Tibetan Studies > News for Tibetan Studies & Tibetans > Luciano Petech Obituary
[Read the Tibetan translation by Tsering D. Gonkatsang]
The passing away of Professor Luciano Petech on 29 September 2010 marks an irreplaceable loss to the academic field of Oriental Studies as well as the end of an era in Italian University studies. He belonged to the ranks of great humanists such as Ettore Paratore, Antonio Pagliaro, Natalino Sapegno and Sante Mazarino, to name a few—the very scholars my generation was privileged to have as professors in the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy at Sapienza University in Rome.
His meeting with Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984) was a pivotal factor in his choice to pursue the study of Indian culture and the Far East rather than continue his then-ongoing career as an Arabist.His profound learning in the humanities enabled him to move with ease from the fields of history to those of philology and literature. This erudition allowed him to complete his opus magnum: the annotated publication of the documents written by the Catholic missionaries in Tibet and Nepal (I Missionari Italiani nel Tibet e nel Nepal, Il Nuovo Ramusio II, Roma 1952–1956, 7 vols.), as well as his studies on Ptolemy, Marco Polo, Friar Giovanni da Pian di Carpine, Matteo Ricci, and many essays regarding relations between Asia and Europe.
Luciano Petech was born on 8 June 1914 in Trieste, where he completed his secondary school studies. He graduated from university in Rome in July 1936, and subsequently embarked on his academic career as an Italian language assistant at the university of Allahabad in India.
While here, he found himself caught in the outbreak of the Second World War, and spent a full six years (1940–1946) in a British prison camp for civilians. Once back in Italy he continued his academic career, first at the University of Naples and then at the University of Rome where he taught History of the Asia Orientale from 1958-1989. During these years the topics of his lectures covered the history of India, China, Japan, Nepal and Tibet. If the present writer may be permitted an autobiographical aside: the lectures of the academic year 1966–1967, when I attended his course, dealt with the history of Tibet, and this is where my interest in Tibet originated.
In 1990 he received the title of Professor Emeritus. The many appointments, honorary nominations and awards that he received during his long career bear witness to the high esteem in which he was held. We recall in particular his Presidency of the International Association for Tibetan Studies from 1989–1995. At the end of his term he was honoured with a 10-minute valedictory standing ovation at the Seggau conference.
There is insufficient space here to list his publications (numbering well over a hundred), mainly concerning Asian Studies. However, mention must be made of a contribution to the history of Tibet and of Ladakh amounting to 118 works, ranging from monographs to essays, critical reviews and encyclopaedia entries such as the unsurpassed China and Tibet in the Early 18th Century (Leiden 1972); Aristocracy and Government in Tibet, 1728–1959 (Rome 1973); The Kingdom of Ladakh c. 950–1842 (Rome 1977).
His full bibliography may be found in: L. Petech, Selected Papers on Asian History, Serie Orientale Roma LX, Roma: IsMEO 1988, pp. xi–xviii (1986); P. Daffinà (a cura di), Indo-Sino-Tibetica Studi in onore di Luciano Petech, Roma: Bardi Editore 1990, (1989); E. De Rossi Filibeck, “il contributo di Luciano Petech alla storia del Tibet” in RSO vol. LXXVIII(1–2) 2004, Roma-Pisa:Accademia Editoriale, pp. 25–39, pp. 38–9 (2006).
In a brief and moving farewell address during the funeral service Professor Petech’s daughter Diana evoked his love of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy, with the hope that after his long earthly adventure, marked by a great deal of physical suffering towards the end, her father, like the great poet, “had left to see—once more—the stars.”
--Elena De Rossi Filibeck