ITAL 310: Dante in Translation
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Dante in Translation
ITAL 310 - Lecture 22 - Paradise XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX
Chapter 1. Canto XXVII: St. Peter and the Boundary of the Material Universe [00:00:00]
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: We’re going to look at XXVII, XXVIII and XXIX today of Paradise, three cantos that, really, I think, Dante constructs together and where Dante puts forth this theory of creation and cosmology which are not quite the same thing. A theory of Beatrice that’s explaining the shape of the cosmos, it’s very difficult in these three cantos. It’s done in such a way that they are two different things, it would seem, creation and a physical description of the cosmos which we call cosmology and they are because Dante’s dealing with two forms of the universe, a spiritual one and a physical one. Now we’re going to show all of this as we go over the three cantos. I would like to argue that in effect they are not quite the same thing but not really all that distinct. There is a very tedious line separating the two of them.
Where are we first of all in space? We are somewhere in space, Dante has gone past now, the heaven of the fixed stars, with the examination of the three words, the three terms, the foundations of things that we experience as trust, or we experience as existential hope, or a love that if you combine it is always — implies always — not in Canto XXVI but in possibilities of betrayal, uncertainty, so it combines both faith and hope in a very problematical way. Canto XXVII Dante continues with — in the afterglow of the fixed stars, and the canto just to give you an idea about what formally is happening here, the first part of the canto really looks back formerly at Canto XXVII of Inferno. There is clearly a parallel between the two cantos. Here Dante — you remember what he does, he meets St. Peter actually who has been examining him but now after the examination of the three theological virtues he goes on in a prophetic denunciation, he denounces the collusion between his place, he says “my place,” it’s the papacy, the place instituted by — because of him he’s the Peter, he’s the stone, and his successors.
That’s the way it says, so the canto literally looks backwards and a parallel with — you may have a number of parallels with Inferno XIX where Dante meets, you remember, the popes who are turned upside down and the flames — the kind of — the parody of the Pentecostal fires out on the plants of their feet, but this is more clearly a reference to Canto XXVII of Inferno, where this is the very beginning, this is — there is a hymn Canto XXVII, “Glory be to the Father, the Son, etc.,” and then lines 40 and following we have this great attack, “It was not our meaning,” line 45, “that on the right hand of our successors should sit one part of Christ’s people and the other on the left; nor that the keys which were committed to me should become the device on a standard for warfare on the baptized; nor that I should be the figure on a seal for sold and lying favours, for which I often redden and flash with fire.” This is the fire of prophecy without a doubt, but it’s also, retrospectively, a reference to the attack against Boniface, who in Canto XXVII of Inferno, is shown as he is in colluding with the Guido da Montefeltro. You remember, so there is a clear — it’s a clear symmetry between the two cantos.
I will hasten to add that Canto XXVII is also — has a kind of chiastic structure because at one point, just to give you this is a formal description of what’s happening here, a little later after this outburst by Peter, Beatrice and the pilgrim move onto the next heaven, which is around line 75 and following. The next heaven is the so-called crystalline heaven which is still material. He’s at the boundary of the material universe. It’s still material but it’s very, exactly crystal-like; it’s a very thin materiality, almost but not quite spiritual. It’s also called the primum mobile because it’s here; this is the technical term that they give. It’s here, in this heaven, that we have problems of origins, the origin of time, the origin of space. Dante goes on giving this — Beatrice goes on giving this cosmological description of the universe in material terms.
Here, to continue with the formal, the issue of form now, at one point Beatrice says, “wait look behind you so that you can have an idea, you can measure the enormous distance you have traveled from the Earth.” He’s at the boundary of the material cosmos. You might say, well he’s at the edge of the cosmos; he’s going to fall off. That was always one of the objections about the idea of the finiteness of the cosmos. Believe it or not in the seventeenth century they would never really fall off because the universe is a sphere, so the only place he has to go to is back, there’s no literally edge, every point is the edge and every point is in a continuous spherical curve. Anyway, from the point of view, he’s arriving there so she says, look back and what does he see, and this is the line, “From the time when I had,” this is XXVII, line 75, “From the time when I had looked before I saw that I had moved through the whole arc,” that’s the language of this sphere, an arc, circle, an arc just gives you an idea of sphericity, “from the middle to the end of the first clime, so that I saw on the one hand, beyond Cadiz, the mad track of Ulysses.”
He pinpoints that little place where Ulysses trespassed the boundaries of the world — of the Euclidian space he had — for which he has been damned in Canto XXVI of Inferno. This is what we call a chiasmus, in other words XXVI and XXVII — we do see that XXVI that are an allusion to Ulysses and Adam. We talked about these figures and here in XXVII of Hell, there is Boniface and then in Paradise XXVII there is this, and there is also a kind of — this is Ulysses so there’s a sort of chiastic structure; XXVII of Paradise refers to really VI of Paradise and refers also to XXVII of Inferno and XXVI of Inferno. The question is, why does Dante pinpoint once again Ulysses? He sees at the west the point which Ulysses had trespassed and he calls it the mad track, “the mad track of Ulysses.” Clearly, Ulysses is still part of this fascination that — it exerts an incredible fascination on the imagination of the poet and the pilgrim. Am I like Ulysses or am I going to be lost now like Ulysses, but at the same time, it’s a way of hinting at how much he has exceeded Ulysses’ adventure. Ulysses only went past the Pillars of Hercules; he, Dante, is now at the outer most boundary of the visible physical universe, so there’s a way in which there is a little bit of detachment and yet a constant fascination.
