Paradiso -- Canto II

The Moon, Beatrice and the Dark Spots






8 Minerva is the goddess of wisdom.

9 The Bears are the constellations of the Big and Little Dippers; the second contains the North Star by which sailors navigate.



16 The Argonauts accompanied Jason to Colchis to capture the Golden Fleece: to obtain it, Jason had to plow and sow a field with dragon’s teeth which sprang up as armed warriors (Metamorphoses VII, 100-122).







30 The moon is here called a star. Dante and Beatrice now enter the moon, the sphere of inconstant souls.













51 Cain, murderer of his brother Abel, was said to have been banished to the moon where he can be seen carrying a bundle of thorns to sacrifice.




59 Dante attempts to explain the spots on the moon, as he did in the Convivio (II 14), by different densities of matter. Beatrice refutes this idea by arguing that such differences would he substantial and would either allow light to penetrate the surface or would not be visible at all (ll. 67-105). She proposes that the differences are due to the nature of heavenly bodies themselves which reflect light to the degree of their inherent "virtue" or power to absorb and to release their "influence" or luminosity. Light pours down, therefore, from the Light of God, by way of the Prime Mover through all the remaining eight spheres (ll. 112-123). Each sphere is controlled by an angelic Intelligence corresponding with the nine orders of angels (ll. 127-138).

          O you who are seated in your little skiffs,
          Zealous to listen, following in the wake
          Behind my ship that singing plows her way,
          Turn back to look again on your own shores:
5         Don’t put out on the high seas, for, perhaps,
          In losing me you may run far adrift!
          The flood I take was never coursed before.
          Minerva blows, Apollo pilots me,
          And the nine Muses point me out the Bears.
10       You other few who stretched your necks on high
          In time to taste the bread of angels which
          People here feed on, but never have their fill,
          You well may put your boat out on the deep
          By staying in the furrow of my wake
15       Before the water flows back smooth again.
          Those glorious men who sailed the sea to Colchis,
          When they saw Jason turned into a plowman,
          Were not as thunderstruck as you shall be.
          The inborn, boundless thirst for that kingdom
20       Created in God’s image swept us onward
          Almost as swiftly as the skies you see.
          Beatrice gazed upward and I gazed on her;
          And in the time perhaps it takes an arrow
          To strike the bull’s-eye, fly, and leave the bow,
25       I saw myself arrived at a thing of wonder
          Which drew my sight to it, and therefore she
          From whom my close concerns could not be hidden
          Turned toward me, as glad as she was lovely,
          And said, "Direct your mind with thanks to God
30       Who here has made us one with the first star."
          I thought we were enveloped in a cloud,
          Shining, solid, dense, and highly polished
          As a diamond struck by the sun would be.
          The timeless pearl took us inside itself
35       In the same way that water can receive
          A ray of light while it remains intact.
          If I was body (and here we can’t conceive
          How one dimension can contain another,
          Which has to be when body enters body),
40       All the more should longing then inflame us
          To see that Essence in which we may see
          How our own nature and God join in one.
          There shall be seen what we now hold by faith:
          Not proven to us, but known on its own,
45       Like the first truths believed by human beings.
          I answered, "My lady, with the best devotion
          That I can summon, I here give thanks to Him
          Who has raised me up out of the mortal world.
          "But tell me what those dark traces are
50       Upon this body, which down there on earth
          Cause people to tell stories about Cain?"
          She smiled a little, and then said to me,
          "If the opinion of men errs in matters
          Which the key of our senses won’t unlock,
55       "Surely wonder’s arrows should not pierce you
          From this point on, since even when you follow
          The senses, you see that reason’s wings fall short.
          "But tell me what you think to be the cause?"
          And I: "What differences here appear to us
60       I think result from rare and denser bodies."
          And she: "Surely you’ll see that your thinking
          Is sunk in falsehood, if you listen well
          To the argument that I shall give against it.
          "The eighth sphere shows to you a myriad
65       Of lights which by intensity and number
          Are manifestly different in appearance.
          "If ‘rare and dense’ alone could have caused
          All this, one single power, more or less
          Allotted equally, would be in all.
70       "These different powers have to be the fruits
          Of formal principles which, with one exception,
          Would by your way of thinking be destroyed.
          "Again, were rarity the reason for
          The dark you ask about, either this planet
75       Would lack material from place to place,
          "Or else, just as the lean and fat are layered
          Throughout the body, so its density
          Would alternate like pages in a book.
          "The first, if it were true, would be made plain
80       In the sun’s eclipse, by light shining through,
          As when it strikes rare bodies of all sorts.
          "This is not so: we must then view the other
          Alternative, and if I prove that wrong,
          Your theory will be shown to be untrue.
85       "For if rare matter does not riddle through,
          There must be a limit where the opposite
          Density prevents its passing farther;
          "And so the sun’s rays would be reflected back,
          Just as the color glances off the mirror
90       That has lead backing to seal it from behind.
          "Now you will say that the ray shows up dimmer
          On one place than on other areas
          Since it’s reflected there from farther back.
          "From this objection — should you care to try —
95       You can be set free by experiment
          Which is the source for the rivers of your arts.
          "Take up three mirrors, and set two of them
          Equally far from you, and farther still
          Let the third meet your eyes between the two.
100      "Facing toward them, have a light placed at
          Your back, so that it shines in the three mirrors
          And comes to you reflected in them all.
          "Although the farther image may not look
          As large to you, you will observe that there
105      It shines with equal brightness as the others.
          "Now, as beneath the strokes of warming sunbeams
          The undersurface of the snow lies bare
          Both of its former color and its coldness,
          "So, with your intellect swept bare,
110      I will inform you with light so alive
          That it will shimmer as you look on it.
          "Deep in the heaven of divine peace
          There whirls a body in whose power rests
          The being of all things that it contains.
115      "The heaven after it, with brilliant stars,
          Distributes this being to different essences,
          Distinct from it and yet contained within it.
          "The other circles by various degrees
          Dispose the separate powers in themselves
120      To their own proper ends and propagation.
          "These organs of the universe proceed,
          As you now see, from grade to grade, obtaining
          Their power from above and acting downward.
          "Pay close attention now to how I travel
125     Through this passage to the truth you long for,
          So that you’ll learn to cross the ford alone.
          "The motion and the power of sacred spheres
          Must be inspired by angelic movers,
          Just as the hammer’s art is by the smith.
130      "And that heaven which myriad lights make lovely
          Takes its image from the deep Mind that turns it
          And of that image makes itself the seal.
          "And as the soul within this dust of yours
          Has been diffused throughout the different members
135     To suit each one to some distinctive function,
          "So the Intelligence deals out its goodness
          By multiplying itself among the stars
          As it revolves on its own unity.
          "Varying power makes up various mixtures
140     With the precious bodies which it enlivens
          And in which it is bound like life in you.
          "Because of the glad nature from which it flows,
          This mingled power shines out through the body
          As gladness does in the eye’s lively pupil.
145     "From this power comes the apparent difference
          Between light and light, not from dense and rare:
          This is the formal principle which produces,
          "In proportion to its goodness, the dark and bright."
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