Friday, July 29, 2016

A few bits of Shakespeare's Falstaff

As we prepare for Verdi's Falstaff, here are the texts of Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2.

And three scenes with Roger Allam's incredible Falstaff:

Hen IV. Part 1 Act 1 Sc. 2

Falstaff’s Honor speech Hen. IV. Part 1

A short trailer for one of the greatest films most people have never seen: The confabulation of Falstaff known as Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles:


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A bit of Falstaff

Maestri as Falstaff

Verdi's last opera didn't come easily. With Arrigo Boito, the composer worked on Falstsaff in fits and starts for three years. Verdi turned 80 before it was complete.

At one point in a letter he described the opera as a madman that he had to subdue:
The Big Belly ["pancione" -- the name given to the opera before the composition of Falstaff became public knowledge] is on the road to madness. There are some days when he does not move, he sleeps, and is in a bad humour. At other times he shouts, runs, jumps, and tears the place apart; I let him act up a bit, but if he goes on like this, I will put him in a muzzle and straitjacket.[28]

The first performance, at La Scala, was a hit: 

at the end the applause for Verdi and the cast lasted an hour

A brief snip with Ambrogio Maestri as Falstaff at Covent Garden:

Too bad the whole production isn't yet available online. Here's a complete production of Falstaff at La Scala, conducted by Ricardo Muti, again with Maestri.

A few resources:

Verdi directing Falstaff

"I believe it will take years and years before the general public understand this masterpiece, but when they really know it they will run to hear it like they do now for Rigoletto and La traviata." - Arturo Toscanini

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pergamon at the Met

The above is a fragment containing what might be the oldest bits of Homer that we have. The words are from the Odyssey, and was featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Pergamon exhibit. Below is a bust believed to represent Homer.

Click on Herakles for few more images from that exhibit:

Pergamon MET 2016.06

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer divagation

Macbeth Royal Opera

Our reading group has hit the pause button on Paradiso for the summer, and John Goodman's lectures on Verdi and Shakespeare offer a superb distraction from the rigors of the Commedia.

John Goodman

The infinite resources of the web here offer a bi-lingual libretto of Othello, the next opera Mr. Goodman will tackle. 
        Here is La Scala's production /Muti, Domingo, Frittoli, Nucci, Ceron: 


Boito and Verdi

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The fall of chivalry: Paradiso 17

This will just be a brief suggestion, rather than a reading. The Paradiso, the city of God, spends more than three cantos at its dead center on the city of man. 

That city is riven by two kinds of love:
Benigna volontade in che si liqua
sempre l'amor che drittamente spira,
come cupidità fa ne la iniqua,

A will benign, in which reveals itself
Ever the love that righteously inspires,
As in the iniquitous, cupidity, (Par.15. 1-3)
The good love does something noble right at the start -- it falls silent:
silenzio puose a quella dolce lira,
The knights and armies moving along the four equal arms of the cross extinguish their songs in order to listen to this one soul who's arrived, a bit dazzled by the vast red sphere, the gleaming galaxy of the huge cross, the power of music he is moved by without understanding. 

This giving of attention is a constitutive chivalric act. It is the turn from the needs of the self (cupidità) to the other. That tens of thousands of knights and soldiers fall silent at once is  a signal gesture of the knight's honor, service, and love to one in need. It puts the entire Cacciaguida section under the sign of knightly courtesy, which carries a rich and highly sophisticated ethical discipline. (For a sampling of the range and depth of the chivalric paideia, see Aldo Scaglione's Knights at Court, especially chapter 2.)

If we read Paradiso 16 in this light, it might provide an incisive moral perspective. For what we see is a city that is divided -- Cacciaguida gives us the simple honest families of a modest town; the town grows, rich families from outside move in, bringing with them their aristocratic presumptions even as other families are developing mediated systems of lending that will bring untold wealth to their children.

It's a city marred by a failure of Church and State to work in harmony -- perhaps that ideal was only reached in the Knight, he who placed his mastery of power and skill into the service of his lord, and of his lord's Lord.

