In 700 years of intense commentary, readers of the Comedy—at least professional readers—have almost entirely managed to avoid a crucial inquiry: what did Dante know about classical pederasty? What did he think of it? And most poignantly, did he think about Virgil in this context? After all, we have in the Comedy a classic pedagogy narrative. A younger man in desperate need of a guide encounters a much-admired elder, who takes him under his wing for mentoring instruction. That the magister in this case happens to be Virgil is no small matter. Virgil had something of a reputation in antiquity as a lover of boys. His enthusiasm for male couples, human and divine, along with fawning admiration for beautiful, often wounded, young men, is apparent to attentive readers of the Eclogues and the Aeneid—a group that must surely include Dante. Cestaro argues that Dante is not only aware of, but is subtly and strategically engaged with, his admired master’s personal proclivities and from the very opening lines of the Comedy. The talk may begin with some broad historical and theoretical considerations around intergenerational male-male desire with help from Freud and post-Freudian queer theory and will then focus attention on the remarkable presence of Virgil’s warrior-lovers Nisus and Euryalus in Inferno 1.
Gary Cestaro is Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and the LGBTQ Studies Program at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author of Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body (2003) and editor of the collection Queer Italia: Same-Sex Desire in Italian Literature and Film (2004). Most recently, he has contributed an essay entitled ‘Queering Dante’ to the Oxford Handbook of Dante. A member of the editorial board for the journal Dante Studies, he is currently at work on a book called Dante’s Queer Fathers.
A lecture on the occasion of the publication of The Oxford Handbook of Dante in cooperation with Équipe littérature et culture italiennes (Sorbonne Université)