Pasolini's Dantesque Journey

Mira Schendel, 1962, untitled. Photographic reproduction Sérgio Guerini/Itaú Cultural


Eros and Thanatos in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Tetralogy of Death

"In the middle of the cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una jungle oscura / ché la diritta via era smarrita” (Dante Alighieri. La divina commedia – Hell).1

The dark jungle

“Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex… The world becomes the object of the desire for sex, it is no longer the world, but a place of a single feeling. This feeling repeats itself, and with it the world repeats itself, until, as it accumulates, it is annulled… Of the world, only the miraculous projection remains…”.2

The endless repetition of a word empties it of meaning. The obsession with a feeling transforms it and, by transforming it, annuls it. This is one of the lessons that the narrator (in the first person) of the divine mimesis he receives from his guide, when he gets lost, “at around forty years old”, in the “'Jungle' of the reality of 1963”. The guide, in which our narrator/author projects himself narcissistically, is “a small civic poet of the fifties”, who sang the divided conscience “of someone who fled his destroyed city, towards a city yet to be built. And, in the pain of destruction mingled with the founding hope, he obscurely fulfills his mandate.”3

Chased by the three wild beasts that come out of the cellars of his own soul – the jaguar (agile, chameleonic, unscrupulous), the lion (selfish predator) and the wolf (lewd), the most feared –, lost in the darkness of that moment of his life, the author Pier Paolo Pasolini seeks a light: “the light of the old truth […] before which there is nothing more to say”.4

And, to seek it, to walk the right path ("la mia strada, giusta!”), turns to the past, to what he once was – a civic poet, aware of his contradictions –, a dissonant voice in a country that, after the post-war democratic impulses were buried, continued to be immersed in a bourgeois culture to which was allied with the “ignorance of the limitless masses of the petty bourgeoisie”,5 he goes back to Fascism, allowing himself to rot in a “well-being that is selfishness, stupidity, lack of culture, gossip, moralism, coercion, conformism”.6

Advised and accompanied by his guide, who is nothing more than himself, our poet goes to “a place that is none other than the world”, beyond which he cannot go, “because the world ends with the world”. ”.7

the divine mimesis

In this work, begun in 1963 (and continued between 1964 and 1966 or 1967, but left incomplete), Pier Paolo Pasolini's vision of Italy is that of a nation under the domination of neo-capitalism, a vision in line with ideas expressed in the films of that period or earlier.

Having as a model To divine comedy (The divine Comedy), which Dante Alighieri composed between 1307 and 1321, Pasolini, unfolding as a vate and his guide, the Latin poet Virgílio, once again brings to the fictional field the clash with the reality of his time, or rather, with Unreality, which is how he defined reality shaped by the logic of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois.8

If Dante had undertaken his journey through the three realms of the Beyond – Hell (place of expiation), Purgatory (place of penance) and Paradise (place of celestial joy) –, in which incorporeal souls still palpitated with life, the writer Bolognese, although following in the footsteps of the great poet, interrupts his journey in Hell (a place of the present and of a recent past that is projected into the present), because the other realms, the Two Paradises – the projected (neocapitalism) and the expected (that of communism) –, because they belong to the future, they are still under construction.9

And, in order to continue to manifest himself without any shame, he is aware that resuming the Dantesque journey will consist “in rise and see, as a whole, everything from afar, but also in duck down and see everything up close10, metaphorical expression of his modus operandi, in which it is necessary to “go down” to reality in order to, by portraying it in its rawness, “raise” it in a poetic project, and from its modus vivendi, in which public character and artistic personality merged.


If it is true that it is a commonplace to say that the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini is marked by the intrinsic relationship between the facts he experienced and their transformation into fiction, the difficulty of escaping this commonplace is no less true. since the need that our author felt to participate, intervene, comment on the surrounding reality is present in all fields of culture (understood also as a civic commitment) to which he dedicated himself.

