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Dear all,

I remind you that the following call for papers closes on November 15, 2021


"Gentile" Antiquity.

The Reception of Antiquity in Modern Italian Jewish Culture

Organizers: Giacomo Loi (Johns Hopkins University – Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, Paris), Martina Piperno (Durham University), Guido Furci (Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Keynote speaker: Sonia Gentili (Università degli Studi “La Sapienza” di Roma)

Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, March 19, 2022


The full text of the cfp in Italian, English, and French, with a short bibliography, is available at this link:



For some decades, the relationship between classical antiquity and modern Jewish culture has been the subject of numerous detailed and wide-ranging investigations. Returning to the Tertullian question Quid ergo Athenis et Hierosolymis? the magnum opus of Israeli scholar Yaakov Shavit, Athens in Jerusalem (1997), posed the dialectical relationship between Judaism and Hellenism as an interpretative key and driving force of the formation of the modern Jew, as a result of the opening of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, to European secular culture. More recently, in her Socrates and the Jews (2012) Miriam Leonard investigated the relationship between Hellenism, once again, and the thought of some Jewish intellectuals of European relevance (Moses Mendelssohn, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud), a theme already touched on in her previous Athens In Paris. Ancient Greece and the Political in Post-War French Thought, where she devoted special attention to Jacques Derrida. In Between Athens and Jerusalem (2018) Nurit Yaari, while investigating the narrower scope of Israeli theater, saw in the Greek dramatic tradition a necessary point of reference and inspiration for the creation, essentially ex novo, of a Jewish theater. The presence of ancient traces in the culture of the European Jews of the nineteenth-twentieth century, particularly in the German, Russian and French, has often been subjected to investigation, especially regarding figures such as Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Osip Mandel'štam, Simone Weil, Rachel Bespaloff, Erich Auerbach, Iosif Brodskij.

In the context of Italian Jewish culture, while the Renaissance was investigated with particular care starting from surveys such as that of Moses Shulvass (The Knowledge of Antiquity among Italian Jews, 1948) as a moment of cultural convergence, an overview of the relationship between classical and Jewish culture in more recent centuries seems to be lacking: in the context of European overviews, such as those of Shavit and Leonard, Italy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is completely absent; in her recent Novecento scritturale (2016), Sonia Gentili finds in the Bible a meeting point between Italian culture, Jewish and not, with biblical and classical antiquity. On the other hand, the interest of the aforementioned scholars for the relationship between classical antiquity and Judaism mainly focused on Hellenism, while Roman culture has been excluded. The problematic relationship between Athens and Jerusalem seems to have silenced the equally problematic dilemma between Rome and Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, some of the best known and most meaningful pages of the literature of Italian Jews of the twentieth century are populated with references to the classical, Greek and Roman past, and even to non-classical antiquity: in Christ stopped at Eboli Carlo Levi reflects on the myth of Aeneas as imperialist and destructive myth against the backdrop of the southern question and the fascist war in Ethiopia; Primo Levi dialogues with Dante and Ovid (see Cinelli-Gordon 2019); Umberto Saba consecrates his collection Mediterraneeto figures of classical myth; Giorgio Bassani begins his journey in the memory of Italian Judaism before the Shoah from the Etruscan necropolis of Cerveteri, and his Micòl can be traced back to the archetypical figure of the Kore. Numerous were the Jewish scholars who devoted themselves to the study of antiquity (among whom, to cite some illustrious examples, Medea Norsa, Doro Levi, Arnaldo Momigliano, Piero Treves, Edoardo Volterra and Mario Attilio Levi) while other Jewish intellectuals looked at classical texts as interpretative keys of the past and present, just like, in different ways, Carlo Michelstaedter, Emilio Sereni and Furio Jesi, or lent their poetic vein to the translation of classical literature, as Giovanna Bemporad did with Homer and Virgil. It is especially in the last decade that numerous Italian studies have focused on individual intellectuals and writers and their relationship with classical and non-classical antiquity (Audano, Cazzola, Cravero, Gentili, Losacco, Parussa, Piperno, Tatasciore, Vallortigara).

On the strength of these studies, the conference “Gentile” Antiquity. The reception of Antiquity in the Modern Italian Jewish Culture seeks to trace the first outline of a global mapping of the relationship of Italian Jewish writers and intellectuals with antiquity. While the expression “pagan antiquity” would well group different ancient worlds – the Greco-Roman one and other non-classical ones such as the Etruscan past – from the point of view of Christian culture, the formula “gentile antiquity” aims to suggest a properly Jewish look at a “different”, non-Jewish past, different from Biblical or post-Biblical Jewish history. This first mapping intends to highlight 1) the presence of a “gentile” antiquity, in its various forms, in Italian Jewish culture; 2) the specific features of this presence, such as themes, ancient and modern authors, channels, ideological, identity or polemic meaning; 3) how these characters were influenced by the peculiarities of Italian culture in general, and of Italian Jewish culture with respect to other national Jewish cultures in particular, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth century.

The conference will be held at Université Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle on March 19, 2022. Depending on the current sanitary emergency and/or the needs of the participants, the conference might be in virtual format or in hybrid format. The languages ​​accepted are Italian, French and English. The proposals, of up to 300 words, for a 20-minute paper, and a bio-bibliographical note of about 100 words, must be sent by November 15, 2021 to the email addresses and  Please include your name, affiliation, and title of the paper in the email. The final decision will be communicated by the end of November.




Possible guiding questions include:

- What place does “gentile” antiquity occupy in the culture of the modern Italian Jews?

- What ideological, aesthetic or religious significance does the reference to an 'different' antiquity, classical or anti-classical, assume? Does it represent a cultural alternative to the Jewish tradition, or symbolize the threat of assimilation or, on the contrary, a full sense of belonging to Italian and European culture?

- Is the use of classical culture integrated in some way with the Jewish tradition in general, or with the Bible? Does the sacred text allow for an encounter on “common ground”, on a Judeo-Christian or more generally mythical terrain? Does it represent Judaism as an opposite pole to Hellenism or the classical world?

- What themes are touched upon through the references to antiquity? What ancient authors are used? Which modern authors favor contact with ancient literature or culture?

- Is the relationship with gentile antiquity direct or mediated? Is it based on an encounter with an ancient object or on a literary or visual representation of antiquity?

- What role does archeology play in creating an encounter with antiquity? What other disciplines facilitate the encounter with antiquity? How is this encounter expressed in Italian Jewish culture? - What are the access channels to the ancient? What place does school education occupy – in particular, the study of Latin and, in the liceo classico, of Latin and Greek?

- Is it possible to identify a historical watershed in the relationship with gentile antiquity in the decades of fascist dictatorship? What reactions of appropriation or rejection can be understood as responses to the use of Greco-Roman antiquity made by fascism?

- Was the historical and philosophical enigma of the Shoah, a central moment in European Jewish history, addressed through ancient categories and cultural references? Can this relationship be compared to the use of classical and non-classical culture by P. Levi and Bassani?

- What other watersheds, beyond the Holocaust, can be identified in the political and cultural history of Italian Jewish culture? Could nineteenth-century Emancipation constitute such a watershed?

- Which political movements influenced the relationship with antiquity? Has the rise of Jewish nationalist movements such as Zionism altered or influenced this relationship? Do they encourage a relationship with the ancient as an opposing identity or as a pre-Christian common ground?


Categories: Announcement, CFP
Keywords: CFP