Perhaps this is why, when Dante first speaks to his great-great grandfather, Beatrice's smile brings an allusion to the story of Lancelot. Unlike Francesca, who met a literary knight in a Romance, the poet meets one who, though found only here in his poem, is presented as not a literary figure, but as an actual knight who served his Emperor and his God. 

And perhaps this is why the central antagonism of Cacciaguida's survey of Florentine development is the suicidal conflict between families of honor and good will on one hand, and on the other, those whose specialization lay in mooching off the church, or, "the insolent breed that plays the dragon behind him that flees and is mild as a lamb to him that shows his teeth," (Par.16.115-117).

At the heart of this civic ruin is the ruined virtue of the heart -- the honorable city of benign will is succumbing to those whose strength lies in clever merchandising and wealth built by greed. 

In this light, the unhorsings of Buondelmonte and of Corso are not two disparate events in a random development. Rather, the ends of these well-heeled deserters of their ladies are two manifestations of the same event: the fall of Florentine cavalleria.

Cacciaguida's portrait of contingent, mortal Florence is both loving and scathing; Dante's "root" speaks openly and clearly of his past and future, and the outcome is literally en-coeuraging -- he steels the poet with what it takes to complete his poem, whatever the risks.
                    . . . all falsehood laid aside,
Make manifest thy vision utterly,
And let them scratch wherever is the itch;

                   . . . rimossa ogne menzogna,
tutta tua visïon fa manifesta;
e lascia pur grattar dov' è la rogna.  (17.127-29)
When we reach this moment near the end of the central canto of the Paradiso, the necessity of this "detour" begins to become clear. The poem could not come to be without this radical injection of boldness and heart. The courage to speak the truth is the only medicine to cure a sick city:
Ché se la voce tua sarà molesta
nel primo gusto, vital nodrimento
lascerà poi, quando sarà digesta.

For if thine utterance shall offensive be
At the first taste, a vital nutriment
'Twill leave thereafter, when it is digested. (17.130-132)
Cacciaguida compared Dante with Hippolytus, who is Ovid's key transitional figure between Pythagoras and Aesculapius. The tale of the journey of the serpent-god from Greece to Rome is the last journey, and the last good story, of the Metamorphoses. It's all told in disguise; Hippolytus himself is disguised, he's now known as "Virbius."

If Ovid wrote of the metamorphosis of Greece into Rome (it might be his central theme), Dante here, inspired by Cacciaguida, dispenses with oracles and the promises of hidden gods. The root is the truth of his life -- to be voiced with chivalric mastery -- openly, freely, boldly,
"Because the spirit of the hearer rests not,

Nor doth confirm its faith by an example
Which has the root of it unknown and hidden
Or other reason that does not appear."
"che l'animo di quel ch'ode, non posa

né ferma fede per essempro ch'aia
la sua radice incognita e ascosa,
né per altro argomento che non paia.”

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Death in Florence - Paradiso 16

The history of Florence before and after Dante is so rich and fraught with conflicts, treacheries and a wide cast of players as to make it hard to keep even the general outlines clear. 

A helpful (and well written) summary can be found in the first chapter of R.W.B. Lewis's Dante: A Lifepublished years ago in the New York Times (the text might be marred by some coding, but it's worth it)

Lewis's chapter is here, and begins with Cacciaguida:
As you walk across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence today, you come upon a plaque bearing a passage from Dante's Divine Comedy. The lines are spoken by Dante's ancestor Cacciaguida, whom the poet encounters in one of the higher spheres of heaven, among the warrior saints. They reflect grimly on an event that took place on that very spot in 1216, almost fifty years before Dante's birth, and plunged the city into decades of turmoil. The event was the murder of Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti . . . more . . ..
We last encountered Buondelmonte lying dead at the feet of "the mutilated stone that guards the bridge" - the ancient statue of Mars. Cacciaguida's depiction of early Florence climaxes in the tale of the failed attempt to unite two feuding families, the Amidei and the Donati, through marriage. An alliance with the daughter of the Amidei would have forged a bond of common interest between them. All Buondelmonte had to do was to accept the daughter and dowry offered. Instead he chose another bride from the wealthier Donati. 

Remembering an earlier time, Cacciaguida spoke of dowries before they had transformed brides into commodities:
Non faceva, nascendo, ancor paura
la figlia al padre, ché 'l tempo e la dote
non fuggien quinci e quindi la misura.