We tried to explain why he is so fascinated with Ulysses. At the other end he also sees, “and on the other nearly to the shore where Europa made herself a sweet burden,” this is really the eastern part of the known world, Europe, the rape of Europe by Jupiter so that we really have an erotic transgression and an intellectual transgression, as if the two are now once again are involved in this — in Dante’s vision as if he’s now coming to the point where knowledge and desire really have to coincide. He’s coming to the point where the beautiful and the good are one, at the point where all of the great countries and distinctions that we have been pursuing all along nearly have to go on converging.
Let me continue with this idea. This is — before I go on with what happens in the canto. Dante then moves into the primum mobile, which is the place where I continue with this. He goes on line 100, they go into “the swiftest part of heaven,” that’s the primum mobile. All motion begins from here. Dante is moving from what would seem to be an ethical — the ethical scene, the denunciation, Peter’s denunciation of the abuses within the Church. That’s done in a prophetic tone but also from a tone of ethical, the ethical language. He goes into the so-called primum mobile which actually is the heaven of metaphysics. I have been telling you about the grammar, rhetoric, music, geometry, this is what we call the heaven of metaphysics and you know what that is, right? You understand what metaphysics means? Dante refers to it as they did refer to it, Aristotle refers to as the first philosophy. They called it first because it reigns — it rules supreme among all the arts and all the sciences. It’s the most important of the sciences. It’s the point of arrival of all the sciences and it’s called first philosophy because it explains also questions of origins, and you see the language of origins here, the origin of time, the origin of space, creation itself, the beginning of the world, causes, foundations, these are the — this is the great Rome that metaphysics discusses.
Dante, the interesting thing is that in the Middle Ages, and Dante has to connect it with physics. Physics is as — metaphysics really go hand in hand, one tries to give the explanation of the physical world, and metaphysics the theoretical, general rules. In fact, and this you probably — I should mention this. There are people who believe that metaphysics was not a term that really indicated anything really different, completely different from the knowledge that physics provides. They would say that was — metaphysics was called metaphysics because it — the book was placed on the shelf a little bit after the book on physics. You see what I mean? It was really more a way of defining the place of the book on the library so to speak, probably, but it was known as that, but it’s probably more of a fiction than anything else. The fact is that there is such a science for Dante that deals with causes, origins, beginnings, time, etc.
One of the things that here we have it’s that Dante — that Beatrice starts describing line 100, “ ‘The nature of the universe,” here she placed the cosmologies, “which holds the center still and moves all else around it, begins here,’” so this is already the beginning, literally the language of beginnings. Here begins motion. Dante stands at the boundary of the physical universe and now she gives and explanation of this. She just said he’s at the boundary, “And this heaven has no other where,” place, “but the Divine Mind.” The real beginning, the real universe is in God’s mind, so he distinguishes two worlds, the physical world we see and the spiritual world, which is in God’s mind. In a way, and just to make it very simple, Dante is journeying into the mind of God.
There is one man who had written a text, Bonaventure, whom you have seen — whom you have met before and he wrote this book called The Itinerary of The Mind into God. This is a way of trying to explore, to enter, mystically enter, the mind of God. Dante doesn’t do it in a mystical way. He tries to understand what’s beyond the physical world. To give a description of this universe this is the term that keeps reappearing in the next three cantos. “Light and love enclose it in a circle, as it does the others, and of the girding He that girds it is the soul Intelligence.” This primum mobile, it really is a kind of curve that wraps up all the other heavens. We have seen — this is the ninth heaven, all the other heavens have been — are enwrapped within it, but it’s not only a boundary; Dante views it as also the beginning, the threshold for the spiritual universe. It’s both the boundary of the physical world and it’s always also the — so it goes like this, this is the Earth, and growing, and then we come to the ninth this becomes at the same time a kind of convex and concave semi circle. I have, believe it or not, a shape of what I think is Dante’s cosmos and here it is. This is — I’m going to pass it around.
This is a shell but it’s actually really made and found. This would be the — pass it around here and then I’ll explain — they’re all spirals really like the — since Dante thinks of the cosmos as a book and we would call it a cosmobook, that’s a neology that I coin here, a kind of cosmobook. The book in the shape of a cosmos, it’s really a parchment rolled up within itself. You know what parchments are in medieval and classical ideas of the production, the material production of books? We have the ancient parchments which are all rolled up like — the term is around a stick and then held together by a ring, that’s really the shape.
It’s a sort of a production of books that in the history of the book is later replaced around the fourth century A.D. by the so called codex which we have for instance even in the Beinecke. A codex has — it’s made of quartos, it’s made of folios and divided like a book today made of — it would have quartos or folios. If you go and see the Shakespeare’s — the folios of Shakespeare in the Elizabethan Club, for instance, if they let you go in or you belong there, take a look and see what the codex really is. Dante seems to be combining the two forms. Anyway, you have an idea here of what the shape that I’m trying to describe to you is. They are a kind of, if you wish, they are spirals, one following the other, and next to it there is going to be a spiritual universe, another universe which we’ll come to in a moment.
This is the first description that she’s giving. The idea of the sphericity of space, that’s one thing, the space is spherical and has as the primum mobile as a boundary and now we have — Beatrice goes on explaining, “Its motion is not determined by another’s,” this is line 112, “but from it the rest have their measures.” Everything begins here. This is the physical beginning of the universe which we inhabit, “even as ten from the half and the fifth.” In other words, it’s as sure as it is that two plus five make ten and “how time should have its roots in that vessel and in the others its leaves, may not be plain to thee.” Even time begins here; time is understood then by Dante.
