Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
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Cite as: Nicola Gardini, ‘Dante as a Gay Poet’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati, Fabio Camilletti, and Fabian Lampart, Cultural Inquiry, 2 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 61–74 <>

Dante as a Gay PoetNicola Gardini

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia; Alighieri, Dante – Vita nuova; productive reception; gay erotic poetry



[…] Bidart’s idiosyncratic appropriation of the young Dante, as opposed to the Dante-versus-Petrarch-based interpretation of Italian poets, is peculiar but by no means as exceptional in the American panorama as it might at first appear. Other gay American poets whom I considered for my anthology also treat Dante as a model: Robert Duncan, J. D. McClatchy, and James Merrill. They even wrote significant essays on Dante, now collected in a useful anthology edited by Peter Hawkins and Rachel Jacoff.

In this essay I will attempt to explore, however rapidly, the grounds on which Dante may have become so essential for such poets. To be sure, the Dantism of these gay American poets may be viewed as a particular moment of the well-established American interest in Dante which goes as far back as Emerson and Longfellow and had its peak in Pound and Eliot. But I argue that such gay Dantism — which no survey of Dante’s twentieth-century influence has yet brought to the fore — is a kind of cultural allegiance stemming originally and specifically from the soil of gay discourses and gender preoccupations. Interestingly, Dante, not Petrarch, also serves as a model for some Italian homosexual poets: Michelangelo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Giovanni Testori. What, then, is it in the work of a poet like Dante, who confined the sodomites in hell and mostly sang the praises of one woman, that is so compatible with, indeed inspiring for, gay views?


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