I saw many living lights of blinding brightness
make of us a center and of themselves a crown,
their voices sweeter than the radiance of their faces.
Paradiso, Canto 10, Lines 64- 66
Namaste – the Indian greeting contains a whole philosophical universe in just one word:
Namaste! – I honor the place in you where the universe resides. I honor the place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, and of wisdom in you. I honor the place in you, where, when you are there and I am there, we are but one.
Mahatma Gandhi explaining Albert Einstein the meaning of the greeting Namaste
When I read the Cantos of Paradiso dealing with the Sun Sphere I couldn’t but imagine the lights in the circles folding their hands in front of their heart and bowing their head in respect for each other. That might be because the Sun Sphere takes up themes of wisdom and prudence, harmony and reconciliation.
Like hours of a clock the lights dance in two circles around Dante and Beatrice. They all have been the greatest teachers of their time. It’s easy to imagine Professor Minerva McGonagall dance with them like she danced with Professor Dumbledore at the Yule Ball.
Her dancing partners are an illuster bunch. Amongst others we meet the Dominican philosopher Thomas Aquinas who praises Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. Francis of Assisi is not quite as McGonagall who can transfigure into her animal shape of a cat. But there are many accounts of Francis interacting with animals like him preaching a sermon to birds and working out a peace treaty between a wolf and the town of Gubbio.
To stick with the theme of harmony the Franciscan friar Bonaventura eulogises the founder of the Dominican Order Dominic of Spain. And Bonaventura names not just himself but also his companions in the second circle. Of all those named the biblical prophet Nathan caught my eye most.
He showed a lot of backbone when he rebuked King David for his actions, when he told him that it will not be his right to build the temple, and when he made him fulfil his promise of having Salomon take the crown as next king. This is the kind of courage one wants to see in a Gryffindor and one can find in McGonagall when she faced up to Professor Umbridge squarely.
Stay on your bench now, reader,
thinking of the joy you have but tasted,
if, well before you tire, you would be happy.
I have set your table. From here on feed yourself,
for my attention now resides
in that matter of which I have become the scribe.
Paradiso, Canto 10, Lines 22 – 27
The wisdom of Nathan was legendary. It’s not only that Dante mentions him. G.E. Lessing named the hero in his dramatic poem Nathan, the Wise. Even though this serious comedy is set in the time of a cease fire in 12th century Jerusalem the parallels in the characters of the prophet Nathan and Lessing’s Nathan are obvious. Both find the courage to speak the truth to the rulers of their time and thereby become their friends.
Lessing made Nathan the Wise and Saladin meet over a chess board. It was considerable smaller than McGonagall’s chess-board that protects the Philosopher’s Stone in book one of the Harry Potter series. But the question Sultan Saladin asks to test Nathan’s wisdom is a huge one: Which of the three religions is the true religion?
Nathan’s wraps his answer in a fairy tale as he realizes the trap in this question. He tells the Sultan the story of the three rings:
One family owns a ring as a family heirloom. The ring has the ability to make the bearer ‘pleasant’ for all people and God when worn in this confidence. The ring is handed down and determines always the best loved son as the next ruler.
Now, one father has three sons and he loves all the same. He doesn’t want to single out one as the most loved. Hence, he decides to make two identical copies of the ring. After his death the three sons represented with the three identical rings argue over the succession. The argument is brought before a judge to decide.
The judge can’t make out any difference between the rings as they were all perfect copies. But seeing the three brothers and how they argue he speculates that the true ring must have been lost as none of them is very pleasant to be around right in this moment, he suggests that the three brothers should each live in the believe that their ring is the true one and strive to win the love of the people. Whoever will be successful will be the true ring bearer.
This parable reminds me not only of the fairy tale of the three Deathly Hallows, it also brings us back to the theme of harmony and humanity prevalent in Dante’s Sun Sphere.
‘What have we got today?’ Harry asked Ron as he poured sugar on his porridge.
‘Double Potions with the Slytherins,’ said Ron. ‘Snape’s Head of Slytherin house. They say he always favours them – we’ll be able to see if it’s true.’
‘Wish McGonagall favoured us,’ said Harry. Professor McGonagall was head of Gryffindor house, but it hadn’t stopped her giving them a huge pile of homework the day before.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 8: The Potion Master
No, Harry you wouldn’t wish for that. If she did (and this does not imply that I believe that Snape favours anyone) she wouldn’t be such a good teacher. She tries to teach you something – the value of harmony, knowledge and of a backbone, the values Dante cherishes in the Sun Sphere.