Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Just a few quick questions: Paradiso 14

Paradiso 14 provokes questions - here are just a couple:

The canto unfolds in two segments of 33 lines each. The first segment has Beatrice asking a question Dante didn't even know he had, and the wheeling followers of Francis and Dominic dancing joyously. All is clear, circumscribed -- it even opens with a lovely simile of water in a vase, moving along radii from center to circle and back.

That first segment ends, followed by a new voice -- one who answers Beatrice's question, which concerns the resurrection of the body. That speaker, not named but presumed to be Solomon, is introduced this way:
E io udi' ne la luce più dia
del minor cerchio una voce modesta,
forse qual fu da l'angelo a Maria,
 And, in the lustre most divine of all
  The lesser ring, I heard a modest voice,
  Such as perhaps the Angel's was to Mary,  (14.34-36)

The "modest" voice might be mild, but as the voice of the Annunciation, it's uttering words that spoke of Word becoming flesh. Mild voice, large impact.

The canto offers various images that seem disproportionate - later, the vast motions of lights on Mars will be compared to specks of dust in a sliver of sunlight. These similes are working in a different way, one that will deserves some attention and interrogation.

In the second 33-line segment, the new voice speaks to the pilgrim of how grace, ardor, vision and brightness each increase the other -- using a perfect chiasmus to display a system of mutual strengthening that itself will be made more potent when the saved souls - substances, now dressed in light - will once again wear their resurrected flesh.

The segment thus begins with the Incarnation and speaks of the final Resurrection of the body, compressing two events, beginning and end, that are mutually intertwined -- the word of the angel putting in motion the sacrifice that conquered death.

The word for overcoming and conquest -- vincere -- appears four times in the canto -- but this militant conquest is tied intimately to the Word.

Interestingly, there appears to be no self-contained third 33-line segment in the canto. At line 99, where the third segment would end, we're in the middle of a simile that involves the Galassia -- the Milky Way; the pattern breaks to an open-ended vista -- one so vast it that makes wise men doubt.

We've moved beyond the clear and distinct ideas of the men of the Sun into a murkier realm -- harder to see, to know. Lots of questions.

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