Multiple Truth and Intellectual Tolerance

The heaven of the sun is the celestial home of the wise men. It is appropriate to say “wise men” because there are in fact no wise women philosophers or theologians featured in this heaven. The only female exponent of wisdom is therefore Beatrice, who spoke “infallibly” in Paradiso 7.19.

While the entire Commedia is a fertile site for narrative and meta-narrative analysis, these issues lend themselves to an in-depth treatment in the heaven of the sun, in part because this heaven thematizes a particular narrative genre: the saint’s life, the genre known as hagiography. Chapter 9 of The Undivine Comedy undertakes an analysis of the heaven of the sun from a narratological perspective.

The heaven of the sun is vast. It extends over almost 5 canti: Paradiso 10, 11, 12, 13, and almost two-thirds of Paradiso 14. Compare the minimal treatment of the deliberately anticlimactic heaven of Venus, which takes up only Paradiso 8 and 9.

The pilgrim is “traslato” to the heaven of Mars in Paradiso 14.83-84: “e vidimi translato / sol con mia donna in più alta salute” (I saw myself translated, alone with my lady, to higher blessedness).  Outside of the shadow of the earth, the point of whose cone reaches only to the heaven of Venus (Paradiso 9.118-19), the heavens are no longer characterized negatively, via insufficiency or excess, as we have seen up to now: insufficient constancy in maintaining one’s vows in the heaven of the moon, excessive love of glory in the heaven of Mercury, excessive love of love in the heaven of Venus.

This characterization based on insufficiency or excess is reminiscent of Purgatorio 17, where we learn that all vice is love directed either toward an evil object or “with too much or too little vigor”: “o per troppo o per poco di vigore” (Purg. 17.96). And yet we are beyond all vice from the moment we enter paradise—in fact from the moment we pass through the purging flames and enter the earthly paradise in Purgatorio 27. This conceptually unstable characterization, which tends to lead readers to the mistaken conclusion that there is less than perfect blessedness in the lower heavens, as many readers are led by the Purgatorio’s structure to believe that the souls in antepurgatory are not yet saved, is one of the classic signposts of the effects of narrative exigency—of narrative demand for difference—on an overdetermined text, as discussed in The Undivine Comedy.

In Paradiso 10, now that we have left the shadow of the earth, the astral influences of the heavens are now expressed positively. The heaven of the sun is a celebration of wisdom. Not surprisingly, perhaps, its inhabitants—at least the ones to whom we are presented—are all male. And there are very many of them, twenty-four souls introduced by name, and we are told in Paradiso 14 of a third circle of twelve more souls whose names remain unregistered. There are many names because Dante truly celebrates wisdom in this heaven: its diversity, its many and various forms of expression. The souls whom the pilgrim sees are arranged in circles; they are points on a circumference and, as points on a circumference, they are equidistant from the center. The circles are concentric: the first circle of twelve souls is introduced in Paradiso 10; the second circle of twelve souls, introduced in Paradiso 12, forms a ring around the first circle.

The arrangement of the souls as points on a circumference that are all equidistant from the center recalls Vita Nuova XII/5, where Love says to Dante: “Ego tanquam centrum circuli, cui simili modo se habent circumferentie partes; tu autem non sic” (I am like the center of a circle, to which the parts of the circumference stand in equal relation; but you are not so [VN XII.4/5.11]). Now Dante and Beatrice stand at the center, where Love stood in the Vita Nuova paradigm, and the blessed souls of the wise stand each equidistant from the center: each equally participatory in the truth.

This heaven is about the truth—but also, fascinatingly, about the many ways, sometimes apparently antithetical, that there are of reaching the truth. In this respect, Dante’s heaven of wisdom is a brief for intellectual tolerance.

Rhetorically, the heaven of wisdom features many examples of the rhetorical trope chiasmus, ideally suited to capturing in language the idea of a truth composed of many balanced and integrated facets.

In rhetoric, chiasmus (from the Greek: χιάζω, chiázō, “to shape like the letter c or “chi”) is the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point; that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism. As an Italian definition puts it: “chiasmo è la figura retorica in cui si crea un incrocio immaginario tra due coppie di parole, in versi o in prosa, con uno schema sintattico di AB,BA”.

As a rhetorical trope, chiasmus serves Dante as a way of balancing, equalizing, and hence “circularizing” discourse. In other words, it is a rhetorical trope that is peculiarly suited to verbalizing the theme of the heaven of the sun: through chiasmus Dante renders the different forms of wisdom that are literally unified as the circumference of one circle. There are not only many verbal chiasmi in this heaven, but there are the grand narrative and structural chiasmi that organize the heaven: for instance, St. Thomas, a Dominican, recounts and celebrates the life of St. Francis, and St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, celebrates the life of St. Dominic. We will return to all of this in the Introductions to the subsequent canti.

