The culminating part of the ‘Divine Comedy’ trilogy of epic poems, Dante’s ‘Paradiso’ commences at the end of the peak of Purgatory, when Virgil is replaced by Beatrice Portinari (for whom Dante harbours an unrequited love).
She, along with Dante, transcend the natural boundaries to grope the concentric spheres of Heaven, also known as Empyrean- the sacred abode of Gods and saints. Here, Beatrice allegorically represents theology.
In this article, I have succinctly compiled the nine spheres of Heaven as depicted in the poem:
1. Sphere of the Moon: The Inconstant
The First Sphere of Heaven, also called the Sphere of the Moon, is for the souls that have not been able to fulfil their vows, usually when it comes to a promise to God.
While entering this Sphere, Beatrice’s eyes are radiant, and her smile had flagrantly increased, which indicates their ascend to the Sphere. This Sphere is akin to inconstancy, symbolized by the waxing and waning of the moon.
Similarly, any person who has averted their vow and has gone astray is found floating in this lowest realm of Heaven, including Piccarda Donati( a friend of Dante) and Constance of Sicily.
It is here that Beatrice reasons why the souls were being ‘punished’ there all the while living in the Empyrean.
She eggs on the fact that a vow is a solemn promise offered to man or God to render their free will as a gift; hence, it shouldn’t be broken. She also reasons the dark spots on the lunar space refuting the arguments of Dante.
2.Sphere of Mercury: The Ambitious
The Second Sphere of Heaven or the Sphere of Mercury is for those that were right and just but resolved to do so as a part of their ambition.
It is for those people who carved a niche for themselves, received mighty fame and put altruism and philanthropy before themselves just to put on a philanthropic facade.
Just as the planet Mercury is obscured behind the Sun, the real reason behind the goodness of the person is said to be hidden under the same philanthropic facade, which is why the name is aptly justified.
Here, the protagonist is seen conversing with Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine era who recounts the Roman history, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Crucification of Jesus and Jerusalem, among other things.
Dante and Beatrice also share a discussion on the original sin and the role of Jews’ in the crucifixion of Christ.
3. Sphere of Venus: The Lovers
The Third Sphere of Heaven is for the ‘lovers’-the passionate, indiscriminate and genuine lovers of God and humanity who have ‘earned’ themselves a place in Heaven under their nobility.
The name of the Sphere is also named after the mother of Cupid, Venus (the goddess of love). There, Dante wonders about the unfortunate offspring of good people and the young prince of Anjou.
Charles Martel tries to satiate him by reasoning that the world thrives in diversity such as lawyers, politicians, etc. for which the cosmic energy also requires an assortment the bad people along with the good ones to maintain the balance.
He also explains how nature and nurture are the guiding factors of a person’s attributes. He is also confronted with Cunizza da Romano and reminisces the time he had met his brother in the Seventh Circle of Hell which catapults us back to what Martel bespoke about diversity.
4. Sphere of the Sun: The Wise
The Fourth Sphere of Heaven is for those wise and intellectual people, who sought to educate the hearts and minds of others.
Upon reaching this Sphere, Dante and Beatrice were stunned by the spectacle of the enshrouding crown of St. Thomas Aquinas and other eleven souls of the wise men: Albertus Magnus, Gratian, Peter Lombard, King Solomon, Boethius inter alia.
Some of who were theologians, kings or philosophers. St. Thomas takes a detour from the dance to recount the story of St. Francis of Assisi to the inquisitive duo.
Another cluster of twelve bright light dances in front of them singing the Trinity led by St. Bonaventure, who later recounts the life of St. Dominic.
Symbolically speaking, the Sun is believed to be a mighty star, illuminating the Earth as well as outer space. Thus, these men residing in this Sphere of Heaven are believed to be those akin to the Sun, who shed light intellectually.
5. Sphere of Mars: The Warriors of Faith
This Sphere is of the warriors who souls are holding up a cross, and these souls have fought and given up their lives for the faith, including many heroes from the crusades.
