Sunday, May 21, 2017


Han Lamers, Bettina Reitz-Joosse, The Codex Fori Mussolini: A Latin Text of Italian Fascism. Bloomsbury studies in classical reception. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. x, 139. ISBN 9781474226950. $104.00.

Reviewed by Genevieve S. Gessert, The American University of Rome (

Version at BMCR home site


The last fifteen years have seen a proliferation of scholarship in English on the relationship between Italian Fascist ideology and Roman antiquity, focusing largely on the relationship between modernity and Romanità (often inadequately translated as "Roman-ness") in the official formation of Fascist identity. The recent volumes by modern historians Paul Baxa, Joshua Arthurs, and Aristotle Kallis, to name but a few, explore the ways in which notions of Romanità influenced policy in infrastructure, education, and urban planning respectively. These works take as their primary goal a fuller understanding of the parallel development of material propaganda and official institutions during the ventennio (1922–1942), with a goal of "integrat[ing] romanità into current discussions about Fascist culture and its relationship to modernity."1 Volumes such as these are of interest to classicists because they reveal the ways in which Roman material culture (and its scholarship, in the case of Arthurs) is impacted by deliberate modern intervention, from the selective sventramenti and excavations in the city of Rome to the use of "Roman" images and styles in official visual culture. Concurrently, Roman archaeologists and social historians have increasingly been re-examining the excavations and reconstructions that were conducted under Mussolini, to get a better understanding of the ways in which Fascist interpretations continue to inform our view of Roman architecture, urban planning, and society.2 Yet little attention has been paid to the position of classical philology and neo-Latin composition in the Fascist construction of culture.

In The Codex Fori Mussolini: A Latin Text of Italian Fascism, Han Lamers and Bettina Reitz-Joosse seek to remedy this oversight with the "first detailed study of a Fascist Latin text" (p.1) that is also one of the first monographs on the Fascist period by classical scholars. Written in 1932 by the classical scholar Aurelio Giuseppe Amatucci to celebrate the construction of the complex of the Foro Mussolini (now known as the Foro Italico), the Codex also sought to provide a laudatory history of the creation of the Opera Nazionale Balilla (the Fascist Youth organization), and to extol the virtues of both Fascism and its leader Benito Mussolini. The original document was an illuminated parchment manuscript, likely several pages bound together to form a small book, which was installed in a metal box along with some commemorative medallions as the foundation deposit for the Foro complex. This deposit remains encased in the base of the obelisk standing at the entrance to the Foro Italico today, inscribed in Fascist-era Latin MVSSOLINI DVX. Thus like an ancient Latin text that survives only in later manuscript form, the Codex Fori Mussolini is known only from copies of the text published after its deposit; no photographs or prints of the original work exist.

Lamers and Reitz-Joosse structure their volume to relate the Codex to works of classical Latin, by combining the introduction and commentary format common to Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics (and others) with the facing-page original text and English translation layout found in a Loeb edition. The extensive introductory materials, entitled "The Codex Fori Mussolini in Context," provide significant information at both the macro and micro level, placing the Codex in its historical context as a representative of contemporary Latin composition and scholarship. Following brief descriptions of the basic structure and content and the three surviving editions of the Codex (pp.6–9), Lamers and Reitz-Joosse turn to the biography of Amatucci and to the role of Latin under Fascism, the latter being a subject on which the two scholars have published previously.3 Though "not generally regarded as one of the foremost Italian Latinists" (p.12), Amatucci was already a fixture of the Italian educational establishment before 1922 and became actively involved in the Fascistization of secondary education. Their detailed analysis of Amatucci's biography illuminates the possible motivations behind his composition of the Codex (the exact conditions are obscure), but rather more significant is their recognition of the active role that scholars played in regime-building during this period. Amatucci and other contemporary scholars found common ground with the Fascist regime in its interest in Romanità, which facilitated the promotion of Latin as a universal and immortal language. For Amatucci, the fact that Fascism was able to revive the Latin language for use in education and official documents was proof of its capabilities and justification for its policies, and the fact that Latin had survived since antiquity made it the ideal language for communicating with the equally distant future.

The remainder of the introduction deals with the Codex as object and artifact, since the foundation deposit document was intended in part as an explanatory text to "shap[e] the prospective memory of the [Foro Mussolini] complex for future readers" (p.28). Lamers and Reitz-Joosse chart the history of the Foro Mussolini, illustrating their analysis with numerous contemporary photographs and urban development plans which describe in detail the modifications made to the Foro complex both during the Fascist era and subsequently. Like other Fascist mini-cities, such as the Città Universitaria and EUR, the Foro Mussolini sought to combine ideal form with bureaucratic function, in this case to provide a "monumental spiritual centre" (p.45) for the sport and pre-military activities of the Opera Nazionale Balilla. The authors next turn to the construction of the monolite, as the Mussolini obelisk was dubbed in the numerous press reports and newsreels that covered its erection, situating it in reference to ancient obelisk construction, Roman engineering, and Renaissance reuse. The narrative of the raising of the obelisk (and the concomitant installation of the Codex beneath it) forms the conclusion of Amatucci's text, underscoring its self-reflective nature and its inherent paradox: the monolite would have to be destroyed in order to make the reading of the original Codex possible (p.61).

