquity now ensconced in heavenly glory.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: Dante's Poets, pp. 254-56; "Dante's Sympathy for the Other, or the Non-Stereotyping Imagination: Sexual and Racialized Others in the Commedia," in Critica del Testo 14.1 (2011): 177-204; "Q: Does Dante Hope for Vergil's Salvation? A: Why Do We Care? For the Very Reason We Should Not Ask the Question", orig. 1990, in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 20: Baptism In Troy.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-20/

About the Commento

1Quando colui che tutto ’l mondo alluma
2de l’emisperio nostro sì discende,
3che ’l giorno d’ogne parte si consuma,

4lo ciel, che sol di lui prima s’accende,
5subitamente si rifà parvente
6per molte luci, in che una risplende;

7e questo atto del ciel mi venne a mente,
8come ’l segno del mondo e de’ suoi duci
9nel benedetto rostro fu tacente;

10però che tutte quelle vive luci,
11vie più lucendo, cominciaron canti
12da mia memoria labili e caduci.

13O dolce amor che di riso t’ammanti,
14quanto parevi ardente in que’ flailli,
15ch’avieno spirto sol di pensier santi!

16Poscia che i cari e lucidi lapilli
17ond’ io vidi ingemmato il sesto lume
18puoser silenzio a li angelici squilli,

19udir mi parve un mormorar di fiume
20che scende chiaro giù di pietra in pietra,
21mostrando l’ubertà del suo cacume.

22E come suono al collo de la cetra
23prende sua forma, e sì com’ al pertugio
24de la sampogna vento che penètra,

25così, rimosso d’aspettare indugio,
26quel mormorar de l’aguglia salissi
27su per lo collo, come fosse bugio.

28Fecesi voce quivi, e quindi uscissi
29per lo suo becco in forma di parole,
30quali aspettava il core ov’ io le scrissi.

31«La parte in me che vede e pate il sole
32ne l’aguglie mortali», incominciommi,
33«or fisamente riguardar si vole,

34perché d’i fuochi ond’ io figura fommi,
35quelli onde l’occhio in testa mi scintilla,
36e’ di tutti lor gradi son li sommi.

37Colui che luce in mezzo per pupilla,
38fu il cantor de lo Spirito Santo,
39che l’arca traslatò di villa in villa:

40ora conosce il merto del suo canto,
41in quanto effetto fu del suo consiglio,
42per lo remunerar ch’è altrettanto.

43Dei cinque che mi fan cerchio per ciglio,
44colui che più al becco mi s’accosta,
45la vedovella consolò del figlio:

46ora conosce quanto caro costa
47non seguir Cristo, per l’esperïenza
48di questa dolce vita e de l’opposta.

49E quel che segue in la circunferenza
50di che ragiono, per l’arco superno,
51morte indugiò per vera penitenza:

52ora conosce che ’l giudicio etterno
53non si trasmuta, quando degno preco
54fa crastino là giù de l’odïerno.

55L’altro che segue, con le leggi e meco,
56sotto buona intenzion che fé mal frutto,
57per cedere al pastor si fece greco:

58ora conosce come il mal dedutto
59dal suo bene operar non li è nocivo,
60avvegna che sia ’l mondo indi distrutto.

61E quel che vedi ne l’arco declivo,
62Guiglielmo fu, cui quella terra plora
63che piagne Carlo e Federigo vivo:

64ora conosce come s’innamora
65lo ciel del giusto rege, e al sembiante
66del suo fulgore il fa vedere ancora.

67Chi crederebbe giù nel mondo errante
68che Rifëo Troiano in questo tondo
69fosse la quinta de le luci sante?

70Ora conosce assai di quel che ’l mondo
71veder non può de la divina grazia,
72ben che sua vista non discerna il fondo».

73Quale allodetta che ’n aere si spazia
74prima cantando, e poi tace contenta
75de l’ultima dolcezza che la sazia,

76tal mi sembiò l’imago de la ’mprenta
77de l’etterno piacere, al cui disio
78ciascuna cosa qual ell’ è diventa.

