Sunday, April 01, 2007

No peace yet for earthly remains of an anarchist

Liberate anarchist brain!

Giovanni Passannante did not achieve much in life. The Italian cook turned anarchist failed in 1878 to kill the king with a kitchen knife, then went insane in solitary confinement on Elba.

Now his brain, still pickled in a glass box in Rome's crime museum, is at the centre of a row over whether to give him some peace, dragging in his home town mayor, actors, writers and politicians.

"This affair has become intolerable in a civilised country, from a political and humane point of view," said deputy prime minister, Francesco Rutelli, who has pushed for the brain, and the skull which held it, to be buried in his home of Savoia di Lucania, a hill-top village of 1,300 people in the arch of Italy's heel.

It would be the first decent thing to happen to Passannante for a while. After emerging from the crowd in Naples in 1878 during a visit by Umberto I, the 28-year-old mistimed his lunge at the king, instead wounding the prime minister.
Passannante was jailed for life, and chained up in an underground cell. Declared insane after a decade living among his own excrement and sent to an asylum, he died in 1910. His body was fed to pigs, his brain removed to be studied for signs of innate criminality. "I am convinced we must immediately give some peace to the mortal remains of Passannante," Mr Rutelli said.

The brain is set to return to Savoia on May 11, but the mayor, Rosina Ricciardi, plans to keep it on display, in the town hall, then in the castle. "We want future generations to know the story," she said, adding: "It will also be a boost for tourism and the economy."

That has enraged the actor Ulderico Pesce, who has enrolled the likes of Dario Fo to push for burial and recently staged a play in which the brain's museum guard proves the value of pity to the girl he loves by stealing the brain and giving it a decent funeral.

"The mayor must understand that whether it's in Rome or Savoia, you cannot keep the brain in a jar," said Pesce.

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