The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO VI

“After that Constantine the eagle turn’d

Against the motions of the heav’n, that roll’d

Consenting with its course, when he of yore,

Lavinia’s spouse, was leader of the flight,

A hundred years twice told and more, his seat

At Europe’s extreme point, the bird of Jove

Held, near the mountains, whence he issued first.

There, under shadow of his sacred plumes

Swaying the world, till through successive hands

To mine he came devolv’d. Caesar I was,

And am Justinian; destin’d by the will

Of that prime love, whose influence I feel,

From vain excess to clear th’ encumber’d laws.

Or ere that work engag’d me, I did hold

Christ’s nature merely human, with such faith

Contented. But the blessed Agapete,

Who was chief shepherd, he with warning voice

To the true faith recall’d me. I believ’d

His words: and what he taught, now plainly see,

As thou in every contradiction seest

The true and false oppos’d. Soon as my feet

Were to the church reclaim’d, to my great task,

By inspiration of God’s grace impell’d,

I gave me wholly, and consign’d mine arms

To Belisarius, with whom heaven’s right hand

Was link’d in such conjointment, ’t was a sign

That I should rest. To thy first question thus

I shape mine answer, which were ended here,

But that its tendency doth prompt perforce

To some addition; that thou well, mayst mark

What reason on each side they have to plead,

By whom that holiest banner is withstood,

Both who pretend its power and who oppose.

“Beginning from that hour, when Pallas died

To give it rule, behold the valorous deeds

Have made it worthy reverence. Not unknown

To thee, how for three hundred years and more

It dwelt in Alba, up to those fell lists

Where for its sake were met the rival three;

Nor aught unknown to thee, which it achiev’d

Down to the Sabines’ wrong to Lucrece’ woe,

With its sev’n kings conqu’ring the nation round;

Nor all it wrought, by Roman worthies home

’Gainst Brennus and th’ Epirot prince, and hosts

Of single chiefs, or states in league combin’d

Of social warfare; hence Torquatus stern,

And Quintius nam’d of his neglected locks,

The Decii, and the Fabii hence acquir’d

Their fame, which I with duteous zeal embalm.

By it the pride of Arab hordes was quell’d,

When they led on by Hannibal o’erpass’d

The Alpine rocks, whence glide thy currents, Po!

Beneath its guidance, in their prime of days

Scipio and Pompey triumph’d; and that hill,

Under whose summit thou didst see the light,

Rued its stern bearing. After, near the hour,

When heav’n was minded that o’er all the world

His own deep calm should brood, to Caesar’s hand

Did Rome consign it; and what then it wrought

From Var unto the Rhine, saw Isere’s flood,

Saw Loire and Seine, and every vale, that fills

The torrent Rhone. What after that it wrought,

When from Ravenna it came forth, and leap’d

The Rubicon, was of so bold a flight,

That tongue nor pen may follow it. Tow’rds Spain

It wheel’d its bands, then tow’rd Dyrrachium smote,

And on Pharsalia with so fierce a plunge,

E’en the warm Nile was conscious to the pang;

Its native shores Antandros, and the streams

Of Simois revisited, and there

Where Hector lies; then ill for Ptolemy

His pennons shook again; lightning thence fell

On Juba; and the next upon your west,

At sound of the Pompeian trump, return’d.

“What following and in its next bearer’s gripe

It wrought, is now by Cassius and Brutus

Bark’d off in hell, and by Perugia’s sons

And Modena’s was mourn’d. Hence weepeth still

Sad Cleopatra, who, pursued by it,

Took from the adder black and sudden death.

With him it ran e’en to the Red Sea coast;

With him compos’d the world to such a peace,

That of his temple Janus barr’d the door.

“But all the mighty standard yet had wrought,

And was appointed to perform thereafter,

Throughout the mortal kingdom which it sway’d,

Falls in appearance dwindled and obscur’d,

If one with steady eye and perfect thought

On the third Caesar look; for to his hands,

The living Justice, in whose breath I move,

Committed glory, e’en into his hands,

To execute the vengeance of its wrath.

“Hear now and wonder at what next I tell.

After with Titus it was sent to wreak

Vengeance for vengeance of the ancient sin,

And, when the Lombard tooth, with fangs impure,

Did gore the bosom of the holy church,

Under its wings victorious, Charlemagne

Sped to her rescue. Judge then for thyself

Of those, whom I erewhile accus’d to thee,

What they are, and how grievous their offending,

Who are the cause of all your ills. The one

Against the universal ensign rears

The yellow lilies, and with partial aim

That to himself the other arrogates:

So that ’t is hard to see which more offends.

Be yours, ye Ghibellines, to veil your arts

Beneath another standard: ill is this

Follow’d of him, who severs it and justice:

And let not with his Guelphs the new-crown’d Charles

Assail it, but those talons hold in dread,

Which from a lion of more lofty port

Have rent the easing. Many a time ere now

The sons have for the sire’s transgression wail’d;

Nor let him trust the fond belief, that heav’n

Will truck its armour for his lilied shield.

“This little star is furnish’d with good spirits,

Whose mortal lives were busied to that end,

That honour and renown might wait on them:

And, when desires thus err in their intention,

True love must needs ascend with slacker beam.

But it is part of our delight, to measure

Our wages with the merit; and admire

The close proportion. Hence doth heav’nly justice

Temper so evenly affection in us,

It ne’er can warp to any wrongfulness.

Of diverse voices is sweet music made:

So in our life the different degrees

Render sweet harmony among these wheels.

“Within the pearl, that now encloseth us,

Shines Romeo’s light, whose goodly deed and fair

Met ill acceptance. But the Provencals,

That were his foes, have little cause for mirth.

Ill shapes that man his course, who makes his wrong

Of other’s worth. Four daughters were there born

To Raymond Berenger, and every one

Became a queen; and this for him did Romeo,

Though of mean state and from a foreign land.

Yet envious tongues incited him to ask

A reckoning of that just one, who return’d

Twelve fold to him for ten. Aged and poor

He parted thence: and if the world did know

The heart he had, begging his life by morsels,

’T would deem the praise, it yields him, scantly dealt.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:58