79E avvegna ch’io fossi al dubbiar mio
80lì quasi vetro a lo color ch’el veste,
81tempo aspettar tacendo non patio,

82ma de la bocca, «Che cose son queste?»,
83mi pinse con la forza del suo peso:
84per ch’io di coruscar vidi gran feste.

85Poi appresso, con l’occhio più acceso,
86lo benedetto segno mi rispuose
87per non tenermi in ammirar sospeso:

88«Io veggio che tu credi queste cose
89perch’ io le dico, ma non vedi come;
90sì che, se son credute, sono ascose.

91Fai come quei che la cosa per nome
92apprende ben, ma la sua quiditate
93veder non può se altri non la prome.

94Regnum celorum vïolenza pate
95da caldo amore e da viva speranza,
96che vince la divina volontate:

97non a guisa che l’omo a l’om sobranza,
98ma vince lei perché vuole esser vinta,
99e, vinta, vince con sua beninanza.

100La prima vita del ciglio e la quinta
101ti fa maravigliar, perché ne vedi
102la regïon de li angeli dipinta.

103D’i corpi suoi non uscir, come credi,
104Gentili, ma Cristiani, in ferma fede
105quel d’i passuri e quel d’i passi piedi.

106Ché l’una de lo ’nferno, u’ non si riede
107già mai a buon voler, tornò a l’ossa;
108e ciò di viva spene fu mercede:

109di viva spene, che mise la possa
110ne’ prieghi fatti a Dio per suscitarla,
111sì che potesse sua voglia esser mossa.

112L’anima glorïosa onde si parla,
113tornata ne la carne, in che fu poco,
114credette in lui che potëa aiutarla;

115e credendo s’accese in tanto foco
116di vero amor, ch’a la morte seconda
117fu degna di venire a questo gioco.

118L’altra, per grazia che da sì profonda
119fontana stilla, che mai creatura
120non pinse l’occhio infino a la prima onda,

121tutto suo amor là giù pose a drittura:
122per che, di grazia in grazia, Dio li aperse
123l’occhio a la nostra redenzion futura;

124ond’ ei credette in quella, e non sofferse
125da indi il puzzo più del paganesmo;
126e riprendiene le genti perverse.

127Quelle tre donne li fur per battesmo
128che tu vedesti da la destra rota,
129dinanzi al battezzar più d’un millesmo.

130O predestinazion, quanto remota
131è la radice tua da quelli aspetti
132che la prima cagion non veggion tota!

133E voi, mortali, tenetevi stretti
134a giudicar: ché noi, che Dio vedemo,
135non conosciamo ancor tutti li eletti;

136ed ènne dolce così fatto scemo,
137perché il ben nostro in questo ben s’affina,
138che quel che vole Iddio, e noi volemo».

139Così da quella imagine divina,
140per farmi chiara la mia corta vista,
141data mi fu soave medicina.

142E come a buon cantor buon citarista
143fa seguitar lo guizzo de la corda,
144in che più di piacer lo canto acquista,

145sì, mentre ch’e’ parlò, sì mi ricorda
146ch’io vidi le due luci benedette,
147pur come batter d’occhi si concorda,

148con le parole mover le fiammette.

When he who graces all the world with light
has sunk so far below our hemisphere
that on all sides the day is spent, the sky,

which had been lit before by him alone,
immediately shows itself again
with many lights reflecting one same source,

and I remembered this celestial course
when, in the blessed beak, the emblem of
the world and of its guardians fell silent;

for then all of those living lights grew more
resplendent, but the songs that they began
were labile—they escape my memory.

O gentle love that wears a smile as mantle,
how ardent was your image in those torches
filled only with the breath of holy thoughts!

After the precious, gleaming jewels with which
the sixth of Heaven’s heavens was engemmed
had ended their angelic song in silence,

I seemed to hear the murmur of a torrent
that, limpid, falls from rock to rock, whose flow
shows the abundance of its mountain source.

Even as sound takes shape at the lute’s neck,
and even as the wind that penetrates
the blow—hole of the bagpipe, so—with no

delay—that murmur of the Eagle rose
straight up, directly through its neck as if
its neck were hollow; and that murmuring

became a voice that issued from its beak,
taking the shape of words desired by
my heart—and that is where they were transcribed.