Not yet the daughter at her birth struck fear
Into the father, for the time and dower
Did not o'errun this side or that the measure.
(Par. 15.103-05)
As a direct result of his open betrayal of his troth, Buondelmonte was struck as he came from his wedding. He was knocked from his horse, then stabbed to death in front of his new bride. 

Some nine decades later, the city is ruled and roiled by the irrepressible Corso Donati, fomenting faction at every turn.

In Paradiso 17, Dante will learn of his own exile, of "how hard is the way going down and up another man's stairs." The key figure behind his exile and expropriation was Corso, a relation through Dante's marriage to Gemma Donati, and the swashbuckling head of the black Guelfs, who opposed the Whites, headed by the Cerchi.

Corso married the daughter of a wealthy Ghibelline, which enraged many who had supported him. Eventually the citizens forced Corso to flee the city; he was soon captured nearby. While being led back to Florence, Corso fell or threw himself from his horse, whereupon a captor lanced him to death.

Death of Corso Donati
Dante must have pondered the striking resemblances between the fates of these two men. Both Buondelmonte and Corso chose wealthy brides, not modest maids. Their choices unhorsed them. In Cacciaguida's story, Florence itself had once been a modest maid, but now is festooned with jewelry, make-up, and dress. And the old man compares Dante to Hippolytus, exiled from his native city by a lie, dragged to his death by frightened horses.  (Dante turns out to be less Euripides' tragic Hippolytus than Ovid's, who returns from Hades to live a new life in Italy.)

Buondelmonte's death at the bridge divided the city into the factions which then first were called Guelfs and Ghibellines. Corso's death ended the contention between the city's Whites and Blacks. In both cases, Florentine blood was spilled by Florentines. 

The fates of these two men, almost a century apart, are uncannily alike -- almost as if one fate. They are root and branch of the same "seed plot." It's like an opera or Greek myth, not devised by literary artifice, but given by the history of Florence. From the same plot, but a different seed, Dante will be cut off from his city, but not from his "root." He'll complete his solar journey thanks to the clear oracles of Cacciaguida. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Auerbach on Dante as poet of the secular world

. . . every aspect of earthly life is here, if only in the concentrated power of the poet’s similitudes: “croaking frogs in the evening, a lizard darting across the path, sheep crowding out of their enclosure, a wasp withdrawing its sting, a dog scratching; fishes, falcons, doves, storks; a cyclone snapping off trees at the trunk; a morning countryside in spring, covered with hoarfrost; night falling on the first day of an ocean voyage; a monk receiving the confession of a murderer; a mother saving a child from fire; a lone knight galloping forth; a bewildered peasant in Rome,” and on . . .

This passage is from Erich Auerbach's Dante: Poet of the Secular World, quoted by Michael Dirda in a fine brief overview of that book. Auerbach was one of the great readers of the 20th century. Dirda's whole piece can be found here, and is worth reading in full. For more on Auerbach's reading of Dante, see Edward Said's intro to a reissued edition of Mimesis.)

Auerbach found Dante's art distinctive for the vivid mimesis of everyday life, as well as for the distinctive characters of individual men and women captured by the poet, even as the arc of his poem aimed beyond all individual material bounds.

As we progress through Paradise, the focus changes from specific human beings to more complex structures, Dirda notes. Instead of single lives, we encounter groups that form constellations with their own internal complexities -- as with the learned authors in the Sun. Individuals become parts of larger wholes which tend to deal with, for example, Justice, Knowledge, and History writ large. 

Perhaps in part to counterbalance that universalizing tendency, Dante has Cacciaguida bring us down from the heavens to the l'ovil di San Giovanni, the sheepfold of his native city. There, instead of encountering one human being, we get an elaborate tale of Florence seen through time. Instead of specific persons, we mostly encounter families, some identified solely through their heraldic imagery. But what story do we get?

Dante is certainly taking stock of the city of his birth, which happened to be the scene of dislocations -- economic, political, and artistic -- that reverberated throughout Europe. 

