The heaven of Venus is known for its rhetorical complexity (the long geographical periphrases, for instance), and Paradiso 9 opens with an interesting rhetorical move: the opening verses are an apostrophe to “beautiful Clemence” (Par. 9.1). Dante addresses “bella Clemenza”, the wife of his friend Carlo Martello. In the essay “Only Historicize,” I suggest the implications that the apostrophe has for Dante’s view of married love (see too the Introduction to Purgatorio 26 for the theme of married love):
With genial concision Dante includes marital love in the heaven of Venus, apostrophizing the wife of Charles Martel with respect to what Dante had learned from “your Charles” and loading the possessive adjective in “Carlo tuo” with marital affection. (“Only Historicize”, p. 52)
After his conversation with Carlo Martello, Dante meets other souls associated with the heaven of Venus. The first is Cunizza da Romano (1198-1279), sister of the tyrant Ezzelino da Romano (Inferno 12). Cunizza confirms Dante’s condemnation of her brother by calling Ezzelino “una facella / che fece a la contrada un grande assalto” (a firebrand that brought much injury to all the land about [Par. 9.29-30]). Cunizza was also, fascinatingly, the lover of the troubadour Sordello (for whom see Purgatorio 6), with whom as a young woman she eloped. She died old and poor in Florence, where Dante could conceivably have met her.
Cunizza entered the legendary domain before the Commedia, through troubadour vidas and chronicles of the da Romano family. Now Dante updates that legendary character, showing her in Paradise. Not at all embarrassed or ashamed of her scandalous sexual exploits, Cunizza now speaks of her former lasciviousness with great openness and acceptance:
Cunizza fui chiamata, e qui refulgo perché mi vinse il lume d’esta stella; ma lietamente a me medesma indulgo la cagion di mia sorte, e non mi noia; che parria forse forte al vostro vulgo. (Par. 9.32-36)
Cunizza was my name, and I shine here because this planet's radiance conquered me. But in myself I pardon happily the reason for my fate; I do not grieve and vulgar minds may find this hard to see.
It is important to note here that Dante does not fulfill the stereotypical attitude of medieval moral writings on female sexuality, and that one indication of his divergence from the norm is his placement of Cunizza in Heaven, along with the biblical prostitute Rahab. See my essay “Dante and Cavalcanti: Inferno 5 in its Lyric and Autobiographical Context” for some discussion of vision authors on sins of the flesh and the sharp disparity between their treatments and Dante’s psychologizing treatment of lust in Inferno 5. Although I find Dante particularly hard on female sexuality in Purgatorio 26, what he does there does not cancel out the other more progressive treatments of female sexuality that we have noted in the course of this commentary.
Following the pattern of sublimating eros through politics that is typical of the heaven of Venus, Cunizza also speaks of the disastrous conditions of the northern part of Italy from which she hailed. In the geographical periphrasis with which she locates her natal part of Italy, she refers to “la terra prava / italica” (depraved Italy [Par. 9.25-26]).
The next to speak is the troubadour Folquet of Marseilles (Folchetto in Italian), whose poetry was well-known in Italy; indeed, the Sicilian poet Giacomo da Lentini (mentioned in Purgatorio 24) translated a canso of Folquet’s. Unlike the other troubadours present or mentioned in the Commedia thus far — Bertran de Born in Inferno 28 and Sordello in Purgatorio 6 are present, while Giraut de Bornelh and Arnaut Daniel in Purgatorio 26 are mentioned — the historical Folquet’s life story, his biographical trajectory, perfectly exemplifies this heaven’s checking of eros, its sublimation into politics.
The historical Folquet de Marselha gave up his life as a troubadour, entered the church and had a spectacular ecclesiastical career: he became Bishop of Toulouse and prosecuted the Albigensian crusade in Southern France.
The final soul of the heaven of Venus, identified by Folchetto, is the biblical prostitute Rahab; she is the brightest star in this heaven. After speaking of Rahab’s triumph, Folchetto concludes by returning to contemporary corruption, focusing on Florence and the Vatican.
