Old Universe/New Universe

Paradiso 28 is the first of two canti devoted to the Primum Mobile, the heaven that actualizes all being. This property of the Primum Mobile is stated beautifully in the discourse on the heavens of Paradiso 2:

Dentro dal ciel de la divina pace
si gira un corpo ne la cui virtute
l’esser di tutto suo contento giace.  	(Par. 2.112-14)
Within the heaven of the godly peace
revolves a body in whose power lies 
the being of all things that it enfolds.

The Primum Mobile is the last heaven before the Empyrean, to which we pass in Paradiso 30.

Paradiso 28 is a metaphysical canto, in which Dante considers the universe from a new perspective. Rather than the earth as a point at the center circled by ever larger heavens, he now imagines the universe inverted, with God as a luminous point at the center:

un punto vidi che raggiava lume 
acuto sì, che ’l viso ch’elli affoca
chiuder conviensi per lo forte acume . . . 	(Par. 28.16-18)
I saw a point that sent forth so acute
a light, that anyone who faced the force
with which it blazed would have to shut his eyes . . .

The brilliant God-point is circled by heavens that grow ever slower as they are farther away from the divine point:

Così l’ottavo e ’l nono; e chiascheduno
più tardo si movea, secondo ch’era
in numero distante più da l’uno;
e quello avea la fiamma più sincera
cui men distava la favilla pura,
credo, però che più di lei s’invera. 	(Par. 28.34-39)
The eighth and ninth were wider still; and each,
even as greater distance lay between 
it and the first ring, moved with lesser speed;
and, I believe, the ring with clearest flame
was that which lay least far from the pure spark
because it shares most deeply that point’s truth.

In the Old Universe, the earth is at the center of the nine material heavens (although made of special matter, “quintessence”, they are material). In the New Universe, God is at the center of the nine angelic intelligences, who spin faster and faster as they get closer to the transcendent principle. Below you will find attached a chart of New Universe and Old Universe, which, in my necessarily material rendition, appear side by side.

The vision Dante presents in Paradiso 28, where the pilgrim views God as the infinitely bright and infinitely tiny point at the center, and the various angelic intelligences as revolving circles that grow larger and slower as they grow more distant from the point, creates a visual paradox with respect to the notion of the universe we have held thus far.

By forcing us to complement the circumference model of the universe with a centrist one, Dante is trying to make us come to grips with the paradox of a point that is “enclosed by that which It encloses”: “inchiuso da quel ch’elli ’nchiude” (Par. 30.12). This point is both center and circumference, both the deep (Augustinian) within and the great (Aristotelian) without.

This paradox is what the presentation of a second model of the universe is all about: somehow, if we can hold both New Universe and Old Universe together in our minds, we will be able to have some sense of the “unmoved mover”, of the point “that is enclosed by that which It encloses”.

But, in Paradiso 28, Dante does not content himself with simply describing and affirming the paradox of the Enclosed that Encloses/the Enclosing that is Enclosed.

Dante decides to have Beatrice account rationally for the visual paradox that he has launched, rather than simply deploying it without attempting an explanation. Paradiso 28 is therefore a great intellective canto, akin to Paradiso 2 in its reliance on the language of difference.

Beatrice explains the “function” of the point in verses that are close to a literal translation of a passage from Aristotle’s Metaphysics:

La donna mia, che mi vedea in cura
forte sospeso, disse: «Da quel punto
depende il cielo e tutta la natura». 	(Par. 28.40-42)
My lady, who saw my perplexity—
I was in such suspense—said: “On that Point
depend the heavens and the whole of nature.”

Beatrice’s affirmation, “Da quel punto / depende il cielo e tutta la natura” (On that point depend the heavens and the whole of nature), is itself a restatement of the visual paradox of the Two Universes, since it asks us to understand how everything—“tutta la natura”—can depend on one point.

The pilgrim states that his intellectual fulfillment requires an explanation of the discrepancy between the universe as he now perceives it, the New Universe, and the universe as he has perceived it up to now, the Old Universe. He needs to understand the difference between the “essemplo” (the model, the original) and the “essemplare” (the copy) and how the two “go together”:

Onde, se ’l mio disir dee aver fine
in questo miro e angelico templo
che solo amore e luce ha per confine,
udir convienmi ancor come l’essemplo
e l’essemplare non vanno d’un modo,
ché io per me indarno a ciò contemplo.		 (Par. 28.52-57)
Thus, if my longing is to gain its end
in this amazing and angelic temple
that has, as boundaries, only love and light,
then I still have to hear just how the model
and copy do not share in one same plan—
for by myself I think on this in vain.

