ITAL 310: Dante in Translation
|Transcript||Audio||Low Bandwidth Video||High Bandwidth Video|
Dante in Translation
ITAL 310 - Lecture 17 - Paradise IV, VI, X
Chapter 1. Canto IV of Paradise: The Nature of the Will and the Souls in the Stars [00:00:00]
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: With Canto IV of Paradise, we are now in the Heaven of the Moon, which as you know by now is also the heaven of grammar, and I will show you in what way this is the heaven of grammar.
In Paradiso III, Dante meets two women, the empress Constance, and the irony of the name is a little bit obvious among the inconstant spirits, and Piccarda. Piccarda who also had joined the cloister had taken the name of sister Constance; she too was forced to leave the cloister on account of her brothers, Corso Donati’s political maneuvers. He wanted her married to an ally of his. With Canto IV, Dante returns on this issue, which is the issue really of the will. What is the will? How can somebody else’s force on me, compel me to do things that I am accountable for? In what way am I accountable for somebody else’s imposition of, in this case, his will on me, Dante wants to know what is the will here?
There is another question that forces him to — another problem forces him to raise a question in Canto IV, and the question is Dante’s wonder about the souls in the various stars. They are disposed and arranged in the various planets; he sees some souls here on the Moon, so he wonders are we in Plato’s paradise? Is this — is Plato right in believing that the souls at death return to the stars, to the place of origin? These are the two questions that he has to raise.
The canto begins with a statement that is an extraordinary — I will try to explain how the two questions are related, in what way they are related, they are not just absolutely arbitrary. There is a sort of link between them. Canto IV begins in a very — with a rather strange formulation about the nature of the will and the freedom of the will. Since that is what Piccarda’s situation had forced Dante to raise, what is the will? It’s somebody else’s will forcing me to do something? Am I still responsible for it? Dante has to clarify what the will is, so he starts with a statement that seems to suggest that the will is inert. This is a poem that the will cannot really make decisions, first of all. The will, given the opportunity to choose between two contradictory objects of desire, can’t quite move one way or the other.
You need the intellect, that’s the argument that makes the will take — make a decision, will force the will to make a decision. And this is the way he starts, “Between two foods at equal distance and equally tempting a free man would die of hunger before he brought either to his lips — so a lamb would stand between the cravings of two fierce wolves, in equal fear of both.” There seems to be a kind of will that joins human beings and animals, such that paralyzes us, the choices paralyze the will, so that maybe when we speak about freedom of the will we are not speaking really about freedom of the will, we’re speaking about the freedom of the will in the intellect. It’s the intellect that has to be free so that’s really the argument.
“So would a hound stand between two does; therefore,” this are three images that introduce Dante’s own doubts and perplexities. He has two questions; each of them seems more compelling than the other and does not know what to ask first. “So would a hound stand between two does; therefore, if I kept silence, urged equally by my doubts, I neither blame nor commend myself, since it was of necessity. I was silent, but my desire was painted on my face and with it my question, far more warmly than in plain words.” Dante is indeed talking about the limitations of the will not that the will is — this is an Averroist position. It’s a position of a radical interpretation of Aristotle. That the will is inert, that you always need some kind of — the power of the intellect to make you decide. The intellect cannot move but the intellect can make the will move so that the statement has to be understood as one of the hierarchy between intellect and will.
The argument now continues. “Beatrice did as did Daniel when he appeased the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar that made him cruelly unjust, and she said: ‘I see well how one desire and another draw thee, so that thy eagerness itself binds itself and does not get breath. Thou reasonest: ‘If the right will endures, on what ground does another’s violence lessen the measure of my desert?’” How can it be that Piccarda, who was forced by somebody else’s will, seems to appear in the lowest birth of beatitude? She is on the Moon. Why should she be so undeserving of a closer intimacy to God? That’s actually his question. “Also, it gives thee perplexity that the souls seem to return to the stars, in agreement with Plato’s teaching. These are the questions that press equally on thy will. First, then, I shall deal with that which has more poison in it.”
It’s very interesting; first of all, the language of poison that this idea of what is dangerous of the two questions is not the question about the will. The question which is more dangerous is the question that deals with representation. What is the mode of appearance of the souls in heaven and why should representation — do the souls inhabit the stars? Are they showing themselves forth here? It is a make believe that they are here, it’s a fiction, it’s pyrotechnics if you wish, and once the night is over then the souls return to the proper abode, which or may not be visible to the pilgrim. Is this a theatrical performance, and why if this is a theatrical, and it is, why should that be a question that has more poison in it? What’s so dangerous about representation? That’s really the argument, as Dante puts it forth, here at the beginning at least. She goes on — first of all let’s discuss it and then we’ll — as we discuss it we try to understand the question why this is representation such a hard issue.
She says, “Not he of the Seraphim,” this is lines — Paradiso IV, lines 28, “that is most made one with God,” in the choir of angels, those who are closest to God, “not Moses, Samuel, or whichever John thou wilt — ;none,” the apostle of the visionary, the seer, “not Mary herself, have their seat another heaven from these spirits that have now appeared to thee.” This is the poetics of Paradise, by the way, that we are really confronted with. How do the souls show themselves forth to the pilgrim? What is the mode of Dante’s representation in Paradise? “From these spirits that have now appeared — nor for their being have more years or fewer, but all make fair the first circle and hold sweet life in different measure as they feel more and less the eternal breath. These,” what you are seeing here on the Moon, “have shown themselves here, not that this sphere is allotted to them, but in sign of the heavenly rank that is least exalted.” They have — they enjoy a lower degree of beatitude than the other souls so they just appear here for your benefit.
