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 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.
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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.