Che i romanzi polizieschi amino flirtare con il mondo classico è cosa nota, e mi permetto di rimandare a una pubblicazione di qualche anno fa, nata dai bellissimi incontri organizzati dal prof. Maurizio Grimaldi al Liceo “G.B. Vico” di Nocera Inferiore, in occasione del Certamen Vergilianum che da oltre vent’anni vi si tiene alla fine di Aprile. L’intervento, pubblicato negli atti del 2015, è reperibile anche sul sito “Academia.edu”, all’indirizzo https://www.academia.edu/25957587/Delitti_virgiliani.
Se poi l’autore è Colin Dexter, 1930-2017, ideatore della fortunata serie che ha per protagonista l’ispettore Morse, la cosa è ancora più facile. Non solo perché Morse opera a Oxford, luogo della classicità per eccellenza; ma anche perché Dexter, laureato in Classics, è stato per anni insegnante di latino e greco nelle scuole superiori inglesi, prima di passare a lavori legati all’amministrazione oxoniense, a causa di una progressiva sordità e altri problemi di salute. La serie dell’Ispettore Morse, tredici romanzi in tutto, scritti fra il 1975 e il 1999 (cui si affianca una fortunata serie televisiva, realizzata anch’essa con la supervisione di Dexter), non manca perciò di far sfoggio di dottrina classica, anche perché tale dottrina è il mezzo attraverso il quale l’ispettore segnala la propria distanza dal volenteroso, ma povero di cultura, sergente che sempre l’accompagna, il mite e paziente Robert (Robbie) Lewis.
Dal quinto romanzo della serie, The Dead of Jericho (tutti i testi sono stati tradotti in italiano, prima per Longanesi e Mondadori, ora per Sellerio; i tredici romanzi sono stati trasferiti nella serie televisiva, che conta però anche una ventina di episodi originali), ricavo la lunga citazione, in inglese, che costituisce la sostanza di questo post e ne spiega il titolo. Alcune avvertenze: Jericho è un quartiere di Oxford, realmente esistente. Il romanzo sviluppa le indagini relative al suicidio, apparentemente senza spiegazione, della bella Anne Scott, un’insegnante che dà lezioni private e ripetizioni di tedesco a casa sua, e poi quelle relative alla morte di un suo vicino, coinvolto in un tentativo di ricatto che porta alla sua violenta uccisione. E’ però la sorte di Anne quella che ci interessa. Morse è colpito subito dalla biblioteca domestica della donna, dove, accanto agli strumenti del mestiere, figura un gran numero di classici greci e latini, letti nella meravigliosa “Penguin Collection”. Nella pagina che riporto, Morse è al pub con il sergente Lewis – una scena che si ripete spesso nei romanzi: la birra e la musica di Wagner sono le passioni non tanto segrete dell’ispettore – e lì rivela le ragioni del suicidio di Anne, o almeno quelle che ritiene tali (i romanzi di Dexter non hanno mai finali banali, e le conclusioni di Morse non sono sempre confermate dai fatti; altro non dico). Della lunga citazione segnalo per ora soltanto la battuta finale, un omaggio a tutti coloro che hanno a che fare con i classici…
‘There are three basic views about human life,’ began Morse. ‘One of them says that everything happens by pure chance, like atoms falling through space, colliding with each other occasionally and cannoning off to start new collisions. According to this view there’s nothing in the scheme of things that has sorted us out – you and me, Lewis – to sit here in this pub, at this particular time, to drink a pint of beer together. It’s all just a pure fluke-all just a chancy set of fortuitous circumstances. Then you get those who reckon that it’s ourselves, as people, who determine what happens -at least to some extent. In other words, it’s our own characters that affect the way things turn out. Sooner or later our sins will find us out and we have to accept the consequences. And then there’s another view: the view that it doesn’t matter a bugger what particular circumstances are, or what individual people do. The future’s fixed and firm -just like the past is. Things are somehow ordained from on high-pre-ordained, that’s the word. There’s a predetermined pattern in life. What’s going to be-is going to be; and whatever you do and whatever your luck is, you just can’t avoid it. If your number’s up -your number’s up! Fate -that’s what they call it.’
‘What do you believe, sir?’
‘Me? Well, I certainly don’t go for all this “fate” lark. It’s a load of nonsense. I reckon I come somewhere in the middle of the other two. But that’s neither here nor there. What is important is what Anne Scott believed; and it’s perfectly clear to me that she was a firm believer in the fates. She even mentioned the word, I remember. And then there was that particular row of books just above the desk in her study-all those Penguin Classics, Lewis. It’s pretty clear from the look of some of those creased black spines that the works of the Greek tragedians must have made a deep impression on her, and some of those stories-well, let’s be more specific. There was one book she’d been rereading very recently and hadn’t put back on the shelf yet. It was lying on her desk, Lewis, and one of the stories in that book-‘
‘I think I’m getting a bit lost, sir.’
