Study Guide

Paradiso Paradise Canto XXXI: (Tenth Heaven: the Primum Mobile)

By Dante Alighieri

Paradise Canto XXXI: (Tenth Heaven: the Primum Mobile)

  • Inside the rose Dante sees the host of the blessed spirits.
  • The other host—consisting of the angels—swoops around from the light of the God to the rose itself. As the angels fly, they sing. The angels' wings are gold and they are dressed in a white paler than snow. When they fly into the rose, they hang out with the blessed, sharing in the joy. The light from above is never obstructed.
  • The hosts come from both Old Testament and New Testament stock, and they all turn their eyes to the sun above, which is a single star containing the threefold light of God.
  • The spectacle amazes Dante so much that he compares his wonder at coming from the mortal to the divine to that of barbarians gazing upon the magnificent city of Rome.
  • Indeed, he's so impressed that he's speechless.
  • All he can do is gape and look at everything, taking in the sights like a pilgrim who has reached the temple he vowed to reach and is renewing himself. Stupefied, Dante simply tries to memorize every detail. Everywhere he looks he sees faces upturned with an expression of utter love.
  • When he's finally satisfied his first curiosities enough to turn back to Beatrice, he asks about those things he doubts.
  • But where Beatrice usually stands, Dante sees an elder, dressed like one of the blessed. He looks rather fatherly.
  • Dante asks where Beatrice is.
  • The elder kindly answers that Beatrice sent him down to Dante to help him on the final leg of his journey. She, he says, has taken her rightful place in the rose—in the third from highest tier of thrones.
  • Still not speaking, Dante looks up to find her and, although he is very far from her seat, he sees every detail of her shining face.
  • He prays to her fervently, saying that he recognizes her for all she's done—coming down into Hell for him—and thanks her. He then begs for her generosity to continue, so that when he dies, his soul will be welcome to her.
  • In response to his prayer, Beatrice only smiles, acknowledging him, before turning her eyes back to God above.
  • The elder tells Dante that he should look around this garden because it will improve his sight in preparation for God's own light.
  • He identifies as a devotee of the Virgin Mary and introduces himself as Bernard.
  • Dante's so awestruck to meet the famous St. Bernard that he feels like a heathen who sees for the first time the miracle of Veronica.
  • But Bernard turns Dante's attention back to the rose, telling him not just to look at the base but higher up, at each row, in the corners, and finally at the Queen of Heaven herself, Mary.
  • Dante obeys. As his eyes travel up the Rose, he discovers one spot brighter than the rest—just like the sun in the sky. This spot has one brilliant bit in the center, which Dante calls an oriflamme.
  • Around this flame, thousands of angels circle, singing.
  • Mary herself, in the center, is so lovely that when she smiles at the angels sporting around her, Dante is at a loss for words.
  • As he gazes in admiration, Dante notices Bernard too looking upon Mary with eyes of utter adoration. His enthusiasm is contagious and makes Dante look at her even more ardently.