Charles Martel, who died at the young age of 24, finishes his speech, and he is then followed by two additional speakers in Canto IX (sphere of Venus; love tarnished by lust): Cunizza da Romano and Folco of Marseilles. Cunizza earned her Venusian fame by having several famous liaisons (lovers), including the poet Sordello from Purgatory, and she was married to four husbands. As one might imagine, this made her “a living legend in Florence” in Dante’s day! The next person we meet is in Venus for a less corporeal or sensual reason–Folco was a writer of a love poems! These two, and any person in the sphere of Venus, were therefore predisposed (by the star itself, which offers them its perfection) to emphasize love in their lives: Cunizza through loving others romantically, and Folco through inspiring love through his poetry. The proper use of both their dispositions, then, theologically would be to lead others through temporary or worldly love of bodies, people, or beautiful words towards that which is eternally beautiful and the true object of love: the Divine. Both, however, though they lived out their loving natures, were slightly impaired or obscured in their effect by giving into promiscuity or lust–which is an overvaluation of the act of love against the true object of love which is knowledge of the Divine or experience of the Divine aspect of love. Cunizza of course demonstrated this through her several marriages and liaisons, and Folco for slightly overemphasizing the beauty of his poetry over the object of his poetry!
“Here we marvel at the art that so much love
adorns, and we discern the Good on account of
which the world above is the lathe for the world
One additional piece of interest, before moving on to Folco’s description of Rahab, is an interesting double claim he makes lines 67-78:
“The other joy, already known to me as
precious, became in my sight like a pure ruby in
By rejoicing up there they gain in brightness,
as here we smile, but down below, shades
become as dark to sight as the mind is wicked.
“God sees all things, and your sight so inhims
itself,” I said, “O blessed spirit, that no desire
can flee from you.
Therefore your voice, that delights Heaven
always, with the singing of those devout fires
that make of their six wing their robes,
why does it not fulfill my desires? Surely I
would not wait for your asking, If I could inyou
myself as you inme yourself.”
Is Dante here illustrating how one’s conscious attention lights up a memory or piece of knowledge when it focuses on it and reflects on it? The shade in being reflected on becomes “like a ruby” and gains brightness through rejoicing or rejoining the pilgrim! The spirit, Folco, then explains that no desire can hide from God because one’s own sight “inhims” God to one–as in what one sees, inside or out, God also sees. Is the suggestion, therefore, that whatever one is conscious of or what one sees, God also sees? And where, thus, must God also reside if not within one’s self? Dante then rightly asks why his desire is not simply immediately fulfilled if his desire is so easily seen! Ha! Folco answers naturally:
“The largest valley in which water can
spread,” began its words then,”after the ocean
that garlands the dry land,
between discordant shores goes against the
sun so far that it has its meridian where formerly
its horizon was.”
Folco’s answer is simple–in order for the Mediterranean, a smaller body of water than the ocean, to receive the water of the ocean, or to share in it, it must shift its meridian, or middle, to where once its horizon or limit was. This means that in order to learn something new, one must shift one’s focus or “empty one’s cup” in order to receive something (knowledge or truth) new! We now proceed to a description of Rahab, the prostitute or harlot of Jericho.
Rahab was a prostitute during Joshua’s assault on Jericho, and when Joshua’s spies required safe haven, she offered this. For this reason, when Jesus descended to Hell, Rahab was the first shade he brought up with him for his contributions to the faith. The essential idea here is that if one were to judge Rahab based on superficial considerations, like her profession, she might appear deeply sinful in terms of working to fulfill carnal or sensual desires. Her largest effect on the world, however, lay not in her job but her contribution to Joshua’s retaking of the Holy Land. If one pauses for just a moment to reflect on this fact, then one easily sees just how much larger her contribution was than was her “sinful profession” might suggest to the undiscerning reader.
The canto then ends with a description of how the pope and church have lost their values and no longer focus on what matters. In fact, far from Rahab or Cunizza being seen as adulteresses, Dante inverts (contrapasso) the idea, and claims that it is in fact the church (remember the Harlot of Babylon) which is the true adulteress now, having altered its focus from divine things and now selling itself to material considerations!
“For this the Gospel and the great Doctors are
forgotten, and only the Decretals are studied, as
their margins show.
To this the pope and cardinals attend;
their thoughts go not to Nazareth, where Gabriel
opened his wings.
But Vatican and the other noble parts of
Rome, cemetery of the army that followed Peter,
will soon be freed from such adultery.”
The pope and cardinals now focus on man-made theology and rules and institutions of the church rather than considering the source of truth and knowledge in the Gospel, in the Church Fathers, and of course the source or birthplace of Jesus himself, Nazareth.
It is no accident that the dove which first represented Venus, and love, became the image by which the holy spirit, or the relationship between the Son and the Father, is also represented.