The scribal terminology (“essemplo” and “essemplare”) reminds us of Dante as scriba Dei in Paradiso 10.27, and goes back in Dante’s practice to the Vita Nuova and before. Dante sees that the essemplo and the essemplare “non vanno d’un modo”: they do not fit together, they are not the same. How then can they then be representations (again, essemplo and essemplare are terms with a definite representational spin) of the same thing?

Dante has chosen to set up two models of the universe: one material, “sensibile” (the “mondo sensibile” of Paradiso 28.49 is the world accessible to the senses), the other spiritual, beyond sense perception. He then poses the question: how can the two models coexist? How can they andare d’un modo? How can they be one? He further chooses to have Beatrice provide a rational answer to the problem.

Before looking at her answer, I would like to point out that Dante has found a way to render dramatically the pilgrim’s transgression of time and space, to literalize the coexistence of the physical and the metaphysical. After all, the pilgrim is somehow in the Primum Mobile of the physical universe, at the same time that he sees the Primum Mobile of the metaphysical universe circling around the fiery point. So, whether or not the two universes can be made to coexist in rational discourse (they cannot), the poet has made them coexist in his fictive reality.

At the level of the Commedia’s plot, the phenomenon that Beatrice now ventures to explain has already occurred.

The great discourse that follows is both philosophically cogent and also self-aware with respect to the ways in which language both addresses and creates the problem of the “essemplo” and the “essemplare”.

Dante presents Old Universe and New Universe as a paradox that is at the heart of the Christian explanation of everything there is: the Point that is enclosed by that which It encloses (Par. 30.12). He does so with the utmost seriousness and conviction. And, at the same time, he suggests awareness that the explanation will necessarily incur a linguistic sleight of hand: necessarily, because paradoxes are not susceptible of verbal explanation.

Beatrice’s explanation hinges on the verb corrispondere and the noun consequenza, both hapaxes in the Commedia. These terms are the key to her dilemma. She can set up correspondences—proportionally harmonious relations—between the two universes, but she cannot coalesce them, cannot in words collapse the physical and the metaphysical into one.

But she performs her explanation with complete confidence, and the narrator will refer after her explanation to her “risponder chiaro” (clear response [86]), which leaves him feeling—in a magnificent simile—like a sky that has been cleansed by a north-west wind (personified as Boreas, with his cheek puffed up, as in old maps) of all its mists and imperfections and is now “splendid and serene” (79-87). It is worth noting that Dante breaks up the intellective texture of Paradiso 28 with this baroque mixture of classical allusion and natural description. I think for instance also of the remarkable natural metaphor plus astronomical allusion of verses 115-18, in which heaven is “eternal springtime that the nightly Ram does not despoil” and in which the angelic hierarchies “perpetually unwinter themselves in Hosannas” (115-20).

Coming back to Beatrice’s explanation of how the two universes can “go together”, she unpacks the enigma as follows. The larger the material heaven the more blessedness it must contain, so that the largest material heaven perforce corresponds to the most blessed of the spiritual heavens: to the one that loves most, knows most, is closest to God, and hence the smallest.

If the pilgrim will readjust his perspective, looking not at the appearance of things (“la parvenza / de le sustanze” [74-75]) but at their inherent worth (“a la virtù” [73]), he will see a proportional correspondence between the most worthy of the material heavens (the largest and the fastest) and the most worthy of the spiritual heavens (the smallest and the fastest):

Li cerchi corporai sono ampi e arti
secondo il più e ’l men de la virtute
che si distende per tutte lor parti.
Maggior bontà vuol far maggior salute;
maggior salute maggior corpo cape,
s’elli ha le parti igualmente compiute.
Dunque costui che tutto quanto rape
l’altro universo seco, corrisponde
al cerchio che più ama e che più sape:
per che, se tu a la virtù circonde
la tua misura, non a la parvenza
de le sustanze che t’appaion tonde,
tu vederai mirabil consequenza
di maggio a più e di minore a meno,
in ciascun cielo, a süa intelligenza.	 (Par. 28.64-78)
The size of spheres of matter—large or small—
depends upon the power—more and less—
that spreads throughout their parts. More excellence
yields greater blessedness; more blessedness
must comprehend a greater body when
that body’s parts are equally complete.
And thus this sphere, which sweeps along with it
the rest of all the universe, must match 
the circle that loves most and knows the most,
so that, if you but draw your measure round
the power within—and not the semblance of—
the angels that appear to you as circles,
you will discern a wonderful accord 
between each sphere and its Intelligence:
greater accords with more, smaller with less.

Beatrice’s linguistic substitution provides an elegant solution to the problem, but is it a verbal sleight of hand? The correspondence of “maggio” to “più” and of “minore” to “meno” may be mirabile, but it does not succeed in collapsing the two universes into one on the page.

