The sixteenth part of the Paradise of Dante Alighieri takes place in the sphere of Mars, where reside the spirits of those who fought and died for the faith
It seems quite strange to this reader, having been to war, though most certainly NOT a “Holy One” (Is any war truly Holy? Mine was the Second Indochina War), to find in the central canto of the central triptych of Paradise to be the “Fifth Heaven of Mars.”
We are in the heaven of Holy Warriors.
Stranger still, to find the canto revolve around a discourse on Florentine politics and a replay of the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines (both Black and White) as proxies for the papacy and Dante’s beloved Holy Roman Emperor. Between the powers “spiritual” and “temporal” as it were.
Perhaps it strikes a strong chord with this reader because he was in Vietnam at the turning point (the Tet Offensive of 1968), which he has always considered the second Triptych of that war.
How the past confronts one, whether with Cacciaguida for Dante, or Dante for the reader.
Or, perhaps, Not — Not so strange.
Indeed are not these forces ever present in the realm of man? The duel between mind and body? Between spirit and reason?
Yes, true, but this is halfway up to the empyrean!
This is IN paradise.
But, then, we are in THIS world, trying to perceive THAT one with Dante’s help.
This is man’s projection of his concept of order upon the otherwise imperceptible.
We are back once again to the mystery of the incarnation; to the paradox of the Trinity.
God is God, but God is also human and God is spirit. How else are we to understand? How else are we to explain? How are we to accept God’s Will, even while we have Free Will? How are we to accept judgment, rather than to judge?
And so, we meet Cacciaguida in the sphere of Mars.
And in the second Cacciaguidan Canto, we find out that the Earth, too, is, in some respects a part of heaven. Or at least, so it must seem to us who cannot truly perceive it all until we are with the Lord.
So, … Warriors.
And where there are warriors, there has been strife – war; and often the worst type – internal unrest – civil war.
In Dante’s case, a war that has been heightened by the very powers entrusted with the welfare of its people: the supreme earthly Powers Spiritual (The Papacy) and Temporal (the Holy Roman Emperor).
Dante, himself, was no stranger to war, to combat on the field (he had fought in the Guelph cavalry at the Battle of Campaldino, 1289), and political infighting (as Cacciaguida predicts, Dante is exiled from his beloved Florence during the G & G infighting). As both Guelphs and Ghibellines (both black and white) play their parts in bringing the city low.
And so our pilgrim finds himself overjoyed, saddened, angered, perplexed as he hears his great grandfather relate the rise and fall of the Florentines in history. And, even Dante realizes “All are punished,” but “All can also be blessed. “
“With such as these I saw there in my past
so valiant and so just a populace
that none had ever seized the ensign’s mast
and hung the lily on it upside down.
Nor was the red dye of its division known.
– 151 – 155, Ciardi
OR, in another version:
“ For justice fam’d, but terrible in war,
Their military glory spread afar;
No Conqu’ror then their banner bore away
From the lost field ; the hours had not arriv’d,
When, in their fury, all the Fiends contriv’d
To stain it’s fold with blood in civil fray.
It would seem Dante allows some pride to be found in Heaven
[Dedicated to Henry Elwood Fullerton,
My “Father,” A “Reluctant, Gentle Warrior” ]