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ITALYs-THREE-CROWNS

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					                            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”.

				
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