The “exemption” from Dante can only impoverish us all


By John

«The Comedy is a book that we all need to read. Not doing so means depriving ourselves of the greatest gift that literature can offer us.” A gift, in the words of those who recited it by heart like Jorge Luis Borges, and “inexhaustible incalculable inextinguishable” for Osip Mandelstam (whom he comforted in the gulag), but also a sort of great well from which to draw out something that concerns each of us humans, while consoles and lashes, rewards and punishes: a gift that can transform, even seven centuries after Dante's death, into controversy. Like the one born from the choice of a teacher from Treviso to exempt two students of Muslim faith of a middle school from studying the Comedy so as not to offend their religious sensitivity. We talked about it with linguists, scientists, writers.

Edoardo Boncinelli (geneticist)
«The study of Dante cannot be totally traced back to a study program of Catholic conception: it would be like declaring that fourteenth-century mathematicians had confused ideas on the concept of parallelism. On a level of intellectual and emotional freedom, the deepening of a cultural aspect of the Christian vision of the world cannot be confused with that of a warm and enthusiastic adhesion to the different alternatives which are nevertheless visions of the things of the world. Otherwise goodbye to freedom.”

Paolo D'Achille (linguist)
«I believe that Dante is not only the father of the Italian language, but that he belongs to literature and universal civilization. Knowing it therefore constitutes an enrichment for every person, regardless of religious or political ideas or culture of reference. Reading Dante does not mean believing in everything he wrote: seven hundred years have passed since his death and the world and the vision of the world have changed profoundly since then. Without saying that Dante even put some popes in hell!

Valeria Della Valle (linguist)
«A piece of news that has been widely reported in the media and causes sadness and concern. More and more often we witness phenomena of cancellation of culture different from the one we belong to. Instead of broadening our knowledge of other cultures, we close ourselves in on our own, as if different ideas could hurt. All this is unfortunate for various reasons: the two students of Islamic faith will have treatment that will isolate them within the class, instead of integrating them. Furthermore, they will be prohibited from reading that would enrich them and make them participate in the literature of the country in which they live and study. Literature that is not only Italian, because Dante, like Shakespeare, like Rabrindanath Tagore, like Nagib Mahfuz, like Salman Rushdie, belong to humanity, regardless of language, religion, or the ideas they express in their works.”

Paolo Di Paolo (writer)
«In itself a work of art created seven centuries ago determines friction with those who came into the world much later, it has nothing to do with the specific cultural data, the religious confession, it has to do with the fact of being alive on this planet seven centuries later. A text, like many works of art, brings a world of values ​​and visions and therefore of prejudices or crystallizations of meaning, moral perspectives, which we cannot accept if we were to “ingest” them from a personal point of view. We can all feel in difficulty even just when faced with the tripartite division of the afterlife (just be at least secular) into hell, purgatory and paradise. You might also be disturbed by reading Shakespeare and finding hints of misogyny or xenophobia, but we read these things to continually reshape the ethical-aesthetic parameters. But the excess of susceptibility or the need to feel protected by a work of art, in this case unparalleled, leads to a series of questions: how much are we capable of distancing ourselves between our idea of ​​the world, our ethical dimension and that work. Well, this requires training to which the educator contributes. You can defend yourself from everything but not from works of art and this is unfortunately becoming a problem in an era of great susceptibility. Which you have to deal with without even too much disdain or shrug of the shoulders, the point is not to be offended by a work, but to know how to read it: if we give up this we give up an immense artistic heritage.”

Paolo Di Stefano (writer)
«In general I find it comical that an author from the past is censored because he is not aligned with our current mentalities. Ridiculous mental contortion and contempt for history. As well as demonstrating a very poorly understood idea of ​​democratic “tolerance”, completely devoid of cultural dimension and depth, indeed obtusely flattened to the present. In this case, it is known that the representation of Muhammad contained in the Comedy is exactly in the wake of a legend popularized in the fourteenth century. The same thing happens, but in a positive way, with Saladin, treated as a magnanimous hero, the same qualification that Dante attributes to Averroes. Today, respect for Muslim culture would be exactly the opposite of censorship: reading and contextualizing. Furthermore, it is known (see Maria Corti's studies) how much Arab culture is present in Dante's Comedy, which is also full of contradictions and therefore very fascinating.”

Fabio Rossi (linguist)
«The historicization of every phenomenon (starting from artistic-literary ones) is the fundamental requirement of the critical vision of the world. If the teacher's sensitivity in not wanting to humiliate the students and their families in any way is commendable, it is appropriate to demonstrate that the intrinsically inclusive value of art constitutes an enrichment, not an obstacle: the real discrimination would be precisely that of condemn some students to cultural deprivation by excluding Dante. A good service rendered to the class would instead have been to dedicate lessons and debates to the importance of distinguishing, thanks to historicisation, the point of view of authors of the past from the present one and to underline the importance of mutual respect and interculturality, even through the presentation of ideas, authors and artistic-literary production representative of the Islamic world. And on the other hand, the importance of knowing the capital text of our linguistic-literary history does not imply that today's readers must share all its ideas. The erasure of the past is always antidemocratic and violent, as opposed to the critical evaluation of that same past compared to the present.”