Chapter 2. The Need for Allegorical Representation [00:09:31]
In other words, the whole of Paradise, the representation of Paradise if fictional and once the pilgrim disappears so will the souls vanish. They will return into the bosom of Abraham according to biblical accounts. “It is necessary,” now Dante explains why the need for this allegorization, this allegorical language, allegorical representation. “It is necessary to speak thus to your faculty, since only from sense perception does it grasp, that which it then makes fit for the intellect.” The whole of Paradise is literally an accommodation of varieties, of realities that far exceed the powers of our mind and now its condescension. The souls condescend to show themselves down to us, so Dante first of all, has been talking about the limitations of the will, now he’s talking about the limitations of the intellect, so these are the two issues that join intellectually speaking in Canto IV, and each seems to need the other and be made stronger in the light of the other.
Dante goes on explaining this mode of representation, which he says is not only true for Paradise, but it’s true for Scripture, it’s true for all the iconography of the churches, and that’s what he says, it’s necessary to speak, “For this reason Scripture condescends,” in the literal sense of the word, the etymological sense, it comes down to us. It accommodates itself to our limited faculties, “condescends to your capacity and attributes hands and feet to God, having another meaning,” that’s the definition of an allegory. The Bible indeed speaks of the hand of God; it’s an anthropomorphic trope, God has no feet and has no hand, but it means it’s something else. It means that power of God or the majesty of God, the feet of God, etc. In other words, there is a language of representation even in the Bible that in many ways authorizes Dante’s own juice of the presentation. Is this clear so far? Good, there’s no real difficulty of this issue.
And then it continues, “For this reason,” it says that, “and Holy Church,” that’s what happens in the Bible when we talk about the feet of God, we read about the feet of God, “Holy Church represents to you with human aspect,” angels that have no human form, “Gabriel and Michael and the other who made Tobit whole again.” Now the distinction between the metaphor, the platonic metaphor, and the biblical allegory. “What Timaeus argues about the souls is not like that which we see here; for what he says, he seems to hold for truth,” that’s already one basic difference. It seems that what for the Bible is a metaphor becomes true in the context of Timaeus. “He says,” Plato says, “the soul returns to its own star, from which he believes it to have been separated when nature gave it for a form.” He literalizes the idea of the souls returning — returned to the stars, “but perhaps his view is other than his words express and may have a meaning not to be despised. If he means to return to these wheels of the honour and the blame of their influence,” if by returning to the stars he seems to imply that at the fall of the souls, the souls go through the various stains of the planets and then they return to the planets from which they originated, “his bow perhaps strikes on a certain truth. This principle, ill-understood, once he misled almost the whole world, so that it went astray, naming them Jupiter, and Mercury, and Mars,” etc.
Dante’s — then Beatrice says — let me just continue, “ ‘The other doubt,” this is the language of doubts; intellectual doubts which are always part of truth for Dante. It’s the truth that generates doubt because the mind is exactly the way he described the will; both are restless, both need nourishment, constant nourishment, so these are intellectual doubts. “The other doubt that troubles thee has less poison,” he repeats this idea, less danger. He hasn’t said yet why the world of representation is dangerous. And actually, he leaves it at this; “because its mischief could not lead thee away from me. That our justice appears unjust in the eyes of mortals is evidence of faith.” We’ll go back and we’ll go in a moment.
But let me stay with the first question that Beatrice has resolved for the pilgrim and for us. She’s distinguishing between the theology, the biblical theology and let’s call it the philosophical allegory; biblical allegory and philosophical allegory. The language of metaphor in the Bible and the language of metaphor, truth in Plato. Dante himself clearly is here legitimizing his own use of metaphor. The whole poem is indeed a metaphorical journey whereby Dante is both simultaneously biblical and also philosophical. He’s finding and trying to decide on the common ground, the metaphorical language that the Bible and Plato will use, and therefore himself.
Why is representation so dangerous? That it has so much poison in it and Beatrice twice goes back to that image, and I think that the answer is this. That representation has the power to cancel or erase the world of references which it represents. Representation has the power to make appearances the only reality, simulacra, the only reality that we manage to see. It literally covers, it eclipses all references; that’s what makes representation so dangerous. It has a — we are by virtue of the representation, we end up in a kind of quandary in the predicament of believing that that’s all that there is. That which is visible is the only real thing, and invest — the appearance invest that simulacrum with the sort of value that it normally does not have, because it actually — it points normally that doesn’t have — because it points for Dante to essences behind it. We have seen here the souls, the souls are all — this is not the real home for the spirits, the real home is somewhere else.
We may make the mistake Dante made of believing that these souls actually live on the Moon, and therefore, that we are in a platonic other world, in another world where the souls go back to it. The journey of Dante is the journey between images and testing of what these images may mean, finding out whether behind these images there is some kind of substance, some kind of reality. Dante literally moves between the two worlds and things, images, or representations and in appearances and the world of essences, and tries to join the two of them. So you understand why representation is the key issue here.
Let me also add that this discourse of allegory justifies and gives you an idea why Dante has been — that this is the heaven of grammar, since the allegorical discourse is a grammatical issue. Remember that I have been talking about each planet seems to deploy — well, one of the liberal arts, but this is the reason why we can connect grammar and the Moon.
The other problem that Dante raises in Canto IV is the question of the will and he — that’s an easier issue because he just goes on distinguishing between what we call a conditional will: the will — what we will whenever we are beset by circumstances that force on us some resolutions and then absolute will: the absolute will of the martyrs of those who are, for instance, who are unwavering, unfaltering in the confrontation with particular experiences. The souls of this — of Piccarda and Costanza, they were really exercising their own conditional will, not their absolute will, so it’s an interesting distinction and we leave it at that.
