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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Art and Culture Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.

Quote #4

Just as, concentric, like in color, two
rainbows will curve their way through a thin cloud
when Juno has commanded her handmaid,
the outer rainbow echoing the inner,
much like the voice of one – the wandering nymph –
whom love consumed as sun consumes the mist
(and those two bows let people here foretell,
by reason of the pact God made with Noah,
that flood will never strike the world again):
so the two garlands of those everlasting
roses circled around us, and so did
the outer circle mime the inner ring. (Par. XII, 10-21)

This passage combines two visual images with a metaphor. The two rings of dancers in the sphere of the sun look like a double rainbow, the products of Juno's handmaiden, Iris. Again, this shows Dante's respect for Classical literature even when writing in a Christian vein. He gives this Classical reference a Christian meaning, taking Iris' rainbow to signify the pact made between God and Noah after the great Flood, which stipulated that He would never flood the earth again.

Quote #5

[St. Thomas]: But that which never dies and that which dies
are only the reflected light of that
Idea which our Sire, with Love, begets;
because the living Light that pours out so
from Its bright Source that It does not disjoin
from It or from the Love intrined with them,
through Its own goodness gathers up Its rays
within nine essences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.
From there, from act to act, light then descends
down to the last potentialities,
where it is such that it engenders nothing
but brief contingent things, by which I mean
the generated things the moving heavens
bring into being, with or without seed.
The wax of such things and what shapes that wax
are not immutable; and thus, beneath
Idea's stamp, light shines through more or less.
Thus it can be that, in the selfsame species,
some trees bear better fruit and some bear worse,
and men are born with different temperaments.
For were the wax appropriately readied,
and were the heaven's power at its height,
the brightness of the seal would show completely;
but Nature always works defectively –
she passes on that light much like an artist
who knows his craft but has a hand that trembles." (Par. XIII, 52-78)

One can view the difference between objects created by God (like heaven, the angels, and man), and things created by the "nine essences" ("brief contingent things") as the difference between a superior and inferior artist. God, who is perfect, is the superior artist whose direct creations are very close to perfect, reflecting His glory. The nine Angelic Intelligences, however, are inferior artists whose creations – which reflect only a part of His power on imperfect matter.

Quote #6

Lights moved along that cross from horn to horn
and from the summit to the base, and as
they met and passed, they sparkled, radiant:
so, straight and slant and quick and slow, one sees
on earth, the particles of bodies, long
and short, in shifting shapes, that move along
the ray of light that sometimes streaks across
the shade that men devise with skill and art
to serve as their defense against the sun.
And just as harp and viol, whose many chords
are tempered, taut, produce sweet harmony
although each single note is not distinct,
so, from the lights that then appeared to me,
out from that cross there spread a melody
that held me rapt, although I could not tell
what hymn it was. (Par. XIV, 109-124)

An important Christian symbol, the Cross, is here recreated as living work of art. This piece of art is not living in the sense that it is made of living beings, and also in that it is in constant movement, with flitting lights and "shifting shapes." It is not only a visual piece of art, but an aural one as well, as demonstrated by the "sweet harmony" produced by the multitude of lights all singing together.

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