Paradiso Canto 18: Save the Cheerleader, Save the World

First: apologies for the delay (again). Jeff, I do appreciate your forgiveness—but you certainly needn’t follow my tardiness this time around!

Second: Many thanks to Bob Sinner, whose post on the sixteenth canto I found particularly interesting, thanks in no small part to his initial reflections on being a soldier.

Finally: “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” (an amended quotation from NBC’s hit(ish) series, “Heroes”.)

I am happiest with the cantos that transition from one sphere to the next, and find it serendipitous that the eagle who took flight in the sixth canto (my first post), joins us again for our first look at Jupiter. (Serendipitous, too, that our lectionary reading on Sunday, the so called “cleansing” of the Temple, is referenced by the poet toward the Canto’s end.)

I imagine cheerleaders. Cheerleaders—with their cardboard letters, spelling out whatever message will best reach the crowd. Cheerleaders—giddy, well-trained Cheerleaders.

B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E. Sorry, wrong cheer.

This time: “Diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram.” Simply, beautifully: “Love justice, you who judge the earth.” Can we expand the near-perfect epithet?

Dante does, for the “M”— meant to evoke the Latin monarcha—monarchy—transforms its shape to become something altogether new. The emme grows and morphs until the stigma of the lilly becomes the head of the eagle. The eagle! The sign of the great Roman Empire, introduced to readers by Justinian in the sixth canto. We followed her across the Empire and now we find her here, among the great lovers of justice.

The fire from Mars has passed (Dante compares it to woman’s blush as it recedes), and Dante finds himself, by Jove!, on Jupiter. The “temperate” planet is, rightly, inhabited by the Just. Speech is preceded by the beauty of a light show—our cheerleaders take their place for the great spelling bee. It is a quiet Canto, but perhaps more beautiful for it.

Indeed, the muted canto allows for its climactic passage, a condemnation of Papist greed, to stand over and define the entire scene: “O soldiery of Heaven whom I look upon, pray for those who have gone astray on earth, following the ill example. Of old it was the wont to make war with swords, but now it is made by taking away, now here now there, the bread which the tender Father bars from none.”

Dante pleas for Justice on Earth. Jupiter, intercede for us! For we here in America have certainly taken away the bread which God wills for all.

Justice should come to us as an instinct—the same instinct that guides the bird in making a nest, or the souls in the formation of an eagle—but it instead manifests in us as an exploit. We given to do justice often forsake that noble call for the call of wealth, power, anger, passion…We are not temperate. We are hot. Some of us cold. Either way, the result is the same.

Love justice, you who judge the earth.
Love justice, you who monopolize her resources.
Love justice, you who confusion inaction with innocence.
Love justice, love justice.

2 responses to “Paradiso Canto 18: Save the Cheerleader, Save the World

  • bobsinner

    First thing, Lee, there is no need to apologize for tardiness. You came on board and saved the project in the eleventh hour.

    Second, thank you for your kind words.

    Third, Claire Bennet would definitely be pleased with your title.
    Angel cheerleaders: that’s great!

    And, indeed, we Americans need to be reminded about the nature of Justice in relation to our world.

    Thanks, Lee.

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