Climbing Diotima’s and Jacob’s Ladder

Dante’s Paradiso, In the Sphere of Saturn, canto 22 where the contemplatives stir, Beatrice would not smile. However, in the Fixed Stars, canto 23, she finally does. Beatrice says to Dante:

“Open your eyes and see what I now am;

the things you witnessed will have made you strong

enough to bear the power of my smile.”

If all the tongues that Polyhymnia

together with her sisters made most rich

with sweetest milk, should come now to assist

my singing of the holy smile that lit

the holy face of Beatrice, the truth

would not be reached–not its one-hundredth part.

(lines 46-60)

Dante is enraptured by her holy smile, which he could only take in because he has been carefully instructed by climbing Jacob’s ladder, which in a way, is akin to Diotima’s ladder of love. So here we have a similar metaphor that both the Greek and Christian’s share. A ladder of love is used by those who bear weight of responsibility that contemplation has forced upon them. These contemplative few who go up and down the ladder, always return to help others raise themselves to capture Beauty Absolute in Platonic terms, or rather, the love of God in this Christian allegory.

Here is the Rule of St. Benedict Chap 7.

“Hence brethren, if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life, we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream, on which angels appeared to him descending and ascending, by self-exaltation and ascent through humility, and the ladder thus set up is our life in this world, which the lord raises up to Heaven if our heart is humbled. For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder, and into these sides our divine vacation has inserted the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s