Paradiso Canto XX

Paradiso 20

and all those living lights, shining
still more bright, began their songs
that slip, and fade, and fall from memory.

vv. 10-12

The Song of the Just.—Princes who have loved righteousness, in the eye of the Eagle.—Spirits, once Pagans, in bliss.—Faith and Salvation.—Predestination.

The Eagle falls silent, but the individual souls within it join in a song of praise. Dante is enraptured by the song’s beauty but cannot recall it in any detail—it “glides like falling leaves from memory.” The Eagle (symbol of both Rome and St. John the Evangelist) speaks again, commanding Dante to look it in the eye, where the soul of King David sits at the center of the pupil. Five other rulers make up the Eagle’s eyebrow and are named in turn. First to be identified is the Roman emperor Trajan (53–117), followed by Hezekiah, king of Judah, who lived in the late 8th and early 7th centuries BC. Next comes Constantine (280?–337), Rome’s first Christian emperor, at the apex of the eyebrow’s arch. The remaining two souls are William II of Sicily (1153–89), about whom relatively little is known, and Ripheus, an ancient Trojan hero mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid. Dante is flabbergasted to see two “pagans”—Trajan and Ripheus—among the blessed in Heaven. “What is all this?” he blurts out before he can stop himself. The Eagle, however, patiently explains both these men were saved by God’s will in direct divine intervention. Trajan was brought back to life just long enough to be baptized and therefore saved. God “opened Ripheus’s eyes,” centuries in advance, to the coming of Christ, and Ripheus was therefore able to convert to Christianity. Both cases illustrate the inscrutable nature of God’s will, which does not depend on man.

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Canto adopted by I Consiglieri dell’OMCeO di Ravenna 2021-2024

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