Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
Copy to Clipboard
Add italics as necessary
Cite as: James Miller, ‘Man with Snake: Dante in Derek Jarman’s Edward II’, 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. 213–34 <>

Man with SnakeDante in Derek Jarman’s Edward IIJames Miller

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia – Inferno; productive reception; film adaptions; Jarman, Derek – Edward II; gay culture; queer theory

A figura serpentinata is revealed in a flash of muscular glory. His pose is classical: a seductive contrapposto. His physique strikes the freeze-framing eye of temptation as youthfully beautiful without being boyish. Who might he be?

At first glance he looks like a Renaissance statue of Fortitude or Dignity based on a Greco-Roman prototype. The passionate torsion of his chest and the thrust of his outstretched arms recall the coiling agon of the sons in the Laocoön group, but no agony appears in his beardless face. He bravely stands on his own, detached from the venomous attack of time. The play of his limbs is more erotic than tragic. He could be playing Hercules in a wooing mood, a cocky lad showing off his biceps in a comic mime of his snake-handling infancy; or perhaps he assumes a more serious role, Apollo attacking Pytho, say, or Asclepius averting the Plague. Though the hero of this wordless masque is clearly mythological, his significance (moral or otherwise) escapes the constricting glosses of art history. To the connoisseurial eye his posturing begins to look suspect. The patina of ancient glamour seems a little faux. Surely his gym-built core is too deltoid for a Levantine kouros and too buff for a Florentine saint.


The full text can be downloaded above and here as pdf.


  1. Alighieri, Dante, La Commedia secondo l’antica vulgata, ed. by Giorgio Petrocchi, 2nd edn, 4 vols (Florence: Le Lettere, 1994)
  2. Blake, William, Songs of Innocence: The Complete Writings of William Blake, ed. by Geoffrey Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1966)
  3. Brownlee, Kevin, ‘Dante and Narcissus (Purg. XXX, 76–99)’, Dante Studies, 96 (1978), pp. 201–06
  4. Bruhm, Steven, Reflecting Narcissus: A Queer Aesthetic (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001)
  5. Chapin, D. L. Darby, ‘IO and the Negative Apotheosis of Vanni Fucci’, Dante Studies, 89 (1971), pp. 19–31
  6. Dody, Sandford, Giving Up the Ghost: A Writer’s Life among the Stars (New York: Evans, 1980)
  7. Ellenzweig, Allen, The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992),
  8. Jackson, Earl Jr., Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995)
  9. Jarman, Derek, Dancing Ledge (Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 1993)
  10. Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman (1989–90) (London: Vintage, 1992)
  11. Queer Edward II (London: British Film Institute, 1991)
  12. Smiling in Slow Motion (London: Vintage, 2001)
  13. Klonsky, Milton, Blake’s Dante: The Complete Illustrations to the Divine Comedy (New York: Harmony, 1980)
  14. Koestenbaum, Wayne, Double Talk: The Erotic of Male Literary Collaboration (London: Routledge, 1989)
  15. Lucas, Ian, Outrage!: An Oral History (London: Cassell, 1998)
  16. MacCabe, Colin, ‘Realism and the Cinema: Notes on Some Brechtian Theses’, in Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), pp. 33–57
  17. Miller, James, ‘Christian Aerobics: the Afterlife of Ecclesia’s Moralized Motions’, in Acting on the Past: Historical Performances Across the Disciplines, ed. by Mark Franko and Annette Richards (Hanover, MD: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), pp. 201–37
  18. Peake, Tony, Derek Jarman: A Biography (Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2000)
  19. Rayside, David, On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998)
  20. Rich, Ruby, ‘The New Queer Cinema’, in Queer Cinema: The Film Reader, ed. by Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin (New York: Routledge, 2004)
  21. Sinclair, John D., ed. and trans., Dante’s Inferno (New York: Oxford University Press, 1939; rpt. 1961)
  22. Stockton, Kathryn Bond, ‘Growing Sideways, or Versions of the Queer Child: The Ghost, the Homosexual, the Freudian, the Innocent, and the Interval of Animal’, in Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children, ed. by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), pp. 272–315
  23. Weiermair, Peter, The Hidden Image: Photographs of the Male Nude in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, trans. by Claus Nielander (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988),