Dante’s Paradise: Canto 15 Retelling — Mars — Cacciaguida

Chapter 15: Mars — Cacciaguida

The love of others — caritas — has an opposite: self-serving love. Caritas is always magnanimous, and self-serving love always leads to inequity.

These souls who appeared on Mars have the love that loves others, and the music and the song stopped because these souls knew that Dante wanted to ask questions and to learn things.

These souls felt joy in being able to help Dante. Other souls who had self-serving love have lost forever the joy that is felt in Paradise. They traded joy that is eternal for things that bring joy briefly. Souls who had self-serving love mourn forever in the Inferno — as is right.

Sometimes in the night sky a star seems to fall, but it is actually a meteor. Now a light came from the Cross and approached Dante. The light started from one of the arms and then went to the vertical part of the Cross and down it so that it was as close as possible to Dante.

The light was like fire behind a white screen. The white screen was bright, but within it was a brighter light. The saved soul within was brighter than the brilliant light that clothed it.

The light moved quickly — as quickly as Anchises, Aeneas’ father, moved to meet Aeneas when Aeneas went to the land of the dead.

Beatrice thought, The story of Aeneas’ journey to Elysium, aka the land of the dead, is told in Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas was in exile, and he was discouraged. He needed a reason for going on, and Anchises gave him that reason by showing Aeneas his illustrious descendants. With renewed vigor, Aeneas went to Italy and accomplished his destiny of becoming an important ancestor of the Roman people.

Similarly, Dante will be in exile, and he will be discouraged. He will need a reason to go on. He will need to find the right way to react to his exile. Now he will have a meeting with an ancestor who can give him a reason to go on.

The saved soul spoke to Dante in Latin, “O sanguis meus, O superinfusa gratia Dei, sicut tibi, cui bis unquam celi ianua reclusa?”

Translating the Latin was not a problem for Dante or for Beatrice, both of whom knew that the saved soul had said, “O blood of mine, O grace of God, has the gate of Paradise ever opened twice for anyone as it has for you?”

Beatrice thought, The words “O sanguis meus” are quoted from Virgil’s Aeneid. Anchises spoke these words to Aeneas when Aeneas visited Elysium. Aeneas visited Elysium twice: once while alive, and once after he died. But Elysium is not Paradise. Dante is visiting Paradise now, and he will enter Paradise permanently after he has died.

Dante looked at the saved soul, and then he looked at Beatrice, who was smiling. Dante also smiled, and it seemed to him that he felt the deepest joy that Paradise offers.

Beatrice thought, I am very happy that Dante is able to meet this soul. He will be very happy when he finds out who this soul is. He will be much more joyful than he is now.

The saved soul spoke to Dante, but what the saved soul said was too deep for Dante to comprehend. The saved soul was not being deliberately obtuse. The things that the saved soul was saying were not simple, and difficult language had to be used to express them. In Paradise, such language is understood.

Once the saved soul had stated things that were important although they were not understood by Dante, the saved soul said a few words that Dante could understand: “Blessed be You, God, Three Persons in One Being, Who has shown such grace to one of my descendants!”

The saved soul continued, “I have read the Book of Fate, whose words can never change, and I knew that you were coming. Your being here now has made me happy. Thank you, Beatrice, for all that you have done to bring my descendant to me.”

Then the saved soul spoke to Dante, “You believe that I know your thoughts because I can see them in the mind of God, which knows everything, including every thought before it is expressed. You are correct. Because you correctly believe that, you do not ask me who I am and you do not ask why I am so happy to see you.

“But even though I know your thoughts and I know your questions, please use your own voice to express your questions confidently and boldly. I want to hear your voice. You already know that I will answer your questions.”

Dante turned to Beatrice, and she smiled to let him know that he ought to speak to the saved soul.

Dante said to the saved soul, “All of you who are saved have no imbalance in your faculties. You can find the proper words to say what you want to say. I, however, am still living, and now I cannot find the proper words to say what I want to say. Only with my heart and not with my words can I thank you for your familial welcome to me here. Also, I would like to know, please, the answer to this question: What is your name?”