The Trinity is a constant presence in the heaven of wisdom, evoked in many descriptions and verbal recalls, for—embracing as it does both Three and One—it is the theological concept that best articulates this heaven’s thematic insistence on One truth composed of Many viewpoints.

A celebration of the Trinity is in fact the heaven of wisdom’s point of departure. The remarkable opening of Paradiso 10 does not so much describe the Trinity as perform it:

Guardando nel suo Figlio con l’Amore
che l’uno e l’altro etternalmente spira,
lo primo e ineffabile Valore
quanto per mente e per loco si gira
con tant’ordine fé, ch’esser non puote
sanza gustar di lui chi ciò rimira. (Par. 10.1-6)
Gazing upon His Son with that Love which
One and the Other breathe eternally,
the Power—first and inexpressible—
made everything that wheels through mind and space
so orderly that one who contemplates
that harmony cannot but taste of Him.

The “living” value of the present participle with which Paradiso 10 begins—“Guardando”—is exemplary with respect to the performance aspect of this Trinitarian language: the first person (“lo primo e ineffabile Valore”) is not named until verse 3 but is immediately present and gazing on the second person (“suo Figlio”), through the agency of the third person (“l’Amore”), so that all three persons, subsequently unfolded, are actually contained in verse 1, held together by the magnetic force of “Guardando” (1). I write about this passage in The Undivine Comedy:

In referring to the persons of the trinity, the separateness inherent in “l’uno e l’altro” is minimized; the phrase is blanketed by its position between the participial construction of the first verse and the postponed subject of the third, the middle verse thereby serving as a pivot governing the harmonious disposition of the whole and mirroring the dialectical workings of the trinity itself. (The Undivine Comedy, pp. 200-01)

The lengthy preamble of Paradiso 10, befitting a heaven that marks a new beginning within the narrative rhythms of the Paradiso as a whole, moves to an astronomically-inflected address to the reader, as Dante directs our focus at a specific point in the cosmos. This address concludes with a key verse, in which Dante calls himself God’s “scribe”:

Or ti riman, lettor, sovra ’l tuo banco,
dietro pensando a ciò che si preliba,
s’esser vuoi lieto assai prima che stanco.
Messo t’ho innanzi: omai per te ti ciba;
ché a sé torce tutta la mia cura
quella materia ond’io son fatto scriba. (Par. 10.22-27)
Now, reader, do not leave your bench, but stay
to think on that of which you have foretaste;
you will have much delight before you tire.
I have prepared your fare; now feed yourself,
because that matter of which I am made
the scribe calls all my care unto itself.

Dante finds that he has arrived in the fourth heaven, “la quarta famiglia” (the fourth family [Par. 10.49]), in verses that offer another, more succinct, recapitulation of the Trinity:

Tal era quivi la quarta famiglia
de l’alto Padre, che sempre la sazia,
mostrando come spira e come figlia. (Par. 10.49-51)
Such was the sphere of His fourth family,
whom the High Father always satisfies,
showing how He engenders and breathes forth.

The noun “Padre” (Father) is followed by the verb “spira” (evoking the Holy Spirit) and the verb “figlia” (evoking the Son).

A circle of souls now forms a ring around the pilgrim and Beatrice. From this circle a voice emerges, beginning to speak in verse 82. This is the voice of St. Thomas. The great Dominican theologian presents the twelve souls of the first “corona” or crown. These souls represent (not homogeneously, but on balance) the rationalist bent of human wisdom, whereas the second “corona” will represent (not homogeneously, but on balance) the mystical bent. This more rationally inclined group has as its spokesperson Thomas, known for reconciling Aristotle with Christian theology.

Next to Thomas, and the last soul he introduces, is a radical Aristotelian, Sigier of Brabant, who on earth was condemned for being Averroist. Thus, Dante dramatizes the multiplicity of truth in a daring way at the end of Paradiso 10, putting Sigier on the same circumference as Thomas, both equidistant from the truth that they sought.

And thus my title, “Multiple Truth”, echoes the so-called doctrine of the double truth: the view, attributed to Averroes and the Latin Averroists, that religion and philosophy might arrive at contradictory truths but without detriment to either—in other words, the view that different truths might coexist.

souls in heaven

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy: Chapter 9, “The Heaven of the Sun as a Meditation on Narrative,” is devoted to one heaven, the heaven of wisdom, as Chapter 6 is devoted to one terrace (the terrace of pride).

