On Dante’s Paradiso V: Ever Upwards to the Illuminating Sun!

Canto 10 begins with a prolonged proem describing the intersection of the medieval astronomical concepts of the ecliptic and the celestial equator. Essentially, in astronomical terms, this intersection of seemingly different motions in one place are representative of two seemingly different natures which are actually one, just as man and god share the same nature as Dante has earlier shown. The sun, too, as the fourth sphere, goes beyond the initial shadowed or seemingly imperfect trinity. Recall that those on the moon were inconstant, and those on Mercury overemphasized the active life, and those on Venus overemphasized the act of love over its object (God). Here in the sun we meet the great doctors of the church (doctus=learned). One observes that they are the first of the “lights” unobscured by shadow or sin, and therefore one might call them the great luminaries, or those who clearly reflect the light of truth. They are the great theologians and metaphysicians of the Christian faith–with the greatest of them, Thomas Aquinas, doing the speaking, or shedding the most light, during this canto.

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(Thomas Aquinas)

Returning to the beginning of the canto, though, and our theme of determining whether space and paradise exist both inside a human and outside one, and therefore collapse the distinction between them, just as the purpose of Purgatory is to purge the difference between man’s nature and God’s, so here one sees in the quote below the unity of the concept of mind (generally considered inside) and space (generally considered outside):

“Gazing at his Son with the Love that both
eternally breathe, the first, ineffable Power
made all that turns in the mind or through

space with so much order that one who
contemplates it cannot be without a taste of him.”
(Par. 10.1-6)

Look at that quote again “…the first, ineffable Power made all that turns in the mind or through space with so much order”–is this not Dante explicitly identifying the motion of thought or mind with the motion of the heavens (or heavenly spheres; thoughts) within space? Keep this in mind.

“I have set before you: now feed yourself, for
all my care is claimed by that matter of which I
have become the scribe.

The greatest minister of Nature, which
stamps the world with the power of the heavens
and measures time to us with its light,

joined with that part mentioned above, was
wheeling through the spirals in which it rises
ever earlier,

and I was with it, but I did not perceive the ascent,
except as one perceives a first thought before it comes.

Beatrice is she who guides from good
to better so swiftly that her act does not extend in

How bright in itself had to be whatever was
within the sun, where I entered, not by color but
by manifest light!

Though I call on my wit and art and practice, I
could never tell it so that it could be imagined,
but it can be believed, and let the sight of it be
yearned for.

And if our imaginations are too low for such a
height it is no wonder, for no eye has ever seen
intensity beyond the sun’s.

Such was the brightness there of the fourth
family of the high Father, who always satisfies
them, showing how he breathes and how begets.”
(Ibid. 25-50)

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(The Sun)

First, one observes in the second tercet that the Sun is described as the stamp of the world, or rather, the Sun is the form of the world and the Earth is its matter. Therefore, the Sun gives that which is immaterial to the earth in order to form or craft it through light or energy or heat. We next observe that again the pilgrim does not observe his ascent, again suggesting that he is “moving” within a space which requires no motion, i.e., his own mind or absolute space. He also cannot describe the sun’s color, because color is the physical manifestation of light. For example, think of how one sees colors through light–without light one cannot see color. Imagine darkness.

And then “manifest light” clearly means a thought or revelation which of course is always clear. And this is why Dante says that we cannot imagine what he saw, because he did not see  an image that one could represent by the imagination, but rather, he saw in the sense of clearly understanding the purpose or cause or nature of the Sun–all of which are not images, but rather intelligible (contra sensible) ideas. Where does one see a nature or cause or purpose in the natural world? Growing from a tree? Ha!

And finally Dante promises to show, to the best of his ability, the way in which the Sun begets or creates through its “breath” or effect which is light. Though sadly:

“In the court of Heaven, whence I return, there
are many jewels so precious and beautiful that
they cannot be taken from the kingdom.”

