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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Paradise Canto XXIII: (Eighth Heaven: Sphere of the Fixed Stars) Summary

  • In the Eighth Heaven, Beatrice stands facing the east with eager eyes, waiting for the sun. Dante compares her to a mother bird perched on the branches by her nest waiting for dawn so she can go about her business of finding food for the fledglings.
  • She doesn't have to wait long before the horizon grows paler. At the first sign of light, Beatrice announces to Dante, "there you see the troops / of the triumphant Christ!"
  • Beatrice's face is burning with joy, so much so that Dante can't describe it. So he turns his poetic eye towards the dawn itself and compares the rising sun above its thousand shining hosts to the moon shining amongst all the stars.
  • He sees Christ himself—the sun in this sphere—and is almost blinded.
  • Beatrice tells Dante he's seeing a power nobody can resist, the very being that opened the path between Heaven and earth for the first time since Adam's fall.
  • Dante feels his mind opening and expanding so much by this boggling sight that he compares it to "lightning breaking from a cloud, / expanding so that it cannot be pent, [and] against its nature, down to earth descend[s]."
  • Beatrice proves it is so by telling Dante that since he has had a glimpse of Christ, he can now "bear the power of [her] smile." And she smiles.
  • Dante is blown out of the water with his goddess-worship of her. He swears the vision of her smile is burned into his memory but he cannot begin to describe it.
  • At this point, Dante reminds his readers that he's traveling through dangerous waters now, so treacherous that even his words are defeated.
  • Beatrice has had enough of Dante's fawning and instructs him to look upon the garden that is blooming under sun-Christ. There, she tells him, is the rose which represents the Word of God made flesh, as well as lilies, whose fragrance guides men to heaven.
  • Dante turns his eyes toward the spectacle and sees a flowered meadow, overrun by the flaming troops of Christ, all shadowed by the gigantic sun shining above. However, Dante cannot see the sun itself, because his eyes are too weak.
  • But he can see Mary, the rose, who descends in the guise of the living star. A ring of light surrounds her like "a revolving garland." Each of the souls in that wheeling garland is singing rapturously and their combined voices make a sound so sweet that the sweetest melody of earth would sound like crude thunder next to it.
  • Dante can just make out the words. The souls call themselves "angelic love," the same love that announced to Mary her immaculate conception of Christ, and promise to wheel around Mary until she has ascended again into the highest Heaven and made it more divine than it already is. After this song, all the souls answer, singing the name of "Mary" thunderously.
  • The Virgin Mary ascends, following Christ, but the Ninth Heaven is so far above Dante's vantage point that he cannot see her as she enters the highest Spheres. All he can see is the host of souls beneath, all stretching their hands upwards in desire for Christ and His mother. After she disappears, they sing the Easter hymn "Regina coeli" ("Queen of heaven") in her honor.
  • Dante takes this peaceful moment to praise the virtuous souls who have been saved. He notes with rapture that these blessed will enjoy boundless riches here in Heaven for their resistance to material greed in the world below. He ends the canto with a celebratory hymn for St. Peter, the keeper of the keys of Heaven, who has triumphed.

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