Saturday, April 02, 2016

Torrential cultivation: Dominic in Paradiso 12

In Paradiso 12, a second wheel appears, encircling the first. We do not yet know who belongs to this group, and the other day we had difficulty with the question of the relative turnings of these wheels. Do they move together, as one? Or in opposite directions? Or even at an angle to one another?

At least one sensitive commentator, John Carroll, thinks the second wheel moves opposite to the first. Nicola Fosca quotes his observation:
. . . two circles go in opposite directions, partly because of the figure which, I think, was before Dante's eyes. He pictured the two circles very much, if I may use a mechanical illustration, as if they were two cog-wheels, the teeth of which fitted into and drove one another in opposite directions. 
Carroll has a thoughtful explanation as to why this oppositional relation would work in this context:
The teeth are the rays which each had, says Dante, 'within the other.' When we remember that they are the rays in the one case of knowledge, in the other of love, we will not wonder at their contrary movements. In this world, at least, head and heart often seem to move, even in religion, in opposite directions, to have different methods of work, and to arrive at conclusions hard to reconcile. In the world above, the great reconciliation takes place: . . . If this interpretation is correct, nothing could better show Dante's conviction that these two types of theology belong together and complete each other - their rays fit into one another, and their apparent contradictions produce that swift movement which means intense yearning for a still deeper knowledge and love of God.
It is clear that Dante is devoting two cantos here to two very different "champions" of Christ: Francis the wild lover, Dominic the disciplining teacher, each helping define the heart and head, the heat and light, of the nurturing solar power of Christian faith.

But the figural system of this canto might offer an even richer imaginative structure that satisfies Carroll's thesis equally well, if not better. 

The first tercet makes clear that to the circle of dancing ladies -- the garland, the ardent suns of canto 11 -- one now, at the beginning of canto 12, must add la mola, the millstone:
Sì tosto come l'ultima parola
la benedetta fiamma per dir tolse,
a rotar cominciò la santa mola;
e nel suo giro tutta non si volse
prima ch'un'altra di cerchio la chiuse,
e moto a moto e canto a canto colse;
Soon as the blessed flame had taken up
The final word to give it utterance,
Began the holy millstone to revolve,

And in its gyre had not turned wholly round,
Before another in a ring enclosed it,
And motion joined to motion, song to song; (Par. 12.1-6)
As millstones, these wheeling theologians interact. Their weighty masses transform grain into flour by rubbing against one another. There are various configurations of millstones; what's essential is that they are exquisitely balanced to grind the fruits of the Earth into fine powder.

Flour mill stones

It is precisely in the oppositional interaction between these wheeling forces -- whether it's Thomas Aquinas and Siger, or Bonaventura and Joachim, or Francis versus Dominic, as different as ardent action and coolly radiant thought --
due campioni, al cui fare, al cui dire
that the living faith, the bride of Christ, is husbanded.

The process of the mill as rendered here remains central to the canto just as both heat and light are necessary to the nurturing power of the Sun.  Shortly the 24 figures of the two circles will become metaphorical plants, surrounding the seed that Dominic seeks to protect. He didn't go to the Pope seeking some crooked means of cheating the poor, according to Bonaventura.

addimandò, ma contro al mondo errante
licenza di combatter per lo seme
del qual ti fascian ventiquattro piante.
He asked for, but against the errant world
Permission to do battle for the seed,
Of which these four and twenty plants surround thee.
The point for Dominic is to fight for the seed, which Christ himself said is the "word of God" (Luke 8.11).  The seed (lo seme) is that from which germinate champions like Francis and Dominic and the 24 who encircle Dante and Beatrice -- these groups of thinkers and doers are one one hand the sources of grain, and on the other, the very millstones that grind it.

Mill stones
This metaphorical structure of the mill then supports an entire heroic vision -- fighting for the Word, which is sown, grown, threshed, and milled into the stuff of life. Dante takes this a step further by turning this hero, this champion of l'esercito di Cristo (the army of Christ) into the agricola, the laborer (not the boss) in the vegetable garden (orto) who works to grow the fruits of the earth. Then the poet takes it another step by transforming Dominic into the element that makes all life possible: 
Poi, con dottrina e con volere insieme,
 con l'officio appostolico si mosse
 quasi torrente ch'alta vena preme;

e ne li sterpi eretici percosse
 l'impeto suo, più vivamente quivi
 dove le resistenze eran più grosse.

Di lui si fecer poi diversi rivi
 onde l'orto catolico si riga,
 sì che i suoi arbuscelli stan più vivi.
Then with the doctrine and the will together,
With office apostolical he moved,
Like torrent which some lofty vein out-presses;

And in among the shoots heretical
His impetus with greater fury smote,
Wherever the resistance was the greatest.

Of him were made thereafter divers runnels,
Whereby the garden catholic is watered,
So that more living its plantations stand.  (12.97-105)
There's much more to Paradiso 12 -- will try to get to a bit of it in an additional post. But at this point, it's worth pausing to contemplate the marvelous architecture of Dante's figuration, as he goes from millstones to grain, to seed and gardening and water, all feeding one of the most basic figurative fields of the Western tradition -- the act of cultivation, the work of culture. If Francis was a natural force, Dominic is a champion in an army that is tilling fields, sowing seeds, irrigating -- at times with torrential militant force.

It fits that Dominic was born in the West, cooled by the temperate Zefiro, the "sweet West Wind":
In quella parte ove surge ad aprire
 Zefiro dolce le novelle fronde
 di che si vede Europa rivestire,
Within that region where the sweet west wind
Rises to open the new leaves, wherewith
Europe is seen to clothe herself afresh,
Rising in the East, burning with love for Povertà, Francis removed his clothes in the midst of the city. Out of the West, Dominic clothes the Bride, and nourishes the novelle fronde -- leaves authored by a new army of teachers and defenders of the faith.

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