Paradiso 2 presents an analogous situation. The philosophical explanation of moon spot replaces the material cause for spots on the moon (espoused in the Convivio) with an immaterial cause, and at the same time also suggests an understanding of the linguistic bind incurred by the explanation: an understanding that, at some level, we are merely replacing one set of adjectives, “raro e denso” (on the material side of the equation), with another set of adjectives, “turbo e chiaro” (on the immaterial side).

There is another connection between Paradiso 2 and Paradiso 28; both canti provide corrections of earlier Dantean positions expressed in the Convivio. The latter part of Paradiso 28 discusses the angelic intelligences, and arranges them in a hierarchy: the only use in the Commedia of “gerarcia”—“hierarchy”—occurs in Paradiso 28.121. Whereas in the Convivio Dante had followed the angelic hierarchy of Gregory the Great, here he revises his earlier opinion, accepting instead the order of angels presented by Dionysius the Areopagite.

Another point that merits mention is the question of the primacy of love versus intellect in approaching the divine. Throughout Paradiso Dante has used chiasmus and other means to keep the two approaches in exquisite balance, but in Paradiso 28 he declares straight-out that vision—i.e. intellect—comes first:

Quinci si può veder come si fonda
l’essere beato ne l’atto che vede,
non in quel ch’ama, che poscia seconda;
e del vedere è misura mercede,
che grazia partorisce e buona voglia:
così di grado in grado si procede.	 (Par. 28.109-14)
From this you see that blessedness depends
upon the act of vision, not upon
the act of love—which is a consequence;
the measure of their vision lies in merit,
produced by grace and then by will to goodness:			
and this is the progression, step by step.

The bald affirmation of the primacy of intellect, which will be balanced again (after all the last verse of the poem refers to God as “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle”) is a hallmark of this intellective canto.

dante

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: “Dante and Reality/Dante and Realism (Paradiso),” SpazioFilosofico, numero 8 (2013): 199-208 (link); The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem Is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 233-37.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 28: Old Universe/New Universe.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-28/

About the Commento

1Poscia che ’ncontro a la vita presente
2d’i miseri mortali aperse ’l vero
3quella che ’mparadisa la mia mente,

4come in lo specchio fiamma di doppiero
5vede colui che se n’alluma retro,
6prima che l’abbia in vista o in pensiero,

7e sé rivolge per veder se ’l vetro
8li dice il vero, e vede ch’el s’accorda
9con esso come nota con suo metro;

10così la mia memoria si ricorda
11ch’io feci riguardando ne’ belli occhi
12onde a pigliarmi fece Amor la corda.

13E com’ io mi rivolsi e furon tocchi
14li miei da ciò che pare in quel volume,
15quandunque nel suo giro ben s’adocchi,

16un punto vidi che raggiava lume
17acuto sì, che ’l viso ch’elli affoca
18chiuder conviensi per lo forte acume;

19e quale stella par quinci più poca,
20parrebbe luna, locata con esso
21come stella con stella si collòca.

22Forse cotanto quanto pare appresso
23alo cigner la luce che ’l dipigne
24quando ’l vapor che ’l porta più è spesso,

25distante intorno al punto un cerchio d’igne
26si girava sì ratto, ch’avria vinto
27quel moto che più tosto il mondo cigne;

28e questo era d’un altro circumcinto,
29e quel dal terzo, e ’l terzo poi dal quarto,
30dal quinto il quarto, e poi dal sesto il quinto.

31Sopra seguiva il settimo sì sparto
32già di larghezza, che ’l messo di Iuno
33intero a contenerlo sarebbe arto.

34Così l’ottavo e ’l nono; e chiascheduno
35più tardo si movea, secondo ch’era
36in numero distante più da l’uno;

37e quello avea la fiamma più sincera
38cui men distava la favilla pura,
39credo, però che più di lei s’invera.

40La donna mia, che mi vedëa in cura
41forte sospeso, disse: «Da quel punto
42depende il cielo e tutta la natura.

43Mira quel cerchio che più li è congiunto;
44e sappi che ’l suo muovere è sì tosto
45per l’affocato amore ond’ elli è punto».

46E io a lei: «Se ’l mondo fosse posto
47con l’ordine ch’io veggio in quelle rote,
48sazio m’avrebbe ciò che m’è proposto;

49ma nel mondo sensibile si puote
50veder le volte tanto più divine,
51quant’ elle son dal centro più remote.

52Onde, se ’l mio disir dee aver fine
53in questo miro e angelico templo
54che solo amore e luce ha per confine,

55udir convienmi ancor come l’essemplo
56e l’essemplare non vanno d’un modo,
57ché io per me indarno a ciò contemplo».

58«Se li tuoi diti non sono a tal nodo
59sufficïenti, non è maraviglia:
60tanto, per non tentare, è fatto sodo!».

