Dante: Love That Moves The Sun And Other Stars

What is love when no one understands you, when no one can see you for who you are? Esse Est Percipi, ‘To be is to be perceived’ as said by G. Berkeley.

Is the sadness you feel real when no one is there to comfort you, when you are alone and lying in bed thinking about how those that have hurt you are completely oblivious to such an experience, perhaps on the contrary where they believe that no wrongdoing exists at all? What happens when you speak of the wrongdoing and they deny you, perhaps reverse this and claim that you are the one with the problem, competing with you to prove they were right and settle the anxiety they feel for their own falsehoods? Playing games to make themselves believe that they are somehow better than you. Is this why when faced with facts they are suddenly stirred with an emotive viciousness that increases as though the louder and more assertive they are, the more right they become and the more people they gather to agree with them, the more likely you will be silenced? And is it the reason why we appreciate the truth with greater clarity when it is uttered through lies, fictitious stories and parables that explain moral symbols that become the hermeneutic source for our subjective capacity to interpret facts without confronting the harsh and abrupt reality of our own failures?

I spent my childhood wishing for a friend that never arrived and my tenderness and love remained protected by the isolation I endured as I hid away from those contemptible enough to enjoy tricking and humiliating me, laughing at my vulnerability and frightening me. The pain even greater when I hoped for kindness that I never received, as though I were manoeuvring through a hellish purgatory, wandering and wondering if there is anyone out there that can genuinely love. For Dante, this is symbolic of what we experience when we become conscious of love and his Divine Comedy is a poetic allegory that divides such an existential reality into what becomes the three stages of our soul’s journey towards God. The Inferno is that moment of consciousness, where one awakens to a reality where our actions and failures or sins become transparent as well as our aloneness on this dark journey towards hell. As we uncover our own self-deception, we see the treachery in others and the lies and games of those within our environment who pretend to goodness when they only seek the indulgences of this false reality. It is only when one admits to this fraudulence and seeks repentance, to apologise for our own misconduct and become morally conscious that enables an escape from hell and ascend toward Purgatorio, the mountain on which we begin to climb toward heaven in order to see the difference between what is genuine or pure and what is false. The desire to reach the summit is the motivation that compels us to become honest with ourselves and though lengthy the process and arduous the climb, we purge the soul of sin by attempting to embody true love. Dante means to show that if one would ever find this heavenly peace, it is only possible through love. To put it succinctly, one begins this divine experience when they genuinely fall in love.

My will and my desire were both revolved,
As is a wheel in even motion driven
By Love,
Which moves the sun and other stars.

Dante’ lifelong love was Beatrice and highlighted in his publications including La Vita Nuova that attempts to exemplify the provincial methods of courtly love in medieval Italy. Her presence in the Divine Comedy indicate her position in the symbolic experience of Dante as he traverses through these realms, initially falling into limbo as she prayed for Dante to be saved by Virgil – who embodies a person that is wise with virtuous attributes – during his decent into the Inferno. It is almost like she desired genuine love that Dante was not yet capable of giving and prayed that he would one day come to her as one wise and authentic. His experience in Purgatorio is a necessary step that he needs to make as he reaches out to Paradiso where Beatrice is then able to guide him toward the attainment of virtuous attributes that could make a man wise and constant. Dante believes that this love is divine and one must love another through God where she becomes the symbol that enables him to reach Paradiso as she embodies the desire for him to become a better man. Thus his admiration is not aroused by the physical beauty that she possessed, where such considerations merely compel a man to turn away from God, but for who she is and that led to the awakening and the transparency of his own soul and improved the clarity of his purpose.

She – as the sun who first in love shone warm
Into my heart – had now, by proof and counter proof,
disclosed to me the lovely face of truth.

