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.

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