Situating the references to Telemachus in PM Renzi’s first presidency speech

We already highlighted some resources linked to the start of Italy’s six-months Presidency of the EU Council. In this post we take a librarian’s digression from a cue in the speech by Prime Minister Renzi in the European Parliament.

In a speech rich in classical references and winks to social media culture, PM Renzi mentioned the myth of Telemachus, Ulysses’s son in the Odyssey. He referred to Italy’s “new generation, a Telemachus generation” and to the need to “rediscover the Telemachus in ourselves, and deserve our inheritance”. The reference was traced first by the Italian Huffington Post and then picked up by other Italian media.

The phrase “Telemachus generation” has been a trope in public discourse in Italy since the 2013 book by psychoanalyst Massimo Recalcati “Il complesso di Telemaco” (Worldcat record here). In the book, Recalcati revisits the myth of Telemachus waiting for his father to return and restore order on Ithaca, to illustrate the plight of today’s younger generation. Previous post-1968 generations have either fought the fathers (as Oedipus) or retreated into self-complacency (as Narcissus); now, Recalcati sees the young as waiting – like Telemacus – for a father figure whose role would not be to dictate the law, but rather to convey a heritage which has to be deserved and nurtured by the young.

Recalcati’s re-interpretation of the myth has been seen as an alternative to the rhetoric of inter-generational conflict that has marked the Italian debate on welfare and the job market in recent years. Mr. Renzi himself initially framed his own political offer in terms of ‘scrapping’ previous generations of leaders (rottamazione in Italian), although he has later revised that rhetoric in his everyday communication and in a book.

In the meanwhile, Recalcati has applied his interpretation of the Telemachus myth to Italian politics, with a book evoking a “fatherland without fathers”.

Scholars have already shown interest in the innovative political communication of the Italian Prime Minister and former mayor of Florence, see for example the Italian e-journals H-ermes and Mediascapes, or this article in English by F. Bordignon in South European Society and Politics.

For those interested in further contaminations between the classics and pop culture, Mr. Renzi’s previous book aptly invoked Dante and Twitter as elements of a rivoluzione della bellezza

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