David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 7: Mercury — The Mystery of Redemption” and “Canto 8: Venus — Charles Martel”

“Canto 7: Mercury — The Mystery of Redemption”

  • How are Canto 7 in the Inferno, Canto 7 in Purgatory, and Canto 7 in Paradisesimilar and different?

The 7th cantos in the three canticles all focus on the greater workings of history:

Inferno: Fortune

Fortune is a minister of God. She sees that money goes from person to person, family to family, country to country. She controls the Wheel of Fortune. At times, a person may be at the top of the Wheel of Fortune and very prosperous, but as the Wheel turns, that person’s prosperity decreases. The thing to do is to be prepared for the turning of the Wheel of Fortune.

Purgatory: Negligent Princes

The Negligent Princes did not focus on what they should have been focusing on. A Ruler needs to do two things: 1) Be right with God, and 2) Rule the country well. Most of these Rulers were not right with God, but at least one ruler focused too much on serving God and not enough on ruling his country.

Paradise: Divine Providence

In Canto 8, we discover that Divine Providence gives each of us gifts. We need to think about the best way to use our gifts. A person with the gift to be an excellent priest ought not to be a king, and vice versa. However, in Canto 7, Beatrice talks about Divine Providence in the form of Jesus becoming human so that he could die for our sins.

In addition, the 7th cantos in the three canticles all follow cantos that focus on politics.

  • Which kinds of art do Justinian and the other souls engage in?

Justinian and the other saved souls sing and dance. They sing a Mass hymn that mixes both Latin and Hebrew. Hebrew is the language of Jerusalem, and Latin is the language of Rome. These are extremely important cities in religious and secular history.

We read:

Osanna sanctus Deus Sabaoth,

Superillustrans claritate tua

Felices ignes horum malahoth!

In this wise, to his melody returning,

This substance, upon which a double light

Doubles itself, was seen by me to sing,

And to their dance this and the others moved,

(Longfellow 7.1-7)

Note that these souls were active in life, and they are also active in Paradise. Dance is one of the arts found in Paradise.

The foreign words that Justinian and the other souls sing is a combination of Latin and Hebrew, and they mean, “Hosanna, holy God of hosts, who illumine with your brightness the blessed fires of these realms.”

  • Note that Dante follows a certain pattern in the Paradise.

Dante follows a certain pattern in Paradise:

  • When Dante arrives at a new planet or star, he describes the scene.
  • Dante then talks to one of the souls on the planet or star.
  • Dante then talks with Beatrice about any questions that he has, and Beatrice answers his questions.
  • Often, Beatrice is a lecturer in Paradise, but she is still someone whom Dante loves.

Dante is puzzled by something that Justinian said, but he is too intimidated to ask Beatrice about it. However, the souls in Paradise have special knowledge, and Beatrice knows what Dante is thinking. In addition, souls in Paradise are helpful, and so Beatrice answers Dante’s question.

When Dante is too intimidated by Beatrice to ask her questions, we read:

Not long did Beatrice let me suffer

before announcing with a glowing smile

that would rejoice a man condemned to burn:

(Musa 7.16-18)

Beatrice tells Dante that she will answer his question.

  • According to Beatrice, why did Christ’s crucifixion need to be avenged by Titus Vespasian?

Dante has heard about two Roman emperors:

1) Tiberius. This Roman was emperor when Christ was put to death. In other words, Tiberius conspired with the Jews in Jerusalem to crucify Christ.

2) Titus Vespasian. Before he became Roman emperor, Titus conquered Jerusalem, thus punishing it for crucifying Christ.

Both of these are acts of vengeance. Adam originally sinned, and Christ’s crucifixion paid for that sin. However, then Vespasian punished Jerusalem for Christ’s crucifixion. If Christ’s crucifixion was just vengeance for Adam’s sin, why did Christ’s crucifixion need to be avenged? Can a just revenge be given for a just vengeance?

Beatrice answers that question. Adam sinned because he refused to be limited in his choices. Instead of eating all fruits except that of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he refused to limit his choices and so he ate from that tree.

To pay for that original sin, Jesus — the son of God — became fully human as well as fully divine. He took on Adam’s fallen nature.

When Jesus was crucified, part of the crucifixion was just. The part that punished Christ’s human nature was just because it paid for Adam’s original and very human sin. Jesus paid the punishment for all human beings. Remember: Jesus died for our sins.

However, the part of the crucifixion that was endured by the fully divine Jesus was unjust. The fully divine Jesus had committed no sin, and so Jesus’ death on the cross was unjust. That is what needed to be avenged, and Vespasian avenged it by sacking Jerusalem and destroying the temple.

