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The spirits of lovers: Folco of Marseilles

In the III Heaven of Paradise, the spirits of lovers sparkle, showing themselves as sparks of fire, who under the influence of Venus during their lifetime devoted themselves to earthly love and often to lust, sins for which however they repented by turning entirely to God’s love. Folco of Marseilles was a famous Provençal love poet who lived between the 12th and 13th centuries. He was known as a fervent seducer in his youth until he fell in love with a noblewoman, whose death urged him to redeem himself and become a Cistercian monk, to finally become bishop of Toulouse and crusader of the faith at the service of Pope Innocent III against the French Cathars’ heresy. Folco also introduces Dante to the spirit of Raab, the redeemed Canaanite prostitute, who was the first inhabitant of the Third Heaven of Venus, then harshly criticised Florence, a rich city that is used to corrupting the Church’s high prelates.

"The greatest of the valleys where the water
Expands itself," forthwith its words began,
"That sea excepted which the earth engarlands,
Between discordant shores against the sun
Extends so far, that it meridian makes
“Where it was wont before to make the horizon.
I was a dweller on that valley's shore
'Twixt Ebro and Magra that with journey short
Doth from the Tuscan part the Genoese.
With the same sunset and same sunrise nearly
Sit Buggia and the city whence I was,
That with its blood once made the harbour hot.
Folco that people called me unto whom
My name was known; and now with me this heaven
Imprints itself, as I did once with it;
For more the daughter of Belus never burned,
Offending both Sichaeus and Creusa,
Than I, so long as it became my locks,
Nor yet that Rodophean, who deluded
was by Demophoon, nor yet Alcides,
When Iole he in his heart had locked.
Yet here is no repenting, but we smile,
Not at the fault, which comes not back to mind,
But at the power which ordered and foresaw.
Here we behold the art that doth adorn
With such affection, and the good discover
Whereby the world above turns that below.
But that thou wholly satisfied mayst bear
Thy wishes hence which in this sphere are born,
Still farther to proceed behoveth me.
Thou fain wouldst know who is within this light
That here beside me thus is scintillating,
Even as a sunbeam in the limpid water.
Then know thou, that within there is at rest
Rahab, and being to our order joined,
With her in its supremest grade 'tis sealed.
Into this heaven, where ends the shadowy cone
Cast by your world, before all other souls
First of Christ's triumph was she taken up.
Full meet it was to leave her in some heaven,
Even as a palm of the high victory
Which he acquired with one palm and the other,
Because she favoured the first glorious deed
Of Joshua upon the Holy Land,
That little stirs the memory of the Pope.
Thy city, which an offshoot is of him
Who first upon his Maker turned his back,
And whose ambition is so sorely wept,
Brings forth and scatters the accursed flower
Which both the sheep and lambs hath led astray
Since it has turned the shepherd to a wolf.
For this the Evangel and the mighty Doctors
Are derelict, and only the Decretals
So studied that it shows upon their margins.
On this are Pope and Cardinals intent;
Their meditations reach not Nazareth,
There where his pinions Gabriel unfolded;
But Vatican and the other parts elect
Of Rome, which have a cemetery been
Unto the soldiery that followed Peter
Shall soon be free from this adultery."

Paradise, IX, 82-142.

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