Eagle. Cantos 18-20;
"LUE" Acrostic. Canto 19.115-41;
Eye of the Eagle. Canto 20.31-148;
Predestination. Canto 20.118-41
Eagle. Cantos 18-20
The spirits in the sphere of Jupiter spell out--one letter at a time, like cheerleaders or a marching band at a sporting event--the Latin words diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram ("cherish justice, you who judge the earth"), a fitting reminder to kings and other secular rulers. The final letter formed, the m of terram, then changes to a new shape: a number of lights rise upward to form the neck and head of an eagle while the remaining spirits first weave the figure of a lily around the lines of the m and finally settle into the shape of the eagle's body (18.70-114). Taken together, these signs establish Jupiter as the sphere of just rulers. The letter m is the first letter of monarchia, a Latin word indicating the political power of the empire. Dante, who believed in independent, equal institutions for political power (empire) and spiritual authority (papacy), wrote a Latin treatise (Monarchia) and several letters supporting the reestablishment of a strong, viable empire. The eagle, as seen in the historical events narrated by Justinian, is the symbol of the Roman Empire, as well as the supreme deity (Jove, Jupiter) of classical mythology (see Dante's first dream in Purgatory). The lily is an emblem, closer to Dante's day, of both the French monarchy and the city of Florence. This eagle formed in the sphere of Jupiter is amazingly able to talk, and it does so in a singular voice even as it speaks for the multitude of spirits that compose it (19.7-12).
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"LUE" Acrostic. Canto 19.115-41
Among the nominal Christians (who will be further removed from Christ than non-Christians--here marked as Ethiopians and Persians--when the damned and the saved are separated from one another at the Last Judgment) are European kings and princes whose shameful actions will be revealed to all in the book of life (Par. 19.106-14). The eagle of Jupiter, consisting of spirits who previously spelled out a phrase commanding rulers to cherish justice (Par. 18.88-93), now adopts a different textual strategy to lambaste a select group of harmful political leaders: with the first three tercets all beginning "There one shall see" (Lì si vedrà), the second three beginning "One shall see" (Vedrassi), and the final three beginning with the conjunction "and" (e), the initial letters form an acrostic by spelling LUE, the Latin word for "plague" or "pestilence" (Par. 19.115-41). This acrostic is fitting commentary on the pernicious effects of injustice and misrule, much as the acrostic in the Purgatory underscored the propensity of humankind (VOM) to fall victim to pride (Purg. 12.25-63).
The eagle first rebukes Albert I of Austria (died 1308), already the target of Dante's ire (along with his father, Rudolph I of Hapsburg) because of his neglect of Italy (Purg. 6.97-117), for his ruthless invasion of Bohemia in 1304 (Par. 19.115-17). Although Albert was never crowned emperor, his election was recognized in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII as part of the pope's strategy in forging an alliance against Philip the Fair, the French king excoriated here for the damage he inflicted on France (he was rumored to have financed his wars by falsifying currency) before dying during a hunt (in 1314) when a wild boar charged his horse (Par. 19.118-20). After a generic reference to hostilities between arrogant English and Scottish rulers, the eagle laments the wanton, lax lifestyles of Ferdinand IV (1295-1312), king of Castile and León, and Wenceslaus II, who ruled Bohemia (1278-1305) when it was attacked by his brother-in-law, Albert (above) (Par. 19.121-26). The "Cripple of Jerusalem" refers to Charles II of Anjou (1254-1309), known as Charles the Lame, who inherited the title of king of Jerusalem from his father, Charles I; adding to the claim of Hugh Capet in Purgatory that both father and son contribute to the declining worth of French royalty (Purg. 20.67-69, 79-81), the eagle says that the younger Charles's evil deeds outnumber his good works by a thousand to one (Par. 19.127-29). Many of Charles's crimes occur in his dealings with Sicily, the "Isle of Fire," where Anchises, Aeneas's father, died in old age (Aeneid 3.707-15); Frederick II of Aragon (1272-1337), through his avarice and cowardice, also causes Sicily to suffer (Par. 19.130-32)--so much so, the eagle later says, that the inhabitants grieve while he and Charles the Lame are alive (Par. 20.62-63). Frederick's brother, James II, who preceded Frederick in ruling Sicily (1285-95) and later ruled Aragon, and his uncle, King James of Majorca (ruled 1262-1311), are accused of sullying their noble lineage and two crowns (Par. 19.136-38). The eagle completes the acrostic by expanding the area infected by pestilent rulers to include Portugal (King Diniz; ruled 1279-1325), Norway (King Haakon V; ruled 1299-1319), and Rascia (a medieval Balkan kingdom), whose ruler, Stephen Urosh II (ruled 1282-1321), was reported to have counterfeited Venetian currency (Par. 19.139-41).