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 during the late Middle Ages and wrote the epic masterpiece The Divine Comedy in 1321. Love that moves the sun and other stars is reference to a number of cantos (III – XXXIII) in Paradisio. Dante epitomises the work itself, his biography is found within the cantos as it provides us with the magnificence of his imaginative scope and allusions to his own thoughts and experiences. Highlighting the influence of Beatrice in particular, it also includes figures such as Jesus and St. John along with philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas that helped solidify his faith in God. His family was embroiled in the politics of the time; clashes between rival factions the Ghibellines who were defeated by the Guelphs for which he was a member, soon thereafter found those loyalties broken when Dante was exiled following a division between the Guelphs (Black and White) that led him to be banished for supposed corruption. The treachery he experienced became a part of the Inferno hell that left him disillusioned for the deception and violence he witnessed, his exile the many years that it took through Purgatorio to learn the wisdom to ascertain the difference between right and wrong, all the while Beatrice stood as a beacon or “holy lamp” that helped light his way to the good life. Her death in 1290 was met with pangs of anguish that it almost appears that her place in Paradiso is his lifelong yearning to be with her in what would become his own paradise. Beatrice Portinari is said to have been a woman of virtue and grace, though he briefly met her in advance of his marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, his later encounter with her clearly indicated that he fell in love and she became the muse for his love ballads, none of which mention his wife.

Dante finds himself travelling through a number of spheres in heaven, represented by astronomical or planetary symbols that allude to a series of virtues. Cantos III, for instance, embarks on a lunar journey to the moon when he confesses of his failures and is born again through the love for Beatrice. She became his saviour, a child that she could help gain steady ground about how to live in God’s love or be attuned to what correctly wills or motivates man to reflect with accuracy. A man can find salvation through a virtuous woman; when being pulled by men set on greater harm then good, she struck him with the splendours of the decency that she attached to her heart. Canto X or the Sphere of the Sun alludes to the light of God, to witness the universe and the power therewith in creation and the universe itself can eclipse the worldly attributes for a moment as Dante gives thanks to the monumental reality of the world above.

And there, entranced, begin to view the skill
The Master demonstrates. Within Himself,
He loves it so, His looking never leaves.
Look! Where those orbits meet, there branches off
The slanting circles that the planets ride
To feed and fill the world that calls on them.

A number of figures enter into the celebration of this epiphany, including King Solomon, St. Thomas Aquinas and Boethius that allude to their place in assisting one to reach this venerable awakening. They are rejoicing for Dante finally becoming aware of the fallaciousness of the world below him and where his soul deep within him begin to burn from the joy of abandoning all the lies that tied him to that false reality. It is followed in Cantos XI with, “Those idiotic strivings of the human mind!” The toil of worldly affairs including politics and law, where Dante finally finds peace in his should within the arms of Beatrice and being up high in the heavenly spheres where his soul rests in the light of truth. Here, Dante speaks of St. Francis who takes a wife and loves her despite the objections of his father and others, that his dedication to love a loyal and courageous woman though many feared her that represents the potential poverty of a life lived in the love for God and that one may be at risk of losing family and friends in the commitment to what is good. But Beatrice remains the defining guide, whereby in Cantos XIV she shows Dante that there is yet more truth that he is required to find within him, the eternal nature of this experience and whether one will remain committed in their love for God. Beatrice grows and becomes more beautiful to Dante when she chooses to join the light, perhaps representative of the longevity and growth of the beauty of love in a virtuous woman that renders the clarity of the experience eternal.

And so my eyes, regaining their strength,
Lifted once more. I saw myself alone,
Borne with my lady to a higher good.
Seeing the flares of laughter in that star,
Which seemed now far more fiery than before,
I knew full well that I’d been lifted higher.

We begin to see through the light of God all that is wonderful and so what we ‘see’ or understand continuously increases as we rise higher through the celestial planes. In Cantos XVII, Dante is still troubled and Beatrice continues to help him shed light on his feelings by prompting a discussion with Cacciaguida about the future and the difficulties he may face as was forewarned by Virgil. Contingency is met with the potential uncertainty for the future and that while one may experience hardships, in faith one will also experience events that are wonderful. It is to be courageous to face the contingency. When they reach Cantos XXIII or the Sphere of the Fixed Stars (Eighth Heaven), Beatrice is compared to a mother bird waiting for the sun, the light of Christ and enraptures all who experience this power to expand their thoughts beyond the horizon. The garden, for which Beatrice instructs Dante to look upon, contains a rose that is the Word of God and he can see Mary in the rose, the “Queen of Heaven” (Regina Coeli). By Cantos XXVII, Dante – despite being further from the earth – can now see the details within it with greater clarity, his mind now free from the false burdens that blinded him from seeing such details, the sins for which Beatrice speaks of when a man misuses his free will. He returns to earth in Cantos XXX, the light of dawn slowly drowning the light of the stars until he turns to see the beauty of Beatrice once more and both reached the Paradiso in one another, transcending the material world through love and wisdom.