“and the song of those lights was one of them;
whoever does not grow the feathers to fly up
there can expect to hear news of it from the mute.”
(Ibid. 70-77)

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(“The Song of the Stars”)

So, if one does not wish to rely on one’s representation, through imagination, of Dante’s representation, through art, one must experience the song and light one’s self!

And then, out from within one of the lights, Thomas Aquinas, a voice begins to speak:

“And within one of them I heard begin: “Since
the ray of grace, by which true love is kindled
and then grows by loving,

so shines, multiplied in you, that it leads you
up along the ladder that no one descends
without climbing it again,

whoever should deny the wine of his flask to
your thirst, would not be free except as water
not descending to the sea.

You wish to know with what plants this
garland blooms that woos from all sides the
beautiful lady who strengthens you for Heaven.

I was among the lambs of the holy flock that
Dominic leads by a path where one fattens well
if one does not wander.

He who is closest to me on my right was
brother and master to me, and he is Albert of
Cologne, and I Thomas of Aquino.”
(Ibid. 10.82-99)

We meet Thomas Aquinas, of the Dominican order of Catholic monks, whose teacher was Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great). He mentions that after one ascends this ladder, one never descends again without re-ascending in a cyclical way, and then he goes on to describe the other luminaries he is sharing heaven with: Albert, Gratian, Peter Lombard, Solomon,  Dionysos the Areopagite, Paulus Orosius, Boethius, Isidore of Seville, and Siger of Brabant. Nine figures total shaping up the three circles of the Sun! The canto ends on a joyful note with Dante writing:

“So I saw that glorious wheel turning, voice
answering voice, with tempering and sweetness
that cannot be known
except there, where rejoicing forevers itself.”
(Ibid. 145-148)

We will continue through cantos 11 and 12 next week.



On Dante’s Paradiso IV: Venus and the Object of Love

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!

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(Dante and Beatrice meeting Cunizza)

“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
(Par. 9.106-108)

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
the sun.

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.”
(Ibid. 67-81)

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.”
(Ibid. 9.82-87)

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(Folco of Marseilles (Folquet de Marseilles))

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.

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(Rahab letting in the spies of Joshua.)

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.”
(Ibid. 9.139-142)

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.

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(The Holy Spirit)

On Dante’s Paradiso III: Shooting from Mercury to Venus

In the lecture before, we diverted from our subject of how a just vengeance could still itself receive a just punishment, and from there we must proceed. In Canto 7, within the sphere of Mercury, god of messages between the human and celestial realm, and thus where those who sought worldly fame and the active life at the expense of the contemplative life, we encounter a question which has to do with a mercantile understanding of the relationship of just actions. An eye for an eye or currency for an object or two objects of equal value being exchanged is the image we receive–a necessity for balance or libra is what is conveyed by the actions in this sphere (remember earlier that oaths were considered and the agreement necessary between participants–the theme that governs this sphere is therefore balance between two parties (party one, party 2, and the balance between (1=3). Those here upset the natural balance and therefore suffered slightly for it, and just in the same way, those who take just vengeance would do well to understand that in taking vengeance they allow another the very same claim! This notion, however, is expressed in a curious way–because it turns out that the underlying question is, “why did God become man?” And “why is it that in killing God, man was forgiven rather than eternally damned?” Well, let us consider this.

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(St. Athanasius: “God became man in order that men may become God.” On the Incarnation)

Dante first describes Jesus as God descended to earth as a man. He then claims that God as a man must be the most just creature on earth, and therefore that to kill him would be the most unjust/unfair act possible. How, then, does his death remove sin from man rather than forever blacken his soul? That is what reasoning would suggest: Jesus is the most just man on earth. Justice involves giving to each his due. Therefore, Jesus deserves the greatest thing which can be given. And he was killed. Now, either killing someone is the greatest gift you can give (it isn’t) or we need a good answer to this. Well, Justinian has an answer.

