(by Xoan Paredes)
Professor Francesco Benozzo (Modena, Italy, 1969) is one of the big names behind the Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm, claiming that the there is a clear continuity in the origins and development of European peoples, origins which may also be placed further back in time to what it is commonly considered. This shift in the understanding of European archaeology, prehistory and linguistics is of the utmost relevance for Galicia and (Northern) Portugal, as it sets this territory at the centre of the genesis of the so-called Celtic Culture, among other aspects.
With two PhDs in linguistics and philology by the universities of Bologna (Italy) and Aberystwyth (Wales), he currently lectures at the former Italian university. However, Francesco Benozzo is not limited by the formalism that usually accompanies academic life. He is also an acclaimed poet and harpist, with a large number of published works and music, leading to his name being proposed for a Nobel Prize in Literature.
We will be most fortunate to welcome him this coming April (2-3) in the fifth edition of the Jornadas das Letras Galego-Portuguesas (Pitões das Júnias, Montalegre, right at the Galician-Portuguese border), where he will be discussing these and many other topics, as outlined in the following interview.
- What was the first thing that got your attention about Galicia and North Portugal? Was it something purely academic or was there any other factor that made you focus on us?
Since I was a child my instinct suggested that the original meaning of things lies in peripheral areas and locations. I don’t just mean “peripheral” in a geographical sense but, mostly, in a poetic one. This is one of the reasons why I went to live to Wales (and not England) for a few years, and it is also the reason why I left my hometown of Modena, in Northern Italy, and decided to live in the mountains. I also believe that, as academics, we must study and concentrate on “peripheral” traditions: folk traditions, dialects, oral texts, cultures of the marginal people and so on, because what is now perceived as “marginal” and “peripheral” was, in many cases, the original centre of what we currently perceive as being at the centre.
Galicia and North Portugal have always been part of this “poetic topography” of mine and of my poetic conception, starting from their legends and traditions, and from great poets such as the medieval troubadours, to even Rosalia de Castro or Eduardo Pondal.
- Do you think that the Iberian north-west can be considered the origin of "Celticity" in the Peninsula from a linguistic point of view?
Not only. I think that it can be considered the origin of Celticity in all of Europe.
- What is your opinion on the relationship between the Celtic world and Tartessos, as Prof. Koch postulates?
John [Koch] has produced an extraordinary work in the last decade about that. I don’t see any linguistic reasons that could deny this postulated connection. The problem with Koch’s theory is that it limits itself to the late Bronze Age, which comes in contradiction with his idea of “Celts from the West”. If we speak of ethnogenesis instead, we must go beyond the restrictions of written sources and have the ability to connect them with other sorts of sources such as legends, traditions, genetics, ethnotexts or dialectal lexicon. Consequently, we'll be able to speak of “Paleolithic Celts” for this area. Within this framework, Tartessos can be seen as one of the many “recent” written relicts of a much older situation.
- Why do you think there is this renewed effort in some parts of Europe to debunk the term "Celtic", or even the existence of a Celtic culture?
For three main reasons. Firstly, being myself an anarchist, I would say that there is an innate tendency of those in power to exclude diversity and, above all, to “centralise” any kind of strategy connected to their power. Thus, as we know, since their proto-history the Celts have always been the “losers” in geopolitical terms, and have then been excluded from any power play of the European elites.
Secondly, we can find a general discomfort with Celticity if compared to the official and standardised cultures which, in a way, rule the world. In other words, to admit that the many-sided, coloured, rural, disquieting, stratified, archaic Celtic culture can be part of us is, in many cases, difficult to accept for people raised with the certainty and the conformist myth of stability and with a superficial knowledge of European history.
Lastly, and in connection to the above-mentioned reasons, Celtic culture represents, in psychoanalytic terms, the subconscious of Europe, which causes a continuous attempt to repress and suppress it.
- As an accomplished researcher, but also poet and musician, is there any connection between your academic work and your artistic work? Or do you keep both worlds separate?
I hope that these three aspects live together, as it happens with different elements of a same landscape. My expectation is probably to look like a musician who studies philology, a poet who plays the harp, and a philologist who composes poems.
- After all your travels and research, how would you summarise the "Celtic character"? For example, when you come to Galicia-North Portugal, what do you feel in connection to other Celtic territories?
First of all, there is a special feeling with the sea, which is different from the one I have observed in other communities such as the Faroese or Mediterranean ones. In Celtic lands this feeling is linked to a “legendary” and melancholic attitude in perceiving the landscape and seascape, and the capacity to connect places with stories. There is also a clear, innate, not predictable, musical perception of the world. Furthermore, there is the consciousness of the archaic and civilising value of things that have been forgotten elsewhere, such as the sharing of drinks, food and stories.
At the V Jornadas das Letras Galego-Portuguesas, Prof. Benozzo will give a presentation entitled “A prehistoric Atlantic landscape. Paleo-mesolithic ethnogenesis and ethnophilology of the Galician and Portuguese traditions”.
The event is free and open to the public. Prof. Benozzo's talk with be in English with translation into Portuguese.