Friday, May 27, 2011

Ripheus in Heaven

Now knoweth he how heaven enamoured is
With a just king; and in the outward show
Of his effulgence he reveals it still.
Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e'er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of the holy lights?
Now knoweth he enough of what the world
Has not the power to see of grace divine,
Although his sight may not discern the bottom.

Dante places two pagans in Heaven: the Emperor Trajan and the Trojan prince Ripheus. For the former he was following a legend that St. Gregory the Great prayed for Trajan's salvation on seeing a monument to Trajan's compassion; in response to which God resurrected Trajan for long enough to be baptized and then reprimanded St. Gregory for presumption. No such legend attaches to Ripheus, mentioned above (in Longfellow's translation of Paradiso XX) but Dante seems to have been struck by the description of his death in Book II of Virgil's Aeneid. The description is something like, "Ripheus fell as well, uniquely most just of all Trojans, most faithful of preservers of equity; but to the gods it seemed otherwise." But since I quoted Longfellow's Paradiso, I might as well quote Dryden's Aeneid:

Then Ripheus follow'd, in th' unequal fight;
Just of his word, observant of the right:
Heav'n thought not so.

It's an interesting comment: Virgil tells us flat out that Ripheus was most just and most equitable and then says that the gods didn't think so (dis aliter visum). What he means, of course, is that Ripheus's justice availed nothing: no matter how just he was the gods did not save him. Dante seems to have been struck by this; when introducing Ripheus he makes a point of underlining that God loves a just king. The injustice of the pagan gods is overcome by the mercy of the God of Heaven: according to Dante, Faith, Hope, and Love came to Ripheus and baptized him:

The other one, through grace, that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,
Set all his love below on righteousness;
Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,
Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
From that day forth the stench of paganism,
And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.
Those Maidens three, whom at the right-hand wheel
Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
More than a thousand years before baptizing.

But why the special attention for Ripheus? To this question, Beatrice replies that Dante the narrator is not able to understand God's purposes:

O thou predestination, how remote
Thy root is from the aspect of all those
Who the First Cause do not behold entire!

Dante lacks the eyesight to see what grace does; and as Dante, so we. The practical implications are then clear:

And you, O mortals! hold yourselves restrained
In judging; for ourselves, who look on God,
We do not know as yet all the elect;
And sweet to us is such a deprivation,
Because our good in this good is made perfect,
That whatsoe'er God wills, we also will.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.