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 10: Multiple Truth and Intellectual Tolerance.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-10/

About the Commento

1Guardando nel suo Figlio con l’Amore
2che l’uno e l’altro etternalmente spira,
3lo primo e ineffabile Valore

4quanto per mente e per loco si gira
5con tant’ ordine fé, ch’esser non puote
6sanza gustar di lui chi ciò rimira.

7Leva dunque, lettore, a l’alte rote
8meco la vista, dritto a quella parte
9dove l’un moto e l’altro si percuote;

10e lì comincia a vagheggiar ne l’arte
11di quel maestro che dentro a sé l’ama,
12tanto che mai da lei l’occhio non parte.

13Vedi come da indi si dirama
14l’oblico cerchio che i pianeti porta,
15per sodisfare al mondo che li chiama.

16Che se la strada lor non fosse torta,
17molta virtù nel ciel sarebbe in vano,
18e quasi ogne potenza qua giù morta;

19e se dal dritto più o men lontano
20fosse ’l partire, assai sarebbe manco
21e giù e sù de l’ordine mondano.

22Or ti riman, lettor, sovra ’l tuo banco,
23dietro pensando a ciò che si preliba,
24s’esser vuoi lieto assai prima che stanco.

25Messo t’ho innanzi: omai per te ti ciba;
26ché a sé torce tutta la mia cura
27quella materia ond’ io son fatto scriba.

28Lo ministro maggior de la natura,
29che del valor del ciel lo mondo imprenta
30e col suo lume il tempo ne misura,

31con quella parte che sù si rammenta
32congiunto, si girava per le spire
33in che più tosto ognora s’appresenta;

34e io era con lui; ma del salire
35non m’accors’ io, se non com’ uom s’accorge,
36anzi ’l primo pensier, del suo venire.

37È Bëatrice quella che sì scorge
38di bene in meglio, sì subitamente
39che l’atto suo per tempo non si sporge.

40Quant’ esser convenia da sé lucente
41quel ch’era dentro al sol dov’ io entra’mi,
42non per color, ma per lume parvente!

43Perch’ io lo ’ngegno e l’arte e l’uso chiami,
44sì nol direi che mai s’imaginasse;
45ma creder puossi e di veder si brami.

46E se le fantasie nostre son basse
47a tanta altezza, non è maraviglia;
48ché sopra ’l sol non fu occhio ch’andasse.

49Tal era quivi la quarta famiglia
50de l’alto Padre, che sempre la sazia,
51mostrando come spira e come figlia.

52E Bëatrice cominciò: «Ringrazia,
53ringrazia il Sol de li angeli, ch’a questo
54sensibil t’ha levato per sua grazia».

55Cor di mortal non fu mai sì digesto
56a divozione e a rendersi a Dio
57con tutto ’l suo gradir cotanto presto,

58come a quelle parole mi fec’ io;
59e sì tutto ’l mio amore in lui si mise,
60che Bëatrice eclissò ne l’oblio.

61Non le dispiacque; ma sì se ne rise,
62che lo splendor de li occhi suoi ridenti
63mia mente unita in più cose divise.

64Io vidi più folgór vivi e vincenti
65far di noi centro e di sé far corona,
66più dolci in voce che in vista lucenti:

67così cinger la figlia di Latona
68vedem talvolta, quando l’aere è pregno,
69sì che ritenga il fil che fa la zona.

70Ne la corte del cielo, ond’ io rivegno,
71si trovan molte gioie care e belle
72tanto che non si posson trar del regno;

73e ’l canto di quei lumi era di quelle;
74chi non s’impenna sì che là sù voli,
75dal muto aspetti quindi le novelle.

76Poi, sì cantando, quelli ardenti soli
77si fuor girati intorno a noi tre volte,
78come stelle vicine a’ fermi poli,

79donne mi parver, non da ballo sciolte,
80ma che s’arrestin tacite, ascoltando
81fin che le nove note hanno ricolte.

82E dentro a l’un senti’ cominciar: «Quando
83lo raggio de la grazia, onde s’accende
84verace amore e che poi cresce amando,

85multiplicato in te tanto resplende,
86che ti conduce su per quella scala
87u’ sanza risalir nessun discende;

88qual ti negasse il vin de la sua fiala
89per la tua sete, in libertà non fora
90se non com’ acqua ch’al mar non si cala.

91Tu vuo’ saper di quai piante s’infiora
92questa ghirlanda che ’ntorno vagheggia
93la bella donna ch’al ciel t’avvalora.

94Io fui de li agni de la santa greggia
95che Domenico mena per cammino
96u’ ben s’impingua se non si vaneggia.

97Questi che m’è a destra più vicino,
98frate e maestro fummi, ed esso Alberto
99è di Cologna, e io Thomas d’Aquino.

