Tuesday, July 29, 2008

History still holds its power to offend

Curious, there are a number of interesting stories abound about how distant historical figures still play some part in modern politics. Take this row in Florence over the poet Dante, a man who died around seven hundred years ago.

As I understand it Dante supported the Guelfi Bianchi who wanted to see more political autonomy (for Florence) from the Catholic Church. Dante's high profile and active support for this group found him exiled from the city with all his assets seized by his enemies.

Later, when the city changed hands he was offered the right of return if he submit to a public penance - he refused, after all what had he done? Hold political views supporting one section of the ruling elite who happened to lose their struggle. So instead he was sentenced to be burned at the stake but remained in exile and died of natural causes.

All very interesting I'm sure you'll agree but it was a while back so why bring it up now? Well, the official edicts against this vile Guelfi Bianchi still hold. Two city councillors put forward a motion to "rehabilitate" Dante and award him the Golden Florin (which I'm told is a high honour). The motion passed but there is a vocal minority who less than impressed with the scheme.

Dante's direct descendant Count Pieralvise Serego Alighieri has refused to attend the ceremony because of "petty polemics" by those who oppose the decision. He says he'll accept nothing less than unanimity on the decision that his ancestor did nothing wrong.

"My heart sank when I read certain remarks from the Communist and Green councillors who voted against the motion. One argued that the event should be used to celebrate all the political exiles all over the world as well as immigrants and the power of their ideas against dictatorial regimes.

''Another said the whole thing was just a publicity stunt, another said the Florin should also be awarded to (witch-hunting monk Girolamo) Savanarola, and another said Dante's heirs didn't deserve to be called Alighieri,''
In fact whilst you'd have thought there wouldn't be much problem in lifting a seven hundred year old conviction the motion passed by just one vote in the council chamber. It's seems that even old issues that seem to have been resolved years ago still hold the power to create real ripples.

My other example is of William of Orange, who I was surprised to hear was a renowned homosexual.

One Peter Tatchell, for it is he, is off to the North of Ireland to... well... annoy unionists frankly. Those who adore the Orange but hate a selected range of Biblical sins.

I can't help but think this may have been provoked by the way that leading members of the DUP have been getting on their high white horse about homosexuality over recent months. If they will keep poking the beehive (this is not a euphemism but rather a metaphor) they must expect to get a little stung.

Their reaction could probably be summed up best as "Most visitors to loyalist areas will have seen images of King Billy on horseback - have you ever seen one of him riding side saddle? No - so get to fuck you fenian bastard".

Tatchell's commendable and informative wheeze is actually part of Belfast's week long Pride celebrations. I think the man himself sums it up best when he says "It is particularly hypocritical for unionist politicians to play the homophobic card when their hero, William of Orange, had male lovers."

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