The issue is fairly simple. Since god is the greatest being in creation and therefore does not need or desire any charity or gift from man. In fact, to give him other than killing him, or doing what appears ultimately unjust, would have limited the grace of his gift in return to man. Because as he is the greatest being, and giving the greatest charity would befit the greatest being, as it is the greatest virtue, God therefore gives the greatest charity there is. And in order for God to give such charity, man must commit the ultimate sin or choose against god (Jesus)/his own nature in order that god may forgive him for turning his back on God. And this makes sense–because if God repaid an injury for an injury, God would have been injured by man, but as God and Man share an eternal nature, it cannot, by definition, be affected or changed. God, therefore, could not suffer an injury from man, but as the ultimate force in the universe, he could forgive man for what appeared to be the ultimate crime, because since there was no injury, there was no crime. Man in acting against God simply acts against himself.

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(Psalm 82:6 “You are gods. You are all sons of the most high.”)

Because if man sins, and this means that he is acting against his own nature, or God, while thinking that he is not subject to that nature. Essentially, when man sins, he recreates the Fall of Adam or Lucifer over again by thinking himself, alone in the universe, not subject to God’s nature. Foolish. Man, therefore, cannot atone for this act on his own because he wished to be as god in his act (just like the first act of disobedience), and therefore no man, but rather the “person” wronged, God, may forgive man. And because God’s nature is charity, in one aspect, of course God may then give the ultimate charity which is forgiveness to man for attempting to be more than God.

“man could not, within his limits, ever atone,
since he could not descend with obedient
humility afterwards

as far as in his disobedience he earlier intended
to rise up; and this is the reason why man was
excluded from being able to atone by himself.

Therefore it was left to God to restore man to
the fullness of life, I say with one or else with
both his ways.

But because a work is the more pleasing to
the workman the more it expresses the goodness
of heart from which it issues,

the divine Goodness that stamps the world
was happy to proceed by all its ways to raise
you up again.

Nor between the last night and the first day
has there been or will there be so high and so
magnificent a going forth, by either way:

for God was more liberal in giving himself in
order to make mankind sufficient to raise itself
up, than if he had simply forgiven,

and all other ways fell short of justice, if the Son
of God had not humbled himself to become flesh.”

(Par. 7.97-118. Durling tr.)

Dante then goes on to consider why it is then that other substances like fire, earth, water, and air and those made of them corrupt and do not remain eternal like angels and celestial substances. Beatrice says because they are created and that which has come to be must pass away. That which begins must end. The only reason a human is somehow exempt from this is because the Divine breathes his own essence into the human, so when the being (form/soul and matter/body) ceases to be, the eternal part of the human, its nature or form, which came from God, will simply continue to be, but in a much different way as it will have no body. Dante then says that this explains well how one will be resurrected in a similar fashion to how Adam and Eve were created–by having spirit breathed into matter, or by God himself, however he does it.

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(“Creation of Adam,” Jan Brueghel the Younger)

It is curious then that there is a discussion later on in the next Canto on Venus about how Nature, or the embodied Spirit of God, does not actually distinguish between the individuality of people, but rather sees them simply as living if it sees them at all. If one were then resurrected over and over, in sort of a Hindu idea, one’s identity could be changed over and over again, especially due to the fact that one would drink from lethe before assuming a body again (even before ascending to Heaven).

“Therefore your different
effects must have different roots:

hence one is born Solon, another Xerxes,
another Melchisedech, and another the one
who, flying through the air, lost his son.

Circling Nature, a seal of your mortal wax,
does its art well, but it does not distinguish one
from another dwelling.

Hence it happens that Esau’s seed departs
from Jacob, and Quirinus comes from so base a
father that he is attributed to Mars:

a generated nature would always take a path
like that of its generators, if divine Providence
did not intervene:

Now what was behind you is before you, but
so that you may know that I delight in you, I wish
a corollary to cloak you.)

(Ibid. 8.122-138)

The quote ends with an even more interesting point echoing Dante’s discussion from Purgatorio 16 of the view that the heavens might control one’s actions fully (he said that they could not as man has free will and nothing impinges that). The end of this quote, similarly, asserts that nature would never change man, and no generation would differ from the one before it if “divine Providence” or “choice” did not intervene and nothing ever changed. One, however, can be absolutely certain that he or she is unique, though, as divine Providence has assured that one differs from one’s progenitors, so by Dante’s reasoning, is God more one’s father than one’s worldly father because he breathes his life into one? In any case, it allows one not to focus on the past, for the truth of one’s nature does not come from one’s worldly parents but the very same God above who breathed life into one. One’s ancestory and heredity therefore means little for one’s understanding of himself or herself.

