Dante Alighieri Prophecy Warning Modern Man Not To Explore Space! APOLLO = LITTLE BARK

Little Bark

O you, eager to hear more,
who have followed in your little bark
my ship that singing makes its way,
turn back if you would see your shores again.
Do not set forth upon the deep,
for, losing sight of me, you would be lost.
The seas I sail were never sailed before.
Minerva fills my sails, Apollo is my guide,
nine Muses point me toward the Bears.
Paradiso II

John S. Carroll (1904), Paradiso 2.1-18

The more thorough and serious our study of the Paradiso, the better will we understand the necessity of the warning to those who would follow in his wake [not imitators, as Butler suggests but readers and commentators. Dante must have known that the latter were a necessary evil], with which Dante opens the second Canto. He has been accused of showing here a 'a pretentious and proud ostentation of wisdom'; but the general neglect and misunderstanding of the Paradiso, as compared with the other two divisions of the poem, prove that he was speaking the simple fact. The true affectation would have been to pretend that no difficulty exists. Dante knew well that

the sacred poem
To which both heaven and earth have set a hand,
So that it many a year hath made me lean,
[Par. xxv. 1-3.]

was not going to be understood by every one who chose to follow his ship in 'a tiny boat' (piccioletta barca) – the slender equipment of knowledge possessed by men who never 'lifted the neck' to Divine Wisdom, 'the bread of angels.' The theme even of the Purgatorio was so much nearer the level of the human mind that Dante felt the need for it of nothing but 'a little ship' (navicella) – the same, indeed, as the passage implies, in which he had sailed the 'cruel sea' of the Inferno [Purg. i. 1-3]. Now, however, that he is out upon the high seas of that knowledge of God which is eternal life, nothing less than a great ship (legno, l. 3, navigio l. 14) can venture into waters never thus crossed before. [The idea is repeated in Par. xxiii. 67-69, when Dante comes to the Triumph of Christ in the Eighth Heaven:

It is no passage for a little boat,
That which the daring prow cleaves as it goes,
Nor for a helmsman who spares himself.]

In ll. 8, 9 he tells us what his own equipment is:

Minerva breathes, and pilots me Apollo,
And Muses nine point out to me the Bears.

We may surely see in these words something more definite than vague general allusions to pagan myths. If, as we saw in the first Canto, Apollo stands for God and the light of His grace, Minerva may well stand for Beatrice, the Divine Wisdom, who carries him up from Heaven to Heaven. The nine Muses may correspond to the nine Orders of Angels which send down through the nine Heavens the powers and virtues poured out upon them by God; or perhaps the nine Sciences which in the Convito (ii. 14) he connects with the nine Heavens – Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astrology, Natural Science, and Moral Science. The Tenth Heaven represents Divine Science, already included in Minerva and Apollo. These, or such as these, form that 'bread of the angels' to which Dante lifted up his neck betimes. We are reminded of the famous fresco in the Spanish Chapel in Florence, in which Dante's chief master in theology, Thomas Aquinas, is seated in the midst of the sacred writers and of the virtues poured out on him by the Spirit of God: the theological nearest heaven, the cardinal a little lower, and underneath him the intellectual virtues in the form of the various sciences in which he had proved himself a master. Some such equipment for this, his crowning labour, Dante here claims to possess; and, without some measure of it, they who attempt to follow in his wake may remain lost on that ocean of the infinite. This does not necessarily imply lack of intellect or of education in other directions. As Plumptre says, the warning seems 'addressed prophetically to those who, like Voltaire and Goethe, Leigh Hunt and Savage Landor, have turned away in weariness and disgust from the philosophy and theology of the Paradiso.' It is just this philosophy and theology which, to Dante's mind, constitute 'the bread of the angels'; and he knows that few indeed are the souls that lift the neck to this celestial food. Even these few must keep close in his wake, for, if they lag too far behind, the waters ploughed by his keel will return to the level, the subject fall back into its ancient trackless mystery. He pledges himself that the chosen few shall see a greater marvel than did the Argonauts when Jason was turned into a ploughman at Colchis. It is difficult to see the point of the comparison. Aeëtes, the Colchian king, promises to give Jason the golden fleece on condition that he yoke to a brazen plough two brazen-hoofed, fire-breathing bulls, plough with them the field of Ares, sow the furrows with dragons' teeth, and conquer the mail-clad warriors who would spring out of them. Landino suggests the idea that if Jason's task was 'against nature,' Dante's work is 'so hidden in the secrets of nature, that it does not seem natural.' Perhaps we should be content with the general idea that the few who are fit to follow Dante to the end of his journey will see him transcend the limits of nature in a way more wonderful than that of Jason in his marvellous feat [the story of Jason's ploughing is told in Ovid, Met. vii. 104-121].

