Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dante the slanderer?

I have to say, I have a problem with Dante putting Brunetto Latini in hell for his ‘sodomy.’ He doesn’t say how he found this out or why he thinks this was the case, and it seems very strange that there is no historical record of Latini’s homosexuality other than what Dante has claimed in his poem. Since sodomy is sort of a violent act, there is perhaps an understandable reason as to why Dante would consider it violence against nature. However, it seems odd that he uses authority outside of the Bible to decide whether Latini was in Hell or not, since he uses his Natural Law understanding instead of something more Christian. This may be because I come from a time where orthodox church practice and fundamentalism is reading the Bible literally, which Dante didn’t. Neither do I, but I have a very different idea of the universe than Dante anyway. I feel that we understand a bit more about the natural world in our current times. I am perhaps radical in my beliefs about homosexuality, since I believe that it is mostly a biological phenomenon. There are studies in populations of animals that show that the number of homosexuals in a population increases when the population grows too large, and so acts as a sort of natural population control since those individuals do not reproduce.

I don’t believe in Hell, so I probably wouldn’t put anybody there, but even if I decided to create my own little Hell, I wouldn’t put poor Brunetto Latini there. I think Hell would be a place for people who have hurt other people, and Latini seems to be a nice enough guy. Dante gives him much respect and praises him highly, so it appears safe to assume he wasn’t a murderer or a rapist. If Latini didn’t hurt anyone with his sodomy, like the other party involved, then I don’t think Hell is the place for him.

Also, I don’t believe that sodomy necessarily means homosexuality because it is more a part of male homosexuality than female homosexuality. If Dante really wanted to hit hard on homosexuality, then he should have put a lesbian in his Hell as well. Maybe they didn’t know that women could be homosexual in the medieval ages; I don’t know where the documentation to prove what they thought about female homosexuality would be found. But the people who have problems with homosexuality always have much more trouble with male homosexuality than female homosexuality, and perhaps that is the case here. Perhaps Dante just sees the act of sodomy as a perversion of nature, and not homosexuality. As we discussed in class, it seems slightly nasty that Dante throws that in there, because Latini can’t defend himself against this claim even if it is slander. Nor can any of the other men Dante so blithely names off as Sodomites. I believe that one of the most disturbing parts of this passage was reading Ciardi’s notes at the end, where they mentioned that no other document mentions these men and sodomy. Dante seems to be taking advantage of his poetic license here to remove from public consideration those who came directly before him.

As we discussed in class, I am stating my views, and I don’t mean to offend anyone with them. I’m sure my personal conception of the world is different than many other people’s conceptions.


RachelP said...

When writing my post, I also wanted to reference Ciardi's note about the historical evidence for Latini's homosexuality, but I can't find it. Can you tell me what page it's on? Thanks.

Deacon Chris said...

More on why Dante thinks the way he does. More understanding of his views.

Hell's Belle said...

Sodomy in its original Biblical sense is rape. The Sodomites wanted to forcefully take Lot and his family. I think it's a cultural thing, that natural law & Aristotle were so important not even a Catholic could escape the influence. Sort of like how we quote our favorite "thinkers"- Einstein, Darwin. It's nearly impossible to disagree with them these days, so it must have been the same with Aristotle in Dante's time.