Chapter 3. Canto VI: The Heaven of Dialectics; Emperor Justinian [00:19:01]
We move now instead to the heaven of Canto VI, the heaven of dialectics, of Mercury. Why Mercury is the — why should he be the god, this is the planet Mercury but the god tied with dialectics or logic, which are really not exactly the same thing, but Dante does use them interchangeably. Hermes is of course, the god known as the psychopomp, the one who brings — do you know that part of mythology? The god who brings messages to the realm of shades, the realm of the dead that carries the souls to Hades, that’s one of the ideas of the resonances of Mercury. Now there is also others, the Mercury is the god who — the bearer of laws, the bearer of messages of the gods to human beings, the bearer of laws, the god of the marketplace though it doesn’t seem to have much impact, a particular resonance of the myth to this canto.
This is the logic — what is the dialectics? What are we to understand by dialectics? It’s one of the arts of the trivium and it is the art of by which — by means of which, which provides really a method, that’s the way it’s defined. It provides a method to distinguish between truth and falsehoods, so it’s — let’s see how this is going to be present. Interestingly enough, Dante is really talking about laws here, and actually here he meets the great theorist, the Emperor Justinian who is responsible and who is usually acknowledged as the one who favored the real organization of Roman law in Byzantium, which is where he lived. Dante not only meets Justinian but he also tells the story of Rome, so it’s a canto about history. The idea is what’s the rationality of Roman history, is there a rationality to it? If dialectics is also the science of the power to distinguish between falsehood and truths, it’s also a rational discipline, the discipline that follows the rule of reason by means of which one can go on making those distinctions.
So the question becomes, what is the rationality of the Roman Empire? What kind of justice was there in it so laws, and the same word logos, seems to be ruling the unfolding of this canto. It begins with the story of Constantine who we have met before for the famous — as accountable for the donation of Constantine that you may know. It’s the famous alienation of imperial property to the Church for Constantine’s token of gratitude to the Pope, Sylvester, who had cured him of leprosy and this gave rise to a famous, much debated donation, which Dante dismisses, Dante views as nothing less transgressive, nothing less tragic and disruptive of the order of the world then for instance Adam’s sin. It’s really the same cosmic proportion because it mixes together the sacred and the profane. It makes the Pope a temporal ruler and that is the ultimate degradation of the moral authority, the exercise of moral authority from Dante’s viewpoint.
So, this is the illusion to the donation, but the illusion to the donation here is taken into — the reference to Constantine has a slightly different sense. “After Constantine,” he says, “turned back the eagle against the course of heaven where it had followed behind him of old that took Lavinia to wife, for two hundred years or more the bird of God,” the eagle, the emblem of the Empire, “remained on the bounds of Europe, near the mountains from which it first came forth; and there ruled the world under the shadow of the sacred wings, passing from hand to hand, and, so changing, came into mine. I was Caesar,” the imperial title, the imperial persona has disappeared and now he appears as “I am Justinian.” Here, once again, the use of that shift of verbs from the past to the present, “And now, I am in the eternal life, I am myself a Justinian, “who, by will of the Primal Love which moves me, removed from the laws what was superfluous and” and then made the distinction.” This is really a definition of dialectics. Made the distinction between what was “superfluous and vain” and what was essential.
Let me give a gloss on this first paragraph, the allusion is to Constantine’s moving, that’s the other sense, not only the donation, but moving the seat of the empire from Rome to the east, Byzantium. This is seen as the violation of a metaphor of history, a paradigm of history, which was called translatio imperii. What is this? What does it mean? It’s the idea of, you know in the Middle Ages they speak of translation, all the time the translation of studies, translation of the empire. The idea that the whole of history follows a pattern, a movement from east to west, and therefore, the duration of history is patterned on the movement of the Sun from east to west and with the idea that when the empire reaches the most western point, the western most point of the map that’s going to be also the end of history. It’s the end of the day, the sunset, and the end of history.
Constantine, by turning back this translation, this movement, that’s what it means, a transport, a transfer of the Empire actually delays the apocalyptic denuma, the end of time and the end of the day, and for Dante this is a major violation of the economy of history. It begins with this idea of a violation, a tragic violation of history brought about by Constantine. The allusion of course is — the other illusion is to Aeneas with whom the Empire had started after the fall of Troy had started to go westward and then Constantine reverses all of this. You understand, by the way, this is — I mean, this as on Election Day; I really should mention this, that the whole idea of manifest destiny is really based on this principle of the translatio imperii, because the Empire moves westward all the time. We are now, therefore, in the proper compass of history, so to speak. So, Constantine, with the Lavinia who went backwards, Lavinia wife of Aeneas.
I must also indicate to you, and this would become — if case you are still looking for a topic, this is one of the first times that Dante starts using this geographical coordinates, the geographical description of Europe. He has really not done that neither in Inferno nor in Purgatorio, but now Europe becomes an increased concern of his. Whatever historical information they have of it and it’s — this is the Europe at the east and Dante will be talking about the borders of Europe in the west. There is a kind of idea of a Europe that has — he’s asking what kind of messages can come from Europe which is still valid, legitimate today. These are the sort of incredible questions that he will ask and distinguishes between Rome and Europe, in the sense that Rome, he will say, in a political tract that he writes, that the history of Rome is different from the history of Europe, 1320 he writes this kind of thing; 1318 maybe he writes this tract.
