04
Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Paradiso
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The First Heaven. The Moon. Reflected Happiness
Inconstant Spirits who failed to keep their Vows

A free man, 'tween two viands equally
attractive and removed, would die of hunger,
before he carried either to his teeth;
thus would a lamb, between the ravenings
of two fierce wolves, keep fearing each alike;
thus would a dog remain between two does.

Hence, by my doubts impelled in equal measure,
if I was silent, I reproach me not,
nor do I praise, since thus it had to be.
I held my peace; but my desire was painted
upon my face, and far more warmly thus
I asked, than had it been by uttered speech.

Hence Beatrice did ev'n as Daniel once,
when in Nebuchadnezzar he appeased
the wrath, which had unjustly made him cruel;
and "Clearly do I see" she said, "how both
thy wishes so attract thee, that thy thought
is so self-bound, that it is not expressed.
Thou arguest thus: 'If my good will endure,
why doth the violence of others cause
the measure of my merit to be less?'
Again it gives thee cause for doubt, that souls
seem to return unto the stars again,
according to the opinion Plato held.
These are the questions which upon thy will
are thrusting equally; I'll hence deal first
with that one which hath most of venom for thee.

Of all the Seraphs he who most in-Gods
himself, or Moses, Samuel, or, I say,
whichever John thou choose, or even Mary,
have in no other heaven their seats, than have
those spirits which appeared to thee just now,
nor for their being more or fewer years;
but all make beautiful the highest sphere,
and each in different ways enjoys sweet life,
through feeling more and less the Eternal Breath.
They did not here reveal themselves, because
this special sphere had been allotted them,
but to express the lowest heavenly state.

Thus must one speak to your intelligence,
since only from sense-objects can it learn
what it thereafter fits for understanding.
Because of this the Scriptures condescend
to your capacity, and feet and hands
ascribe to God, and yet mean something else;
and Holy Church in human form presents
Gabriel and Michael to you, and the other,
who to Tobias once restored his health.

That which Timaeus teaches of the soul
is not like that which one up here beholds,
for, as he says it, so he seems to mean.
He says that each soul to its star returns,
because he thinks that it was severed thence,
when Nature granted it as form; and yet
his doctrine is, perhaps, of other guise,
than what his words imply, and may possess
a meaning which is not to be despised.
In case he mean that to these wheel-like spheres
returns their influence's praise or blame,
his bow may hit, perhaps, upon a truth.
This principle, ill understood, once turned
nigh all the world awry, so that, in naming
Jove, Mercury and Mars, it went astray.

The other doubt whereby thy mind is stirred,
less venom hath, because its harmfulness
could not conduct thee elsewhere from my side.
That this our Justice should appear to be
unjust in the eyes of mortals, argues faith,
and not heretical depravity.
But here, because your human understanding
can penetrate this truth with ease, I'll now,
as thou desirest, render thee content.

If violence it be, when he who suffers
contributes naught to him who uses force,
these souls were not excused because of that;
for will, unless it willeth, is not quenched,
but acts as Nature acts in fire, though turned
a thousand times aside by violence;
for, whether it be bent or much or little,
it yieldeth to the force; and so did these,
when able to regain the holy place.
For if their will had been as absolute
as that which held Lorenzo on his grate,
or that which to his hand made Mutius cruel,
it would, as soon as freed, have urged them back
along the road o'er which they once were dragged;
but wills as firm as that are very rare!
And by these words, if thou hast gathered them,
as it behooved thee to, that doubt is quashed,
which often would have troubled thee again.

But now athwart thine eyes another pass
appears, one such, that from it by thyself
thou wouldst not issue, but wouldst weary first.
I surely have instilled this in thy mind,
that spirits who are happy could not lie,
since such are always near the Primal Truth;
yet from Piccarda thou mayst next have heard
that Constance for the veil retained her love;
she, therefore, seems to contradict me here.
Oft hath it happened, brother, heretofore,
that, to escape from danger, one has done,
against one's will, what was not right to do;
as, at his father's hest, Alcmaeon did,
who impious made himself, his mother killing,
in order not to fail in piety.
In such a case I'd have thee think that force
mingles with will, and that they so behave,
that sinful actions cannot be excused.
Absolute will consenteth not to wrong,
but in so far consenteth, as it fears,
unless it yield, to be more greatly harmed.
Hence, when Piccarda puts the matter thus,
she means it of the will that 's absolute,
and of the other I; hence both speak true.

Such was the rippling of the holy stream,
which issued from the Fount whence every truth
derives; and such, it set both doubts at rest.

"O thou belovèd of the Primal Lover,
O goddess," said I then, "whose speech both warms
and inundates me so, that more and more
it quickens me with life, not deep enough
is m? love to return thee grace for grace;
but let Who sees and can, provide for this.
I well see that our mind is never sated,
unless it be illumined by the Truth,
outside of which no truth extends. Therein
it rests, as doth a wild beast in its lair,
as soon as it attains it; and it can
attain it; else would all desires be vain.

Hence like a shoot doubt rises at the foot
of truth; and this is Nature, which from height
to height impels us toward the mountain's top.

This biddeth me, and this assurance gives me,
Lady, with reverence to inquire of you
about another truth that 's dark to me.
I wish to know if one can so content you
for broken vows by means of other things,
that these shall not prove light upon your scales."

Then Beatrice looked at me with her eyes
filled so divinely with the sparks of love,
that, overcome, my vision turned in flight,
and I with bowed eyes almost lost myself.

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