Do you see what the — there is a kind of a tree growing from a part, the part of eternity. He does not understand time in a linear way, there was a beginning and an end, and it’s not the wheel of time or the wheel of becoming. You may have heard this, have you heard this description about the wheel of becoming in which this is a platonic idea of time, where all things are contained? Dante thinks of the tree, of time as a tree, the roots of which are in the pot of eternity and the foliages are in — reach us — reach into our own world. We are in the shadow of the tree of time. We only see leaves that will fall because this idea of the dispersion and the falling of time, the passing of time, so this is the definition of what happens in XXVII. She continues after a while with this — about once again the language of covetousness and moral language about what happens in the world and we move on to Canto XXVIII. Let me tell you I have not forgotten that we ought to talk about Ulysses in a little while.
Chapter 2. Canto XXVIII: The Order of Angels [00:20:12]
Now it continues with, XXVIII deals with the angelic hierarchy. We are now still in the primum mobile but Dante starts seeing into the other universe, the spiritual universe. He sees a universe which is adjacent to the physical universe with — inhabited by angels. The corresponding part that you have the nine planets, the seven planets plus the fixed stars and the crystalline heaven, and now you have the nine orders of angels, and Beatrice will go on describing the three triads of angels; angels, archangels, thrones, this is the language that comes from the Bible, the Old Testament comes from Babylonian, apparently in Persian sources, apocalyptic sources and would not seem to be really terribly different from that tradition. Here, we have also another; this whole description of the angelic order continues, line 12 let me just focus on this a bit, “And when I turned again and mine were met by what appears in that revolving sphere to one that looks intently on its circling, I saw a point,” distance, so we are at the boundary of the universe; another universe emerges into view and Dante only sees “a point which radiated a light so keen that the eye in which it burns must close for its piercing power.”
Once again, a series of revolving spheres, this universe is not the projection of the other universe; they are separate and adjacent. They are two hemispheres and this is what happens in Canto XXVIII and we go to Canto XXIX, and I ask you to see how the whole argument continues. Beatrice has been explaining breathlessly the whole question of angelic hierarchy, and by the end of Canto XXVIII he sees — she even mentions that the order — actually it’s Dante here who mentions that the order — his ordering of angels, the hierarchy, is very different from the one of the pseudo Dionysius, line 130 where he says, “These orders all gaze above and so prevail below that all are drawn and all draw to God. And Dionysius set himself with such zeal to contemplate,” this is the pseudo Dionysius who had written about the angelic hierarchy, and Dante goes on to say that he differs from him, that he just — his idea of angels is a little different from his and Pope Gregory’s. A statement of his own intellectual independence, both in terms of the theologian and in terms of an ecclesiastical authority.
And then Beatrice finishes the description of this hierarchy, meaning the sacred order, that’s what the Greek word means, the sacred order of angelic intelligences. Their function is to impart motion to the spheres; their function is to move between the divinity and human beings, they are the messengers, they keep the spiritual entities and they keep moving between God and human beings and then we go to Canto XXIX where now the language of cosmology, about the order of the cosmos becomes creation, and I want to show this to you.
Chapter 3. Shift to the Order of Creation in Canto XXIX [00:24:04]
However, this shift to the language of creation is conducted in an extraordinarily interesting way. Dante wants to say that Beatrice has been talking nonstop about — with probably a touch of playfulness about the angelic orders, and then she moves almost like, without catching her breath, talking about creation, Canto XXIX. But look how this shift from the order of angels to the order of creation is described. This is the beginning of Canto XXIX, “When the two children of Latona, covered by the Ram and by the Scales, both at once make a belt of the horizon, as long as from the moment when the zenith holds them balanced till the one and the other, changing hemispheres, are unbalanced from that girdle, for so long, have face illumined with a smile, Beatrice kept silence, looking fixedly at the point that had overcome me.” What an extraordinary image. Let’s read it again so we make sure that we understand it because I’m not sure that it’s very clear, though I think it’s — I can make it clear but let’s look at this again. “When the two children of Latona,” meaning the Sun and the Moon, that’s really what he’s saying. He has to describe the fact that Beatrice seems not to have kept quiet that she went endlessly from one thing to another, that’s what I call the playfulness of Dante’s thinking.
He’s saying that there was, this is the image that he uses, is when the children of Latona, Apollo and Diana, you know that, the Sun and the Moon. We’re in the universe of — though Dante is using mythical language, look at the language first of all. The two children of Latona, myth; “Covered by the Ram and the Scales,” science, “Both at once make a belt of the horizon,” an Arabic word meaning the boundary of the heavens, so science, scientific language. “As long as from that moment when the zenith,” scientific language. The mixture and balancing of science and myth, but also a way of talking about the — a balance that is as vanishing and as fleeting as it could ever be, that’s the point. That there was silence but he could almost not even tell that there was a break in Beatrice’s speech. This is what he is saying, when the two children of Latona, the Sun or Apollo and the Moon, Diana, along the horizon, they seem to be aligned together and they are held together by the zenith. This is the zenith, the highest point as opposed to the nadir, right?