The emblem for Europe’s — for Rome’s distinctiveness is to be found in Aeneas’ experience of marrying three wives. He marries Creusa, as we’ll hear from the Aeneid; he marries Dido, though it’s a marriage of convenience so to speak but it’s a marriage, and then he marries Lavinia. Dante goes on to explain the three wives he marries are one from Asia, one from Africa, and one from Europe, so that Aeneas’ whole experience, whole history encompasses what at the time was thought of as universality, the three known continents in a way of which only Europe, Europe is only a part, so keep that in mind. I will talk more about this metaphor as it appears. Now this is the context of Europe, so Justinian and the reference to his reorganization of the Roman code known as the Justinian Code and then now we have a history of the Empire. From the emperor we have what seems to be a celebration of the Roman Empire, this is Canto VI, therefore like Canto VI of Inferno and Canto VI of Purgatorio, the focus is political; it’s not just the city or Italy now, it’s the whole Empire.
But what begins as a celebration of the empire in effect turns out to be a critique of the ideology of the Empire, the mythological reading that we can find in Augustine’s Confessions. Dante follows two models here and they are two models that are contradictory with each other and in this representation of Canto VI we have the Virgilian model of the Roman Empire, which is really a celebration of its origins with Aeneas, with Pallas, the whole account told in the Aeneid and with the vision of what is to come. But then there is, around the fifth century, A.D. Augustine writes in The City of God, a fierce critique of the Empire. The Empire has fallen, the claims by the time Augustine writes, the claims of the eternity of the Empire turn out to be Apollo, and to Augustine the Empire is nothing less than another one of — another episode in a long history of predatory politics of imperial possessions and violence. The Roman Empire as an empire is no better than all the other empires that have long been — have long vanished and vanquished so this is the — these are the two models that Dante’s evoking.
In fact, the very language, just to give you an idea, at one point Dante will say, “Thou knowest,” lines 35 and following, “that it made its stay,” the eagle, the story is told through the vicissitudes of this emblem, of the symbolic emblem, the eagle, “for three hundred years or more, til at the last, still for its sake, the three,” the razi, you may know a little bit of Roman History, the Curiazi, who fight it out with a duel between the three brothers and the other three brothers. “The three fought with the three, and thou knowest what it did under seven kings,” the story of the seven kings, “from the wrongs of the Sabine women to the woe of Lucrece, conquering the neighbour peoples round about.” These are all phrases that come straight out of Augustine’s City of God. They are used as cases of exemplifying the libido of power of Rome. There are erotic stories, stories of erotic violence; Lucretia, who has been raped, and the story of the Sabine women who have been kidnapped by the bands of Romulus and Remus, and they are the outlaws. There is this idea that the Empire was born in the condition of outlaws.
Dante is using the perspective of Augustine because Augustine had used these examples to them, the Empire, and its own aberrant policies. At the same time, all the rest is really Virgilian; this is the moment when Virgil and Augustine really disagree from each other. Why does Dante do this? What is this — what is the reason for bringing together two contradictory sources of historical thought? What’s the idea of poetic mythology of Rome? Is he in favor of the Empire or is he against the Empire? Is he with Augustine or is he with — actually with Virgil? One thing is clear, that Augustine who loves Virgil, of course, decides that this is — that the Empire is an aberrant reality in his own history. It’s already falling apart and he has no use for this. In his theological vision, the question that he raises is, what do I care who governs me, provided this is he that they do not make me sin. The reality is an internalized reality. The reality is the one which is in the interior life of all of us and what are empires, if not great thefts? He will go on dismissing all of this, he a Roman citizen at the end, at the twilight of the Empire, sixth century or so.
What is — where does Dante stand in between them? He continues. I have an answer I hope. He continues for now; he doesn’t tell us yet, “Thou knowest what it did when borne by the illustrious Romans against Brennus… It brought low the pride of the Arabs, who behind Hannibal passed the Alpine crags from which, Po, thou fallest. Under it, as youths Scipio and Pompey triumphed… Then near the time,” etc., this will continue into the violation of the Rubicon by Caesar and it — then it goes on with Charlemagne, line 95 and following and now let me just read the passage, the last passage. “Now thou canst judge of such men as I accused before, and of their offenses, which are the cause of all your ills; the one opposes to the public standard the yellow lilies and the other claims,” lilies of France, “and the other claims it for a party, so that it is hard to see which offends the more. Let the Ghibellines,” the canto all of a sudden becomes evocative; seems to turn into a replica of Inferno VI of the Civil War between Guelfs and Ghibellines. It starts as a celebration, an encomium of the Empire and its role in history, in this westward movement toward an apocalyptic conclusion.
Now all of a sudden it goes back to, “Let the Ghibellines carry on their arts under another standard, for of this he’s always a bad follower who serves it from justice; and let not this new Charles strike at it with his Guelfs, but let him fear its claws which have torn the hide from a greater lion. Many a time ere now have the children wept for the father’s fault, and let him not think God will change arms for his lilies.” What is this? It starts with the Empire, ends up with the civil war, and the civil war is really the perspective from which Dante can take this double view on the history of the Empire, where Dante can really stand up to the stance of Augustine and the stance of Virgil. What he really seems to be saying I think is this, yes Augustine you are right, that the Empire is really a negative force — has been a negative force in history and that the reality is, as you say, an internalized reality of our own peace and the kind of internal will that we can — we manage to placate.
At the same time, he says to Virgil but you’re also right in your valorization of the Empire because the Empire has brought about some order and laws into the world. That’s the argument, and yet, against Augustine he says, if there were no laws and there were no laws of the Empire, then there would be no way of sheltering each and every unrest in case of a civil war. What makes the argument for the necessity of the Empire is the reality of the civil war which really demands the presence of a transcendent institution that will manage to contain the violence of human beings. You can see he agrees with Augustine and disagrees with Augustine. He agrees with Virgil and disagrees with Virgil. Virgil leaves no room for the internal, the inner experiences of Christians. On the other hand, Augustine leaves no room for the necessity of an outside structure that could order the appetites of human beings.
