The Reading Room

Teleporting From the Moon to Mercury: Dante’s Paradiso

Today we consider Cantos 5-6 from Dante’s Paradiso and finish Dante's time with the Oath Breakers and Unfulfilled vowers from the Sphere of the Moon (Constance and Piccarda). We will then shoot up "like an arrow that strikes the target before the bowstring had been stilled, so we sped into the second realm" (5.91-93) Notice again the hysteron proteron with the secondary action being represented first! 
Does this dual image of a swaying bowstring and arrow-stuck-in-target itself represent the strange relationship between cause and effect, and how the temporal relationship of a cause and an effect are themselves upset in Dante’s immaterial Paradise, itself a place full of causes but largely free of affected matter? This would suggest an eschatological universe in which the ultimate effect cause of the first cause is presumed in the first cause itself.The sphere of the Moon's "action" is concluded by a consideration of whether one could break a vow and substitute some other item or service than that which was promised. Dante's response to whether one can break a vow is as follows: first he explains that a vow is made by means of human free will which is the greatest gift God gave to man and therefore when one makes a vow, God guarantees this vow. If one wishes to change a vow, one must give six where once one gave four, or the original amount or item and one third more than that which was initially offered. Dante then explains that a vow is composed of two parts: (1) the thing offered or matter of the agreement and (2) the agreement between parties or form of the agreement. The agreement must always be honored, regardless of ensuing circumstances. The thing offered can be changed only if one offers something in addition to the original. This is because the moment one vows to offer an item or a service, one is bound to do so by one's own will but also by God's. 

There is a caveat, however, which concerns instances where fulfilling the vow would result in worse consequences than breaking it. In such a situation one should simply break the vow and ask for forgiveness. This is what Agamemnon should have done with his vow about Iphigeneia his daughter and Jephthah (so like Idomeneus and his son) with with his vow about  his son each of whom was sacrificed on the basis of a previous oath. Rather than honor their promises which led to worse consequences, they should have accepted the consequences of breaking the oath, according to the nuns on the Moon. Perhaps Achilles should have too rather than viciously despoiling Hector’s body and brutally indulging in the human sacrifice of several Trojan youths because he had sworn vengeance for Patroclus’ death.
The following Canto Six, now in the Sphere of Mercury, is unique in that it features a single speaker, the 6th century Emperor of Rome Justinian who gives a sort of mythological history of the Roman empire. His mytho-poetic history spans, like the wings of an eagle, from early Roman times to Dante's segmented political times--sp afflicted with issues between the Ghibellines (represented, like Justinian, by an eagle banner) and Guelfs (represented by a golden lily). Justinian begins his account of Roman history with the death of Pallas, the son of Evander of Arcadia, at the hands of the Rutulian warrior chieftain Turnus from Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid. So like a king, Justinian gives in to prolixity,.  We do learn from him that those souls in Mercury's sphere do not feel longing to be in a higher sphere than the one they find themselves in, though to Dante’s perception, there are higher, more blessed spheres to come. Because the Mercurial and merchant souls of Mercury so longed for earthly honor, prestige, and glory, they fulfilled their active lives, but did not focus on developing their contemplative lives which would have led them towards the object of all thought, God. Since God's justice is infallible and perfect, the place where these souls rest is the perfect place for them. As there are varied sights in a garden or different notes in a symphony, so are these souls (still called shades) perfectly content with their allotted place in the universe. Justinian also mentions the great just man Romeo (not the one from the Shakespeare play two hundred years later), and his poor treatment among his peers based on likely somewhat spurious stories.