Dante then ends the canto by discussing that some natures seem ill-suited to this world: because the world does not “put its mind to the foundation that Nature lays” and is therefore “discordant” or disharmonious, there are religious men wearing swords as soldiers and men of words, rhetoricians being king. But now back to the beginning of the Canto.

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(The Roman Goddess Discordia)

Canto 8 begins with an ascent to the third sphere of Venus (Aphrodite, goddess of love), and a brief description of her Homeric epithet as Cyprian and her Homeric mother Dione and her Virgilian son, Cupid. One takes the suggestion that Dante is suggesting they are all part of a chain and that, of course, three equals one.

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We ought now then to consider some connections between the first three spheres themselves. Let us begin at the start with the moon: If we then think of the moon with its oath breakers present, its cycle of the month ever changing, and its dark spots, we understand it to represent inconstancy or wavering, sort of like being lukewarm. What though is inconstancy but an imbalance between one’s actions and one’s divine nature?

It is precisely the same in Mercury which, with its mercantile or mercurial nature, represents how one thing transforms into another or transmits from one place to another, or simply changes hands. The “problem” that this can create, opposed to the moon’s inconstancy, is an overvaluation of one side of life and therefore an imbalance between one’s active pursuits and one’s reflective activities.

And then here again in Venus, sphere of love, which of course is a relationship which is always shared.and yet can create perpetual yearning or desire which all humans always feel, of course. And in each of the first three spheres, one observes then that there is a sense of balance between one’s actions and one’s nature which is being observed. God, then, is being represented as the harmonious balance, or relationship, between two seeming entities which are actually one in nature (like Jesus, or any person by Dante’s reasoning (seeming to have human and divine nature but only truly having the one).

Connecting thoughts about the first three spheres shared, we will examine Charles Martel or the first shade on Venus who speaks to the pilgrim. After disparaging the practical affairs of the world, he “gets down to business” by discussing that God has not only foreseen and created people in his mind, but he has foreseen their well-being (or how they ought act) and their goals, or rather, their destinies. For, and this is very interesting, without a goal or destiny in mind:

“so that whatever this bow shoots forth, falls,
being ordered to a goal foreseen, like an arrow
direct-ed at its target.

If that were not the case, the effects of the
heavens you are traversing would not be art,
but ruins.”
(Ibid. 8.103-106)

Without destiny, life would not be art but a ruin, or an object left without its function. How could there be purpose in life if there were not a goal which one were meant to fulfill? Imagine that, a canvas where one randomly scribbles. Would that not be far less glorious than one on which one executed perfectly (or close to) one’s wondrous plan? Such is the difference between a ruin, which is a once purposeful thing or object, which now is “ruined” in that it is matter without sustaining form. Art, however, is material with living form still attended to it. And therefore the form of one’s life is one’s goal or destiny or the purpose towards which one strives, and the matter is one’s choices or actions that one takes towards or against attaining this goal. Insofar as one chooses against one’s nature and one’s destiny, one’s matter limits the perfection of one’s form. One pits one’s own brush against the master artist (God).

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(The Moirai, (The Fates))

In the next lecture on Wednesday we will discuss holy Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, and move on from lascivious, or desirous Venus, (Dante claims she was so named due to her proximity to the Sun! (8.10-12) to the luminous and radiating sun which houses Thomas Aquinas and the other illuminated minds which so enlightened the minds of men as to the mind of God.

Dante’s Paradise: The Brilliance of Students II

Today, the thoughts considered come both from the sophomore class and their work on Dante’s Paradiso and from a “parent-seminar” on Dante’s Purgatorio. Help yourselves to what is good below.

