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Re-Making the Italians

Collective Identities in the Contemporary Italian Historical Novel

Gala Rebane

Can the unprecedented rise of the historical genre in Italy after 1980 be explained out of the «Umberto Eco effect» alone, as many critics believe? Why are so many Italians nowadays inclined to believe in their Celtic origins? How many middle Ages were there and do we actually live in a high-tech version of them? Has Italy ever been unified? This book discusses the ongoing literary quest for new collective identities in the present-day Italian nation challenged by European integration, globalisation and the burgeoning regionalism, and shows the intricate routes of historical revision on which contemporary Italian fiction embarks.

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V. Roman Empire and beyond

Extract

1. The intricate legacy of the Roman Empire The political and cultural history of Italy has always been closely associated with the history of Rome. After a brief mentioning of the Etruscans and some obscure Italic tribes that had once populated the central part of the peninsula, the courses of Italian history customarily take the times of ancient Roman and Greek civilisations as a point of departure with the chief focus on the Roman an- tiquity. One reason for it is a relative scarcity of historical material available for the pre-Roman past, as well as the absence of the Etruscan literary patrimony; on the other hand, tracing history of Italy back to the times of the classical civili- sations and not beyond is a persistent myth of self-legitimation. Besides, the an- cient Greek and Roman legacy has been shaping European culture up to the pre- sent day, and therefore, as a direct descendant of the classical antiquity, Italy embodies a collective historical identity of every European (cf. Galli della Log- gia, 1998:32). Rome has often been used by the Italian state as a powerful token of legiti- mation of its nationalist and imperialist endeavours, and as such played a role of prominence in the ideological battles of the Risorgimento. The idea of historical continuity between the ancient Rome and the emerging Italian State became one of the most powerful myths of the unified Italy. Whereas the beginning of the 19th century was characterised by the enthusiasms about the Italian...

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