Dante’s Paradise: Canto 9 Retelling — Venus — Cuanza, Folquet, Rahab

Chapter 9: Venus — Cuanza, Folquet, Rahab

Dante the Poet thought, Clemence, your relative Charles Martel told me prophecies of plots against you and your relatives. But he told me, “Don’t reveal the specifics of what I have said. Let time pass and reveal the plots.” Because I gave him this promise, I can say only that those who harm you will regret it.

But now that soul who was Charles Martel looked at the Sun. This saved soul looked at the Eternal Good, but living human beings too often look away from the Eternal Good.

And now another light came toward Dante. This saved soul glowed with the prospect of helping him.

Beatrice looked at Dante and nodded, giving her assent to his desire to speak with the saved soul.

Dante said to the saved soul, “Blessed soul, you know my thoughts because you can see into the mind of God, and God knows my thoughts. Therefore, you know my questions. Please answer them.”

The saved soul, who received joy from giving joyously to others, replied, “I lived in the March of Treviso, and my family castle was located on the hill of Romano. My mother dreamed of a burning torch before she gave birth to Ezzelino III, my brother, who was a bloodthirsty tyrant who now stands deep in the boiling river of blood in the Inferno.

“My name is Cunizza, and I appear to you here on Venus because much of my life before I repented was filled with excessive sexual desire.”

Dante thought, Cunizza, who died in 1279, is the sister of the tyrant Ezzelino, who died in 1259 and who is in the Inferno because of the blood he spilled when he was tyrant. Cunizza was the lover of Sordello, one of the late repentant in AntePurgatoryPrepurgatory. She left her husband for him. She had lots of husbands and lovers, and she had lots of sex. Cunizza fell in love easily. Of course, she still had free will and the ability to tell right from wrong. In later life, she was a good person and did many good deeds. Sinners can repent and end up in Paradise.

Cunizza continued, “I had many husbands and lovers while I was alive, but I repented. I can recall my sins, but I have drunk from the stream Lethe, and I do not feel the sting of my sins. All I feel is forgiveness, both forgiveness by God and forgiveness by myself. Gladly I forgive the excessive love that I had because when I repented, my excessive passionate love became caritas: love for all Humankind and for God. We saved souls in Paradise do not beat ourselves up because of our sins. We know that God has forgiven us, and we forgive ourselves.

“This soul beside me has left great fame behind on Earth. His fame will last 500 years. A person who achieves excellence in the living world can achieve a fame that will remain as a second life after the person’s physical body has died.

“And yet this soul’s remembered excellence means nothing to the people who live between the Tagliamento and the Adige rivers in Italy. These people do not repent. Not even war and the threat of war makes them repent.

“Let me make prophecies: The blood of Paduans will flow because they refuse to do what they ought to do.”

Beatrice thought, In 1314, Can Grande della Scala will defeat the Paduans outside Vicenza. The Paduans should, but do not, have allegiance to the Empire.

Cunizza continued, “An arrogant man reigns in Treviso; his fate has already been decided.”

Beatrice thought, Rizzardo da Cammino, the arrogant Lord of Treviso, will be murdered in 1312 while he plays chess.

Cunizza continued, “The godless shepherd of Feltro will commit a crime so great that the Malta, a papal prison near Lake Bolsena, has never held a criminal as bad as he. The Ferraran blood that he will spill would fill a vast vat. He will spill it only to prove that he is loyal to his party. Such actions will become common in that region.”

Beatrice thought, In 1314, a group of Ghibelline refugees will become the guests of Alessandro Novella, the Bishop of Feltro, a Guelf who will treacherously turn them over to their enemies, who will behead them.

Cunizza continued, “My words may seem harsh, but they are justified by their truth.”

She then joined the other souls, and they danced.

The soul who had been beside Cunizza and whose excellence and fame she had mentioned now glowed brightly red, like sunlight shining through a ruby.

Joy makes souls in Paradise bright. Joy makes living people smile. No joy is in the Inferno, only dark minds.

Dante said to the soul who was glowing red, “God can see all, and you can see into the mind of God, and therefore you know every thought I have. Why wait, then, to answer my questions? If our positions were reversed, I certainly would quickly answer your questions.”

The saved soul replied, “I lived in a country on the Mediterranean: Spain. In particular, I lived in Marseilles. My name is Folquet. Some people still remember my name.”

Dante thought, Folquet, who died in 1231, was a famous troubadour. Later in life, he became a Cistercian monk, and then he became the Bishop of Toulouse. He was a gifted poet.

