Paradise | Study Guide

Dante Alighieri

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Paradise | Canto 15 | Summary

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Summary

In the sphere of Mars, the souls cease their singing so Dante may speak with them. The soul of Cacciaguida (1090–1147), a mysterious ancestor of Dante's, joyfully addresses his descendant. He thanks God for gracing Dante with the privilege of visiting Paradise and gratefully acknowledges Beatrice's role in making Dante ready for "this great flight." Asked about his own life, Cacciaguida recalls a time—conspicuously unlike Dante's own—in which Florence "lived on in modesty, chasteness and peace." Those days, when everyone was content with their lot and social customs had not yet been corrupted by money, are long gone, as Cacciaguida recognizes. He then describes his own death in the Crusades.

Analysis

Cacciaguida, like Virgil in the Inferno and Purgatory, represents Dante's link to both the literary and the political past. He addresses Dante first in Latin, the language of Virgil—and, specifically, the language of that other great epic of Italy, the Aeneid. Dante the poet is ennobled by participating in the same epic tradition as Virgil, who serves as his model for both artistic skill and personal virtue. Likewise, Dante the son of Florence is ennobled by his connection to Cacciaguida, who stands for a bygone era of dignified simplicity. Cognizant of his roots, Dante will begin Canto 16 by speaking to Cacciaguida in a deliberately old-fashioned variety of Italian.

Like many of the other characters in Paradise, Cacciaguida has an outlook on life that might be classed as deteriorationist. He believes things have gotten worse in Florence in the century and a half since he last walked Earth. This opinion is almost surely informed by Dante's own experiences of civil war, infighting, and eventual exile from his hometown. Cacciaguida, however, is quick to describe the entire two-century period between his own birth and the present (i.e., 1300) as one of decline. His main complaints are the greed of his fellow Florentines (lamented here) and the gradual takeover of Florence by ethnic outsiders (discussed in Canto 16). The corrosive effect of greed on Italian politics is a constant refrain in the Divine Comedy, appearing in the Inferno and Purgatory as well as Paradise. Like his ancestor, Dante repeatedly accuses both Church and state of succumbing to the desire for material wealth.
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