The saved soul replied, “I am the root of your family tree. You are one of its branches. I have eagerly anticipated your visit here. The man from whom you have received your family name — Alighieri — is on the first ledge of the Mountain of Purgatory. For one hundred years, he has been carrying a heavy stone to purge his sin of pride. This man is the father of your grandfather: He is your Great-Grandfather. He is my son. I am your Great-Great-Grandfather. You should offer prayers in order to reduce the amount of time he spends on the First Ledge.

“Like you, I am from Florence, but the Florence of my day — the early and mid-1100s — was different from the Florence of your day. Florence was much smaller in my day. Its population still fit behind the ancient walls. Its citizens were at peace then. Its people were pure, and they were temperate. The citizens in the Florence of your day engage in destructive factionalism.

“Women did not dress in clothing that was more beautiful than the woman wearing it. Women did not wear necklaces or tiaras or fancy gowns or fancy belts.

“In the Florence of my day, fathers did not need to fear falling into poverty because of the birth of a daughter. The daughter would be married at an age at which she was mature. She would not be married too young. The dowries were reasonable and could be paid. In the Florence of your day, a man with one daughter is impoverished and a man with two daughters is bankrupt.

“The houses in Florence were smaller then, and people actually lived in them. In the Florence of your day, many large houses are empty. Sometimes, the houses are built to display wealth instead of to be lived in. Sometimes, the houses are empty because the owners have lost their money through riotous living and can no longer afford to maintain them. Sometimes, the houses are empty because the owners have been forced into exile.

“In the Florence of my day, Sardanapalus was not regarded as a role model. In the Florence of your day, this depraved King of Assyria is regarded as setting a standard of debauchery that ought to be imitated, especially in the bedroom.

“The Florence of my day had not surpassed Rome. The Florence of your day surpassed Rome in its ascent, and it will surpass Rome in its fall.

“In the Florence of my day, I saw the nobleman Bellincion Berti wearing a simple leather belt with a simple bone clasp. In the Florence of your day, noblemen wear ornamented belts and jeweled clasps.

“In the Florence of my day, I saw Bellincion Berti’s wife in public with a face that was free of makeup. In the Florence of your day, women’s faces are painted.

“In the Florence of my day, leading citizens Nerli and Vecchio wore plain leather, and their wives worked with a spindle all day. Such is not the case in the Florence of your day.

“In the Florence of my day, the wives were happy. They knew that when they died, they would be buried in Florence. In the Florence of your day, often people are exiled and so when they die they will be buried elsewhere.

“In the Florence of my day, the wives were not alone in bed — their husbands were with them. In the Florence of your day, many wives sleep alone because their husbands are in France, engaging in trade and making money.

“In the Florence of my day, a wife might be tending a baby in a cradle and speaking baby talk. Another wife might tell her children stories as she worked at a spinning wheel. The stories might be about the Trojans or about Rome or, more locally, about Fiesole.

“In the Florence of my day, stories about the luxuriant excesses of the poet and lawyer Lapo Salterello would have amazed and dismayed the citizens, as would have the sharp tongue, extravagance, and sluttishness of Cianghella.

“In the Florence of your day, citizens would be amazed by stories about the goodness of Cincinnatus, who stopped being a farmer in order to lead Roman troops to victory and then relinquished power and became a farmer again. And they would have been amazed by stories about the goodness of Cornelia, the daughter of the hero Scipio Africanus. Cornelia gave birth to Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi, who tried but failed to save the Roman Republic.

“My mother gave birth to me in Florence, a place of serenity and sweetness and citizens who got along with each other, and in Florence, at the ancient Baptistery, I became a Christian, and I was christened Cacciaguida.

“My brothers were Eliseo and Moronto. My wife came from the valley through which the Po runs, and she brought with her the name Alighieri: your name.

“I served the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III so well that he knighted me, and I fought during the Second Crusade. The Saracens cut me down in battle, and because I was a martyr, I immediately entered Paradise.”

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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