David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 15: Mars — Cacciaguida”

“Canto 15: Mars — Cacciaguida”

  • Why are Cantos 15, 16, and 17 important?
  • In Cantos 15-17, Dante meets his great-great grandfather, who tells him his great mission to accomplish on Earth: to write The Divine Comedy.

Cantos 15-17 are the center of the Paradise, and the center is a position of importance for Dante. Certainly, his mission is important.

  • Which virtue is associated with planet Mars? Which kind of souls can be found on the planet Mars?

We see in The Divine Comedyan alternation between the public and the private.

On the Sun Dante saw public figures. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bonaventure, and many others of the souls he saw are famous Christian theologians and are very well known even today. On the Sun, Dante saw and learned about 24 wise souls.

Here on Mars we go back to the private. Dante will meet one of his own ancestors: a Crusader named Cacciaguida. Cacciaguida is the main soul Dante will interact with on Mars.

Cacciaguida is a good example of the type of souls who are found on Mars. The virtue associated with Mars is courage.

Mars is the Roman name for Ares, the Greek god of war. Similarly, Mars is the Roman god of war. War is certainly a place and time where a person can exhibit courage.

Dante’s interaction with his ancestor Cacciaguida will be personally important to him. Cacciaguida will give Dante a mission to perform once he returns to Earth.

It is interesting to note that Cacciaguida speaks many lines in The Divine Comedy, even more lines than Saint Thomas Aquinas did. Cacciaguida speaks more lines in The Divine Comedythan anyone except Dante the Pilgrim, Virgil, and Beatrice.

  • How is Dante’s meeting with Cacciaguida, his ancestor, similar to the meeting of Aeneas with his father in the Land of the Dead in the Aeneid?

Dante the pilgrim has a long encounter with Cacciaguida. Dante the poet writes,

Thus piteous did Anchises’ shade reach forward,

If any faith our greatest Muse deserve,

When in Elysium he his son perceived.

(Longfellow 15.25-27)

Anchises is the father of Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s Aeneid. In Book 6 of the Aeneid, Aeneas visits his father in the Underworld. Of course, this is very similar to what is happening here. Dante is visiting one of his ancestors in Paradise. Both Aeneas and Dante meet an ancestor in the afterlife. By the way, Elysium is where good souls go in the Land of the Dead, which is the Hades of ancient Greece and Rome.

We continue with the comparison to the Aeneid in how Cacciaguida greets Dante the pilgrim. He greets him with Latin, some of which comes from Book 6 of the Aeneid when Anchises greets Aeneas: “sanguis meus” (15.28) means in Latin, “my blood” or “blood of mine.”

Dante does not yet know that this soul is his ancestor, but he will soon find that out.

The ancient Romans had the concept of pietas, or duty. Duty includes duty to one’s family, one’s gods, and one’s country. Aeneas is known for showing pietasto his father, his gods, and his country. It takes a great effort on Aeneas’ part, including leaving behind a woman he apparently loves, making a visit to the Underworld, and winning a war, but Aeneas succeeds in fulfilling his destiny, taking the surviving courageous Trojan men to Italy and becoming an important ancestor of the Romans.

Dante also has a destiny if he is able to fulfill it: His destiny is to write The Divine Comedy.

Both Aeneas and Dante the Poet make the trip to the Afterlife in order to answer an important question: Why go on? Aeneas is discouraged when he visits the Land of the Dead, but he is rejuvenated when he returns from the Land of the Dead. Dante is in danger of losing his soul when he visits the Afterlife, but he has a mission in life (and knows how to avoid spending eternity in the Inferno) when he returns to Earth.

In this section of The Divine Comedy, we deal with Dante’s vocation as a poet and we deal with his exile.

In Canto 15, Dante picks up his inquiry as to what is the name of the speaker in this way,

“Whence I, who mortal am, feel in myself

This inequality; so give not thanks,

Save in my heart, for this paternal welcome.

Truly do I entreat thee, living topaz!

Set in this precious jewel as a gem,

That thou wilt satisfy me with thy name.”

(Longfellow 15.82-87)

By the way, we see a linkage here with Inferno 15, where Brunetto Latini also gave Dante a paternal welcome. Of course, Brunetto was a Sodomite who had no biological children and who was not Dante’s biological father. Here, Cacciaguida really is Dante’s biological ancestor.

  • How does Cacciaguida introduce himself to Dante?

Cacciaguida tells Dante who he is in this way:

“O leaf of mine, in whom I pleasure took

E’en while awaiting, I was thine own root!”

Such a beginning he in answer made me.

Then said to me: “That one from whom is named

Thy race, and who a hundred years and more

Has circled round the mount on the first cornice,

A son of mine and thy great-grandsire was;

Well it behoves thee that the long fatigue

Thou shouldst for him make shorter with thy works.”

(Longfellow 15.88-96)

Cacciaguida is the father of the father of Dante’s grandfather. That makes him Dante’s great-great grandfather.

Cacciaguida, like other souls in Paradise, is kind. He wishes that Dante would pray for the soul of his great-grandfather, so that he can climb the Mountain of Purgatory quicker.

  • How does Cacciaguida describe the Florence of his time?

Cacciaguida tells the early history of Florence to Dante. Whenever something like this happens, Dante is supposed to learn something from it.

Cacciaguida was proud of Florence, and he talks about the moral virtues that people had in the early days of Florence.

