Thursday, January 29, 2009


E quietate ciascuna in suo loco
La testa e ‘l collo d’un aguglia vidi
Rappresentare e quell distinto fuoco.

Quel che dipinge li, non ha chi ‘l guidi
Ma esso guida, e da lui sai rammenta
Quella virtu ch’e forma per li nidi.

(Dante-Paradiso, Canto xviii, l. 106-110)

Each sparkling flame came to rest in space
And I saw the head and neck of a great eagle
Present itself in waves of shimmering sparks.

Who maps out this form has no guide
But is a self-arisen guide, and we recognize in him
The virtue that is the paradigm of all community.

Dante’s journey begins, of course, with his love for Beatrice, and as that love deepens, it expands to encompass his entire cosmos. Thus Dante journeys upwards through celestial realms, and his love unfolds as an all-inclusive vision encompassing innumerable specific beings and moments, all rendered with such clarity and music that they are immediately alive for us.

So, as Dante nears the apex of his journey, his love becomes a radiant clear expanse in which the longing of humanity forms a vision of social harmony. The souls of thousands just rulers, both Christian and pagan, appear as ruby sparks which spontaneously coalesce to form a single imperial image, the innate principle of just rulership. When, in the following two cantos Dante asks the eagle how non-Christian rulers could attain such glory, the eagle proclaims that the ‘Supreme Goodness’ is not confined to the doctrines of the church and can be apprehended in any place and time. Thus the eagle sings:

“Lume non e, se non vien del sereno
Che non si turba mai”

“Light does not exist that does not come from the clear sky
That never is clouded”
(Ibid. Canto xix l.64-5)

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