As she then was – a guide in word and deed,
Her work all done – she spoke again: ‘We’ve left
The greatest of material spheres, rising
To light, pure light of intellect, all love,
The love of good in truth, all happiness,
A happiness transcending every rapture.

The final Cantos XXXIII, Bernard of Clairvaux praises the love of Mary as the foundation for the rose or the Word of God who helped illuminate Dante with the truth and the happiness that followed. Indeed, as Beatrice returns to her place in the rose, which is symbolic of the Queen and Virgin Mother, epitomises that she has satisfied her love for Dante as he gazes into the light of the Empyrean. He now understands God and what is right and good on earth.

As one who has now ascended to Paradiso, the bliss and happiness of finding the Divine love and waiting to meet someone genuine on this journey of mine, I believe as Dante does that love can only be real when two people experience this transcendence from the material realm, from the hellish Inferno where one becomes aware of the reality where there exists corruption, lies, and all things vicious. By seeking the divine love of God, one can redeem themselves and when guided by love, mirror our moral position to become virtuous and wise. Only then can one return to ‘earth’ and see the world for what it genuinely is. The Divine Comedy remains a powerful poetic bildungsroman, an epic of gigantic proportions that remains the heart of medieval Italy and the Italian language itself.

Wise Men Never Fall In Love

I am sure we have all encountered someone who is convinced that omens speak in secret by sending messages through numbers [22:22 on a digital clock is an apparent premonition] or that the day one is born has some celestial significance that it can predict future events. There are those who associate human qualities to animals – their cat represents a woman – or even worse that there is some prophetic significance when a crow squawks and other forms of eclectic gobbledegook that these illusory concepts and highly imaginative impressions verify the depth of the human capacity to be self-deceptive. The sophistication of these regrettably tolerated superstitions amongst many other forms of entertainment – all encapsulated by globalisation and capitalist marketing – has become so stylishly refined that its persuasive techniques used to influence people to distance themselves from their own personhood is barely recognisable. In fact, though people are blindly following in masses, they ingeniously consider themselves to be an ‘individual’ and unique. How can we ascertain the necessary requisites that truly make an individual authentic and genuine? Following on my previous post, I finalised the blog with where are you O wise man capable of love??? to which a reader quoted “wise men never fall in love”. I intend to dispute this since I believe that it is only wise men who are capable of loving and as wisdom itself implies one who has reached a harmony applicable to those who are authentically aware of themselves, it is only in wisdom that one can attain moral consciousness and thus become capable of understanding what genuine love is.

Phenomenology attempts to understand consciousness and takes perceptions seriously and whilst historical insofar as its approach is descriptive, the person or individual is something concrete in a world where everything is interconnected through time and space. The mind is not isolated; every mental act is directed outwardly to the world and toward something or what is referred to as intentionality[1], and the first person experience or the way that we see and perceive the world plays a critical role in understanding the fundamental structure of consciousness and our shared social history. Many various problems in phenomenology are raised such as our awareness of death and an end we are unable to conceptualise since existence is not fixed, or further still existential themes such as whether we are radically free and that existence precedes essence, but I am particularly interested in authenticity, whether we are capable of separating subject from object – that is ourselves or our consciousness from the preconditioned structure of a shared social history – to begin articulating a discourse independently and authentically. Heidegger questioned what is ‘being’ Sein and he believed that people are living unauthentically; our understanding of the exterior world and ourselves may appear deceptively close to us but the actuality is that an authentic consciousness of ourselves and of our perceptions is incredibly distant from our reach. The primary focus is on intention and I do not want to ascertain our relationship with objects such as the magnificent and incredibly comfortable armchair I recently purchased for my bedroom but rather a descriptive analysis of human nature and of being itself; Dasein or the very experiences of a person as the way or direction toward understanding Sein or ‘being’ itself and our existence.

