Ignace de Graeve, Sandow Birk, and Robert Rauschenberg: Divisions and Isolation through Language in a Modern Inferno
PHR450- 7th Period
The giant Nimrod first appears in the Bible in Genesis 10 as ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord’ when every human still spoke the same language.[footnoteRef:1] Nimrod was the King of Babel, and as a precaution, he ordered the construction of the Tower of Babel to avoid destruction if God flooded the earth again. His avoidance of God’s will and redemption coupled with his desire to reach divinity was the ultimate act of human hubris.[footnoteRef:2] To punish Nimrod and his followers, God scattered the population and confused their languages so they could no longer understand each other.[footnoteRef:3] Language is an essential part of culture and the division of language is a cause for isolation, discrimination and conflict.[footnoteRef:4] To have a functional government, man must be capable of communication, making language the most essential tool for unity and what separates man from everything else.[footnoteRef:5] Notably, Dante Alighieri’s inclusion of Nimrod in his Inferno emphasizes the role of language, and for many artists, Dante’s Nimrod provides an apt allegory for political strife. Postmodern and modern day artists—such as Robert Rauschenberg, Ignace de Graeve, and Sandow Birk-- have become increasingly political with their depictions of Nimrod, using the giant in Canto 31 to provide commentary on government actions and societal divisions. Graeve, Birk, and Rauschenberg manipulate language to critique political conflicts and establish themes of unity by emphasizing linguistic isolation in depictions of Nimrod from Dante’s Inferno. [1: Joseph Poplicha, "The Biblical Nimrod and the Kingdom of Eanna," Journal of the American Oriental Society 49 (1929): 304-305.] [2: K. van der Toorn and P. W. van der Horst, "Nimrod before and after the Bible," The Harvard Theological Review 83, no. 1 (January 1990): 20-21.] [3: V. Stanley Benfell, III, "Nimrod, the Ascent to Heaven and Dante's 'ovra inconcummabile,'" Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society 110 (1992): 77-78.] [4: Joan M. Ferrante, "The Relation of Speech to Sin in the Inferno," Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society 87 (1969): 33.] [5: Ibid.]
Dante Alighieri wrote the Inferno in the early 1300s to criticize the political corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and atone for his sins. In Canto XXXI, Dante emphasizes the importance of language to human development and criticizes how a lack of linguistic unification sparks the “political disunity that Dante so despised.”[footnoteRef:6] His eternal punishment is to be chained in a well and isolated by speaking a language that no one understands with only a horn that serves as an outlet for his anger and frustration.[footnoteRef:7] The theme in Canto 31 of the Inferno is clear: unity is good and division is bad.[footnoteRef:8]...