ITALY’s THREE CROWNS (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 18th June 2007) Remarks by Giovanni Brauzzi, Minister, Italian Embassy in London I am here tonight on behalf of Ambassador Giancarlo Aragona, who regrets very much not being able to attend this opening ceremony. He asked me to convey his best greetings and congratulations to the organizers of the event. It is a great honour that a prestigious institution like the Bodleian Library is devoting its “prime time” exhibition for 2007 to the celebration of the impact of the founders of Italian literature on European culture and art. Furthermore, it is a privilege to be here with a distinguished artist like Tom Phillips. A man of very many talents – “figura rinascimentale” – who is displaying in this exhibition a magnificient collection of art works related to Dante. I am sure I am not the first one to call him the British Gustave Dore’. We witness in Italy a great renewal of interest and affection for our three great writers, starting of course from Dante. I will mention two very different figures who are the icons of the present Dante’s revival: Vittorio Sermonti and Roberto Benigni, a full-fledged literate and a most ingenious popstar. The same interest and affection is very alive also in this country, thanks to the British scholars in Italian studies as well as to the Italian professors teaching in British universities. Many distinguished representatives of both categories are tonight with us. I want to thank them for their invaluable contribution to the further strenghtening of the already excellent cultural relations between Italy and the United Kingdom. Let me add, on behalf of its Director, Professor Pierluigi Barrotta, that the Italian Cultural Institute in London is playing a significant role in keeping Dante at the forefront of Italian-British cultural exchanges. I would briefly mention some events of the last two years: - on 4th October 2005, the presentation of the latest British translation of the Divina Commedia done by J.G. Nichols and with the introduction of two very distinguished Oxford scholars like Professor Martin McLauglin and Doctor Manuele Cagnolati; - on 3rd November 2005, the Italian Lecture of the British Academy by Professor Carlo Ginzburg on “Dante’s Epistle to Cangrande”, which proposed a rather revolutionary interpretation of the text, suggesting that maybe it was not entirely Dante’s work and spotting instead an influence of Francesco Petrarca who might have added some chapters, having been persuaded by Giovanni Boccaccio to pay a tribute to Dante Alighieri; - on 2nd November 2006, Vittorio Sermonti reading in Italian the Quinto Canto del Purgatorio; - in March 2007, a series of five lectures on Dante at the University of Birmingham; - from 20th to 22nd of September 2007, an International Seminar on “Dante lirico ed etico” at the Sommerville College, with several among the best Dante’s scholars. Let me finally offer some thoughts on the role and the legacy of the Three Crowns: 1) They were the ones who gave the most solid foundation to the Italian national identity, with a single language and culture preceding of several centuries the establishment of a common institutional framework. They introduced a sort of unifying notion linking a highly prestigious past with a still unknown future, aiming nevertheless to an equally ambitious mission, well beyond the narrow limits of our borders. This is what the “Storia della letteratura italiana” of Francesco De Sanctis has taught us; this is what we Italians continue to sincerely believe, hope and dream when we reflect about what should be our peculiar role in the world today. 2) The sense of national identity that Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio offered us was always germane to other larger thoughts and aspirations, leading in the direction of universal meanings and messages. Allow me two quotations from a French historian, Edgard Quinet: “Writers, poets and artists like Dante, Petrarca, Leonardo or Michelangelo cannot be confined to the limits of any nationality” and “Italy learnt to take care of the affairs of the whole mankind and forgot about its owns”. A recent book by Giorgio Ruffolo, “Quando l’Italia era una superpotenza”, suggests that such cosmopolitism was the gift that Italy offered to the world. I quote from this very interesting book, which would deserve an English translation better than the one I am trying now: “The essence of the Italian miracle was the creation of wealth which was not transformed into power but instead transfigured into beauty. If this is decadence, it can be accepted with mild proudness. Every culture that irradiates is like a candle, which is consuming the body from which is drawing light. As Fernand Braudel wrote once, when the night finally fell on Italy, the whole of Europe was enlightened”. 3) A final, very personal thought. The cultural background for the Italian national identity and, at the same time, the inherent aspiration to cosmopolitan values had been the lasting legacy ot the Three Crowns. This legacy brings a very important message, that I would try to define as follows. We live in a world were the real alternative to the flattening and divisive effects of globalization (as described by Benjamin Barber’s book “Jihad vs. McWorld”) is the acknowledgement of what Amartya Sen has called “the recognition of the plurality of our affiliations” instead of “the illusion of a unique and choiceless identity”. I believe that the “grande poesia” of Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, as well as of many other poets in different times and different languages, gives us a formidable chance to properly handle the otherwise intractable oxymore of human beings torn between different identities and common aspirations. This is the way in which I would read today those famous verses of Dante: “Fatti non foste per viver come bruti ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.