“The Great Tale of the Mediterranean”

The illustrated volume opens with a beautiful image borrowed from cinema “The Great Tale of the Mediterranean” Of Egidio Ivetic (the Mill): two wonderful actors, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly who with unrepeatable aplomb they launch – she indeed, launches, as if there were no tomorrow – one spiders blue on a stretch of coast in southern France, in total soupless – always her, he is terrified but with style – between deadly curves: the hills on one side, the sea on the other.

IS Thief huntobviously, a Mediterranean seen through Alfred Hitchcock’s anything but Latin eyes and certainly, it looks like another world (it was 1955), of an Apollonian beauty, unscratchable and difficult to match: for this very reason it is imprinted forever in a corner of definitive memory of this part of the earth.

Is it an elitist, aristocratic Mediterranean? And even if it was? Isn’t it perhaps an interchangeable dream from Hollywood to anyone who has known the Mediterranean even in its most difficult, tormented, dramatic areas? Of those who lived it between “heights, villages, islands, dialects, endless distances to reach the south, archaic faces, veiled women, poverty, white houses and low walls”? So writes Ivetic, who retraces it far and wide, this Mare Nostrum (of the Romans, but region if ever there was one of adventures, encounters, wars, hopes and fears of many other peoples), starting from the fears of Neolithic man, hesitant and distrustful of what instead would one day become the axis of world history – Hegel dixit.

But if the German philosopher thought above all of peoples, nations, states, the Ivetic map is primarily geographical, “history of its coasts, ports, islands and peninsulas”, even before its different peoples and civilizations. The scholar describes its circumnavigation, from the Strait of Gibraltar, clockwise, from Hispanic Cadiz and the provinces of the Costa del Sol, to maritime Liguria, going down to Gaeta, “the first city that introduced the kingdom of Sicily and then of Naples”in whose primitive construction of streets and alleys we can glimpse the Greek texture and the subsequent stratification of “eras in one site” – characteristic, this of the sedimentation by eras, typical of the Mediterranean world.

To reach then “The Geographic Summit” of the Gulf of Trieste, the jagged coasts – very different from the national Adriatic –, the inlets, the promontories, the islands and the heights that herald the Levant – Greece. Finally, from Istanbul (which was Constantinople, Byzantium, still gripped in a grip that does not decide between modernity – if it is legitimate to call it that – and Islamic authoritarianism) the circumnavigation – also between a sea of ​​islands – will touch the Asian and African coasts to bend down once again to the Pillars of Hercules.

Places and history, it has been said: as for the second, it is largely ours, and a large congeries of that of the world – certainly, of the imaginary to which the fact of being born here and learning life starting from its determinations gives us . In short, history and myth can only be confused in a synthesis that becomes the inevitable matrix and source of the journey of us Mediterraneans.

The images that fill the book on every page (photographs, paintings, wall paintings, maps, etc.) help in this sense: a constellation of figures, objects, regions revive that memory. “The triremes, the Greek helmets, the temples, the heroes, the gods, the stories of ancient civilizations or of those still alive combine to draw an image that is already transmitted with the first school readings”.

It is enough to stay close to what at one point they began to call Italy, and move a little east, for the transit to remind us of the mixing, the superimpositions or the terrifying conflicts with neighboring continents; the interweaving with becomes denser and more lively “Ancient Greece, the Roman imperial power, Latin Christianity, the Italian Renaissance, the Orthodox Christian tradition, Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, Islamic civilization, Jewish communities”.

And later in time, to speak of the multiplicity contained in a story, it helps to remember that four different calendars coexist in it, the Hebrew, the Julian, the Gregorian and the Muslim. The Mediterranean one had taught us that Braudel it is (was) a constellation of civilizations “stacked on top of each other”.

Once the map has been redrawn, it was said, it is worthwhile for Ivetic to retrace this history from its geological origins, from its own rocks, to the flashes diffused by, let’s say, proto-human presences around 600 thousand years ago, settlements which then probably developed in an anti-clockwise direction, from present-day Egypt to the west. However, we would have to remove a zero, and something else, from the previous digit to get closer to the pitched battle between Neanderthals and Sapiens: the former thought of facing the last glaciations by pushing themselves from the mountain ranges of Europe towards the sea but living in very isolated contexts which weakened them in the long run, while the Sapiens who came up from Africa were able to adapt to the new geographical and climatic contexts with sufficient vigor greater to complete the work of extinction that in the Neanderthals had already started by itself. The hunting would be followed by crops, the articulation of language, the art of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims etc that anyone knows.

Of all this, of how Mediterranean nature and landscape, olive trees, vineyards, wheat, cypresses, fig trees, poignant sunsets have amalgamated with architecture, literature, commerce (but also of how much blood has been soaked between repeated wars of all with all) gives an account of this book, up to the variations of the contemporary world, and of no small moment: if Winckelmann, net of philological diatribes, more than two centuries ago taught to recognize the traits of “a sacred legacy”the nearest times tell us more: “The Mediterranean – writes Ivetic – it has turned into a resource to be exploited, from plants for extracting hydrocarbons and gas to bathing establishments, from speculation or building ‘planning’, to cruises on gigantic ships, from the marketing of the so-called ‘art cities’ to the delimitation of exclusive economic zones. ”

They screech quite a bit, especially the last ones, with the red of blood of inevitable migrations that would deserve other fates. This is today – for better or for worse, “the Mediterranean remains the necessary museum”.

Michael Wolf

Egidio Ivetic
The great story of the Mediterranean
the Mill
Large Illustrated Necklace
2022, 394 pages
€48

“The Great Tale of the Mediterranean”