DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 8
CHAPTER 8: Venus
Pagans have wrongly thought the brightest star
at dawn and dusk provoked the wildest love.
Venus was offered hymns and sacrifice 3
as lover of Mars, playboy Cupid’s mother,
provider of erotic joy beside
sorrow that drove Dido to suicide. 6
I only knew we’d soared up to love’s sphere
on seeing Beatrice grew lovelier.
Bright dancing lights were in that shining globe 9
like sparks in a flame, like many voices
harmonized in one great organ tone.
The lights spun fast and slow like Seraphim 12
according to (I think) their view of God
until, aware of us, a stream of them
unwound and comet-like, sped to our side 15
singing a welcoming hosanna. How
I wished and always wish to hear that sound!
The first light said. “May we share happiness? 18
Instruct us, poet, how to please you best.
On Earth you wrote of how our intellects
move the third star. We love you much for that. 21
Pausing, conversing now with you will be
a very blissful interval of rest.”
I looked to my bright guide to find if she 24
accepted this, received her smiling nod,
so asked, “Please, who are you?” – not words that said
how glad I was, and yet he knew because 27
I saw his glow increase as he replied,
“If dazzling joy did not disguise my form
like smooth cocoon protecting a silk worm 30
you would see Charles Martel, a long-gone friend
who dwelled too short a time on Earth to stop
the Whigs and Tories rending Italy. 33
O Florentine, had plague not ended me
(King of Naples, Sicily, Hungary,
Count of Provence) you would not be exiled. 36
My father’s second son is Naples’ King
and has not learned the art of ruling men,
for brother Robert does not even know 39
taxing the poor too much must breed revolt.
One of our blood who did not heed that fact
incited massacre in Palermo – 42
mobs filling streets and yelling kill kill kill!
Unlike our dad, Robert alas is mean,
grabs wealth through knights who share his greed for gold. 45
He won’t get rid of them, although the cost
of keeping them wrecks all good government.”
“Sir Charles,” said I, “The Heaven-sent joy you bring 48
is also yours who, now so near to God,
knows from Whom purest loving wisdom flows.
You’ve made me glad, so now please make me wise. 51
How can good seed grow into rotten fruit?
Why is bad son bred from a decent dad?”
“If you can grasp the truth of my reply,” 54
said he, “you will understand many things
upon which you have so far turned your back:
what moves and satisfies this Paradise 57
you now ascend, gives planets influence
over those born below. Each embryo
receives a starry ray, like shaft from bow, 60
that shapes its character.
No soul is quite alike, yet can combine
in Godly ways with other souls on Earth, 63
just as the planets circulate above.
Were this not so the universe would be
a chaos too confused to form a star 66
or any form of life, but all we see
amounts to one tremendous work of art.
Even its smallest part has unity 69
through balanced interchange of energy.
Is that quite clear?” I said, “Yes, I agree.
Nature has made the world just what we see.” 72
“Can men live well without societies?”
asked he. I said, “One perhaps sometimes may,
but not for long. None could begin to live 75
without a family.” He answered, “Right.
A family is a society,
but think as citizen. Cities require 78
all kinds of skill: nurses for babies and
farmers for food, builders, tradesmen, doctors
for the ill, engineers like Daedalus 81
law givers like Solon, artists like Phidias,
priests like Melchizedek and commanders
like Xerxes. Cities can exist because 84
star influence insists that lads are not
exact copies of their dads. That is why
pagans believed gods fathered their heroes. 87
Bastard Romulus was called son of Mars.
Brothers (as well I know) can differ too
even when twins, as Esau and Jacob show. 90
I love you, so will tell you something more.
When by bad luck people are doing work
unsuited to their nature, things go wrong 93
and a good land has chosen the wrong way
when fighters preach in time of peace, and then
in time of war the loud-mouthed clergymen
are exalted to general command.” 97