Yesterday evening, Roberto Benigni lit up social media in Italy and around the globe at the 70th annual Sanremo Music Festival, the most-loved festival of Italian music in the country. After being accompanied to the stage by a marching band, in the over-the-top style that is typical of the Oscar winner, he began a monologue by asking a question. “I asked myself, what is the most beautiful gift that I can give to the people at Sanremo? I decided to bring the most beautiful song in the world. The song of all songs. And it is the Song of Songs that is found in the Bible. The first song ever written in the history of humanity, 2,400 years ago. It speaks of physical love, two young people that sing of their love for each other […] It’s like having ‘Imagine’ or ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles and nobody ever did it on TV.”
Benigni then went on explaining:
“The Song of Songs was embarrassing to have in the Bible, because it speaks of carnal love. To keep it in the Bible, they started attaching symbolic interpretations to it. It was embarrassing also because it is written from a woman’s point of view. A woman, 2,400 years ago perhaps, wrote the Bible’s most beautiful song […] Physical love was considered the greatest of all sins and then it turned out to be the most beautiful song in the Bible. So, then why did they want to take the Song of Songs out of the Bible? Because there is one thing that is more frightening than war, violence and assassinations: there is love. There’s tenderness. There is physical love, eroticism. This is more frightening than war.”
Roberto then highlighted one other very important aspect of the Song of Songs: the couple, the man and woman that express their desire and love for each other in the sacred text are “all the couples in every part of the world in every period of time that repeat the miracle of love: a woman with her man, a woman with her woman, a man with his man”, and how all people are a part of “this glorious prank to be in this world, and we don’t know why. But now we do know why. For love, and to make love”; this sacred scripture “loves love”.
What was so beautiful about watching and listening to Benigni while he explained his rationale for choosing the Song of Songs, was that he so brilliantly pulled together religion, culture, literature, history, current events, the human condition, and tied them all up in a bow. Even his mention of two Beatles songs, “Yesterday” and “Imagine” had a purpose; it was not by chance that Benigni inserted these two songs in his monologue. “Imagine” envisioned a world society that was capable of transcending all conflicts, societal divisions and a belief system that alienated people, and instead recognized the potential of humanity to achieve a state of goodness, or as Benigni stated, “tenderness” towards each other.
With his reference to “Yesterday” perhaps he wishes to remind us that at one point or another in our lives we’ve all had a moment when we’ve had our hearts broken, suffered the loss of someone we cared for, had a feeling of loneliness and of being in a sad and dark place, maybe longing for those days when life was happy and carefree. Not only our world today and the sad state it’s in, but throughout the ages as well, we’ve seen that human beings long for that yesterday — that time and place in our hearts and in our souls, when we loved simply and unconditionally, when each of us innocently loved without judgement and we were blind to our differences.
At a time in which we do not make love anymore, we do not connect with each other with tenderness, where language and gestures are more often used in hate and aggression against one another, the Song of Songs offers us a moment to reflect upon why, we as human beings, are even present on this Earth. What is the purpose? What is our purpose? And Benigni reminds us that it is for love; to perpetuate that beautiful sentiment, emotional and physical, that even in the sacred text of the Bible is considered to be the song of all songs, that beautiful song of love, of desire, the first song of all songs. The song of all the ages. Love.