Literati slug it out in court

July 28, 2000

Rome

A long-running feud between two of Italy's most eminent professors has developed into a court battle for slander, with blow-by-blow coverage in the national press. One contender has been awarded E16,840 (Pounds 10,360) damages, but neither can claim total victory.

Open hostilities between Alberto Asor Rosa and Giulio Ferroni, both renowned experts in Italian literature at Rome's La Sapienza University, began in late 1995. But, according to their colleagues, tension between the two academics already existed.

In late 1995, Professor Asor Rosa, then head of the Dipartimento di Italianistica, helped create a new, and in practice rival department, the Dipartimento di Studi Linguistici e Letterari.

He then left his old department and, taking six full and associate professors and 17 researchers with him, took over the new one.

In the process, he attacked his old department in a newspaper interview, saying that it had become "a bureaucratic containerI a stagnant situationI the scene of wretched rivalriesI personal rivalries with the purpose of personal publicity".

Professor Asor Rosa never mentioned Professor Ferroni, one of the senior figures in the maligned department, but the article accompanying the interview identified Professor Ferroni as the obvious target of the attack.

Professor Ferroni returned fire. In an intense cannonade of articles and interviews, he accused Professor Asor Rosa of running the old department as his "personal property", of having masterminded the schism while directing the department, of having favoured a student and of having used his position of authority to bring about the transfer of a junior academic who also happened to be his girlfriend.

Professor Asor Rosa went to court, demanding a total of E1 million for damage to his "health, honour and reputation".

The recent adjudication rejects most of the demands and only awards damages against a magazine that published one of Professor Ferroni's interviews, and jointly against Professor Ferroni and a daily newspaper for another article. So, in practice, Professor Ferroni should only pay about E8,800 damages.

The sentence is therefore largely inconclusive, and both contenders now have a little time to decide whether to accept the existing penalty or to appeal.

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