To give greater weight to his interventions, Pasolini often transforms a fact of his private life – the fact of being a diverse – the point from which to observe and provoke Italian society. Different, in Italian, means “different”, but it is also a euphemism to designate the homosexual. And Pier Paolo knew how to make sexual diversity his ideological differential in relation to a national reality that did not satisfy him. As Giovanni Dall'Orto points out: “[…] only a homosexual could become what Pasolini was. Only a homosexual could make an erotic obsession one of the nodal points of his view of the world (and of his art), letting it influence, shape his conception of society”11. A latent obsession, to a lesser or greater extent, since his first cinematographic works, celebrated in the triptych dedicated to life and debased in came out.

I dedicate all my life

Several homosexual authors underlined the fact that Pier Paolo Pasolini was diverse, but not gay, thinking about the first meaning of this word: gaio, that is, happy, which reveals joy. For Gualtiero De Santi, the filmmaker could not, “due to his nature and culture, lead his own condition and psychology to a state of unconscious happiness”, therefore, joyful. Furthermore, he lacked “the pride of his homosexuality”, points out Giovanni Dall'Orto. And the director himself stated: “I was born to be serene, balanced and natural: my homosexuality was something else, from the outside, it had nothing to do with me. I saw her by my side always as an enemy, I never felt her inside me”12.

Not accepting his own homosexuality, Pasolini lived it as a sin to be subjected to and, to justify it, he sought a hereditary cause in one of his maternal grandmothers, as his cousin Nico Naldini recalls. With the exception of the idyllic Friulian period, Pier Paolo's (homo)sexual life was marked, according to Naldini, by voluptuousness, obsession, interactivity, sadomasochism and, finally, by rituals, among which the need to have group meetings in sordid places on the Roman periphery, with young people from the plebs – the “boys of life” (life boys), immortalized in his fiction – which for him represented “naivety, joy, popular wisdom, intensity of popular life, naturalness, fantasy to face life by resorting to expedients”13.

It is this idea of ​​youth, of vitality that the filmmaker wants to convey by translating three great works of universal literature into cinematography: the decameron (The Decameron, 1349-1353), by Giovanni Boccaccio, The Canterbury Tales (The Canterbury Tales, 1387-1400), by Geoffrey Chaucer, and The one thousand and one nights (Alf laylah wa laylah, legendary collection of Arabic tales compiled from the 1971th century AD). Between 1974 and XNUMX, bodily emotions exploded in Pasolini's cinema. Hymns to life and Eros? So it seemed, and its author was the first to say so. But, in an article written while running came out, the director abjures the “trilogy of life”, for understanding that the desire that erupted from those “innocent bodies” had been instrumentalized by the culture of tolerance in the service of power14.

The tetralogy of death

Some critics, including Adelio Ferrero and Lino Micciché15, instead of continuing to insist on the key of vitalism present in decameron (The Decameron, 1971), The Canterbury Tales (The Canterbury Tales, 1972) e The one thousand and one nights (Il fiore delle Mille e uma nightte, 1974), following Pier Paolo Pasolini's own vision, preferred to leave aside the filmmaker's intentions to interrogate the works. And the death drive reveals its presence to a more inquiring look.

decameron ends up resulting in a “mournful epic of the infeasibility of Eros”16, in which this is reduced to feverish spasms, to orgasmic frenzy, to unbridled lust, which Death observes, to punish transgressors. will be no different in The Canterbury Tales, in which the same crude vision of carnal embrace is manifested, the same animalistic obsession with sweat, semen, dung, blood. Sexuality becomes a variant of collective violence, in which women are abused with red-hot irons and sinners are sodomized by winged monsters, under the gaze of Satan. Eros is degraded to mere voracious appetite and the concept of sin triumphs. Even in The one thousand and one nights, in which the “pagan” Eros ignores the notion of original sin and the fall17, Death is always lurking, as only two stories have a positive outcome.