Interleaved through the politics and outrage of this heaven is the rhetoric of eros. Here language expresses a kind of divine copulation, a co-penetration of selves forged with verbs coined from the pronouns lui, mi, and tu:
«Dio vede tutto, e tuo veder s’inluia», diss’io, «beato spirto, sì che nulla voglia di sé a te puot’ esser fuia. Dunque la voce tua, che ’l ciel trastulla sempre col canto di quei fuochi pii che di sei ali facen la coculla, perché non satisface a’ miei disii? Già non attendere’ io tua dimanda, s’io m’intuassi, come tu t’inmii». (Par. 9.73-81)
“God can see all,” I said, “and, blessed spirit, your vision is contained in Him, so that no wish can ever hide itself from you. Your voice has always made the heavens glad as has the singing of the pious fires that make themselves a cowl of their six wings: why then do you not satisfy my longings? I would not have to wait for your request if I could enter you as you do me.”
In my commentary to Dante’s early lyrics, Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poetry of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’ (see the Coordinated Reading), I consider what I call Dante’s “semantics of friendship”, a rhetoric that Dante begins to develop at a very early age as a way of conjuring true intimacy and friendship. Prominent in this rhetoric of friendship is the simple pronoun, which Dante is capable of using to miraculously poignant effect. One example is the youthful sonnet Guido, i’ vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io where the apparently simple string of names and pronouns gives a sense of the unity of the friends, as they sail enchanted and together in Merlin’s boat. In the Commedia we have already encountered the exquisite expression of friendship through pronouns, in the way for instance that Dante-pilgrim speaks to Forese Donati: “qual fosti meco, e qual io teco fui” (Purg. 23.116).
The coinages of Paradiso 9 take this “semantics of friendship” to its highest level, as I write in “Amicus Eius: Dante and the Semantics of Friendshipm,” cited in Coordinated Reading. We have arrived at pronouns that have become verbs, agents not just of intimacy but of super-intimacy, nested inside each other in “rhetorical copulation”: “s’io m’intuassi, come tu t’inmii” (“if I could in-you myself, as you in-me yourself” [Par. 9.81]). These pronouns have become agents of a transfigured and copulated ontology.
Existing side by side but in a completely different register from the super-intimacy of the verbs intuarsi and inmiarsi, Paradiso 9 ends with Folchetto’s despair about the corruption of the Vatican: the popes and cardinals no longer think of the Gospel and Fathers of the Church, but pay attention only to the sophistic niceties of canon law (the “Decretals” of Par. 9.134). The heaven of Venus, which contains physical adulterers like Cunizza who are now saved, ends with condemning what for Dante is the far more grievous metaphorical adultery of the priests.
Toward the end of Paradiso 9, when Folchetto introduces Rahab as the brightest soul in this sphere, he refers to the third heaven as the one in which the cone of shadow cast by earth reaches its zenith:
Da questo cielo, in cui l’ombra s’appunta che ’l vostro mondo face, pria ch’altr’alma del triunfo di Cristo fu assunta.(Par. 9.118-20)
This heaven, where the shadow cast by earth comes to a point, had Rahab as the first soul to be taken up when Christ triumphed.
The doctrine here is that of Alfraganus, a ninth-century Muslim astronomer well known in the West, who held that the shadow of earth, in the form of a cone, reaches its point in the heaven of Venus. The third heaven is thus the last to be shadowed by earth. All the heavens shadowed by earth feature souls who are characterized in terms of some lack: the souls of the heaven of the Moon were neglectful of their vows, the souls of the heaven of Mercury were too devoted to earthly glory, and the souls of the heaven of Venus were too subject to the claims of eros.
All the souls of Paradise are together in the Empyrean, and there is no difference in paradise. Nonetheless, the next heaven, the heaven of the sun, is distinguished from its predecessors by being the first not to fall under the shadow of earth. And, as a consequence, Dante distinguishes it from its predecessors in another way as well: the fourth heaven is the first to feature souls who are characterized positively, in terms of a positive characteristic, which in this case is wisdom.
 The phrase “rhetorical copulation” is from Dante’s Poets, p. 116: “The first and last lines in this passage are hallmarks of a rhetorical copulation that now takes the place of any more direct affectivity: the union between God and Folquet, ‘Dio vede tutto, e tuo veder s’inluia’ (‘God sees all, and your sight in-Hims itself’ [Par. IX, 73]), leads to the union of Folquet and Dante, “s’io m’intuassi, come tu t’inmii” (“if I were to in-you myself, as you in-me yourself” ).” I would now revise this passage slightly to say that the “rhetorical copulation” achieved here is itself no less than “direct affectivity.”