Canto XIX is one of the most significant and meaningful chapters in Paradiso and the entire Divine Comedy. Here Dante Alighieri analyzes such concepts of Christian philosophy as Eternal Justice, Eternal Judgment, and Divine Design. He criticizes historical figures of the past and his time and reviews the political state of European countries of those times through his dialogue with the Eagle. It is clearly seen that this canto, dedicated to the writer’s communication not with the Eagle but with the Holy Spirit, is, in fact, an internal monologue of the famous Renaissance thinker. He discusses seemingly contradictory Christian concepts and presents his thoughts, conclusions, and knowledge to readers in canto XIX.
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Inferno was about the origins and nature of Evil and the corresponding divine punishment, while Purgatorio was about diverse aspects of the Christian’s worldly life. In Paradiso, the author explores the origins and nature of Good and the relationship between God and humanity. As noted above, Alighieri seeks answers to these questions from the Holy Spirit. The bird, namely the dove, is a symbol of this aspect of God in Christian mythology and art. The writer often uses bird symbolism in canto XIX. The Eagle here is the transmitter of Divine Will, the stork feeds its offspring, and the falcon is compared to a man. It is noteworthy that the eagle was the symbol of Jupiter and Zeus, the supreme god of the Romans and Greeks, respectively. This literary device enhances the atmosphere of the higher levels of the universe and the emotional effect of approaching Paradise in readers.
Canto XIX and the Rest of Paradiso
As in the previous cantos, the protagonist continues his journey to Paradise and God in canto XIX. In cantos XX-XII, Dante and Beatrice ascend to the sun. This, as well as sunlight and sunrays, are symbols of the great knowledge that God possesses and shares with those worthy of it. Here Alighieri finally learns why people cannot cognize the Divine Design fully and what happens to those who try to go against God. Here the writer again mentions Lucifer. According to Alighieri (n.d.), “in proof of this, the first proud being, he who was the highest of all creatures, fell — unripe because he did not wait for light” (para. 16). The writer continues to criticize the church and the then-political situation through historical figures. Alighieri used the figure of Thomas Aquinas in cantos XX-XII, while here he mentions Albert the Great, Thomas’s mentor. Moreover, the writer continues to apply pre-Christian terms and images. Alighieri again refers to Romans, Persians, and Anchises, who was a member of the royal family of Troy.
A Logical Question
Considering the number of pagan images used by Alighieri in canto XIX and the entire Divine Comedy, a logical question arises. Given that Christianity does not include native European mythologies as ancient Greek, Roman, Scandinavian, Germanic, and Slavic ones, can the Divine Comedy be considered an attempt by Dante to incorporate pre-Christian imagery into the Christian lore?
Alighieri, D. (n.d.). Paradiso 19. Digital Dante.