Dante’s crazy sheep and the Jew

Dante sheep italy

Image via comprock’s Flckr.

“Francesco Maiorca, 36, an actor, was hustling to catch a train for a job in Paris. He compared Italy to a country filled with millions of white sheep that somehow are duped into following a few black sheep, namely the politicians. He said he was embarrassed by the political situation and frustrated that Italians did not demand better of their leaders.”

The New York Times, March 8, 2013.

If wicked greed should call you elsewhere,
be men, not maddened sheep, lest the Jew
there in your midst make mock of you.

Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, 5, 79-81.

Yesterday’s NY Times coverage of the crisis in Italy brought to mind these lines from Dante’s Commedia.

This terzina was co-opted famously and erroneously by the fascists who used it as the motto of their propagandistic magazine, Difesa della Razza (Defense of the Race), a screed against “deviant” twentieth-century art in Europe.

anti semitism italy

Image via Luciano Zappella. Click the image for high-res version.

In fact, the Jew was viewed as a wise man among fools in Dante and Boccaccio (see this summary of tales in Boccaccio’s Decameron, “Tale of Abraham,” day 1, tale 2, the second tale in the narrative corpus).

Even today, many Italian intellectuals readily express their fascination with and admiration for Jewish culture and thought, a tradition that stretches back to Dante’s era.

Considering the parallels between Dante’s issues and the situation in Italy today — a crisis and clash among spiritual power brokers and failed temporal/secular governance — this tercet leapt into my mind when I read the Times at breakfast this morning.

Please read (but disregard the condescension in) yesterday’s article on the Italian crisis.

I hate to be Italy’s Jeremiah, but…

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