Dante’s Paradise: Canto 8 Retelling — Venus — Charles Martel

Chapter 8: Venus — Charles Martel

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the goddess Venus infected Humankind with violent passion and so they offered sacrifices to her. And not just her, but also to her mother, Dione. And to her son, Cupid, who they believed had taken the shape of Ascanius, Aeneas’ son, and as he lay in her lap, had infected Dido, the Queen of Carthage, with passion for Aeneas.

Therefore, the ancients took Venus’ name and gave it to the planet that seems to woo the Sun as it stays close to it in Venus’ guises as the Evening Star and the Morning Star.

Dante was not conscious of rising through the Heavens, but he knew that he had arrived on Venus when he looked at Beatrice and saw that she had grown more beautiful. The closer she came to God, the more beautiful she became.

Dante saw lights — souls — in the light of Venus, the bright and beautiful planet. He distinguished the lights just as he could distinguish sparks in a fire or just as he could distinguish between voices when two voices are singing the same note and one of the voices starts to sing a different note.

The lights were moving at different speeds that varied according to how each soul reflected God’s glory. Lightning is fast, but each of these lights was faster than lightning as they came closer to Dante and Beatrice. The lights had been dancing in the Mystic Empyrean among the highest order of Angels — the Seraphim — but they had consented to appear before Dante and educate him.

Song and dance are present in Paradise. The souls in front sang “Hosanna” so sweetly that for years afterward Dante longed to hear it again.

One soul came close to Dante and Beatrice and said, “We are all ready to serve you and make you joyful. We have appeared together on this, the third Sphere, to serve you. You once wrote a poem that began, ‘Oh, you whose intelligence moves the Third Sphere of the Heavens.’

“We are filled with love, and we will happily stop here and stay with you for a while.”

Dante looked at Beatrice, who was filled with joy and who nodded at him to give him her approval of his asking the soul questions, and then he looked at the light who had spoken to him and asked, gently, “Who are you?”

The light who was a soul glowed more brightly and more beautifully because he was happy to serve Dante.

The soul said, “I lived for only a few years on Earth. If I had lived longer, I would have been able to avert much trouble that will afflict Earth.

“I know that you cannot see me. All you can see is this light that envelops me. This light is happiness. I am enveloped in it the way a silkworm envelops itself in silk.

“Although you cannot see me, you knew me when I was alive on Earth. We were friends. If I had lived, you would have seen much more of my friendship for you instead of just its beginning.

“My grandfather, Charles I, acquired Provence through marriage. My father, Charles II of Naples, would have passed it on to me. I also would have been heir to the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Apulia. I became King of Hungary in 1290. I would have been the ruler of Sicily except that the bad rule of my family — the House of Anjou — caused the Sicilians to rebel in the Sicilian Vespers of 30 March 1282. The Sicilians cried out against the House of Anjou, ‘Death, death to them!’ Because of the Sicilians’ uprising, the crown of Sicily passed from the House of Anjou to the House of Aragon.”

Dante thought, This is my friend Charles Martel, a French Angevin Prince. He died young at age 24 in a cholera epidemic. He visited Florence for a few weeks in 1294, one year before he died, and he and I knew and liked each other.

One need not spend a lot of time climbing the Mountain of Purgatory. Some souls spend centuries climbing the mountain, but Charles Martel died only five years ago and already his soul is in Paradise.

Charles Martel continued, “Robert of Anjou, my brother, who will one day be King of Naples, needs to wise up. His rule is poor. Although his and my father was liberal, Robert is stingy. Working under him are men who care most for filling chests up with gold. My family has contained many good people and good rulers, but it has also contained many bad people and bad rulers.”

Dante said, “I am happy to see you again, friend, and I am happy to see that you are in Paradise. I am also happy that you know how happy I am. As a saved soul in Paradise, you know about my happiness because you can read it in the place where all good begins and ends: the mind of God.

