Canto XV of the Inferno is one of my favourite passages in all of poetry. In it Dante meets his old paederastic schoolteacher, Brunetto Latini. In the gloom Brunetto scarcely recognizes him, shading his eyes ‘like an old tailor squinnying through a needle’s eye.’ The old man’s punishment, as is that of all the paederasts, is to run perpetually on hot sand (how Dante gets it right), and Dante, who is on a bank above, dare not go down, so they walk along together, Dante on the bank and Brunetto on the sand below. In contrast to the vilification that is heaped on the heads of paederasts today, Dante treats his old teacher with great honour and respect. Follow your star, says Brunetto, as if even still he was preparing his pupil for his future life, for life is beautiful:
Ed elli a me: Se tu segui tua stella
non puoi fallire a glorioso porto
se ben m’accorsi ne la vita bella
Dante is deeply moved by the dignified old man’s predicament. It moves my heart, he says, for like a gentle and beloved father you taught me, and as long as I live I shall feel my gratitude to you, for it was you who taught me to be a poet.
The time comes when they must part. I trust my Treasure (his primary literary work) to your care, says Brunetto. Then, as the runners strip off when they are preparing for the races at Viterbo, he prepares to start running on the sand again, but ‘not like one who loses, but one who wins’.
quelli che vince, non coluiu che perde.
Not like one who loses but one who wins.
How many Brunettos of The Inferno and Hectors of The History Boys gave their grateful pupils gifts incalculable.