100Se sì di tutti li altri esser vuo’ certo,
101di retro al mio parlar ten vien col viso
102girando su per lo beato serto.

103Quell’ altro fiammeggiare esce del riso
104di Grazïan, che l’uno e l’altro foro
105aiutò sì che piace in paradiso.

106L’altro ch’appresso addorna il nostro coro,
107quel Pietro fu che con la poverella
108offerse a Santa Chiesa suo tesoro.

109La quinta luce, ch’è tra noi più bella,
110spira di tale amor, che tutto ’l mondo
111là giù ne gola di saper novella:

112entro v’è l’alta mente u’ sì profondo
113saver fu messo, che, se ’l vero è vero,
114a veder tanto non surse il secondo.

115Appresso vedi il lume di quel cero
116che giù in carne più a dentro vide
117l’angelica natura e ’l ministero.

118Ne l’altra piccioletta luce ride
119quello avvocato de’ tempi cristiani
120del cui latino Augustin si provide.

121Or se tu l’occhio de la mente trani
122di luce in luce dietro a le mie lode,
123già de l’ottava con sete rimani.

124Per vedere ogne ben dentro vi gode
125l’anima santa che ’l mondo fallace
126fa manifesto a chi di lei ben ode.

127Lo corpo ond’ ella fu cacciata giace
128giuso in Cieldauro; ed essa da martiro
129e da essilio venne a questa pace.

130Vedi oltre fiammeggiar l’ardente spiro
131d’Isidoro, di Beda e di Riccardo,
132che a considerar fu più che viro.

133Questi onde a me ritorna il tuo riguardo,
134è ’l lume d’uno spirto che ’n pensieri
135gravi a morir li parve venir tardo:

136essa è la luce etterna di Sigieri,
137che, leggendo nel Vico de li Strami,
138silogizzò invidïosi veri».

139Indi, come orologio che ne chiami
140ne l’ora che la sposa di Dio surge
141a mattinar lo sposo perché l’ami,

142che l’una parte e l’altra tira e urge,
143tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota,
144che ’l ben disposto spirto d’amor turge;

145così vid’ ïo la gloriosa rota
146muoversi e render voce a voce in tempra
147e in dolcezza ch’esser non pò nota

148se non colà dove gioir s’insempra.

Gazing upon His Son with that Love which
One and the Other breathe eternally,
the Power—first and inexpressible—

made everything that wheels through mind and space
so orderly that one who contemplates
that harmony cannot but taste of Him.

Then, reader, lift your eyes with me to see
the high wheels; gaze directly at that part
where the one motion strikes against the other;

and there begin to look with longing at
that Master’s art, which in Himself he loves
so much that his eye never parts from it.

See there the circle branching from that cross—point
obliquely: zodiac to bear the planets
that satisfy the world in need of them.

For if the planets’ path were not aslant,
much of the heavens’ virtue would be wasted
and almost every power on earth be dead;

and if the zodiac swerved more or less
far from the straight course, then earth’s harmony
would be defective in both hemispheres.

Now, reader, do not leave your bench, but stay
to think on that of which you have foretaste;
you will have much delight before you tire.

I have prepared your fare; now feed yourself,
because that matter of which I am made
the scribe calls all my care unto itself.

The greatest minister of nature—he
who imprints earth with heaven’s worth and, with
his light, provides the measurement for time—

since he was in conjunction with the part
I noted, now was wheeling through the spirals
where he appears more early every day.

And I was with him, but no more aware
of the ascent than one can be aware
of any sudden thought before it starts.

The one who guides me so from good to better
is Beatrice, and on our path her acts
have so much swiftness that they span no time.

How bright within themselves must be the lights
I saw on entering the Sun, for they
were known to me by splendor, not by color!

Though I should call on talent, craft, and practice,
my telling cannot help them be imagined;
but you can trust—and may you long to see it.

And if our fantasies fall short before
such heights, there is no need to wonder; for
no eye has seen light brighter than the Sun’s.

Such was the sphere of His fourth family,
whom the High Father always satisfies,
showing how He engenders and breathes forth.

And Beatrice began: “Give thanks, give thanks
to Him, the angels’ Sun, who, through His grace,
has lifted you to this embodied sun.”

No mortal heart was ever so disposed
to worship, or so quick to yield itself
to God with all its gratefulness, as I

was when I heard those words, and all my love
was so intent on Him that Beatrice
was then eclipsed within forgetfulness.

And she was not displeased, but smiled at this,
so that the splendor of her smiling eyes
divided my rapt mind between two objects.

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.
He who does not take wings to reach that realm,
may wait for tidings of it from the mute.

After those ardent suns, while singing so,
had wheeled three times around us, even as
stars that are close to the fixed poles, they seemed

to me like women who, though not released
from dancing, pause in silence, listening
until new notes invite to new dancing.