This is the balance that he’s describing. They are kept in a balance here, in a rare equilibrium, when they appear, seemed to be aligned together and that balance and equilibrium is quickly disappearing. What is he saying? He’s saying that she almost didn’t stop speaking and then she began, then she goes on with the theory of creation. “I tell, not ask, what you wouldst hear; for I have seen it there where every ubi and every quando is centred,” place, I have seen at a point where place, space, and time coincide. “Not to gain any good for Himself, which cannot be, but that His splendour, shining back, might say,” I stay, “Subsisto — in His eternity, beyond time, beyond every other bound, as it pleased Him, the Eternal Love revealed Himself in new loves.” I have to correct my good friend, dear old friend Sinclair, because actually Dante does not say that. He says that love, the eternal love, actually the language which he uses I don’t know — I hope your other translations — those of you who use other translations are luckier, “opened itself in new loves,” opened itself. I take this to be a sexual language as it can be found, a new love engendered, opened itself into new loves.
Then it in fact continues, “Nor, before, did He lie as it were inert; for until God’s moving upon these waters there was no ‘before’ or ‘after.’” Before God’s creation the language is biblical, from Genesis, there was no before or nor after. In the physics, this is an allusion to Aristotle’s physics, where Aristotle has to define time; he says it’s the measure, we speak of time when there is a before and an after, because this is really what time is. The measure of motion in regard to a before and an after; Dante says that before this time of creation there was no such thing. It could not be distinguished before in terms of time, there was no such a thing as before and after, and then he goes on just to continue with this sexual metaphor, “Form and matter, united and separate, came into being that had no defect, like three arrows from a three-stringed bow.”
The question of creation as a coming together of form and matter is here described as a conjunction. It’s the language of creation takes place as an act of love, that’s the first thing Beatrice’s saying. Creation comes through as passion, a love passion, it’s an opening up in — love opening up in new loves. It’s as physical, the language of creation, as it could ever be in terms of the natural, the language of natural production and reproduction. This is the context of what she is saying, before and after. It is as if to have a creation, creation is that which introduces the possibility of distinguishing between a before and an after, introduces a difference, that’s what the language of Beatrice is.
Let me go back to the image with which we started. Dante is wondering whether or not there was any break in Beatrice’s speech. He says if there was a break, it was so fleeting as happens with whenever the Sun and the Moon along the line of the horizon are going to be — are aligned together and this is if they are balanced and are held together by the zenith above.
That is such a fleeting moment in the alignment of the stars. Why this metaphor? Not only he’s saying that but I think there is also an allusion to Francesca here in Canto V. Did you catch it? Where he says, “for so long her face illumined with a smile, Beatrice kept silence,” she just kept on talking, “looking fixedly at the point that had overcome me.” The point that had overcome me is clearly an allusion to — not only a point was that that overcame us, Francesca says in Canto V. That’s all, so there’s an illusion to Francesca. The question that I have to answer that I raised with you is why is Dante mentioning these two infernal figures and framing his discussion on cosmology of creation, first of all by talking about Ulysses and now talking about, or alluding to, not even mentioning, but alluding to Francesca. Why this one who wants to transgress and trespass the boundaries of the world in order to know, the other one who transgresses the norms of what is allowed because of love.
Knowledge and love somehow come into play but they are in the Inferno version. What is he saying though with this image? Why has he talked about Francesca, the Sun and the Moon align briefly, what do you think he’s saying? It’s not a rhetorical question; let me just — why do you think he would use this kind of language? Immediately, after Beatrice goes on explaining the creation of the world and the distinction between a before and an after. Why this metaphor? Why this long paragraph? This image here, anybody? I think that Dante’s asking right here, is it possible to localize a break and he’s saying it is as when we speak that things seem to be continuous and just as in every syllable between a sound and another there is always an interval so there was in the language of Beatrice, and that’s what to him is the idea of creation.
It seems to be — there is — the opposite of creation would be the eternity of the world, something which would be the universe is eternal; it has no beginning and no identifiable break. How can you tell? If the universe is eternal you have no differences inside it. Dante wants to say it seems to be a continuous — the universe seems to have a continuous extension. Without time a kind of eternity, it goes on and on, and yet it’s as when we speak that you can identify the break, there was however minute there was a break between Beatrice’s exposition about the angelic orders and now the exposition that she goes into about the — about creation. Why then, the other two metaphors, now it’s time to answer that question, why talking through Ulysses and Francesca? Why evoke those two images?
I wish we could — I have to keep that hanging awhile so it can become a little bit more compelling what I’m going to tell you. With it order, “And as a ray shines,” Beatrice is continuing with form and matter, united and separate, this is conjoined and pure, pure and conjoined. She says, “as a ray shines into glass or amber or crystal so that from its coming to its completeness there is no interval, so the threefold creation flashed into being from its Lord all at once without distinction in its beginning. With it, order was created and ordained for the spirits, and these were the summit of the universe in whom was produced pure act; pure potency,” and so on.” The idea is that there is a universe of creation, the universe of creation which seems to be very much like the physical world, it’s described in physical terms, the terms of the Moon and sexuality, the cosmological language and scientific terms, and yet there is some kind of difference that is introduced. Without creation we would not have differences, we would not even have origins that is the language. Now, why those two figures? Why Ulysses and Francesca?