The canto though comes to an end with a little bit of an autobiographical poetry, an autobiographical picture. This is now the emperor who praises a counselor, a counselor who has fallen into disgrace. “ ‘Within the same pearl shines too the light of Romeo,” Romeo Villeneuve, a Provencal courtier, who had the role of exactly being a counselor for the prince, “whose great and noble work was ill rewarded; but the Provencals who wrought against him do not have the laugh, and indeed he takes an ill road who makes of another’s well-doing a wrong to himself. Raymond Berenger had four daughters, each of them a queen, and Romeo, a man of low birth and a stranger, did this for him. And when crafty tongues moved him to call to account this just man, who rendered him seven and five for ten, Romeo left there poor and old; and if the world knew the heart he had, begging his bread by morsels, much as it praises him would praise him more.’”
It is an oblique representation of Dante himself, who has to end up begging in poverty for a morsel, as he says, out of the selfishness of the political powers. The other final question that I think underlies this whole canto that has to be raised is, what is the relationship between dialectics and this representation of history? Why should Dante connect the two? Why in the heaven of logic, let’s say, does he have to talk about history? I think that the idea is that history itself, I think that he’s — this is an encomium that ends up being not quite a mitigated encomium. It’s also a critique of the Empire, that there is a reason within the Empire and yet this reason doesn’t quite justify all that the Empire perpetrated in history.
I think from this perspective Dante is also forcing on us some perplexities about the nature of logic as an instrument of power, as one that could justify all possible powers. So there is also a critique of dialectics as much as there is a critique of history. We skip altogether, because I think it’s a little bit more evident, and you can, if you read on your own, you can see Canto VIII and IX, the canto of rhetoric and the rhetoric and love they are very, IX especially, very clear.
Chapter 4. Canto X: Solar Theology [00:41:39]
We move instead to the Heaven of the Sun, she’s a little bit — X, XI and XII are — I don’t know that I’ll be able to finish all of Canto X but I want to start the discussion. We are in the Heaven of the Sun, which is the heaven of arithmetic, numbers and here Dante goes on talking about one model of the Trinity that I will describe to you in a moment. Dante encounters the wise spirits, the spirits of — in fact we are going to see very soon there are two wheels of saints, two garlands, represented as two garlands of old men who hold themselves by the hand, dancing around the Sun. It is the dance of wisdom, if you wish.
You can call it — you can also refer to it as a kind of reorganization of the encyclopedia. You may remember that I used this metaphor at the beginning of the course, this idea that the Divine Comedy tries to re-propose a new circle of knowledge, a way in which things can really be known and the encyclopedia means the journey, education, as in a circle because the mind moves around through the various arts and sciences, that’s how you learn. You return to what you already knew from a different viewpoint and you see things, things are new. But it’s the Heaven of the Sun.
Let me just go on a little bit with the canto and then we’ll try to bring out some of the issues of Canto X. “Looking on His Son with the Love, which the One and the Other eternally breathe forth, the primal and ineffable Power made with such order all that revolves in mind or space, that he who contemplates it cannot but taste of Him.” He begins with a Trinitarian representation, the Father, the Son, joined together by the breath of love. That was the idea of the Trinity, which is a unity; that’s the paradoxes of arithmetic, of this theological arithmetic, as an image of fecundity. God is being an image of love, is generative of itself, within His own unity. Then Dante turns to us, and that’s the last time I believe that he turns to us readers, and he tells us to be stargazers. That’s all. That’s all he’s saying.
“Lift up thine eyes with me then, reader, to the lofty wheels, directing them on that part where the one motion strikes the other, and from that point take thy pleasure in the art of the Master, who so loves it in His heart that His eye never leaves it. See how from there the circle branches obliquely that bears the planets to satisfy the world which calls for them.” He directs our eyes to an intersection of the ecliptic, the cosmic equator, and the ecliptic, the ecliptic being a term that describes the diurnal and annual movement of the Sun. Where they meet, that crossing, that directs our eyes there, “if their track were not aslant,” etc. “Stay now, reader, on thy bench, thinking over this of which thou hast the foretaste, and thou shalt have much delight before thou art weary; I have set before thee, now feed thyself, for the theme of which I am made the scribes bends to itself all my care.”
Why does Dante think of the Trinity in the Heaven of the Sun? This is the simple question that we should ask; I have a passage that I want to read to you. It’s taken from — I think this is the — it’s taken from the pseudo Dionysius, you may have heard of — whom Dante will mention, he’s a mystic. He writes on the divine names, he writes about how the mystical hierarchy and this will be explained to you a little bit of the — what is Dante’s, at this point, semi-mystical theology, semi-mystical idea of the Trinity, this idea that knowledge has to be love. He begins with an idea of the Trinity bound by love and that knowledge has to be love. Let me read this passage and maybe we can go from there. I call it a solar theology. That is to say, a theology of the Sun, not about the Sun but solar; the theology has to be understood as the life of the Sun itself.
Let me read this passage, “Think,” this is from 693B of the divine names and following, “Think of how it is with our sun. It exercises no rational process, no act of choice, and yet by the very fact of its existence it gives light to whatever is able to partake of its light in its own way. So it is with the Dood,” a classical comparison here of course of the Sun with the good in the republic of Protinus in the Aeneid and so on. “So it is with the Good. Existing far above the sun, an archetype far superior to its dull image, it sends the rays of its undivided goodness to everything with the capacity, such as this may be, to receive it… Such beings owe the presence and their uneclipsed and undiminished lives to these rays… They abide in the goodness of God and draw from it the foundation of what they are, their coherence, their vigilance, their home. Their longing for the Good makes them what they are and confers on them their well-being. Shaped by what they yearn for, they exemplify goodness, and as the Law of God requires of them, they share with those below them the good gifts which have come their way.”
