Readings of 19th-Century Renaissances: Nahda and Risorgimento Around and Across the Mediterranean
By Georges Khalil
In the presentation of her project “Making the Nahda and the Risorgimento in 19th Century Italy and Egypt” Elisabetta Benigni, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature at Turin University, scetched the intellectual trajectories of translators and intellectuals from Italy and Egypt and their engagement in making sense of their past at a time when both Italy and Egypt became the territories of “northern” or European projections of an ancient heritage around the Mediterranean. Through a comparison of conceptualisations of Risorgimento and Nahda (rennaissance) among Italian and Egyptian scholars and intellectuals, their travels, readings, translations and reappropriations of texts by Vico, Machiavelli or Ibn Khaldun, she shed light on similarities in the production of history and the ideas of the 19th-century renaissance in two countries around the Mediterranean. Scholars like the Syrian priest Rufa’il al-Turjuman, who studied in Rome and served as translator for Napoleon during his Egyptian expedition, travelled to France, and later worked for Muhammed Ali, translated (in 1823), among other works, Machiavelli’s “The Prince” from Italian into Arabic, a work that—in Egypt—was read together with the recently re-apprropiated Tunisian polymath Ibn Khaldun. Scholars, around and accross the Mediterranean, like Michele Amori in his “Storia dei Muslimani de Sicilia” from 1854, or Mustafa al-Zarabi in his “The Origins of the Ancients and the Guidance of the Sages” from 1836, or Vincenco Cuoco in his “Platone in Italia” contributed to the re-reading of their pasts for a modern renaissance in an original way, interestingly without a reference to the Mediterranean itself.