Dante's Paradiso I.91-105: The Lightness of Being

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
Dante's Paradiso I: Ascent to Heaven

Paradiso I.91-105 with Mandelbaum's translation below:

Tu non se' in terra, sì come tu credi;
ma folgore, fuggendo il proprio sito,
non corse come tu ch'ad esso riedi".

S'io fui del primo dubbio disvestito
per le sorrise parolette brevi,
dentro ad un nuovo più fu' inretito,

e dissi: "Già contento requievi
di grande ammirazion; ma ora ammiro
com'io trascenda questi corpi levi".

Ond'ella, appresso d'un pio sospiro,
li occhi drizzò ver' me con quel sembiante
che madre fa sovra figlio deliro,

e cominciò: "Le cose tutte quante
hanno ordine tra loro, e questo è forma
che l'universo a Dio fa simigliante.

You are not on the earth as you believe;
but lightning, flying from its own abode,
is less swift than you are, returning home."

While I was freed from my first doubt by these
brief words she smiled to me, I was yet caught
in new perplexity. I said: "I was

content already; after such great wonder,
I rested. But again I wonder how
my body rises past these lighter bodies."

At which, after a sigh of pity, she
settled her eyes on me with the same look
a mother casts upon a raving child,

and she began: "All things, among themselves,
possess an order; and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.


After coming home from Stanford Library around 2 am on Tuesday, September 23, 2008, I tuned to KSFO 560 AM and heard George Noory's Coast-to-Coast.am interview of Prof. Frank Wilczek on "Physics, Space, Being". Frank Wilczek is the 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics with David J. Gross and H. David Politzer "for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction". During the interview, he talked about searching for a unified theory that will connect the four known forces in the universe, and uncover nature at its smallest component. Wilczek said the foundation for nature is "The Grid", an entity that fills all space. Space itself contains dark energy, has pressure and density that makes it tangible rather than empty. Wilczek shared his theory that humans are "transitional forms". He believes that our descendants with advance technology will have what would appear to us as "god-like powers".

I went to Frank Wilczek's web site and read excerpts from his book The Lightness of Being (2008). A central theme of this book is that the ancient contrast between celestial Light and earthy Matter has been transcended. In modern physics, all the stuff out there is unified into a "Being" more like the traditional idea of light than the traditional idea of matter.

Wilczek's book title was inspired by Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), one of his favorite books. The main theme of Kundera's book is about the struggle to find pattern and meaning in the seemingly random, strange and sometimes cruel world we live in. For Wilczek, coming to understand the deep structure of reality has helped to make Being seem not merely bearable, but enchanted and enchanting. Hence— The Lightness of Being.

When I read this, my mind turned at once to Dante and his journey to Paradise. He felt stuck to the earth until Beatrice reminds him that his real home is in the heavens. She dispels his doubts so he could rediscover his true nature— the lightness of being. Then he could levitate and soar to his true home, the Celestial Spheres. I've included Allen Mandelbaum's translation of Dante's Paradiso, I.91-105 above. The illustration is from Sandro Botticelli's "Dante's Paradiso I: The Ascent to Heaven".

Reading his Nobel Autobiography, I learned that Wilczek grew up in Glen Oaks, Queens, where I had my upbringing after arriving in New York City from China. Also we went to the same Martin Van Buren High School. I dedicate this web page to Frank Wilczek, whose vision as a physicist enabled him to experience "the lightness of being".


Afterword: My friend Rudy and I went to Frank Wilczek's talk at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on Friday, Sept. 26 from 7:30-8:35 pm. Despite the Presidential Debate, around 50 showed up for his talk "Anticipating a New Golden Age" (pdf). He showed slides of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)— the 17-mile circular tunnel particle accelerator in CERN, Geneva. The 1600 superconducting magnets are cooled with liquid helium to 3o Kelvin to keep it cold. When two protons collide near the speed of light, a fireball is produced like the Big Bang, simulating the early stage of this universe. Wilczek has this image on his CERN T-shirt. He also showed a rap video by Alpinekat spoofing the CERN super collider. Wilczek concluded his talk saying "It's an exciting time to be a physicist, an exciting time to be a thinking being!" The Q & A session ran 20-minutes, then he autographed his new book The Lightness of Being for the audience.

I gave Wilczek this web page as he was not familiar with Dante's "lightness of being" from the Paradiso. He signed his web page Why "lightness of being"? for me, telling me to read Milan Kundera's book as well as seeing the movie. In addition to going to the same high school, Wilczek also attended the same Junior High School 172. Wilczek told me another professor at MIT also attended Martin Van Buren High School, but couldn't recall his name. He enjoyed the photo of my childhood and recognized the red brick walls as from Glen Oaks, Queens, where we grew up. Wilczek's colorful CERN T-shirt was covered by his sports jacket. So when I requested a photo of him with the full T-shirt showing, he happily obliged.

| Top of Page | Lightness of Being | Book Title | Frank Wilczek | 2004 Nobel Physics |
| Lightness | Romeo of Villeneuve | Art & Spirit | Books | Dante | Enlightenment | Poetry | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (9-26-2008)