Editorial by Franco Cardini
There is too much talk about memory and identity, in these times: to such an extent that someone has proposed to ban these two terms both from our ordinary and intellectual vocabulary for at least ten years. And while, maybe for modesty, we now prefer to pronounce the word Europe as little as possible, there is an irresistible rise of the expression “Mediterranean” and of everything concerning that body of water that our ancestors proudly named Mare nostrum and today the French poetically call La grande Bleue.
Mediterranean history, Mediterranean folklore, even Mediterranean diet. That is perhaps the clearest and best definable concept. Water is life, and when the European continent was still largely a land covered with dense forests and gloomy moors on the sun-drenched water of the great, unpredictable, but ultimately good sea, all kinds of boats intersected while ports and cities flourished on its shores.
And everywhere myths, legends, rituals, worships, sanctuaries spread, always dominated by the two typical plants and the two cornerstones of that sea, vine and olive tree, wine and oil, without whom both the Bible and the Odyssey would be inconceivable, the foundations of our life and our imaginary: both food and sacred matters.
Perhaps the attempt to create even an economic and political entity, the Mediterranean Union, promoted a few years ago between the Barcelona meeting in 1995 and the 2008 proposal of the former French President Sarkozy, has failed; however, in the meantime the latest concept of “Mediterranean anthropology”, which is still in the process of being clarified and, for now, has focused only on the study of some key concepts, such as those of “honor” and “shame”, has been making its way, while it is closely linked to broader and more general issues such as those of imaginary, borders, boundaries and acculturative dynamics. This is revealed in the essay by E. Sauer, Le frontiere dell’Europa e l’antropologia mediterranea [The Borders of Europe and Mediterranean Anthropology], published in the collective book Il genere dell’Europa [The Gender of Europe], edited by A. Clementi (Roma, Biblinck, 2003, pp. 197-225). Along the same theoretical lines, but drawing inspiration from the successful play by Erri De Luca, L’ultimo viaggio di Sindbad [The Last Journey of Sindbad] – where the adventurer of the One Thousand and One Nights is torn from the immense exotic Indian Ocean and transplanted into our dear closed sea – a group of scholars led by two women philologists (the first, Roberta Morosini, is from Salerno and based in Massachusetts; the second, Charmaine Lee, obviously not from Salerno but that teaches there) have assumed the Mediterranean as a general and favored object for a complex diachronic and multi-spatial itinerary.
The result is a unique book, to say the least, with a title as complex as ironically clear: Sinbad Mediterraneo. Per una topografia della memoria da Oriente a Occidente [Mediterranean Sindbad. For a topography of memory from East to West] (Lecce-Rovaro, Pensa, s.d., pp. 350, illustrated, 35 euros). The expression “topography of memory” basically means a complex space-time operation that, within the infinite variety of places and situations that the great sea offers us, ranges in search of a secret unifying core.
As you can see, we are talking about books: and not even the most recent. And these are cues for reflection to be further explored. A great scholar who passed away not many years ago, Fernand Braudel, defined the Mediterranean as “a liquid continent”. Considering ourselves Europeans, we now essentially consider – beyond opinions on the European Union – as our “compatriots” also the Icelanders and the Polish people. The “continental Mediterranean soul” should lead us to perceive ourselves, as Italians, “compatriots” of Syrians and Algerians. Is that possible? In what way? To what extent? On what grounds? With which perspectives? These are the questions to be answered today.