The following reasoning takes for granted Dante’s acceptance of Plato’s tri-partite soul into the (1) rational soul/charioteer, (2) the spirited soul/noble horse, and (3) the desirous/appetitive part or ignoble horse/hydra.

Desire, or one’s appetitive soul, shares in the nature of the sensible because of their shared sensible or temporal/material nature. As desire passes with the passing of the body and memory, so does one’s “desire” for material and temporary things because both that which desires (one’s desirous soul) and that which is desired (material things) partake of material and temporary things. So, one’s desire as both temporary and material causes one “to want” more temporary and material things. One therefore sees how desire is never satisfied: as one’s desire is a part of the soul, but a temporary part, it desires that which partakes of its temporary nature, sensible objects, but also can never possess them because the very act of desire is “to want what one does not have”. Therefore, whenever one fulfills a desire, the object desired, as it is then possessed, is no longer desired, and something else will then become the object of one’s desire until it is acquired or moved on from.  A conversion, therefore, is a turning from one’s temporary and material desires towards eternal things, or that which the rational intellect partakes of, the eternal intelligibles or that which partakes of the nature or essence or form of God. One’s rational intellect, therefore, as capable of understanding or partaking in that which is eternal, is eternal in nature, whereas one’s desire, as it partakes in that which is temporary, is itself temporary and subject to material constraint in this world. And with the passing of the body, so does it pass as well.

An Eastern parallel to this thought exists within The Shvetashvetara Upanishad which says:

“Forgetting our divine origin,
We become ensnared in the world of change
And bewail our helplessness. But when
We see the Lord of Love in all his glory,
Adored by all, we go beyond sorrow.”
(The Shvetashvatara Upanishad. Easwaran tr. Pp. 170-171)

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(Herakles fighting the Lernaean Hydra, a classical image of one fighting one’s own desires.)

When one says one’s memories are one’s treasures, one is pursuing fool’s goal if one sees the memory itself as valuable. As discussed yesterday, memory, like the body, is purged from one’s soul at the end of one’s journey up the mountain of Purgatory. Memory, thus, has relative rather than absolute value. For memories, in terms of being used as the material of reflection, has value for being two divergent pieces of information or experiences which one’s rational intellect may abstract or deduce a universal principle from. But the true gold is realizing or understanding the unity of man’s nature with the divine, and therefore reflecting it, like a drop of water reflects the light of the sun. One’s memories, therefore, as the material or matter which one uses “to think” through, must be expurgated or rather washed away as well before one enters Paradise, just as is mirrored in The Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

“As a dusty mirror shines bright when cleansed,
So shine those who realize the Self,
Attain life’s goal, and pass beyond all sorrow.
In the supreme climax of samadhi
They realize the presence of the Lord
Within their heart. Freed from impurities,
They pass forever beyond birth and death.”
(The Shvetashvatara Upanishad. Easwaran tr. Pp. 164-165)

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The next thought shared involves continuing to compare the process of a shades ascension on Mount Purgatory to the action of a flame which burns and is then extinguished by water. A human’s journey is like a fire, as has been argued, in that one enters Purgatory with one’s matter and form or body and soul supremely “mixed up” or seemingly inextricably intertwined, like the interwoven Olive trees beneath which Odysseus sleeps in Scheria. As one ascends, one purges (or fires) one’s self in order to burn through one’s bodily sensations and bodily memories. When one ascends to the top of Mt. Purgatory, one is purged in a flame and then washed with the River Lethe. If we compare this action to a fire, which is an immaterial or energic substance, which gives off heat, and though it strives towards the heavens, it is bound to the earth, we see that fire and a human correlate squarely. How, then, does one put out a fire but with cleansing water? And when one drops the water onto the fire what then rises up, free from the material, but steam or rising air? Such is the nature of man to be like steam rather than smoke.