Ulysses, I think that what Dante is doing, finally is allowing us to see what the world of Inferno has to be seen as. The world of Inferno that we only saw as a world of rejected, as a world of evil and horror, all of a sudden is now retrieved as the best exemplar of what we may come to know of the spiritual world. It is almost an imaginative redemption that Dante goes into about the actual idea of hell. He’s implying, and that could become in many ways heretical, but I hope to show you that it is not, that the universe as it goes back — as one goes back to the beginnings, clearly the journey to the beginnings has to be seen as redemption of order has been falling away. Let me just say it in a slightly less tortuous way. There can be no redemption unless it implies that the whole of evil is overcome and destroyed, so that even the world of hell now appears all of a sudden as part of what we get to know about the ultimate structure of the universe. This seems to me to be the real lesson, the underlying and powerful message that Dante is sending through these three cantos in the heaven of metaphysics.
Chapter 4. Question and Answer on Creation, Incarnation [00:37:43]
Let me stop here before I move into the next canto, Canto XXX and see if there are — let me take the questions now before we go on to the next canto. I could go back maybe and try to redo what I have been saying because it’s — but let me see if there are some questions and then we can do that, please.
Student: Are you suggesting [inaudible] of the entire world creation is redeemable including those [inaudible]?
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: He never says that. Let me be very, very clear. He never says it anywhere. There is never an indication thematically, there is everything else that I have said I could find counterparts in a thematic, thematized, in the sense that it becomes part of a conscious articulation on the part of her; he knows and he thematizes, he makes it a theme clear, he never says that. But there are two implications though that I’m drawing on in order to be able to make that kind of statement. The first is the very idea of the cosmos as a sphere, and the idea of the cosmos as a sphere, it really means that wherever you are going and you are going toward God, then you are going back to the beginning, everything else can go back to the beginning because that’s the form, the shape of the cosmos. I’m drawing out the implication about this understanding of the universe.
The other reason is that there is such a thing as a redemption and Dante’s — we didn’t read the canto, Canto VII of Paradise is focused on redemption, a new beginning, that’s what redemption means. Redemption means that the cosmos can go back to its beginning and be restored in its original form. If this is true, it could very well be that from the point of view of the poem, Lucifer is always going to be stuck in his ice forever. There’s no hint that he can move even. Francesca is always moving around in vicious circles, remembering and then lost in the labyrinth of time. To her, she literally moves in time; memory — cannot think about the past without being moved by it and must move constantly around it. Ulysses gets lost who knows where, there is nowhere for him, he has no sense of a place, even from this point of view I can go on understanding that in a canto where a place matters, Ulysses never had a sense of belonging anywhere, that’s the utter dislocation and a kind of — he doesn’t have a family that holds him back, the children, the kingdom, Ithaca, anything, he just goes on moving.
That is the overt sense of the poem, but there is this theology of redemption, and I’m wondering whether theology of redemption does not entail necessarily that there is a return to the beginning. Before I go on though with restatements of this — I want to ask you to — because I think it’s one of the — a technique that Dante uses which is really extraordinary, can you go to the beginning of canto — the famous image of Latona when the two children of Latona — beginning of Canto XXIX, I really would like to ask you to look at the Italian a little bit. I’m not going to read it, I’m not going to ask you to read, I’m only going to ask you to look, I won’t read it though. At the first word, quando right? You all see that, and look at line — that’s really the proem, what we call rhetorically the prosthesis of the canto, the beginning of the canto, the introduction of the canto.
Go to line 12, the last word, quando. Go to the first — back to the first line, the last word in that line, Latona. He says, “of Latona.” The first two letters “la” go back to canto — to line 12, the first two letters “la,” draw this — that’s a chiasmus, draw the lines together, and they will meet exactly at the word hemisphere, emisfero, that’s the center. That’s the — hemisphere means that they are — it’s half — hemi — the Greek is the two half spheres, the universe is two half spheres composing one. I think Dante’s placing us at a cosmic crossroads. He is locating us, he’s telling us where we are first of all, but he’s also telling us that this universe has a kind of very occult and very secret laws. The poem has these secret laws that regulate it.
I’m really arguing then that there is this subtext that is if a radical redemptive theology would only entail the absolute purification of evil, so that the universe will have to really go back to this kind of Pythagorean purity, but without the phases and descents. These are — you know what I mean all of you, this Pythagorean idea that the life of the universe stretches for 360,000 years. Did you ever hear about that? 360,000 years which are really like the days of the year, the 365 I think we have; 360,000 years. Every 360, 000 years the universe rotates and goes back to its point of origin and then it — decadence starts again, the age of gold, the age of silver, the age of iron, the age of paper we would call it now. It goes back to its origin, that’s not the way Dante understands the movement of the cosmos, but he does understand the — he does present this redemptive event that makes the universe return to its pristine purity, that’s why I made that statement. Any other points before I go back because I really think I should say all of what I said before. Any other questions so I can help clarify these various points? Yes.
Student: What is the redemptive event?
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: I’m sorry.
Student: What is the redemptive event?
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: The incarnation. The incarnation is the redemptive event that allows — it means what is the redemptive event? The incarnation, I call it redemptive event that would make the — a new creation, a new Adam has come into the world and that new Adam, through the sacrifice, his sacrifice through the gift God gave — allowed the incarnation because human beings on their own would not be capable. That’s the theology of redemption. Human beings on their own would not be able to save and redeem themselves so that an intervention from God, through his son, was made inevitable in order to reconstruct and in order to bring out and produce that original order of the cosmos. If that is true, and it is true, and you only have to look at everywhere in the poem, but Canto VII of Paradise, that’s really where it is an annunciation of this whole theory in the terms of — for those of you who are, Anselm, etc., then that implies that there must be some kind of general remaking of the world.
