BMCR 2007.04.65

Response: Audano et al. on Fletcher on Perutelli, Ulisse nella cultura romana

Response to 2007.04.21

Response by

Kristopher Fletcher’s review on the book of the late Alessandro Perutelli entitled Ulisse nella cultura romana (BMCR 2007.04.21) seriously belittles the value of the work and may present to the international public an inadequate idea of its nature, relevance and achievement.

Since Alessandro Perutelli, prematurely deceased in February 2007, is not able to reply any more, a group of his Italian colleagues, who had a very close relationship with him, think it is right to inform the BMCR readers of the diversity of their opinions.

Ulisse nella cultura romana (Florence, 2006) is the last book that Alessandro Perutelli wrote and succeeded in seeing published. During the last years Perutelli’s scholarly production has had a prodigious and almost incredible richness. One of the paradoxical reasons of the great success achieved by the book about Ulysses in Rome is the situation in which it was written: the awareness of the inexorable pressing of time seems to be the root of a writing that is agile and easy and yet substantiated in a profoundly assimilated, even though not exhibited, erudition. It is writing which renounces, in its elegancy and sobriety, the obesity of a hypertrophic erudite apparatus and aims at a clarity rich in substance.

The result is a work able to fascinate both specialists and students alike. Through the constant reference to a polyhedric mythological figure the book covers the entire time span of the Latin literary civilization, from its origins to its fading away, and alludes in manifold ways to the future success of Ulysses in the intellectual imagination of the West. As Guido Paduano, one of the most acute critics of Classics says, (‘L’indice dei libri del mese’, 24, 3, marzo, 2007, 17,) “Perutelli’s book is based on a strong interpretative idea. The idea, that is, that Ulysses offers himself to variable and multiple interpretations because of his closeness to the ordinary individual and to the necessities originating in the epochal lack of certainties which characterises the long history of Roman culture”.

From this point of view Perutelli’s book does not lack the character of overall synthesis as Prof. Fletcher’s review seems to suggest. Through a series of subtle analyses, supported by microinterpretative strategies leading to rich hermeneutical results, the book realizes a kind of “global philology”. This philology originates in the need to meticulously comprehend the text and explain it within its context, in order to open wide-ranging interpretations. These interpretations are the exact opposite to the futile and scintillating readings spread by the cultural modes which Perutelli always vigorously opposed. They are substantiated in a cultural background which does not exhaust itself in the strictly literary discourse (hence the expression ‘cultura’ romana in the title — a term considered by Prof. Fletcher a mere expedient for avoiding ‘letteratura’ latina; the word “letteratura” was already used in an old study published in the Twenties).

Prof. Fletcher concludes his review with the following words: “The story of Ulysses in Roman culture is incomplete, but Perutelli’s book will aid others in taking the next step and exploring these issues at greater length”. These words can be taken to be objective towards the memory of Alessandro Perutelli’s work only if they are interpreted through the words of one of the ancient authors much loved by Perutelli: Cicero (Brutus 262): ‘dum voluit alios habere parata, unde sumerent qui vellent scribere historiam, ineptis gratum fortasse fecit, qui volent illa calamistris inurere; sanos quidem homines a scribendo deterruit’.