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Another question which we engaged with was the following: what causes anxiety or worrying, by Dante’s reasoning? Well, worry or anxiety is reflecting the same thought over and over again without consideration for the real situation at hand and without the goal of solving the problem but rather desiring simply to create guilt in one’s self as a substitute for working it through. One therefore becomes trapped in an infinite loop, like the avaricious and prodigal in Inferno, constantly bouncing from one thought to another without making a choice and breaking free from one’s own thoughts. This process, which also causes one to waver, or be suspended between thoughts, essentially creates a bookmark with one’s consciousness to remind one’s self about the existence of the issue by never allowing one’s self to escape or move past it. Worry, therefore, maintains one is a perpetual state of wavering or suspension between thoughts at the expense of observing or reflecting on current circumstances, and therefore imagining at the expense of being (which is the same as reflecting).

Memory, therefore, and the Pandaemonium which one can create within, just as Lucifer does in Milton’s Paradiso can be a self-created world which entraps one within it. Thinking back to The Fall of Man, then, the rift between man and god occurred due to man’s developing memories and therefore knowledge (or a representative/image world within himself, which represents the images of the world as shades without truly reflecting the world as it is at any current moment). With that knowledge man created his own world within himself where he could exist outside of God’s law. Or so he thought. He simply blinded himself to God’s law while remaining subject to it–just as Lucifer has done at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno. This idea is almost perfectly paralleled in a brief passage from the father of Taoism Lao-Tsu’s later work the Hua Hu Ching:

“The relationship between the universal soul and
the individual soul is just like the relationship
between the moon and the lake. Spiritual security
is always present, but the clouds of the mind (=memory (author ed.)
create the phenomena of apparent separation. The true
nature of the universe is always self-existent, never
failing to respond to an individual’s straight and direct
awareness. If an individual is aware enough, he realizes that
the Integral One does not come only at the time of awareness.
(Lao-Tse, Hua Hu Ching, Hua-Ching Ni tr. Pp. 36-37)

And just as man turned to the world of darkness and shadow within he left the light of truth at his back. For why Dante’s shadow keeps being noticed by shades is conveying precisely the same message as Plato’s cave. What casts the shadow upon the wall which a person calls his world but him and his material nature with back to the sun–not even realizing that even one’s sad little shadow world is still caused by a blending of one’s body with the light of the sun. Much better would be to leave the shadow, or past, behind one, and use the light of the sun to see the real world. If one really thinks this through, one then observes how the hosts in Westworld, unburdened by memory, are truly free, whereas the humans are completely trapped by the knowledge or memory that they are in a simulation.

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(Orpheus and Eurydice: One can never catch the past, ethereal as it is–as it only exists within one’s mind and nowhere else.)

Now let us consider some of the thoughts from the parent-seminar on Dante’s Purgatorio.

Why are P’s inscribed on Dante’s forehead but to represent that he, like us as readers, is experiencing the sins he will see expurgated by representation. And yet, in understanding their representations he will be cleansed of the representations of sins in his mind. The representations of sin (peccatum) on his head therefore represent the sins which blind his third eye, or his understanding, from seeing what is true. Rather, while the p’s keep one’s third eye blind, one can only see through one’s two eyes–the ever-changing world of sense experience. Once one has freed or opened one’s mind or third eye, then one sees what is invisible to one’s eyes and yet always there.

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Next, Purgatory is located in the opposite hemisphere from Hell to show that in hell, or the world of sense experience, one does not even realize that one sees things opposite from how they are: upside down. Remember that Hell is an upside down cone and that while Dante is climbing Lucifer his perspective “flips”. He then constantly notices the differing positions of the stars in Purgatory. This is because one who is saved on Purgatory has also had his perspective completely flipped, or converted from looking at that which seems but is not to that which does not seem but is.

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If the world or the Divine were once one, and it was arbitrarily, or by Will, split into two, why would that be but to allow for mutual recognition of the sameness shared between the two which are actually one? Would then the Father and the Son (or God and Man) be joined by a same nature or spirit represented by mutual recognition of each other? One, therefore, in choosing to be two, becomes one again, by recognizing what its nature is, which is shared. One and Two, Father and Son, and God and Man, in recognizing their shared nature share a connection based on mutual understanding, and in sharing that connection two become three (through the added connection), and in being connected, become one again. One therefore equals three.