And from within one light I heard begin:
“Because the ray of grace, from which true love
is kindled first and then, in loving, grows,

shines with such splendor, multiplied, in you,
that it has led you up the stair that none
descends who will not climb that stair again,

whoever would refuse to quench your thirst
with wine from his flask, would be no more free
than water that does not flow toward the sea.

You want to know what plants bloom in this garland
that, circling, contemplates with love the fair
lady who strengthens your ascent to heaven.

I was a lamb among the holy flock
that Dominic leads on the path where one
may fatten well if one does not stray off.

He who is nearest on my right was both
my brother and my teacher: from Cologne,
Albert, and I am Thomas of Aquino.

If you would know who all the others are,
then even as I speak let your eyes follow,
making their way around the holy wreath.

That next flame issues from the smile of Gratian,
who served one and the other court of law
so well that his work pleases Paradise.

That other, who adorns our choir next—
he was that Peter who, like the poor widow,
offered his treasure to the Holy Church.

The fifth light, and the fairest light among us,
breathes forth such love that all the world below
hungers for tidings of it; in that flame

there is the lofty mind where such profound
wisdom was placed that, if the truth be true,
no other ever rose with so much vision.

Next you can see the radiance of that candle
which, in the flesh, below, beheld most deeply
the angels’ nature and their ministry.

Within the other little light there smiles
that champion of the Christian centuries
whose narrative was used by Augustine.

Now, if your mind’s eye, following my praising,
was drawn from light to light, you must already
be thirsting for the eighth: within that light,

because he saw the Greatest Good, rejoices
the blessed soul who makes the world’s deceit
most plain to all who hear him carefully.

The flesh from which his soul was banished lies
below, within Cieldauro, and he came
from martyrdom and exile to this peace.

Beyond, you see, flaming, the ardent spirits
of Isidore and Bede and Richard—he
whose meditation made him more than man.

This light from whom your gaze returns to me
contains a spirit whose oppressive thoughts
made him see death as coming much too slowly:

it is the everlasting light of Siger,
who when he lectured in the Street of Straw
demonstrated truths that earned him envy.”

Then, like a clock that calls us at the hour
in which the Bride of God, on waking, sings
matins to her Bridegroom, encouraging

His love (when each clock—part both drives and draws),
chiming the sounds with notes so sweet that those
with spirit well—disposed feel their love grow;

so did I see the wheel that moved in glory
go round and render voice to voice with such
sweetness and such accord that they can not

be known except where joy is everlasting

LOOKING into his Son with all the Love
Which each of them eternally breathes forth
The Primal and unutterable Power

Whate’er before the mind or eye revolves
With so much order made, there can be none
Who this beholds without enjoying Him.

Lift up then, Reader, to the lofty wheels
With me thy vision straight unto that part
Where the one motion on the other strikes,

And there begin to contemplate with joy
‘That Master’s art, who in himself so loves it
That never doth his eye depart therefrom.

Behold how from that point goes branching off
The oblique circle, which conveys the planets,
To satisfy the world that calls upon them

And if their pathway were not thus inflected,
Much virtue in the heavens would be in vain,
And almost every power below here dead.

If from the straight line distant more or less
Were the departure, much would wanting be
Above and underneath of mundane order.

Remain now, Reader, still upon thy bench,
In thought pursuing that which is foretasted,
If thou wouldst jocund be instead of weary.

I’ve set before thee; henceforth feed thyself,
For to itself diverteth all my care
That theme whereof I have been made the scribe.

The greatest of the ministers of nature,
Who with the power of heaven the world imprints
And measures with his light the time for us,

With that part which above is called to mind
Conjoined, along the spirals was revolving,
Where each time earlier he presents himself

And I was with him; but of the ascending
I was not conscious, saving as a man
Of a first thought is conscious ere it come;

And Beatrice, she who is seen to pass
From good to better, and so suddenly
That not by time her action is expressed,

How lucent in herself must she have been!
And what was in the sun, wherein I entered,
Apparent not by colour but by light,

I, though I call on genius, art, and practice,
Cannot so tell that it could be imagined;
Believe one can, and let him long to see it.

And if our fantasies too lowly are
For altitude so great, it is no marvel,
Since o’er the sun was never eye could go.

Such in this place was the fourth family
Of the high Father, who forever sates it,
Showing how he breathes forth and how begets

And Beatrice began: “Give thanks, give thanks
Unto the Sun of Angels, who to this
Sensible one has raised thee by his grace!”

Never was heart of mortal so disposed
To worship, nor to give itself to God
With all its gratitude was it so ready,

As at those words did I myself become;
And all my love was so absorbed in Him,
That in oblivion Beatrice was eclipsed.