According to Heidegger, humanity contains a paradoxical schism of being both free and enslaved. We are geworfenheit[2] or thrown into the world, the facticity of human existence such as our family or our genetic makeup is not a choice but a given and something we have no control over. That is, while we are geworfenheit into this world and have no control over the initial and permanent conditions set for us – thus determined – there is another feature to consciousness that allows us to transcend this determinism, the faculty to be consciously free. He separates dasein into several temporal modes; the past or facticity, the present or forfeiture and the future or existentiality.[3] Our existence or ‘being’ in the present utilises the world as an instrument that unlocks this capacity to be conscious where we can control or dominate our environment, since the world of objects and things is vibrant, active and constant in its motivation and movement. However, humanity becomes inauthentic to their true nature when they are unable to successfully separate themselves and thus forfeit their nature by becoming subordinate to the world. They themselves absorb the same qualities of the objects of the world that they become an object or a thing. “Humans feel they are subjects and all other things are their objects… [l]imiting our perceptions to such distinctions causes us to become blind to Being and forfeit our chance to become Dasein and nurture beings into unconcealment.”[4] Humanity has become slaves to the tools of the world that were supposed to be used as instruments to facilitate our capacity to freely distinguish between the real and the non-real. Heidegger refers to this as das man or an inauthentic person who has conformed to the morality as dictated by an inauthentic world and thus escaped his own conscience and the emergent free will to commit the ‘original sin’ [Adam eating the apple because he followed the likes of Eve rather than independently choosing or understanding the difference between right and wrong]. We stop questioning and conform to the masses, losing our selfhood to enable the possession of what we desire.

What exactly is this desire that we seek to possess? It is to overcome the anxiety of our separateness, the ‘split’ or halving of our nature that Aristophanes deliberates in the Symposium. Aristophanes purports that there exists an emptiness within us and the search for wholeness – the yearning for love – is the remedy that by intimately joining with our counterpart we find completeness. “Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”[5] Plato’ approach to this yearning or search for our other half is not through the senses but through the motivation to attain love, love being the desire for ‘good’ or the beautiful. That is, preceding the desire for completeness is the motivation to attain what is “the perpetual possession of the good”[6] and therefore what is beautiful. Beauty is not limited to nature as in fleeting physical beauty or other objects of the material world as we currently observe – reality to Plato is not what our senses perceive – but rather beauty is harmony and it is achieving harmony that results in the attainment of the Good as it becomes the eternal form that perpetually directs the person toward the best possible end. Since all things strive for this harmony, it is eternal and thus singular or ‘higher’ in that the Good or Beautiful is the ultimate form. Platonic forms is only available in the transcendent world where, unlike the material world, consists of a reality that contains perfect ideas; there is a court, a judge and a jury, which is a part of our physical world, but Justice itself is a form. “Platonic form is thus an abstraction from a world reality from the perspective of those within that world and a ‘descended idea’ from the perspective of those outside of it.”[7]