The second half of the volume is devoted to the Latin text of the Codex itself, accompanied by the authors' English translation and followed by an extensive, almost line-by-line commentary. One notable theme throughout the commentary, which is also described in the introductory section, is Amatucci's constant use of allusions to or brief quotations from classical Latin texts, particularly from authors of the Augustan period. The Codex takes as its epigraph Vergil, Eclogues 4.5 (Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo), a well-used quotation since the time of Constantine (p.99), which imbues the text overall with an Augustan/messianic tone. But as Lamers and Reitz-Joosse observe, Amatucci also drew frequently from other authors, particularly Cicero and Livy, and perhaps for solely stylistic purposes (pp.103, 109 et al.). The Codex and the surrounding Foro were thus constructed to display their classical origins and to demonstrate Fascism's fulfillment of ancient prophecy by preserving yet improving upon the representative masterpieces of Roman culture. These disiecta membra from Roman authors are also used in the service of a panegyric history of Fascism; these modern allusions are analyzed with equal detail by Lamers and Reitz-Joosse. The commentary is accompanied by a list of textual variants among the three published version of the Codex, as well as a useful timeline of the Fascist period and an extensive bibliography.

"It cannot be said too often that reception studies, if they are to be taken seriously, require skills in the practitioner at least as great as those needed for more traditional studies, perhaps greater in view of their cross-disciplinary character and the consequent need for credibility within all the disciplines involved."4 Lamers and Reitz-Joosse demonstrate throughout their thorough mastery of both Latin literature and modern Italian history, and thus the volume should prove useful to scholars and students in both disciplines. The commentary skillfully interweaves contextual historical information, both ancient Roman and modern Italian, with detailed analysis of the classical grammar, syntax, and literary allusions that Amatucci employed. In the introductory narrative their conclusions are perhaps more debatable, particularly in reference to the aesthetic connections between ancient and modern works. For example, the analysis of the "Models of the Foro Mussolini" contends that "the only link between the ancient fora and their modern counterpart is that both served as spaces of political representation" (p.39) discounting the agonistic function of ancient fora and the pseudo-religious function of most Fascist spaces.5 Others may find dispute with the idea that the obelisk at the Foro Mussolini "completely excluded… such monuments' earlier Egyptian heritage" (p.52), given the presence of Egyptian obelisks throughout the city and Luigi Moretti's broadly Egyptianizing colossus of Fascism/Mussolini planned for the complex (Fig. 8.6). Yet these matters of differing interpretation do not diminish the overall high value of Lamers and Reitz-Joosse's work for classical reception studies in general and analysis of neo-Latin literature and Fascist culture in particular.

Equally significant are the ethical concerns that the scholarly analysis of Amatucci's pro-Fascist text engenders, which Lamers and Reitz-Joosse acknowledge from the outset: "By republishing the Codex and making it widely available, are we not helping its Fascist creators to achieve exactly the kind of reception they were craving?" (pp. 4–5). The publication of the volume even created a certain stir within the mainstream press, which largely sensationalized the authors' contribution as the discovery of "Mussolini's Secret Message" beneath the obelisk, as though Lamers and Reitz-Joosse were revealing the next Da Vinci Code.6 While these tactics perhaps reify an object that is better left hidden, the work of Lamers and Reitz-Joosse seeks to ensure that the Codex Fori Mussolini be read contextually and without sensational glorification as an important source for the history of Fascism, but more importantly to the field of Classics, as an artifact in the history of our discipline.


1.   J. Arthurs Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy (Cornell University Press, 2012) 5. See also P. Baxa, Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome (University of Toronto Press 2010) and A. Kallis, The Third Rome, 1922–43: The Making of the Fascist Capital (Palgrave Macmillan 2014).
2.   Two recent dissertations are notable in this area: J. Samuels, Reclamation: An Archaeology of Agricultural Reform in Fascist Italy (Stanford University Press 2012) and V. Follo, The Power of Images in the Age of Mussolini (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), as well as J.S. Perry, The Roman Collegia: The Modern Evolution of an Ancient Concept. (Brill 2006).
3.   Most notably H. Lamers and B. Reitz-Joosse, "Lingua Lictoria: The Latin Literature of Italian Fascism." Classical Receptions Journal 8.2 (2016) 216–252.
4.   C. Martindale, "Reception — a new humanism? Receptivity, pedagogy, the transhistorical." Classical Receptions Journal 5.2 (2013) 170.
5.   E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy. Trans. K. Botsford. (Harvard University Press 1996) 102ff.
6.   E. Blakemore, "Scholars Uncover Secret Message from Mussolini,", September 1, 2016.

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