Apollo 11
Little Bark

The Rev. H.F. Tozer (1901), Paradiso 2.1-9

Before commencing his description of the first objects which he saw in Paradise, Dante in these lines warns off those of his readers who had paid no attention to philosophy and theology; in ll. 10-5 he encourages those who had done so.

The Rev. H.F. Tozer (1901), Paradiso 2.1-2

barca: the voyager in the 'little boat,' which follows in the wake of the larger vessel, is the uninitiated but inquisitive reader, to whom the mysteries which Dante is about to reveal would be unintelligible. The metaphor in barca is the same as in the 'navicella del mio ingegno' of Purg. i. 2; cp. Par. xxiii. 67-9: seguiti: take with siete, 'have followed (thus far).'

Apollo 8
Little Bark

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1867), Paradiso 2.1

The Heaven of the Moon, in which are seen the spirits of those who, having taken monastic vows, were forced to violate them.

In Dante's symbolism this heaven represents the first science of the Trivium Convito, II. 14: “I say that the heaven of the Moon resembles Grammar; because it may be compared therewith; for if the Moon be well observed, two things are seen peculiar to it, which are not seen in the other stars. One is the shadow in it, which is nothing but the rarity of its body, in which the rays of the sun cannot terminate and be reflected as in the other parts. The other is the variation of its brightness, which now shines on one side, and now upon the other, according as the sun looks upon it. And Grammar has these two properties since, on account of its infinity, the rays of reason do not terminate in it in any special part of its words; and it shines now on this side, and now on that, inasmuch as certain words, certain declinations, certain constructions, are in use which once were not, and many once were which will be again.”

For the influences of the Moon, see Canto III. Note 30.

The introduction to this canto is at once a warning and an invitation. Balbi, Life and Times of Dante, II. Ch. 15, Mrs. Bunbury's Tr., says: –

“The last part of the Commedia, which Dante finished about
this time (1320),....is said to be the most difficult and obscure
part of the whole poem. And it is so; and it would be in vain for
us to attempt to awaken in the generality of readers that
attention which Dante has not been able to obtain for himself.
Readers in general will always be repulsed by the difficulties of
its numerous allegories, by the series of heavens, arranged
according to the now forgotten Ptolemaic system, and more than all
by disquisitions on philosophy and theology which often degenerate
into mere scholastic themes. With the exception of the three
cantos relating to Cacciaguida, and a few other episodes which
recall us to earth, as well as those verses in which frequently
Dante's love for Beatrice shines forth, the Paradiso must not be
considered as pleasant reading for the general reader, but as an
especial recreation for those who find there, expressed in sublime
verse, those contemplations that have been the subjects of their
philosophical and theological studies. ....But few will always be
the students of philosophy and theology, and much fewer those who
look upon these sciences as almost one and the same thing, pursued
by two different methods; these, if I am not mistaken, will find
in Dante's Paradiso a treasure of thought, and the loftiest and
most soothing words of comfort, forerunners of the joys of Heaven
itself. Above all, the Paradiso will delight those who find
themselves, when they are reading it, in a somewhat similar
disposition of mind to that of Dante when he was writing it; those
in short who, after having in their youth lived in the world, and
sought happiness in it, have now arrived at maturity, old age, or
satiety, and seek by the means of philosophy and theology to know
as far as possible of that other world on which their hopes now
rest. Philosophy is the romance of the aged, and Religion the
only future history for us all. Both these subjects of
contemplation we find in Dante's Paradiso, and pursued with a rare
modesty, not beyond the limits of our understanding, and with due
submission to the Divine Law which placed these limits.”

Apollo 13
Little Bark

Robert Hollander (2000-2007), Paradiso 2.1

Despite the distraction of an address to the reader, we realize that, beginning with the opening of this canto, we are in the sphere of the Moon. There is only one other occasion in the ten heavens when the entrance to a celestial realm coincides with the beginning of a canto: Paradiso XXI (Saturn). Those who are overwhelmed by the organized quality of Dante's mind might like to be aware of its “disorderly” side as well.