‘All right. Listen! Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time -a long, long time ago, in fact -a handsome young prince came to a city and quite naturally he was entertained at the palace, where he met the queen of that city. Soon these two found themselves in each other’s company quite a bit, and the prince fell in love with the beautiful and lonely queen; and she, in turn, fell in love with the young prince. And things were easy for them. The prince was a bachelor and he found out that the queen was a widow-her husband had recently been killed on a journey by road to one of the neighbouring cities. So they confessed their love-and then they got married. Had quite a few kids, too. And it would’ve been nice if they’d lived happily ever after, wouldn’t it? But I’m afraid they didn’t. In fact, the story of what happened to the pair of them after that is one of the most chilling and terrifying myths in the whole of Greek literature. You know what happened then, of course?’
Lewis looked down at his beer and reflected sadly upon his lack of any literary education.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t, sir. We didn’t have any of that Greek and Latin stuff when I was at school.”
Morse knew again at that moment exactly why he always wanted Lewis around. The man was so wholesome, somehow: honest, unpretentious, humble, almost, in his experience of philosophy and life. A lovable man; a good man. And Morse continued in a gentler, less arrogant tone.
‘It’s a tragic story. The prince had plenty of time on his hands and one day he decided to find out, if he could, how the queen’s former husband had died. He spent years digging out eye-witnesses of what had happened, and he finally discovered that the king hadn’t died in an accident after all: he’d been murdered. And he kept working away at the case, Lewis, and do you know what he found? He found that the murderer had been -‘ (the fingers of Morse’s left hand which had been gesticulating haphazardly in front of him, suddenly tautened and turned dramatically to point to his own chest) ‘-that the murderer had been himself. And he learned something else, too. He learned that the man he’d murdered had been-his own father. And in a blinding, terrifying flash of insight, Lewis, he realized the full enormity of what he’d done. You see, not only had he murdered his own father – but he’d married his own mother, and had a family by her! And the truth had to come out – all of it. And when it did, the queen went and hanged herself. And the prince, when he heard what she’d done, he -he blinded himself. That’s it. That’s the myth of Oedipus.’
Morse had finished, and Lewis felt himself strangely moved by the story and the way his chief had told it. He thought that if only his own schoolteachers had been able to tell him about such top-of-the-head stuff in the way Morse had just done, he would never have felt so distanced from that intimidating crew who were listed in the index of his encyclopaedia under ‘Tragedians’.
Nel romanzo, Anne si è sposata giovanissima a un marito morto poi in un incidente stradale, provocato da un neopatentato, ancora inesperto di guida. A quel neopatentato, forse senza saperlo, Anne ha dato ripetizioni di tedesco, in prospettiva di quello che corrisponde, più o meno, al nostro esame di maturità. Oppressa dalla vedovanza lei, dal fascino della propria insegnante lui (un classico dell’erotismo adolescenziale), è finita che i due non si sono limitati alle lezioni di tedesco, e poiché da cosa nasce cosa, giusto il giorno del proprio suicidio Anne ha appreso, dalle analisi ufficiali, di essere rimasta incinta del giovane. Non solo: in una conversazione accidentale, la sera prima Anne ha saputo che il giovane potrebbe essere suo figlio – il figlio avuto dal legittimo marito, ma che la coppia aveva affidato a un istituto di adozione, perché, sposatisi troppo giovani, non avevano i mezzi materiali per crescere il bambino. Insomma, ecco qua Edipo, Laio e Giocasta in una versione moderna, come spiega al suo assistente (e ai lettori) Morse:
‘You can appreciate, Lewis, how Anne Scott’s intimate knowledge of this old myth was bound to affect her attitudes and actions. Just think! As a young and beautiful undergrad here, she had met a man and married him, just as in the Oedipus myth Queen Jocasta married King Laius. Then a baby arrived. And just as Jocasta could not keep her baby because an oracle had told her that the baby would kill its father -so Anne Scott and her husband couldn’t keep their, because they had no permanent home or jobs and little chance of bringing up the boy with any decent prospects. Jocasta and Laius exposed the infant Oedipus on some hillside or other; and Anne and her husband did the modern equivalent-they found a private adoption society which took the baby off their hands immediately. I don’t know much about the rules and regulations of these societies, but I’d like to bet that in this case there was a provision that the mother was not to know who the future foster-parents were going to be, and that the foster-parents weren’t to know who the actual mother was.
