Continuing from our Introduction to Dante’s Paradiso from last week, we will be considering here Cantos 5-8, and finishing Dante’s time with the Oath Breakers/Unfulfilled vows in the Sphere of the Moon (Constance and Piccarda), and we will shoot up “like an arrow that strikes the target before the bowstring had been stilled, so we sped into the second realm.” (5.91-93) (Notice again the hysteron proteron with the secondary action being represented first!–is this to show the dual nature of intertwined objects like the famous Olive Bush on Scheria in Homer’s Odyssey and of course God and Man who share one nature).
The sphere of the Moon’s “action” is concluded by a consideration of whether one could break a vow and substitute some other item or service than which was promised, and Dante’s response to whether one can break a vow is as follows. First he explains that a vow is made by means of human free will which is the greatest gift God gave to man and therefore when one makes a vow, so does God. If one wishes to change a vow, one must give 6 where once one gave 4, or the original amount or item and more. Dante then explains this: a vow is composed of (1) the thing offered and (2) agreement between parties. The agreement must always be honored, no question. The thing offered can be changed only if one offers something in addition, and also the original thing offered. Because the moment one vows to offer an item or a service, one is bound to do so by one’s own will and by God’s. That said, in instances where fulfilling the vow would result in worse consequences than breaking it, one should simply break the vow and ask for forgiveness. So should Agamemnon done with Iphigeneia his daughter and Jephthah (so like Idomeneus and his son) with his son. Rather than honor their promises which led to worse consequences, they should have accepted the consequences of breaking the oath. Perhaps Achilleus should have too.
(Briseis being led away from Achilleus)
Canto 6 which then follows in the Sphere of Mercury is unique in that it features a single speaker, the 6th century Emperor of Rome Justinian giving a sort of mythological history of the Roman empire leading up to Dante’s times so afflicted with issues between the Ghibellines (represented, like Justinian, by an eagle banner) and Guelfs (represented by a golden lily). He, as one might expect a lover of Virgil to do, begins Roman history at the death of Pallas, the mythological son of Evander of Arcadia, to Turnus, the Rutulian, in Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid. So like a king, Justinian drones on and on, though we do learn from him that those souls in Mercury’s sphere do not feel longing to be in a higher sphere than this. Because they so longed for earthly honor, prestige, and glory, they fulfilled their active lives, but did not focus on developing their contemplative lives which would have led them towards the object of all thought, God. Since God’s justice is infallible and perfect, therefore, the place where these souls rest is the perfect place for them, as there are different wonderful smells and sights in a garden or different notes in a symphony, so are these souls (still called shades) perfectly content with their allotted place in the universe. Justinian also mentions the great just man Romeo (not the one from the Shakespeare play two hundred years later), and his poor treatment among his peers based on, what the commentator Durling says, somewhat spurious (false/dubiously sourced) stories.
Canto 7 begins with the Latin quote: “Osanna, sanctus Deus sabaoth,/ superillustrans claritate tua/ felices ignes horum malacoth,” (“O save, Holy God of armies, illuminating with your brightness from above the happy fires of these realms.”) and Beatrice apparently reads the pilgrim’s mind and begins a discourse on how one could take just vengeance but still receive a just punishment in response to this. But before we finish The Sphere of Mercury, we must return to a claim made in the introductory lecture on Dante’s Paradiso. In the last lecture it was suggested that potentially the Paradiso existed within the soul, and intellect or rational soul (all essentially one but logically divided says Aristotle). This was supported by the notion that the form of a thing is intangible and therefore without matter and thus in no way besmirched by imperfection and therefore perfect. Since, however, in Aristotelian logic, the form of an object must travel through an equally immaterial medium, space, into the rational soul or mind of one through the eye, then that which comprises the soul and the form must also comprise the medium between, space. Therefore, Augustine’s/Nicholas of Cusa’s proposition that God is “a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere” would be proven correct by the unified nature of god and man both being located within man’s soul, or its intangible space, and the space outside. If one remembers in Greek mythology that Ouranos (Heaven) and Earth (Gaia) were married one then sees that Heaven or Space or Soul is that which covers and forms the matter of the earth just as it forms the matter of the human (One might just as well look to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.“). An instructive example on this even proving the notion from a physics point of view is Maxwell’s theory of Thermodynamics and his creation called “Maxwell’s Demon”:
“Before I conclude, I wish to direct attention to an aspect of the molecular theory which deserves consideration.
