Saturday, April 16, 2016

Non Bacco, non Peana: Glimpsing Par. 14

A brief look back at the Sun, and a quick look ahead to Mars.

The main story of the five cantos of the Sun delineates in great detail the solar force of the Church. It composes itself before our eyes as a series of layers, creating a complex image of a chariot of the Sun. Like the actual sun, it nurtures life through heat and light. But these attributes of the Church are not merely physical, nor do they rest upon philosophical first principles. From the first, the cantos of the Sun debunk the power of logic as the arbiter of judgment and basis of wisdom.

Rather than axioms, the true first principles of the Church are individual lives -- specifically, Francis and Dominic -- they are at one point called principi, and are the living embodiments of primal ardor and intellect. They are the wheels of the Church's solar chariot at work in historical time, and their 24 disciples actively extend their powers (even those who preceded them chronologically, apparently).

As the set of five solar cantos concludes, we see even more clearly how pattern recognition, which is basic to knowledge, is both insisted upon and shown to be utterly imperfect as a model or sign of the truth. The necessary imperfection of the sublunar world is the way things are, and nothing the human mind can construct or imagine will offer more than an approximation. The 24-line opening of canto 13 ends with:
poi ch'è tanto di là da nostra usanza,
quanto di là dal mover de la Chiana
si move il ciel che tutti li altri avanza.
Because it is as much beyond our wont,
As swifter than the motion of the Chiana
Moveth the heaven that all the rest outspeeds.
In discussing, we didn't address what immediately comes after this awareness of the sketchiness of our awareness:
Lì si cantò non Bacco, non Peana,
ma tre persone in divina natura,
e in una persona essa e l'umana.
There sang they neither Bacchus, nor Apollo,
  But in the divine nature Persons three,
  And in one person the divine and human.  (13.25-27)
The canto opened, we recall, with numbers -- the 15 stars, the 7, the 2 -- we combined them to get the sum of the disciples of Francis and Dominic. This is arithmetically coherent. But now, here's a new math, in which three persons can be one, which in turn can be two. The austere, rigorous system elucidated by every mathematician from Euclid to Fibonacci is scrambled. Our rational capacity to count is broken.

The Trinity was evoked by Thomas, but here it seems to mark a rupture with everyday reality. Not Apollo, not Dionysus. A song beyond anything the ancients imagined, Revelation outside number, beyond ecstatic dream.

Canto 14 will conclude the enlightenment of the Sun with an account of the resurrection of the body, after which Dante and Beatrice will be translated (translato - used at 14.81 for the only time) to the next realm of Paradiso, to a vast red galaxy that sweeps us into the sublime:
Come distinta da minori e maggi
lumi biancheggia tra ' poli del mondo
Galassia sì, che fa dubbiar ben saggi;
Even as distinct with less and greater lights
Glimmers between the two poles of the world
The Galaxy that maketh wise men doubt . . .

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