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by Dante Alighieri

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

  • The examination has made Dante a bit nostalgic. Quietly, he thinks that if this poem ever gets completed, and he survives the cruel years ahead, he would like to return to Florence one day and be crowed with the laurel leaf as a recognized poet. He would like to homage to Florence in spite of its flaws, because that is where his faith in God began.
  • But for now, Dante will have to content himself with the crown that St. Peter gives him for his faith.
  • Then another soul steps forward from the throng and Beatrice gets excited. She urges Dante to look and see this new arrival, whom mortals honor by going to Galicia. (Note: this identifies the new soul as St. James.)
  • St. Peter steps forward as well to meet his old friend, and Dante compares their warm greeting to two doves embracing each other. Then they both fall silent and turn, blazing in brilliance, towards Dante.
  • Beatrice intervenes, asking St. James to do another examination on Dante, this time on hope, since he is the Biblical figure commonly associated with hope. Apparently St. James feels a little pity for Dante and softens his inquisition by telling Dante that because God has blessed him by letting him see Heaven before his time, Dante must know what hope is. So some important questions: What is hope? Do you have it? Where does it come from?
  • In a strange turn of events, Beatrice answers for Dante. She claims that there's no doubt that Dante has lots of hope; only because of this is he allowed to see God's kingdom before his death.
  • With Beatrice already answering part of the question for Dante, Dante does the rest: "Hope is the certain expectation of future glory" and is a result of God's grace. As for where it comes from, there are lots of texts that confirm hope's existence. Chiefly, there are David's Psalms and St. James's Epistle.
  • St. James responds with a burst of light; we think that's a sign of approval. He goes on to ask Dante what it is exactly that he hopes for.
  • Dante replies: Other than "getting into heaven," I hope for what Isaiah prophesied, that "the elect / shall wear a double garment [both body and soul] in their land." So that's my hope.
  • Everyone bursts into song, warbling "Sperent in te" ("Let them hope in you").
  • Suddenly, a new soul joins the party. He's really bright and Dante compares his arrival to a "happy maiden ris[ing] and / enter[ing] the dance to honor the new bride."
  • He approaches the other two flames—St. Peter and St. James—and joins in celebration.
  • Beatrice tells us who this man is by identifying him as the soul who "was asked / from on the Cross to serve in the great task." That tells us that this is St. John, to whom Christ, while on the Cross, told to take care of the Virgin Mary, going so far to tell John that Mary is now his mother.
  • Delighted, Dante squints to try to see the dazzling St. John, but is rebuked.
  • St. John asks Dante why he tries to see what he cannot? He then dispels a false assumption Dante voiced earlier. Contrary to popular belief, attests St. John, I do not have my body up here with my soul. My body, like everyone else's, is buried on earth; only Christ and Mary are allowed to wear both body and soul in Heaven. Make sure you tell people that when you return to Earth.
  • When he stops speaking, all three men stop their celebration.
  • But wait! Something's wrong. Dante discovers, as he turns his face toward Beatrice, that he is blind. He can't see her.

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