“Now you must watch—and steadily—that part
of me that can, in mortal eagles, see
and suffer the sun’s force,” it then began

to say to me, “because, of all the flames
from which I shape my form, those six with which
the eye in my head glows hold highest rank.

He who gleams in the center, my eye’s pupil—
he was the singer of the Holy Spirit,
who bore the ark from one town to another;

now he has learned the merit will can earn—
his song had not been spurred by grace alone,
but his own will, in part, had urged him on.

Of those five flames that, arching, form my brow,
he who is nearest to my beak is one
who comforted the widow for her son;

now he has learned the price one pays for not
following Christ, through his experience
of this sweet life and of its opposite.

And he whose place is next on the circumference
of which I speak, along the upward arc,
delayed his death through truthful penitence;

now he has learned that the eternal judgment
remains unchanged, though worthy prayer below
makes what falls due today take place tomorrow.

The next who follows—one whose good intention
bore evil fruit—to give place to the Shepherd,
with both the laws and me, made himself Greek;

now he has learned that, even though the world
be ruined by the evil that derives
from his good act, that evil does not harm him.

He whom you see—along the downward arc—
was William, and the land that mourns his death,
for living Charles and Frederick, now laments;

now he has learned how Heaven loves the just
ruler, and he would show this outwardly
as well, so radiantly visible.

Who in the erring world below would hold
that he who was the fifth among the lights
that formed this circle was the Trojan Ripheus?

Now he has learned much that the world cannot
discern of God’s own grace, although his sight
cannot divine, not reach its deepest site.”

As if it were a lark at large in air,
a lark that sings at first and then falls still,
content with final sweetness that fulfills,

such seemed to me the image of the seal
of that Eternal Pleasure through whose will
each thing becomes the being that it is.

And though the doubt I felt there was as plain
as any colored surface cloaked by glass,
it could not wait to voice itself, but with

the thrust and weight of urgency it forced
“Can such things be?” out from my lips, at which
I saw lights flash—a vast festivity.

And then the blessed sign—its eye grown still
more bright—replied, that I might not be kept
suspended in amazement: “I can see

that, since you speak of them, you do believe
these things but cannot see how they may be;
and thus, though you believe them, they are hidden.

You act as one who apprehends a thing
by name but cannot see its quiddity
unless another set it forth to him.

Regnum celorum suffers violence
from ardent love and living hope, for these
can be the conquerors of Heaven’s Will;

yet not as man defeats another man:
the Will of God is won because It would
be won and, won, wins through benevolence.

You were amazed to see the angels’ realm
adorned with those who were the first and fifth
among the living souls that form my eyebrow.

When these souls left their bodies, they were not
Gentiles—as you believe—but Christians, one
with firm faith in the Feet that suffered, one

in Feet that were to suffer. One, from Hell,
where there is no returning to right will,
returned to his own bones, as the reward

bestowed upon a living hope, the hope
that gave force to the prayers offered God
to resurrect him and convert his will.

Returning briefly to the flesh, that soul
in glory—he of whom I speak—believed
in Him whose power could help him and, believing,

was kindled to such fire of true love
that, when he died a second death, he was
worthy to join in this festivity.

The other, through the grace that surges from
a well so deep that no created one
has ever thrust his eye to its first source,

below, set all his love on righteousness,
so that, through grace on grace, God granted him
the sight of our redemption in the future;

thus he, believing that, no longer suffered
the stench of paganism and rebuked
those who persisted in that perverse way.

More than a thousand years before baptizing,
to baptize him there were the same three women
you saw along the chariot’s right—hand side.

How distant, o predestination, is
your root from those whose vision does not see
the Primal Cause in Its entirety!

And, mortals, do take care—judge prudently:
for we, though we see God, do not yet know
all those whom He has chosen; but within

the incompleteness of our knowledge is
a sweetness, for our good is then refined
in this good, since what God wills, we too will.”

