THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 2 CHAPTER 3 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
In order to discern more clearly the literal sense of the first part according to the division made above (which is our present concern), we must know who and how many they are who are summoned to hear me, and what this third heaven is which I say they move; first I will speak of the heaven, and then I will speak of those whom I address. Although these things can be but little known with respect to their true reality, that portion of them that human reason sees brings more delight than the plenitude and the certainty of the things which we judge more fully, according to the opinion of the Philosopher in his book On Animals.
I say then that concerning the number and the position of the heavens many different opinions are held, although the truth has at last been discovered. Aristotle, merely following the longstanding ignorance of the astrologers, believed that there were only eight heavens, of which the outermost, containing the whole, was the one on which the stars are fixed, namely, the eighth sphere, and that beyond it there was no other. Moreover, he believed that the heaven of the Sun was contiguous to that of the Moon, that is to say, was second from us. Anyone who wishes can find this extremely erroneous opinion of his in the second book of his Heaven and the World, which is in the second of the books about Nature. However, he excuses himself for this in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, where he plainly shows that he was only following the opinion of others where he was obliged to speak of astrology.
Later Ptolemy, perceiving that the eighth sphere moved with several movements (since he saw that its circle deviated from the true circle which turns everything from east to west) and constrained by the principles of philosophy, which necessitated the simplest primum mobile, supposed that another heaven existed beyond that of the Fixed Stars which made this revolution from east to west, a revolution that, I say, is completed in about twenty-four hours (that is, in twenty-three hours and fourteen out of fifteen parts of another, roughly speaking).(9)
So that according to him and according to the received opinion in astrology and in philosophy since the time those movements were first perceived, there are nine moving heavens; and their position is manifest and determined by the art called optics, and by arithmetic and geometry, as is perceived by the senses and by reason, and by other demonstrations to the senses. Thus during an eclipse of the Sun it appears to our senses that the Moon lies below the Sun, and this is also the testimony of Aristotle who with his own eyes (as he tells us in the second book of Heaven and the World) saw the Moon, half-full, pass below Mars with her dark side forward, and Mars remain hidden till it reappeared from the other, bright side of the Moon, which was facing west.
The order of their position is as follows.(10) The first in number is the one in which the Moon resides; the second is the one in which Mercury resides; the third is the one in which Venus resides; the fourth is the one in which the Sun resides; the fifth is that of Mars; the sixth is that of Jupiter; the seventh is that of Saturn; the eighth is that of the Stars; the ninth is the one which is not perceptible to the senses except for the movement mentioned above, and which many call the Crystalline (that is to say, the diaphanous or completely transparent) Heaven. Moreover, outside all of these the Catholics place the Empyrean Heaven, which is to say, the “heaven of flame,” or “luminous heaven”; and they hold it to be motionless because it has in itself, with respect to each of its parts, that which its matter desires. This is the reason why the Primum Mobile has the swiftest movement; for because of the most fervent desire that each part of the ninth heaven has to be conjoined with every part of that divinest, tranquil heaven, to which it is contiguous, it revolves beneath it with such desire that its velocity is almost incomprehensible. Stillness and peace are the qualities of the place of that Supreme Deity which alone completely beholds itself. This is the place of the blessed spirits, according to the will of the Holy Church, which cannot lie. Aristotle, to anyone who rightly understands him, seems to hold the same opinion in the first book of Heaven and the World. This is the supreme edifice of the universe in which all the world is enclosed and beyond which there is nothing; it is not itself in space but was formed solely in the Primal Mind, which the Greeks call Protonoe.(11) This is that magnificence of which the Psalmist spoke when he says to God: “Your magnificence is exalted above the heavens.”(12) So to sum up what has been said, it is apparent that there are ten heavens, of which the heaven of Venus is the third, mention of which is made in that part of the canzone which I now intend to explicate.
We should know that each heaven beneath the Crystalline has two stationary poles, stationary with respect to itself; and in the ninth they are stationary and fixed, and immutable in every respect. Each one, the ninth as well as the rest, has a circle which may be called the equator of its own heaven, which in every part of its revolution is equally distant from both poles, as anyone can see from experience by spinning an apple or any other round object. In every heaven this circle has greater swiftness of movement than any other part of its heaven, as anyone can see upon careful consideration. And each part moves faster the nearer it is to the equator, and slower the farther away it is from it and closer to the pole, because its revolution is smaller and must of necessity be completed in the same period of time as the greater. I say, moreover, that the nearer a heaven is to the equatorial circle, the more noble it is in comparison to its poles, because it has more movement and more actuality and more life and more form, and it approaches more closely the heaven which is above it, and consequently has more virtue. Therefore the stars of the Starry Heaven are more full of virtue, compared with each other, the nearer they are to this circle.
On the outer edge of this circle, in the heaven of Venus, which we are treating at present, there is a small sphere which revolves by itself in that heaven, whose circle the astrologers call an epicycle.(13) And just as the great sphere revolves on two poles, so does this small one; and so does this small one have its equatorial circle, and so is it nobler the nearer it is to this; and upon the arc or outer edge of this circle is fixed that most brilliant star of Venus. Although we have said that according to strict truth there are ten heavens, this number does not comprise them all; for the one just mentioned, namely, the epicycle on which the star is fixed, is a heaven or sphere in and of itself, and is not of one essence with that which carries it, although it shares its nature more with it than with the others, and is spoken of as one heaven with it, and both are named after the star. How it is with the other heavens and the other stars is not to be dealt with at present; let suffice what has been said of the truth of the third heaven, with which I am at present concerned and about which all that is necessary for the present has been fully explained.
9. Later Ptolemy The model of the universe devised by Ptolemy, who flourished in Egypt around 140 A.D., was officially adopted by the Church of Rome. It is, of course, the model for Dante’s Paradiso.
10. the order of their position The order of the spheres discussed here reappears in Paradiso. According to medieval astronomy, the planets were attached to great, transparent, empty shell-like spheres which carried them around the earth.
11. it is not itself in space The Empyrean is beyond time and space; cf. Par. XXII, 64-67.
12. “Your magnificence . . .” Psalm 8:1.
13. an epicycle According to Ptolemaic cosmology, as Venus proceeds to circle the earth, it performs a second kind of circular movement, one whose center is situated on the circumference of its orbit around earth. This model was adopted to account for the fact the perceived motion of some planets did not accord with a simple revolution around the earth. Indeed, Venus and Mercury were observed to move in a retrograde motion at various times of the year. Dante will refer to the epicycle of Venus again at the beginning of Paradiso VIII.