The oath for Italy. From Manzoni to Mazzini

"The oath for Italy. From Manzoni to Mazzini" is the title of the exhibition that the Technical Unit of Mission for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy and the Mazziniano Institute - Museum of Risorgimento presented in Genoa from June 23 to September 3, 2011 (Inaugurated: June 22, 5.30 pm; concluded October 15, 2011).

It is hosted in Giuseppe Mazzini's Birthplace, home of the Museo del Risorgimento - Mazziniano Institute and designed and curated by Giuseppe Monsagrati, Paolo Peluffo, Raffaella Ponte, Anna Villari, in collaboration with Pietro Finelli and the Domus Mazzini of Pisa. Art, literature and music have always celebrated the act of taking an oath. In the various symbolic moments of which the culture of Risorgimento Italy is rich, the oath represents a moment of great solemnity and generally confirms the promise, made between equals, to remain united until freedom for all is achieved. As a pact of loyalty it has a large number of precedents, from mythical (oath of Grütli, which in 1291 binds the three cantons that gave rise to the Swiss Confederation) to the historical ones (oath of Pontida, 1167, with which the Lombard Municipalities join forces against the emperor). Since it is the conclusion of a spontaneous act and has as its objective the conquest or the preservation of freedom, the oath of the conspirators is very different from the oath that lends itself to the monarchy, which binds the subjects to an absolute sovereign (and as such a denier of freedom) on the basis of simple belonging to his kingdom; the oath evoked in the Risorgimento, by Manzoni as well as by Berchet, has its roots in the Middle Ages and appeals to the "ancient virtue" which is that of the free Municipalities. The oath which in Mazzini sanctions the bond of the new recruit with Giovine Italia, is instead a promise that has its ideal antecedents in republican Rome (JL David, Oath of the Horatii) or in France of the great Revolution (1789, Oath of the Pallacorda with which the deputies of the Assembly undertook to remain united until obtaining a new Constitution). In Mazzini, in particular, it represents the conclusive moment of the initiation procedure to patriotism and establishes among those who take it a brotherhood destined to last even at the cost of life and until the nation is created: affiliation is a free choice, taking the oath involves an unending bond of loyalty. In itself, the oath does not create the nation but, as an expression of collective freedom, it is the inevitable prerequisite for its foundation; it is, in a sense, the moment of maximum moral tension towards the assumption of an obligation that acts as a cement for what you want to build. The exhibition set up at the Mazzinian Institute underlines the importance of this act in its evident nature of agreement between free individuals with the aim of founding the nation on the basis of a non-forced civic concord. This was the case in Pontida, as illustrated in the commemorative work painted by Giuseppe Diotti in 1837, granted to the Genoese exhibition by the Pinacoteca di Brera and by the analogue work of Giuseppe Mazza, from the Milanese Museum of Science and Technology (restored thanks to funding of the Technical Mission Unit on the occasion of the exhibition). Next to them, drawings, engravings, sketches, documents. But the exhibition also focuses on the texts and authors of the poetic or prose compositions in which the oath ceremony is represented, as well as in melodrama: in 1837 a work by Saverio Mercadante, “The oath”, inspired by a drama by Victor Hugo, Angelo, tyrant of Padua, on whom the young Mazzini had pondered some time before. The texts of Italian political thought also stand out in the exhibition, in which the anti-tyrannical aspects of the oath are presented. For example Cattaneo wrote, in 1852, in an address to the Swiss: "Our fathers did not take strength from the same breast as yours. Their oath in Pontida was forgotten by the world, when you pronounced the eternal covenant of the Grütli, when on that rocky crag you discovered the most precious gem that God has given: the gem of simple fraternal freedom ". And Mazzini, in 1831: "The nation is the universality of the Italians, united in a pact and living under a common law". The most significant piece, around which the whole exhibition revolves is represented by the letter sent by Giuseppe Mazzini to Giuseppe Giglioli on 21 July 1831, containing the text of the oath of the members of "Giovine Italia", loaned for the occasion by the Domus Mazziniana of Pisa. For Genoa, this is an absolute first for this historic document, an authentic birth certificate of democratic Risorgimento Italy, usually kept at the Domus Mazziniana in Pisa, and presented to the public for the first time on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Unity: first in Rome at the Campidoglio on March 17th and now in Genoa. Why is this letter important? Because in it Mazzini reports the text of the oath of the members of Giovine Italia in its first version. Mazzini in fact gave two similar but not identical versions, within a short time. The first, as reported almost entirely in the letter to Giuseppe Giglioli that is exhibited here, was written in July 1831, in Marseille, in the act - as Mazzini himself would say many years later - of taking up "the ancient goals of Giovine Italia". In fact, at this time the young Ligurian was in a phase of transition, a far from rapid transition from the “Carbonari” to a different and in many ways antithetical approach to the problem of Italy. The contacts made by him in France, first in Lyon and then Marseille, had been with representatives of the carboneria: Carlo Bianco of Saint Jorioz, Borso de ’Carminati, G.P. Voarino; and by then Mazzini had not yet gone beyond his period of Carbonara militancy nor had he removed the traces that that particular conspiratorial culture had left in him. Above all, the very project of launching an organization capable of following a path different from that of the hitherto secret societies forced Mazzini to attempt mediation, or at least to try to proselytize while keeping something of the previous symbolism. When he then drafted the first General Education of Giovine Italia he used expressions, rhetorical figures, formulas, ideological references that were greatly affected by his previous militancy and some references to Jacobinism; and in the Oath of the affiliation he included linguistic terms typical of the Carbonara language, such as the commitment to "extinguish" the tyrants and to "destroy" the traitors or the appeal to the many "spent, or bad" (killed or imprisoned) young people. In the second text, a few months later, the general structure of the oath remained but the tones changed: the term mission appeared, it was hoped that Italy, as well as one, independent and free, was also republican, he called on “the people” and the threatening expressions aimed at possible traitors disappeared. Furthermore, unlike in the first text, where a duty to belong to other secret societies was highlighted to the apprentice, it was now prescribed, in the oath itself, "not to belong, from this day on, to other associations". How did this reversal come about? The Mazzini of the second text was less willing to compromise with the Carboneria especially after the summer, when between the first and the second texts, during a fight with some French, an Italian exile in Mâcon had stabbed a Frenchman to death: it was probably this episode that induced Mazzini to better characterize Giovine Italia by selecting its future followers no longer on the basis of generic neo-Jacobin references but through the adoption of a moral code that accepted the ethical-religious principles resulting from its internal evolution. The text of the second oath remained long in the memory of the Italian patriots, of those who remained throughout Mazzini's life but also of those who - a disdainful Mazzini will say - "are now courtiers, dealers of moderate consortiums, trembling servants of the politics of Bonaparte and slanderers and persecutors of their ancient brothers ". The truth is that it was not possible to conceive a better manifesto of Italianness and the values on which it should be founded: that were, yes, the values of a republican but with their educational content they would also have served to form the character of one who was not a republican or was no longer one.