So, from the image God Himself had drawn,
what I received was gentle medicine;
and I saw my shortsightedness plainly.

And as a lutanist accompanies—
expert—with trembling strings, the expert singer,
by which the song acquires sweeter savor,

so, while the Eagle spoke—I can remember—
I saw the pair of blessed lights together,
like eyes that wink in concord, move their flames

in ways that were at one with what he said.

WHEN he who all the world illuminates
Out of our hemisphere so far descends
That on all sides the daylight is consumed,

The heaven, that erst by him alone was kindled,
Doth suddenly reveal itself again
By many lights, wherein is one resplendent.

And came into my mind this act of heaven,
When the ensign of the world and of its leaders
Had silent in the blessed beak become;

Because those living luminaries all,
By far more luminous, did songs begin
Lapsing and falling from my memory.

O gentle Love, that with a smile dost cloak thee,
How ardent in those sparks didst thou appear,
That had the breath alone of holy thoughts!

After the precious and pellucid crystals,
With which begemmed the sixth light I beheld,
Silence imposed on the angelic bells,

I seemed to hear the murmuring of a river
That clear descendeth down from rock to rock,
Showing the affluence of its mountain—top.

And as the sound upon the cithern’s neck
Taketh its form, and as upon the vent
Of rustic pipe the wind that enters it,

Even thus, relieved from the delay of waiting,
That murmuring of the eagle mounted up
Along its neck, as if it had been hollow.

There it became a voice, and issued thence
From out its beak, in such a form of words
As the heart waited for wherein I wrote them.

“The part in me which sees and bears the sun
In mortal eagles,” it began to me,
“Now fixedly must needs be looked upon;

For of the fires of which I make my figure,
Those whence the eye doth sparkle in my head
Of all their orders the supremest are.

He who is shining in the midst as pupil
Was once the singer of the Holy Spirit,
Who bore the ark from city unto city;

Now knoweth he the merit of his song,
In so far as effect of his own counsel,
By the reward which is commensurate.

Of five, that make a circle for my brow,
He that approacheth nearest to my beak
Did the poor widow for her son console;

Now knoweth he how dearly it doth cost
Not following Christ, by the experience
Of this sweet life and of its opposite.

He who comes next in the circumference
Of which I speak, upon its highest arc,
Did death postpone by penitence sincere;

Now knoweth he that the eternal judgment
Suffers no change, albeit worthy prayer
Maketh below to—morrow of to—day.

The next who follows, with the laws and me,
Under the good intent that bore bad fruit
Became a Greek by ceding to the pastor;

Now knoweth he how all the ill deduced
From his good action is not harmful to him,
Although the world thereby may be destroyed.

And he, whom in the downward arc thou seest,
Guglielmo was, whom the same land deplores
That weepeth Charles and Frederick yet alive;

Now knoweth he how heaven enamoured is
With a just king; and in the outward show
Of his effulgence he reveals it still.

Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e’er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of the holy lights

Now knoweth he enough of what the world
Has not the power to see of grace divine,
Although his sight may not discern the bottom.”

Like as a lark that in the air expatiates,
First singing and then silent with content
Of the last sweetness that doth satisfy her,

Such seemed to me the image of the imprint
Of the eternal pleasure, by whose will
Doth everything become the thing it is.

And notwithstanding to my doubt I was
As glass is to the colour that invests it,
To wait the time in silence it endured not,

But forth from out my mouth, “What things are
Extorted with the force of its own weight;
Whereat I saw great joy of coruscation.

Thereafterward with eye still more enkindled
The blessed standard made to me reply,
To keep me not in wonderment suspended:

“I see that thou believest in these things
Because I say them, but thou seest not how;
So that, although believed in, they are hidden.

Thou doest as he doth who a thing by name
Well apprehendeth, but its quiddity
Cannot perceive, unless another show it.

_Regnum coelorum_ suffereth violence
From fervent love, and from that living hope
That overcometh the Divine volition;

Not in the guise that man o’ercometh man,
But conquers it because it will be conquered,
And conquered conquers by benignity.