Regarding the other two, The one thousand and one nights pulsates with life, but in it we are in the field of the fable, therefore of what did not exist, of what was “dreamed”. And it is exactly as “a dream of a dream” that Pasolini defines this film to which he will oppose, in came out, the “nightmare of a nightmare”, in the words of Lino Micciché18. It is because of this line of continuity that can be established between the four films that the Italian critic grouped them together as a tetralogy of death.

The most feared of beasts – which, in the 1960s, had tried to prevent him from reaching the light – reappears in his path, with its inexorable compulsion for sex. She is the wolf, with her “flesh devoured by the abjection of flesh, reeking of shit and sperm”, as the writer described her in the divine mimesis19, a work that he resumed in 1974, in which, according to him, “a medieval Hell, with the old penalties, is opposed by a neocapitalist Hell”20. As in this work, in came out (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, 1975) also, these two hells are confronted, or rather, confused. In Dante Alighieri's "Inferno", the present and the past are portrayed side by side and merge, as the corporeality of the souls of the damned, in which the passions still pulsate, makes the past become present and project itself into an eternal time. , immovable, definitive, which lends the work a paradigmatic exemplarity21.

Em came out, Pasolini tries to achieve the same Dantesque exemplarity, projecting the 1940s onto contemporaneity. He also merges two worlds, although he “inverts” the order of presentation, as it is the historical world that serves as a frame for the “contemporary” world: inside the mansion, the Italian Social Republic or Republic of Saló (23 September 1943 – 25 April 1945), the moment of the death throes of Fascism22, becomes Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, dominated, in his view, by the new Fascism.

Thus, the novel that the Marquis de Sade wrote between 1782 and 1785, The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom or the Praise of Licentiousness (Les cent vingt journées de Sodome ou l'école du libertinage), from which the director sets out to make his film, more than a transposition becomes a quotation, as Giovanni Buttafava says23.

A constant quote, expressing a bourgeois culture that does nothing more than instrumentalize art, transforming it into an exercise of power: “Sex, today, is the fulfillment of a social obligation, not a pleasure against social obligations. From this derives a radically different sexual behavior from what I was used to. For me, therefore, the trauma was (and is) almost unbearable. the sex in came out it is a representation or metaphor of this situation, the one we are living in these years: sex as obligation and ugliness. […] In addition to the metaphor of sexual intercourse (mandatory and ugly), which the tolerance of consumer power leads us to experience in these years, all the sex in came out (and there is an enormous amount of it) is also the metaphor of the relationship of power with those who are subject to it. In other words, it is the (even dreamlike) representation of what Marx calls the reification of man: the reduction of the body to a thing (through exploitation). In my film, therefore, sex is called upon to play a horrible metaphorical role. […] In power – in any power, legislative or executive – there is something beluine. In fact, in its code and in its praxis, the only thing that is done is to sanction and make practicable the most primordial and blind violence of the strong against the weak, that is, let's repeat this one more time, that of the exploiters against the exploited. ”24.

Maybe that's why, unprecedented in the history of cinema, in the credits of came out, Pasolini feels the need to declare the authors from which he read Sade – Roland Barthes (Sade, Fourier, Loyola, 1971), Simone de Beauvoir (Faut-il brûler Sade?, 1953), Maurice Blanchot (Lautreamont et Sade, 1949), Pierre Klossowski (Sade, mon prochain e Le philosophe scélérat, 1947) and Philippe Sollers (L'écriture et l'experience deslimits, 1968) –, to underline, therefore, that his is a mediated approximation, and to place himself explicitly as a disciple of Dante Alighieri, by giving his work the same ternary structure as To divine comedy. In effect, the film is divided into three circles (“groups”) – that of mania (perversions), that of shit (coprophilia) and that of blood (torture and death) – preceded by Anteinferno, which serves as a prologue. According to the filmmaker, this structure emerged when he realized that Sade, “when writing, was surely thinking of Dante”25.