The “little bark” inevitably reminds readers of the “small bark” (navicella – Purg. I.2) that represents Dante's intellect at the beginning of Purgatorio. His capacities, we may infer, have increased in accord with his nearness to God; his ship, we understand by implication, is now a mighty craft; ours is the “little bark.”

Little Bark

Robert Hollander (2000-2007), Paradiso 2.1-18

For the Ovidian resonances in this passage, so marked by classical motif (the poem as voyage across a sea, the poet as inspired by gods and/or muses) and allusion (Jason and the voyage of the Argonauts), see Picone (“Dante argonauta: la ricezione dei miti ovidiani nella Commedia,” in M. Picone and B. Zimmermann, eds., Ovidius redivivus: von Ovid zu Dante [Stuttgart: M&P Verlag, 1994], pp. 191-200). The baptismal and related gnoseological resonances of the network of images in the opening of this canto are closely studied by Giorgio Stabile (“Il Canto II del Paradiso,” in “Paradiso”: Letture degli anni 1979-81, ed. S. Zennaro [Rome: Bonacci, 1989], pp. 35-42, 55-77).

Little Bark

Robert Hollander (2000-2007), Paradiso 2.1-6

The canto begins apparently by discouraging the “average reader” from attempting to understand it. As we shall shortly discover, only some of us are welcomed to the attempt (vv. 10-18). We may be put in mind of the similar gesture near the beginning of Convivio (I.i.2-6). That passage continues (I.i.7): “Blessed are the few who sit at the table where the bread of the angels is eaten, and most unfortunate those who share the food of sheep” (tr. R. Lansing). See William J. O'Brien (“'The Bread of Angels' in Paradiso II: A Liturgical Note,” Dante Studies 97 [1979]: 97-106) for a strong differentiation of the references to the “bread of angels” in these two passages, the first accommodating secular knowing, this one based on faith and the Scriptures. For the differing audiences sought for Convivio and Paradiso, see Vincenzo Placella (“Il pubblico del Convivio e quello del Paradiso,” in Miscellanea di studi in onore di Raffaele Sirri, a cura di M. Palumbo and V. Placella [Naples: Federico e Ardia, 1995], pp. 365-73). With regard to Dante's program for popularizing Aristotle as established in Convivio, see Sonia Gentili (“Il fondamento aristotelico del programma divulgativo dantesco [Conv. I],” in Le culture di Dante. Atti del quarto Seminario dantesco internazionale, ed. Michelangelo Picone et al. [Florence: Cesati, 2004], pp. 179-97).

O voi che... bifolco {v.18}: This is the most remarkable address to the reader in the whole of the Commedia. Such addresses are encountered elsewhere, but none so long and none addressed to such a group of readers, who are here urged to turn back in their little boats. The poet as poet addresses these readers, and his navigational figure concerns the “voyage” of his art as it now enters upon a new sea and “crosses over” (cantando varca {v.3}) from time to eternity. It is essential to bear in mind that it is the poet who is speaking: if the voyage of Dante the pilgrim were meant here, the claim that no one ever sailed these waters before would be untrue, for St. Paul, uplifted to Heaven, must have passed through these spheres and completed this same journey. The claim is true only from the point of view of the poet, not from that of the wayfarer. Paul did not take us back over his experience, but Dante the poet intends to do this now, to go back over his journey, in poetry. Charles S. Singleton (1970-75), Paradiso 2.1-18

10 You other few who craned your necks in time 11 to reach for angels' bread, which gives us life on earth, 12 yet never leaves us satisfied, 13 you may indeed set out, your ship afloat 14 upon the salty deep, keeping to the furrow 15 I have made, before the sea goes smooth again. 16 Those famous men who made their way to Colchis, 17 when they saw Jason had become a plowman, 18 were not as stunned as you shall be. 19 The innate and never-ending thirst for God 20 in His own kingdom drew us up, 21 almost as swiftly as you know the heavens turn.

Little Bark


  1. Interseting insight's about Dante's Devine Comedia. Read an interview with Dante (imaginary) in http://stenote.blogspot.com/2017/12/an-interview-with-dante.html


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