I call it a solar theology in the sense that Dante is the — I think, thinking of theology as — or God, or the Trinity as a given, as a fountain, not the Aristotelian or mystic or Augustinian idea of causality. We think of God as the one who imparts a cause or a motion to things, or a beginning and then you have a teliology, you have effect. The idea of the Trinity here is one of an inexhaustible source that keeps giving and it gives to all and we’re all part of this gift. This is the idea. I think that Dante is getting this, what I call the solar theology, from a mystical text called the pseudo Dionysius, again not that he is a mystic, but he indeed appears as one who behind is the rationalist façade of his thinking, he’s aware of depths and other ways of thinking which are not those of the rational route.
Chapter 5. St. Thomas and Others in Canto X [00:49:36]
Let me just go from and describe even more here what happens with this Canto X. Now Dante goes on seeing these two garlands of saints and this is — let me read; he meets Aquinas and let me read from this passage where he, Aquinas, will go on giving and naming the first encyclopedic, this movement of sages, lines 100 and following where he says, “I was of the lambs of the holy flock that Dominic leads on the path where there is good fattening if they do not stray; he that is next beside me on the right was my brother and master, Albert of Cologne, and I am Thomas Aquinas. If thou wouldst be thus informed of all the rest, fall after my words with thine eyes, going round the blessed wreath. That next flame comes from the smile of Gratian, who served,” canon law and civil law, “the one and the other court so well that it gives pleasure in Paradise; the other who next adorns our choire was that Peter, who like the poor widow, offered his treasure to Holy Church. The fifth light, which is the most beautiful among us, breathes from such a love that all the world below hungers for news of it; within it is the lofty mind to which was given wisdom so deep that, if truth be true, there never arose a second of such vision.”
It’s Solomon described through a circumlocution as the fifth light, and the fifth light because in numerical symbolism five stands for the natural number, which is to say, that Dante casts very difficult proposition, Solomon as being naturally perfect, having a kind of perfection of intellect. It’s a dangerous proposition. In fact, Dante will go on — Aquinas will go on in Canto XIV, look let me just explain what I said before because it’s not quite true because the virtue of — the intellectual virtue of Solomon consists in the fact that he knew what to ask for when he had to govern his people. He was the perfect king because he knew what to ask. You understand why this would be a dangerous idea? If you believe that there is a perfection of the intellect within the natural imminence, fear, order, where we live then it means that there’s no need for Revelation. There is no need for intermediaries, no need for Redemption. If nature, the natural intellect, is capable of ascending as it has claimed here for Solomon, then the whole apparatus will collapse.
Dante will not believe it and Aquinas will go back as dramatically, actually in Canto XIII saying, let me just explain myself, “Beside it is the light of the candle which below in the flesh was farthest,” this is Augustine and then, “the body from which he was driven lies below in Cieldauro,” this is Boethius, “and he came from martyrdom and exile to this peace. See, flaming beyond, the glowing breath of Isidore, of Bede, and of Richard [of St. Victor] who in contemplation was more than man,” line 132, then read this line because I think it’s a little bit more interesting in the Italian than it is in English, “in contemplation was more than man,” “d’Isidoro, di Beda e di Riccardo, che a considerar fu più che vero.” The word Dante uses is not contemplation, it’s consideration, and it’s a key word for Dante whose consideration means the etymologies that of moving with the stars. That is if the mind is at its most perfect when it imitates the circulation and circularity of the stars; consider, it’s also like desire by the way. “This one from whom thy look returns to me is the light of a spirit to whom, in his grave thoughts, dealt seemed slow in coming; it is the eternal light of Siger, who, lecturing in the Street of Straw, demonstrated invidious truths.”
The last one that Aquinas points out in this circulation of wise spirits is one of a so-called heretic by the name of Siger of Brabant, who was an Averroist and was condemned for his Averroism. Whatever knowledge and whatever canonized knowledge we may have, for Dante it includes figures who have been judged unworthy of knowledge or heretical or wrong and now they are retrieved. The idea of knowledge is one that keeps changing. The idea of the canor of knowledge keeps always expanding and including voices that had been rejected.
Let me tell you more about this representation of Siger of Brabant. You understand he’s an Averroist and we do know, how does Dante go about — just saying he’s here, how does he go about justifying his salvation? Canto X, from this point of view, is retrospectively one that sheds light on Canto X of Inferno, where we also saw, you remember, the Averroists and the Epicureans, Guido Cavalcanti, those who believed that the mind, that love and knowledge never interact with each other, that the mind goes — rationality is darkened and dimmed by the infusions of passions, remember, and that the mind is one that receives ideas from the outside, or that notion of both the inertia of the will and the divisions within the mind itself. Dante now is correcting some of those views.
Chapter 6. Metaphors in Canto X [00:56:02]
So let’s look a little bit at these metaphors in Canto X. “This one from whom thy look returns to me is the light of a spirit to whom, in his grave thoughts, death seemed slow in coming.” He was killed, by the way, by a madman and Dante writes a sonnet about him in around 1281 or so. “It is the eternal life of Siger,” so we know that he’s saved, “who lecturing in the Street of Straw, demonstrated invidious truths.” Dante gives the address of this man. He lectured, a word that has a certain value in the university language, a university lexicon of the time. Lecturing is an activity that implies glossing, just as is the glosseta of Aristotle, but he tells us where he lived, in the Street of Straw in Paris, a street that now is called by the way, the Rue de Voir, but is now called the Rue Dante, knowing that clearly the Parisians are mindful of this passage. Dante is placing Siger on the road, on the way, he’s giving us his address but he is telling us that his thinking takes place while he is on the road.