As if adding an exclamation point to the accusatory acrostic, the eagle remarks that Hungary would be happy finally to have a righteous, competent ruler, just as Navarre (on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees) would be happy if the mountains could serve as protection against French expansionism. In fact, the small kingdom, which was later annexed to France, in 1300 could see its future in Cyprus (indicated by the cities of Nicosia and Famagosta), a land already suffering under the tyranny of its "beast," Henry II of Lusignan (Par. 19.142-48). Nearly covering the length and breadth of Europe--from Sicily to Norway, Portugal to Hungary--the eagle's lament from the heaven of Jupiter offers a divine seal of approval to Dante's petition for effective and just political leadership.
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Eye of the Eagle. Canto 20.31-148
A major lesson of the episode of Jupiter is the inscrutability of God's will, the idea that no one--not even the spirits in Paradise with their prophetic power--can probe completely the depths of divine knowledge and justice. Dante poetically illustrates this point in his selection of the six lights who receive special recognition among the blessed rulers by forming the eye of the eagle. David, the biblical king and composer of Psalms ("singer of the Holy Spirit": 20.38), represents the eye's pupil. This privileged position is consistent with David's prominent role in the Bible as a ruler, prophet, poet, and ancestor of Jesus. Called "King David" in the Inferno (he's one of the spirits rescued from Limbo at the harrowing of hell) and the "humble psalmist" in the Purgatorio (as an example of humility on the terrace of pride), David is an important influence on Dante's ideas of justice, poetry, and spirituality. The Roman emperor Trajan (the first of five spirits shaping the eagle's eyebrow) is recognized for having consoled a poor widow (20.45), an act displaying both his love of justice (he punished the killers of the woman's innocent son) and the humility for which he, like David, serves as an instructive example on the terrace of pride (he halted a military expedition to satisfy the widow's request). But to imagine Trajan in Paradise at all, Dante must accept as true the medieval legend that Pope Gregory the Great so admired the (pagan) Roman emperor that his prayers were answered: Trajan, who like other noble pagans had been confined to Limbo in hell, came back to life so he could embrace the Christian faith and thereby reap his heavenly rewards. Alongside Trajan shines the light of Hezekiah (20.49-54), a biblical king whose own prayers and righteous life moved God to delay his prophesied death and grant an additional fifteen years of life (2 Kings 20:1-6). Next in line along the eagle's eyebrow appear two prominent Christian monarchs: the emperor Constantine, blessed despite his devastating decision to grant temporal power to the Church when he moved the seat of the empire eastward, the so-called " Donation of Constantine" (believed in the Middle Ages but later proved false) (20.55-60); and William II of Sicily ("William the Good"), whose kingdom in southern Italy (he reigned from 1166-89) now suffers under the tyrannical misrule of Charles II of Anjou and Frederick II of Aragon but whose aunt and immediate successor was the "great Constance" (20.61-6). If Dante followed medieval precedent by placing the non-Christian emperor Trajan in heaven, responsibility for "saving" Ripheus, a minor figure from a pagan epic poem, is his alone (20.67-72). Praised in Virgil's Aeneid as the "first among the Trojans in justice" after he fell in battle (2.426-8), Ripheus offers powerful evidence of Dante's insistence that God's ways, particularly on such fateful issues as predestination, exceed all human limits to understanding.
