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Fabio Finotti and the Idea of Patria

In his latest book Fabio Finotti's delivers an informative analysis of the term patria (fatherland)

Harvardianaby Luca Politi
fabio finotti
In "Italia. L'invenzione della patria," Fabio Finotti, Mariano DiVito chair in Italian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, explores centuries of literature and cultural output in the Italian peninsula, tracing how the meaning of the term patria has been changing


In Italia. L’invenzione della patria, Finotti delivers an informative analysis of the term patria (fatherland) that spans most centuries of literature and cultural output in the Italian peninsula, from Vergil’s Aeneid to the last decades. Finotti’s book is highly readable, and it contains much that will be of interest to all types of readers, from specialists in Italian history and literature to a more general audience. As he transitions among the centuries, Finotti traces the ways in which the meaning of the term patria changes for authors such as Dante, Petrarch, Manzoni, and Foscolo, especially in relation to other and sometimes intersecting concepts such as the nazione (nation), stato (state), and paese (country). His analysis is highly stimulating, as throughout the book Finotti engages his audience through close readings that contribute meaningfully to his overall thematic.

At the same time, Finotti also is careful to consider the broader implications of his analysis, which uses Italy as a focal point for the changing status of the term patria, for prevailing and current theories of nation-forming, such as that of Adrian Hastings, which have not accounted for the Italian example as thoroughly. And so just as Finotti grounds his arguments in close textual readings, he manages to maneuver successfully to the more macroscopic panorama by putting those readings in conversation with each other and with contemporary scholarship. Indeed, what emerges as the central contribution of his book is, precisely, the very way it showcases Italy – which is fundamentally multicultural, a “tappeto dai mille colori” – as a unique case of how the concepts of nationhood and fatherland have mutated throughout the centuries. Conforming neither to the Ancient Greek notion of patria as polis nor to the models of patria as nation found in many other modern countries such as France and England, Italy, according to Finotti, is the home of a new invention – that of the patria as a coexistence of the local and the natural, or, more simply, a global patria.

Finotti’s study is, by and large, arranged chronologically, and it covers most periods of Italian history. But this format does not prevent Finotti from providing a comparative analysis of the value of patria among several time periods. For example, when in chapter V he focuses on the idea of patria in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, he is driven by the question of whether that patria is the same as the one imagined in the period of the Risorgimento or in the twentieth century. Thus, he quotes not only from the so-called “political” cantos of the Divina Commedia (Inf. VI, Purg. VI, and Par. VI), but also from Mazzini’s references to Dante and the Fascist Giovinezza hymn. Although these later nationalist writings claim they are helping to fulfill a unified vision of Italy that extends all the way back to Dante, Finotti challenges this juxtaposition, attending to how this vision is in fact “invented” and how Dante’s idea of patria is indeed distinct.

For Finotti, patria has multiple layers, whether geographical, political, or racial, and he includes inspiring discussions of the underestimated role of memory, faith, and art in generating feelings of allegiance. In several of his chapters, Finotti pauses to examine how a given idea of patria may resound to his contemporary readership, and he analyzes its contributions and potential drawbacks. For example, while the racial element of Manzoni’s writings may cause some hesitation, it should not condemn them, since at the same time they contain a courageous invitation to search for Italy in the misery of its “volgo disperso” (scattered crowd). So throughout Finotti’s book, readers not only learn about the various ways the patria has been imagined throughout history, but also are challenged to rethink their own conceptualizations and to consider what groups are possibly left out.

Fabio Finotti, Italia. L’invenzione della patria. Milan: Bompiani, 2016.

Watch our video-interview with Fabio Finotti (in Italian).

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