Ernesto de Martino

Ernesto de Martino

Ernesto de Martino (1 December 1908 – 9 May 1965) was an Italian philosopher and anthropologist and historian of religions. He studied with Benedetto Croce and Adolfo Omodeo, and did field research with Diego Carpitella into the funeral rituals of Lucania and the tarantism.

Ernesto de Martino and Muzi Epifani, 1956, during fieldwork in Lucania

Ernesto de Martino was born in Naples, Italy, where he studied under Adolfo Omodeo, graduating with a degree in philosophy in 1932. His degree thesis, subsequently published, dealt with the historical and philological problem of the Eleusinian Gephyrismi (ritual injuries addressed to the goddess) and provides an important methodological introduction to the concept of religion. Clearly influenced by reading Das Heilige by Rudolf Otto, de Martino preferred to emphasize the choleric nature of the believer, overturning the German scholar's thesis and making it capable of being applied to relations with gods in polytheistic religions and spirits in animist religions.

Attracted by the ideological stance of the regime, for several years de Martino worked on an essay interpreting Fascism as a historically convenient form of civil religion. However, the attempt was insubstantial and the work, still unpublished, was gradually rejected by the author. At this time, which we now call the "Neapolitan" period, lasting until 1935, de Martino fell under the spell of the personality and work of an archaeologist who was particularly open-minded concerning the ancient history of religions and who was disliked by both the regime and its intellectual opponents: Vittorio Macchioro, known for his Orphic interpretation of the frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii and advocate of a theory of religion understood essentially as experience.[1]

From 1957 to his death he taught ethnology and history of religions at Cagliari's University: here, with Alberto Mario Cirese, Clara Gallini, Giulio Angioni and other scholars he founded the Anthropological School of Cagliari.

De Martino has also been a very charismatic mentor and teacher. One of his students, the writer Muzi Epifani, dedicated to him the comedy The Escape. In this work, the protagonist Ernesto discusses about the changing role of women in the post-industrial society.[2]


English translations

  • Primitive Magic: the Psychic Powers of Shamans and Sorcerers. Bridport : Prism Press, 1988.
  • The Land of Remorse: A Study of Southern Italian Tarantism, translated by Dorothy Zinn. London: Free Association Books, 2005.

Italian original editions

  • 1941, Naturalismo e storicismo nell'etnologia.
  • 1948, Il mondo magico: Prolegomeni a una storia del magismo, Torino: Einaudi.
  • 1958, Morte e pianto rituale. Dal lamento funebre antico al pianto di Maria.
  • 1959, Sud e Magia (on the magic in southern Italian societies).
  • 1961, La terra del rimorso.
  • 1962, Magia e civilta. Un'antologia critica fondamentale per lo studio del concetto di magia nella civilta occidentale.
  • 1975, Mondo popolare e magia in Lucania.
  • 1993, Scritti minori su religione, marxismo e psicoanalisi (edited by Roberto Altamura e Patrizia Ferretti).
  • 1995, Storia e metastoria: i fondamenti di una teoria del sacro (edited and with an introduction by Marcello Massenzio).
  • 2002a (1962). Furore Simbolo Valore, Milano: Feltrinelli.
  • 2002b (1977). La fine del mondo. Contributo all’analisi delle apocalissi culturali, Torino: Einaudi.
  • 2005b Scritti filosofici (edited by Roberto Pastina).
  • 2008, Ricerca sui guaritori e la loro clientela (edited by Adelina Talamonti, with an introduction by Clara Gallini).
  • 2011, Etnografia del tarantismo pugliese. I materiali della spedizione nel Salento del 1959 (edited by Amalia Signorelli e Valerio Panza, with an introduction and commentary by Amalia Signorelli).

Works devoted to de Martino

  • Ferrari, Fabrizio M. (2012). Ernesto de Martino on Religion. The Crisis and the Presence. London and Oakville: Equinox.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Muzi Epifani, La fuga, republished in 2015 by La Mongolfiera.