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Borges and Ravenna

Borges and Ravenna: Between history and literature, the historian recounts the enchantment of the city.

In the vast panorama of world literature, few cities have inspired and enchanted writers as much as Ravenna has done with Jorge Luis Borges. This celebrated Argentine author, known for his mastery in blending history, myth, and metaphysics in his works, dedicated a special place in his heart and literary production to the Italian city of Ravenna.

One of the most evocative moments in which Borges expressed his affection for Ravenna is in the story “The Story of the Warrior and the Captive,” published in the collection “The Aleph,” almost thirty years before his visit to the city. In this tale, Borges introduces us to Droctulfo, a historical and at the same time literary character, whose connection with Ravenna becomes a central theme. Droctulfo, a warrior of the Lombard army, after fighting for the empire, decides to defend Ravenna and then chooses it as his dwelling and homeland. Ravenna thus becomes not only the physical place where Droctulfo resides but also a symbol of cosmopolitanism and the possibility of change, both in the personal history of its inhabitants and in the fate of the world itself.

What Borges conveys through this story is an idea of Ravenna as a place of enlightenment, where there are no betrayals or barbarian invasions, but only the possibility to choose and change, to find one’s way towards goodness and simplicity. The inhabitants of Ravenna, in Borges’ tale, honor Droctulfo with a burial in a temple and an epitaph that emphasizes the contrast between his gruesome figure and his gentle nature.

But what makes this bond between Borges and Ravenna even more evocative is the fact that Borges visited the city as an elderly and blind man, guided by the local publisher Lapucci. In this journey, Borges could finally breathe the atmosphere and visit the places he had imagined three decades earlier, thus confirming the depth of his connection with this city and his ability to transform reality into pure literary poetry.