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Visions of Dante

The Fame of Dante in Italy and Worldwide

Dante, Fascism, and Anti-Fascism

As Donatella Stocchi-Perucchio points out, the transformation of Italy into a unified nation consisted not only in building a state, but also in “pensare l'Italia” (thinking Italy) as “an ethical substance.” This program was later claimed by Mussolini and his Fascist regime, and Dante became a prophet of the totalitarian state. In practice, Mussolini sought to “dress Dante in a black shirt.” (Stefano Alberti). A Dante scholar, and Mussolini’s minister for Education between 1922 and 1924, Giovanni Gentile made the study of Dante mandatory in Italian schools. The regime used the prestige of the Poet to cement its alliance with the Catholic Church (Lateran Treaty, 1929), to legitimize its colonial expansion in Africa, and to promote a triumphalist Italian culture.

However, anti-Fascists reclaimed Dante as well. Many partigiani (resistance fighters) chose “Dante” as their alias. And Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s writings on Inferno canto 26, that references Ulysses’s return from the Trojan War, is the emblematic example of an educated Italian’s use of Dante to preserve his humanity in Auschwitz.

Adelmo Cicogna
Italian, 20th century
Autarchia della lingua (The Autarky of Language)
Rome: Self-published, 1940
7 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches (19.05 x 13.97 cm)
Cornell University Library, Rare and Manuscript Collections
(1 image)

The purpose of this book, prefaced by the Futurist poet Marinetti, was to cleanse and purge the Italian language from foreign (especially English and French) words, to promote autarky (self-sufficiency) in Italian speech and writing. The enterprise is placed under the aegis of Dante — here portrayed with a stylized fascio. This bundle of wooden rods, an ancient Imperial Roman emblem of power, was the primary symbol of Mussolini’s regime.

Membership card for the Società Dante Alighieri, with Mussolini’s signature
3 3/4 x 5 3/8 inches (9.53 x 13.65 cm)
Cornell University Library, Rare and Manuscript Collections
(2 images)

The expressed purpose of the Dante Alighieri Society was to promote the appreciation of Dante around the world, unburdened by any ideological agenda. Mussolini, however, made this organization yet another tool for the assertion of his totalitarian ideas.

Pseudonymous author “Dante Ringhiero”
Inferno: Ultimo canto e altre fascinazisterie romanesche (Inferno: The Final canto and other fascist-nazi-ing ditties)
Edizioni ABC, 1944
8 1/8 x 6 3/8 inches (20.64 x 16.19 cm)
Cornell University Library, Rare and Manuscript Collections
(1 image)

This anti-Fascist pamphlet from a fake publisher places Mussolini in the ninth circle of Hell, among the traitors to family and homeland: they are immersed in the ice up to their faces. The pseudonym chosen by the author means, “I will growl the name of Dante.”

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