The first life of the eyebrow and the fifth
Cause thee astonishment, because with them
Thou seest the region of the angels painted.

They passed not from their bodies, as thou thinkest,
Gentiles. but Christians in the steadfast faith
Of feet that were to suffer and had suffered.

For one from Hell, where no one e’er turns back
Unto good will, returned unto his bones,
And that of living hope was the reward,emdash

Of living hope, that placed its efficacy
In prayers to God made to resuscitate him,
So that ’twere possible to move his will.

The glorious soul concerning which I speak,
Returning to the flesh, where brief its stay,
Believed in Him who had the power to aid it;

And, in believing, kindled to such fire
Of genuine love, that at the second death
Worthy it was to come unto this joy.

The other one, through grace, that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,

Set all his love below on righteousness;
Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,

Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
From that day forth the stench of paganism,
And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.

Those Maidens three, whom at the right—hand wheel
Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
More than a thousand years before baptizing.

O thou predestination, how remote
Thy root is from the aspect of all those
Who the First Cause do not behold entire!

And you, O mortals! hold yourselves restrained
In judging ; for ourselves, who look on God,
We do not know as yet all the elect;

And sweet to us is such a deprivation,
Because our good in this good is made perfect,
That whatsoe’er God wills, we also will.”

After this manner by that shape divine,
To make clear in me my short—sightedness,
Was given to me a pleasant medicine;

And as good singer a good lutanist
Accompanies with vibrations of the chords,
Whereby more pleasantness the song acquires,

So, while it spake, do I remember me
That I beheld both of those blessed lights,
Even as the winking of the eyes concords,

Moving unto the words their little flames.

When he who graces all the world with light
has sunk so far below our hemisphere
that on all sides the day is spent, the sky,

which had been lit before by him alone,
immediately shows itself again
with many lights reflecting one same source,

and I remembered this celestial course
when, in the blessed beak, the emblem of
the world and of its guardians fell silent;

for then all of those living lights grew more
resplendent, but the songs that they began
were labile—they escape my memory.

O gentle love that wears a smile as mantle,
how ardent was your image in those torches
filled only with the breath of holy thoughts!

After the precious, gleaming jewels with which
the sixth of Heaven’s heavens was engemmed
had ended their angelic song in silence,

I seemed to hear the murmur of a torrent
that, limpid, falls from rock to rock, whose flow
shows the abundance of its mountain source.

Even as sound takes shape at the lute’s neck,
and even as the wind that penetrates
the blow—hole of the bagpipe, so—with no

delay—that murmur of the Eagle rose
straight up, directly through its neck as if
its neck were hollow; and that murmuring

became a voice that issued from its beak,
taking the shape of words desired by
my heart—and that is where they were transcribed.

“Now you must watch—and steadily—that part
of me that can, in mortal eagles, see
and suffer the sun’s force,” it then began

to say to me, “because, of all the flames
from which I shape my form, those six with which
the eye in my head glows hold highest rank.

He who gleams in the center, my eye’s pupil—
he was the singer of the Holy Spirit,
who bore the ark from one town to another;

now he has learned the merit will can earn—
his song had not been spurred by grace alone,
but his own will, in part, had urged him on.

Of those five flames that, arching, form my brow,
he who is nearest to my beak is one
who comforted the widow for her son;

now he has learned the price one pays for not
following Christ, through his experience
of this sweet life and of its opposite.

And he whose place is next on the circumference
of which I speak, along the upward arc,
delayed his death through truthful penitence;

now he has learned that the eternal judgment
remains unchanged, though worthy prayer below
makes what falls due today take place tomorrow.

The next who follows—one whose good intention
bore evil fruit—to give place to the Shepherd,
with both the laws and me, made himself Greek;

now he has learned that, even though the world
be ruined by the evil that derives
from his good act, that evil does not harm him.

He whom you see—along the downward arc—
was William, and the land that mourns his death,
for living Charles and Frederick, now laments;

now he has learned how Heaven loves the just
ruler, and he would show this outwardly
as well, so radiantly visible.

Who in the erring world below would hold
that he who was the fifth among the lights
that formed this circle was the Trojan Ripheus?

