An Academic Sin: The Use of Ser Brunetto Lantini in The Divine Comedy

Main Article Content

Jasmine Redford


On his journey through The Inferno, Dante Alighieri is shocked to encounter his beloved former teacher, Ser Brunetto Latini, in the third ring of the seventh circle of Hell where Latini is eternally tormented with other men of his ilk—academics, poets, and learned men of rhetoric—are punished as sodomites.  The question then, is why has Latini been placed there and what can be inferred about Dante’s understanding of the nature of medieval sodomy as academic blasphemy? The findings presented here indicate that one of the most offensive readings of sodomy is an unsexual one.  Sins of fleshy sensuality are presented blatantly in both the Inferno and Purgatory, but I argue that Dante places Brunetto among the eternally damned not only to privilege the rhetoric of humility but to serve as a cautionary tale on how our teachers fail us.  Dante’s disassociation with Latini’s need for cerebral acclaim forms the foundational pad for which Dante cautions himself against the ultimate heresy of pride, while Latini continually presses the immodest approach for both himself and his pupil.  Intellectual sodomy is a crime that is valued higher in Dante’s penal hierarchy than any sexual sin is, with less chance for redemption, as is shown with the direct bridging of desexualized sodomy in Inferno 15 with the explicitly sexualized sodomy of Purgatory 27.  The fact that Inferno XV does not contain obvious allegory or simply stated sins renders it one of the most enigmatic cantos. The position that Brunetto’s sin is hubristic supports Dante’s conflicted relationship with his own pride—the sin on which Dante dedicates his journey.