“Latin is a language that speaks of man … Latin is not afraid of globalization, because it knows that it is a vital and dynamic component for the future development of human culture and civilization”. These are the words in praise of the Ciceronian language, pronounced by our beloved President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, in a speech given in 2001 in Argentina. A great man of culture, a great economist, a great politician, he never forgot the roots of classical culture which he had studied as a young man with a degree in Classical Philology. On 1 June 2021, the name of the President of the Republic was distorted into “Carlo Azelio” by an error on the commemorative plaque located at the Lungotevere Aventino which should have been unveiled in the presence of the highest offices of the Italian state: President and President of the two Houses of Parliament. You realize the fatal mistake, the marble workers do not have the time to correct the typo: writing on marble is not exactly like typing on a computer keyboard or on a mobile phone keypad.
To me, who teach Italian and Latin literature, the plaque dedicated to Carlo “Azelio” Ciampi, as if by enchantment, seems to evoke the glorious tradition of ancient stonecutters who have left us numerous testimonies of their technical work, studied starting from the nineteenth century by a noble discipline called Latin epigraphy: it “studies” – as we read on the website of the Ca ‘Foscari University of Venice – the inscriptions in Latin language entrusted to supports of different nature (marble, metal, ivory, terracotta etc.), produced in a chronological period between the seventh century. BC and the sixth century. AD, with the commitment to investigate the historical, social and archaeological contexts of origin, as well as the “life cycle” that led them from the ancient world to today ». We can therefore say that, in the Eternal City, in some way the glorious tradition of Latin epigraphy, mutatis mutandis, continues in the production in the commemorative plaques of those that the (ancient) Romans called the men, that is, illustrious men?
Therefore, when the highest offices of the Italian state are reached, the national anthem of Italy is sung and “awakens” to the helmet of Scipio. To correct the error, according to what has been read in the chronicles of the event available on the Internet, as more and more in the “servant Italy, of hostel pain”, we make do with pressaposchist art: we cannot remove the veil from the plate as chipped; however plan B fails to deceive the careful eye of photographers: the cloth used to cover the blunder has immortal colors but is semi-transparent. The typo is there and it is tetragonal. What will a scholar ever say in two thousand years, if he ever finds an epigraphic plaque with the wrong name of President Ciampi?
Pasolini on Gramsci’s tomb
In Rome, between via Marmorata and via Zabaglia, near Campo Testaccio, almost close to the Aurelian walls, there is the Non-Catholic Cemetery, better known as the British Cemetery (in fact for the Anglo-Americans it is a must). An oasis of peace made up of centenary cypresses, where famous people are buried. «In the shadow of the cypresses and inside the urns / Comforted by tears is sleep / Death of death less hard?». In an urn, they rest, as has been engraved in the marble hardness, Cinera Antonii Gramscii, that is the ashes of Antonio Gramsci. Here the stonecutter has eternalized a grammatical error: the correct plural of the Latin word is in fact ash. Beyond the manifest error, not covered as Braghettone did with the Last Judgment, let us console ourselves with the verses of Pier Paolo Pasolini in the pometto The ashes of Gramsci, who speaks to the intellectual – dust in his urn – in a “correspondence of loving senses”: “Will you ask me, dead unadorned, / to abandon this desperate / passion for being in the world?”. I am sure that President Azeglio Ciampi, who lived in this world with a passion for art and culture, would have turned a blind eye to a typo in Latin, but in the Italian language, with his name, what could he say to the unknown epigraphist of Italy today? Although my speaking is in vain …
* Professor of Italian and Latin at the Liceo Scientifico Leonardo in Milan and lecturer at the University of Milan
June 3, 2021 (change June 3, 2021 | 4:55 pm)
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