History

'Dead Anarchist Becomes Cause Célèbre in Italy'

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I stole the International Herald Tribune's headline because I doubt I could improve on it. The article is about Giovanni Passannante, who tried to kill King Umberto I in 1878. In one of the most elaborate punishments in modern Italian history, the failed assassin was tortured and sentenced to life in prison, "his entire family was jailed (except for his brother who escaped) and Passannante's hometown, formerly known as Salvia, was forced to change its name to Savoia di Lucania." And it didn't end there:

At the anarchist's death, the head and brain were removed to be studied by sociologists, an act in keeping with the scientific eugenicist theory made popular at the time by a criminologist named Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso believed that criminality was inherited and could be identified by physical traits.

For the last 70 years the brain and skull have been in a neon-light display case, framed by old anarchist manifestos on the second floor of the Criminology Museum, just off the Via Giulia.

But this week the skull and brain were to leave the museum in front of reporters and photographers, for burial with the body, under pressure brought by an eclectic group of hundreds of petition signers. Instead, on Thursday, under a cloak of secrecy, the remnants were whisked away and buried in his hometown in the Basilicata region of southern Italy….

The full article is here. The Criminology Museum's Passannante page is here. The pro-Passannante position is outlined here. Another unimprovable headline is here.

And King Umberto? He "was later assassinated by another anarchist."

 

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