The Problem of Theophany in Paradiso 33

Essays in Medieval Studies 27:61-78 (2011)
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One widely discussed feature of Paradiso 33 is Dante’s emphasis on his failure to represent in words and memory his pilgrim’s exalted vision of the Trinity. Against other interpretations of this canto, I will discuss why, despite the fact that the language of failure seeks to reinforce the poetic illusion that revelation’s authority is grounded in an unmediated access to divine truth, the theophantic moment “represented” in Paradiso 33 instead shows that revelatory experience is nothing but a product of the impulse of natural reason to exceed its own legitimate scope—that is, the theophantic moment illustrates natural reason’s inherent tendency to overstep its own limits. Consequently, I shall argue, the poema sacro’s carefully constructed representations of the pilgrim’s revelatory insight are in fact grounded in Dante’s proto-humanist understanding of the authoritative role of natural reason in representing to ourselves the possibilities of our own spiritual and earthly beatitudes.



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Jason Aleksander
San Jose State University

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