‘When Laius, Jocasta’s husband, was killed, it had been on the road between Thebes and Corinth -a road accident, Lewis! When Anne Scott’s husband died, it had also been in a road accident, and I’m pretty sure that she knew all about it. But, in itself, that couldn’t have been a matter of great moment. It had been an accident: the inquest had found neither party predominantly to blame. If experience in driving means anything, it means that you have to expect learner drivers like Michael Murdoch [il giovane nella parte involontaria di Edipo, ndr] – to do something daft occasionally; and in this case, Anne Scott’s husband wasn’t careful enough to cope with the other fellow’s inexperience. But do you see how things are beginning to build up and develop, Lewis? Everything is beginning to assume a menacing and sinister importance. Young Michael Murdoch was visiting Anne Scott once a week for special coaching; and as they sat next to each other week after week I reckon that sheer physical proximity got a bit too much for both of them. The young lad must have become infatuated by a comparatively mature and attractive woman -a woman with a full and eminent figure; and the woman herself, who had probably only been in love once in her life, must surely have felt the attraction of a young, virile lad who worshipped whatever ground she chose to tread. Then? Well, then the trouble starts. She misses a period – and then another; and she goes off to the Jericho Clinic – where they tell her they’ll let her know as soon as they can. As the days pass, Anne Scott must have felt that the fates were conspiring against her. Michael Murdoch was the very last person in the world she was going to tell her troubles to: he’d finished his schooling, anyway, and so there was no longer any legitimate reason for them seeing each other. Perhaps they met again once or twice after that – I just don’t know. What is perfectly clear is that Anne Scott was growing increasingly depressed as the days dragged on. Life hadn’t been very kind to her, and looking back on things she saw evidence only of her failures: her hasty adolescent marriage that had been short-lived and disastrous; other lovers, no doubt, who’d given her some physical gratification, but little else; and then Michael Murdoch …’
‘So,’ resumed Morse, lapping his lips into the level of his pint, ‘Anne Scott’s making a bit of a mess of her life. She’s still attractive enough to middle-aged men like you and me, Lewis; but most of those are already bespoke, like you, and the ones that are left, like me, are a load of old remaindered books – out of date and going cheap. But her real tragedy is that she’s still attractive to some of the young pupils who come along to that piddling little property of hers in Jericho. She’s got no regular income except for the fees from a succession of half-wits whose parents are rich enough and stupid enough to cough up and keep hoping. She goes out quite a bit, of course, and occasionally she meets a nice enough chap but… No! Things don’t work out, and she begins to think-she begins to believe -that they never will. She’s got a deeply pessimistic and fatalistic streak in her make-up, and in the end, as you know, she abandons all hope. But she was a pretty tough girl, I should think, and she’d have been able to cope with her problems -if it hadn’t been for that shattering revelation at the evening.
‘She’d been reading the Oedipus story again in the Penguin translation-probably with one of her pupils-and the ground’s all naked and ready for the seeds that were sown that fateful evening. Adoption and birthdays-they were the seeds, Lewis, and it must have been the most traumatic shock of her whole life when the terrible truth dawned on her: Michael Murdoch was her own son. And as the implications whirled round in her mind, she must have seen the whole thing in terms of the fates marking her out as another Jocasta. Everything fitted. Her husband had been killed – killed in a road accident-killed by her own son -a son with whom she’d been having sex -a son who was the father of the child she was expecting. She must have felt utterly powerless against the workings of what she saw as the pre-ordained tragedy of her own benighted life. And so she decides to do the one thing that was left open to her: to stop all the struggling and to surrender to her fate; to co-operate with the forces that were now driving her inexorably to her own death -a death she slowly determines, as she sits through that long and hopeless night, will be the death that Queen Jocasta chose. And so, my old friend, she hanged herself …
Da qui la battuta finale:
“The whole wretched thing’s nothing less than a ghastly re-enactment of the old myth as you can read it in Sophocles. And as I told you, if there was one man guilty of Anne Scott’s death, that man was Sophocles”.
I classici diventano vita, perché la vita varia nelle forme, ma rimane sempre uguale nella sostanza; per questo, essi possono fornire infinite occasioni di narrazione e ri-narrazione, bisognose di essere attualizzate, ma non di essere modificate, perché sempre identica è la sostanza del vivere umano. Nello stesso tempo, i classici sono uno strumento ermeneutico della nostra esistenza, alla quale forniscono gli archetipi capaci di darle significato (tragico, nel caso di Anne; esegetico, per Morse). Tutto ciò però, pensa sconsolato Lewis, solo a patto che qualcuno abbia saputo renderceli vivi, evitando così di farli apparire come un vecchiume senza senso e intimidatorio. Un augurio per tutti!
© Massimo Gioseffi, 2019