Giuseppe Tucci and Mussolini, Gandhi, Tagore, the XIV Dalai Lama, and the gurus, scholars, and politicians who wrote the History of the 20th century.
One could hardly imagine a richer and more exciting life than that of Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984), a scholar who may rightly be considered one of the fathers of modern Oriental Studies and the central protagonist of Fascist cultural policy in Asia. From his first expeditions from the Himalayas to the Ganges, to his encounters with leaders such as Gandhi, Tagore, the Dalai Lama, Subhas Chandra Bose, to his role as Mussolini’s spokesman in India and Japan—Tucci’s is a human adventure tied inextricably to the history of modern Italy, which he himself helped to forge. An adventure retraced in the pages of this book that reads like an adventure novel.
L’esploratore del Duce, the Italian full version of Mussolini’s Explorer: The Adventures of Giuseppe Tucci and Italian Policy in the Orient from Mussolini to Andreotti. With the Correspondence of Giulio Andreotti (Vol. 1), has given national recognition in the 49th Premio Acqui Storia prize. It was shortlisted in the History Scientific Session and the reading panel of 60 members awarded it a special plaque as the most read history book. Thanks!
Here you can read the full report of the ceremony held in Acqui Terme on Saturday, October 15, 2016. It includes the photos of some VIPs. Below the picture of all the prizewinners and my plaque.
Il Duce's Explorer: The Adventures of Giuseppe Tucci and Italian Policy in the Orient from Mussolini to Andreotti. With the Correspondence of Giulio Andreotti, v. 1 is out!
Those of you who pursue studies in the History of Religions, Italian History, Tibetan Buddhism, History of Asian Art, International Politics, Asian Archaeology – and those of you who would like to know a bit more on Giuseppe Tucci, the visits of Gandhi, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tagore, and Subhas Chandra Bose in Italy, and Italian Fascism in India, Afghanistan, and Japan – may wish to read the book just published Il Duce’s Explorer. The Adventures of Giuseppe Tucci and Italian Policy in the Orient from Mussolini to Andreotti. With the Correspondence of Giulio Andreotti, authored by Enrica Garzilli.
This is the 1st out of 9 volumes. This book is the revised and enlarged translation of the omonimous Italian book (1st ed. Memori-Asiatica, Aug. 2012; 3rd ed. April 2014). I want to thank Todd Portnowitz, the translator, who did an excellent job.
Here is a description of the book and a Table of Contents.
When the capital of Tibet was still the mythical “Forbidden City”, a mysterious destination for the most adventurous explorers, when Nepal was covered with forests and swamps, swarming with dangerous beasts and forbidden to foreigners, when Italy was ruled by the Fascist regime greedily eyeing potential colonial possessions in Asia, a learned and adventurous man, the perfect embodiment of that era’s virile ideals, entered places where no Western man had before set foot: crossing glittering peaks of snow, desolate deserts and ruins of ancient cities, constantly challenging himself, he discovered archaeological treasures from past civilizations.Even today, in the East as well as in the West, the name of this intrepid Italian explorer and insatiable researcher is cloaked in an aura of legend.
One could hardly imagine a richer and more exciting life than that of Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984), the scholar who may quite rightly be considered one of the fathers of modern Oriental Studies and a central protagonist of Fascist cultural policy in Asia: from his first expeditions to the valleys of the Himalayas and the plains of the Ganges, to his diplomatic activity in Japan as spokesman for the Duce; from his encounters with scholars and leaders such as Gandhi, Tagore, the XIV Dalai Lama, Mircea Eliade and Giovanni Gentile, who was his great protector together with Giulio Andreotti, to the archaeological excavations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran in more recent years; a human and intellectual adventure inextricably linked to the history of modern Italy, which he himself helped to forge.
An adventure that can be traced in the pages of this book, where the pace of a thrilling narrative combines with the scientific and historical reconstruction of the Fascist policy in Asia, and of Tucci’s precious creation, the powerful Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East. A history based on eyewitness accounts and historical documents, such as the original and unpublished correspondence between Tucci and Andreotti, Gandhi, Tagore, the XIV Dalai Lama, Mircea Eliade, Giovanni Gentile, the Raj Guru of Nepal, and the historian D. R. Regmi, and the previously unknown notes of Mussolini. An adventure retraced in the pages of this book that reads like an adventure novel.
