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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Theme of Language and Communication

Unlike language in the first two cantiche, Paradiso focuses more on the inadequacy of language in expressing God and his blessed. Most of what Dante encounters cannot be adequately described in words. Part of this has to do with language's function in relation to memory. Anything that can be said or written down can technically be memorized.

What cannot be put to memory (i.e., a lot of what Dante experiences in Heaven), cannot be put to paper. The issue of plain speech versus elaborate and highly metaphorical speech comes into play, further complicated by the fact that this text is in the form of poetry. Finally, Dante plays with language, using various puns, metaphors, and anagrams.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. How does Dante deal with the fact that he cannot represent Heaven in words? What sort of compromises does he make? How do his alternations between silence and speech "represent" Heaven?
  2. Does Dante advocate plain speech or elaborate speech? How does Dante's role as poet and author complicate this issue?
  3. What sort of poetic devices does Dante use? (Hint: Look at Canto XIX.) How do they emphasize the point Dante is trying to make?
  4. How does Dante's treatment of language here in Paradiso differ from his stance towards it in Inferno or Purgatorio?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Because Dante understands language's limitations in expressing his heavenly experiences, he constantly invokes divine beings – either the Classical Muses or the Christian God – to ensure he can accomplish his poetic mission.

Despite Dante's professed commitment to telling the truth, his elaborate poetic style – full of metaphors and allusions to fictional works – undercuts his statement.

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