Paradiso -- Canto XXVIII

The Angelic Orders












16 The Point is the motionless and all-moving center of God.










32 Iris, daughter of Juno, is the rainbow.


























70-72 Since each sphere receives its impulsive power from the corresponding angelic order, the Primum Mobile, source of all motion, corresponds to the Seraphim, the first, highest, and closest to God's knowledge and love.











93 Legend has it that the inventor of chess asked the king to pay him with one grain of wheat in the first square, two in the second, four in the third, and so on by geometric progression to 64. The kingdom ran out of wheat before payment in full.

98 Beatrice begins her survey of the angelic orders. The nine rings are divided into three hierarchies: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominations, Virtues, Powers; Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.









116 Aries, the constellation of the Ram, rises with the sun in spring and with the night in autumn.







130  Dionysius the Areopagite (d. 95), a convert of Saint Paul’s (Acts 17:34), was the supposed author of On the Celestial Hierarchy which provided Dante with the material for his presentation of the hosts of heaven.

133 Saint Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, in one of his works arranges the angels in a slightly different ranking.

138 Saint Paul’s ascent to the third heaven or hierarchy is again recalled (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

          When she who makes my mind imparadised
          Had told me of the truth that goes against
          The present life of miserable mortals —
          As someone who can notice in a mirror
5        A candle’s flame when it is lit behind him
          Before he has a sight or thought of it,
          And turns around to see if what the mirror
          Tells him is true, and sees that it agrees
          With it as notes are sung to music’s measure —
10       Even so I acted, as I well remember,
          While gazing into the bright eyes of beauty
          With which Love wove the cord to capture me.
          And when I turned, my eyes were greeted with
          What shines within that whirling sphere whenever
15       Someone intently stares into its spiral:
          I saw a Point that radiated light
          So sharply that the eyelids which it flares on
          Must close because of its intensity.
          Whatever star looks smallest from the earth
20       Would look more like a moon if placed beside it,
          As star is set next to another star.
          Perhaps as close a halo seems to circle
          The starlight radiance that paints it there
          Around the thickest mists surrounding it,
25       As close a ring of fire spun about
          The Point so fast that it would have outstripped
          The motion orbiting the world most swiftly.
          And this sphere was encircled by another,
          That by a third, and the third by a fourth,
30       The fourth by a fifth, the fifth then by a sixth.
          The seventh followed, by now spread so wide
          That the whole arc of Juno’s messenger
          Would be too narrow to encompass it.
          So too the eighth and ninth, and each of them
35       Revolved more slowly in proportion to
          The number of turns distant from the center.
          And that sphere which spun nearest the pure Spark
          Shone with the clearest flame because, I think,
          It partakes most in its essential truth.
40       My lady, who saw that I was rapt
          In deep suspense, then said, "Upon this Point
          Hang all the heavens and the whole of nature.
          "Look at that circle closest linked to it
          And understand its motion is so rapid
45       Because of burning love which spurs it on."
          And I told her, "If the universe were set
          Within the order I see in these whorls,
          I would be happy with what’s put before me.
          "But in the universe seen by our senses
50       The revolutions are the more divine
          The more remotely they lie from the center.
          "So if my longing is to reach its end
          In this amazing temple of the angels
          Where all the walls are only love and light,
55       "Then I must hear a further explanation
          On why the pattern and its copy differ,
          For, contemplating it, I make no headway."
          "If your fingers fail to untie this tight knot,
          It comes as no surprise, so difficult
60       Has it become by its not being tried."
          So said my lady; then she went straight on,
          "Take what I tell you — if you would be happy —
          And sharpen up your mind concerning it.
          "Materially, the spheres are wide or narrow
65       Depending on degrees of more or less
          Power that flows down through all their parts.
          "A greater power must work greater good:
          The greater body holds a greater good
          If it possesses equally perfect parts.
70       "This circle, then, that sweeps along with it
          The rest of all creation, corresponds
          To the circle that knows most and loves the most.
          "If then you take your measure by the power,
          Not the resemblance, of the substances
75       That here appear to you within these circles,
          "You will observe an awesome correspondence
          Of greater power to more and smaller to less
          Between each heaven and its Intelligence."
          Just as our hemisphere of air remains
80       Serene and splendid when Boreas blows
          The northeast breezes from his gentler cheeks,
          And with these breezes clears and wafts away
          The overhanging mists, so that the sky
          Smiles on us with the beauties of each quarter,
85       So I became the moment that my lady
          Bestowed on me her crystal-clear reply
          That like a star in heaven shone with truth.
          And after she had finished with her speaking,
          The circles all around began to sparkle,
90       Like red-hot iron shooting off bright sparks.
          Each sparkle stayed within its fiery ring,
          So many that their number runs to more
          Millions than the redoubling of the chessboard.
          From choir to choir I heard Hosannah sung
95       To the Still Point that holds them fast forever
          To that one spot where they have always been.
          And she who saw the hesitating thoughts
          Within my mind then said, "The first two circles
          Have shown you Seraphim and Cherubim.
100      "They swing so swiftly in their inner loops
          The more to liken themselves to the Point;
          The more they can, the loftier their vision.
          "Those other loves that whirl in the next circle
          Are called the Thrones of Gazing-on-the-Godhead,
105      Since they bring the first triad to a close.
          "And you must know that they are all elated
          In measure as their sight probes to the depths
          Of that truth in which every mind finds rest.
          "From this we see the state of blessedness
110      Is founded first upon the act of seeing
          And not upon the love that follows on it.
          "And their reward, to which grace and goodwill
          Give birth, is measure of their seeing: so,
          Their ranks unfold themselves from grade to grade.
115      "The second triad, flowering in this way
          During this unending springtime which
          No nightly Aries may despoil with autumn,
          "Unceasingly in birdsong sings Hosannah
          With triple melodies that warble from
120      The three degrees of bliss that form the triad.
          "The following divinities are found
          Within this hierarchy: first, Dominions;
          Then, Virtues; and the third ones there are Powers.
          "Next to the last, dance Principalities
125      And there Archangels whirl in the last round,
          The whole wide ring is where the Angels play.
          "These orders all gaze upward and pour out
          Their power downward, so that all of them
          Are drawn — and they all draw in turn — toward God.
130      "And Dionysius with such deep desire
          Gave himself up to contemplate these orders
          That he named them and their ranks as I do.
          "But Gregory would later disagree,
          Until the time he opened up his eyes
135      In this heaven and smiled at his mistake.
          "And if on earth such secret truths are uttered
          By a mere mortal, I would not have you marvel,
          For Paul who saw it up here told him this
          "And many other truths about these circles."
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