Paradiso Canto XV
As Canto XIV ended, Dante saw a massive cross of souls, gleaming like a gemmed cross (oh – go here to see a mosaic of a gemmed cross in Rome that Dante probably knew). Canto XV begins with the cross continuing to gleam, until one of the gems shoots across it, like a shooting star, and then comes to speak to them . . .
With such a loving piety for his son,
if we may trust our greater muse, Anchises
once hailed Aeneas in Elysium.
“O blood of mine, O overbrimming grace
poured out by God! for whom has Heaven’s door
been opened twice, as it has been for you?”
So spoke that light . . . . (Par XV.25-31)
Here Dante invokes Virgil, “our greater muse,” and contradicts himself. Remember Inferno II.32? I’ll admit that I let Esolen give me the line number in the note, but I remembered Dante exclaiming to Virgil: “I’m not Aeneas! I’m not St Paul!” But he is – he has been to Hell, and here he is in Heaven, and he’ll bring us reports of both.
But the ancestor of Dante goes on to speak, and Dante doesn’t understand him — “all was in a langauge too profound / Not that he chose to veil his thought from me” (Par XV.39-40). Almost everyone Dante has recognized or who has recognized Dante did it by speech, whether Dante called it italian, Tuscan, or Latin. This speech is too deep because the concepts are beyond mortal minds. Eventually the soul’s speech slackens enough that Dante can understand him, and it turns out that this is his great-great grandfather, father of the Alighero who gives Dante his name. His own name, Cacciaguida, will be postponed until line 135, almost the end of the canto.
Meanwhile, Cacciaguida, who died around 1150, has described what Florence was like in his day, when it was all contained in its Roman walls. Cacciaguida praises the simplicity and modesty of 12th C Florence, when the birth of a daughter didn’t fill a father in dread for her dowry and when men didn’t leave their women to sleep alone while they went off to France for money. Cacciaguida claims to have been baptized in the ancient baptistery, but…oh, well. It certainly wasn’t begun until after his death on the Second Crusade (if he’s right and he was with Emperor Conrad, he never made it past Anatolia).
Art History commonplace (though I think it’s in Villani, it’s something that I learned in Art 102 and again in Renaissance Architecture) is that the Florentines believed their (actually 1150s Romanesque) octagonal Baptistery of St John was an ancient Roman temple to Mars converted by the early Christians (and hence a classical building that was admired on those grounds by some early Renaissance Tuscans), in fact it was perhaps built on the foundations of a tower on the city wall.
For Cacciaguida, and Dante, the important part is that Conrad raised him to a knighthood. That puts his family among the early Florentine elite. Though Florence didn’t have a hereditary nobility, imperial knighthoods were coveted markers. Cacciaguida didn’t live to enjoy his — but he died a crusader-martyr, and “From martyrdom I came unto this peace” (XIII.148), which is a better trade.
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