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3. Venus
Charles Martel. Cantos 8.31-9.6;
Cunizza. Canto 9.13-66;
Folco. Canto 9.67-142;
Rahab. Canto 9.112-26;
Earth's Shadow. Canto 9.118-20

Study Questions

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Charles Martel. Cantos 8.31-9.6
Charles Martel Charles Martel
We unfortunately know little of this man who appears to have known Dante so well. Charles Martel, said to have met Dante during a brief stay in Florence (about three weeks) in 1294, was a prince who died during an epidemic (along with his wife) the following year at the age of twenty four. Son of Charles II of Anjou (King of Naples) and Mary of Hungary, Charles was heir to the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Hungary as well as the county of Provence. The great affection displayed between Dante and Charles in the sphere of Venus (see 8.49-57) is all the more striking because they knew one another for such a short time. The fact that Charles cites one of Dante's own poems (8.37) and addresses such important topics as the role of providence (over heredity) in determining individual talents and the need to respect these diverse inclinations in society (8.85-148) suggests the high regard in which Dante and the young prince held one another. Consistent with his appearance in Venus, Charles shows generosity of spirit both as a loving friend and as a young ruler genuinely concerned about societal well being.
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Cunizza. Canto 9.13-66
Cunizza da Romano, who identifies herself as one who lived under the powerful influence of Venus (9.32-3), embodies the more popular conception of a loving individual: married (for political advantage) to a guelph leader from Verona, she was the lover for several years of the Troubadour poet Sordello; Cunizza later had a love affair with the knight Enrico da Bovio, with whom she traveled extensively; after Enrico was killed in a battle between her brothers Alberico and Ezzolino, Cunizza married (at Ezzolino's bidding) a certain Count Aimerio; legend has it that, following the count's death, she married a nobleman from Verona and later (after his death?) her brother Ezzolino's astrologer from Padua. The point is, as one of the early commentators puts it, Cunizza knew love during each stage of her life. And this, she makes clear to Dante, is nothing to regret now that she enjoys the blessedness of heaven (9.34-6). In fact, Cunizza's moral compass appears to be well adjusted, as she laments the devastation wrought by her violent brother Ezzolino (punished among the murderers in hell) (9.28-30), emphasizes the importance of earning glory through excellence (9.41-2), and decries the corruption and violence that plague the northeastern region of Italy (9.43-60).
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Folco. Canto 9.67-142
Folco of Marseilles was a Provençal poet who later became a Cistercian monk and finally served as Bishop of Toulouse (France). Dante praises Folco in his De vulgari eloquentia (2.6.6) as an accomplished poet. Like Cunizza who first praised him to Dante (9.37-42), Folco was driven by intense amorous desire--he says he "burned" even more than Dido, who inhabits the infernal circle of lust --but enjoys an afterlife of joy and loving admiration free of regret and recrimination. What he does condemn--again following the example of Cunizza and consistent with his religious calling--are the failings of current Church leaders, the pope in particular. Folco's name, which echoes the Latin fulgo ("I shine"), reinforces Dante's conception of Venus as the sphere of burning passion.
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Rahab. Canto 9.112-26
Joining the spiritual and erotic movements of his presentation of Venus, Dante assigns a prominent place to Rahab: a biblical prostitute from the city of Jericho who aided Joshua by sheltering two of his scouts (for which she and her family were spared when Joshua's army destroyed the city) (Jos. 2 and 6.17-25), Rahab is the first spirit to adorn Venus following Christ's harrowing of hell. Rahab is viewed in Christian scripture as an ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:5) and as an example of salvation by faith (Heb. 11:31) and justification by works (James 2:25).
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Earth's Shadow. Canto 9.118-20
The shadow cast into the heavens by the earth, Folco of Marseille informs Dante, comes to a point in the sphere of Venus (Par. 9.118-19). This implies that the earth's shadow is cone-shaped (for which it is called the "conical umbra") and envelopes the first three spheres: Moon, Mercury, and Venus. On the one hand, Dante is very precise in his placement of Venus at the very end of the earth's shadow: according to the best information available at the time--Latin translations of works by the Islamic astronomer al-Farghani ("Alfraganus"), themselves based on the Almagest by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy--the length of the earth's shadow was 871,000 miles, a number consistent with the supposed distance of Venus from the earth (between 542,000 and 3,640,000 miles). [While this length for the shadow is consistent with modern calculations, the medieval estimates for the minimum and maximum distances from the earth to Venus are low by over a factor of forty]. On the other hand, Dante's overall configuration is impossible even according to medieval astronomy: the earth would have to be located between the Sun and the other spheres in order to cast its shadow in their direction, but Dante's world believed that Mercury, Venus and the Sun traveled close to one another at all times. The Sun could therefore never appear on the opposite side of the earth from Mercury and Venus, the necessary arrangement for the shadow to envelop Mercury and Venus in addition to the Moon.
Although all the blessed actually reside in the Empyrean before God and are perfectly content (Par. 4.28-39), Dante's use of the earth's shadow to separate the first three spheres from the rest of Paradise may suggest that the spirits appearing in the Moon, Mercury, and Venus are somehow inferior to their celestial counterparts in the upper heavens. Despite their admirable qualities and accomplishments, the shadowed spirits are grouped according to specific moral defects: unfulfilled vows (Moon), achievements for the sake of glory (Mercury), irrepressible ardor (Venus).
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"l'ombra s'appunta / che 'l vostro mondo face" (9.118-19)
the shadow your world makes comes to a point
Study Questions
1. How does Dante's treatment of love and sexuality in the sphere of Venus square (or not) with his presentation of these themes in Inferno and Purgatorio? What similarities and differences do you see between figures here (Charles Martel, Cunizza, Folco, Rahab) and their counterparts in hell and purgatory?
2. What is the significance of the earth's shadow as a marker separating the first three spheres (Moon, Mercury, Venus) from the rest of Paradise (9.118-19)? Consider Dante's placement of the earth's shadow--textually (canto 9) as well as geographically--in relation to similar configurations in hell and purgatory. How might this cosmic shadow relate to other types of shadow / shade in the poem?
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