But the story of Florence offers no easy moral, no simple insight or nostrums that would resolve the incessant conflicts, the welter of competing classes and interests, ethical allegiances both sacred and secular that shook and divided Florence again and again. 

As Mario asked, why does this granular image of Florence appear here, now? It seems perfectly true to the Commedia for Dante to grapple with his own particular earthly seed-plot at the moment he's approaching the upper reaches of the heavens. But what does that story yield? A few thoughts in hopes of making a bit more headway in the next post. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Murder in Florence - Paradiso 16

I've been wrestling with Mario's question of two weeks ago: Why, he asked, does Dante put this long, historically detailed image of Florence at the center of the Paradiso?

As I understood his question, the strangeness is not the inclusion of this material, but rather its placement. Why at this moment in the journey, when one would think that mind, heart and soul would be reaching a point of ardor, turning to a sublime apprehension that will eclipse the Earth, let alone one city?

Florence is Dante's patria -- the body politic, the seed plot of the poet's broken earthly life. For some reason, he now has to turn and look close up at it with Cacciaguida, the radice, root of his life. Why?

It's a rich portrait, with much to ponder. Dante tells a story that has remarkable elements. Florence begins imagined as a modest young woman, and after the catalog of famous families, the tale culminates in the tale of the betrayal of a modest young woman. 

Why does Dante make the murder of Buondelmonti the climactic moment of his narrative? Here's the tale as told in a chronicle attributed appropriately enough to a "pseudo Brunetto Latini":
In the year 1216, when Messer Currado Orlandi was podestà, Messer Mazzingo Tegrimi of the family Mazzinghi had himself knighted at a place called Campi, some six miles from Florence, and invited there all the best people [tutta la buona gente] of the town. 
When all the knights had sat down to meat, a buffoon snatched away the full plate set before Messer Uberto dell’Infangati, who was paired at table with Messer Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti. This angered Messer Uberto greatly, and Messer Oddo Arrighi de’ Fifanti, a man of valor, roughly reproved him on this account. In reply Messer Uberto told him he lied in his throat, at which Messer Arrighi tossed a full plate in his face. The whole assembly was in an uproar. When the tables had been removed, Messer Buondelmonte struck Messer Oddo Arrighi with a knife and wounded him severely.

As soon as all the company had returned to their homes, Messer Oddo Arrighi took counsel with his friends and relatives, among whom were the counts of Gangalandi, the Uberti, the Lamberti and the Amidei. Their advice was that peace should be concluded over the matter, as a sign of which Messer Buondelmonte should take for wife the daughter of Messer Lambertuccio de’ Amidei, who lived at the head of the bridge. The bride-to-be was the niece of Messer Oddo Arrighi. Accordingly the marriage contract was drawn up and the peace arranged; on the following day the wedding was to be celebrated.

Then Madonna Gualdrada, wife of Messer Forese Donati, sent secretly for Messer Buondelmonte and when he came spoke to him as follows: “Knight, you are forever disgraced by taking a wife out of fear of the Uberti and the Fifanti; leave her you have taken and take this other [i.e. her own daughter] and your honor as knight will be restored.” 
As soon as he had heard, he resolved to do as he was told without taking counsel with any of his kin. And when on the following day, the morning of Thursday February 11, the guests of both parties had assembled, Messer Buondelmonte passed through the gate of Santa Maria and went to pledge his troth with the girl of the Donati family, and left the Amidei girl waiting at the church door.

This insult enraged Messer Oddo Arrighi greatly and he held a meeting with all his friends and relatives in the church of Santa Maria sopra Porta. When all were assembled he complained in strong terms of the disgrace put upon him by Messer Buondelmonte. Some counseled that Buondelmonte be given a beating, others that he be wounded in the face. At this spoke up Messer Mosca de’ Lamberti: “Whoever beats or wounds him, let him first see that his own grave has been dug; a thing done has its own head [cosa fatta capo ha].” They then decided that the vendetta was to be carried out at the very place where the injury had been done, when the parties had gathered for the exchange of the marriage vows.

