March 07, 2008


You may have heard the saying "Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die." In Dante's Divine Comedy, that wasn't the case, although the pilgrim had to literally go through hell to do it.

Dante's trip to Heaven is the topic for this last post in a two week series on the Comedy aimed at encouraging you, Gentle Reader, to give it a try. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts. You will also find links and comments about current events.

After being purified of his sins in Purgatory (see yesterday), the beloved Beatrice guides Dante on a tour of Heaven, with plenty of help from other blessed souls, including St. Bernard.

Holy light show, Batman! The souls of the blessed just love dazzling Dante as he ascends through several spheres of Heaven, which correspond to what was known about astronomy. As with hell and Purgatory, there are different levels in Heaven, according to the capacity of the souls. Everybody is blissed out, but some get better seats.

The spheres Dante and Beatrice ascend include the moon (where people who broke their vows abide), Mercury (for those who desired fame), Venus (people motivated by love), the Sun (the wise), Mars (those who fought for the faith), and so on. He has many encounters with various saints, kings, and famous people, including Cacciaguida, his great-great grandfather.

Cacciaguida gives Dante good advice for bearing up to the sorrows to come. He is told that he will have to live in exile and know what it's like "to climb another's stair" and "how salty is the bread of strangers." Cacciaguida advises him not to be consumed with the typical exile's bitterness and scheming to return. Neither should he give way to the excessive partisanship that devastated Italy, but instead become "a party of yourself" and carry out his mission of writing of what he has experienced.

As was the case with Inferno and Purgatory, Dante's Heaven has interesting characteristics. On the one hand, it seems to go up and up through successive and widening spheres. However, this is just an illusion to make it more comprehensible to the pilgrim. In reality, Heaven is like an atom with God at the very center and with all the souls of the saved surrounding and gazing in awe and wonder at the beatific vision.

At the very end, after passing a quiz by some apostles, Dante is given a chance to look at God, which is indescribable. Here are some lines from Longfellow's translation:

Thenceforward, what I saw,
Was not for words to speak, nor memory's self
To stand against such outrage on her skill.
As one, who from a dream awaken'd, straight,
All he hath seen forgets; yet still retains
Impression of the feeling in his dream;
E'en such am I: for all the vision dies,
As 't were, away; and yet the sense of sweet,
That sprang from it, still trickles in my heart.

I love the last line: a wheel in perfect balance turning, I felt my will and my desire impelled by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Wouldn't it be nice to wind up like that at the end of the road?

THE MIDDLE CLASS SQUEEZE. Here's an interesting item from the Campaign for America's Future about the growing economic crisis many families are experiencing. And here's Paul Krugman's latest column on the possible role of the economy in the coming election.

GREEN JOBS are a major goal for unions.

AND THE HORSE THEY RODE IN ON. Here's an interesting book review on proto Indo-European culture, critters and languages.

WEST VIRGINIA VIEWS. In this op-ed, Ted Boettner and Renate Pore make the case for public investments in health, education and infrastructure. And in this one, state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Larry Matheney discusses the Worker Freedom Bill, which threw organized business in WV into a hissy fit.

URGENT INDONESIAN HOBBIT UPDATE. Remember those fossilized little guys they found over there? They may have been humans with a severe iodine deficiency.

I GOT ALL EXCITED ABOUT THIS ONE. The headline from this Science Daily item mentioned fossils of giant bats, but the biggest only weighed half a pound. I'm sure that's very respectable for bats and proud we are of all of them, as Maude Lebowski would say. But still it was kind of a letdown. I was hoping for maybe a 20 foot wingspan and all I got was a half-pounder...


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