March 13, 2012

Dante? Racist and Homophobic!

Domenico di Michelino, Dante and his poem (detail)
Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
“Therefore, we call for the removal of the Divine Comedy from school programs.” Thus spoke Valentina Sereni, president of Gherush92, Committee for Human Rights—a scientific research organization which has been granted the special consultative status with UN Economic and Social Council—in an interview to Italian press agency Adnkronos (in Italian).

Whence does such a blatant “call to arms” come? “From both a lexical and a conceptual point of view,” Sereni says, “the Divine Comedy presents offensive and discriminatory contents.” Referring to Dante’s presentation of Jews as a direct antithesis of God in Canto 7 of Paradise, she complains about the fact that “by studying the Divine Comedy students are forced to appreciate, without filters and explanations, a work that defames the Jewish people; young people learn to confirm the message of anti-Semitic conviction.“ Thus, she continues, “Giuda is, by antonomasia, the false person, the traitor (from Judas, the name of the apostle who betrayed Jesus), and Giudeo is a common, derogatory term that means loan-shark, treacherous person, traitor.”

But Dante, she says, also damns Muslims in Canto 8 of The Inferno, with its burning mosques, and in 28 with Mohammed and Ali being torn apart. And, as it was not enough, he also damns sodomites (Cantos 15-16), whose punishment is to walk eternally on flaming sand, under a rain of fire. In short, he was not only anti-Semitic and Islamophobic, he was also homophobic! Enough is enough, Sereni must have thought. Hence Gherush92’s revolutionary request. “This is racism that symbolic, metaphorical and aesthetic readings of the work cannot remove.”

Did you get it? Symbolic, allegorical, metaphorical meanings? What the hell are—forgive my inflammatory language (a bit too Dantesque, I know)—those ugly things? Let’s get rid of them all! Let’s show these right-wing intellectuals—along with centuries of studies and researches by philologists, historians of literature and literary critics—the door… Very tough words indeed.

But then again, maybe not everything is lost, maybe we shouldn’t worry about that. Well, not yet, at least. In fact we must thank our lucky stars that they are merciful and compassionate: “But we don’t call for censorship,” Sereni concedes, “nor do we call for books to be burned at the stake.” Yeah, perhaps we’ll manage it—somehow or other...

P.S. Read also here



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