Title: History: Dante and the Sodomites Credit: Craig Young Features Wednesday 2nd August 2006 - 12:00pm1154476800 Article: 1365 Rights
Dante's Inferno Amongst Dante scholars, the depiction of four Florentine 'sodomites' in that masterpiece of fourteenth century Italian poetry has always aroused curiousity and debate. As Italy entered the Renaissance, Dante Alighieri found his loyalties under conflict. On the one hand he was an orthodox Catholic, but on the other, he was also a supporter of the Guelph cause, and supported the Holy Roman Emperors in their quest for European supremacy within Catholic Christendom. Furthermore, he was also a consummate humanist. This tension is reflected within the Inferno, Book I of the Divine Comedy. While visiting the Seventh Circle of Hell with the pagan poet Virgil, Dante unexpectedly encounters Brunetto Latini (c1210/1230-1294) amidst the flames, much to his surprise. Latini was an Italian philosopher, and one of Dante's mentors, and his inclusion as someone who consummated his same-sex attractions has always been viewed with controversy. Similarly, Dante's other choices as 'sodomites'- Guido Gurrera (1220-1272), Tegghaiao Aldebrandi (d.1296) and Iacoppo Rusticucci- were all influential Florentine Guelph nobles and military leaders, although there is no independent verification of their same-sex preferences either. Strikingly, Dante treats these four figures with respect and veneration. Due to their alleged same-sex desire and practice, officially condemned by the church, they might have to be in the Seventh Circle, but even Virgil asks that they be accorded respect and veneration due to their prior mortal status. The four are retreated with remarkable sympathy, and Dante even longs to embrace them, were it not for strict interdictions on contact between the damned and otherwise. While 'virtuous pagans' and passionate heterosexual lovers are accorded similar respect, these four alone are accorded respect in the lower circles of Hell. Significantly too, these four have counterparts in the Second Book of the Divine Comedy, Purgatory. While the four purportedly did not repent their same-sex desires once consummated, the seventh terrace of Mount Purgatory, located in a pre-Columbus Southern Hemisphere, also places repentant 'sodomites' and heterosexuals on the same level. Clearly, Dante was torn between official orthodox condemnation of 'sodomites' and his awareness that these same men were often erudite and cultivated fellow humanists who led exemplary lives. Dante might have needed Vatican approval to circulate his work as an orthodox Catholic project, but it is possible to discern reluctance and ambivalence in the Inferno's Canto XVI. Their "sin" was not reflected in any corresponding defamation of their characters or their posterity as scholars or figures of military prowess. Perhaps more significantly, Dante may have provided the next step for later Renaissance gay humanists and artists as they delved more deeply into Classical Greek and Roman literature, and penned Platonist and Neoplatonist post-Christian defences of male homosexuality. Unfortunately, lesbians would have to wait longer for their own muse, seventeenth century English playwright Aphra Behn. Bibliography: John Ciardi [translator] Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy, Book I: Inferno: New York: New American Library: 1965 [original trans. 1954]. Craig Young - 2nd August 2006    
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