Bravo to Mary McGrory for her article on Ravenna, Italy, and Dante's bones ["Divine Comedy's Last Laugh," Sept. 30]. As an anthropologist specializing in the history and culture of Italy, I agree that the annual Florentine pilgrimage to Ravenna is a fascinating chapter of Italian life.
But Ms. McGrory was misled by her "erudite guide" who told her that workmen unearthed the bones in 1819. The bones appeared in May 1865, followed by a very public campaign to verify their authenticity. The date is crucial because it suggests that the rediscovery of Dante's bones was a planned event, a fake. Bringing the famous skeleton out of the closet after centuries of seclusion was probably just a political stunt. Why would anyone do such a thing?
The answer lies in the date: 1865. Creating a controversy over the authenticity of Dante's bones in 1865 would have cast Ravenna as inheritor and curator of Italy's greatest literary figure just as the nascent Kingdom of Italy, soon to be a unified republic, was taking shape. It was likely the mayor of Ravenna and a few of his scholar cronies who hatched the plan. Unfortunately, the stunt did not pay off.
With little effort, the city of Florence proved that kinship ties to a box of bones were far less binding than linguistic ties to Dante's corpus (modern Italian bears a strong similarity to the language spoken in Dante's Florence). Most people have no bone to pick with that logic, even if the banishing of Dante sticks like a bone in the throat of contemporary Florentines.