Line images courtesy of Guy Raffa, University of Texas which I modified.
"'Twas believed that the fair Cyprian, whirled
Radiant in the third epicycle, shed
Love's madness on the yet unransomed world."
The Pagan World believed that Venus was the goddess of love. Here Dante refers to the "fair Cyprian" because it was believed that Venus had risen out of the sea off the island of Cyprus. They actually believed that the influence on sensual love proceeded from the star Venus to which they paid divine honors and even offered sacrifices. On this third heavenly sphere Dante beholds the dazzling-weaving moving lights of angelic and human spirits. He hears such hosannas, singing so beautiful and enchanting, that they would haunt Dante till the day he died.
One of the spirits approaches Dante who fails to recognize Charles Mantel due to his dazzling light. Charles Mantel (1271-1295) was crowned king of Hungary by his father Charles II of Naples at the age of nineteen, although Charles never ruled that country. He died at the age of twenty four but not before meeting Dante in Florence in the Spring of 1294. They became friends as expressed in Canto VII.35.
"Well didst thou love me, and my heart conceives
Thou hadst good cause; for, living, I'd have shown
More of my love to thee than barren leaves."
Charles continues by describing the geographical areas he would have ruled had he lived. Dante realizing that Charles could see all things in God asks how could mean natures descend from the God of all goodness. Charles tells Dante that God by his providential care creates diversity of natures for the common good. One Solomon became a lawgiver, Xerxes a general and Melkisedec a priest. If natures were not ruled by divine providence human beings would have been mere copies of one another. Men on earth must strive to build society and kingdoms based on human nature.
"But you distort the pattern of the creature;
You cloister him that's born to wield the sword,
And crown him king who ought to be a preacher;
Thus from the path you wander all abroad."
This warning is especially relevant in our day when we tend to choose who lives and who dies and through genetic manipulation are striving to create human beings in our image and likeness. Are we wiser than God? Our efforts should be limited to nurturing the human characteristics inherent in human nature, not in supplanting them.
Next Dante encounters Cunizza who's ferocious brother was Ezzelino. One day Ezzelino massacred many people in Verona, Italy. He was confronted by St. Anthony who said, "O enemy of God, cold-blooded tyrant, mad dog, when will you stop spilling the innocent blood of Christians? Beware, upon your head hangs God's judgment, hard and terrible." This partly subdued his ferocity but Dante places him in hell because he still continued to kill and torture people of his realm.
Unlike her brother, Cunizza was an ardent lover. She had four husbands and two lovers. Dante places her in heaven because in her old age she moved to Florence and freed the slaves of her father and brothers. She had become compassionate. Likewise, Dante places here the harlot Rahab who, he says, was the first to be raised to this heavenly sphere by the triumph of Christ. We may recall that Rahab helped two Jewish spies to gather information on Jericho which they brought back to Joshua. She was justified by her works.
We are all wondering what heaven is like and Dante, here and there, gives us an insight. In Canto IX we read:
"But here, there's no repentance; here we smile--
Not at sin, which comes no more to mind,
But at God's ordering touch, His master-style.
We contemplate His art, which hath designed
Great works and fair; His goodness, which draws home
To this high world the world of lower kind.
Dante indictment of the Papacy of his time (Pope Boniface VIII) was justified. He wrote,
"Dust gathers on the Gospels, gathers slow
On the great Doctors, while they thumb and scrawl
O'er Decretals, as the margins show."
(Canto IX. 133-135)
"A contemporary and eyewitness, Giovanni Villani, has left in his Florentine chronicle (Muratori, XIII, 348 sqq.) a portrait of Boniface which the judicious Von Reumont seems to consider quite reliable. According to it Boniface, the most clever canonist of his time, was a great-hearted and generous man and a lover of magnificence, but also arrogant, proud, and stern in manner, more feared than loved, too worldly-minded for his high office and too fond of money both for the Church and for his family. His nepotism was open. He founded the Roman house of the Gaetani, and in the process of exalting his family drew down upon himself the effective hatred of the Colonna and their strong clansmen. Gröne, a German Catholic historian of the popes, says of Boniface (II, 164) that while his utterances equal in importance those of Gregory VII and Innocent III, the latter were always more ready to act, Boniface to discourse; they relied on the Divine strength of their office, Boniface on the cleverness of his canonical deductions. For the process against his memory see CLEMENT V." (New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia on the Internet)
7_Sun: Sphere of Wisdom