‘An eighteenth-century ancestor of Alighiero Boetti, Giovanni Battista Boetti, played an extremely important role in Alighiero’s childhood mythology. This traveler and Dominican missionary in Mesopotamia, who apparently converted to Sufism, fought against Russian imperialistic expansion in the Caucasus under the name of the prophet Mansour. This Dominican friar and medical student had sought the Orient in every way. It seems that he had attempted to join up with the Orientalist and theologian Johann David Michaelis, who for years had been preparing a scientific expedition to Arabia by the ship Groenland with the sponsorship of the King of Denmark. He finally managed to set off for the Middle East with the Congregazione di Propaganda Fide. He travelled between Mossul, Constantinople, Erzurum, Kurdistan, Armenia, and Circassia. He assumed different identities, with pseudonyms like Pafflis, and Abdalla Bacase. He was finally addressed with titles like Imam, Sheikh, and Mansour, ‘the victorious’. He (apparently) converted to Islam, declared war on Catherine the Great of Russia, and led the Chechen resistance in Dagestan for five years against the Russian governor, Prince Potemkin’.

Laura Cherubini