APT Basilicata

APT Basilicata

Basilicata turistica

Fortunato Giustino

The Unification of Italy, by measuring Northern and Central Italy against Southern Italy, revealed in a dramatic way the inferiority of the latter. Brigandage was the first evidence of a widespread sense of uneasiness and of a sort of incompatibility between the two “Italies,” which called for remedy. Many inquiries were ordered for a better understanding of southern reality and to find a solution. The most important inquiries were Massari and Castagnola’s (1863), Sonnino and Franchetti’s (1874 – 1878), and Stefano Iacini’s (1881 – 1890). At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1910, there would have been the very extensive inquiry by Francesco Saverio Nitti.

Some, even though they were patriots and unitarists, thought it would have been much better leaving the South to its fate: according to them, the inferiority of the South was past remedy, in that it was due to ethnic and natural reasons. An expression of outrage arose from the South: though objectively recognizing the dramatic situation, many battled for the liberation of the South, some by moving to compassion and pity, as novelists and storytellers generally did, others by asking the political class to make any effort to carry out concrete interventions. Halfway between these two attitudes was Giustino Fortunato: his natural disposition was romantic and pessimistic, but he was all the same impatient to stir the stagnant waters which the South was nearly drowning in, and with no responsibility on its part.

Fortunato was not a man of action, he was most of all a scholar, and yet he decided to enter politics, and sat in parliament from 1880 to 1909, that is to say till the rise of Fascism, which he opposed. In parliament, he gave voice to the cry of pain which resounded in his land, by means of vibrant denunciations and putting forward many proposals about day nurseries and schools, roads and railways, innovation in agriculture and cooperative banks … One could say that in Giustino Fortunato the pessimism of reason, which had made him into an “apostle of nothingness,” coexisted with the optimism of will and sentiment, that is to say a sort of moral and civil force which led him to look to the future with confidence. With regard to this, he was probably under the fascination of Benedetto Croce’s idealism: he was friends with Croce, used to see him frequently, and considered him “the best mind” in Italy. He was neither a revolutionary nor a socialist: he was an enlightened conservative, who believed in reason. In parliament, in fact, he sat among the right-wingers.

He was born in Rionero in Vùlture on September 4, 1848. His was a family of rich farmers who gave him a religious education. He attended the Jesuit boarding school first, then the Scolopi boarding school in Naples. He also received a good classical education. He entered the Law Faculty at university, but felt more attracted by literature than by law: in fact he attended with great interest Francesco De Sanctis’ and Luigi Settembrini’s Italian literature lectures. Among the students, there was also Francesco Torraca, an able young man from Pietrapertosa. One day, commemorating De Sanctis’ death, he said, with great awareness, De Sanctis had been, together with his own father, the most important figure in his life.
It’s no wonder, then, his first studies were addressed to Italian literature, followed by historical researches on his land (from Vitalba valley to Monticchio and Venosa), focusing on archive material and on human interest. Man, in fact, considered as an accumulation of needs and feelings, worries and hopes, was the ultimate object of his attention. It was through these studies that he convinced himself that Southern Italy, once the prosperous Magna Grecia, had undergone a serious degradation process, which had been not only economical but also moral. As far as the Unification of Italy was concerned, it had been achieved under the delusion that the South had remained unchanged. It was necessary to explode many myths and legends, and to represent reality as it was, in order to pursue, by means of proper remedies, its regeneration. 

Still the Unification of Italy was a kind of “miraculous and magnificent work of art,” the first step towards the liberation of the nation and, therefore, of the South. Everything was particularly difficult, there was a gap of many centuries to fill, and no further mistakes were to be made. Among these, there was federalism, which was feared because, by giving legislative power to the regions’ executive, that is to say going opposite direction to national unity, it would have entrusted the South to the worse political, economical and social forces, that is to say to the in-groups and to the Camorra, to favouritism and transformism. He shared these moral and civil worries with his master and friend Francesco De Sanctis. The last years of his life were rather sad: the expectations he reposed in cooperative banks had been disappointed; in 1917 he had been stabbed by a peasant from Rionero, who was an opponent to war; in 1922 there had been the rise of Fascism. Moreover, he was suffering from a painful and troublesome illness, which nearly blinded him. All he could do was to withdrew to his studies and to the re-reading of Horace, “one of those benefactors of mankind who knew how to give humans new words of love and sorrow.”

He died in Naples, sad and lonely, on July 23, 1932, meditating on the belief that Fascism, unfortunately, had not been a revolution, but rather a revelation of Italy’s darkest side, a kind of damnation it carried like a burden. His most important works, sometimes printed in few copies, were: Ricordi di Napoli (1874), I feudi e I casali della valle di Vitalba nel secolo XII (1889), La badia di Monticchio (1904), Il Mezzogiorno e lo Stato italiano (1911), Pagine e ricordi parlamentari (1920), Riccardo da Venosa e il suo tempo (1918, now in Venosa, Edizioni Osanna, 1983), Rileggendo Orazio (1926, now in Venosa, Edizioni Osanna, 1983).

Back to Top