The ineffability of mystical experience is an ancient commonplace. Not surprisingly, Dante alludes to it often with baffled exasperation throughout his Paradiso. In Canto 3, he states that “the sweetness of eternal life” can never be understood by the intellect; rather, it must be “tasted.” This is a reference to a verse from Psalm 33, often cited by medieval mystics, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” A century before Dante, Richard of St. Victor, among others, had adduced it to illustrate “the tasting of inner sweetness,” that dulcedo Dei which is the sweetness of God Himself. For such mystics, the experience of God was not verbal but gustatory, at once intimate and incommunicable. Hearing and seeing, touching and smelling, might play a part but they too were “spiritual senses.” God can be seen but only with “the eyes of the heart.” For Dante, when he set about...

 

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