CONTENTS OF VOLUME 1
1 Index of Maps in Volume 1
xxiii Index of Figures in Volume 1
xxv Preface to the English Edition
lxv Note on the Text
I From Youth to the First Voyage: Enlightened by the Buddha
Back in 2007, long before I published the first biography on Tucci, L’esploratore del Duce (1st ed. 2012), I watched the movie Youth Without Youth, written and directed here in Milan by F. Ford Coppola
I found the film, and still do, to be very moving. It is a reworking of a novel, of the same name, by the Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade. The film features Dominique Matei as its central protagonist (and indeed, the English translation and the introduction of the novel was written by Matei Calinescu) and is a true glorification of the Oriental disciplines. What’s amazing is that the girlfriend of Dominique, after undergoing shock, begins to speak Sanskrit. And who do they call in as an interpreter? Giuseppe Tucci himself—a friend, in real life, of Mircea Eliade.
In Youth without Youth, Tucci is defined as the highest authority of European Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy—which indeed was the case. He was also presented as the president of IsMEO—which, though its doors are now shut, was at time of the film (in the mid-to-late 1930s) quite prosperous and active.
In truth, the founder and president of the powerful institute of IsMEO was Senator Giovanni Gentile, until his murder in April 1944, by a partisan group. Tucci, instead, served as its executive vice president, until his purge and the compulsory administration of the institute, in 1944. In fact IsMEO and Rome had been elected by the Duce as the “spiritual and ideal guide of Italy and the world.” This is the reason why I call Tucci the explorer, scholar and political “Indiana Jones” of Mussolini.
I came to translate Enrica Garzilli‘s monumental biography of Giuseppe Tucci through Ann Goldstein, the renowned translator of Elena Ferrante’s work, who mentioned the project to me in January of 2014. Shortly after I was in touch with Enrica, and by March I found myself immersed in a text that covers over 1,360 characters—from poets to politicians, scholars, saints, and spies—and deals deeply with languages and cultures—Tibetan, Nepalese, and Indian above all—that I had little or no knowledge of. Suddenly I was confronted with precise Italian terms for Buddhist and Hindu concepts already foreign to me in English, typing out fifteen-letter words with diacritics I’d never seen. And translating is not simply a matter of converting one language into another, but of infusing the words with context. When the context is a foreign culture (or cultures) the work doubles (or triples!).
Living in New York City I have the good fortune of being surrounded by museums; since beginning the translation I have twice visited the Asia society, once for an exhibit featuring treasures from a Tibetan monastery, Golden Visions of Densatil, —including the photographs of Pietro Francesco Mele taken while on an expedition with none other than Giuseppe Tucci—and again to see an exhibit of Buddhist sculpture from Myanmar; I made two trips, as well, to the Rubin museum of Himalayan and Indian art in Chelsea. Almost more than to the artifacts my eye was drawn to the title cards, which are a glossary of cultural terms—stupa, thangka, bodhisattva, Vishnuite, Shivaite—and all thankfully used properly (the Buddha is capitalized, other buddhas are not, and so on), which served both as research and to stimulate my interest in the material.
Garzilli’s approach is nothing if not exhaustive—her hunt for Tucci’s story brought her to libraries and archives throughout Italy, in Tibet, Nepal, India, London, Washington, Boston and beyond—and to carry that thoroughness over into English has been a large part of my job as a translator. My experience before this project was principally as a poetry translator, where exactitude can often be a matter of creative interpretation and a deep sense of musicality, with room to improvise. In scholarly writing, as I quickly learned, exactitude is exactitude: letting the Latin-rooted verbs wield all their Latin precision; regarding the punctuation with a lawyer’s eye; rendering original quotations without flourish or fancy. The tedium nearly overwhelmed me. I longed for the spaciousness of poetry.
But then I had a draft of the introduction, which meant I soon had Enrica’s sharp corrections. Her intense queries, her suggestions, her second-guessing of a word choice, a comma, a dash, tightened and improved my sentences. They revived the text. Bearing her counsel in mind, I returned to the translation with a keener sense of the book’s tone and intent, and began to find joy in exactitude. Not only my knowledge of Italian, but as a result of translating Enrica’s work, of corresponding with her over the numerous drafts and revisions, my knowledge of English has grown immensely, the ways the language can be stretched and twisted and coaxed into expressing more, and more precisely.
Which is not to say that the book leaves no room for poetry or adventure. Tucci bounds across borders, vacuuming up languages and cultures, speaking boldly before his peers, making enemies and friends with equal vigor. We follow him to Santiniketan, during the early days of Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University. The fascinating world of academia under Fascist rule is revealed, the hoops to be jumped through, the money and promotions to be applied for, the men of power to whom one must appeal.
