Paradiso -- Canto VI

Justinian on the Roman Eagle



1 The eagle, symbol of Roman power, had moved westward first with Aeneas, Lavinia’s husband; then Constantine returned it east when he founded Constantinople in 330.



10 Justinian, emperor from 527 to 565, codified Roman law (l. 24), but tolerated, if he did not actually accept, the monophysite heresy that Christ possessed only a divine nature.


16 Agapetus I was pope from 535 to 536.






25 Belisarius (505-565) was Justinian’s celebrated general who fought against the Ostrogoths in Italy.


33 The Ghibellines adopted the eagle as their ensign.

34 The history of the eagle, the authority of Rome, from early times up to the present Holy Roman Empire is presented as a pageant of former successes and recent disasters.

36 Pallas, son of Evander who ruled the area where Rome would rise, was killed fighting on the side of Aeneas against Turnus (Aeneid X, 479-489). Alba Longa, (l. 37) was the area ruled by Ascanius, the son of Aeneas. The three Horatii of Rome later conquered the three Curiatii champions of Alba Longa; the power-center shifted to Rome (l. 39).

40 Romulus, the first of the seven kings of Rome, took part in the rape of the Sabine women — whom they took as wives — and Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last king, violated Lucretia, a patrician’s daughter, an act that ended the monarchy in 510 B. C.

44 Brennus, a chief of the Gauls, and Pyrrhus, a king of Epirus in Greece, battled Rome and lost. Dante names Roman leaders like Torquatus, Lucius Quinctius (called Cincinnatus for his curly hair), the families of Decii and the Fabii, all of whom fought bravely under the eagle’s standard (ll. 46-48). Scipio Africanus (l. 52) defeated the (Arab) Carthaginians under Hannibal in 202 B. C., and Pompey the Great (106-48 B. C.) proved himself an able general in Italian, Spanish, and African campaigns. Julius Caesar’s prowess in Gaul (58-50 B.C.), the Civil War, and in the Mediterranean against Pompey, Ptolemy, and Juba prepared the way for the peace that came after Augustus defeated Brutus, Cassius, Mark Antony and Cleopatra (ll. 55-81). At last, the temple of Janus, always opened in times of war, was locked shut (l. 81). Under Tiberius, the third Caesar (14-37 A. D.), Christ was crucified that sins be avenged, and under Titus, son of Tiberius, that crime was in turn avenged by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (ll. 87-93). Charlemagne, crowned emperor in 800, conquered the Lombards and dethroned their king Desiderius. The Guelphs later joined up with the French, whose emblem is the yellow lilies, while the Ghibellines arrogantly appropriated the eagle itself as ensign. Charles II of Anjou, king of Naples and Sicily, now compounds troubles by leading the Guelphs in an effort to have the lilies usurp the eagle (ll. 94-111).
































128 Romeo of Villeneuve (1170-1250) became chamberlain of Raymond Berenger IV of Provence and administered the country honestly and efficiently, even arranging marriages of Raymond’s four daughters to kings.

