by Dante Alighieri
Paradiso Spirituality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
Just as, returning through transparent, clean
glass, or through waters calm and crystalline
(so shallow that they scarcely can reflect),
the mirrored image of our faces meets
our pupils with no greater force than that
a pearl has when displayed on a white forehead –
so faint, the many faces I saw keen
to speak: thus, my mistake was contrary
to that which led the man to love the fountain.
As soon as I had noticed them, thinking
that what I saw were merely mirrorings,
I turned around to see who they might be;
and saw nothing; (Par. III, 10-22)
This is Dante's first encounter with blessed souls and they are so faint in appearance that he can only make out "the mirrored image of [their] faces." He is fooled into thinking they are "merely mirrorings" and turns around with the expectation of seeing more solid and vibrant forms. In doing so Dante makes a mistake. This is a reference to the story of Narcissus found in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Narcissus was a beautiful youth who, upon looking into a fountain, saw himself reflected and fell in love with himself. Dante makes the opposite mistake, failing to recognize the souls as themselves. The comparison of their light to "a pearl…displayed on a white forehead" is a comment on their beauty, since noblewomen would often wear pearls against their foreheads to show off their pale complexions.
Just as the sun, when heat has worn away
thick mists that moderate its rays, conceals
itself from sight through an excess of light,
so did that holy form, through excess gladness,
conceal himself from me within his rays;
and so concealed, concealed, he answered me
even as the next canto is to sing. (Par. V, 133-139)
This is the first inkling we get of the cause of the souls' radiant clothing. Justinian's brilliance results from his "excess gladness." This gives us a clue – confirmed later – that the souls' love for God makes them shine. Ironically, this soul's light, which would only make his face more visible to those with perfect sight blinds Dante and "conceal[s]" Justinian from him, so much so that Dante cannot identify him.
And I saw many lights, alive, most bright;
we formed the center, they became a crown,
their voices even sweeter than their splendor:
just so, at times, we see Latona's daughter
circled when saturated air holds fast
the thread that forms the girdle of her halo.
In Heaven's court, from which I have returned,
one finds so many fair and precious gems
that are not to be taken from that kingdom:
one of those gems, the song those splendors sang. (Par. X, 64-73)
In the Fourth Heaven of the sun, the blessed souls form a "crown" around Dante and Beatrice, perhaps in homage to Beatrice as the avatar of Divine Wisdom. Interestingly, the most fitting comparison Dante can find for the sun souls' beauty is to the moon, "Latona's daughter." This is the first, but will not be the last, time the souls use their beauty to form shapes fitting to their particular star.