Nor this displeased her; but she smiled at it
So that the splendour of her laughing eyes
My single mind on many things divided.

Lights many saw I, vivid and triumphant,
Make us a centre and themselves a circle,
More sweet in voice than luminous in aspect.

Thus girt about the daughter of Latona
We sometimes see, when pregnant is the air,
So that it holds the thread which makes her zone.

Within the court of Heaven, whence I return,
Are many jewels found, so fair and precious
They cannot be transported from the realm;

And of them was the singing of those lights.
Who takes not wings that he may fly up thither,
The tidings thence may from the dumb await!

As soon as singing thus those burning suns
Had round about us whirled themselves three times,
Like unto stars neighbouring the steadfast poles,

Ladies they seemed, not from the dance released,
But who stop short, in silence listening
Till they have gathered the new melody.

And within one I heard beginning: “When
The radiance of grace, by which is kindled
True love, and which thereafter grows by loving,

Within thee multiplied is so resplendent
That it conducts thee upward by that stair,
Where without reascending none descends,

Who should deny the wine out of his vial
Unto thy thirst, in liberty were not
Except as water which descends not seaward.

Fain wouldst thou know with what plants is enflowered
This garland that encircles with delight
The Lady fair who makes thee strong for heaven.

Of the lambs was I of the holy flock
Which Dominic conducteth by a road
Where well one fattens if he strayeth not.

He who is nearest to me on the right
My brother and master was; and he Albertus
Is of Cologne, I Thomas of Aquinum.

If thou of all the others wouldst be certain,
Follow behind my speaking with thy sight
Upward along the blessed garland turning.

That next effulgence issues from the smile
Of Gratian, who assisted both the courts
In such wise that it pleased in Paradise.

The other which near by adorns our choir
That Peter was who, e’en as the poor widow,
Offered his treasure unto Holy Church.

The fifth light, that among us is the fairest,
Breathes forth from such a love, that all the world
Below is greedy to learn tidings of it.

Within it is the lofty mind, where knowledge
So deep was put, that, if the true be true,
To see so much there never rose a second.

Thou seest next the lustre of that taper,
Which in the flesh below looked most within
The angelic nature and its ministry.

Within that other little light is smiling
The advocate of the Christian centuries,
Out of whose rhetoric Augustine was furnished.

Now if thou trainest thy mind’s eye along
From light to light pursuant of my praise,
With thirst already of the eighth thou waitest.

By seeing every good therein exults
The sainted soul, which the fallacious world
Makes manifest to him who listeneth well;

The body whence ’twas hunted forth is Iying
Down in Cieldauro, and from martyrdom
And banishment it came unto this peace.

See farther onward flame the burning breath
Of Isidore, of Beda, and of Richard
Who was in contemplation more than man.

This, whence to me returneth thy regard,
The light is of a spirit unto whom
In his grave meditations death seemed slow.

It is the light eternal of Sigier,
Who, reading lectures in the Street of Straw,
Did syllogize invidious verities.”

Then, as a horologe that calleth us
What time the Bride of God is rising up
With matins to her Spouse that he may love her,

Wherein one part the other draws and urges,
Ting! ting! resounding with so sweet a note,
That swells with love the spirit well disposed,

Thus I beheld the glorious wheel move round,
And render voice to voice, in modulation
And sweetness that can not be comprehended,

Excepting there where joy is made eternal.

Gazing upon His Son with that Love which
One and the Other breathe eternally,
the Power—first and inexpressible—

made everything that wheels through mind and space
so orderly that one who contemplates
that harmony cannot but taste of Him.

Then, reader, lift your eyes with me to see
the high wheels; gaze directly at that part
where the one motion strikes against the other;

and there begin to look with longing at
that Master’s art, which in Himself he loves
so much that his eye never parts from it.

See there the circle branching from that cross—point
obliquely: zodiac to bear the planets
that satisfy the world in need of them.

For if the planets’ path were not aslant,
much of the heavens’ virtue would be wasted
and almost every power on earth be dead;

and if the zodiac swerved more or less
far from the straight course, then earth’s harmony
would be defective in both hemispheres.

Now, reader, do not leave your bench, but stay
to think on that of which you have foretaste;
you will have much delight before you tire.

I have prepared your fare; now feed yourself,
because that matter of which I am made
the scribe calls all my care unto itself.

The greatest minister of nature—he
who imprints earth with heaven’s worth and, with
his light, provides the measurement for time—

since he was in conjunction with the part
I noted, now was wheeling through the spirals
where he appears more early every day.

And I was with him, but no more aware
of the ascent than one can be aware
of any sudden thought before it starts.

