Monday, March 28, 2016

Defective premises: Francis in Paradiso 11

The five cantos of the Sun (Par. 10-14) open with the Trinity, and with the chiastic (X-shaped) intersection of the celestial equator and the ecliptic.

These moments offer another ground, a new beginning that has consequences for the poet's strategy, his poetics. As he explains in Paradiso 10, no one has ever been able to look at the sun, so to describe anything brighter than it is not within our powers:
Perch' io lo 'ngegno e l'arte e l'uso chiami,
sì nol direi che mai s'imaginasse;
ma creder puossi e di veder si brami.
E se le fantasie nostre son basse
a tanta altezza, non è maraviglia;
ché sopra 'l sol non fu occhio ch'andasse.
I, though I call on genius, art, and practice,
Cannot so tell that it could be imagined;
Believe one can, and let him long to see it. 
And if our fantasies too lowly are
For altitude so great, it is no marvel,
Since o'er the sun was never eye could go.
In part, this means we get to hear more than we see. We hear the learned dottori of the Church speak and sing. They are lucid and aware enough of the limits of their understanding to sing from the same hymnal, as it were.

In Paradiso 11, there's another new jumping off point -- having brought up the "invidious" syllogisms of Siger near the conclusion of Paradiso 10, the new canto opens with a critique of practical logic:
O insensata cura de' mortali,
quanto son difettivi silogismi
quei che ti fanno in basso batter l'ali!
O Thou insensate care of mortal men,
How inconclusive are the syllogisms
That make thee beat thy wings in downward flight! (11.1-3)
The passage proceeds to describe various human pursuits, some based in books (law, medicine, priesthood, sophistry), some in crime (theft), some in ambition (politics), some in pleasure.

The idea that human beings and their choices are driven by a kind of logic susceptible to being faulty is quite Aristotelian. One can invent such syllogisms as:
Power is good
Political leadership brings power
I will pursue political leadership.

Ghirlandaio, Sassetti Chapel, Santa Trinita

The problem is that the first principles of these practical logical arguments are often difettivi. Longfellow's rendering of difettivi as "inconclusive" might miss the target here -- in the example just now, equating political leadership with power begs the question of whether all modes of power are good. Without first demonstrating that, the reasoning can be called defective. That is, it certainly leads to a conclusion, it just happens to be an erroneous one, as anyone following politics these days can affirm!

Basing life choices on defective logic can cause wings, which normally help the soul defy gravity, to fly in basso.

This knowledge of how logic errs precedes Aquinas's tale of St. Francis -- a man whose cura might not take the form of a syllogism, but whose ardor qualifies him as a solar being. It's a tale of a son choosing to love Povertà, who is anathema to his wealthy merchant father. The son removed the fine silk attire that brought financial security, and stood unclothed before his father and the city.

Povertà becomes Francis's cura, his first premise -- a highly vulnerable premise of owning, having, positing, nothing. His life will unfold with the unique logic that flows from such a principle.

To be continued . . .


Kate Jones said...

Ecstatic erudition feeds the soul. Thank you, Tom, for this feast.

Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks for the lovely thought, Kate. Thank Dante for the feast!