Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri Paradiso: Canto XXI
In this part of the poem, Dante ascends with Beatrice to the seventh Heaven, which is the plat Saturn. Here a golden ladder is place and the height of the ladder is infinite and the top of the ladder is not visible to Dante who is mortal. The narrator of the epic poem is Dante himself. Beatrice, the ideal beautiful woman guides the narrator through Heaven.
Dante turns to the face of Beatrice, but she is not smiling. She tells Dante that if she smiles, Dante will be reduced to mere ashes. She tells Dante of the tragedy of a woman named Semele who is the mother of Dionycious, the Greek God of fertility and wine by Jove had been turned to ashes when smiled. This is why the spirit of Beatrice did not smile at Dante. Her smile has the intensity of God’s love which will destroy mortal beings. The reason was that they have climbed so high on the heavenly ladder and they have reached the point where Dante’s senses cannot bear the great power of God’s love reflected through spirit of Beatrice.
The beauty of Beatrice is more glorified and powerful when they reached the top step of the divine ladder and God’s power and glory is reflected on the face of Beatrice, will burn the mortal senses of Dante when he looks at her. She says that Dante will be become like a leaf of tree which is burned to ashes when lightning and thunder strike it. Beatrice now announces that they have reached the Seventh Heaven. It is just below the Constellation of Leo which is always burning and light flashes everywhere downwards with the power and glory of God. Beatrice again warns Dante to listen and concentrate his mind and eyes and look where he usually look and he sees the reflected image of what comes next. So Dante looks at the bright eyes of Beatrice. There the narrator sees the wonderful landscape of Saturn reflected. Dante says that he is really grateful to his beautiful guide Beatrice and he blindly obeys every word of his ideal companion. When he looks at her, his joy is unlimited and she is also very happy on seeing the pleasure of the narrator. The narrator then saw a golden ladder slowly coming up and the sunlight is reflected on it. The ladder is going up so high that the narrator cannot see its top because he is mortal. When he looks down the steps, it is so bright that all the lights in the heaven seem to be appeared there. It is an amazing sight for Dante.
Thousands of souls are climbing up and down the steps of the golden ladder every minute just like the flocks of rooks (jackdaws) fly away in the bright morning to various parts of the sky in order to warm their cold feathers in the bright sunlight. Some of them fly off without return, some others come back to where they started from and some others are flying round here and there. A multitude of shining spirits are moving on the steps of the golden ladder and one spirit comes so near Dante and Dante wants to talk to the spirit and must get permission from Beatrice. At this unspoken thought, Beatrice promptly gives the signal and Dante speaks to the soul why he comes so near and why there is perfect silence in this place, whereas, every other sphere is full of God’s glorious music. The soul answers Dante for the 2nd question first and says that it is quite silent here because if they were to sing, the power of the song would break the ear-drums of Dante who is a mortal. In other words, Dante’s mortal hearing could not bear the glory and power of the divine song at this level of heaven. Now the soul answers the first question of Dante.
The soul says that he has descended the golden ladder with the emergency purpose of meeting Dante. He adds that the soul is fully governed by God’s love and will, and therefore the soul is asked to move down the ladder to meet Dante. Before the soul can even say the last words, the spirit begins spinning at a lightning speed and its spinning only makes the soul grow brighter and more beautiful and it says that its sight is very good and this is why God blesses him with so much grace. No one can know the mine of God, the soul warns Dante and advises Dante to report this important matter to the people when he returns home to the earth.
The warning of the spirit trembles Dante with fear and he is silent. The spirit is willing to reveal his identity. The brightly burning soul tells Dante once long ago he was a monk in a monastery at Catria in Italy. It was called Santa Croce di Forte Avellan. He came to the monastery as a sinner and became a saint soon. He worshipped God in meditation and prayer and lived on a simple vegetable diet cooked in olive juice. At that time the monastery supplied truly virtuous souls, but now the monastery is corrupted and barren. When he entered the monastery, he was called ‘Peter the Sinner’. But now he is known as St. Peter Damian. Dante nods in agreement. St. Peter Damian continues his story. From the monastery he was dragged out to become a Cardinal. He preferred his monastery life to the Papal dignity of glory and power. St. Peter Damian recalls that one upon a time Popes were good and they led very simple and holy life, strictly following the teachings of the Bible and St. Paul wore the hat of the Cardinal and he walked “barefoot” and was lean, simple and holy.
But now, shaking his head, Peter Damian says that the Pops are plump and corrupted and that they need a lot of servants and helpers to do everything because they love luxurious life. Peter’s words have attracted other souls who are now gathered round a spectacle of light. When Peter Damian stops talking, the spirits cry out in agreement and Dante drops like an anchor because their combined voices have the power of thunderbolt in the blue sky and he was trembled with fear, as his senses are paralyzed with shock. Kjt/22-02-2016