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'Roma o morte' Garibaldi, nationalism and the problem of psycho-biography

Pick, Daniel (2004) 'Roma o morte' Garibaldi, nationalism and the problem of psycho-biography. History Workshop Journal 57 (1), pp. 1-33. ISSN 1363-3554.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/hwj/57.1.1

Abstract

In 1875, a few years after the completion of Italian unification, General Giuseppe Garibaldi, the military hero of the Risorgimento, left his island retreat in the Mediterranean on a journey to Rome. His battle cry, 'Roma o morte' ('Rome or death'), was no longer required, but the red-shirted leader of 'the thousand' pursued, obsessively, a civic mission, to divert the Tiber from Rome. Through the keyhole of this forgotten episode, Daniel Pick observes Garibaldi's passionate attachment to Rome and Italy. Many great nineteenth-century writers have explored the link between death and the Eternal City, a fatal relationship that the General sought to break. In the bitter debate that preceded and followed from his campaign, various myths of nationalism can be glimpsed. Prevailing medical, social and political anxieties about the future of the capital and the state were also exposed. In the ebb and flow of this project, strong currents of emotion swirled from and towards this larger-than-life Victorian hero and the city with which he and so many of his contemporaries were obsessed. Garibaldi's initiative gave expression to fears of flood and fever; it sought to alleviate the misery of the peasantry in the dangerous environment of the Roman Campagna. The flood-prone Tiber had caused havoc across recorded history. But beyond the public rationales for this scheme, this article suggests that more hidden, personal motives can also be glimpsed. Garibaldi had his own reasons to fight the scourge of malaria and to reclaim the health of central Italy. His desperate endeavour might be interpreted as a wish to repair – and even to re-enact – elements of his history. Behind his florid promise to revitalise 'Italy' and to build over the Tiber's route a Parisian-style boulevard that would be a wonder of the modern world, lay a traumatic event perceived by Garibaldi as the defining tragedy of his life. Despite himself, he became embroiled in the political labyrinth of Rome. This story of thwarted ambition, grand illusion and delusion, was not lost on Garibaldi's later admirer, another self-styled redeemer of Rome and the fever-ridden marshes of Italy, Benito Mussolini.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2004 by Oxford University Press. At the time of writing the author was at Queen Mary, University of London.
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > History, Classics and Archaeology
Depositing User: Sandra Plummer
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2008 09:55
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:16
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/732

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