Dante's tomb security boost as Italy fears Isis attack

The tomb of Dante Alighieri, Italy's best-known poet, could be subject to an Islamic State-inspired attack, due to the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in Dante's epic poem the Divine Comedy.

Italian newspaper Il Giornale reported that Dante's tomb, which is in Ravenna in northeastern Italy, has been put on a list of possible targets of supporters of the group, and could now be subject to increased police presence.

Italian chief of police Alessandro Pansa reportedly sent a confidential note to officers at Italy's major police stations last week, informing them of the sites which had been singled out for increased security.

Other sites on the list include St Mark's Basilica in Venice and the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, which contains a fresco portraying scenes from the Divine Comedy.

In the first section of his Divine Comedy, titled Inferno, Dante describes a fictional encounter with Muhammad, who is consigned to eighth circle of hell, reserved for those guilty of fraud.

Demons cut Muhammad's chest open and leave his entrails hanging out, while Ali - Muhammad's son-in-law and the chief prophet in Shia Islam - has his face split from chin to scalp.

The pair are described by Dante as "sowers of scandal and schism in their lifetimes", indicating that the poet shared the contemporary view that Islam was a heretical offshoot of the Christian religion.

Ali is seen further as sowing schism within Islam itself, since Shia Islam developed as an offshoot of the dominant Sunni Islam among those who believed Ali to be Muhammad's true successor.

The Times reported that a local police spokesperson had refused to confirm or deny the reports.

The Divine Comedy has previously been condemned by an Italian human rights group which has advised the UN on human rights, Gherush 92, which said the classical work contains "racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic content" and should be removed from school curricula.

However, according to Dr Alison Milbank, a specialist in Dante's literature in the Theology Department at the University of Nottingham, it would be wrong to consider the poet an Islamophobe.

"It is mainly Christians in hell overall," says Milbank. "People are in hell because they have lost all vision of the good."

She adds that other Muslims - including the 12th-century sultan Saladin, who defeated the Christian Crusaders, and the Islamic philosophers Avicenna and Averroes - are not subject to suffering in Dante's hell.

"They are in a kind of Elysian Fields - the pagan equivalent of Paradise, though for Dante this is not enough, so it's both lovely yet technically in hell but without suffering," she says.

Dante spent his last days in Ravenna. He died in 1321 and his remains are held in an 18th-century tomb in the city centre, while a museum dedicated to the poet's life is located nearby.

The Catholic Church celebrates Dante as one of its greatest artistic sons, with pope Benedict XV honouring him as the highest among "the many celebrated geniuses of whom the Catholic faith can boast" in a papal letter released in 1921, on the 600th anniversary of the poet's death.

Isis claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Italian Consulate in Cairo over the weekend, which left one person dead.

The group have previously said in their propaganda videos that they would target Rome and supporters of the group have circulated images of famous landmarks in the Italian capital, captioned with threatening messages, on social media.