so I saw more than a thousand splendors
drawing toward us, and from each was heard:
And as these shades approached,
each one of them seemed filled with joy,
so brilliant was the light that shone from them.
Merely consider, reader, if what I here begin
went on no farther, how keen would be
your anguished craving to know more.
But you shall see for yourself what great desire
I felt to hear about their state from them
as soon as they appeared to me.
‘O spirit born for bliss, whom grace allows
to see the thrones of the eternal triumph
before you leave the battlefield,
‘we are on fire with the light that fills all Heaven.
And so, if you would like us to enlighten you,
content yourself as you desire.’
This came to me from one of those good spirits.
And Beatrice began: ‘Speak, speak with confidence,
having faith in them as you would trust in gods.’
‘I clearly see you nest in your own light,
and that you flash it from your eyes,
because it sparkles when you smile.
‘But I know not who you are, nor why,
worthy soul, you take your rank here from the sphere
I said, addressing myself to the radiance
that had been first to speak,
which then became more brilliant than before.
As the sun, once its heat has gnawed away
the dense and tempering vapors,
hides itself in its own excess of light,
so, with increasing joy, the holy form
concealed itself from me within its rays
and, thus concealed, it made response
in the very manner that the next song sings.
‘Once Constantine reversed the eagle’s flight,
counter to the course of heaven it had followed
behind that ancient who took Lavinia to wife,
‘for two hundred years and more the bird of God
remained at Europe’s borders,
near the mountains from which it first came forth.
‘There it ruled the world beneath the shadow
of its sacred wings, passing from hand to hand
and, changing in this way, at last came into mine.
‘Caesar I was and am Justinian,
who, by will of the Primal Love I feel,
pruned from the laws what was superfluous and vain.
‘Before I had set my mind to that hard task
I believed Christ had but a single nature,
and not a second, and was content in that belief.
‘But the blessèd Agapetus,
the most exalted of our shepherds,
brought me to the true faith with his words.
‘I believed him. What he held by faith
I now see just as clearly as you understand
that any contradiction is both false and true.
‘As soon as my footsteps moved at the Church’s side,
it pleased God, in His grace, to grant me inspiration
in the noble task to which I wholly gave myself,
‘entrusting my weapons to Belisarius,
with whom Heaven’s right hand was so conjoined
it was a sign for me to give them up.
‘Here, then, ends my reply to your first question,
but its nature still constrains me
‘so that you may consider if with reason some rebel
against that sacred standard, both those opposed
and those who take it as their own.
‘Consider how much valor has made it worthy
of reverence, beginning with the hour
when Pallas gave his life to give it sway.
‘You know it made its home in Alba
for three hundred years and more until, at last,
again for its sake, three made war on three.
‘And you know what it accomplished under seven kings,
from the wrongs done Sabine women to Lucretia’s woes,
conquering the nearby people all around.
‘You know what it accomplished when it was held aloft
by the noble Romans against Brennus, against Pyrrhus,
‘so that Torquatus, Quintius—named
for his unkempt locks—the Decii, the Fabii:
‘It brought the pride of Arabs low
when they followed Hannibal along the Alpine crags
from which, O river Po, you fall.
‘Under it triumphed youthful Scipio and Pompey,
and to that hill beneath which you were born
‘Then, as the time approached when Heaven willed
to bring the world to its own state of peace,
Caesar, by the will of Rome, laid hold on it.
‘And what it accomplished, from the Var to the Rhine,
the Isère and the Loire and the Seine beheld,
as did all the valleys that supply the Rhone.
‘What it accomplished when it issued from Ravenna
and leapt the Rubicon was such a flight
that neither tongue nor pen could follow it.
‘Toward Spain it wheeled in arms,
then toward Durazzo, and smote Pharsalia,
thus bringing grief to the tepid waters of the Nile.
‘Antandros and the Simois, where it had set out,
it saw again, and the place where Hector lies.