61Così la donna mia; poi disse: «Piglia
62quel ch’io ti dicerò, se vuo’ saziarti;
63e intorno da esso t’assottiglia.

64Li cerchi corporai sono ampi e arti
65secondo il più e ’l men de la virtute
66che si distende per tutte lor parti.

67Maggior bontà vuol far maggior salute;
68maggior salute maggior corpo cape,
69s’elli ha le parti igualmente compiute.

70Dunque costui che tutto quanto rape
71l’altro universo seco, corrisponde
72al cerchio che più ama e che più sape:

73per che, se tu a la virtù circonde
74la tua misura, non a la parvenza
75de le sustanze che t’appaion tonde,

76tu vederai mirabil consequenza
77di maggio a più e di minore a meno,
78in ciascun cielo, a süa intelligenza».

79Come rimane splendido e sereno
80l’emisperio de l’aere, quando soffia
81Borea da quella guancia ond’ è più leno,

82per che si purga e risolve la roffia
83che pria turbava, sì che ’l ciel ne ride
84con le bellezze d’ogne sua paroffia;

85così fec’ïo, poi che mi provide
86la donna mia del suo risponder chiaro,
87e come stella in cielo il ver si vide.

88E poi che le parole sue restaro,
89non altrimenti ferro disfavilla
90che bolle, come i cerchi sfavillaro.

91L’incendio suo seguiva ogne scintilla;
92ed eran tante, che ’l numero loro
93più che ’l doppiar de li scacchi s’inmilla.

94Io sentiva osannar di coro in coro
95al punto fisso che li tiene a li ubi,
96e terrà sempre, ne’ quai sempre fuoro.

97E quella che vedëa i pensier dubi
98ne la mia mente, disse: «I cerchi primi
99t’hanno mostrato Serafi e Cherubi.

100Così veloci seguono i suoi vimi,
101per somigliarsi al punto quanto ponno;
102e posson quanto a veder son soblimi.

103Quelli altri amori che ’ntorno li vonno,
104si chiaman Troni del divino aspetto,
105per che ’l primo ternaro terminonno;

106e dei saper che tutti hanno diletto
107quanto la sua veduta si profonda
108nel vero in che si queta ogne intelletto.

109Quinci si può veder come si fonda
110l’esser beato ne l’atto che vede,
111non in quel ch’ama, che poscia seconda;

112e del vedere è misura mercede,
113che grazia partorisce e buona voglia:
114così di grado in grado si procede.

115L’altro ternaro, che così germoglia
116in questa primavera sempiterna
117che notturno Arïete non dispoglia,

118perpetüalemente ‘Osanna’ sberna
119con tre melode, che suonano in tree
120ordini di letizia onde s’interna.

121In essa gerarcia son l’altre dee:
122prima Dominazioni, e poi Virtudi;
123l’ordine terzo di Podestadi èe.

124Poscia ne’ due penultimi tripudi
125Principati e Arcangeli si girano;
126l’ultimo è tutto d’Angelici ludi.

127Questi ordini di sù tutti s’ammirano,
128e di giù vincon sì, che verso Dio
129tutti tirati sono e tutti tirano.

130E Dïonisio con tanto disio
131a contemplar questi ordini si mise,
132che li nomò e distinse com’ io.

133Ma Gregorio da lui poi si divise;
134onde, sì tosto come li occhi aperse
135in questo ciel, di sé medesmo rise.

136E se tanto secreto ver proferse
137mortale in terra, non voglio ch’ammiri:
138ché chi ’l vide qua sù gliel discoperse

139con altro assai del ver di questi giri».

After the lady who imparadises
my mind disclosed the truth that is unlike
the present life of miserable mortals,

then, just as one who sees a mirrored flame—
its double candle stands behind his back—
even before he thought of it or gazed

directly at it, and he turns to gauge
if that glass tells the truth to him, and sees
that it accords, like voice and instrument,

so—does my memory recall—I did
after I looked into the lovely eyes
of which Love made the noose that holds me tight.

And when I turned and my own eyes were met
by what appears within that sphere whenever
one looks intently at its revolution,

I saw a point that sent forth so acute
a light, that anyone who faced the force
with which it blazed would have to shut his eyes,

and any star that, seen from earth, would seem
to be the smallest, set beside that point,
as star conjoined with star, would seem a moon.

Around that point a ring of fire wheeled,
a ring perhaps as far from that point as
a halo from the star that colors it

when mist that forms the halo is most thick.
It wheeled so quickly that it would outstrip
the motion that most swiftly girds the world.

That ring was circled by a second ring,
the second by a third, third by a fourth,
fourth by a fifth, and fifth ring by a sixth.

Beyond, the seventh ring, which followed, was
so wide that all of Juno’s messenger
would be too narrow to contain that circle.