          "After Constantine turned back the eagle
          Against the course of heaven which it followed
          Behind the man of old who wed Lavinia,
          "The bird of God two hundred years and more
5        Stayed on at Europe’s utmost boundary,
          Near to the mountains from which it first flew.
          "And there it ruled the world beneath the shadow
          Of its sacred wings, from hand to hand, until
          With the succeeding changes it came to me.
10       "Caesar I was, Justinian I am,
          Who, by will of the First Love that I feel,
          Rid the laws of what was gross and empty.
          "Before I set my whole mind to this work,
          I held Christ had one nature and not two,
15       And in that faith I was content to rest.
          "But blessed Agapetus, who was then
          The supreme shepherd, by his warning words
          Directed me back to the one true faith.
          "I believed him, and what he held on faith
20       I now view quite as clearly as you see
          How contradictions are both false and true.
          "So soon as I set my steps with the Church,
          It pleased God by his grace to inspire in me
          The high task to which I wholly gave myself.
25       "I gave my arms to Belisarius
          Who was so joined to the right hand of heaven
          That I took it for a sign to let mine rest.
          "Here, then, my answer ends to your first question.
          Certain details in my reply, however,
30       Require me to add on something more,
          "So that you may perceive with how much right
          Men strove against the sacrosanct ensign,
          Both those usurping it and those opposing.
          "You see what power made the eagle worthy
35       Of reverence, beginning from the hour
          When Pallas died to give it sovereignty.
          "You know it made its home in Alba for
          Three hundred years and more, till at the end
          Three heroes fought against three others for it.
40      "You know what it achieved through seven kings,
          From the Sabine women’s wrong to Lucretia’s woe,
          While conquering the countries round about.
          "You know what it accomplished when borne by
          The noble Romans battling Brennus, Pyrrus,
45       And the rest, the lords and their alliances.
          "Then came Torquatus, Quinctius named for
          His wild curly locks, the Decii and Fabii
          Who won the fame which I am glad to honor.
          "It cast down to the ground the pride of Arabs
50       Who followed Hannibal across the Alps’
          Rocky crags from which you, Po, cascade.
          "Beneath it Scipio and Pompey triumphed
          While still young men; and to that hill, below
          Which you were born, it showed its cruelty.
55       "Then, near the time when all of heaven willed
          To bring the world back to a state of peace,
          Caesar took it up at Rome’s command.
          "And what it worked from Var up to the Rhine
          Was witnessed by the Isere, Loire, and Seine,
60       And all the valleys whose streams fill the Rhone.
          "What it worked next after it left Ravenna
          And leaped the Rubicon was such a flight
          That neither tongue nor pen might follow it.
          "Around it wheeled the legions into Spain,
65       Then to Durazzo; and it struck Pharsalia
          So sharply that the hot Nile felt the blow.
          "Once more it saw Antandros and the Simois
          From which it set forth, and where Hector lies;
          Then, to Ptolemy’s grief, it soared again.
70       "From there, like a thunderbolt, it fell on Juba,
          And afterward it turned back to your west
          Where it had heard the blast of Pompey’s trumpet.
          "For what it wrought with its succeeding keeper,
          Brutus and Cassius howl in deepest hell,
75       And Modena and Perugia wailed for it.
          "Weeping still is tearful Cleopatra
          Who, fleeing its attack, snatched from the asp,
          Instead of it, a dark and instant death.
          "With this Augustus it reached the Red Sea shore;
80       With him it spread such peace throughout the world
          That the temple of Janus was locked shut.
          "But what that standard which stirs me to speak
          Had done before and afterwards would do
          Throughout the mortal kingdom subject to it
85       "Seems insignificant and shadowy
          When, with a clear eye and with pure affection,
          You mark it in the hand of the third Caesar,
          "Because the living Justice which breathes in me
          Gave it the glory, in the hand I’ve mentioned,
90       Of taking vengeance for the wrath of heaven.
          "Now wonder at what I unfold for you:
          It later sped with Titus to wreck vengeance
          Upon the vengeance of the sin of old.
          "And, lastly, when the Lombard tooth bit down
95       On Holy Church, beneath the eagle’s wings
          Charlemagne through conquest brought her aid.
          "Now you can judge the likes of those whom I
          Accused just now, and of their sins and failings
          Which are the reason for all your misfortunes.
100     "One side opposes to the public standard
          The yellow lilies; the other claims the eagle,
          So that it’s hard to see which sins the most.
          "Let the Ghibellines, let them ply their arts
          Under another emblem, for they follow
105     This standard ill in severing justice from it.
          "And let the new Charles with his Guelphs not try
          To strike it down, but let him dread the talons
          That have stripped off the skins of stronger lions.
          "Sons, many times before this, have wept for
110     Their father’s sins; and let him not believe
          That God will change his coat of arms for lilies!
          "This little star is spangled with the spirits
          Of those who strove for good but aimed their actions
          In order to acquire fame and honor.
115     "And when desires deviate off course
          In that direction, the rays of their true love
          Must rise on upward with less living force.
          "But equal measuring of our rewards
          With our merits is part of our delight,
120     Since we see them as neither less nor greater.
          "In this way living Justice has so sweetened
          Our own affections that they never can
          Be bent aside to any wickedness.
          "Assorted voices make sweet melody:
125     And so the varied ranking of our lives
          Renders sweet harmony among these gyres.
          "Within this present pearl shines the light
          Of Romeo, whose beautiful and noble
          Endeavor was so churlishly rewarded.
130     "But the Provenšals who worked against him
          Have no last laugh, for he takes an evil path
          Who harms himself through the good deeds of others.
          "Four daughters, and each one of them a queen,
          Had Raymond Berenger, and this was managed
135      By Romeo, a low-born man and pilgrim.
          "But then crooked words caused Berenger to ask
          A reckoning of this just man who had ever
          Returned in payment to him twelve for ten.
          "At that point he departed, poor and old,
140      And if the world could know the heart he had
          When begging his livelihood crust by crust,
          "Much as it praises him, it would praise him more."
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