In Memoriam: Alfredo Mario Cadonna (1948-2020)

On July 4, Professor Alfredo Mario Cadonna returned to the root. During the last part of the twentieth century, from the 1980s onwards, he was one of the most important figures in Italian Sinology in the field of classical literary and religious studies. The subject of his degree thesis presented in the academic year 1978-79 (Yulu and denglu of the Chan Buddhist school as a source for the study of vernacular elements of “Middle Chinese”) already demonstrated the two aspects that proved to be fundamental cornerstones of his research activity: a focus on the expressions of the Chinese religious-philosophical tradition (Chan, and later especially Daoism) and the centrality of a language-based approach, the vehicle of such expressions. Hallmarks of Alfredo’s academic writing, teaching and thinking have always been close readings of the sources that transcend any form of hermeneutical relativism, readings that are grounded in the keen quest for meaning and the underlying semantic landscape.

Alfredo’s activity was conducted between the two university centres of Naples and Venice for over thirty years. At the Istituto Universitario Orientale of Naples (now Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”), where I had the privilege of being one of his students, and later one of his graduates, he first held the Chinese Philology seminars (1984-86) as a researcher, then as an Associate Professor he taught Religions and Philosophies of the Far East (1987-91) and Chinese Language and Literature (1986-94). At the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, in the period from 1992 to 2018, he held courses in Religions and Philosophies of Eastern Asia (later History of the Philosophy and Religions of China) and in Sinology and Classical Chinese Language.

One cannot ignore Alfredo’s long and prolific presence, in positions of responsibility, at the prestigious Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice. He was Director of the Foundation’s “Venezia el’Oriente” Institute (2003-06), and had previously been Scientific Secretary of its Asian Section (1988-2003).

Here, he played an invaluable role in two areas: in the reorganisation and care of the Foundation’s library heritage, from 1998 onwards he coordinated the electronic cataloguing of the Library’s Oriental collection (Far Eastern, Indian, Arab, Byzantine collections) and from 2001 the electronic cataloguing of the musicological and Indological collection of Alain Daniélou, a unique archive in the western world of about 250.000 file-cards mainly in English and Devanagari. In the field of the “Venezia e l’Oriente” Institute’s public activities, Alfredo hosted (as Secretary and subsequently as
Director) a large number of important international conferences and workshops, with a Sinological, but also Tibetological, Indological, Islamic theme, the proceedings of which were later published in the volumes of the Orientalia Venetiana Series by the Publishing House Leo S. Olschki of Florence. Suffice it to mention just a few here: “Turfan and Tun-huang: the Texts. Encounter of Civilizations on the Silk Route” (1990); “Cina e Iran: da Alessandro Magno alla Dinastia Tang” (China and Iran: from Alexander the Great to the Tang Dynasty) (1994); “India, Tibet, China:
Genesis and aspects of Traditional narrative” (1997); “Central Asie, une décennie de réformes, des siècles de mémoires” (Central Asia, a decade of reforms, centuries of memories) (1998); “Facets of Tibetan Religious Tradition and Contacts with Neighbouring Cultural Areas” (1999); “Music and Meaning in China and East Asia. Beauty, Ritual, Emotions” (7th International CHIME Conference, 2001); “L’Opera tibetana. Un teatro vivente” (the Tibetan Opera: a living Theatre) (2001); “Dante e la Divina Commedia in Oriente” (Dante and the Divine Comedy in the East) (2005).

These conferences attracted personalities from the field of international Sinology to Italy such as Glen Dudbridge, Isabella Gurevich, Christoph Harbsmeier, Wilt Idema, Victor Mair, Joseph Needham, Manfred Porkert, Kristofer Schipper, Edward Shaughnessy, and experts from other areas such as Anne-Marie Blondeau, Anne Chayet, Hiroshi Kumamoto, Per Kvaerne, Ramon Prats, D. Seyfort Ruegg, Nicholas Sims-Williams, Werner Sundermann, Yutaka Yoshida. Not only did they
allow Italian scholars a fruitful exchange through direct contact with their foreign colleagues, but above all they represented a unique opportunity of enrichment for the numerous young researchers and students present. An aspect particularly dear to Alfredo: I can testify that he always paid attention,in his teaching, to the transmission of the essential tools for a young researcher wanting to get their bearings in a Sinological library, in an era when the world wide web was still unheard of.