That’s what I think the idea — but nonetheless this should not obscure the fact that there is a kind of a paired juxtaposition between the physical description of the world and the spiritual description of the world. There are two hemispheres and yet they are connected; the spiritual, the creation, the experience of creation is really the way of positing a distinctionary difference into the universe — into the theory that the world is eternal. They are two conceptions that, operative in the Middle Ages, and they are really represented by — one is by Aquinas who is a theologian but he is also a philosopher, and in fact, he could be called as the writer who wants to make a philosophical theology. He argues, he’s known for the famous Suma; he wrote a track called Suma Against the Gentiles, not the Suma of Theology but Summa Contra Gentiles where he argues that the eternity of the world, the theory of the eternity of the world, that is to say there is no creation, he says could be philosophically demonstrated. It could also be philosophically repudiated.
Philosophy can argue one side of it, and he goes on arguing that there is no way of thinking of — the usual questions, who created the Creator? That kind of — the oldest, these objections. However, there is a view of creation which is allowed and it’s possible on account of faith, but it also allows for the thought of freedom, origins, beginnings, etc. Bonaventure picks up some of these ideas, the ideas debated in Paris in the thirteenth century around 1270 in Paris. Both of them are teachers at the university. Bonaventure says no, this is untenable, the idea of the eternity of the world. It is absolutely untenable, because if the world were eternal then we really would have no way of — no real succession of generations, there would be endless people who have been living before us, there’s no evidence for this, it would be endless forms of — he holds, and he upholds the idea of creation.
Dante intervenes into this debate and says, that it is effectively the physical world and the spiritual world are really one continuous, they’re one complimentary to the other, and yet there is a difference between them, and the difference between them is the difference that he can find in Beatrice’s speech, that little point of time, that little intrusion of time that distinguishes between one sound and another sound. The spiritual universe originates in the world of nature as a natural production and reproduction, all of God’s love and the physical world in exactly the same way. There is a kind of symmetry. This is not Plato’s inverted universe. The physical world is not Plato’s inverted world, it’s adjacent to it. It is as if Dante discovers that there are more dimensions to the world that we see than what medieval cosmologists, or classical cosmologists had imagined.
Interestingly enough, and I don’t say this is a proof for any of what I have said at all, but there’s a famous nineteenth-century mathematician by the name of Riemann, a German mathematician. I don’t know how many of you studied history of science, he was — he’s known among other things for having been the mathematics professor of Einstein. Well he went on with a team of his students studying these cantos of the Divine Comedy to find evidence that in fact Dante had already a theory of fourth dimension, that there is the universe that we see and then there is another universe. It is almost as if the folds of books, the folds of the parchments are exactly giving an idea — that’s Riemann’s, not me, an idea about what the actual structure of the universe may be. Having said this, don’t forget to turn back to me my shell, the emblem of what I take very good — thank you. Let me see if there are some questions because I — we can go on now talking about some of these issues. Please.
Student: I’m still not quite clear as to how in reference to Ulysses and Francesca in these cantos relate Beatrice’s description of the universe and redemption back to Inferno and how the redemption of the universe necessarily implicates including Inferno as well as —
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: Excellent question and I really welcome your skepticism. The question is about how exactly do the figures of Ulysses and Francesca shed light on what’s happening here? Is it really tenable that Dante’s implying that those — that the sinners are going to be redeemed, saved? More or less that’s —
Student: Yeah and why? Why they’re brought up — how they fit into that explanation?
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: Good, I figure that’s a crucial issue. It’s interesting that Dante should look at Ulysses and bring up the image of Ulysses in Canto XXVII. I find it interesting in that — and Dante, one can say, Dante is really unlike Ulysses. Now he probably realizes how different he is from Ulysses because Ulysses went to — he’s implying how risky his own enterprise may be which we have seen before. Ulysses was brought up in this journey in canto — with the meeting with the dream of a siren was — happened even before indirectly many of the — in some other cases XXVI, in Canto I of Inferno even, and maybe we could just stop there and say well, Dante’s still — that’s a kind of retrospective fascination. He’s looking back and pinpointing that tragic moment because — he calls it the mad track of Ulysses, the madness implies that he — this man had violated the limits, own limits, including the limits of reason in his rational pursuit, philosophical investigation of the world, the scientific — he wants to go into the — unpeopled world to have experience, that’s the key word for him and yet that madness implies that he had been delirious, had been going off the track. Dante maybe that too, but maybe not, maybe I’m really a little safer now, I’m in the hands of Beatrice, she’s guiding me, a way of trusting Beatrice so we could say that that is all true and therefore I could even see an element of relief on the part of Dante, we would even catch that. The relief is that his own adventure diminishes the epic, the Greek epic hero, he really did very little, he just went beyond the Pillars of Hercules.
That’s all, we could stop there. It happens though, retrospectively, we can see the story of Ulysses as also the story of a metaphysician. Dante is in the heaven of metaphysics, in what way is he in the place of — what does metaphysics deal with? It deals with place, deals with time, and then we can understand why Ulysses in Canto XXVI, he seems to be going from place to place is the metaphor that distinguishes Ulysses. Then Dante says, he’s a failed metaphysician, but we understand that he really was going to the absolute, he really was trying to go where I’m going and there is nothing else. We stop there. We go to Beatrice, Dante meets — is talking to — is listening to Beatrice in Canto XXIX and he’s trying to figure out if it’s possible to think of a beginning. How do things — you have the eternity of forms and you have the eternity of matter, it’s very difficult to know how you could really distinguish anything that was before from what goes after, there is no such a thing as a before and an after.
