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.
Not with the maze of words they used to snare
the fools upon this earth before the Lamb
of God who takes away our sins was slain,
but with words plain and unambiguous,
that loving father, hidden, yet revealed
by his own smile, replied: (Par. XVII, 31-36)
In revealing Dante's destiny, Cacciaguida does not cloak it in vague and mysterious metaphors, but speaks plainly, as Christ did. The implication is that language is essentially a good thing, used to convey truth, but that the enemies of God twist it to suit their sinister purposes.
[Cacciaguida to Dante]: …"A conscience that is dark –
either through its or through another's shame –
indeed will find that what you speak is harsh.
Nevertheless, all falsehood set aside,
let all that you have seen be manifest,
and let them scratch wherever it may itch.
For if, at the first taste, your words molest,
they will, when they have been digested, end
as living nourishment. As does the wind,
so shall your outcry do – the wind that sends
its roughest blows against the highest peaks;
that is no little cause for claiming honor." (Par. XVII, 124-135)
Interestingly, language is compared to food. Initially, Dante's words will be a hard pill to swallow and perhaps difficult to his listeners. After giving the words some thought, though, people will realize how true – if harsh – Dante's words are. They will then become "living nourishment." The comparison of words to food suggests that language is as essential to human life as food is.
O godly Pegesea, you who give
to genius glory and long life, as it,
through you, gives these to kingdoms and to cities,
give me your light that I may emphasize
these signs as I inscribed them in my mind: your
power – may it appear in these brief lines!
Those blessed spirits took the shape of five
times seven vowels and consonants, and I
noted the parts as they were spelled for me.
DILIGITE IUSTITIAM were the verb
and noun that first appeared in that depiction:
QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM followed after.
Then, having formed the M of the fifth word,
those spirits kept their order; Jupiter's
silver, at that point, seemed embossed with gold. (Par. XVIII, 82-96)
The Latin words that the souls on Jupiter spell out (Diligite iustitiam, qui iudicatis terram) translate as "Love justice, you who judge the earth." This line is a reflection of Jupiter's reputation as a planet. Ancients believed that Jupiter (the Roman version of the Greek god Zeus) was the king of heaven, and thus the distributor of justice. This literal spelling out of justice is a foreshadowing of the souls Dante will meet here, all of whom are kings and rulers renowned for their just reigns. The fact that the spirits actually spell out their belief is a nod to the "letter of the law" – a stance that advocates interpreting the Bible strictly and literally, instead of loosely (which would adhere to the "spirit of the law" stance). Before seeing these letters spelled out, Dante invokes "godly Pegesea" – who are the Muses – to help him try to remember this incredible sight.