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“He is the One who presides over all
And rules over everyone from within.
He sows the golden seed of life when time begins
And helps us know its unity.
(The Shvetashvatara Upanishad. Easwaran tr. P. 173)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(The Gospel of John 1:5. NIV tr.)

On the Relative Nature of Good and Evil

Just as all the ocean may be represented in a single drop, so may a thinker or writer’s perspective and perception be represented in small ways throughout their texts. Today, we will focus on a few small quotes from both Homer and Dante illustrating their shared perception that God exists as Nature within (and without) man, and that as God is both the form of man (soul) and the form of Earth (as heaven–or the soul of the world–that which forms it), there can be no such thing as absolute evil or absolute good within the realm of human nature (because God’s nature is perfect.)

We will begin with Homer’s Odyssey. Once Odysseus has symbolically woken up from his sleep aboard a fast-as-thought divine ship of the Phaiakians on his homeland, which he does not recognize due to mist sent by Athene (is this perhaps internal mist?), Athene approaches him incognito as shares the following notion–she says that she, so like one’s nature or soul,  would never abandon him because: “you are fluent, and reason closely, and keep your head always,” (13.332) and that she loves him because “you wretch, so devious, never weary of tricks, then you would not even in your own country give over your ways of deceiving and your thievish tales. They are near to you in your very nature.” (13.293-294) Is she saying that she will always be with a man who follows his own nature? Of course she is. Throughout the text of the Odyssey, either Athene, Ino, or Hermes helps Odysseus whenever he finds himself in a new situation which his “mind” or “Athene” must figure out the solution to. One might even consider the notion that Athene is simply an external representation of Odysseus’ internal workings, and Hermes too. It is almost as if what is within is the same as what is without. Let us add to this.

Remember that Athene has implored Zeus to help Odysseus escape captivity in Book V. Hermes then gave the order to set him free as well. Ino then helped Odysseus in the water after his raft was destroyed by Poseidon at the end of Book V. In Book VI, before Odysseus even awakens, Athene sends a dream to Nausikaa to ensure that she meets Odysseus the next day. Then after Odysseus has met Nausikaa, Athene in the form of a young lass directs him to Nausikaa and Alkinoos’ house (and places a mist around him). Hermes then helps Odysseus with instructions during the Circe episode even giving him black and white moly to help prevent him from turning into an animal (a representation of keeping one’s mind to stay human?), and later Athene meets and plots with Odysseus on Ithaka and even ensures, with Zeus’ help, that the fighting between him and the suitors ends in Book XXIV. Hermes also, finally, escorts the dead to the underworld in the same book, similarly to him conducting Priam to a similar world in Book XXIV of Homer’s Iliad.

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(Athene pointing the way home to Odysseus)

This all goes to show that the pagan or Olympian gods do not reward subjectively “good” or “bad” actions, but rather those actions in accordance with one’s nature, or inner deity. Though Odysseus may be sleeping with Circe or shooting an arrow through Alkinoos’ throat, it is precisely because these actions serve a larger purpose of either honoring the xenia (guest-host relationship), or in someway serve the divine plan in a way Odysseus or us would not otherwise see. An action which may be called evil or good to human eyes, thus, always mistakes a personal judgment for a divine judgment which it has no claim to, unless, of course, it understands the “divine plan”, which it generally does not. On to Dante.

In Canto 2 of his Paradiso:

“Direct your mind to God in gratitude,” she told
me, “who has conjoined us with the first star.”

It seemed to me that a cloud covered us,
shining, dense, solid, clear, like a diamond
struck by the sun.

Within itself the eternal pearl received us, as
water receives a ray of light while still remaining whole.

