Friday, November 11, 2016

Candid Raptor: The Poet as Ganymede in Par. 18

To briefly review: Paradiso 18 begins with the poet hesitant, uncertain, seemingly adrift in the echoing world of words and ambivalent symbols that mirror and point, obstruct and paralyze. He needs a guide but a guide as beautiful as Beatrice threatens to content him right where he is.

Beatrice points him away from herself - he sees the fervid face of Cacciaguida and hears a roll call of heroes before being carried upward to Jupiter. As this transition occurs, he finds the eyes of Beatrice again:
e vidi le sue luci tanto mere,
tanto gioconde, che la sua sembianza
vinceva li altri e l'ultimo solere.
 And so translucent I beheld her eyes,
  So full of pleasure, that her countenance
  Surpassed its other and its latest wont.  (18:55-57)
Among other things, this is a subtle reminder that Jupiter is the jovial planet, the temperate silver sphere. We've left the fiery passion of Mars behind, and will encounter the cold meditative realm of Saturn ahead. The expansion experienced in the next tercet's simile is an expansion of mind, heart, and ethical awareness:
E come, per sentir più dilettanza
 bene operando, l'uom di giorno in giorno
 s'accorge che la sua virtute avanza,

sì m'accors' io che 'l mio girare intorno
 col cielo insieme avea cresciuto l'arco,
 veggendo quel miracol più addorno.
 And as, by feeling greater delectation,
  A man in doing good from day to day
  Becomes aware his virtue is increasing,

So I became aware that my gyration
  With heaven together had increased its arc,
  That miracle beholding more adorned.  (18:58-63)
There's a speed, a kind of expanding upward fall, that foreshadows the figure of the eagle and other birds in motion that will resonate in this sphere. But the poet is not flapping arms or imitation wings, like some wannabe Daedalus. This upward gyration (reversal of his ride to lower hell on Geryon) owes itself to another. Something is powering him and Beatrice up and outward -- it is not unreasonable to think here of Ganymede, plucked from Earth by Jove in the form of an eagle, because his beauty seduced the god.

After the poet has construed, or conceived, the letters, words, and figures of M, Lily, and Eagle, he's read the text of Wisdom - an imperative - and it spurs him to a complex apostrophe:
 O dolce stella, quali e quante gemme
 mi dimostraro che nostra giustizia
 effetto sia del ciel che tu ingemme!
O gentle star! what and how many gems
  Did demonstrate to me, that all our justice
  Effect is of that heaven which thou ingemmest! (18:115-117)
The between heaven and our justice on earth is at stake. As the spirits of Jupiter have spelled the words, and as the words are from a mind that has no guide, because it guides all things, so Dante's text, repeating the words spelled out, is speaking not his own mind, nor the spirits' minds, but Mind. (Besides other readers' suggestions such as "monarchia," this "emme" -- the central letter of Dante's alphabet - could also stand for "mente.")

Like the pure eyes of Beatrice, the text speaking is not merely Dante's text, but the pure instance of Wisdom :
26 For she is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty, and the image of his goodness.

26 candor est enim lucis aeternae et speculum sine macula Dei maiestatis et imago bonitatis illius. (7:26)
The candor of Jupiter is the lucidity of a figure and text that doesn't hide, or mislead, or turn and try to pass itself as a god - for that is folly:
15 For they have esteemed all the idols of the heathens for gods, which neither have the use of eyes to see, nor noses to draw breath, nor ears to hear, nor fingers of hands to handle, and as for their feet, they are slow to walk. 
16 For man made them: and he that borroweth his own breath, fashioned them. For no man can make a god like to himself.
 15 quoniam omnia idola nationum aestimaverunt deos quibus neque oculorum visus est ad videndum neque nares ad percipiendum spiritum neque aures ad audiendum nec digiti manuum ad tractandum sed et pedes eorum pigri ad ambulandum 
16 homo enim fecit illos et qui spiritum mutuatus est is finxit illos nemo enim sibi similem homo poterit deum fingere
Wisdom, among other things, knows the difference between what is truly divine, and what is man-made imitation. Only fools worship idols sans eyes, ears, nose, fingers, or breath. In the joviality of clay feet "slow to walk" is laughter that springs up, uncontrived, when confronted with mortals' folly.

The poet thus has had an encounter with something that is not figural, not mimetic, not idolatrous, but the literal candor of the word. This motion from letters into words that form the parts of speech that form the sentence that speaks Mind is an act of clear reading. Dante's text scrupulously repeats, combines and makes intelligible what was there, which now transforms into the raptor of Jove.

If we try now to "see" what's happened to the poet in this canto, he too has metamorphosed. Like the virtuous man who suddenly feels the dilettanza of his good works, his ambit grows as he reaches a tempered vision of the mind of god. And not just vision, because to see "what God means" is to be summoned in a way that one cannot refuse, a summons which is more like being caught up, rapt from one's own thoughts, one's own life, to act. Like Ezekiel who ate the scrolls, or Jonah, or Isaiah.

The underlying thesis here -- a submerged thread of this series of readings of the Commedia for some time -- is that Dante's poem does more than speak. It acts. The poet here reads what is inscribed against the whiteness of Jupiter and turns to address the source of that inscription:
Wherefore I pray the Mind, in which begin
  Thy motion and thy virtue, to regard
  Whence comes the smoke that vitiates thy rays;

So that a second time it now be wroth
  With buying and with selling in the temple
  Whose walls were built with signs and martyrdoms!

O soldiery of heaven, whom I contemplate,
  Implore for those who are upon the earth
  All gone astray after the bad example!
The poet first addresses Mind, then the milizia del ciel - the power of heaven which he is contemplating as he speaks. Poet and pilgrim - he who saw the soldiery then, and who contemplates it now, are contemporaneous in contemplating Wisdom. In calling upon those he addresses, Dante is reiterating Cacciaguida's roll call on Mars, when to name the heroes of Christendom was to move them to action.

Then the poet turns to the Pope. I'll address that third apostrophe in one last post.

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