We are in the world, an essential part of it and our relations with the world and others are fundamental to our existence, but the harmony – the authentic possession or consciousness of love – is attainable when we have overcome the Das Man and begin to think freely. Heidegger would agree that those who dedicate themselves to the question of their own being and to live a life studying themselves will be enabled with the faculty to live an authentic life and his final temporal ecstases, namely that to be authentic, the ‘future’ or existentiality is the frame of mind that has evolved beyond what objects do. This ‘supreme possibility’[8] begins when we reflect on the nature of our existence through death. The premise is that our freedom produces a subjective anxiety since we become aware of ourselves and our separateness – please note that when I personally say separateness, it is not the Cartesian ‘separate’ but rather the experience of our capacity to dominate and control our environment and therefore to become conscious of our free will – and it is at that point that the individual reaches a choice between embracing this angst-laden freedom or to conform to the masses. This ‘mood’ of angst or dread is an emotional anxiety caused by the realisation that one is drawing away from everything that they assumed was real and where their sense of significance becomes thoroughly unfamiliar or unheimlich. Fear in the material world is usually directed to something in particular, however this angst produces a feeling directed to something that the person is not aware of and thus an express encounter with ‘nothingness’ or that very emptiness that we feel being a genuine individual and having real freedom. To overcome this is only possible when we confront our own death or the finitude of our existence and by acknowledging our individual death, we realise our individuality. Embracing anxiety seems contradictory to reaching a harmonious state but it is quite the reverse; conformity to the masses is accessible and appealing though at the expense of our own independence and becomes a trick to escape the angst since it merely preoccupies the individual away from the authentic position of his humanity with false distractions. By confronting our own death, we become conscious of our individuality and our independence and overcome this very angst since the awareness of death – the ‘white horse’ – is not necessarily confronting the violence of death, but rather the death of this subjective and elusive fear. Since this inner anxiety is the causal factor that encourages humanity to submit or conform, eliminating the anxiety and in turn the fear solidifies the subjective harmony to enable a person to begin living authentically and to be motivated by a moral consciousness. To attain moral consciousness is the only way to correctly understand love.

However, if it is our desire to possess or yearn for love that is eternal in its completeness or perpetual possession of the good, reflectively would that mean our desire is for the immortal and unchanging? If humanity is motivated by the attainment of love being the eternal Form of Good or the Beautiful, singular in nature and harmonious, humanity must therefore ultimately be seeking God since God stands as the absolute perpetuity, the ultimate reality and though by our very nature our limited senses restrict the facility to perceive the magnitude of this singular [that we falsely interpret as a figure of a man on a cloud], our motivation for the eternal attainment of Good is to strive to get closer to God within ourselves and thus bringing us closer to immortality. The futility of this motivation is clear since we are in a physical world, we are being in time and space. When I was young, I said that I will never be with a man unless he loves God more than he loves me and I have yet to meet such a man, but being non-religious and completely independent, what I asked was for a man who attained the motivation to strive toward God as it stood as the motivation to continuously and consistently better himself. Confronting our death thus provides two benefits; the benefit of overcoming the angst that compels us to conform to the masses and thus avoid leading an authentic life, and the other is the futility of our own existence and that we can never ourselves become God, thus becoming humbled in a manner that would epitomise the requisite for wisdom.

As we are – being in the world – incapable of ever attaining the senses necessary to reach a perception of ultimate reality, we reconstruct it in our limited capacity; romantic love and procreation satisfy our desire to attain a material sense of this immortality and wholeness. What that means is that romantic love must present the same qualities required of the authentic individual. If wisdom implies a man who has overcome the angst and attained the independent motivation to think with moral consciousness and thus lead a life continuously seeking Good, a woman must equally have the same motivation since Aristophanes’ eulogy on love is seeking out our other half to find ultimate wholeness. This is continued Biblically with “[t]hat is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” thus having attained this wisdom we choose our partner who like ourselves must be authentic and morally conscious. As the masses are motivated by sex and appearances, money or social position, one must transcend the material world and choose a partner that they admire for the qualities that they possess and in doing so will share in the same agenda of perfecting Harmony.

This is not an easy find, hence the where are you of wise man capable of love??? But only a wise man – that is an authentic man – is capable of loving.

[1] Hubert L. Dreyfus, Mark A. Wrathall, A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, John Wiley & Sons (2011) 73
[2] Peter Eli Gordon, Continental Divide, Harvard University Press (2010) 33
[3] Paul Roubiczek, Existentialism For and Against, CUP Archive (2009) 134
[4] Christopher A. Sims, Tech Anxiety: Artificial Intelligence and Ontological Awakening in Four Science Fiction Novels, McFarland (2013) 31
[5] Plato, The Symposium
[6] Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, Princeton University Press (1973) 20
[7] David A. Ross, The Poetics of Philosophy [A Reading of Plato], Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2008) 40
[8] Michel Haar, Heidegger and the Essence of Man, SUNY Press (1993) 12