Now he has learned much that the world cannot
discern of God’s own grace, although his sight
cannot divine, not reach its deepest site.”

As if it were a lark at large in air,
a lark that sings at first and then falls still,
content with final sweetness that fulfills,

such seemed to me the image of the seal
of that Eternal Pleasure through whose will
each thing becomes the being that it is.

And though the doubt I felt there was as plain
as any colored surface cloaked by glass,
it could not wait to voice itself, but with

the thrust and weight of urgency it forced
“Can such things be?” out from my lips, at which
I saw lights flash—a vast festivity.

And then the blessed sign—its eye grown still
more bright—replied, that I might not be kept
suspended in amazement: “I can see

that, since you speak of them, you do believe
these things but cannot see how they may be;
and thus, though you believe them, they are hidden.

You act as one who apprehends a thing
by name but cannot see its quiddity
unless another set it forth to him.

Regnum celorum suffers violence
from ardent love and living hope, for these
can be the conquerors of Heaven’s Will;

yet not as man defeats another man:
the Will of God is won because It would
be won and, won, wins through benevolence.

You were amazed to see the angels’ realm
adorned with those who were the first and fifth
among the living souls that form my eyebrow.

When these souls left their bodies, they were not
Gentiles—as you believe—but Christians, one
with firm faith in the Feet that suffered, one

in Feet that were to suffer. One, from Hell,
where there is no returning to right will,
returned to his own bones, as the reward

bestowed upon a living hope, the hope
that gave force to the prayers offered God
to resurrect him and convert his will.

Returning briefly to the flesh, that soul
in glory—he of whom I speak—believed
in Him whose power could help him and, believing,

was kindled to such fire of true love
that, when he died a second death, he was
worthy to join in this festivity.

The other, through the grace that surges from
a well so deep that no created one
has ever thrust his eye to its first source,

below, set all his love on righteousness,
so that, through grace on grace, God granted him
the sight of our redemption in the future;

thus he, believing that, no longer suffered
the stench of paganism and rebuked
those who persisted in that perverse way.

More than a thousand years before baptizing,
to baptize him there were the same three women
you saw along the chariot’s right—hand side.

How distant, o predestination, is
your root from those whose vision does not see
the Primal Cause in Its entirety!

And, mortals, do take care—judge prudently:
for we, though we see God, do not yet know
all those whom He has chosen; but within

the incompleteness of our knowledge is
a sweetness, for our good is then refined
in this good, since what God wills, we too will.”

So, from the image God Himself had drawn,
what I received was gentle medicine;
and I saw my shortsightedness plainly.

And as a lutanist accompanies—
expert—with trembling strings, the expert singer,
by which the song acquires sweeter savor,

so, while the Eagle spoke—I can remember—
I saw the pair of blessed lights together,
like eyes that wink in concord, move their flames

in ways that were at one with what he said.

WHEN he who all the world illuminates
Out of our hemisphere so far descends
That on all sides the daylight is consumed,

The heaven, that erst by him alone was kindled,
Doth suddenly reveal itself again
By many lights, wherein is one resplendent.

And came into my mind this act of heaven,
When the ensign of the world and of its leaders
Had silent in the blessed beak become;

Because those living luminaries all,
By far more luminous, did songs begin
Lapsing and falling from my memory.

O gentle Love, that with a smile dost cloak thee,
How ardent in those sparks didst thou appear,
That had the breath alone of holy thoughts!

After the precious and pellucid crystals,
With which begemmed the sixth light I beheld,
Silence imposed on the angelic bells,

I seemed to hear the murmuring of a river
That clear descendeth down from rock to rock,
Showing the affluence of its mountain—top.

And as the sound upon the cithern’s neck
Taketh its form, and as upon the vent
Of rustic pipe the wind that enters it,

Even thus, relieved from the delay of waiting,
That murmuring of the eagle mounted up
Along its neck, as if it had been hollow.

There it became a voice, and issued thence
From out its beak, in such a form of words
As the heart waited for wherein I wrote them.