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Predestination. Canto 20.118-41
The salvation of the Trojan Ripheus, a pagan who lived long before the advent of Christianity, conveys to Dante the extraordinary power of predestination, the idea that certain souls are chosen--or predestined--to be saved. This doctrine was the subject of lively debate among Christian theologians throughout the Middle Ages. Following the thinking of Thomas Aquinas and others on predestination, Dante shows how it is intrinsically bound up with the concepts of grace, providence, knowledge, and justice. Ripheus, through the workings of grace so profound that no created being has ever seen its ultimate source, directed all his love to justice; God therefore granted Ripheus a vision of future redemption, which, by leading him to repudiate paganism, allowed him to be baptized by the holy virtues (faith, hope, charity) over a thousand years before baptism existed (Par. 20.118-29). By the time he died, Ripheus had strong faith in Christ, referred to by the eagle as "the feet that were to suffer" (Par. 20.103-5). Dante's representation of Ripheus's blessedness finds support in Aquinas's claim that "revelation about Christ was in fact given to many of the pagans" and that even those who did not believe explicitly in Christ could be saved if they had "an implicit faith in God's providence, believing that God is man's deliverer in ways of his own choosing, as the Spirit would reveal this to those who know the truth" (Summa theologiae 2a2ae.2.7).
Building on the views of Augustine and Peter Lombard, Aquinas identifies predestination as "the plan, existing in God's mind, for the ordering of some persons to salvation" (Summa theologiae 1a.23.2). This plan, moreover, "is certain, though the freedom of choice, from which predestination as an effect contingently issues, is not abolished" (1a.23.6). Because of free will, by which individuals are held accountable for their actions, even the predestined "must strive in prayer and good works, for through them the effect of predestination will assuredly be fulfilled" (1a.23.8). To clarify how both predestination and free will can exist, Dante stresses the insurmountable gap separating human knowledge and vision from the ways of God. The "root" of predestination, the eagle exclaims in response to Ripheus's salvation, is unknowable because human beings are incapable of seeing the first cause in its entirety; not even the blessed know all those chosen to be saved (Par. 20.130-35).
The most effective way for Dante to illustrate the distinction between human and divine knowledge is through concrete images. Thus the eagle, even before revealing the unanticipated presence of Trajan and Ripheus in Jupiter, compares the inability of humankind to comprehend fully the workings of divine justice to how the human eye cannot see the ocean bottom far from shore: though hidden by the deep sea, the floor is nonetheless always there (Par. 19.58-63). Likewise, Cacciaguida in the previous sphere explains how his ability to see Dante's future doesn't imply necessity (and therefore negate free will) by describing how the act of observing a ship as it floats down a river doesn't determine the ship's movement (Par. 17.37-42). Even Thomas Aquinas resorts to a visual comparison to show how future events, which cannot be known with certainty by humans, are seen by God in his eternal knowledge: "In the same way a man going along a road does not see those who come behind him; but the same man who sees the whole road from a height sees all together those who are passing along the road" (Summa theologiae 1a.14.13). According to this line of thinking, God's simultaneous knowledge of all events (past, present, and future) doesn't mean that he causes them to happen.
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"non conosciamo ancor tutti li eletti" (20.135)
we don't yet know all who have been chosen
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1. While Dante's talking eagle follows orthodox Christian doctrine by positing Christian faith as a prerequisite for salvation (19.70-8; 103-5), he also makes clear that many who profess to have this faith will in the end be judged more harshly than those who do not (19.106-8). The eye of this eagle is formed by two Jews, two Christians, and two pagans (20.37-69). Why do you think Dante places such emphasis on the inscrutability of God's will and the foolish arrogance of those who attempt to penetrate it?
2. What are the implications of Dante's decision to place Ripheus, a minor character in Virgil's Aeneid, in heaven, while Virgil himself (along with many other virtuous non-Christian characters) is relegated to Limbo, the first circle of hell?
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