He tries to localize time, that’s really the problem. To localize time he says that he really — Beatrice looked and reminded him of the point — there was a point of joy that overcame him. Maybe he’s alluding, because the language is that of Francesca, so why Francesca? Let me just explain it at one point, maybe he’s alluding to a kiss the two of them — that he remembers. It’s sort of very spiritualized the context; Dante’s never vulgar, maybe he’s just alluding to a kiss they had been exchanging, or maybe the will, the desire, the longing to have a kiss now, exchange a kiss with her. One thing is clear, that he’s thinking of Francesca as also a kind of metaphysician because that’s what we are. What is the metaphysics of Francesca? Metaphysics of desire, first of all, a desire that — what does it mean the metaphysics of desire? Desire by its own definition is metaphysical in the sense that it’s always moving beyond the objects it gains because it burns up the various objects. Today I want this book, then I want another book, and then I want the car, and then I want the library, etc., that’s the infinite movement of desire which is what we call metaphysics of desire, so she’s a metaphysician.
Not only she’s as metaphysician, she lives in time, so she’s a complimentary figure to Ulysses. Ulysses is, you remember, is [inaudible] Cauta, I left behind me Seville and then I, etc., etc. Now, Francesca instead says how difficult it is to remember the joys of the past. I remember I was reading, that day I began reading, that day I stopped reading, only a point was that that overcame at that point of time, a point of the book, etc. Maybe Dante’s really saying she too is another failed metaphysician. They would like to be where I am now, both Francesca and Ulysses, so we are bringing them to the place where Dante is. Now, they are looking for the same thing he is having now, a conjunction of time and eternity, space and time, ubi and quando, to see the point where all things cohere. That’s exactly where he is looking. How do I make things cohere?
Of course it’s possible to think — one way of thinking of Paradise and the joy of the blessed is to go on thinking that my joy — suppose that I were saved, a very unlikely proposition. My joy, it’s possible to argue, is increased by — it’s sadistic, the view of those who are suffering, mercifully, I am saying that to me it’s the most improbable form of beatitude but it’s likely that seeing someone downtrodden and punished right like that, could be that Dante is saying, how lucky I am that I’m neither like Ulysses nor like really Francesca. I don’t think that that’s Dante though. He’s talking about cosmology and creation, the order of everything, how this order is an order of love and now he’s coming to know this order of love, because now knowledge is love and love is knowledge. I think that by the allusion to them he’s also saying that here on earth you can grant me that, that’s what I said before, and I think that I’m not pushing it to the point of unbelievability.
The whole argument becomes unbelievable, I can stay here and say, well now — what he’s really saying is that I am here and I see how things go here, but I know that sinful people on Earth, those of us who live in the shadows of time, this tree and we’re under the leaves of time, then I know that in a sinful way they were trying to do and know what I now have come to do and know. I could stop here and say well we’re all happy, there’s no argument, I think that that makes logical sense. I can push it to the point of absurdity, to say look maybe if this is true, he’s also saying not only that they in a shadowy way, in a dim way, were anticipating the real happiness in the sinful modes, the sinners, but that maybe they too if you move out of this text — as you know this is not said in the text that they too will be — are going to be taken and placed into the bosom of Abraham where all the blessed dwell. Maybe too this is — is it my wishful thinking? I grant you, it’s probably wishful thinking but I do have the theology of redemption behind me that stands as uttered by Dante in Canto VII of Paradise. I restated the whole thing in two minutes, that’s not bad. Thank you.
Chapter 5. Question and Answer on Sexual Language, Theological Risk [01:00:56]
Other questions before we go back to — please.
Student: Can you comment on the presence of Francesca, also in light of this sexual language that comes out?
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: Yes, can I comment about Francesca in the fact that there is — the creation is given in sexual terms. That this is love that opens itself — opens itself to new loves and so on. I cannot help but play a little bit of an etymological game too, by the way, because this is the world of origins and I don’t want to lose you. I know there is only one class but I don’t want to lose you. Of course the only — the way in which Dante’s conveying all these senses is by playing with the etymologies, because etymology is the science of the origin of words, so let me give you only one. I corrected my good friend Sinclair, inseparable from me, I mean, I’m never going to betray him, but I have to correct him because he says “revealed,” that’s what he means. The eternal love revealed itself a new love. He is missing the whole sexual language which is exactly the reason, thank you. That’s exactly the reason why I think that Francesca too can arguably be saved, that’s exactly the reason.
The term he uses is aperse, from the Italian, in Italian we call it aprire, very close to in English we have the word April, by the way, as an opening of spring. Just to give you a sense of etymology, it comes from aperire Latin which really means to generate, to bring to light, as a woman brings a birth to light and life. That’s really the word, that’s the meaning of the word, so it’s as sexual and as productive as it can be. Before I go back though to your question about how is Dante going to — what Dante is saying is that creation is the sexual process, the sexual experience, which is exactly what Francesca also did, breaking the law undoubtedly. She is in hell, is she going to be in hell? Are we going to understand that there is a possible continuity between what she did in a physical sense and what Dante is doing in a spiritual sense?
