The greatest beauty

For premodern Europe, the quest for justice went hand in hand with that of truth and beauty. The path towards one led to the others, since the universe was conceived as an ordered physical and metaphysical whole where the three axes were aligned. What was true, was just and beautiful. The beautiful had to be true.

Expressing beauty was never easy. Ancient and medieval authors developed a wide range of strategies for conveying the sublime. The hardest, and most misunderstood of all, was that of going beyond words, of attempting the describe the indescribable. The ineffable had always been beyond the surface of things, including language, so to conquer it, the intrepid poet (for it was the poet more than any other who made this journey) would have to trick language into submission. The fact that language is inadequate, that the things themselves are always beyond the horizon of the language trying to seize them, has always been recognized in European culture since ancient times. For those medieval poets who didn’t want to succumb, like many theologians did, to the cliché of the inadequacy of the author in relation to his or her subject matter, there was a serious challenge at hand. The only way out of convention was innovation. And some managed to innovate. None other more than Dante Alighieri. In his underrated Paradiso, he develops a toolbox for dealing with the indescribable. And the most beautiful thing of all is that he developed his own vocabulary, words coined for the occasion, beauty mirroring beauty. There’s trasumanar, one of the most complex concepts in the Divine Comedy, which may be translated as ‘transhumanising’ or transcending the human condition. If language can’t describe metaphysical reality, then language should be upgraded. If existing words can’t do justice, then new words may be required. The sublime is an explosion of this artificial language, a disarmament ultimatum which collapses into geometry, the circle, point and the line, the sound and the silence, so that the silence may ultimately prevail.

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