The one who guides me so from good to better
is Beatrice, and on our path her acts
have so much swiftness that they span no time.

How bright within themselves must be the lights
I saw on entering the Sun, for they
were known to me by splendor, not by color!

Though I should call on talent, craft, and practice,
my telling cannot help them be imagined;
but you can trust—and may you long to see it.

And if our fantasies fall short before
such heights, there is no need to wonder; for
no eye has seen light brighter than the Sun’s.

Such was the sphere of His fourth family,
whom the High Father always satisfies,
showing how He engenders and breathes forth.

And Beatrice began: “Give thanks, give thanks
to Him, the angels’ Sun, who, through His grace,
has lifted you to this embodied sun.”

No mortal heart was ever so disposed
to worship, or so quick to yield itself
to God with all its gratefulness, as I

was when I heard those words, and all my love
was so intent on Him that Beatrice
was then eclipsed within forgetfulness.

And she was not displeased, but smiled at this,
so that the splendor of her smiling eyes
divided my rapt mind between two objects.

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.
He who does not take wings to reach that realm,
may wait for tidings of it from the mute.

After those ardent suns, while singing so,
had wheeled three times around us, even as
stars that are close to the fixed poles, they seemed

to me like women who, though not released
from dancing, pause in silence, listening
until new notes invite to new dancing.

And from within one light I heard begin:
“Because the ray of grace, from which true love
is kindled first and then, in loving, grows,

shines with such splendor, multiplied, in you,
that it has led you up the stair that none
descends who will not climb that stair again,

whoever would refuse to quench your thirst
with wine from his flask, would be no more free
than water that does not flow toward the sea.

You want to know what plants bloom in this garland
that, circling, contemplates with love the fair
lady who strengthens your ascent to heaven.

I was a lamb among the holy flock
that Dominic leads on the path where one
may fatten well if one does not stray off.

He who is nearest on my right was both
my brother and my teacher: from Cologne,
Albert, and I am Thomas of Aquino.

If you would know who all the others are,
then even as I speak let your eyes follow,
making their way around the holy wreath.

That next flame issues from the smile of Gratian,
who served one and the other court of law
so well that his work pleases Paradise.

That other, who adorns our choir next—
he was that Peter who, like the poor widow,
offered his treasure to the Holy Church.

The fifth light, and the fairest light among us,
breathes forth such love that all the world below
hungers for tidings of it; in that flame

there is the lofty mind where such profound
wisdom was placed that, if the truth be true,
no other ever rose with so much vision.

Next you can see the radiance of that candle
which, in the flesh, below, beheld most deeply
the angels’ nature and their ministry.

Within the other little light there smiles
that champion of the Christian centuries
whose narrative was used by Augustine.

Now, if your mind’s eye, following my praising,
was drawn from light to light, you must already
be thirsting for the eighth: within that light,

because he saw the Greatest Good, rejoices
the blessed soul who makes the world’s deceit
most plain to all who hear him carefully.

The flesh from which his soul was banished lies
below, within Cieldauro, and he came
from martyrdom and exile to this peace.

Beyond, you see, flaming, the ardent spirits
of Isidore and Bede and Richard—he
whose meditation made him more than man.

This light from whom your gaze returns to me
contains a spirit whose oppressive thoughts
made him see death as coming much too slowly:

it is the everlasting light of Siger,
who when he lectured in the Street of Straw
demonstrated truths that earned him envy.”

Then, like a clock that calls us at the hour
in which the Bride of God, on waking, sings
matins to her Bridegroom, encouraging

His love (when each clock—part both drives and draws),
chiming the sounds with notes so sweet that those
with spirit well—disposed feel their love grow;

so did I see the wheel that moved in glory
go round and render voice to voice with such
sweetness and such accord that they can not

be known except where joy is everlasting

LOOKING into his Son with all the Love
Which each of them eternally breathes forth
The Primal and unutterable Power

Whate’er before the mind or eye revolves
With so much order made, there can be none
Who this beholds without enjoying Him.

Lift up then, Reader, to the lofty wheels
With me thy vision straight unto that part
Where the one motion on the other strikes,

And there begin to contemplate with joy
‘That Master’s art, who in himself so loves it
That never doth his eye depart therefrom.

Behold how from that point goes branching off
The oblique circle, which conveys the planets,
To satisfy the world that calls upon them

And if their pathway were not thus inflected,
Much virtue in the heavens would be in vain,
And almost every power below here dead.

If from the straight line distant more or less
Were the departure, much would wanting be
Above and underneath of mundane order.

Remain now, Reader, still upon thy bench,
In thought pursuing that which is foretasted,
If thou wouldst jocund be instead of weary.

