David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 20: Jupiter — Two Pagans in Paradise (Ripheus and Trajan)”

“Canto 20: Jupiter — Two Pagans in Paradise (Ripheus and Trajan)”

  • Briefly describe the six famous souls who championed justice on Earth.

As seen in profile, the Eagle’s eye is composed of six famous souls (two Christians, two Jews, and two pagans) who championed justice on Earth. These are the six righteous souls, each of whom now knows something in Paradise:

King David

King David is the pupil of the eye of the Eagle. King David composed the Psalms, according to tradition. He also danced before the ark of the covenant. This ark — a sacred chest — contained two tablets: On the two tablets were written the Ten Commandments. Dante writes that King David now knows “the value of his psalms” (Musa 20.40).

By the way, one meaning of the word “ark” is “the sacred chest representing to the Hebrews the presence of God among them,” according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary:


This is a definition of “Ark of the Covenant”:

“The wooden chest which contained the tablets of the laws of the ancient Israelites. Carried by the Israelites on their wanderings in the wilderness, it was later placed by Solomon in the Temple at Jerusalem.”

Source: <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ark_of_the_covenant>.

By the way, the Latin word arcameans “chest.”

The Roman Emperor Trajan

The next five spirits form the eyebrow. We heard about the Emperor Trajan on the first level of the Mountain of Purgatory. He was not proud, and he was just. Instead of going to war right away, he first helped a widow whose son had been killed. This scene is depicted on Trajan’s Column in Rome. For a while, the Emperor Trajan lived in Limbo, and he now knows “how dear / it costs a man to fail to follow Christ” (Musa 20.47-48).

King Hezekiah

King Hezekiah of Judah learned that he was going to die, but he prayed to God, and God allowed him to live for 15 more years. This story is told in 2 Kings 20:1-6 (King James Version):

1: In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

2: Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying,

3: I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.

4: And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying,

5: Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.

6: And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.

The Eagle says about Hezekiah:

“And now he knows that God’s eternal laws

are not changed when a worthy prayer from earth

delays today’s events until tomorrow.”

(Musa 20.52-54)


The Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire east to Constantinople in 330 CE. This left the Popes in charge of Rome. Dante believed that the Donation of Constantine was disastrous because it made the Popes greedy, although Constantine himself had good motives when he made his donation. The Donation of Constantine turned out to be a forgery, although Dante was not alive when the forgery was discovered. The Donation of Constantine is a document giving the Popes authority in the West, including Rome, Italy, Greece, Judea, and Africa, while Constantine would hold power in the West, in Byzantium.

The Eagle says about Constantine:

“and now he knows that all the evil sprung

from his good action does not harm his soul,

though, thereby, all the world has been destroyed.”

(Musa 20.58-60)

Constantine’s Donation may have had very bad consequences, but his motive was good when he made the Donation, and so he is in Paradise. From this we learn that our good motives will get us into Paradise, and that the bad consequences of actions that we do with a good motive will not keep us out of Paradise.

King William II, the Good, of Naples and Sicily

Here we have a son who is better than his father, King William I, the Bad. King William II was good to religious institutions and to his people, who mourned his death in 1189. In Paradise “now he knows how much is loved in Heaven / a righteous king” (Musa 20.64-65).


Ripheus is pre-Christian. He is mentioned very briefly in Book 2 of Virgil’s Aeneid, which recounts the fall of Troy. Ripheus fought with Aeneas against the conquering Achaeans, and he died defending Troy. The most important lines concerning Ripheus for our purposes in the Aeneidare the final two below:

In a moment we’re overwhelmed by weight of numbers:

first Coroebus falls, by the armed goddess’s altar, at the hands

of Peneleus: and Ripheus, who was the most just of all the Trojans,

and keenest for what was right (the gods’ vision was otherwise):

Translator: A. S. “Tony” Kline

Source: http://tkline.pgcc.net/PITBR/Latin/VirgilAeneidII.htm

Of course, we are surprised that a pre-Christian such as Ripheus would be here in Paradise. Dante’s original audience would also be surprised. The Eagle says,

“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?”

(Longfellow 20.67-69)

Ripheus also knows more in Paradise than he knew on Earth:

“And now he knows much more about God’s grace

than anyone on earth and sees more deeply,

even though his eye cannot pierce God’s depths.”

(Musa 20.70-72)

  • Are these six people the six people you would expect to find in this sphere of justice?

King David

Chances are, the only soul out of these six whom you would expect to see here is King David. I doubt that anyone would expect to see Ripheus here. For one thing, very few people have ever heard of him.

Interestingly, King David is presented here as a poet. In the Middle Ages, when Dante was writing, people believed that King David had written all of the psalms in the Book of Psalms. Nowadays, we don’t believe that:

“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;            ”

(Longfellow 20.37-39)

Of course, we remember that David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant was one of the exempla of humility on the first ledge of the Mountain of Purgatory.

