To remember Filippo Maria Pontani,""
In June of 1968 I was a 23's student of Literature at Padova's University, but personal problems forced me to skip Summer session of exams, and I decided to travel. I went to Greece, where I'd never been before, looking for the old but still living roots of my classical studies. I knew only the old Greek Literature and Arts and something about modern Greek history: nothing about modern Literature or Language; I thought in fact to choose the History of Arts course for my graduation. But I began to love the Language, as well as the customs, places, sky and sea. In Ithaka, on board a little boat carrying us to a bathing place, I met Takis M., Mrs. Kalliopi and their daughters, and he recited for me, in English, the Poem that Kavafis titled with the name of the Island, so I began to know the great Alexandrian.
By chance I met, as first, the Poet that my future teacher, Filippo Maria Pontani liked better, or first, may be. I went on with Seferis and Ritsos, who in those times buried his poems, closed in glass bottles, in the earth of his prisoner's barrack, in a terrible (then and for him) island (it could be Ghiaros). But I didn't stop at it.
Swept away by a crazy force, that I now cannot define but Dionisiac, I began to learn modern Greek language, to read the Greek authors of the XIX and XX century in their own language. When I came back to Padova, three months later, I went directly to the Modern Greek Language and Literature department of my University, resolute to address there my studies and to deep my knowledge of Greece, of its life, and of its Literature chiefly. I got what I wanted after a meeting with the Professor, Filippo Maria Pontani. So I began to know and to esteem him and his work. Contrary to the "barons" of the academic environment against whom we were disputing in those years, he was deeply kind with every student, ready to listen to us, in our often "strange" theories and original positions, about any debated problem. He was, as we said, "open". Since the first time he felt my real interest in his matter and started to spur me in going on. We often spoke about Greece, about Athens streets, squares, and restaurants, as two Greeks can do. "Do you know Piramìdes, in Filellìnon Street, near Sìntagma?...I found a nice old komboloi in Plaka!".
He liked to hear the news, also the simple and insignificant ones: "in the Man's Era" - he wrote in the Preface of the italian translation of Ritsos' Poems -, "the simple words ("good evening", "brother") certify Sun and Universe, repeal Tyranny and Death." (Ghiannis Ritsos: Prima dell'uomo, a cura di Filippo Maria Pontani, Mondadori, Milano, 1972). I told him something about the Country he loved, and where he decided to go back not since August 1967, immediately after the coup d'état of the 21st of April, and after having met Seferis in his house. He was a sincere democratic as a citizen and a teacher, and I suppose that his love for the ancient and modern Greece, the cradle of Democracy, could be strictly related to this position: a Greece without democracy seemed to him a contradiction in terms. He used to define this way of thinking and of feeling, and not only in politics, with the Title of a Ritsos' Poem: Ρωμιοσύνη. He spoke, in his lessons, about the first period of his stay in Greece, when, as a young teacher of Italian he had a job in Rodhos, that before W.W.II was subject to the Italian domination. He was coming from Rome where he left his family and an "unsuccessful marriage" as he told me. He lived in a little apartment near the Department; I remember a green litt le abat-jour over his table and an atmosphere of conscious solitude he was spending in study and translation.
He was in fact not only the greatest italian scholar about Modern Greek Language and Literature, but, for many years the only translator of every literary modern greek work into Italian. And what a translator! He was truly a poet. But he was able to be humble: I asked him once why he did not insert a poem of Seferis I like very much in his Italian Anthology of the Nobel, he said: "because I have not been able to translate such a poem!". We must also remember that he translated and studied classic greek works too: I cannot forget his voice reading Alkman, Stesychorus and Ibikus in our language. His voice had the intensity we can found only in a man who loves what he's reading, when he looked at us through the thick glasses he was forced to wear for a serious eye-trouble. I not only remember him as the great scholar, with 300 publications, but as a simple, easy going person: he often wore a strange Tyrolese jacket, object of our comments, not properly soft. And I remember that, when speaking about Beauty his voice became slower, his look deeper: the same ground of his love for Freedom and Democracy, Greece, gave birth into him to a deep love for Beauty, and today, so far in time, I continue to think that this is the exact meaning of Greece, Grecity (Ρωμιοσύνη) and Φιλελληνισμού.
His knowledge of Modern Greek was astounding for us: I still cherish the notes I then made and I can remember that, reading for us the Βοσκοπούλα he stopped for example at the 36th verse to explain as περιστέρα is the diminutive of επεριστέρα from Semitic pera (bird) and Ishtar (Venus). I think that in his Mind and sensibility Past and Present Grecities were so strictly linked as in few other poets (he was a poet!), but not in the soft-spoken, epidermic way we too often see in many false filellines. Reading for us the Clitemnistra of Matsas, he often explained that a verse was a perfect Ascplepiadeian major, or a Ferecrateian.
The argument of my degree thesis was Constantinos Christomanos, and in winter holidays I went to Athens to search elements for it. He gave me a letter for his friend Ghiannis Sidéris and I had the luck to be welcomed by the greatest historian of modern greek theatre in his own house, near Filopappou Hill , and to see there the flying-scale models of the historic performances of modern greek theatre, a quite complete library about it, to speak with a Master, who looked at me under his thick white eyebrows and appreciated my work about Christomano and his Theatre.
In Athens I could find also an old edition of "Ta Tria Filià" of Christomanos, whose microfilm is now at the Institute of Greek of Padova's University, and that is the argument of my thesis, with the Italian translation of the work.
I will remember for ever the lesson of the 21st April 1969, the 2nd anniversary of the "black colonels'" coup d'état. It was dedicated to Freedom and Greece, to a great poet imprisoned for his ideas. The lesson ended with these unforgettable words: "we hope that freedom, the white -thirty petals- rose, could flower again in Greece even though purpled with blood!".
When I met Pontani for the periodical revises of my thesis, he never forced me to change anything, I got only, and always, kind advices; sometimes he liked to pause and to speak again about Greece. Once, I remember, I told him what I felt, walking with friends of mine along the seaside near Παλαίον Φάληρον when they showed me Eghina", and they told me that ο Παναγούλης was imprisoned there. Pontani often told me his memories of Greece; "I was once in a Taberna with Seferis, Durrel and Captain Antonìou, and the musicians were playing Arnissi": Seferis, annoyed, said: -Greeks know only this song, of all my work!-". I was astonished and proud hearing him speaking about those men, whose works I loved before knowing Greece and that great Filellin who had been my Master.
After my graduation I left The Institute and Pontani, because I was married and I had to earn a "normal" salary teaching at the high school, where I still survive.
I got to know that he changed his life with lucky choices, that he got a normal sight after an operation and that he had died after a car accident in 1983, not far from where I live now .
April 13 th, 1994 Ottavio d. M.