by Dante Alighieri
Paradiso Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
And here my memory defeats my wit:
Christ's flaming from that cross was such that I
can find no fit similitude for it.
But he who takes his cross and follows Christ
will pardon me again for my omission –
my seeing Christ flash forth undid my force. (Par. XIV, 103-108)
Like all of the souls in Paradiso, Cacciaguida can read Dante's mind. This means that Dante's voicing of his questions is unnecessary. Thus, the telepathy of the blessed renders Dante silent. A minor theme in Paradiso is speaking only at the proper time; this makes silence an appropriate counterpoint to effective speech.
If here below, where sentiment is far
too weak to withstand error, I should see
men glorying in you, nobility
of blood – a meager thing! – I should not wonder,
for even where desire is not awry,
I mean in Heaven, I too felt such pride.
You are indeed a cloak that soon wears out,
so that if, day by day, we add no patch,
then circling time will trim you with its shears.
My speech began again with you, the word
that Rome was the first city to allow,
although her people seldom speak it now;
at this word, Beatrice, somewhat apart,
smiling, seemed like the woman who had coughed –
so goes the tale – at Guinevere's first fault. (Par. XVI, 1-15)
The "you" that Dante makes such a big deal of is the Italian voi, only used to address a social superior, like a noble. The superstition that "Rome was the first city to allow [this word]" points out the city's insufferable pride, in thinking its inhabitants the only ones deserving of such a title. This ties into Dante's perception of the Holy Roman Church (centered at Rome, of course) as hopelessly corrupt. Beatrice's smile, which is compared to "the woman who had coughed … at Guinevere's first fault" is her snide way of pointing out the irony of Dante's situation: even though he looks down on Rome for using voi, he himself has used it when referring proudly to his noble bloodline.
so, with a voice more gentle and more sweet –
not in our modern speech – it [Cacciaguida's light] said to me:
"Down from that day when Ave was pronounced,
until my mother (blessed now), by giving
birth, eased the burden borne in bearing me,
this fire of Mars had come five-hundred-fifty
and thirty more times to its Lion – there
to be rekindled underneath its paw.
My ancestors and I were born just where
the runner in your yearly games first comes
upon the boundary of the final ward.
That is enough concerning my forebears:
what were their names, from where they came – of that,
silence, not speech, is most appropriate." (Par. XVI, 32-45)
Dante makes a few observations on language in this passage. First, Cacciaguida's speech is "more gentle and more sweet [than] our modern speech," suggesting that, in the past, language was better than it is now. Also, notice that Cacciaguida only speaks about his noble ancestors in these few lines, and only at Dante's request. He much prefers, it seems, to not talk about them ("of that, / silence, not speech, is most appropriate") because he does not want to sound too proud.