The eighth and ninth were wider still; and each,
even as greater distance lay between
it and the first ring, moved with lesser speed;

and, I believe, the ring with clearest flame
was that which lay least far from the pure spark
because it shares most deeply that point’s truth.

My lady, who saw my perplexity—
I was in such suspense—said: “On that Point
depend the heavens and the whole of nature.

Look at the circle that is nearest It,
and know: its revolutions are so swift
because of burning love that urges it.”

And I to her: “If earth and the nine spheres
were ordered like those rings, then I would be
content with what you have set out before me,

but in the world of sense, what one can see
are spheres becoming ever more divine
as they are set more distant from the center.

Thus, if my longing is to gain its end
in this amazing and angelic temple
that has, as boundaries, only love and light,

then I still have to hear just how the model
and copy do not share in one same plan—
for by myself I think on this in vain.”

“You need not wonder if your fingers are
unable to undo that knot: no one
has tried, and so that knot is tightened, taut!”

my lady said, and then continued: “If
you would be satisfied, take what I tell you—
and let your mind be sharp as I explain.

The size of spheres of matter—large or small—
depends upon the power—more and less—
that spreads throughout their parts. More excellence

yields greater blessedness; more blessedness
must comprehend a greater body when
that body’s parts are equally complete.

And thus this sphere, which sweeps along with it
the rest of all the universe, must match
the circle that loves most and knows the most,

so that, if you but draw your measure round
the power within—and not the semblance of—
the angels that appear to you as circles,

you will discern a wonderful accord
between each sphere and its Intelligence:
greater accords with more, smaller with less.”

Just as the hemisphere of air remains
splendid, serene, when from his gentler cheek
Boreas blows and clears the scoriae,

dissolves the mist that had defaced the sky,
so that the heavens smile with loveliness
in all their regions; even so did I

become after my lady had supplied
her clear response to me, and—like a star
in heaven—truth was seen. And when her words

were done, even as incandescent iron
will shower sparks, so did those circles sparkle;
and each spark circled with its flaming ring—

sparks that were more in number than the sum
one reaches doubling in succession each
square of a chessboard, one to sixty—four.

I heard “Hosanna” sung, from choir to choir
to that fixed Point which holds and always shall
hold them to where they have forever been.

And she who saw my mind’s perplexities
said: “The first circles have displayed to you
the Seraphim and Cherubim. They follow

the ties of love with such rapidity
because they are as like the Point as creatures
can be, a power dependent on their vision.

Those other loves that circle round them are
called Thrones of the divine aspect, because
they terminated the first group of three;

and know that all delight to the degree
to which their vision sees—more or less deeply—
that truth in which all intellects find rest.

From this you see that blessedness depends
upon the act of vision, not upon
the act of love—which is a consequence;

the measure of their vision lies in merit,
produced by grace and then by will to goodness:
and this is the progression, step by step.

The second triad—blossoming in this
eternal springtime that the nightly Ram
does not despoil—perpetually sings

‘Hosanna’ with three melodies that sound
in the three ranks of bliss that form this triad;
within this hierarchy there are three

kinds of divinities: first, the Dominions,
and then the Virtues; and the final order
contains the Powers. The two penultimate

groups of rejoicing ones within the next
triad are wheeling Principalities
and the Archangels; last, the playful Angels.

These orders all direct—ecstatically—
their eyes on high; and downward, they exert
such force that all are drawn and draw to God.

And Dionysius, with much longing, set
himself to contemplate these orders: he
named and distinguished them just as I do.

Though, later, Gregory disputed him,
when Gregory came here—when he could see
with opened eyes—he smiled at his mistake.

You need not wonder if a mortal told
such secret truth on earth: it was disclosed
to him by one who saw it here above—

both that and other truths about these circles.”

AFTER the truth against the present life
Of miserable mortals was unfolded
By her who doth imparadise my mind,

As in a looking—glass a taper’s flame
He sees who from behind is lighted by it,
Before he has it in his sight or thought,

And turns him round to see if so the glass
Tell him the truth, and sees that it accords
Therewith as doth a music with its metre,

In similar wise my memory recollecteth
That I did, looking into those fair eyes,
Of which Love made the springes to ensnare me.

And as I turned me round, and mine were touched
By that which is apparent in that volume,
Whenever on its gyre we gaze intent,

A point beheld I, that was raying out
Light so acute, the sight which it enkindles
Must close perforce before such great acuteness.

And whatsoever star seems smallest here
Would seem to be a moon, if placed beside it.
As one star with another star is placed.

