David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 30: Mystic Empyrean — The River of Light; The Mystical Rose”

“Canto 30: Mystic Empyrean — The River of Light; The Mystical Rose”

  • Much of what Dante sees in the Mystic Empyrean is ineffable. What does that mean?

If something is ineffable, it cannot be described adequately in words. This is an important theme in Dante’s Paradise. Dante the poet writes,

“Vanquished do I confess me by this passage

More than by problem of his theme was ever

O’ercome the comic or the tragic poet;

For as the sun the sight that trembles most,

Even so the memory of that sweet smile

My mind depriveth of its very self.

From the first day that I beheld her face

In this life, to the moment of this look,

The sequence of my song has ne’er been severed;

But now perforce this sequence must desist

From following her beauty with my verse,

As every artist at his uttermost.”

(Longfellow 30.22-33)

Dante is no longer able to describe Beatrice’s great beauty.

  • Dante and Beatrice leave the material realm completely and enter the Mystic Empyrean. (The Mystic Empyrean is the dwelling place of God. It can be described as the mind of God.)

Beatrice tells Dante that they have now entered the Empyrean:

With voice and gesture of a perfect leader

She recommenced: “We from the greatest body

Have issued to the heaven that is pure light;

Light intellectual replete with love,

Love of true good replete with ecstasy,

Ecstasy that transcendeth every sweetness.”

(Longfellow 30.37-42)

Dante has to be prepared for this final vision. He is blinded — briefly — but when his vision returns, it is very strong. He can now see more clearly than ever before. Beatrice tells him,

“The Love that calms this heaven forever greets

all those who enter with such salutation,

so is the candle for Its flame prepared.”

No sooner had these brief, assuring words

entered my ears than I was full aware

my senses now were raised above their powers;

the power of new sight lit up my eyes

so that no light, however bright it were,

would be too brilliant for my eyes to bear.

(Musa 30.52-60)

  • What does Dante see in the Mystic Empyrean? Describe the River.

Dante sees a number of things in the Mystic Empyrean. He sees a river of light. The banks of the river have flowers. He sees sparks of light going back and forth between the river and the riverbanks.

However, more is to be seen here. Beatrice tells him that he has to drink the water of the river — with his eyes. That will allow him to see even more.

Dante does this, and he sees that the sparks of light are actually angels and the flowers are actually the souls of the Blessed in Paradise. The angels go back and forth from the souls and God. They bring graces from God to the souls, and they bring praises from the souls to God.

  • What does Dante see in the Mystic Empyrean? Describe the Rose.

Dante describes the souls of the Blest as forming a Rose. This Rose has more than a thousand tiers; it is gigantic.

What Dante is seeing now is ultimate reality.

The Rose is almost completely filled with souls, although a few empty spaces remain for future saved souls. Beatrice says,

“Behold how vast the circuit of our city!

Behold our seats so filled to overflowing,

That here henceforward are few people wanting!”

(Longfellow 30.130-132)

  • Write a brief character analysis of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII. Who is he, historically?

One of the empty places in the Rose is reserved for Emperor Henry VII. Of course, in 1300, he is still alive; therefore, he is not in the Rose right now.

Henry VII became Holy Roman Emperor, but he went to Italy, something that the Pope did not like. As we know, there was often a power struggle going on over who would control Italy.

Dante fully supported the Holy Roman Emperor. In Dante’s perfect government, the Holy Roman Emperor would control secular matters in Italy, while the Pope would control religious matters in Italy.

Beatrice’s final words — which are full of righteous indignation — in The Divine Comedyare to say that Pope Clement V, who opposed Henry VII, the Holy Roman Emperor, will end up in the Inferno, in the circle devoted to punishing the Simoniacs:

“But long of God he will not be endured

In holy office; he shall be thrust down

Where Simon Magus is for his deserts,

And make him of Alagna lower go!”

(Longfellow 30.145-148)

The “Alagnese” or “him of Alagna” is Pope Boniface VIII, who was born in the town of Alagna. Of course, we have already learned that Pope Boniface VIII ends up in the Inferno, punished forevermore in the circle of the Simoniacs.

Unfortunately, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII died in 1313, as he was approaching Rome. Dante believed that Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII would have done good things for Italy had he lived.

  • Will Dante be among the saved?

In Canto 30, Dante learns that he will be among the saved. This occurs in two places in this canto:

1) Canto 30, lines 43-45

Beatrice tells Dante about the Empyrean,

“Here shalt thou see the one host and the other

Of Paradise, and one in the same aspects

Which at the final judgment thou shalt see.”

(Longfellow 30.43-45)

The “twofold soldiery” (Musa 30.43) refers to the angels and to the Blest souls.

2) Canto 30, lines 133-138

Beatrice also refers to a future time when Dante shall be summoned “to this nuptial feast” (Musa 30.135):

“On that great throne whereon thine eyes are fixed

For the crown’s sake already placed upon it,

Before thou suppest at this wedding feast

Shall sit the soul (that is to be Augustus

On earth) of noble Henry, who shall come

To redress Italy ere she be ready.”

(Longfellow 30.133-138)

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PARADISE: CANTO 30  RETELLING

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PARADISE: CANTO 32  RETELLING

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INFERNO: CANTO 1 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 2 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 3  RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 4  RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 5 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 6 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 7 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 8 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 9 RETELLING

INFERNO: CANTO 10  RETELLING

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