einstein a padovaDid you know Albert Einstein spoke Italian?

During one of my random surfing on the internet, I bumped into this note appeared on the newspaper “Corriere della Sera” on October 28th, 1921. It shortly reports about a lecture given the day before by Albert Einstein in Padua University.

Here’s what the article says (my translation).

“In the lecture hall of our University Albert Einstein gave today the announced conference. The hall is very crowded. Professor Ricci-Curbastro of physics and mathematics department introduces Professor Einstein with eminent words also reminding that three centuries ago, in the same hall, Galileo Galilei taught a new subject: mechanics. Professor Einstein, who speaks in Italian, expressed his pleasure to talk in the city where works Professor Ricci, to whom is due absolute differential calculus, the mathematical tool necessary to convey the general relativity.
Afterwords he presented in summary, as in the conferences in Bologna, the essential features of this theory. Professor Einstein was very much applauded.”

Albert_Einstein_1921_by_F_SchmutzerEinstein spoke English with a very strong German accent. There are many recordings of his speeches in English. He also spoke Italian and French: it’s well known Einstein had a job at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern, Switzerland. To get a job like that people must be proficient in the three national Swiss languages German, French and Italian.

And Einstein spoke Italian well enough to give conferences.

On October 22nd, 24th and 26th 1921, the year he was awarded by Nobel prize, he held some conferences on general relativity at Bologna University. Papers reported that he was acclaimed like a star by the students.

Not many people know that Einstein family lived in Italy for a while.

Albert’s father, Hermann, and his brother Jacob owned an electric engineering company in Munich. When it failed, they moved to Italy searching new business. In 1894 they arrived to Milan and the year later they moved to Pavia. In 1894 Albert remained in Munich at relatives’s to finish school, but he left it in December 1894 and joined the family in Pavia, where he studied by himself or the admission to University. He lived there for nearly one year, until he entered the Polytechnic of Zurich in 1895 at the age of 16. In Pavia he probably wrote his first assay, On the Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field.

Even though quite rare, autograph letters of Einstein in Italian have been found.

A letter to the Italian engineer Giovanni Giorgi, in which Einstein defends his theory which was strongly criticized at first, was sold in February 2015 for $75.000.

Another proof of Einstein’s bond to Italian academic world was the letter dated November 16th 1931 he sent to the minister Alfredo Rocco, in which he asked not to compel the Italian scientists to swear loyalty to Mussolini to maintain their professorship. This letter is included in the book “The world as I see it” a collection of articles, letters and interviews summarizing Einstein’s opinions and beliefs.

My Dear Sirs,

two of the most eminent and respected men of science in Italy have apeled to me in their difficulties of coscience and requested me to write to you with the object of preventing, if possible, a piece of cruel persecution with which men of learning are threatened in Italy. I refer to a form of oath in which fidelity to the Fascist system is to be promised. The burden of my request is that you should please advise Signor Mussolini to spare the flower of Italy’s intellect this humiliation.

However much of our political convictions may differ, I know that we agree on one pointin the progressive achievements od the European mind both of us seeand love our highest good. Those achievents are based on the freedon of thought and teaching, on the principle that the desire for truth must take precedence of all other desires. It was this basis alone that enabled our civilization to take its rise in Greece and to celebrate its rebirth in Italy at the Renaissence. This supreme good has been paid for by the martyr’s blood of pure and great men, for whose sake Italy is still loved and reverenced to-day. Far be it from me to argue with you about what inroads on human liberty may be justifiedby reason of State. But the pursuit of scientific truth, detached from the practical interest of everyday life, ought to be treated as sacred by every Government, and it is is the highest interests of all that honest servants of truth should be left in peace. This is also undoubtely in the interest of the Italian State and its prestige in the eyes of the world.



Featured Image: Albert Einstein by Gheorghe Manu via Wikimedia Commons.