Perhaps at such a distance as appears
A halo cincturing the light that paints it,
When densest is the vapour that sustains it,

Thus distant round the point a circle of fire
So swiftly whirled, that it would have surpassed
Whatever motion soonest girds the world;

And this was by another circumcinct,
That by a third, the third then by a fourth,
By a fifth the fourth, and then by a sixth the fifth;

The seventh followed thereupon in width
So ample now, that Juno’s messenger
Entire would be too narrow to contain it.

Even so the eighth and ninth; and every one
More slowly moved, according as it was
In number distant farther from the first.

And that one had its flame most crystalline
From which less distant was the stainless spark,
I think because more with its truth imbued.

My Lady, who in my anxiety
Beheld me much perplexed, said: “From that point
Dependent is the heaven and nature all.

Behold that circle most conjoined to it,
And know thou, that its motion is so swift
Through burning love whereby it is spurred on.”

And I to her: “If the world were arranged
In the order which I see in yonder wheels,
What’s set before me would have satisfied me;

But in the world of sense we can perceive
That evermore the circles are diviner
As they are from the centre more remote

Wherefore if my desire is to be ended
In this miraculous and angelic temple,
That has for confines only love and light,

To hear behoves me still how the example
And the exemplar go not in one fashion,
Since for myself in vain I contemplate it.”

“If thine own fingers unto such a knot
Be insufficient, it is no great wonder,
So hard hath it become for want of trying.”

My Lady thus; then said she: “Do thou take
What I shall tell thee, if thou wouldst be sated,
And exercise on that thy subtlety.

The circles corporal are wide and narrow
According to the more or less of virtue
Which is distributed through all their parts.

The greater goodness works the greater weal,
The greater weal the greater body holds,
If perfect equally are all its parts.

Therefore this one which sweeps along with it
The universe sublime, doth correspond
Unto the circle which most loves and knows.

On which account, if thou unto the virtue
Apply thy measure, not to the appearance
Of substances that unto thee seem round,

Thou wilt behold a marvellous agreement,
Of more to greater, and of less to smaller,
In every heaven, with its Intelligence.”

Even as remaineth splendid and serene
The hemisphere of air, when Boreas
Is blowing from that cheek where he is mildest,

Because is purified and resolved the rack
That erst disturbed it, till the welkin laughs
With all the beauties of its pageantry;

Thus did I likewise, after that my Lady
Had me provided with her clear response,
And like a star in heaven the truth was seen.

And soon as to a stop her words had come,
Not otherwise does iron scintillate
When molten, than those circles scintillated.

Their coruscation all the sparks repeated,
And they so many were, their number makes
More millions than the doubling of the chess.

I heard them sing hosanna choir by choir
To the fixed point which holds them at the _Ubi,_
And ever will, where they have ever been.

And she, who saw the dubious meditations
Within my mind, “The primal circles,” said,
“Have shown thee Seraphim and Cherubim.

Thus rapidly they follow their own bonds,
To be as like the point as most they can,
And can as far as they are high in vision.

Those other Loves, that round about them go,
Thrones of the countenance divine are called,
Because they terminate the primal Triad.

And thou shouldst know that they all have delight
As much as their own vision penetrates
The Truth, in which all intellect finds rest.

From this it may be seen how blessedness
Is founded in the faculty which sees,
And not in that which loves, and follows next;

And of this seeing merit is the measure,
Which is brought forth by grace, and by good will;
Thus on from grade to grade doth it proceed.

The second Triad, which is germinating
In such wise in this sempiternal spring,
That no nocturnal Aries despoils,

Perpetually hosanna warbles forth
With threefold melody, that sounds in three
Orders of joy, with which it is intrined.

The three Divine are in this hierarchy,
First the Dominions, and the Virtues next;
And the third order is that of the Powers.

Then in the dances twain penultimate
The Principalities and Archangels wheel;
The last is wholly of angelic sports.

These orders upward all of them are gazing,
And downward so prevail, that unto God
They all attracted are and all attract.

And Dionysius with so great desire
To contemplate these Orders set himself
He named them and distinguished them as I do.

But Gregory afterwards dissented from him;
Wherefore, as soon as he unclosed his eyes
Within this heaven, he at himself did smile.

And if so much of secret truth a mortal
Proffered on earth, I would not have thee marvel,
For he who saw it here revealed it to him,

With much more of the truth about these circles.”

After the lady who imparadises
my mind disclosed the truth that is unlike
the present life of miserable mortals,

then, just as one who sees a mirrored flame—
its double candle stands behind his back—
even before he thought of it or gazed

directly at it, and he turns to gauge
if that glass tells the truth to him, and sees
that it accords, like voice and instrument,

so—does my memory recall—I did
after I looked into the lovely eyes
of which Love made the noose that holds me tight.

And when I turned and my own eyes were met
by what appears within that sphere whenever
one looks intently at its revolution,

I saw a point that sent forth so acute
a light, that anyone who faced the force
with which it blazed would have to shut his eyes,

and any star that, seen from earth, would seem
to be the smallest, set beside that point,
as star conjoined with star, would seem a moon.