“The part in me which sees and bears the sun
In mortal eagles,” it began to me,
“Now fixedly must needs be looked upon;

For of the fires of which I make my figure,
Those whence the eye doth sparkle in my head
Of all their orders the supremest are.

He who is shining in the midst as pupil
Was once the singer of the Holy Spirit,
Who bore the ark from city unto city;

Now knoweth he the merit of his song,
In so far as effect of his own counsel,
By the reward which is commensurate.

Of five, that make a circle for my brow,
He that approacheth nearest to my beak
Did the poor widow for her son console;

Now knoweth he how dearly it doth cost
Not following Christ, by the experience
Of this sweet life and of its opposite.

He who comes next in the circumference
Of which I speak, upon its highest arc,
Did death postpone by penitence sincere;

Now knoweth he that the eternal judgment
Suffers no change, albeit worthy prayer
Maketh below to—morrow of to—day.

The next who follows, with the laws and me,
Under the good intent that bore bad fruit
Became a Greek by ceding to the pastor;

Now knoweth he how all the ill deduced
From his good action is not harmful to him,
Although the world thereby may be destroyed.

And he, whom in the downward arc thou seest,
Guglielmo was, whom the same land deplores
That weepeth Charles and Frederick yet alive;

Now knoweth he how heaven enamoured is
With a just king; and in the outward show
Of his effulgence he reveals it still.

Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e’er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of the holy lights

Now knoweth he enough of what the world
Has not the power to see of grace divine,
Although his sight may not discern the bottom.”

Like as a lark that in the air expatiates,
First singing and then silent with content
Of the last sweetness that doth satisfy her,

Such seemed to me the image of the imprint
Of the eternal pleasure, by whose will
Doth everything become the thing it is.

And notwithstanding to my doubt I was
As glass is to the colour that invests it,
To wait the time in silence it endured not,

But forth from out my mouth, “What things are
Extorted with the force of its own weight;
Whereat I saw great joy of coruscation.

Thereafterward with eye still more enkindled
The blessed standard made to me reply,
To keep me not in wonderment suspended:

“I see that thou believest in these things
Because I say them, but thou seest not how;
So that, although believed in, they are hidden.

Thou doest as he doth who a thing by name
Well apprehendeth, but its quiddity
Cannot perceive, unless another show it.

_Regnum coelorum_ suffereth violence
From fervent love, and from that living hope
That overcometh the Divine volition;

Not in the guise that man o’ercometh man,
But conquers it because it will be conquered,
And conquered conquers by benignity.

The first life of the eyebrow and the fifth
Cause thee astonishment, because with them
Thou seest the region of the angels painted.

They passed not from their bodies, as thou thinkest,
Gentiles. but Christians in the steadfast faith
Of feet that were to suffer and had suffered.

For one from Hell, where no one e’er turns back
Unto good will, returned unto his bones,
And that of living hope was the reward,emdash

Of living hope, that placed its efficacy
In prayers to God made to resuscitate him,
So that ’twere possible to move his will.

The glorious soul concerning which I speak,
Returning to the flesh, where brief its stay,
Believed in Him who had the power to aid it;

And, in believing, kindled to such fire
Of genuine love, that at the second death
Worthy it was to come unto this joy.

The other one, through grace, that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,

Set all his love below on righteousness;
Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,

Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
From that day forth the stench of paganism,
And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.

Those Maidens three, whom at the right—hand wheel
Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
More than a thousand years before baptizing.

O thou predestination, how remote
Thy root is from the aspect of all those
Who the First Cause do not behold entire!

And you, O mortals! hold yourselves restrained
In judging ; for ourselves, who look on God,
We do not know as yet all the elect;

And sweet to us is such a deprivation,
Because our good in this good is made perfect,
That whatsoe’er God wills, we also will.”

After this manner by that shape divine,
To make clear in me my short—sightedness,
Was given to me a pleasant medicine;

And as good singer a good lutanist
Accompanies with vibrations of the chords,
Whereby more pleasantness the song acquires,

So, while it spake, do I remember me
That I beheld both of those blessed lights,
Even as the winking of the eyes concords,

Moving unto the words their little flames.