After hearing from Charles Martel in the previous Canto, Dante’s attention here at the sphere of Venus is drawn to a new soul who comes to speak with him. This is Cunizza da Romano, who admits that in life she was overcome by the influence of this sphere. After introducing the soul next to her, she prophesies for Dante about the bloody future of her native place, but assures him that God’s judgment will prevail in the end. As she fades back among the dancing spirits, the soul she introduced – Folquet of Marseille – speaks with Dante through the rest of the Canto. After pointing out the luminous soul of Rahab, the Harlot of Jericho, Folquet speaks darkly of Florence – a city founded by Lucifer – and worldly Church leaders.
Having been enlightened by your Charles, my dear Clemence, he proceeded to tell me about plots against his offspring that were yet to come, saying in the end, “Do not report what I have told you. Let time move onward.” Thus, all I can say is that those who do wrong to your family will weep for their crimes. Then that glowing soul who spoke with me turned to face that Sun Who fills all of creation with His goodness. What a pity, foolish souls who turn from the True Good. In your pride you raise your heads but see nothing worthwhile!
But almost immediately his place was taken by another radiant splendor moving close to me, and I could tell by its increasing brilliance how much it wished to speak. Looking at Beatrice again, I saw in her eyes the happy consent I sought and began thus: “O beautiful holy soul, show me that you can read in the mind of God the thoughts I wish to put into words with you.”
Joyously the light of that glowing soul sang from within itself and answered me with sheer delight. “In that evil part of northern Italy between Venice and the Alps, where the Piave and the Brenta rivers rise, there is a hill down from which there came a torch that caused the ruin of all the countryside around it. He was my brother, Ezzolino, and I his sister, Cunizza. Overcome by the light of this great sphere, I shine here now. Pardoned, I happily pardon within myself those faults that led me to stray away from Love in search of love. Here we have no regrets – which mortals will find strange.
“This bright and gorgeous jewel shining here next to me in this place of splendor left behind him on earth fame that will last more than five hundred years. In his good life is a lesson: pursue excellence in your first life so that you might gain the second. Unfortunately, that foolish rabble who live between the Tagliamento and the Adige Rivers do not understand this, and even war does not lead them to repentance. But the time will come – and soon – when the blood of the defeated Paduans will redden the waters of nearby Vicenza. And even now, where the rivers Cagnano and Sile come together, there rules a tyrant whose days are numbered because of his outrages.
“Moreover, the region of Feltre will mourn for the terrible crime committed by her bishop against the men of Ferrara. No one has ever been imprisoned for a treachery as foul as his! Indeed a great vat would be needed to hold his victims’ blood, sacrificed to prove his loyalty to the Guelfs. Such gifts are common in that place!
“In the highest heavens above are mirrors – you call them Thrones – through whom God’s judgments shine down on us, and in them we see that our harsh prophesies are justified.” She became silent now, and turning her attention to some new thing, she rejoined the dancing spirits she left to speak with me. In her place came the other precious soul she had just described. He looked like a gorgeous ruby struck by the rays of the sun. Up in heaven, the joy of the souls makes them ever brighter. Here on earth joy makes us laugh; and in Hell the shades’ regret makes them darken.
“O holy spirit,” I said, “God sees all and you see through Him, so that none of my thoughts can hide themselves from your true sight. Your lovely voice joins those of the high Seraphim. Except to increase my longing, why do you wait to speak? As I wish to enter your depths, so now enter mine.”
And thus he began: “The waters of the great Mediterranean, into which flow the waters of the world-encircling Atlantic, stretch so far between East and West that each end of this great sea makes a meridian and a horizon for each other. Marseille was my home, the city Caesar took and stained the waters of its harbor with much blood. It lies along the shore of that sea midway between the rivers Ebro in Spain and the Magra in Italy. Across the sea, it shares the same dawn and sunset as Bougie.
“My name was Folquet, and just as this sphere influenced me from my birth, so now it bears my mark. In her passionate love for Aeneas, Dido offended the memory of both Sichaeus and Creusa. Until I became an old man, her amorous ways were nothing compared to mine or, for that matter, the love tragedies of Phyllis and Demophoön or Hercules and Iole! But here in heaven we do not repent for our old ways, instead we smile: not at our sins – which no longer come to mind – but at the infinite Power whose love orders and cares for all things. You see, here we look with awe upon the wondrous art of God’s love by which your world below returns to this one above.
“But now let me satisfy all your desires born from within this great sphere. You want to know who this luminous soul is who stands next to me in splendor like crystalline beams reflected in water struck by sunlight. I tell you, within these glowing rays is the soul of Rahab, the harlot of Jericho. She occupies the highest place in this sphere where the shadow of your planet comes to an end. When Christ triumphed over death, she was the first of the redeemed to come to this place. It was only fitting that she who made certain Joshua’s first victory be taken in by this sphere as a trophy of that greater victory won at the Crucifixion. Sadly, your Pope cares little about this!
“Your city – which owes its origin to Lucifer himself, whose useless envy brought such woe to the world, your city mints and circulates that evil coin which changes the church’s shepherds into wolves who destroy the fold and let the lambs run off in every direction. In the mean time, the Gospel and the writings of the Church Fathers gather dust while Canon Law is studied the most. The Pope and his Cardinals pay attention to nothing else, and they care nothing for Nazareth where the angel Gabriel made the great Annunciation. But mark my words, every place in Rome, including the Vatican, made sacred by the blood of martyrs who followed Saint Peter, will soon be cleansed from this adultery!”