Around that point a ring of fire wheeled,
a ring perhaps as far from that point as
a halo from the star that colors it

when mist that forms the halo is most thick.
It wheeled so quickly that it would outstrip
the motion that most swiftly girds the world.

That ring was circled by a second ring,
the second by a third, third by a fourth,
fourth by a fifth, and fifth ring by a sixth.

Beyond, the seventh ring, which followed, was
so wide that all of Juno’s messenger
would be too narrow to contain that circle.

The eighth and ninth were wider still; and each,
even as greater distance lay between
it and the first ring, moved with lesser speed;

and, I believe, the ring with clearest flame
was that which lay least far from the pure spark
because it shares most deeply that point’s truth.

My lady, who saw my perplexity—
I was in such suspense—said: “On that Point
depend the heavens and the whole of nature.

Look at the circle that is nearest It,
and know: its revolutions are so swift
because of burning love that urges it.”

And I to her: “If earth and the nine spheres
were ordered like those rings, then I would be
content with what you have set out before me,

but in the world of sense, what one can see
are spheres becoming ever more divine
as they are set more distant from the center.

Thus, if my longing is to gain its end
in this amazing and angelic temple
that has, as boundaries, only love and light,

then I still have to hear just how the model
and copy do not share in one same plan—
for by myself I think on this in vain.”

“You need not wonder if your fingers are
unable to undo that knot: no one
has tried, and so that knot is tightened, taut!”

my lady said, and then continued: “If
you would be satisfied, take what I tell you—
and let your mind be sharp as I explain.

The size of spheres of matter—large or small—
depends upon the power—more and less—
that spreads throughout their parts. More excellence

yields greater blessedness; more blessedness
must comprehend a greater body when
that body’s parts are equally complete.

And thus this sphere, which sweeps along with it
the rest of all the universe, must match
the circle that loves most and knows the most,

so that, if you but draw your measure round
the power within—and not the semblance of—
the angels that appear to you as circles,

you will discern a wonderful accord
between each sphere and its Intelligence:
greater accords with more, smaller with less.”

Just as the hemisphere of air remains
splendid, serene, when from his gentler cheek
Boreas blows and clears the scoriae,

dissolves the mist that had defaced the sky,
so that the heavens smile with loveliness
in all their regions; even so did I

become after my lady had supplied
her clear response to me, and—like a star
in heaven—truth was seen. And when her words

were done, even as incandescent iron
will shower sparks, so did those circles sparkle;
and each spark circled with its flaming ring—

sparks that were more in number than the sum
one reaches doubling in succession each
square of a chessboard, one to sixty—four.

I heard “Hosanna” sung, from choir to choir
to that fixed Point which holds and always shall
hold them to where they have forever been.

And she who saw my mind’s perplexities
said: “The first circles have displayed to you
the Seraphim and Cherubim. They follow

the ties of love with such rapidity
because they are as like the Point as creatures
can be, a power dependent on their vision.

Those other loves that circle round them are
called Thrones of the divine aspect, because
they terminated the first group of three;

and know that all delight to the degree
to which their vision sees—more or less deeply—
that truth in which all intellects find rest.

From this you see that blessedness depends
upon the act of vision, not upon
the act of love—which is a consequence;

the measure of their vision lies in merit,
produced by grace and then by will to goodness:
and this is the progression, step by step.

The second triad—blossoming in this
eternal springtime that the nightly Ram
does not despoil—perpetually sings

‘Hosanna’ with three melodies that sound
in the three ranks of bliss that form this triad;
within this hierarchy there are three

kinds of divinities: first, the Dominions,
and then the Virtues; and the final order
contains the Powers. The two penultimate

groups of rejoicing ones within the next
triad are wheeling Principalities
and the Archangels; last, the playful Angels.

These orders all direct—ecstatically—
their eyes on high; and downward, they exert
such force that all are drawn and draw to God.

And Dionysius, with much longing, set
himself to contemplate these orders: he
named and distinguished them just as I do.

Though, later, Gregory disputed him,
when Gregory came here—when he could see
with opened eyes—he smiled at his mistake.

You need not wonder if a mortal told
such secret truth on earth: it was disclosed
to him by one who saw it here above—

both that and other truths about these circles.”

AFTER the truth against the present life
Of miserable mortals was unfolded
By her who doth imparadise my mind,

As in a looking—glass a taper’s flame
He sees who from behind is lighted by it,
Before he has it in his sight or thought,

And turns him round to see if so the glass
Tell him the truth, and sees that it accords
Therewith as doth a music with its metre,

In similar wise my memory recollecteth
That I did, looking into those fair eyes,
Of which Love made the springes to ensnare me.

