'Padre della nazione italiana': Dante Alighieri and the construction of the Italian nation, 1800-1945

Sarah Finn

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores the instrumentalisation of Dante Alighieri in the construction of the Italian nation by various groups of Italians from the Risorgimento to the Fascist period. It analyses why Dante was chosen for the role of supreme national symbol, and to what purpose. It elaborates how the poet was used to render more tangible the idea of the Italian nation, which only a minority of ‘Italians’ shared. Since the creation of the Italian nation state was unpopular, Dante was used to make it seem a desirable end. He was also made to convey several abstract ideas regarding the new nation in an attempt to win over to the cause a larger number of people. This study examines the part he was made to play in encouraging enthusiasm for the prospect of national unity and independence, and in justifying the political unification of Italy. After unification he was called upon to promote the vision of a new Italy as a secular nation state, but also to support a Catholic version of italianità, and to bolster the irredentist cause. At the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century he was also deployed to legitimise Italian imperialism, and to endorse the Fascist conception of the Italian nation. As I shall demonstrate, there was little agreement about what he was held to represent, and these various views were propagated at one and the same time. Although these objectives were frequently contradictory, the groups which pursued them were usually united, despite themselves, in their estimation of Dante as a vital and effective advocate. In the course of this analysis it will become clear that much of the poet’s life and works were misappropriated for party and nation with but little protest from Italian intellectuals. The diverse utilisations of the poet reveal his importance in the nationalist project of shaping the past according to the needs and circumstances of the present.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009


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