One of the best established facts in thermodynamics is that it is impossible in a system enclosed in an envelope which permits neither change of volume nor passage of heat, and in which both the temperature and the pressure are everywhere the same, to produce any inequality of temperature or of pressure without the expenditure of work. This is the second law of thermodynamics, and it is undoubtedly true as long as we can deal with bodies only in mass, and have no power of perceiving or handling the separate molecules of which they are made up. But if we conceive a being whose faculties are so sharpened that he can follow every molecule in its course, such a being, whose attributes are still as essentially finite as our own, would be able to do what is at present impossible to us. For we have seen that the molecules in a vessel full of air at uniform temperature are moving with velocities by no means uniform, though the mean velocity of any great number of them, arbitrarily selected, is almost exactly uniform. Now let us suppose that such a vessel is divided into two portions, A and B, by a division in which there is a small hole, and that a being, who can see the individual molecules, opens and closes this hole, so as to allow only the swifter molecules to pass from A to B, and only the slower ones to pass from B to A. He will thus, without expenditure of work, raise the temperature of B and lower that of A, in contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics. (bold section added by me.)
This is only one of the instances in which conclusions which we have drawn from our experience of bodies consisting of an immense number of molecules may be found not to be applicable to the more delicate observations and experiments which we may suppose made by one who can perceive and handle the individual molecules which we deal with only in large masses.
In dealing with masses of matter, while we do not perceive the individual molecules, we are compelled to adopt what I have described as the statistical method of calculation, and to abandon the strict dynamical method, in which we follow every motion by the calculus.
(from Theory of Heat (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1872), pp. 308-9 [from facsimile edition published by AMS Press, 1972])
Of course Maxwell’s piece was famous not only for there showing the practical relevance of statistics as a science vs. the more precise calculus, but for also indicating that his second law of thermodynamics was theoretically subject to dispute (as it was only empirically, not rationally, proved). Of course the first law of thermodynamics (also called the law of conservation of energy) states simply that any physical process, or one which involves work in an isolated or closed system, does not alter the energy in a system, but simply converts it from one type of energy to another. The second law then says that even in an isolated system, though the disorder of a system could remain constant ideally, would increase in entropy (a measure of disorder) over time. This is not as important to the current argument as it is simply historically relevant.
So, looking to the bold part of the quote above one observes an isolated or singular system which is arbitrarily (that means by choice) divided into two (though truly it is one, like nature of Man and God), and between these two systems a “gate” is placed at which what-might-be-called either an angel or a demon (or Mercury, psychopomp who leads souls from living to death and vice versa) may allow the influx of molecules of a slower nature from Side B to Side A and faster molecules to Side A from Side B thus increasing the temperature of hypothetical side B (of the actually unitary whole) without performing any work. Such, then, would be the empirical/statistical basis for the theory of the unus mundus, or the notion that heaven, or that which contains the forms of things, space or mind, both exists within a soul which forms a body and the soul which forms the world, or heaven. Heaven or Paradise, then, exists both within and without as we have seen from Maxwell, within and without are simply statistically hypothesized constants which are truly part of one whole. Or in more theological or Dante-esque terms, what was one isolated system is split into two and connected by a spirit, let’s call it holy. Therefore, the whole is hypothetically split into three parts (1=3). We will continue on to consider how just vengeance may receive a just punishment tomorrow.