David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 2: Moon — Dark Spots”

“Canto 2: Moon — Dark Spots”

  • Why does Dante encourage many readers not to read further?

Dante warns many of his readers not to follow him further:

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.

(Longfellow 2.1-6)

It may seem as if the hard work has been done already; after all, we have traveled into the depths of the Inferno and climbed up the Seven-Storey Mountain of Purgatory. However, Dante says that the hardest work is still to be done. The hardest part is the intellectual part. Many of the ideas that Dante will be writing about are difficult to understand. If you are not ready, you can go astray.

  • Which kind of reader should read further, according to Dante?

Dante writes:

Those few of you who from your youth have raised

your eager mouths in search of angels’ bread

on which man feeds here, always hungering.

You may, indeed, allow your boat to sail

the high seas in the furrow of my wake

ahead of parted waters that flow back.

Those heroes who once crossed the deep to Colchis,

and saw their Jason put behind a plow,

were not amazed as much as you will be.

(Musa 2.10-18)

What is “angels’ bread”? It is wisdom; it is knowledge of God. A reader of the Paradiseshould have long sought angels’ bread.

Some readers are prepared to follow Dante into these uncharted waters. Those are the readers who have been searching for truth for years. They will learn in the Paradisethings more amazing than the followers of Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) ever did. Of course, the followers of Jason saw some pretty amazing things. For example, one of his tasks when he arrived in Colchis (which borders the Black Sea) was to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen. He then planted the teeth of serpents; from these seeds he harvested fully armed warriors. Jason also saw the Harpies (who were half-bird, half-women), the Sirens (whose call lured sailors to their island, where they would be shipwrecked), and the Symplegades (huge rocks that crashed together, crushing any ship in between them — perhaps an early account of icebergs). In other words, Dante is going to take his readers on quite a journey in Paradise.

We should note the references to the sea in the early parts of the Paradise. Another person who made a sea voyage was Ulysses, whom we saw in the Inferno. If you are the wrong kind of reader, if you are someone like Ulysses, you should not read the Paradise, for you will go astray. Readers of the Paradiseneed to undertake the journey for the right reasons, not for the reasons that Ulysses undertook his final journey.

This is quite a journey, and Dante now is getting a lot of help. Already in his invocation in Canto 1, he asked for help from the nine Muses and from the god Apollo. Here he is receiving more help as “Minerva fills my sails” (Musa 2.8).

Minerva is the goddess of wisdom. Her Greek name is Athena.

  • Why is the Paradisethe most difficult part of The Divine Comedy?

The Paradiseis perhaps the most difficult part of The Divine Comedybecause of these reasons:

1) The Paradiseis going to be about ideas, many of them difficult to understand.

2) The Paradiseis going to try to talk about what is ineffable.

3) Paradise itself is outside of space and time.

  • If you feel like doing research, what is the Ptolemaic view of the universe?

The Divine Comedy, of course, is set in 1300, when the Ptolemaic view of the universe was still accepted. The astronomer Ptolemy lived in ancient times, and he believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the Sun, planets, and stars all revolved around the Earth. That is the astronomical view that Dante was familiar with, and that he accepted as true. (Dante uses the words “star” and “planet” interchangeably.)

We, of course, believe that the Sun is at the center of our solar system and that the Earth revolves around the Sun. This is view was popularized by Nicolaus Copernicus, who lived from 1473-1543.

Dante was well educated, but of course the science of his age was not nearly as advanced as the science of our age. Some of his ideas about the universe will be mistaken.

  • Which places will Dante visit in the Paradise?

Dante will visit the seven planets known to Ptolemy (counting the Sun as a planet). As a purified spirit, he will rise into the air and visit the various planets. This is a way for Dante to write about what is beyond space and time.

These are the places that Dante will visit:

Earth (his starting point)

  1. Moon (associated with faith)
  2. Mercury (associated with hope)
  3. Venus (associated with love)
  4. Sun (associated with wisdom)
  5. Mars (associated with courage)
  6. Jupiter (associated with justice)
  7. Saturn (associated with contemplation)

Gemini, aka Fixed Stars

Primum Mobile (the outermost moving sphere; the Empyrean does not move)

Mystic Empyrean (the dwelling place of God)

The seven planets are numbered; note that the Sun is a planet in the Ptolemaic view of the universe. In addition, Dante uses the words “star” and “planet” interchangeable. Thus, he refers to the Moon as a “star” (Musa 2.30).

The fixed stars are the constellations and other stars. The planets move around the sky, but the stars of The Big Dipper and other constellations are always fixed in position relative to each other.

The Primum Mobile gives the planets and fixed stars their motion.

The Empyrean is the dwelling place of God; it is beyond space and time.

Just as Dante visited the various circles of the Inferno and the various stories of the seven-story mountain, he will visit the various planets as well as the fixed stars, the Primum Mobile, and the Empyrean. In each place, he will see souls with whom he will speak. Dante the Pilgrim is still learning stuff.

