Speculum 87 (4):1089-1124 (2012)

William Franke
Vanderbilt University
There is an obvious paradox in any attempt to map the topography of Paradise, for Paradise, theologians assure us, is outside of space as well as time. Yet mapping Paradise is what Dante's poem, the Paradiso, attempts to do. For the two preceding realms of the afterlife, hell and purgatory, Dante provides numerous finely articulated descriptions of rigorously ordered regions. And again for Paradise, the variegated states of the souls making up the spiritual order of the realm are expressed very precisely by a topographical scheme, one in this case based on Ptolemy's system of the heavens. The seven planetary spheres are followed by the sphere of the fixed stars and the primum mobile, the whole finally bordering on the completely nonspatial heaven of the Empyrean. But this last “sphere” alone is Paradise in the full and strict sense. As Dante has Beatrice explain in canto 4.28–48, the whole poem attempts to describe this totally nonspatial order in terms of the array of the nine physical heavens as metaphorical correlatives for the successive degrees of beatitude experienced by the souls “in” the Empyrean. Paradise in this sense—as the Empyrean—is thus utopic, if any place is: it is literally “no place” at all
Keywords non-spatial, apophatic, paradise, topography
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DOI 10.1017/S0038713412004204
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