The themes expressed in the conferences at the Cini Foundation often reflected the vastness of interests shown by Alfredo; for example, a focus on the area of the Silk Road and Central Asia led him (the first in Italy) to take an interest in the Dunhuang’s manuscripts, through the publication of some articles and a book, in which he collected the twelve stories of the S 6836 manuscript (Il taoista di sua maestà. Dodici episodi da un manoscritto cinese di Dunhuang (His Majesty’sTaoist. Twelve episodes from a Chinese manuscript by Dunhuang), Venice: 1984; revised and corrected
edition, Venice: 1998). Among the studies on Dunhuang’s sources, I remember two articles (1981 and 1996) with textual and linguistic notes on the Jingde chuandeng lu edition of the Flug 229b manuscript preserved in St. Petersburg, and a brilliant work on the figure of Xiwang mu in two manuscripts (1982).

In the second part of his academic life, Alfredo’s interests turned more obviously towards Daoist sources. Among his studies, I recall in particular those dedicated to the figure and works of Bai Yuchan, Daoist master of the Song period: his annotated translation of the Gousuo lianhuan jing (1999); the monograph ‘Quali parole vi aspettate che aggiunga?’. Il Commentario al Daodejing di Bai Yuchan, maestro taoista del XIII secolo (“Which words do you expect me to add?”Commentary on the Daodejing by Bai Yuchan, Taoist master of the XIII century) (Florence: 2001); the two short
studies, one in Italian and one in English, on the Mengshuo (“Treatise on dream”) (2005 and 2006); and a second monograph, the annotated translation of eighty-eight poetic quatrains by Bai Yuchan, Bai Yuchan. Con il braccio piegato a far da cuscino. Ottantotto poesie di un maestro taoista del XIII secolo (“Eighty-eight poems by a Taoist master of the 13th century”) (Turin: 2010). Finally, his masterful Italian translation of the Liezi must also be recalled: Liezi. La scrittura reale del vuoto abissale e della potenza suprema (“The real writing of the abysmal void and supreme power”)
(Turin: 2008).

His profound mastery of the interpretative tools of classical Chinese (especially of the medieval and pre-modern era), displayed in his scholarly production, led Alfredo to participate in important international projects. He contributed to the monumental The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang, edited by K. Schipper and F. Verellen (Chicago: 2004) and from 2002 on he took part in the “Thesaurus Linguae Sericae (TLS) – An Analytical Dictionary of Chinese Synonyms” (“Buddhist Colloquial Chinese” section), a project led by C. Harbsmeyer and JiangShouyu. Finally, from 2009 he was part of the “International Committee for the Study and Translation of the Wujing”, a translation project of the Five Classics directed by K. Schipper and Yuan Bingling.

It was undoubtedly through his involvement in the latter project that Alfredo conceived his last scientific work, which unfortunately he did not have time to release for publication: the annotated translation in Italian of the 160 “Arie degli Stati” (“Airs of the States”) (Guofeng) from the Shi Jing. Alfredo Mario Cadonna was a passionate scholar, an academic whose scientific production was the result of a natural inclination, of a genuine interest and passion for his subject, that were alien to any calculation linked to contingent conveniences. Above all, in his writings, I would like to emphasisehis doctrinal depth, his attention to the translational rendering as a true craftsman of the language, and his argumentative rigour, the result of a demanding nature, which he exercised primarily with himself and then with his students, to whom (I speak from personal experience) he never failed to show an innate and natural kindness, and a healthy irony. It cannot be defined as a coincidence if many of his former students today are recognised scholars in the field of philosophical-religious studies of Italian and international Sinology; as well as them, I also want to remember a former student of his who unfortunately passed away in 2011, Monica Esposito, an esteemed scholar of
Daoism of the Ming-Qing period, and Stefano Zacchetti, the well known scholar in early Chinese Buddhist translations who suddenly passed away in April 2020.

To end these few notes on a scholar to whom I owe so much, this brief phrase from the Wenxin diaolong is perfectly suited to Alfredo Mario Cadonna: 聖因文以明道.

(Maurizio Paolillo, 29 July 2020)