Cacciaguida says,

“Florence, enclosed within her ancient walls

from which she still hears terce and nones ring out,

once lived in peace, a pure and temperate town:

no necklace or tiara did she wear,

no lavish gowns or fancy belts that were

more striking than the women they adorned.

In those days fathers had no cause to fear

a daughter’s birth: the marriageable age

was not too low, the dowry not too high.

Houses too large to live in were not built,

and Sardanapalus had not come

to show to what use bedrooms can be put.”

(Musa 15.97-108)

The terms “terce” and “nones” refer to different times. According to Mark Musa (186), “Terce” means 9 a.m. (the third hour), and “Nones” means 3 p.m. (the ninth hour).

Many things were good back then:

  • The times were peaceful.
  • Women did not wear fancy clothing.
  • Daughters did not marry too young, and dowries were reasonable — not excessively high.
  • Houses were not overly large. (No McMansions.)
  • Effeminate men who indulge in sexual excesses were not present. (King Sardanapalus of Assyria was known for being effeminate and for indulging in sexual excesses.)

Back in the good old days, the citizens of Florence did not indulge in luxuries.

In addition, the women of Florence did not wear makeup. Plus, they did not have to worry about going into exile and they did not have to worry about their husbands travelling to France on business because the husbands stayed in Florence:

“O fortunate women! and each one was certain

Of her own burial-place, and none as yet

For sake of France was in her bed deserted.”

(Longfellow 15.118-120)

Parents in the early days brought up their children with patriotic “tales / about the Trojans, Rome, and Fiesole” (Paradise15.125-126). The Trojans came to Italy, and their descendants founded Rome. The Romans then founded Fiesole.

Cacciaguida adds,

“As great a marvel then would have been held

A Lapo Salterello, a Cianghella,

As Cincinnatus or Cornelia now.”

(Longfellow 15.127-129)

Cacciaguida is saying here that the early citizens of Florence would have been amazed by a Lapo Salterello or a Cianghella. Lapo Salterello and Cianghella are examples of bad people:

Lapo Salterello

 He, a Florentine, was a corrupt judge and a corrupt lawyer.

Cianghella

She, a Florentine, was a woman whose virtue was questionable and whose lifestyle was extravagant.

He is also saying that the citizens of the Florence of Dante’s day would have been amazed by a Cincinnatus or a Cornelia. Cincinnatus and Cornelia are examples of good people:

Cincinnatus

Cincinnatus was a farmer and a politician. The Romans recognized his qualities and during a crisis they asked him to rule them. While he ruled the Romans, he defeated the army of the Aequi. He then returned to being a farmer, after serving as Roman leader (dictator) for 16 days.

Cornelia

Cornelia was the daughter of the elder Scipio Africanus and the mother of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi. Her sons wanted to preserve the Roman republic, and they died in that attempt.

The Florence of Cacciaguida’s day was orderly, both physically and morally. The streets were nicely laid out, and the people were virtuous.

According to Cacciaguida, Florence has changed radically since he died around 1150 C.E. It used to be virtuous, but by Dante’s day, it is not virtuous.

We can see the changes in the physical city of Florence. The center of Florence is laid out the way the Romans designed it, with the streets at right angles to each other. But after Cacciaguida died, Florence began to grow, and no longer were all the streets laid out nicely. Instead, the streets are crooked.

Here Dante is hoping to find out what made Florence so united in Cacciaguida’s day. Then there was no bad factionalism. Dante would love to have no bad factionalism in Florence in his own day.

Once again, where someone comes from is important. Cacciaguida talks about Florence, his city, before he begins to talk about himself.

  • Write a short character analysis of Cacciaguida, Dante’s great-great-grandfather.

But in any case Cacciaguida talks about himself and says

“To such a quiet, such a beautiful

Life of the citizen, to such a safe

Community, and to so sweet an inn,

Did Mary give me, with loud cries invoked,

And in your ancient Baptistery at once

Christian and Cacciaguida I became.”

(Longfellow 15.130-135)

Cacciaguida is an important name. Guidameans guide, and cacciameans chase or hunt.

Cacciaguida is going to be Dante’s guide. Cacciaguida will tell Dante directly of his upcoming exile, and he will tell Dante about what should be his life’s work and how to accomplish it. We can say that Dante is hunting for his life’s purpose or mission; Cacciaguida will tell him what that ought to be.

Cacciaguida was a Crusader in the Second Crusade, and he is a martyr. He went to Paradise immediately following his death because of his martyrdom in the Crusades:

“There the vile Saracen delivered me

from the entanglements of your vain world,

the love of which corrupts so many souls —

from martyrdom I came to this, my peace.”

(Musa 15.145-148)

When Cacciaguida became a Crusader, he followed the Emperor Conrad III to the Holy Land.

By the way, the man who called for the Second Crusade was a Cistercian monk named Bernard of Clairvaux. We will see him later in Paradise.

Once again, we see how smaller things and larger things are related. Dante starts out by talking about Florence and then he talks about empire.

In addition, I think that we have to say that Dante is in favor of the Crusades. Emperor Conrad III of Germany did the right thing when he called for the Second Crusade.

Cacciaguida was martyred, as he says at the end of the canto, and so he appears here on Mars.

By the way, people in the Middle Ages believed that martyrs went directly to Paradise, bypassing the Mountain of Purgatory.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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