“l'inferno esiste solo per chi ne ha paura”26

Invoking Dante means going back to the origins of the Italian language, literature, culture, an exalted origin, a time before the rise of the mercantilist, capitalist, neo-capitalist bourgeoisie. This return to an earlier time, however, also means returning to a recent past, to a mythical time, that of the immediate post-war period, when the hopes of the Resistance against Fascism could have been fulfilled, the time that saw the poet civic duty to leave behind the ruins of war and engage in the moral reconstruction of their nation. However, placing oneself under the sign of Dante, that is, choosing him as a guide, also means making the descent into a personal Hell, that of one's own desires, in order to exorcise them, since these were no longer synonymous with freedom. , but conformism to the false liberation proclaimed by the bourgeois order.

While Pier Paolo Pasolini completed this interior journey, on November 2 (All Souls' Day), his body was found on the beach of Ostia, the same beach where, in the III Canto of “Inferno”, the souls of those who, unable to be redeemed from original sin, they were waiting for the angel's small boat that would take them to Purgatory.

And you, che se' costì anima viva,
....partiti da cotesti, che son morti”.
....Ma poi che vide ch'io non mi partiva,
said: “Per altra via, per altri porti
....verrai a piaggia, non qui, per passere:
....più lieve legno convien che ti porti”27.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Nelson Pereira dos Santos: a neo-realist look? (Edusp).

Under the heading of “Following the path of came out”, this text was published in Socine Film Studies (São Paulo: Annablume-Socine-Fapesp, 2007, p. 15-22), volume edited by Rubens Machado Jr., Rosana de Lima Soares and Luciana Corrêa de Araújo. This version has been revised and updated.


[1]ALIGHIERI, Dante. La divina commedia – Hell. Milano: Rizzoli, 1949, p. 15. Portuguese version: “In the middle of the path of this life / I found myself entering a dark jungle, / where the direction had been lost”. DANTE. Hell (The Divine Comedy). Translation by Cristiano Martins. Belo Horizonte: Press/Publications, 1971, p. 17.

 2PASOLINI, Pier Paolo. the divine mimesis. Turin: Einaudi, 1975, p. 18.

 3Ibid., p. 5, 15.

 4Ibid., P. 5.

 5Ibid., p. 9, 14.

 6apud: NALDINI, Nico. Pasolini, a life. Turin: Einaudi, 1989, p. 262.

 7PASOLINI, Op. cite., P. 19.

 8See ibid., P. 45.

 9See ibid., P. 19, 59.

10Ibid., P. 25.

11ORTO, Giovanni Dall'. “Contro Pasolini”. In: CASI, Stefano (org.). Desiderio di Pasolini. Turin-Milano: Edizioni Sonda, 1990, p. 151.

12SANTI, Gualtiero De. “L'omosessualità in the cinema by Pier Paolo Pasolini”; ORTHO, Op. Cit.; Pasolini, apoud: ibid.; cf. also SITI, Walter. “Postfazione in forma di lettera”. In: CASI (org.), Op. Cit., P. 106, 173, 179 and 186 respectively.

13NALDINI, Nico. “'A private fact'. Appunti di una conversation”. In: CASI (org.), Op. Cit., P. 16; cf. also p. 13-15. The drive to self-flagellation explodes in “Appunto 55 – Il Pradone della Casilina” [Note 55 – O descampado da Casilina], one of the chapters of Petroleum (Torino: Einaudi, 1992, p. 201-229), unfinished work published posthumously. In it, the protagonist, Carlo, gives himself to twenty boys, in a vacant lot on the outskirts of Rome. In this way, the writer entrusted to the novel's “scabrous pages”, of “extremely literality”, “the task of giving free vent to his homosexuality, leading it to flow into a 'will for obscenity' without restraints and without veils: naked, or rather, immeasurably exhibited, with pleasure”. CHINZARI, Stefania. “color session Petroleum. Notte di morte dedicated to Pasolini”. Unity, Rome, 14 May 1994, p. 9. The erotic ritual of Petroleum impacted several artists, who took him to the stage and to the screen. For example, Abel Ferrara, in the film Pasolini (2014), condensed the events of that night in a few shots, while in Appunto 55bis (2005), the theater company L'Archimandrita depicted the story of Sandro, one of the young participants in the orgy. Already in 1996, Giuseppe Bertolucci had recorded, on video, the theatrical monologue The dish of Casilino, directed by him, in order to celebrate the “'literary sacrifice' that Pasolini made, for years, inside his head and his writing”. Cf. FABRIS, Mariarosaria. “Pasolini, a Pasolini”. In: MIGLIORIN, Cezar et alii (org). Annals of full texts of the XXI Socine Meeting [electronic resource]. São Paulo, Socine, 2018, p. 554-555; “The dish of Casilina and the story of Sandro”. Available in . Access: 2005 Nov. 05; apoud: “The dish of Casilino”. Available in . Access: 8989 Nov. 19.