The Emperor Trajan

In addition to Kind David, the Emperor Trajan, who is one of the just here, also was one of the exempla of humility that we saw on the first ledge of the Mountain of Purgatory. See Purgatory, Canto 10.

The Roman Emperor Trajan lived after the time of Christ. He died in the year 117 CE, but as far as we know, he was not a Christian. However, he did not prosecute Christians. Apparently, in real life he did not care for Christians, but he was a good enough man that he did not want to prosecute them.


Constantine is an interesting choice here because Dante believed that the Donation of Constantine caused a lot of trouble because it made the Popes greedy.

The Eagle says,

“The next light went to Greece bearing the laws

and me to let the Shepherd take his place —

 his good intentions bore the worst of fruits;

and now he knows that all the evil sprung

from his good action does not harm his soul,

though, thereby, all the world has been destroyed.”

(Musa 20.55-60)

The word “me” in Paradise20.56 refers to the Eagle, the symbol of Roman Empire. It is interesting that the Eagle is the symbol of justice here. Why is that? It is because of the great respect that Dante had for Roman law.

Constantine moved the center of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople. Dante also believed that Constantine made the Donation of Constantine, which Dante believed had bad consequences.

Of course, on Earth we can’t know for sure the consequences of our decisions. I may decide to work out, so I go to the gymnasium. Taking care of your health is certainly a good thing, so this seems like a wise decision to make. However, on the way back home from the gym, I am hit by a car and badly injured. This is a bad thing.

How are we to be judged? We are judged by our motives. If we have good motives when we make a decision, then we are good people even if our decision has bad consequences. If I had lived long ago, I might have given food and clothing to a starving artist in Austria; my motive in doing that is good, so I am a good person even if that starving artist in Austria whom I keep alive turns out to Adolf Hitler, who caused the Holocaust.


Ripheus is such a minor character in the Aeneidthat it is unlikely that many people would know who he is, much less expect to see him in Paradise. For one thing, he lived centuries before the time of Christ, and he was not a Jew.

  • Who was Ripheus of Troy?

Ripheus of Troy is here among the just, and his presence is the most mysterious of all the souls here. The Eagle says,

“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?”

(Longfellow 20.67-69)

Dante, of course, knew the Aeneidvery well indeed, and he knew who Ripheus of Troy was.

Ripheus is “a man uniquely just among the Trojans, / the soul of equity” in a few brief lines in the Aeneid(translation by Robert Fitzgerald):

[…] and Ripheus fell,

A man uniquely just among the Trojans,

The soul of equity; but the gods would have it


(Fitzgerald Aeneid2.560-563)

We see the mystery of salvation here. Ripheus, a very minor character in the Aeneid, is in Paradise, but Virgil, who wrote the Aeneid, is in Limbo.

  • Can a pagan go to Paradise? Yes. How do the pagans Trajan and Ripheus end up in Paradise?

Dante is astonished that two pagans — Trajan and Ripheus — are in Paradise.

Like we may want to do, Dante asks, “How can this be?” (Musa 20.82).

The Eagle is very willing to explain — the souls in Paradise are happy to help:

Regnum celerumsuffers violence

gladly from fervent love, from vibrant hope

 — only these powers can defeat God’s will:

not in the way one man conquers another,

for That will wills its own defeat, and so

defeated it defeats through its own mercy.”

(Musa 20.94-99)

The Kingdom of Heaven (Regnum celerum) wishes to be conquered by human love, and that has happened in these cases. If we were to go by the so-called “rules,” Trajan and Ripheus would not be in Paradise, but their human love has conquered the Kingdom of Heaven, just as the Kingdom of Heaven has wished, and so they have a place in Paradise.

The Eagle explains that the Roman Emperor Trajan and Ripheus were actually Christians, not pagans:

“They did not leave their bodies, as you think,

as pagans, but as Christians with firm faith

in feet that suffered and in feet that would.”

(Musa 20.103-105)

Trajan believed in the “feet that suffered” (Musa 20.105). By his time, Christ had already had his feet pierced on the cross.

Ripheus believed in the “feet that would” (Musa 20.105) suffer. In his time, Christ had not yet had his feet pierced on the cross.

Roman Emperor Trajan

According to a medieval legend, Pope Gregory the Great (died 604 CE) was so impressed by the story of Trajan and the woman whose son had been killed that he prayed so fervently for Trajan that the emperor was taken from Limbo and brought back to life. While alive for the second time, Trajan accepted Christ, and he then died as a Christian.

The Eagle says,

“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, —

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.”

(Longfellow 20.106-117)


Ripheus, over a thousand years before Christ, so believed in and loved justice that he received God’s grace.

