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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Paradise Canto XXVII: (Eighth Heaven: Sphere of the Fixed Stars, Ninth Heaven: the Primum Mobile) Summary

  • After Adam's enlightening words, all the souls sing the hymn "Gloria," which celebrates the Holy Trinity. The song is so uplifting that it seems to Dante that "the universe had smiled."
  • The five souls—St. Peter, St. James, St. John, Adam, and Beatrice—all flame before Dante's eyes. And suddenly, St. Peter changes color. Where he was once white, he now shines red.
  • The choir falls silent, as if as shocked as Dante. Then St. Peter explains: he tells them not to be surprised because all of them will be changing color soon. The reason? Down on earth, the current pope, Boniface III, is usurping Peter's position (as pope) and doing a lousy job of it, too. In fact, he's so corrupt that Heaven considers the Papacy vacant. Boniface is making Peter's realm of mankind a "sewer of blood," which accounts for the wardrobe change.
  • In ominous harmony with St. Peter's words, the sky turns a blushing red—like clouds at sunset.
  • And Beatrice, too, suddenly flushes like a chaste woman who hears about another woman's loss of innocence.
  • St. Peter speaks again, his voice much different than before. He roars that his blood and the blood of the good popes—Linus, Cletus, Sixtus, Pius, Urban, and Calixtus—was never spilled trying to gain riches. These good Popes did not want disunity among people, to wage war on the innocent, or to stamp a papal seal on such vices as indulgences.
  • St. Peter rants against the shepherds (popes) who are really wolves in disguise. He names greedy popes with disgust.
  • But soon, he warns, Providence will bring Divine vengeance against these lying popes. Dante, he claims, will help their cause by bringing his poetry of honest words to mankind. St. Peter urges Dante to tell the truth in his writing.
  • After St. Peter falls silent, Dante looks up to see souls flying up to the Empyrean, flying like snowflakes in reverse. Dante tries to follow them all the way up, but his mortal eyes cannot behold the Empyrean.
  • Beatrice sees this and tells Dante to look down upon the earth once again. Dante obeys and is now able to see the earth in even greater detail, despite being higher up than the last time he gazed downward. This time he can see the sea which Ulysses sailed across and even the island of Crete.
  • Dante turns back to Beatrice and his heart almost stops upon beholding her dazzling beauty. But her increasing beauty means they're ascending into "heaven's swiftest sphere."
  • When they land, Beatrice speaks.
  • She tells him that this place is the root of the universe; the Primum Mobile was created first. The "where" of this Heaven is God's Mind and it is surrounded in light and love. It spins the fastest of all the Heavens. Time also began here.
  • Now Beatrice begins a tirade against mankind's sins. She blasts them for their greed, which causes them to sin and lose forever the salvation of Heaven. Free will, she claims, "has a good blossoming in men," but as soon as they grow out of their childhood and can speak well, they use their free will badly and lose their innocence.
  • She explains the source of the problem to Dante: "on earth no king holds sway; / therefore, the family of humans strays." In other words, man needs to be ruled.
  • But, she promises, before another thousand years pass, Providence will set things right, turning the backwards-running prows of mankind's ships around "so that the fleet runs straight."

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