DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 15
CHAPTER 15: Martial Hero
Bad manners grow from greedy selfishness,
as courtesy reflects Christ’s charity
which, as we know, is kindness to the weak. 3
I needed silence if required to speak,
and so it came. The choirs of Paradise
silenced their song when, like a shooting star 6
down gloaming sky, from right arm of the cross
yet linked to it by arc of finer fire
a light swept down to join me at the foot. 9
It greeted me with the same welcoming
that Virgil tells us in The Aeneid
the soul of dead Anchises gave his son 12
who, living, met him in Elysium.
“O my own blood! O wondrous grace of God
that Paradise will open to you twice!” 15
The light said that. Amazed, I turned my eyes
to Beatrice again, whose smile was such
I fully knew how blesséd I’d become. 18
And then, although a the sound was ecstasy,
the light said things I could not comprehend.
Their meaning was too great till heat of love 21
cooled down enough, letting it condescend
to sentences of much more common sense.
“Divine foreknowledge we in Heaven share 24
has kept me long expecting this delight.
Holy the guide who dressed you in such wings
as raise you to this height! You rightly think 27
I know your thoughts, so do not ask my name,
or why my joy appears much greater than
the others in this sphere. You are about 30
to satisfy my thirst to share the bliss
of perfect truthfulness. Ask what you wish.”
Encouragement from smiling Beatrice 33
gave me the confidence to boldly say,
“Just as the sun’s ray pours out equally
both warmth and light, you equally possess 36
love and intelligence, which mortals lack.
I am still mortal. My ability
cannot support my will. Not tongue but heart 39
declares my depth of gratitude for this
paternal welcoming. I beg you now,
O jewel in the Cross and Crown of Christ 42
say who you are.” “O branch I greet with joy
I am your root, your ancestor,” said he.
“My son became your great-great-great-granddad 45
who has been trudging for a century
round Purgatory’s ring where pride is purged.
Pray to reduce his toil when back on earth. 48
We knew a Florence that, seen from afar,
did not appear to outshine Rome as much
as one day it will look a great deal worse. 51
Back then our town was peaceful, sober, chaste
filled smaller ground. No wife or daughter wore
jewellery, embroidered gown, rich stuff seen 54
before wearers. No father lived in dread
of baby girls growing too old to wed
before he got gold enough for dowry 57
People were buried in their native soil –
no exiled owner left an empty house.
No families had rooms they did not use 60
or houses like the palaces of kings.
Nobility dressed plain. Our honoured knight
good Bellincion wore a leather suit 63
and had a wife with clean unpainted face.
Wives were lucky. Husbands did not desert
the marriage bed to trade abroad for years. 66
Mothers rocked cradles, soothing infant fears
by crooning songs that pleased themselves and dads
and later, spinning thread, told older bairns 69
brave tales of Trojans; how they fought and spread
to Italy, Fiesole and Rome;
then told of Cincinatus and Lucrece, 72
who both chose death rather than break an oath.
Kids would have marvelled more to hear about
those who now dominate Florence’s state: 75
corrupted lawyers! Blatant prostitutes!
To life in Florence as the town was then,
with lovely streets, good neighbours, honest men, 78
my mother no doubt bore me crying out
Mary as women do, when giving birth.
Then in our ancient Baptistery the priest 81
Christened and called me Cacciaguida.
My wife came from the valley of the Po
bringing your surname, Alligieri. 84
I followed Conrad, Emperor who led
the next Crusade to free Jerusalem:
was knighted by him for my part in fight 87
to free Christ’s sepulchre from pagan hands.
We lost, as Christendom is not – should be –
united by the popes. Death shifted me
into this perfect bliss called Martyrdom. 91