Paradiso Canto IX

Paradiso 9

‘This torch and I were born from a single root.
Cunizza was my name and, overcome
by this star’s splendor, I shine here.

vv. 31-33

The Heaven of Venus.—Conversation of Dante with Cunizza da Romano,—With Folco of Marseilles.—Rahab.—Avarice of the Papal Court.

Still in the third heaven (Venus), Dante encounters more souls who explain the nature of this level of Paradise. The souls here, he learns, are those who gave in to their earthly passions—particularly their sexual desires—and were therefore lacking in the virtue of temperance. He first speaks with one named Cunizza (Cunizza da Romano, who lived from 1198 to 1279), who admits: “The light of Venus vanquished me.” She complains of the ongoing political strife in northern Italy, but she assures Dante this earthly turmoil is part of a much larger divine plan. Cunizza then falls silent, and another brilliantly glowing soul approaches. Prompted by Dante, he introduces himself as Folco of Marseilles, a late 12th-century troubadour who “burned” with lust before renouncing the world and becoming a monk. The souls in this sphere, Folco explains to Dante, are no longer saddened by the memory of their past foolishness. “Here we don’t repent such things,” he says. “We smile … at that Might that governs and provides.” Folco, in turn, directs Dante’s gaze to another soul who “shines” alongside him. This is Rahab, mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures as a harlot who helps Joshua’s army capture Jericho and thereby saved her family from destruction. Her inclusion among the blessed is fitting, Folco explains, because she witnessed the triumph of God’s chosen people in the Holy Land. Folco, sharing Dante’s craft of poetry, ends his speech by lamenting the corruption of the popes and cardinals, whose greed has made them wholly indifferent to the teachings of the Bible.

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