Murder of Buondelmonte
 And so it came about that on Easter morning, with his bride at his side, Messer Buondelmonte came riding over the bridge in a doublet of silk and mantle, with a wreath around his brow. No sooner had he arrived at the statue of Mars [at Ponte Vecchio], than Messer Schiatta degli Uberti rushed upon him and, striking him on the crown with his mace, brought him to earth. At once Messer Oddo Arrighi was on top of him and opened his veins with a knife. And having killed him, they fled. 
The ambush had occurred at the houses of Amidei, who lived at the head of the bridge. Immediately there was a tremendous tumult. The body of the murdered man was placed on a bier, and the bride took her seat next to him, holding his head in her lap and weeping aloud. In this manner the procession moved through all Florence. And on this day, for the first time, new names were heard, those of the Guelf party and the Ghibelline party.

From a Cronaca attributed to a "pseudo Brunetto Latini": Ferdinand Schevill, Medieval and Renaissance Florence (1961), pp. 106-107 
 Mosca and Dante exchange words in Inferno 28. 
See also this this account and here's another telling, by Thomas Adolphus Trollope.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Paradiso 16: Some help from John S. Carroll

The dense texture of Florentine family names in Paradiso 16 is truly a thick wood, yet there are traces in it of an argument developed by Cacciaguida that has larger implications. Here's one particularly thorny passage, followed by a comment found among the Dartmouth commentaries.
Had not the folk, which most of all the world
Degenerates, been a step-dame unto Caesar,
But as a mother to her son benignant,
Some who turn Florentines, and trade and discount,
Would have gone back again to Simifonte
There where their grandsires went about as beggars
At Montemurlo still would be the Counts,
The Cerchi in the parish of Acone,
Perhaps in Valdigrieve the Buondelmonti.
Ever the intermingling of the people
Has been the source of malady in cities,
As in the body food it surfeits on;
And a blind bull more headlong plunges down
Than a blind lamb; and very often cuts
Better and more a single sword than five. (16.58-72)

Robert Hollander helpfully points to the Expositions by John S. Carroll on this passage from Paradiso 16. Carroll adduces several other sources, including Villani, Villari, and John Richard Green:


It is to this 'confusion of persons' – this contamination of a pure citizenship by the introduction of inferior blood from the surrounding country , . . .  that Cacciaguida traces the evil that had befallen the city, and the blame of this he lays upon the Church, 'the people that on earth degenerates most.' Had the Church acted the part of a mother instead of a stepmother to Caesar, there had been no need for the Cerchi, the Buondelmonti, and others to have been brought within the city walls [Par. xvi. 58-66]. 

It is not known who was the incomer from Simifonti, now a Florentine banker and merchant, but whose grandfather went round begging in his native village. Simifonti is in the Val d'Elsa. For the taking and destruction by the Florentines in 1202, see Villani, Chron. v. 30; Villari, Flor. History, 163-166

The Cerchi came from Acone, a village near Florence whose exact stituation is uncertain. They rapidly became one of the richest families, lived in grand style, yet remained rustic and uncultured in manners: Villani calls them 'luxurious, inoffensive, uncultured and ungracious, like folk come in a short time to great estate and power' (viii. 39). As the leaders of the White Guelphs, Dante calls that party la parte selvaggia (Inf. vi. 65), the savage, rustic, boorish party. For the futher reference to them in the present Canto (94-99) see note* [below]. 

The Montemurlo of l. 64 was a castle near Pistoja, which the Conti Guidi were forced to sell to Florence because they were not able to hold it against the Pistojans. See Villani, v. 31]. To understand this, we must remember that the strife in Florence sprang from the existence within her of two races. Villani and Dante alike trace the origin of this difference to the conquest of Fiesole by Florence, and the consequent mingling of the two peoples. According to Villani, 'the Florentines are to-day descended from two peoples so diverse in manners, and who ever of old had been enemies, as the Roman people and the people of Fiesole; and this we can see by true experience, and by the divers changes and parties and factions which, after the said two people had been united into one, came to pass in Florence from time to time' [Chronicle, iv. 7. See also i. 38]. In the denunciation of the Florentines which Dante puts into the mouth of Brunetto Latini, the same view is taken of the contrast between
'That ungrateful and malignant people
Which of old time from Fiesole descended,
And smacks still of the mountain and the granite,'
[Inf. xv. 61-78.]

and 'the holy seed of the Romans,' from which the poet undoubtedly believed himself descended. Even if we put aside much of this as legendary, it remains true, as Prof. Villari says, that 'the diversity between the Germanic strain in the nobility and the Latin blood of the people, really constituted a strong element of discord.... Its whole territory bristled with the castles of feudal barons of Germanic descent, all hostile to Florence, and many of whom, safely ensconced on the neighbouring hill of Fiesole, were always ready to swoop down on Florentine soil' [The First Two Centuries of Florentine History, p. 73 (Eng. transl.) – an invaluable book for the understanding of the ever-changing factions of early Florence]. 

