BMCR 2004.02.38

Aspetti della storiografia di Ettore Pais. Università degli Studi di Perugia. Incontri perugini di storia della storiografia antica e sul mondo antico, VII.

, , , Aspetti della storiografia di Ettore Pais. Studi di storia e di storiografia. Napoli: Edizioni scientifiche italiane, 2002. 352 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8849505353 EUR 28.50.

This book does not have a very broad audience in view, but it tells a fascinating tale of scholarship and politics, and their interaction. The volume, with a foreword by the editor L. Polverini, gathers twelve papers, arranged in two sections, one of primarily biographical interest, the other focusing on Pais’ writings, while the closing remarks on the symposium are made by Filippo Cassola. The book is provided with an index of modern authors.

Ettore Pais was one of the foremost Italian scholars in the field of classical antiquity. His activity lasted for about six decades, from the early 80s of the 19th century to 1939, when he died at the age of 82. His interests ranged from the study of material culture (he was appointed Director of the Museum of Sassari and later of Cagliari, both in Sardinia, and also to the National Museum in Naples), to Latin epigraphy (at the insistence of Mommsen he compiled a supplement to ξιλ from ancient Geography to the subtle criticism of historical traditions, for which he became especially renowned. In 1904-1905 he spent a sabbatical year in the United States. After 1911 P., who is otherwise known to have been affiliated with the masons, took a nationalist stance, and made use of his knowledge and position to support Italian attempts to build an empire in the Mediterranean. After World War I he was appointed a member of Italian senate by the prime minister Facta, who just a few days later was unable to resist Mussolini’s march on Rome. P. was at first not very enthusiastic about the advent of Fascism, but later on accepted and supported the new régime. P. also had sons and pupils, whose positions he sought to enhance through his personal acquaintance with the Duce, though not always successfully. A biographical sketch is presented by L. Polverini in his introduction (7-19).

A. Marcone, “Pais e la Germania” (23-37), focuses especially on Pais’ apprenticeship in Berlin to Theodor Mommsen, documented through the correspondence of P. with the papyrologist (and former mentor) G. Vitelli. P. was entrusted by Mommsen with the task of compiling a supplement to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum of Northern Italy (vol. V), at which he set to work in the following year, 1882. In 1883 Pais was again in Berlin, where he made the acquaintance of the young French scholar Camille Jullian, who also left some memory of Mommsen’s teaching. Soon back in Italy, P. continued to profess a personal devotion to Mommsen for the rest of his life.

R.T. Ridley, “Ettore Pais and the English-speaking World” (39-73), measures P.’s popularity among Anglo-Saxon classicists through the quantity and tone of the reviews devoted to his works, both in the United States (where P. was able to publish two articles and two books during his stay), and in England. Some of the reviews were rather cold, especially about P.’s excessive criticism of the ancient tradition, and in general he received a higher degree of consideration in the U.S. than in England. P.’s fortune is for Ridley also an opportunity to paint some portraits of major (e.g. T. Frank) and minor scholars who dealt with his output.

M. Cagnetta (+), “Pais e il nazionalismo” (75-94), is an essay about P.’s interest in politics, manifested especially through a notorious speech in 1911, supporting Italian expansion in the Mediterranean. This for P. was also a time of criticism of other scholars, like Ferrero (because, according to P., he lacked a scholarly approach to the history of ancient Rome) and Beloch (because as a German he was unable, according to P., to sense and teach the continuity between ancient Rome and present Italy). His polemics were also directed against medievalists, like P. Villari, who asserted that Italian history only began with the fall of the Roman Empire. Because of his adherence to Nationalism and later to Fascism, P.’s later scholarship is deemed contemptible.

G. Bandelli, “Pais e il confine nazionale d’Italia” (95-122), concerns his ability to reconcile his predilection for German scholarship with the anti-German stance he took on the eve of World War I. Pais firmly believed that the natural edge of Italy was marked by the city of Pola, on the tip of Istria, as it had been foretold by Dante (Inferno IX, 113-114: Pola presso del Quarnaro / che Italia chiude e i suoi termini bagna). As an appendix is here published for the first time P.’s diary of the journey through Austrian Venezia-Giulia, which he made for the revision of CIL V. According to P. some of the Latin inscriptions to be found outside of the Italian boundary purportedly had been destroyed by the Slavic element.

P. Ruggeri, “Ettore Pais senatore del regno d’Italia” (123-158), deals with P.’s activities as a member of the Italian senate (1922-1939), marked by an initial coolness towards Fascism. P. did not refrain from denouncing the danger of totalitarianism and became indignant when Mussolini declared he would not give up, even if he did not have the parliament’s support. However, by 1926 P. became a convert to Fascism, as he made clear in dedicating to Mussolini his “Storia di Roma durante le Guerre Puniche”. One of the most interesting senatorial speeches of Pais concerns the reform of secondary schools carried out by the minister for education Giovanni Gentile: P. objected to Gentile’s entrusting the teaching of both Philosophy and History to one and the same teacher and also to certain limitations that affected women’s role in education.

R. Visser, “The Correspondence of Ettore Pais in the ‘Segreteria Particolare del Duce, Carteggio Ordinario'” (159-175), deals with the correspondence that, as a senator, Pais was able to conduct with the Duce. Some of Pais’ letters ask for personal favors, regarding either the promotion of Pais’ pupil Carolina Lanzani, or financial support for the activities in the field of botany by his son, Antonio. This is the author of a letter in which he narrated his father’s death (in a fashion like the exitus virorum inlustrium) to the Duce. Some letters probably hint at the secret help which P. gave Mussolini for a speech about ancient Rome’s policy on the sea.