“You have made me happy; now I ask that you make me wise. Please answer these questions: How can a good father produce a bad son? How can good parents produce bad children? You have said that Charles, your father, was generous. Yet Robert, your brother, is not generous. It would seem that a generous father would produce a generous son. It would also seem that a greedy father would produce a greedy son.”

Charles Martel replied, “I will try to explain this to you. First, let me clear up a false belief. People of our time believed that the stars and planets influenced our characters and our lives. They also believed that Providence influenced our characters and our lives through influencing the stars and planets.

“A later age will know that the stars and planets have no influence on us at all; astrology is not a science. Of course, God is important to us. For one thing, God created us and the universe and God keeps the universe and us in existence. If not for God, nothing would exist.

“In addition, God created such things as sex, heredity, and — as a later age will learn — something called evolution. When God created the universe, He created the physical laws that govern the universe. In a later age, Catholic nuns will do things right. They will teach evolution in science class, and they will teach creation in religion class.

“God knew that human beings would be different, and He wanted them to be different. They have individual characteristics and potential capabilities. These individual characteristics and potential capabilities are needed in society. Neither God nor society wants all human beings to be exactly alike. Different human beings are capable of doing different things, and different things are needed to make a functioning society.

“Through inheriting different traits passed down from both male and female ancestors, humans are born with potentialities that can be developed — or not developed — through environment and education and the use of free will in making choices.

“It is not the case that nobility of character is always passed on from a noble father or mother to a child. The nobility of character is acquired in part through the characteristics and potential capabilities that one inherits, and in part through education and environment, but mainly it is acquired — or not acquired — through choices freely made. The most important choice that anyone can make is whether to be a good person or a bad person. A good father can have a good and/or a bad son. A bad father can have a good and/or a bad son. Good parents can have good and/or bad children. Bad parents can have good and/or bad children.

“God’s laws of heredity work well. Without them, chaos would reign. God knows what He is doing. Do I need to say more?”

Dante replied, “No. God cannot fail, and God created the physical laws of the universe.”

Charles Martel asked, “If no social order existed, would this be good for Humankind?”

Dante replied, “No. Obviously, social order is needed.”

Charles Martel asked, “Do human beings need different characteristics and different capabilities in order to have a functioning society? According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, different characteristics and different capabilities are necessary in order to have a functioning society.

“Many characteristics and capabilities are needed. One man is born with the potential to be a giver of laws, as was Solon, who gave laws to Athens and who was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Another man is born with the potential to be a king and war leader, as was Xerxes, King of Persia and leader of armies. Another man is born with the potential to be a priest, as was Melchizedek, whom Genesis identified as ‘the priest of the most high God.’ Another man is born with the potential to be a mechanic, as was Daedalus, who was imprisoned with his son, Icarus. To escape, Daedalus built wings for himself and his son. But in the mythic story, Icarus flew too near the Sun, the wax melted and released the feathers, and Icarus fell into the sea and drowned.

“Nature gives potential to humans without regard to familial status. A great son can be born to a base father, and a base son can be born to a great father. The same is true for females.

“Good parents can produce bad children. Bad parents can produce good children. The children can be very different from each other even when they share the same parents.

“Esau and Jacob were twins, but they were very different. Esau was a hunter in the fields, but Jacob lived in tents.

“Look at Romulus, the co-founder of Rome with his brother, Remus. His father was not royal or aristocratic, but Romulus’ deeds were so notable that people could not believe that his father was basely born, and so they believed that Romulus’ father was Mars, the Roman god of war.

“Now that you understand this, let me make a further point. One’s characteristics and potential capabilities ought to be suitable for one’s life work. If a person has characteristics and potential capabilities that are not suited to the kind of work that person does, that person will fail.

“Society should pay attention to this. If it did, both society and individual human beings would be better off.

“Unfortunately, a person who has the characteristics and potential capabilities to be a warrior is forced to be a priest, and a person who has the characteristics and potential capabilities to be a priest is forced to be a king.

“All too often, people find themselves doing work that they are not suited to do and that could be much better done by someone else.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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