  • According to Beatrice, why did God choose to redeem the sins of Humankind with Christ’s death on the Cross?

This leads to a second question: why did God choose to redeem the sins of Humankind with Christ’s death on the Cross?

Beatrice’s answer is that Adam’s original sin could be atoned for in two ways:

1) Humankind could make a full apology.

2) God could show mercy to Humankind by sacrificing His own son.

Humankind could never apologize enough to make up for Adam’s original sin, so Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for atone for the sins of Humankind.

  • According to Beatrice, why are human beings immortal?

According to Beatrice:

  • Everything that God makes, such as angels, is incorruptible.
  • Our soul is given to us directly by God. It is therefore immortal.
  • In addition, God directly made the bodies of our first parents: Adam and Eve.
  • Therefore, we — souls and bodies — will be resurrected.


“Canto 8: Venus — Charles Martel”

  • What does Dante see when he arrives on Venus?

Dante has not been aware that he has been rising to the planet Venus.

Venus, of course, is associated with the ancient goddess of passionate love: Venus/Aphrodite. Here Dante will see souls who loved excessively.

Dante learns that he has arrived on Venus by the beauty of Beatrice. The closer to God they get, the more beautiful Beatrice is.

On Venus, Dante sees lights dancing. This is significant for these reasons:

1) Paradise has joy. We see that in the dancing — and in the music.

2) Paradise has art. We see that in the dancing — and in the music.

  • Write a short character analysis of Charles Martel.

Charles Martel was a French Angevin Prince. He died young at age 24 in a cholera epidemic. He visited Florence in 1294, one year before he died, and he and Dante knew and liked each other.

Charles is concerned about good government. He speaks of Robert, his brother, who will be a bad ruler in Naples unless he stops being so greedy.

  • Dante and Charles Martel discuss an important topic in this section of the Paradise: Why do good parents producebad children?

The question “Why do good parents produce bad children?” is important.

We would like to know how to produce good children all the time, yet we do not know how to do that. After all:

  • Good parents can produce bad children.
  • Bad parents can produce good children.
  • The children can be very different from each other even if they share the same parents.
  • What is an example of good parents who had a bad child?

Probably, many examples exist. Where do mass murderers come from? I don’t believe in necessarily blaming the parents.

  • What is an example of bad parents who had a good child?

One example of a good child who came from bad parents (or at least low-born parents) is Romulus, the founder of Rome. Charles Martel says that “Romulus sprang from so base a sire, / that men imagined him the son of Mars” (8.131-132). Here the trait is nobility. Romulus seemed so noble that people could not believe that his father really was his father; instead, they said that he had to be the son of a god: Mars.

  • What is an example of two children who were very different although they shared the same parents?

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, but they were very different, as is told in Genesis 25:20-28 (King James Version):

20: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan-aram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.

21: And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

22: And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD.

23: And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

24: And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.

25: And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.

26: And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.

27: And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.

28: And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.

  • According to Charles Martel, why do good parents sometimes produce bad offspring?

According to Charles Martel, temperament does not come from parents. Rather, Providence modifies temperament to make people different. (And yes, we do have free will.) Charles Martel talks about the influence of Heavenly Bodies, but we would talk about the influence of DNA.

  • Why are different types of temperament needed?

Different occupations require different temperaments. The necessary roles of society include these:

  • Law-makers
  • Warriors
  • Priests
  • Artisans/Manufacturers

God gives us a certain temperament when we are born. We are born with certain qualities that qualify us for a certain occupation. We may have the qualities of a judge, a warrior, a priest, or an artisan/manufacturer, or many more.

Even though we may be given a certain temperament, we still have free will. We know the difference between right and wrong, and we have the power to make choices.

  • What career advice does Charles Martel give in Canto 8?

Charles Martel advises people to choose a job that is suited to your temperament. Not everyone is cut out to be a landlord, or a sales person, or a teacher. If you try to be what you are not, you will be unhappy. (If I were to try to be the center for the Boston Celtics, despite being well under six feet tall, I would most likely become unhappy because I am trying to get a job I am unqualified for.)

According to Charles Martel, if someone has the temperament of a priest, it would be better if he did not become a King.

One of my students was majoring in engineering at Ohio University because his parents wanted him to, not because he wanted to. His dream career was to open up his exercise fitness gym. He may end up unhappy in his life.

Charles Martel would agree probably with Joseph Campbell’s advice to “Follow your bliss.”

By the way, the Dalai Lama believes that the purpose of human life is to be happy, although this means, I believe, self-actualization.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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