Mars and Dante’s Vision of Christ

This week marks the anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, 701 years ago on September 14th in 1321. And because the planet Mars is beautifully positioned among the stars of Taurus right now, I want to consider what happens in the Paradise of Dante’s Divine Comedy when he passes through the Mars sphere.

After traveling with Virgil through the Inferno and the Purgatory, Dante arrives at the earthly paradise, and his beloved Beatrice, who will accompany him through the planetary spheres of the Paradise and on to the stars.

In each of the planetary spheres, Dante has specific encounters which served as a road map for the medieval soul as the direction it would take when passing out of earthly life on its return to the spirit.

At the Mars sphere, he comes to his first vision of the Christ, which seems curious, given the astrological association of Mars with the ancient god of war. A close read of the Paradise reveals that in the first Canto, Dante has beautifully described the point of Spring Equinox, or zero degrees of Aries, as a “gracious spot, made sacred for mankind,” and this by the deed of the Christ through the Easter Mystery of Crucifixion and Resurrection. Dante aligns the occurrence of this mystery to the time when the Sun was at zero degrees of Aries, and since Mars is the ruler of Aries, it’s possible that this is why he describes the first vision of Christ in the Mars sphere.

He writes: E’en so, constellate in the depth of Mars, Those rays displayed the venerable sign traced in a circle by the quadrant bars. ~The constellation of Mars is Aries, the quadrant bars may well refer to the lines that join equinox to equinox and solstice to solstice, which describe the cycle of through which the seasons circle, starting at the gracious spot of zero degrees Aries.

From Sky&Telescope

Look for Mars high in the East an hour before sunrise between Pleiades and Aldebaran, especially Friday, when the waning gibbous Moon slips by.

In the morning light,


Tune in for this episode on Interlochen Public Radio, and on podcasts everywhere!

Cover image: Dante has his first vision of the Christ in the Mars sphere of the Paradise, Canto XIV, which is the first image William Blake illustrated of the Paradise, between 1824-27. From the National Gallery of Victoria.