Note that the planets are only a kind of temporary dwelling place for the saved souls. They are really in the Empyrean, but they are willing to speak to Dante. Just like the saved souls in Purgatory, the saved souls in Paradise are very willing to help Dante.

Many of the planets will have souls that correspond to the traditional quality that is associated with a particular planet. We associate Venus with love, and we associate Mars with war/courage. The souls we see on those planets will be associated with those particular qualities.

  • Why does Dante visit the various planets?

On the various planets, Dante will talk to souls, and he will learn from those souls. This is exactly what he did in the Inferno and on the Mountain of Purgatory.

In the Inferno, Dante learned basically what not to do. He learned what he needed to avoid doing. The examples in the Inferno were mainly negative. For example, do not avoid taking responsibility for your actions the way that Francesca da Rimini did. For example, do not commit suicide the way that Pier delle Vigne did. For example, do not use misuse your genius the way that Ulysses did.

In Purgatory, Dante learns from both positive and negative examples. For example, in Prepurgatory he talks with many Late Repentants. From them he learns to repent quickly and to not put off repentance. The Late Repentants did something right — they repented. They also did something wrong — they put off repenting. One major theme of the Purgatoryis to not waste time.

In Paradise, we will see many positive examples of people who have done things right. However, early in the Paradise, on the planets that are closest to the Earth, we see some people who have done things wrong. Paradise is not reserved for perfect people; if it were, it would be empty. After all, everyone has sinned.

In Paradise, Dante’s conversations will sometimes be more difficult to understand than they were in the Inferno and the Purgatory. Why? The souls whom Dante speaks to now assume that he has learned some things by traveling through the Inferno and through Purgatory. They believe that he is capable of understanding difficult subject matter.

Dante is still going to be talking about religion, about politics, and about poetry, but often he will be examining these subjects from a more encompassing view. For example, in the Infernohe learned about politics in Florence. In the Purgatoryhe learned about politics in Italy. Now, in the Paradisehe will learn about politics in the empire. The Paradiseshows the big picture.

In the Paradise, Dante is going to be looking at some big topics. For example, he will be looking at salvation. We will see some people in Paradise whom we would not expect to see here.

  • What do you need to remember to read the Paradisewell?

We need to remember what we learned in the Inferno and in the Purgatory. Often, we will be making comparisons among all three canticles.

  • The Moon has some markings that are visible from Earth. According to Beatrice, what causes those markings?

Beatrice explains that the various physical bodies of the universe, including the planets, are under the influence of angels. Apparently, the Moon is under the influence of many different angels, thus accounting for its various markings.

This explanation does not speak to modern readers. We, of course, would say that the Moon is made up of various kinds of rock and has various geographical features, and those cause the markings we see on the Moon. We know, for example, that the Moon has mountains and those mountains cast shadows.

However, Beatrice does make an important point. The first three lines of the Paradiseare these:

The glory of the One Who moves all things

penetrates all the universe, reflecting

in one part more and in another less.

(Musa 1.1-3)

This is true of the Moon and accounts for its dark spots.

We can learn from what Beatrice says. God is intelligent, and His infinite intelligence is reflected in our finite intelligence. God is infinitely good, and His goodness is reflected in our finite goodness.

Each of us can reflect God’s glory differently. A morally good person would reflect God’s goodness well; a morally bad person would reflect God’s goodness badly. Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected God’s goodness well; Adolf Hitler reflected God’s goodness badly.

So what Dante says here may not be scientifically true, but if you are religious, for you it may be spiritually true.

The Moon is associated with faith. By having faith in God, you can reflect God’s goodness. The conversations that Dante has with saved souls are about having faith in God and about religious vows.

Saint Paul defines faith in Hebrews 11:1 (King James Version):

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Beatrice also says this:

“Different virtues mingle differently

with each rich stellar body that they quicken,

even as the soul within you blends with you.”

(Musa 2.139-141)

Here we see that the planets will each have a traditional quality that is associated with it. We associate Venus with love, and we associate Mars with war/courage. The souls we see on those planets will be associated with those particular qualities.

In addition, each of the heavenly spheres has a different order of angel associated with it. This also accounts for the light and the dark spots on the Moon.

Each order of angel is associated with a heavenly sphere:

  1. Primum Mobile

The order of Angels is Seraphim.

  1. Fixed Stars

The order of Angels is Cherubim.

  1. Saturn

The order of Angels is Thrones.

The trait associated with this sphere is Contemplation.

  1. Jupiter

The order of Angels is Dominions.

The trait associated with this sphere is Justice.

  1. Mars

The order of Angels is Virtues.

The trait associated with this sphere is Courage.

  1. Sun

The order of Angels is Powers.

The trait associated with this sphere is Wisdom.

  1. Venus

The order of Angels is Principalities.

The trait associated with this sphere is Love.

  1. Mercury

The order of Angels is Archangels.

The trait associated with this sphere is Hope.

  1. Moon

The order of Angels is Angels.

The trait associated with this sphere is Faith.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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