The Eagle says,

“The other soul, by means of grace that wells

up from a spring so deep that no man’s eye

has ever plumbed the bottom of its source,

devoted all his love to righteousness,

and God, with grace on grace, opened his eyes

to our redemption and he saw the light,

and he believed in this; from that time on

he could not bear the stench of pagan creed,

and warned all its perverse practitioners.

He was baptized more than a thousand years

before baptism was — and those three ladies

you saw at the right wheel were his baptism.”

(Musa 20.118-129)

The “three ladies” (Musa 20.129) were Faith, Hope, and Charity/Love: the theological virtues. Ripheus believed in Faith, Hope, and Charity/Love so much that his belief was his baptism. Of course, Ripheus’ culture did not know about baptism.

Why should we “be slow to judge” (Musa 20.133)?

One thing that we can learn from the presence of Ripheus and Trajan in Paradise is that we ought to be “slow to judge” (Musa 20.133) on Earth.

The Eagle says,

“You men who live on earth, be slow to judge,

for even we who see God face to face

still do not know the list of His elect,”

(Musa 20.133-135)

Things such as predestination are mysteries. We human beings are unable to understand such things.

The Eagle says,

“O thou predestination, how remote

Thy root is from the aspect of all those

Who the First Cause do not behold entire!”

(Longfellow 20.130-132)


Grace: A gift from God.

Predestination: Determined in advance. Whether we are saved or not is determined in advance, and God knows whether we are saved or not. One explanation for this that does not take away free will is that God exists outside of time and space, and so God knows our every action: past, present, and future. God sees us using our free will to either do the right thing or do the wrong thing.

We see a number of souls in Paradise, but of course we do not see all of the souls in Paradise. As in the Infernoand Purgatory, the souls who appear to Dante are the souls who have something important to teach him.

  • Does Dante ignore the hard questions in his Divine Comedy?

No. Very definitely, Dante does not ignore the hard questions. If he did ignore the hard questions, he would not be writing about predestination.

The concept of predestination arises from Romans 8:29. Romans is actually Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Here are two different translations:

For God knew his own before ever they were, and also ordained that they should be shaped to the likeness of his Son. (Romans 8:29 — New English Bible)

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29 — King James Version)

Of course, this is a hard question because it raises the problem of determinism and justice. If God already knows — even before we are born — who is predestined to be among the Elect and go to Paradise, then does that mean that what we do in life does not matter? Do we lack free will? Is it determined that we act in such a way that we will go to Paradise or we will go to the Inferno? And if so, is this fair?

Why does Dante bring up predestination? What can we learn from what Dante says here?

One thing we can learn is that we have limitations. We are unable to explain the mystery of predestination. We are unable to tell who will wind up in the Inferno and who will wind up in Paradise.

Of course, that means that we can’t tell exactly what is needed for people to get into Paradise. None of us can make up a list of 10 things we have to do in order to get a Get Out of Hell Free card. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know lots of things we ought to do and lots of things we ought not to do if we want to make it to Paradise. But we would be arrogant if we were to tell God that we did such-and-such, and therefore God has to let us into Paradise.

One person who did make a to-do list of things to do in order to get into Paradise is Guido da Montefeltro. His list included Repent and Give Up Sin, but of course he failed miserably at doing these things. Even though Guido made his list and checked off all the items, God knew that Guido was trying to scam Him, and therefore Guido ended up in the Inferno.

Of course, Paradise does have good surprises: 

Who knew that a pagan from the Trojan War would end up in Paradise?

Who knew that someone’s earnest prayer would help save a pagan who was already dead?

And since we can’t figure out such things as Salvation and Predestination, perhaps other excellent surprises are in store for us.

These days, we believe in a merciful and omnibenevolent, all-loving God. We have a hard time understanding eternal punishment. Interestingly, some Christian mystics, including Julian of Norwich, and some Christian theologians, including Origen, believe in apocatastasis. They believe that all will be well for everybody in the end. In other words, everybody will make it to Paradise in the end. The word apocatastasismeans an upset verdict — someone may have been sentenced to eternal damnation, but if that verdict is upset, then that person will make it to Paradise.

If Hitler eventually makes it to Paradise, it would be a triumph for Unconditional Love, although many of us want Hitler to go through Purgation for millennia. Hitler’s mother probably loved him and wants him in Paradise. God’s Unconditional Love is greater than that of a mother who loves her child.

Of course, we want many people to make it to Heaven, including Virgil and Cato and the other good pagans.

In the Inferno, Dante sees a sign at the entrance to Hell that says, “ABANDON ALL HOPE / ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.” Of course, Dante did not abandon hope although he entered the Inferno, and we will find out that when he dies he will go to Paradise (after climbing the Mountain of Purgatory a second time).


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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