Sun, May 13, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Anarchist's skull, brain taken from museum and buried


The anarchist Giovanni Passann-ante is becoming a cause celebre 97 years after his death.

Until this week, Passannante's skull and brain, preserved in formaldehyde, were on display at a criminology museum in Rome in what ranked as one of Italy's more macabre showcases. In this museum-loving society, it was a strange fate for someone who tried to kill the king of Italy 120 years ago.

At Passannante's death, his head and brain were removed to be studied by sociologists, in keeping with the scientific eugenicist theory made popular at the time by a criminologist named Cesare Lombroso. He 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 display case, framed by old anarchist manifestos on the second floor of the Criminology Museum, just off Via Giulia.

The skull and brain were to leave the museum on Friday, in front of reporters and photographers, for burial with the body after pressure from hundreds of petition signers. But instead, on Thursday, the remnants were whisked away secretly and buried in his hometown in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.

It was supposed to be the final chapter in a story lasting for decades, pitting leftist intellectuals against Italy's dwindling traditionalist monarchists. Instead, it added further intrigue to the pitiable legacy of Passannante.

"It's terrible," said Ulderico Pesce, an artist who had led the campaign to bury all of Passannante. Pesce was speaking by phone from the cemetery in Savoia Lucania, where the remains were buried on Thursday night and where, he said, a crowd of onlookers had formed on Friday morning.

Pesce was baffled and angered by the decision to bury Passannante a day earlier than had been announced. "He was buried like an empty bottle," he said. He is still seeking a proper, public burial for the skull and brain.

In a statement, the regional government said that the date was changed for security reasons and out of "feelings of human pity."

Passannante earned a place in Italian history in 1878 by trying to assassinate King Umberto I of Savoy. (Umberto was later assassinated by another anarchist.) Passannante was arrested, tortured, and given a death sentence that was later reduced to life in prison.

His family was jailed. His hometown, Salvia, changed its name to Savoia di Lucania.

As the tale goes, Passannante was jailed on the island of Elba. He remained in solitary confinement and went insane. In 1910, he was sent to an asylum and died shortly after.

In 1998, Oliviero Diliberto, the minister of justice at the time, wrote the decree allowing for the removal of Passannante's remains to his hometown.

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