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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Paradise Canto VIII: (Third Heaven: Sphere of Venus) Summary

  • Dante tells us that in the time before Christ, people thought the third planet sent down rays of love on the people. They named her after the mother of Cupid. Hence, the planet's name became Venus (the Roman goddess of love).
  • Dante believes he is ascending to Venus. His suspicion is confirmed when he notices Beatrice growing even more beautiful than she once was.
  • There, Dante sees a bunch of wheeling lights, dancing so harmoniously together that he compares them to a spark in a flame, and indeed they are singing the hymn, "Hosanna."
  • One soul breaks away from the dance and approaches Dante. The soul tells how his fellow souls dance around a "celestial Prince" whom Dante once invoked in his Convivio, and promises to "bring him [Dante] joy."
  • So after Dante has Beatrice's consent, he turns to the light and asks him who he is.
  • This gives the soul so much delight it grows brighter and says that he had a brief life, but if he had been able to stay longer, he would've rid the world of much evil.
  • He describes the geography of his homeland and we learn that he was once a king of France. (He is Charles Martel, although he never reveals his name). He says his sons would've ruled Sicily if the ruler of that region hadn't been so bad that the people revolted.
  • Then he prophesies about his brother, who's still alive. If only Robert could see what lies in store for him, he would run away from Catalonia. Robert is a greedy man because he uses mercenaries who are only interested in getting rich.
  • Dante replies that the soul's words have made him happy.
  • But Dante has a question: how can bad sons (like Robert) come from good fathers (Charles II)?
  • Martel answers that God acts through providence, which means looking out for the ultimate well-being of mankind. Providence is a force that keeps the universe from total chaos. If the universe were chaotic, that would indicate an imperfect Creator.
  • Dante is satisfied with this reply.
  • Now Charles asks Dante if it is a good thing that men are citizens on earth. Dante says yes. Charles asks if earth could have citizens if people were not different, with different skills and duties. Dante answers no.
  • So, continues Charles, the earth needs diversity—lawmakers, warriors, priests, and inventors. But the stars, although they influence mortals, do not make people different. So, if left up to Nature, sons would always be carbon copies of their fathers. Because the earth needs diversity, Providence makes it possible for people to differ.
  • Charles adds that when a man comes across a task that doesn't come naturally to him, he doesn't respond well. But if the world paid more attention to people's natural dispositions—or their true natures—and didn't force them into jobs they weren't good at, everyone would be more worthy.
  • Since the world tries to makes natural-born warriors into priests, and natural-born priests into kings, it often gets it all wrong.

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