moked/מוקד

il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

Altrove/Elsewhere – Vito Volterra

Catalan_Atlas_caravan_drawingBy Daniel Leisawitz*

Vito Volterra was born 156 years ago this month into a poor Jewish-Italian family in the city of Ancona. He would go on to become a leading physicist and mathematician at a time when there were many Italians at the forefront of these fields. A surprising number of these Italian innovators were Jews, including Tullio Levi-Civita, Guido Castelnuovo, Federigo Enriques, Salvatore Pincherle, Corrado Segre, and Beppo and Eugenio Elia Levi.
In addition to his fundamental work on integral equations and function analysis Volterra is remembered as one of only twelve Italian professors who refused to swear allegiance to the Fascist regime when it was required of them in 1931. As a result of his principled opposition to Fascism, he was fired from his professorship and banned from all the academies. Perhaps it was his Jewish upbringing that gave him the ability to distinguish the enduring from the ephemeral, and to declare: Muoiono gl’imperi, ma i teoremi di Euclide conservano eterna giovinezza. (Empires die, but Euclid’s theorems conserve eternal youth.)

*Daniel Leisawitz, professor at Muhlenberg College (Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA). The artwork is by Abraham Cresques a 14th-century Jewish Spanish cartographer.