As the commerce of the city grew, it became necessary to make the roads safe for traffic, and the only way of doing this seemed to be by compelling the robber-barons to come inside the city-walls. But, as Green says, 
'it was equally perilous for an Italian town to leave its nobles without the walls or to force them to reside within. In their own robber-holds or their own country estates they were a scourge to the trader whose wains rolled temptingly past their walls.  

Florence, like its fellow Italian States, was driven to the demolition of the feudal castles, and to enforcing the residence of their lords within its own civic bounds. But the danger was only brought nearer home. Excluded by civic jealousy, wise or unwise, from all share in municipal government, their huge palazzi rose like fortresses in every quarter of the city. Within them lay the noble, a wild beast all the fiercer for his confinement in so narrow a den, with the old tastes, hatreds, preferences utterly unchanged, at feud as of old with his fellow-nobles, knit to them only by a common scorn of the burghers and the burgher life around them, stung to madness by his exclusion from all rule in the commonwealth, bitter, revengeful, with the wilfulness of a child, shameless, false, unprincipled' [John Richard Green, Stray Studies from England and Italy, p. 162]. 

And this terrible state of things Dante traced to the Papacy. Had the Church given the temporal power to Caesar as it ought to have done, the Emperor, in Dante's belief, would have proved strong enough to have brought the territorial nobles under the restraint of law, and thus have obviated the necessity to which the cities were reduced of adding a new and dangerous element of discord to those already existing within their walls. (emphasis added)

*Note on the Cerchi: 

ll. 94-99 refer to the Cerchi (see note {in comm. to vv. 58- 66}). Their houses were above the Porta San Piero, and had been acquired by this wealthy family from the Conti Guidi, who sprang from the ancient house of the Ravignani, the head of which was the Bellincion Berti of Par. xv. 112. The fellonia or treason charged against the Cerchi seems to be their failure as leaders of the Whites to defend the city against the Blacks in Nov. 1301. Dino Compagni says 'their hearts failed them through cowardice': the Priors gave them orders to prepare for defence and urged them 'to play the man.' But 'from avarice' they refused to pay the hired troops, made practically no preparations, and so handed over the city to six terrible days of outrage and pillage. The exile of the Whites which followed is the 'lightening of the barque' to which Dante refers in l. 96. For a full account of this disastrous struggle between the Bianchi and the Neri, see Dino Compagni's Chronicle, Bk. II. and Villani's, viii. 38-49.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Boniface and Dante

As we get more deeply into the loving portrait of old Florence drawn by Cacciaguida in Paradiso 15-17, a couple of additional links to the biography of the poet have surfaced:

For whatever reason, here's a story about Boniface VIII, who according to this writer qualifies as "the worst pope in history:"
Not content with committing one mortal sin at a time, he was known for engaging in threesomes with a married woman and her daughter. If you’re keeping track, that’s three divine laws broken in a single night (adultery, incest, and breaking the vows of celibacy). Which is reprehensible or efficient, depending on your perspective. Link

And here's a snippet of another review of the new biography of Dante by Marco Santagata, a scholar from Pisa:

The central story, after all, is not the complexity of 13th- and 14th-century Italian politics. It is the extraordinary poet, with his endless ‘reflection on what he was doing’. Santagata teases out the many ways in which Dante was not merely self-obsessed, but also self-inventive. He came from relatively modest origins: his father was a moneylender. In Paradise, however, when Dante meets his crusading ancestor Cacciaguida, they both agree that Florence has been wrecked by mercantile shyster-bankers and money-men and that the world will only come to its senses when it is once again ruled by noblemen. So, though not himself an aristocrat, Dante writes as though he were one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Paradisal roots: Canto 15