You all know that philosophy is always understanding itself as a journey, a method, an exodus, Parmenides, or a quietness of things about the five ways to reach the ultimate truths about God. Dante is a philosopher, is on the way to theological certainty, theological truth and theological knowledge and he “demonstrated invidious truths.” The Italian is sillogizzò, made syllogisms out of, demonstrated, rationally demonstrated invidious truths. What are these invidious truths? Invidious truths, I’m not sure that all the translators would agree. Invidious truths have to be understood etymologically. This is the canto where Isidore of Seville is presently — Isidore of Seville being the arch etymologist of the Middle Ages and Dante is showing how he too we can play with etymologies.
Isidore of Seville is the one who believed that whole of knowledge, all we know, the compass of all knowledge can really be arrived at through etymologizing language. Language, the etymon of language, the origin of words will give us an access to the nature of reality, so language becomes a way of knowing the world. Dante indulges in the same activity calling the truth that Siger pursued “invidious,” which etymologically means those things, those truths that cannot be demonstrated, those truths that cannot be seen. Philosophy appears as an art of speculation that takes us on the way to a truth that it cannot quite have access to.
What are these truths that Siger of Brabant sought access to? The immortality of the soul, there is no way he would have known or even discovered that. Aristotle is very doubtful about the individual immortality of the soul and the treatise of the soul. He tried to consider — to view — to decide about the origin of the world. Siger believed that the universe is another one of those indemonstrable believes, that the universe is eternal and this is an argument that saw medieval thinkers and theologians engaged in, Averroism on the one side and Aquinas who maintains that philosophically you really can believe and show that the universe is really, is eternal. But out of faith you can go on believing in creation, that things have a beginning, but if you don’t think that things have a beginning, then there’s never a possibility of allowing for giving some ground and rooting the idea of your freedom, your innovations, the possibilities things can be different from you from what they were before and so on.
The reason why Dante rescues Siger of Brabant is a way for him to be ultimately thinking and making a statement that whatever we believe that is knowledge, it’s never definite and it’s always — we are literally on the way and rethinking it and making it all the time an object of our own self-critique. This is not the only place where Dante is rethinking himself. Very soon around the notion of the Trinity, Bonaventure will have to change his mind about a man, a figure that I have mentioned before, Joachim Flora, in the next canto. The idea with a Joachistic interpretation of history, so he will — we are going to have to have Canto XI balancing off Canto X. Then it ends, the canto ends, “Then, like a clock,” what an extraordinary image, an image of time now, but what I have to say is that you probably do not know that clocks, mechanical clocks, the way we still see them were a recent technological invention in the late thirteenth century which Dante is absorbing here.
“Then, like a clock that calls us at the hour when the bride of God rises to sing matins to the Bridegroom that he may love her, when one part draws or drives another, sounding the chime with notes so sweet that the well-ordered spirit swells with love, so I saw the glorious wheel move and render voice to voice with harmony and sweetness that cannot be known but there where joy becomes eternal.” Dante is describing these songs of the eternal — of the blessed souls in erotic terms, so that what seems to be a canto of pure knowledge ultimately becomes a love song too and this is the whole trajectory of Canto X.
Chapter 7. Themes in Cantos IV, VI and X [01:02:49]
Let me stop here and see if there some questions about these three cantos which I’ll be glad to answer. They are a little bit abstract but I think that they respond to genuinely interesting and historical problems at least.
The question of allegory at the beginning — let me just give you a kind of quick resume of what we said. In Canto IV you have two issues, you have the issue of allegory and the issue of the will where Dante goes on explaining the mode of representation in Paradise as a mode of accommodation to our limited faculty and he thinks that this is really the mode of representation throughout the Bible, the iconography of the Church, the poem, etc., which is a way therefore of talking about allegory in a slightly different form from the way he spoke of it in, as you remember what I spoke of it, but he was allowing us to do that in Canto IX of Inferno where we had been talking about the allegory of poets, allegory of theologians. Now there is no question that I think that there is no intrinsic difference between the two modes. Remember that I used to talk about the allegory of theologians as being an allegory where the literal level is true and the allegory of poets as one in which the literal level is a fiction. Now I’m saying that both of them for Dante have a kind of metaphorical basis and the relationship between the metaphor and truth is, of course, it’s certainly the language of a very similitude, if not absolutely the truth.
Then the two — the other issue about the will, the limitations of the will, the conditional and absolute will. When we come to Canto VI of Paradise Dante shifts gears altogether and talks about history, and the framework of the Empire. Is it providential, I call it what is the rationality of the Empire, but the real issue is, is there such a thing as a providentality of the Empire, which he had maintained in — elsewhere in the poem and certainly in the text of Monarchia. Dante concludes now, seems to have to explain, give an apology for his belief in the Empire by agreeing with and siding with Virgil, but at the same time giving a critique of the Empire and acknowledging Augustine, but manages to criticize both. Both Augustine and — for different reasons and Virgil had not seen the whole truth; Virgil can go on into unabashed loudatio, laudatory statements about the Empire. Augustine can go on damning the Empire but Augustine does not understand that if within the context of the civil war where the realities where Corso can turn against his sister Piccarda, where the Guelfs can go against the Ghibellines, where your own brother can be your enemy, that’s really what it’s about.
