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Pietro Marti, the great standard-bearer of Salento culture Ermanno Inguscio has dedicated a precious monograph to the extraordinary figure of the intellectual from Ruffano – a journalist, conference speaker and editor of La Voce del Salento.
Through a reconstruction of Marti’s works and deeds he shines a light on the cultural history of Salento and its characters and their role in Italy
by Giuseppe Orlando D’Urso
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When speaking of Victor Hugo, Paul Claudel compared him to an impetuous wind, immersed as he was in all the literary, social, political and religious movements of his time, plunging in impulsively and upsetting everything. In Terra d’Otranto – but not only there – an equally dynamic personality, disruptive, explosive and stimulating, was that of Pietro Marti, native of Ruffano, to whom Ermanno Inguscio – another native of the town – has dedicated the efforts of years to the life, works and civic commitment of this figure, and has explored, on various occasions and in various reviews, seminars and cultural events, all his diverse facets. His motivation does not lie in a limited provincial or parochial vision (his other essays on other, wider, topics are well-known); rather the realization of the need to know a man who for fifty years conditioned journalism, showed how to explain cultural polemics, and who, in a learned manner, defended his Salento culture from its detractors.

This is the background to Ermanno Inguscio’s volume entitled Pietro Marti (1863-1933). Cultura e Giornalismo in Terra d’Otranto (edited by Marcello Gaballo, Fondazione Terra d’Otranto, Nardò, 2013). The monograph presents itself as a single body of historical and documentary research, but is not definitive, since, as the author himself admits, “it offers hints for further, deeper, analysis for experts who may want to take the task on”.

The preface to the volume could only have been written by the director of the “Nicola Bernardini” Provincial Library in Lecce, Alessandro Laporta (Pietro Marti having held the role of director of that library himself from 1929 to 1933) who recognizes in Ermanno Inguscio “the courage to carry out research and the patience to attempt to reconstruct a portrait as faithful as possible to the original”.

The monograph is divided into four main parts and bears titles that introduce the reader to the polyhedral nature of Pietro Marti: man of culture, founder of newspapers, conference speaker, polemicist, erudite historian and biographer, editor of the periodical La Voce del Salento and lover of art and archaeology; his story is played out against the background of life in Salento.

Not forgetting the high rates of illiteracy and the abysmal gap between the peasant population and the upper classes, as well as the ‘intellectuals’ incapable of mediating between what they dreamt of and the concrete life around them, although in the last twenty years of the 19th century in Salento, there was evidence of a strong presence of journalism and literary production. It was just after the Unification, which provoked great enthusiasm, stimulating the re-emergence of interest in one’s own history and biographies for a reconstruction of one’s own culture and civilization; but this did not lead to just tending one’s own garden, because the outside influences made themselves felt and penetrated the fabric of Salento society and “carduccianesimo” (thanks to its emissary Pietro Siciliani), and the culture that came out of the University of Naples had found their way into the literary life in Salento; meanwhile there were even influences arriving from abroad. Inguscio points out that there was an implosion after this fervor, a closing in on oneself, the tendency to prefer erudite studies of local history, while mortifying literature. Pietro Marti vehemently opposed the neglect and superficiality that the academic world reserved for the Salento area, with his strong polemic spirit, but also basing his position on solid, erudition and documentation, and intervened with articles, conferences and essays aimed at shaking Salento out of its literary languor; polemicizing with Enciclopedia Treccani, even getting at Giovanni Gentile, for what was seen as an underestimation of relevant personalities on the Salento and Apulian cultural scene, pointing out the mistakes in the way the South had been annexed to the Reign of Italy, re-evaluating the figure of Liborio Romano, underlining the importance of the role of Maria d’Enghien and paying more attention to poets, writers and men of science who were considered of lesser importance.

If on one hand the list of the many Salento personalities cited in the book, for whom Marti claimed greater attention, gives the reader an idea of the wealth of what Salento had produced with its “intangible intellectual and artistic assets”, on the other they induce the reader to ponder on the reasons why there has continued to be a veil of silence over those personalities that only over the last two decades has been to some extent lifted.

If nowadays it is possible to see a wider involvement of a territory that is discovering its roots and the role that Salento had in national historical and cultural dynamics, it is thanks to the ability of the so-called ‘cultural mediators’ to convey these themes with their languages and instruments that are more accessible to ‘non-literary types’.

Pietro Marti understood the importance of periodicals, of their ability to penetrate the various social strata, and made them one of his main instruments to “encourage by every means the reclamation of the historical, artistic and literary traditions of his land, Puglia”, so that all the personalities, both of the past and the present, “would be raised both in popular opinion and in that of the experts in the field regarding the artistic and cultural renaissance of the Salento territory”.

Ermanno Inguscio must be credited with having brought the figure of Pietro Marti to a wider public.

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