Paradiso 15 puts in place an elaborate setting for the meeting of Dante and Cacciaguida, the root (radice) of his Florentine stock. The great-great-grandfather invokes organic imagery, which we've seen elaborated in the Sun with the tale of St. Dominic, but radically simplified here:
“O fronda mia in che io compiacemmi 
pur aspettando, io fui la tua radice”
"O leaf of mine, in whom I pleasure took
E'en while awaiting, I was thine own root!"
Dante discovers that the root of his life was ahead of him, waiting for his arrival. Normally in organic systems, the leaves don't meet the roots. Here, on Mars, they connect. 

Faithful to the system of nourishment and energy that comes from a solar myth of gardens and flowers -- Cacciaguida emboldens the poet to let his voice resound secure, bold, and joyous:
la voce tua sicura, balda e lieta 
suoni la volontà, suoni 'l disio,
Now let thy voice secure and frank and glad
Proclaim the wishes, the desire proclaim,) (15.67-68)
Cacciaguida - the guide to the hunt - will go on to give Dante a view of the past of his city, how it changed as it absorbed people around it, and then divulge what the poet can expect in his future, which will involve a radical break with Florence. 

All of this -- the organic sense of growth, of a family and a city as a living thing -- forms a strong metaphorical armature for these central cantos of Paradiso. But there is another kind of root, another skein of imagery interwoven throughout these cantos, and it begins with Cacciaguida's first speech -- the language of number:
Tu credi che a me tuo pensier mei 
da quel ch'è primo, così come raia 
da l'un, se si conosce, il cinque e 'l sei;
Thou thinkest that to me thy thought doth pass  
From Him who is the first, as from the unit,  
If that be known, ray out the five and six; (15.55-57) 

Dante believes, Cacciaguida says, that he need not speak, because all his thoughts radiate from that which is primal, or at the root, even as 5 and 6 derive from 1. All numbers are implicated in 1 -- so long as you have 1, you can produce the rest.

Numbers appear even earlier -- with the first thing Dante understands Cacciaguida to say;
“Benedetto sia tu,” fu, “trino e uno, 
che nel mio seme se' tanto cortese!”
"Benedight be Thou, O Trine and One,
Who hast unto my seed so courteous been!" (15.47-48)
The poet in turn speaks of the central mystery of the Trinity in noting how mortals differ from those with a vision of the triune God:
Poi cominciai così: “L'affetto e 'l senno, 
come la prima equalità v'apparse, 
d'un peso per ciascun di voi si fenno,
Then in this wise began I: "Love and knowledge, 
When on you dawned the first Equality, 
Of the same weight for each of you became; (15.73-75)
Clearly the language of numbers and geometric figures (in 17 Dante will say he's tetragono -- foursquare, or four-angled -- against the whims of Fortune) present a second set of images, parallel to the organic metaphors of plants, seeds, roots and leaves, but quite different.

Getting to the "root" of this dual series of figures -- one, organic, rich in natural attributes of nourishment, sunlight, and strength, the other a purely formal system that is nothing like Nature, and presents conceptions that Nature is incapable of -- is beyond this post. 

The only point to make here is that this second motif relates to the fact -- much remarked on in the canto -- that everyone who is moving along the radials of the cross is looking into a mirror that reflects what Dante thinks before he thinks it.

The poet will be emboldened to speak even though these thousands of militant warriors of the Church have already heard it. What's more, they will all grow silent in order to give him the will to speak:
Come saranno a' giusti preghi sorde 
quelle sustanze che, per darmi voglia 
ch'io le pregassi, a tacer fur concorde?
How unto just entreaties shall be deaf 
Those substances, which, to give me desire 
Of praying them, with one accord grew silent? (15.7-9)
The very act of speech is rendered unnecessary even as it it dramatically heightened by the vast, silent attention that presents itself. These armies present a thunderous silence. Radiating from one center, they will to hear Dante, redundant.

The irony and surprise, true to the Commedia, makes the ruddy martial sphere into that scene where the intimate, familial connectedness of all rises to our attention.