Efforts to channel the ancient Roman spirit closer to home were not always as successful. Benito Mussolini proclaimed a Second Roman Empire—which got no further than Albania and Ethiopia and, even there, didn’t last very long—and paid a great deal of lip service to Romanità (the concept of “Roman-ness”). But it mostly took the form of superficial trappings and grandiose public work projects. “Rome is our point of departure and reference,” Il Duce declared in 1922 on April 21, the traditional founding day of Rome. “It is our symbol or if you like, it is our Myth. We dream of Roman Italy, that is to say wise and strong, disciplined and imperial. Much of that which was the immortal spirit of Rome resurges in fascism.”
If you say so, Benito. The Italy that emerged from the renaissance into the modern world has made many contributions. As my friend Luigi Barzini wrote in his delightful, bittersweet book about his fellow countrymen, The Italians,
Italians have discovered America for the Americans, taught poetry, statesmanship and the ruses of commerce to the English, military art to the Germans, cuisine to the French, acting and ballet dancing to the Russians, and music to everybody.
But there is one thing Italians have never really managed to accomplish. Caesar and Augustus—not to mention Mussolini—dreamed of transforming Italians into Romans. But in the end, the joke was on them. Instead of Italians turning into Romans, the Romans turned into Italians.
Aram Bakshian, Jr. served as an aide to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan and has been widely published here and overseas on politics, history, gastronomy, and the arts.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.