As suggested by the name Mars and its association with the God of war, it is home to those souls who have sacrificed their lives for God exuding one of the cardinal virtues, fortitude. Dante has compared the spectacle of the bright lights or ‘constellated in the depth of Mars’ as Milky Way galaxy itself.
In this Sphere, Dante meets his great-great-grandfather, Caccuiguida, who had succumbed in the Second Crusade, who speaks about the eloquence of the early years of Florence and the gradual recession and fall of the later years.
Dante opens the poem in such a way as for the characters to forecast his misfortunes. One of the examples is how Caccuiguida makes an accurate prophecy of his exile.
He also instructs Dante to retell his voyage into the unknown dimensions of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Some other men in this Sphere include Joshua, Charlemagne, Judas Maccabeus, etc.
6. Sphere of Jupiter: The Just Rulers
In the sixth Sphere or the sixth Dantesque circle, the souls of the rulers just in their ruling make up the shape of an eagle, telling Dante the importance of justice.
The Latin phrase, ‘diligent iustitiam qui judicious terram’ that translates to the English phrase, ‘cherish justice, you who judge the earth’ is displayed out front by the souls when finally the letter’M’ mimics into the eagle.
However, the one lesson acquired from this tale in this Sphere is that the will of God cannot be scrutinized and the fact that nobody-not even the spirits in paradise can foretell divine power and the religious mechanisms of dispensing justice.
Six of these lights are cognizant among blessed who form the eye of the eagle while David, the Psalms composer is the eye’s pupil merely for the fact that he was the harbinger of the bible and a great king.
Among others who are present in this Sphere are David, Hezekiah, Trajan, Constantine, William II of Sicily and Orpheus.
7. Sphere of Saturn: The Contemplatives
The Seventh Sphere, the Sphere of Saturn, is a habitation for those souls who are an embodiment of the cardinal value, temperance. This Sphere is a congregation of those who lived their lives in abstinence and sound-mindedness.
It is here that Dante encounters Peter Damian and learns about the corruption circulating the church. He also learns that the church is drenched in hypocrisy.
He even chanced an encounter with St. Benedict, who was livid about the church’s decaying morality and asserted that behind the surface lies the sordid truth of debauchery, insulated by the indulgence of an ascetic lifestyle.
It is certain that Dante expresses his discontent with the church through this section of the poem.
The poem then transpires Beatrice into more and more loving and beautiful, which is an attempt to give an insightful account of the church’s condition.
8.The Fixed Stars
The Eighth Sphere or the Sphere of the Fixed Stars is perched upon the Gemini constellation, which coincidentally is the same star sign as that of Dante.
He takes a look behind, from where he stands, to witness the small luminous Earth flickering afar. It is in this Sphere that he finds all illuminated saints like the Virgin Mary, James, John, Apostles inter alia.
Dante meets many other stars, including Adam, who speaks to him about his age, about Eden and the reasons for God’s anger as well as his native language.
The couple also gets to see Peter infuriated by the architecture of the papacy, particularly that of Pope Boniface VIII.
He was questioned on hope by St. James, on faith by St. Peter and love by St. John after which he seamlessly answers their queries.
9. Primum Mobile
The last Sphere is called Primum Mobile(first moved) and it is the last physical stop on this adventure.
It is said to be moved under direct divine intervention which also causes the spheres under it to move, thus determining the cosmic operation where the Earth is an immovable dot around which revolve a saga of nine celestial bodies.
We see nine orders of angels surrounding God, all appearing as bright lights and energy. Dante retells, in his epic about the existence of a single glowing vortex emanating immense light shrouded by nine angels, arranged in a hierarchy relating to their closeness with God.
His partner in the voyage, Beatrice elaborates the divine theory of creation or simply put, how God breathed life into everything.
Beyond this Sphere, beyond time and space lies the Empyrean, the mind of God.
Related Read: 9 circles of hell
Thus culminates this epic trilogy with the touchdown on the anecdotes of the ethereal Empyrean. ‘Paradiso’ is hence the last book penned by Dante just before his death which has stood the test of time and survived until the 21st century (written in the 1300s).
It is a perennial reprint favourite and an epitome of literature for it is subtly allegorical of the souls ascending to the abode of God.