Dante. Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. The Divine Comedy.
Written in the 14th Century, it is rivalled in length only by The Odyssey. It is considered one of the greatest poems ever written, and an integral part of Italian literature. But now Gherush92, an Italian Human Rights organisation, are asking for it to be banned from being taught in schools.
Of all the cantos, Inferno‘s 24th and 34th, and Purgatorio‘s 26th have been criticised in particular – for their depictions of Judas (chewed in the teeth of Lucifer), Mohammed (torn from chin to… erm… other end) and homosexuals (under a constant rain of fire) – leaving the poem open to accusations of slandering the Jewish people, depicting Islam as a heresy and homophobia.
“We do not advocate censorship or burning but we would like it acknowledged, clearly and unambiguously, that in the Divine Comedy there is racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic content … Art cannot be above criticism.”
— Valentina Sereni, president of Gherush92, speaking to the Adnkronos news agency
Labelled as offensive and discriminatory, Gherush92 explain that if Dante’s Divine Comedy were to be taught in Italian schools, it should be wielded with caution, because children lack the “filters” to understand it in context. The Italian literacy world has quickly come to the poem’s defence, saying that the stories it tells has shaped culture and humanity for centuries.
I’m not sure my opinion would really count – I’ve never read it, though I well know the famous line “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” – but I somehow feel that a little of the point is being missed. Of course it’s considered offensive and discriminatory, it was written 700 years ago and the world was a very different place with very different views. Why should we shield children from this? We will only end up perpetuating the cycle of ignorance and prejudices unless we educate people. We can only educate by showing an example and proving why that example is wrong.
Dante’s poem really is an integral part of culture and humanity – and let’s be fair here, he’s writing about Hell, it’s hardly glitter and unicorns and cake. It’s going to be unpleasant. I do get what Gherush92 are trying to say, and I don’t believe that racism, antisemitism or homophobia are right in any way at all, but I don’t think hiding it from schoolchildren makes it go away, and I think that it means the children miss out on studying one of the greatest works of literature in the world.
*Don’t forget to check out the Guardian article and some of the fantastic comments on there!