I’ve set before thee; henceforth feed thyself,
For to itself diverteth all my care
That theme whereof I have been made the scribe.

The greatest of the ministers of nature,
Who with the power of heaven the world imprints
And measures with his light the time for us,

With that part which above is called to mind
Conjoined, along the spirals was revolving,
Where each time earlier he presents himself

And I was with him; but of the ascending
I was not conscious, saving as a man
Of a first thought is conscious ere it come;

And Beatrice, she who is seen to pass
From good to better, and so suddenly
That not by time her action is expressed,

How lucent in herself must she have been!
And what was in the sun, wherein I entered,
Apparent not by colour but by light,

I, though I call on genius, art, and practice,
Cannot so tell that it could be imagined;
Believe one can, and let him long to see it.

And if our fantasies too lowly are
For altitude so great, it is no marvel,
Since o’er the sun was never eye could go.

Such in this place was the fourth family
Of the high Father, who forever sates it,
Showing how he breathes forth and how begets

And Beatrice began: “Give thanks, give thanks
Unto the Sun of Angels, who to this
Sensible one has raised thee by his grace!”

Never was heart of mortal so disposed
To worship, nor to give itself to God
With all its gratitude was it so ready,

As at those words did I myself become;
And all my love was so absorbed in Him,
That in oblivion Beatrice was eclipsed.

Nor this displeased her; but she smiled at it
So that the splendour of her laughing eyes
My single mind on many things divided.

Lights many saw I, vivid and triumphant,
Make us a centre and themselves a circle,
More sweet in voice than luminous in aspect.

Thus girt about the daughter of Latona
We sometimes see, when pregnant is the air,
So that it holds the thread which makes her zone.

Within the court of Heaven, whence I return,
Are many jewels found, so fair and precious
They cannot be transported from the realm;

And of them was the singing of those lights.
Who takes not wings that he may fly up thither,
The tidings thence may from the dumb await!

As soon as singing thus those burning suns
Had round about us whirled themselves three times,
Like unto stars neighbouring the steadfast poles,

Ladies they seemed, not from the dance released,
But who stop short, in silence listening
Till they have gathered the new melody.

And within one I heard beginning: “When
The radiance of grace, by which is kindled
True love, and which thereafter grows by loving,

Within thee multiplied is so resplendent
That it conducts thee upward by that stair,
Where without reascending none descends,

Who should deny the wine out of his vial
Unto thy thirst, in liberty were not
Except as water which descends not seaward.

Fain wouldst thou know with what plants is enflowered
This garland that encircles with delight
The Lady fair who makes thee strong for heaven.

Of the lambs was I of the holy flock
Which Dominic conducteth by a road
Where well one fattens if he strayeth not.

He who is nearest to me on the right
My brother and master was; and he Albertus
Is of Cologne, I Thomas of Aquinum.

If thou of all the others wouldst be certain,
Follow behind my speaking with thy sight
Upward along the blessed garland turning.

That next effulgence issues from the smile
Of Gratian, who assisted both the courts
In such wise that it pleased in Paradise.

The other which near by adorns our choir
That Peter was who, e’en as the poor widow,
Offered his treasure unto Holy Church.

The fifth light, that among us is the fairest,
Breathes forth from such a love, that all the world
Below is greedy to learn tidings of it.

Within it is the lofty mind, where knowledge
So deep was put, that, if the true be true,
To see so much there never rose a second.

Thou seest next the lustre of that taper,
Which in the flesh below looked most within
The angelic nature and its ministry.

Within that other little light is smiling
The advocate of the Christian centuries,
Out of whose rhetoric Augustine was furnished.

Now if thou trainest thy mind’s eye along
From light to light pursuant of my praise,
With thirst already of the eighth thou waitest.

By seeing every good therein exults
The sainted soul, which the fallacious world
Makes manifest to him who listeneth well;

The body whence ’twas hunted forth is Iying
Down in Cieldauro, and from martyrdom
And banishment it came unto this peace.

See farther onward flame the burning breath
Of Isidore, of Beda, and of Richard
Who was in contemplation more than man.

This, whence to me returneth thy regard,
The light is of a spirit unto whom
In his grave meditations death seemed slow.

It is the light eternal of Sigier,
Who, reading lectures in the Street of Straw,
Did syllogize invidious verities.”

Then, as a horologe that calleth us
What time the Bride of God is rising up
With matins to her Spouse that he may love her,

Wherein one part the other draws and urges,
Ting! ting! resounding with so sweet a note,
That swells with love the spirit well disposed,

Thus I beheld the glorious wheel move round,
And render voice to voice, in modulation
And sweetness that can not be comprehended,

Excepting there where joy is made eternal.