© 2021 Interlochen
News and Classical Music from Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Every Monday morning at 6:49 and 8:49, IPR News Radio looks into the night sky with Mary Stewart Adams, former Program Director and founder of the International Dark Sky Park at the Headlands, who has been telling stories of the night sky on IPR since 2013.

The Axis of Dante in the Stars: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Dante Beatrice Gemini W Blake.jpeg
Dante and Beatrice in the constellation of Gemini, the sphere of the flame, as rendered by William Blake. For Dante, the Sagittarius pole of the zodiac represented the deepest or inner-most, while Gemini provided access to the uppermost or highest.

Dante Alighieri’s epic poem “The Divine Comedy” is regarded as one of the most influential works of art in western civilization. He completed it 700 years ago and then died this week, September 13 or 14th, in 1321, exiled from his beloved Florence.

Just as Dante produced the poem in three parts, called “canticles,” he also had three guides ~ Virgil, Beatrice and St. Bernard ~ to lead him through the three realms of the Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise; and all of this as a construct for examining the three-fold nature of the human being, as a being of body, soul, and spirit.

So what does this have to do with the stars this week?

When Dante and Virgil reach the deepest region of the Inferno, they come upon Lucifer, where he’s sunk in the Earth for his rebellion from God. In order to pass through this region, they have to climb down the body of the fallen god until they reach his thigh, then they turn and climb out to see the stars.

In ancient and medieval astrological tradition, the thigh of the human form was aligned to the region of Sagittarius.

Later, when Dante and Beatrice ascend through the Paradise to the region of fixed stars, they do so at the region of Gemini, which stands exactly opposite Sagittarius in the sky.

So we could call this line from Sagittarius to Gemini the “Dante Axis” and it just so happens that the Moon passes through Sagittarius on the anniversary of Dante’s death this week, and will pass through Gemini stars two weeks later.

For me, this sets up a lovely opportunity to follow Dante in a contemplation of our the three-fold nature, as beings of body, soul and spirit.

Look, Reader, how my theme would scale the sky!
Marvel, not, therefore, if with greater art
I seek to buttress what I build so high.”
~from Purgatory, Canto IX, lines 70-72