14PASOLINI, Pier Paolo. “Abiura dalla 'Trilogia della vita'”. In: Life trilogy. Milano: Mondadori, 1987, p. 8. Although written on June 15th, the article was published posthumously, on November 9th, 1975, by the Milan newspaper The Corriere della Sera.

15FERRERO, Adelio, “La ricerca dei popoli perduti e il presente come orrore”. In: The cinema by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Milano: Mondadori, 1978, p. 109-155; MICCICHE, Lino. “Qual è colui che a suo dannaggio sogna”. In: Pasolini in the città del cinema. Venezia: Marsilio, 1999, p. 191-208. The ideas developed below were inspired by these two authors.

16MICCICHE, Op. Cit., P. 194.

17See BOYER, Alain-Michel. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Who are you?. Lyon: La Manufacture, 1987, p. 213.

18MICCICHE, Op. Cit., P. 200.

19PASOLINI, the divine mimesis, cit., p. 17.

20apud: NALDINI, Pasolini, a life, cit. p. 387.

21See BATTAGLIA, Salvatore. The Italian letteratura: Medioevo and Umanesimo. Firenze-Milano: Sansoni-Accademia, 1971, p. 189.

22In a previous text dedicated to came out, I explored other aspects of the film, left aside here, to emphasize the parallel with the work of Dante Alighieri from the divine mimesis. Cf. FABRIS, Mariarosaria, “Requiem for a Republic”. In: Annals of the XVIII Regional Meeting of History – The historian and his time. ANPUH/SP-UNESP/Assis, 24-28 July. 2006, cd-rom.

23BUTTAFAVA, Giovanni. “Salò o il cinema in forma di rosa”. In: GIAMMATTEO, Fernaldo Di (org.). The scandal Pasolini. Rome: Bianco & Nero, 1986, p. 43.

24apud: GIAMMATTEO, Fernaldo Di. “Pasolini the everyday eresia”. In: GIAMMATTEO (org.), Op. Cit., P. 31.

25apud: NALDINI, Pasolini, a life, cit., p. 388. This structure, with the prologue that frames the narrative, can also refer to another classic of Italian literature, the aforementioned decameron, a work that expresses the longing for an era surpassed by the reality of the new times.

26ANDRÉ, Fabrizio De. “Preghiera in gennaio”. In: Fabrizio De André – Volume n. 1. Long playing. Milano, Produttoriassociati, 1970. Portuguese version: “hell exists only for those who fear it”.

27ALIGHIERI, Op. Cit., P. 27. Portuguese version: “'But you, who are alive, and I see mingled / with the dead, let go of them, and go quickly'. / And, since I was standing there, // 'Your harbor is another, your way is by itself / through them', he said, 'you'll spend a day: / I know this lighter one will take you'. DANTE, Op. Cit., P. 37. Cf. PROVENZAL, Dino. “La commedia”. In: Student Encyclopedia. 9 v. Milano: Ullman, 1955, v. VI, p. 191. The beach of Ostia (where the Tiber flows) is close to Rome.

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