Dante Alighieri

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Paradiso: Canto 14 Summary & Analysis

After Thomas Aquinas falls silent, Beatrice asks for a resolution to Dante’s perplexity: will heavenly souls always remain in such an illuminated state? If so, then how will they be able to bear one another’s radiance once their bodies are resurrected? At this, the souls rejoice even more. In a modest voice, King Solomon speaks up. He explains that, in their current state in Paradise, the souls will always be this bright. However, after the resurrection, souls’ brightness and their capacity for vision will both increase.
Beatrice’s question touches on the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body. In Dante’s day, Christians didn’t believe that souls would remain eternally disembodied in Heaven, but that, at the Last Judgment, souls would be reunited with their bodies forever. King Solomon was traditionally regarded as the author of the Old Testament’s Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), whose erotic language was allegorically interpreted to refer to the soul’s ecstasy. This might be why Solomon volunteers his wisdom regarding the eventual union of body and soul.
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Not long after this, as he and Beatrice rise to the heavenly sphere of Mars, Dante perceives a ring of light forming outside the other two. His eyes soon become unable to bear the light. He looks instead at the laughing Beatrice, whose own beauty is beyond remembrance. His eyes growing stronger, Dante looks again at the ruby-studded light, which now appears in the shape of a cross, with individual sparkles gleaming forth from it. Suddenly, Christ himself blazes forth from the cross like white lightning, and Dante cannot describe him. He also cannot describe the hymn he hears, but it conveys the sense of rising and conquering.
In the heavenly sphere of Mars, Dante will encounter the souls of warriors and martyrs for the Christian faith. These shine forth as individual sparkles in Christ’s cross of light. In this sphere, everything Dante experiences—Beatrice’s radiance, the vision of the cross and Christ himself, and the hymn— is more beautiful than Dante has seen before, and accordingly more difficult to convey in language, or even to hold in memory. Yet his vision is becoming stronger, more able to bear such brightness and beauty, the more his intellect gains in strength and the closer he gets to God.
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