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 what I now must tell has never been
Reported by a voice, inscribed by ink,
Never conceived by the imagination… (Par. XIX, 7-9)
Like many of the sights he sees in Paradise, what Dante sees here (the Eagle made of souls) is too complex and divine to be "reported by a voice" or "inscribed by ink." In other words, it is beyond the scope of language to describe such a sight. This is because the Eagle is too holy to even be "conceived by the imagination."
If all the tongues that Polyhymnia
together with her sisters made most rich
with sweetest milk, should come now to assist
my singing of the holy smile that lit
the holy face of Beatrice, the truth
would not be reached – not its one-thousandth part.
And thus, in representing Paradise,
the sacred poem has to leap across,
as does a man who finds his path cut off. (Par. XXIII, 55-63)
Dante not only makes the point that the beauty of Beatrice's smile cannot be expressed in human language, but that it cannot be captured by the divine language of the Greek Muses (of whom Polyhymnia is one), either. Here is a subtle jab at the superiority of Christianity over Classicism.
and that flame whirled three times round Beatrice
while singing so divine a song that my
imagination cannot shape it for me.
My pen leaps over it; I do not write:
our fantasy and, all the more so, speech
are far too gross for painting folds so deep. (Par. XXIV, 22-27)
Again, the sights of Paradise (here the dance of spirits around Beatrice) cannot be expressed in language. But, the reference to the shining souls as "folds" to be "painted" suggests that even the vision itself is too complex an experience for mortal eyes.