M. Buonocore, “L’attività epigrafica” (179-203), focuses on Pais as a successor of Mommsen in the work of collecting inscriptions. P. engaged himself in an unrelenting work of revision for the supplement to CIL V, involving the Augustan Regions IX (Liguria), X (Venetia et Histria) and XI (Transpadana): his contribution was unanimously acknowledged as fundamental by all scholars who subsequently had to deal with those inscriptions, e.g. for the new series of Inscriptiones Italiae. Afterwards P. also began to prepare a supplement to the inscriptions of Sardinia (CIL X) which was never finished. P. made use of epigraphical competence in several other contributions, and his skill in this field has not been denied even by his most fierce opponents, such as, for instance, Gaetano De Sanctis.

N. Parise, “L’interesse di Ettore Pais per la Numismatica Antica” (205-212), is a very short essay regarding Pais’ numismatic knowledge. P. dealt only occasionally and quite superficially with coins, but in some instances he was able to present genuine intuitions on controversial matters, lacking however the strength and the competence to bring his assumptions to a full demonstration.

M. Capasso, “Ettore Pais e l’Officina dei Papiri” (231-233), touches upon one of the most interesting features in Pais’ biography, his appointment as director of the Archaeological Museum in Naples (1901), with the adjoining Officina dei papiri, whose direction had been recently (1900) entrusted to Emidio Martini. Pais, who considered also this branch of the Museum to be under his competence, found himself early at odds with Martini, as well as with the German scholar Crönert, by then an assiduous guest in the Officina. Soon P. earned the hostility of the intellectuals in Naples, headed by the philosopher Benedetto Croce, and at last he was forced to resign by the Italian Minister of Education, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando.

A.M. Biraschi, “Pais e Strabone” (235-246), deals with P.’s scholarly work on the geographer Strabo: his long article, published in “Rivista di Filologia ed Istruzione Classica” XV of 1887, addressed the question of whether Strabo’s Geography was intended as an instrument for the administration of the Roman Empire. The result is negative, as its author addresses a Greek rather than a Latin readership (quotations of Homer abound, while themes of administration are rarely touched upon), and the conclusion is that it was probably presented to the hellenized queen of Pontus, Pythodoris. P., in opposition to other scholars, believed that the Geography’s composition did require of Strabo a considerable span of years, therefore could not have been written exclusively in his old age.

A. Mastino, “Ettore Pais e la Sardegna romana” (247-300), focuses extensively on P.’s interest in that island, from which his family came, and where he himself received some of his earlier appointments. The most important contribution of P. on this subject is obviously his Storia della Sardegna e della Corsica durante il dominio romano, Roma 1923, which was anticipated much earlier in the article La Sardegna prima del periodo romano, 1880. It is easy to discern, by comparison of the two pieces, that P. developed with the years a different judgement about Roman rule in Sardinia, which is at first seen as spoiling the island’s resources, later however as a beneficial and civilizing influence.

G. Salmeri, “E. Pais e la Sicilia Antica” (310-326), deals especially with Pais’ scholarly work on Sicily, where in 1886 he was summoned to hold a chair in Palermo. His first contribution (1888), Alcune Osservazioni sulla Storia e sulla Amministrazione della Sicilia durante il periodo Romano, testifies (like his earlier work on Sardinia) to an unfavorable attitude to Roman imperialism. Although already in 1888 P. had to leave Palermo for Pisa, he did not cease to cultivate this field of interest, developing an original theory that found expression in the book Gli Elementi Sicelioti nella più Antica Storia Romana (1893), where he affirms that the oldest stories told in the Roman annalistic tradition were an adaptation of historical events that had happened in Sicily. Although his theory was rejected by most historians, he has been credited by reputable scholars, such as Momigliano and Mazzarino, for the opening of a brand new field of research, on which he also produced a second book (1894), Storia della Sicilia e della Magna Grecia. As in the case of Sardinia, in his later years P. developed a different (more positive) attitude to Roman intervention on the island.

Filippo Cassola’s “Bilancio Conclusivo” (327-339), constitutes a very sharp and essential evaluation of the book. Cassola acutely picks up some of the themes common to the individual essays, concerning Pais’ education and early political stance, his adherence to Nationalism (1911) and later to Fascism, that reached its peak in his proposal to celebrate a triumph in Roman style for Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia (1936). Commenting on Pais’ scholarly production, Cassola remarks that while some of his theories soon fell into discredit (e.g. the identification of the Seven Kings of Rome with the Seven Hills), others found widespread acceptance and were further developed in later scholarship. And, although he more than once changed his mind about points at issue, he is to be given credit, in general, for admitting previous mistakes.

To sum up: this is a welcome book, since it throws light on a controversial scholarly figure. The book is simply but neatly produced. An entire blank page (249) is inserted in the text, merely to add some credits, yet there is no photograph of the book’s subject. Key themes are obviously repeated in more than one essay (e.g. Benedetto Croce’s famous judgment on Pais: 93 and 136 at least; help given by P. to Mussolini: 110, 134 and 166-167), although variously handled (e.g. a different evaluation of Scano’s biography of Pais: 78 and 99). Regrettably, while most historical aspects of Pais’ biography and bibliography are dealt with in detail, some structural aspects, which played a role in Pais’ career and probably still affect the educational system of Italy, are not extensively treated.1


1. I would like to thank F.X. Ryan, Dresden, for reading the typescript and suggesting improvements.