Folquet continued, “In life, I loved passionately, and so I appear to you here on Venus. My passionate love on Earth rivaled that of famous lovers.

“The passionate love I felt rivaled that of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Pygmalion, Dido’s brother, killed her husband, Sichaeus, and she fled to North Africa, where she founded Carthage. Aeneas, blown off course by a storm sent by Juno, landed at Carthage, and Dido fell in love with him although she had pledged to remain faithful to her husband. Dido and Aeneas had a love affair until Jupiter, through Mercury, reminded Aeneas that he had a destiny to fulfill in Italy: to become an important ancestor of the Roman people. Out of grief, Dido committed suicide. Dido wronged both Sichaeus, her late husband, and Creusa, Aeneas’ late wife, who had died during the fall of Troy. Dido is in the Inferno among the lustful.

“The passionate love I felt rivaled that of Phyllis, a Thracian princess who loved Demophoön, the son of Theseus. They were supposed to be married, but when he did not show up at the altar, she hanged herself.

“The passionate love I felt rivaled that of Deianira, the wife of Hercules. He fell out of love with her and pursued Iole instead. She believed that a shirt soaked in the blood of Nessus, a Centaur (who had tried to rape her, but whom Hercules killed) would restore Hercules’ love for her. Nessus had told her that, but he tricked her. His blood was like acid to Hercules, and Hercules killed himself to escape the agony that the Centaur’s blood caused him. Deianira also killed herself. Nessus is in the Inferno. He is one of the guards at the river of boiling blood.

“But I and the other saved souls you see here repented while we were alive, and so we have no need to repent here. Instead, we smile here because we know that God has forgiven us. God wants all human beings to repent on Earth so that He can forgive them.

“All of us souls appear to you here on Venus, whose Sphere is the last that the shadow of the Earth touches. According to your medieval beliefs, the Earth is at the center of the universe, and around it are the Spheres containing the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, and so on. Imagine the Sun’s rays striking the Earth. The Earth casts a shadow that is cone-shaded. The Earth’s shadow sometimes envelopes the Moon in an eclipse and is large enough to envelop Mercury and touches the Sphere in which is Venus. God is doing you a favor by letting the universe appear to you in accordance with your medieval beliefs. A later age will know that the Sun is at the center of the solar system and that Mercury, Venus, and the Earth orbit the Sun. But God the Creator can make the universe appear to you in the way you expect it to appear. That way, you will not be overwhelmed with too much new information and will be able to retain more of the important information, such as that given to you by us saved souls who appear to you in these Spheres but who are really in the Mystic Empyrean with God.

“But now let me answer a question that I know you have. You wish to know the identity of this soul by me. This soul glows like crystal water through which sunshine streams.

“This soul was the first to rise out of Limbo when Christ harrowed Hell. This is Rahab, who was once the whore of Jericho. Joshua sent two spies to Jericho, Rahab allowed them to enter her house, and when soldiers came looking for the two spies, she hid them under bundles of flax on the roof of her house. The two spies promised that she and her family would be spared when Joshua’s soldiers conquered the city if she would hang a red cord out of a window of her house. The two spies and Jacob’s soldiers kept that promise.

“Rahab helped make possible Joshua’s first conquest in the Holy Land, an area of the world in which Pope Boniface VIII seems to have little interest.

“Your own city, Florence, was founded by Lucifer and by Mars, the god of war. Your city creates flowers of gold — the gold coins that are the Florentine florins — and these golden flowers turn priests and popes who should be shepherds into wolves that prey on the sheep that shepherds should protect.

“Those who should study the Gospel and other books of the Bible ignore them. People study Canon Law and make notes in the margins, but they engage in this study only so they can make money.

“The Pope and the Cardinals think only about making money. They do not think about Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel opened his wings at the Annunciation to Mary.

“But the Vatican and other places in Rome where flowed the blood of martyrs who gave their lives for God will soon be free of this adulterous passion for gold.”

Beatrice thought, Here and on the previous planets, we saw souls who were associated with a planet for negative reasons. The shadow of the Earth touched and corrupted these Spheres. First, the souls seen on the Moon did not keep their religious vows. Second, the souls seen on Mercury were excessively concerned about Earthly fame. Finally, the souls seen on Venus are those who took passionate love to an extreme. On the Sun and on the other planets we have yet to visit, the souls we will see will be associated with these Spheres for a positive reason — for something they had and have rather than for something they lacked.

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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