And as I turned me round, and mine were touched
By that which is apparent in that volume,
Whenever on its gyre we gaze intent,

A point beheld I, that was raying out
Light so acute, the sight which it enkindles
Must close perforce before such great acuteness.

And whatsoever star seems smallest here
Would seem to be a moon, if placed beside it.
As one star with another star is placed.

Perhaps at such a distance as appears
A halo cincturing the light that paints it,
When densest is the vapour that sustains it,

Thus distant round the point a circle of fire
So swiftly whirled, that it would have surpassed
Whatever motion soonest girds the world;

And this was by another circumcinct,
That by a third, the third then by a fourth,
By a fifth the fourth, and then by a sixth the fifth;

The seventh followed thereupon in width
So ample now, that Juno’s messenger
Entire would be too narrow to contain it.

Even so the eighth and ninth; and every one
More slowly moved, according as it was
In number distant farther from the first.

And that one had its flame most crystalline
From which less distant was the stainless spark,
I think because more with its truth imbued.

My Lady, who in my anxiety
Beheld me much perplexed, said: “From that point
Dependent is the heaven and nature all.

Behold that circle most conjoined to it,
And know thou, that its motion is so swift
Through burning love whereby it is spurred on.”

And I to her: “If the world were arranged
In the order which I see in yonder wheels,
What’s set before me would have satisfied me;

But in the world of sense we can perceive
That evermore the circles are diviner
As they are from the centre more remote

Wherefore if my desire is to be ended
In this miraculous and angelic temple,
That has for confines only love and light,

To hear behoves me still how the example
And the exemplar go not in one fashion,
Since for myself in vain I contemplate it.”

“If thine own fingers unto such a knot
Be insufficient, it is no great wonder,
So hard hath it become for want of trying.”

My Lady thus; then said she: “Do thou take
What I shall tell thee, if thou wouldst be sated,
And exercise on that thy subtlety.

The circles corporal are wide and narrow
According to the more or less of virtue
Which is distributed through all their parts.

The greater goodness works the greater weal,
The greater weal the greater body holds,
If perfect equally are all its parts.

Therefore this one which sweeps along with it
The universe sublime, doth correspond
Unto the circle which most loves and knows.

On which account, if thou unto the virtue
Apply thy measure, not to the appearance
Of substances that unto thee seem round,

Thou wilt behold a marvellous agreement,
Of more to greater, and of less to smaller,
In every heaven, with its Intelligence.”

Even as remaineth splendid and serene
The hemisphere of air, when Boreas
Is blowing from that cheek where he is mildest,

Because is purified and resolved the rack
That erst disturbed it, till the welkin laughs
With all the beauties of its pageantry;

Thus did I likewise, after that my Lady
Had me provided with her clear response,
And like a star in heaven the truth was seen.

And soon as to a stop her words had come,
Not otherwise does iron scintillate
When molten, than those circles scintillated.

Their coruscation all the sparks repeated,
And they so many were, their number makes
More millions than the doubling of the chess.

I heard them sing hosanna choir by choir
To the fixed point which holds them at the _Ubi,_
And ever will, where they have ever been.

And she, who saw the dubious meditations
Within my mind, “The primal circles,” said,
“Have shown thee Seraphim and Cherubim.

Thus rapidly they follow their own bonds,
To be as like the point as most they can,
And can as far as they are high in vision.

Those other Loves, that round about them go,
Thrones of the countenance divine are called,
Because they terminate the primal Triad.

And thou shouldst know that they all have delight
As much as their own vision penetrates
The Truth, in which all intellect finds rest.

From this it may be seen how blessedness
Is founded in the faculty which sees,
And not in that which loves, and follows next;

And of this seeing merit is the measure,
Which is brought forth by grace, and by good will;
Thus on from grade to grade doth it proceed.

The second Triad, which is germinating
In such wise in this sempiternal spring,
That no nocturnal Aries despoils,

Perpetually hosanna warbles forth
With threefold melody, that sounds in three
Orders of joy, with which it is intrined.

The three Divine are in this hierarchy,
First the Dominions, and the Virtues next;
And the third order is that of the Powers.

Then in the dances twain penultimate
The Principalities and Archangels wheel;
The last is wholly of angelic sports.

These orders upward all of them are gazing,
And downward so prevail, that unto God
They all attracted are and all attract.

And Dionysius with so great desire
To contemplate these Orders set himself
He named them and distinguished them as I do.

But Gregory afterwards dissented from him;
Wherefore, as soon as he unclosed his eyes
Within this heaven, he at himself did smile.

And if so much of secret truth a mortal
Proffered on earth, I would not have thee marvel,
For he who saw it here revealed it to him,

With much more of the truth about these circles.”