If I was a body–and down here it cannot be
conceived how one dimension could accept an
other, a must occur, if body coincide with body–

It should kindle within us more desire to see
that Essence where is seen how our nature
and God became one.” (Paradiso 2.29-42)

If one closely analyzes the action of the quote above, one will immediately observe that the pilgrim could either be in an intangible, clear, and eternal space within or outside himself  (as shown in the lecture before), and this “encapsulated space” or space is clear and shining and receives the pilgrim, or his form and Beatrice’s, “as water receives a ray of light.” Water, which is translucent, like space, or a crystal, takes light into itself not by possessing it, but by reflecting it. If one then understands the function of the mind or rational soul as reflecting the world of reality, or the mixture of heaven and earth, or form and matter, in a purely formal way, one then understands the mind, like space, to appear precisely as that which it represents, like water reflecting light, in the presence of light or understanding. One might understand this as the Father and the Son sharing the truth or the Holy Spirit (as a messenger between), showing both reflecting each other! The Son, therefore, would be the mind or rational soul of an individual, and it would reflect the reality outside, or the Father, for which one was created to see.

The next quote of Dante’s then tackles the notion of evil in human nature in a characteristically circumspect way.

“There we shall see that which we hold by
faith, and not by demonstration, but it will be
self-evident, like the first truth one believes.

I replied, “My lady, as devoutly as I can I
thank him who has removed me from the
mortal world.

But tell me: what are the dark marks in this
body, that make people down there on earth
tell fables about Cain?” (2.43-51)

Here Dante is cleverly addressing the following question: if a celestial body, or intangible one, like the moon, or the soul, is perfect, how is it that there are seeming imperfections in both man’s soul and this  celestial body (the Moon)–why are there dark spots on the moon and why did Cain do what is apparently evil if human nature is good? First, one should consult this former lecture in order to see Dante’s proof that the root of good and evil, form and matter, and human and divine, all spring from the same source. Then, the question becomes: if human nature is the same as divine nature, how is it that some humans seem to be imperfect? Well, the answer, unlike one might suspect, does not involve there being a difficulty between how the form and matter of a person interact, nor does it have anything to do with the fact that with free-choice, a human can do as he pleases. For there is no such thing as an imperfect nature, there is only a such thing as a person whose nature appears to be lesser or darker relative to others.

First, though, Dante cleverly indicates that he does believe the soul within and heaven or reality “without” to be the same:

“Now, as under the blows of the warm rays of
the sun the subject of snow remains naked
of its former colors and chill,

just so, you, who have become such in
intellect, I wish to inform with light so lively it will
tremble when you see it.” (2.106-111)

If one here follows the analogy, Dante is comparing the soul to melted snow with the snow reflecting on it. What is melted snow? It is water? What is this image of the soul then but the exact same image of the Sphere of the Moon above: “Within itself the eternal pearl received us, as water receives a ray of light while still remaining whole.” It is therefore clear that the Sphere of the Moon and the Soul are “made” or “formed” of the same substance which lies beneath. How, then, could there be imperfections in either if it were not caused, as the pilgrim suggests, by denser and rarer amounts of matter obscuring the nature of the whole? The answer is simple: there is no such thing as an evil or bad nature–only those natures which do what is called bad or evil in accordance with human laws. By the Divine Law, there are only differing degrees of perfection, no good and no evil. So even a murderer of a brother, a fratricide like Cain, lived out his nature, though humans perceive him and his actions as dark or evil. But as we now understand from what appear to be blots on the moon, such dark or evil actions, also like the phases of the moon, are not ultimately evil, but relatively so compared to the “brighter natures” or “actions” of others.

“From that nature comes what seems different
from light to light, not from dense and rare:
it is a formal principle that produces,

confomably with its goodness, the dark and
the bright.” (2.145-148)

Just before this quote, Dante’s Beatrice explained that each celestial body, or soul, mixes to differing degrees with Intelligence (136), and therefore each alloy, or celestial being/soul has a differing nature. That then which appears dark or evil to human perception, by Divine perception, or Truth, is simply that nature or soul which Intelligence has not bequeathed more “goodness” into, and therefore appears to our senses to be lacking. By Divine vision, then, good and evil do not have absolute existence.





On Dante’s Paradiso II: Onward to Mercury

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.

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(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])

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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.