Professor of Italian Language and Literature
Department of Italian Language and Literature
I must confess, right from the start, that Lady Fortune has been most generous to me, for her winds have led and guided me through a journey of incredible experiences, places, and personal encounters. And although the gods must have favored me from the start, they also made certain that my journey would not be free of difficulties, risks, and challenges. Let me tell a bit about my own little odyssey.
At the tender age of ten, my father and I embarked for a long voyage, one which would take me from my beloved homeland, Pettoranello - a small remote village tucked in the majestic Appennine mountains of central Italy, across the ocean to a new world, to the idyllic, ivy-covered "island" of Princeton, N.J. - a renowned university town known to me at the time primarily because it was where all the Pettoranesi immigrants had settled ever since my great-grandfather, the first one to move there at the beginning of the century. It didn't take me very long to realize how much my life would be influenced by moving there. I was touched in particular by the fascinating history of the Pettoranese community and all the stories about their immigrant experiences. As for the history of my own family I especially cherished the unending stories I heard about their unique experiences, such as my grandfather recounting how he knew Albert Einstein personally, or the fact that my uncle had been Thomas Mann's private gardener, or how my cousin would often stop at Jacques Maritain's house on his way home from school. Princeton was indeed a new home for me, a place where I had the fortune of living during most of my school years, including my undergraduate days. This "island", especially the university, offered me many opportunities, many gifts, which, not unlike those presented by Calypso to the stranded Greek hero, these were likewise most attractive. But at some point during my second year in college, Hermes must have visited me, for I found myself considering ways to overcome this nymph's seductive offerings.
Thus, for my Junior year I decided to set out and sail on for the land of the Etruscans, landing as I did on another enchanting "island" called Fiorenza, a place filled with the beauty and fragrance of not only flowers, but of a rich culture steeped in history, music, and above all, art. This charming nymph held me captive for a full year. Indeed, throughout my whole visit, I became so captivated by her that I soon realized that not even the beautiful Nausicaa could have offered poor Odysseus the gifts, which lovely Florence bestowed upon me. While there I truly felt like an honored guest as I was continually feasted to a banquet of various delicacies, the taste of which continue to nourish my mind and soul. Following that year I continued my wanderings and experienced many other adventures, all of which are far too many to recount here, save a brief mention of two episodes that are particularly telling of my fortunes. The first concerns my stay on the land of the Cyclops (Johns Hopkins graduate school) where, after five years of arduous testing I managed not only to survive, but also to escape and continue my voyage. Shortly thereafter Fortune came my way again, this time producing a strong wind which blew me toward another "island", to the home of another enchantress named Circe (Yale), where for six full years I was put to a different kind tests and testing. My days there, I must admit, were quite challenging and rather happy, but for some reason Hermes felt the need to visit me again, this time providing me with a magic herb which would serve me well to leave as well as aid me in reaching my present home, the paradisiacal "island" of Smith College.
Ever since I arrived at Smith College some twenty years ago, I have felt feasted to a sumptuous banquet and have been showered with gifts and generosity from colleagues, students, friends - especially from the enchanting Sirens in the Italian department, whose lovely songs have always been more than music to my ears. Unlike poor Odysseus, I have never had to be leashed to a mast or have my ears stopped with wax! I wish to admit however, that my real fortune is more related to the fact that here I have enjoyed the opportunity of always sharing my stories with students, especially tales of my adventures to other "islands" - to those other worlds inhabited by such notable singers as Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Galileo, Leopardi, Calvino, and so many others. With them and through them I feel privileged to share also my own love and passion for a culture they represent, a country that has so many tales, adventures and beauty to offer. Like the indefatigable Homeric hero who never tired of recounting his tales to his beloved Penelope, I too take unusual pleasure in telling my students stories that provide so much to learn from and to be enjoyed. My true wish is that through both my teaching and my scholarship, these stories will shape students' desire and love for learning as much as they have shaped mine. My hope is that these tales will serve them as avenues for the exercise of curiosity and reflection, along with the idea that the practice and the experience of taking intellectual risks is one of the most challenging and gratifying adventures in our life's journey.
"Godete ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!"