Canto 20 is a series of juxtaposed visions that investigate the attainability of an earthly paradise. It first offers the reader glimpses of what can elevate a soul: knowledge, art, divine rapture, and, above all, love. However, the poem also warns these very same notions can also corrupt a person and lead to madness, desolation, and their downfall. To avoid becoming too didactic, Canto 20 operates primarily with juxtaposition of historical, mythical, and literary stories: we see examples of steadfastness and frustration during one’s quest for knowledge, idyllic beauty and meaningless artifice in art, divine illumination and fruitless contemplation, and pure love and destructive lust. These flashing images are also linked by their focus on femininity and its (positive or negative) impact on the realization of paradiso terrestre. Vivid though these visions may be, many of them are completely void of sound: the failed attempts at paradise are associated with impenetrable silence. Ultimately, the text remains as silent on the subject whether one can enter paradise on earth as the depicted scenes themselves.
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