Then you do need some kind of law. You read an outside world, an outside institution that can guarantee and protect yourself. The claim that salvation is only in the interiority of the soul, which is Augustine’s claim, is not really sufficient for someone who is — as Dante was involved in the public’s fear and the public life. I think that these are the two most important moments. In Canto X Dante is moving beyond the — it’s a poetic break that takes place. He literally moves us beyond the sunlight, the daylight of the ordinary natural daylight moving into a world now which is his own and Dante starts raising the issue of knowledge, as if to say that a new knowledge, a new way of thinking now is necessary.
Once you move beyond the ordinary boundaries of the universe you got to have — you start asking yourself what kind of knowledge do I need here. He’s rethinking therefore the whole relationship between truth or knowledge and error, heresies and knowledge, the canonical certainties that Aquinas would have who now makes significantly enough a mistake about the fate of Solomon and Siger of Brabant, so that seems to be the argument that is running in these cantos. He is forcing on us a different way of thinking and that different way of thinking begins with a redefinition of nothing less than the Trinity. The idea of causality, not the idea of efficiency, causa efficiens, that’s the way God is defined by Aquinas, that’s the way that Augustine defines — he writes a treatise on the Trinity with the idea of God as causality.
Dante adds — doesn’t exclude the others; it would be inconceivable that something as imponderable as the Trinity could just have one formula to account for it, but he adds onto it that first definition of the Trinity as a unity of love and a unity of fecundity which I think is a mystical definition. The idea of God, the idea of creation is one of participation of the creatures, the idea of God as being the source, the inexhaustible source of light and not just efficiency and not just etiology, movement, etc., and we shall see the implications of this. Yes.
Chapter 8. Question and Answer [01:09:27]
Student: I was just wondering why is it such a problem for Dante to imagine like a perfect natural intellect in Solomon, because isn’t it sort of Inferno and Purgatorio sort of a perfection of the will through Virgil’s intellect and Virgil’s reason, and so why is it a dangerous proposition to say that a man could have a perfect intellect?
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: The question, a very good question, is why does Dante find it so difficult to acknowledge the perfection of Solomon’s intellect, when after all, in Inferno and Purgatorio, we have had some accounts of how the will is moved by the intellect and perfected by the intellect. Am I paraphrasing your — actually repeating what you said I think, but accurately? It’s a very good question; it’s really a complicated problem.
In fact, I think that what you have to keep in mind how Dante talks about Solomon as a people on Earth are so anxious — this was one of the most incredibly debated — is he saved? Is Solomon saved? Because he’s the wisest, that’s what the Bible tells us, he’s the wisest, and we believe the Bible — the Middle Ages argument. We believe in the Bible so he’s the wisest, but he was also known as being the most lecherous of kings, so big solution for Dante, forget about that, he’s really the wisest so he’s saved, so that solves that particular issue of the relationship between love and knowledge and I think that’s a crucial point in — for the way you are stating the issue because you are stating how in Inferno and Purgatorio you have the will directed and reorganized by the intellect, so you see there must be some kind of relationship between will and intellect. Dante here says, the will was really was a little bit — was chaotic, was disordered will, so we have only to judge him in terms of this majestic intellect that he has. In fact, he was the most perfect of figures since Adam was created in the Garden. That’s the first thing.
But now let me come to the crux of the matter here. If you believe that he had intellect which was absolutely perfect, perfect intellect, then what you’re really saying and this is the context of knowledge, a mathesis as the Greek’s call it, the mathesis, the word mathematics it comes from that. If you believe that then you’re really saying that philosophy is the way to come to the truth. You see what I’m saying? If philosophy is the way to come to the truth, you don’t really need theology or you really have to start thinking of theology as some kind of vulgar poet or some vulgar philosophizing, as some kind of the poetry for the masses, for instance, a kind of elitarian, elite-like, view that keeps creeping up into — in the ways of thinking about theology and philosophy and if you believe that, that philosophy is the mode.
In fact, now we have a correction of the philosophers immediately after with the presence of Siger because of course — see the ambivalence Siger is justified and saved because his mind was a searching mind. He’s on the road, he’s a true philosopher he — it’s the method. I was describing logic as a method that the Greek word that means “way.” It’s the root, the philosopher of the root, philosophy is on the way out of their odyssey, the odyssey of the soul, that’s really — we call it — Dante says exodus, it’s an exodus clearly countering the idea of the philosophical root.
There’s another story, another way of looking at journeys, he’s certainly involved in a journey, a journey of the heart and a journey of the mind at the same time. Once you go on, Siger is on — there is — there was no perfection. He tried to demonstrate and look at the paradox invidious, that is to say, truths that cannot be seen. I appear to the etymology of invidious. Many translations and they say unwelcome truths. I don’t know what kind of translations, actually I like my Sinclair who says “invidious truths,” but many others translate that word invidious as unwelcome or the truths that made him be scorned and hated by others because the jealousy of philosophers is a little bit in the background. He lost his life, he was killed because of that, but instead he is in pursuit of truths which is the aim of philosophy of all investigations, but philosophical investigations, but cannot be demonstrated, that cannot be seen so there is a limitation of the philosophical road of the road of philosophy.
Indirectly, the limitation of Solomon’s perfect claim of — he never claimed that he had a perfect intellect. In fact, Aquinas who realizes what he has said, he says no, no, no the wisdom of Solomon has to be viewed in his prudence for asking God that he be given the absolute knowledge in the government of his people, so it’s a limited form of knowledge but that was perfect. It’s — maybe it strikes you as sophistry but I enjoy that. Thank you so much.
[end of transcript]Back to Top
|mp3||mov [100MB]||mov [500MB]|