Studies of Herman Melville's epic poem Clarel (1876) have understandably emphasized the work's theological content. When studied in its immediate historical context, however, the poem's multiple references to Rome and Catholicism take on speci�c political meanings, particularly those centered in the Risorgimento, Italy's century-long quest for independence and unity. In 1870, when Melville began to write the poem, the Risorgimento achieved its �nal goal, making Rome Italy's capital and stripping the Pope of his temporal power. Melville, like many Americans, supported Italy's moderate, anti-papal, nationalistic ideals, and in Clarel he embodied them in the Roman orphan Celio. Celio represents skepticism, present experience, and historical circumstance in opposition both to the intolerant religious politics of orthodox Catholicism (represented in the poem by Brother Salvaterra and the Dominican priest) and the violent extremism of secular revolutionists (represented by Mortmain and Ungar). Through Celio, Melville offers a trans-national perspective on issues of nationhood by engaging speci�c current events and critiquing those who substitute failed ideologies for the uncertainties of experience.
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