Massimo Leone
ifk Senior Fellow

Duration of fellowship
01. October 2017 bis 31. January 2018

Translation and Blasphemy: A Semiotic Perspective


Drawing from Hjelmslev’s theory of language, the project elaborates a typology of translation difficulties, claiming that the most insurmountable one relates to cultural patterns that are invisible to cultures themselves. As a solution, the project suggests the establishment of an anthropological variety of translation, exemplified through a pair of case studies. Verses 22–45 of Canto XXVIII of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno are usually problematic for Muslim translators: they describe the punishment in hell of Muhammad and Ali, the founders of Islam. Most Muslim translators choose not to render them in their language (Arabic, Farsi etc.). The same verses have generated an iconography whose most famous instance is in the cathedral of San Petronio in Bologna. Giovanni da Modena’s fifteenth-century fresco depicting Muhammad in hell became the object, at the turn of the twentieth century, of heated tension between local Muslim radical associations, which wanted the fresco removed, and Catholic commentators, who defended the integrity of the Christian artistic heritage. Taking as a point of departure these two interconnected case studies, the project explores the difficult role of translation at the conflict-ridden crossroads of different semiotic ideologies.


Massimo Leone is Professor of Semiotics and Cultural Semiotics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Turin, Italy. He graduated in Communication Studies from the University of Siena, and holds a DEA in History and Semiotics of Texts and Documents from Paris VII, an MPhil in Word and Image Studies from Trinity College Dublin, a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the Sorbonne, and a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Fribourg (CH). He was a visiting scholar at the CNRS in Paris and the CSIC in Madrid; Fulbright Research Visiting Professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley; Endeavour Research Award Visiting Professor at the School of English, Performance, and Communication Studies at Monash University, Melbourne; Faculty Research Grant Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto; “Mairie de Paris” Visiting Professor at the Sorbonne; DAAD Visiting Professor at the University of Potsdam; Visiting Professor at the École Normale Supérieure of Lyon (Collegium de Lyon); Visiting Professor at the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Munich; Visiting Professor at the University of Kyoto; and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University. His work focuses on the role of religion in modern and contemporary cultures.


Sémiotique du fundamentalisme: messages, rhétorique, force persuasive, Paris 2014, ins Arabische übersetzt 2015; Saints and Signs: A Semiotic Reading of Conversion in Early Modern Catholicism, Berlin and New York 2010; Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts, London and New York 2004.

IFK_Senior Fellow Massimo Leone: Fuggire insieme: semiosi illimitata e approdo musicale


Una serie di convegni sulla dislocazione (displacement) in Europa

(5-7 ottobre 2017, Villa Vigoni)

Venerdì 06.10.2017: IFK_Senior Fellow Massimo Leone:

"Fuggire insieme: semiosi illimitata e approdo musicale"

Associazione Villa Vigoni
Centro Italo-Tedesco
Via Giulio Vigoni, 1
22017 Loveno di Menaggio (CO)

16 October 2017
  • Lecture
Massimo Leone


The lecture focuses on confessional reactions to controversial translations. It deals, in particular, with verses 22–45 of “canto XXVIII” of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, which describe the position and punishment of Muhammad and Ali in hell. Considered by Dante as “seminator di scandalo e di scisma” (sowers of scandal and schism), they are condemned to be perpetually “fessi” (torn asunder). How do Muslims react to the translation of these verses in the languages of predominantly Islamic countries.