Il retaggio culturale italiano
Italian Cultural Heritage
In the course of almost 3,000 years, Italy left an indelible imprint on Western civilization. Humanity, Mussolini once bragged, is indebted to Italians “for the majority of its accomplishments.” For once, he wasn’t exaggerating.
Every October the United States celebrates Italian heritage month (il mese del retaggio italiano). The 26 million Americans of Italian descent (di origine italiana) make up the fifth largest ethnic group (il quinto più grande gruppo etnico) in the United States. However, we all have many reasons to celebrate il meglio della cultura italiana (the best of Italian culture), including the following:
1. Italians defined art and architecture (l’arte e l’architettura). More than half of the world’s designated cultural treasures (tesori culturali) reside within Italy’s borders. Italians developed the Roman arch (as critical to building as the wheel is to transportation), concrete, basilicas and vaulted ceilings.
2. Italians created the first universities, law and medical schools, banks and public libraries (università, facoltà di giurisprudenza e medicina, banche e biblioteche pubbliche).
3. Italian scholars and writers produced the first modern histories, satires, sonnets and travelogues (storie, satire, sonetti e diari di viaggio). The three crowns (tre corone) of Italian literature—Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch—penned literary masterpieces that have inspired writers for centuries.
4. Italian wordsmiths created la bella lingua by crafting the effervescent Tuscan vernacular into a language so rich and powerful that, as Dante demonstrated in his Divine Comedy, it can sweep readers down to hell and up to heaven.
5. Italian musicians fashioned the original do-re-mi of musical notation, instruments such as the oboe, piano and violin, and the language of music (il linguaggio della musica) with terms such as adagio, allegro, aria, concerto, soprano, libretto and opera (called la lirica in Italy).
6. Through the influence of books such as Machiavelli’s The Prince (Il Principe) and Castiglione’s The Courtier (Il libro del cortegiano), Italy taught diplomacy and etiquette to Europe.
7. Italian scientists mapped the moon (mappato la luna) in the 1600s; split the atom (diviso l’atomo); and invented the battery, barometer, radio, telephone and thermometer (la pila,il barometro, la radio, il telefono e il termometro).
8. Italian designers, beginning in the Renaissance, raised fashion (la moda) to an art (un’arte), creating the fabrics and styles that clothed the courts and clerics of Europe. Today designer clothes (vestiti firmati) by Armani, Versace and Prada appear on runways and red carpets around the globe.
9. An Italian patented the first cinematografo—a machine that recorded, developed and projected films—and invented the forerunner of all panoramic projectors. Italy ushered in the first golden age (la prima età d’oro) of cinema, from 1909 to 1916, with “sword-and-sandal” epics that both preceded and inspired Hollywood extravaganzas.
10. Italians created the cuisine (la cucina) that the world loves best. “What is the glory of Dante compared with spaghetti?” an Italian journalist once asked. Certainly pasta, with pizza a close second, has conquered more people in more countries than any dish from any other cuisine. And can anyone anywhere resist gelato?
For these reasons and countless more, let’s join in saying: Viva l’Italia!
Words and Expressions
Ricevere in eredità –- inherit
Cittadinanza italiana –- Italian citizenship
Doppia cittadinanza –- dual citizenship
Eccellenza italiana –- Italian excellence
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered, now in paperback, and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.