Bosworth, R. J. B. Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism: From Dictatorship to Populism

2021 ◽  
Vol 49 (6) ◽  
pp. 146-147
Mark W. Clark
Samuel Asad Abijuwa Agbamu

AbstractIn his 1877 Storia della letteratura (History of Literature), Luigi Settembrini wrote that Petrarch’s fourteenth-century poem, the Africa, ‘is forgotten …; very few have read it, and it was judged—I don’t know when and by whom—a paltry thing’. Yet, just four decades later, the early Renaissance poet’s epic of the Second Punic War, written in Latin hexameters, was being promoted as the national poem of Italy by eminent classical scholar, Nicola Festa, who published the only critical edition of the epic in 1926. This article uncovers the hitherto untold story of the revival of Petrarch’s poetic retelling of Scipio’s defeat of Hannibal in Fascist Italy, and its role in promoting ideas of nation and empire during the Fascist period in Italy. After briefly outlining the Africa’s increasing popularity in the nineteenth century, I consider some key publications that contributed to the revival of the poem under Fascism. I proceed chronologically to show how the Africa was shaped into a poem of the Italian nation, and later, after Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, of Italy’s new Roman Empire. I suggest that the contestations over the significance of the Africa during the Fascist period, over whether it was a national poem of Roman revival or a poem of the universal ideal of empire, demonstrate more profound tensions in how Italian Fascism saw itself.

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