Learning of Tucci’s own guru, Carlo Formichi, of his pet mongooses and his absurd palanquin ride up a mountain, was a particular pleasure of translating the first volume. This biography is filled with life and lives, policies and places, it spans the globe, and that Ms. Garzilli has managed to hold it all up on her own is an Atlas-like achievement.
New York, May 19, 2015
I am author of the first biography of Giuseppe Tucci, a man so unique and complex. It was published both in Italian and in English, in the magazine Identità Sibillina -n. 2, year 2006. Below you’ll find the English text of A Great Man from Macerata Who Went Far: Giuseppe Tucci, the Marches Region and the East.
You can read and download my publications on Academia.edu. You can follow me on Facebook, or through the Facebook pages on Giuseppe Tucci in Italian and in English – Il Duce’s Explorer. The Adventures of Giuseppe Tucci. And you can chat with me on Twitter.
Below is the full text of the article.
A GREAT MAN FROM MACERATA WHO WENT FAR: GIUSEPPE TUCCI, THE MARCHES REGION AND THE EAST
by Enrica Garzilli
The scientist and explorer Giuseppe Tucci thus wrote about his journeys to Asia and his passion for travelling and experiencing “the far”: far from the banality and superficiality of everyday and massified relationships. And he really did go far, as he was the greatest expert in oriental studies that Italy has ever had and one of the best internationally recognised experts on Tibet, he was one of the first scientists in the world to explore the hitherto unexplored regions of Tibet and Nepal, he was an anthropologist, archaeologist, and he disseminated Asia culture, both ancient and contemporary – and he was a journalist too.
Tucci, the only legendary Italian oriental expert in the whole of Asia, gave the world a better understanding of the greatest Asiatic religions, and his critical editions and original translations of valuable texts in Sanskrit and in Tibetan opened up southern Asia to scholars. With his legendary scientific expeditions to Tibet, Nepal, Ladhak, Sikkim, and Bhutan he opened up these countries to geographers and modern travellers.
His work of discovery, restoration and preservation of rare manuscripts, which are today kept in Rome in the Tucci Foundation of the Oriental Library of IsIAO, the former IsMEO (Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East), safe from the inevitable dangers of the Asiatic climate, worms and rats – as specified in the descriptions of the microfilms that reproduce the manuscripts –, and from the even graver threat of destruction by man, due to both the Cultural Revolution when China annexed Tibet, and the greed of merchants and ignorant neglect, and his expeditions to the then almost inaccessible territories in the Himalayas, gave those countries a final place in history, and not only in the work of scholars. Moreover, following in the footsteps of his mentor Formichi, he updated the ways of studying oriental languages, with a first-hand understanding of the culture expressed by those languages, enriching the patrimony of knowledge of the world.
Tucci was born in Macerata on the 5TH of June 1894. His father Oscar and his mother Ermenegilda Firmani had emigrated to the Marches from Puglia. Something much stronger than birthright ties Tucci to the Marches. Perhaps it was the proximity of his native town and land to the sea, which has always brought different peoples, altough very distant, together as much as it has separated them; or perhaps, belonging to a region which has produced so many travellers and explorers of the East; whatever the reason, Tucci was immediately acclaimed as an ‘infant prodigy’ towards the East and, as he himself said, when he was only twelve he already knew Sanskrit, Hebrew and Iranian.
So why did I decide to open the first English blog on Giuseppe Tucci – and on my book Il Duce’s Explorer: The Adventures of Giuseppe Tucci and the Italian Policy in Orient from Mussolini to Andreotti: With the Corrispondence of Giulio Andreotti – published in Italian: Milano: Memori, Rome, Asiatica, Milan, Sept. 2012?:
1. Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984) was one of the greatest scholars in the world – on Tibet, India, China, Nepal, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sanskrit, and Asian Studies. He was an excellent historian and also one the leading historians of Tibetan artl.
2. He was and remains to this day famous throughout Asia – India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia.
3. Tucci is famous not only as a scholar, but as an archeologist, a representative of Mussolini in Japan, as the soul and director of the former IsMEO (Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East, then ISIAO), and.. as a spy!
4. Next to nothing is known on Italian policy in Asia by Benito Mussolini (1921-45) and Giulio Andretti (1947-84), with the exception of Renzo De Felice’s short 1988 book on Arabs, Jews and Indians in Mussolini’s politics.