Paradise: Dante’s Heaven

Paradise in Dante’s afterlife is not a collection of harp playing cherubs in the clouds.  It is a journey up through the stars.  Dante’s Heaven is based on the astronomical model of the day, the Ptolemaic universe.  Ptolemy’s universe places the earth at the center, surrounded by a concentric, crystalline, spheres each containing heavenly bodies.

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The structure of Dante’s Paradise going away from the earth toward the heavens is:

Earth, Sphere or air ,Sphere of fire, Sphere of the Moon, Sphere of Mercury ,Sphere of Venus ,Sphere of the Sun, Sphere of Mars ,Sphere of Jupiter, Sphere of Saturn, The Fixed Stars, Sphere of the Prime Mover (the sphere that moves all the heavenly bodies), The Empyrean (the dwelling of God).

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Paradise begins with Dante and his guide Beatrice at the top of the mountain of Purgatory, in the Garden of Eden.  Beatrice initiates the journey to Heaven by turning and gazing intently at the sun. They then begin to ascend through the spheres of Heaven.  At each sphere they meet a hazy reflection, a sort of virtual image, of the soul representative of the virtue corresponding to that sphere (the actual souls all reside with God in the final sphere, the Empyrean). Throughout the journey, Dante meets the souls of Saints, Leaders, and common  people.

The journey ends with Dante, purified and enlightened, meeting God  Paradise is the most difficult section of Dante’s Divine Comedy to read.  It is replete with allegory and extended philosophical and theological passages, but it is well worth the effort to read.

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