This is the whole point of the discussion on cosmology and creation. That there is some kind of continuity between the two modes; not quite the same thing; of course, creation is a different order of experience. There is a very thin line, it’s like a little breath of — breath that Francesca can release at sea — or Beatrice who goes on talking endlessly. She too, that’s the difference between the two, so between the language of sexuality, of physicality in Inferno, and the language of spirituality here in Paradise, the line that is continuing between them and there is a little difference but there is also a possibility of a continuity, that’s really exactly the argument that I would make about that.
Let me though tell you more, in a historical way, so that if you don’t agree with what I said so be it, don’t worry. I don’t agree with it completely on my own but I think that this — that’s a radical reading of the notion of cosmology and creation in Dante. Let me tell you something else historically. Where is Dante taking these ideas from? Whenever you read commentaries on Dante, and I hope that some of you will go on reading and reading also scholars, thank you, critics — I see that nodding is just — my heart it just gladdens when I see that. They all tell you — and I indicated that too that Dante is some kind of an Aristotelian and I was talking about metaphysics, how Aristotle calls it first philosophy, Aristotelian terms. They never tell you where the actual sources of Dante are. The sources of Dante about cosmology and cosmography are really neo-platonic. The idea of creation, especially one text that I have to mention, this guy who writes the Cosmographia called a twelfth-century man Bernard Sylvester, a Frenchman, Bernard Sylvester who writes Cosmographia, twelfth century known as the author of School of Chartres.
By the way this text were available to Dante, we have a text of this man, Cosmographia, one copy only because a Florentine, later — he had it in Florence, by the name of Boccaccio, some of you know very well, he copied it down and transmitted to us. We know his handwriting because we have his texts so we know, this is 1340, Dante of course wrote about 1302, but clearly that text was available then. In this text, Bernard gives an idea of creation and cosmological ideas, physical ideas. They had been reading the Timaeus in France and they were always surprised and wondering what is the difference, how can we go on having Plato say one thing about creation and Genesis saying something else? How are we going to connect these two forms, these two sources of tradition and authority? They argue, he goes on talking about the idea of a pre-existing world of matter. The natural world and a malignant materiality and how this malignant materiality is subdued into shape, and the subduing into shape is always sexual language.
Matura is that which produces, generates, this is the text that I believe stands behind Dante’s physical explanation of a universe which is physical, but at the same time it is not just physical. It is also a theory of creation and it’s the theory of creation that has unpredictable possibilities. This tells you that things can be renewed. If you stay within the bound — you see how he criticizes the physical conception of the world. If you stay within those boundaries you can’t expect anything other than what you already have. You cannot expect anymore evil or any less evil than what you already experience. The only idea, the way in which human beings can think about renewal, can think about change or freedom, or origins is only within the context of creation.
That’s exactly Dante’s argument and that’s the profound justification for the distinction between one order of experience and a different order of experience. But if this is true, and it is true for Dante, then I have to take also seriously this idea of — this central event of redemption, which now we understand what he takes that to mean: the moment, the experience of the incarnation. This is exactly — it follows — if he has to — if he believes that there is such a thing as — and he does — creation then he has to believe that there is also the idea of recreation, a second creation because the first creation clearly didn’t work out all that well so there is this other possibility. Please.
Student: I have the sense that in these lines at the beginning of XXIX that we’ve been talking about, that Dante is very aware of being on theological thin ice or skating close to the danger line, but the idea is the divine love spills over out into a created world so that it can be reflected back, endured, and loved in return in the way that Paolo and Francesca loved each other. That’s not far from the thought that before creation God has everything but is still a little lonely and that suggests a kind of imperfection, or at least incompleteness, but how can God be incomplete? Dante begins this passage by saying, not to acquire new goodness for himself; this is the [inaudible] translation, which cannot be.
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: That’s perfect.
Student: That he wants to announce before he offers his neo-platonic vision of the relationship of — that God had to creation. He wants to signal his orthodoxy to doubters who might hear in this something which is less than perfectly Christian because it comes close to the idea of a needy God or a God who in the way that every lover needs something, and other to love in return, is in a predicament and creation is the solution to the predicament that God is in before the world was made.
Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta: Okay, the question is that — well, the question is more of a comment by the maestro here. The comment is that Dante at the beginning of Canto XXIX seems to be on a theologically risky, on thin ice, I am quoting, because the notion of a God who — that Dante is really trying to save his skin, as it were, by claiming a kind of theological orthodoxy when he actually knows that the very notion of creation whereby God opens up into new loves, it seems to imply that before creation God was a lonely guy looking for a partner, some kind of Adam, Adam in the garden replaces all that. That’s really the question.
I think that’s a very interesting idea, of course, but I have to — I will respond not entirely in a funny way, but I hope it will come out as funny. It’s really the question that St. Augustine asks in the Confessions. There are always those people who wonder, because that’s really what the question is, what did God do before creation? St. Augustine responds: he was busy preparing hell to people like you who ask these kinds of questions, and think — that’s it. The more seriously idea is that indeed creation implies, I mean that’s a response that I would offer, creation implies a beginning but this creation has been going on forever and that the idea of the Trinitarian God is really a response to this problem you have. You obviously are, I think, it’s not obvious but you — to me it’s not obvious I think that you are appealing to a different theological paradigm of where the unity of God can be the loneliness of God. The Christian reading of that unity is that there is always a productive, an internal life of love that always goes on producing itself. On that note of theological grandeur, I thank you and I say thank you, we’ll see you. Have a good Thanksgiving.
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