Paradiso Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Adam]: "The tongue I spoke was all extinct before
the men of Nimrod set their minds upon
the unaccomplishable task; for never
has any thing produced by human reason
been everlasting – following the heavens,
men seek the new, they shift their predilections.
That man should speak at all is nature's act,
but how you speak – in this tongue or in that –
she leaves to you and to your preference." (Par. XXVI, 124-132)
Adam's bitter rant against language targets language's diversity, which he sees as inconstancy. The only "good" language, in his mind, is "the tongue I spoke…before the men of Nimrod" in the Bible. Adam's language is the only language spoken by all men on earth. It is universal. After Nimrod's tower of Babel, God punishes man by confusing his language so that people can no longer understand each other (by making different languages). This is why Adam sees "any thing produced by human reason" as never "everlasting." This quietly points at the style of Dante's poetry, constantly punning and playing with meaning in similes and metaphors so that the meaning of his words are never stable. This, of course, brings up the question of whether poetry is a divinely sanctioned art.
[St. Peter to Dante]: "and you my son, who through your mortal weight
will yet return below, speak plainly there,
and do not hide that which I do not hide." (Par. XXVII, 64-66)
St. Peter reminds Dante of the poetic mission that Beatrice gave him in Purgatorio – to return to earth and tell the truth. Here, Dante seems to prefer true and simple language over fancy or metaphorical language.
[Beatrice]: "Christ did not say to his first company:
'Go, and preach idle stories to the world';
but he gave them the teaching that is truth,
and truth alone was sounded when they spoke;
and thus, to battle to enkindle faith,
the Gospels served them as both shield and lance.
But now men go to preach with jests and jeers,
and just as long as they can raise a laugh,
the cowl puffs up, and nothing more is asked." (Par. XXIX, 109-117)
Truth in words, wielded here by Christ's followers, acts as weapons, "shield and lance" both to give Christians the firepower to convert others to the true faith ("enkindle faith") and to defend themselves against those who would defame their religion by speaking falsely about it. Those who speak falsely, in contrast, "puff up" only their "cowl" (or cloaks) which offers flimsy defense when compared to the Christians' "shield."