The government’s decision to hold a funeral by the state and to designate yesterday as a national day of mourning for Oliver Friggieri are highly commendable. Friggieri, who passed away on November 21 at the age of 73, is rightly acclaimed as a giant of Maltese literature.
The news of his death provoked a veritable chorus of tributes, from the highest authorities to prominent men and women of letters and the arts, fellow academics and former students of his, lovers of Maltese literature and, indeed, many others who may have read his books and poetry or watched TV adaptations of his works.
Friggieri’s prolific output of books, published in Maltese, English and Italian, was truly prodigious, running into over 100, with some translated into a score of other languages. He also wrote innumerable articles for the local press in both English and Maltese and critical studies for literary publications.
Not surprisingly, he was the recipient of numerous prestigious local and international awards for his literary output and he was indefatigable in the promotion of Maltese literature, indeed, of the island’s traditions.
Friggieri would still have been recognised for his enormous literary stature just for his numerous studies on the national poet, Dun Karm, for which he received well deserved international recognition.
He also studied and promoted the works of other Maltese authors, including the poet Rużar Briffa and the writer Ġwann Mamo.
However, he also regaled the Maltese nation and its cultural baggage with a string of novels, including the outstanding Fil-Parlament ma Jikbrux Fjuri, It-Tfal Jiġu bil-Vapuri and Il-Gidba, biographies of, among others, St George Preca, an autobiography, collections of short stories, essays and a dictionary of Maltese literary terms.
One must also mention his masterly lyrics for Pawlu ta’ Malta, the first ever Maltese oratorio, which he wrote in 1985 to the music of Charles Camilleri. And, of course, an unending stream of poetry and poetic studies, which he produced practically up to his last breath. A monumental output, by any measure, and of the highest quality.
Friggieri, who was educated at the Seminary, was also a philosopher who, in his works, reflected deeply on the meaning of life, man’s relationship with God, the significance of death, life’s tribulations – of which he had a fair share, including the loss of a son – and national themes, such as religion and history, which give Malta its identity.
As a university professor, he was a source of inspiration for hundreds of students and was ever ready to support them, encouraging them and friends of his to publish their writings. Indeed, it was he who collaborated and encouraged the late Paul Mizzi to set up the successful Klabb Kotba Maltin.
A deeply religious and essentially modest man, Friggieri was a patriot in the purest sense of the word. His promotion and defence of the national identity, Malta’s language and literature, its culture and its millennial faith, were his priorities. Yet, he was never confrontational and, as fellow author and former prime minister Alfred Sant observed, one of his best qualities, apart from the arts, culture and education, was “a profound sense of tolerance”.
Apart from recognising his immense talent and rich literary legacy, the best way to honour Friggieri, apart from perpetuating his memory in various ways, would be to safeguard and promote, especially among the younger generations, the essential characteristics which make us Maltese: our language, our literature, our culture and our traditions.
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