Ernesto de Martino (1 December 1908 – 9 May 1965) was an Italian philosopher, anthropologist and historian of religions. He studied with Benedetto Croce and Adolfo Omodeo, and did field research with Diego Carpitella into the funeral rituals of Lucania and the tarantism.
Ernesto de Martino was born in Naples, Italy, where he studied under Adolfo Omodeo, graduating with a degree in philosophy in 1932. His degree thesis, subsequently published, dealt with the historical and philological problem of the Eleusinian Gephyrismi (ritual injuries addressed to the goddess) and provides an important methodological introduction to the concept of religion. Clearly influenced by reading Das Heilige by Rudolf Otto, de Martino preferred to emphasize the choleric nature of the believer, overturning the German scholar's thesis and making it capable of being applied to relations with gods in polytheistic religions and spirits in animist religions.
Attracted by the ideological stance of the regime, for several years de Martino worked on an essay interpreting Fascism as a historically convenient form of civil religion. However, the attempt was insubstantial and the work, still unpublished, was gradually rejected by the author, who subsequently approached left-wing ideas and after the war became a supporter of the Italian Communist Party. At this time, which we now call the "Neapolitan" period, lasting until 1935, de Martino fell under the spell of the personality and work of an archaeologist who was particularly open-minded concerning the ancient history of religions and who was disliked by both the regime and its intellectual opponents: Vittorio Macchioro, known for his Orphic interpretation of the frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii and advocate of a theory of religion understood essentially as experience.
From 1957 to his death he taught ethnology and history of religions at Cagliari's University: here, with Alberto Mario Cirese, Clara Gallini, Giulio Angioni and other scholars he founded the Anthropological School of Cagliari.
De Martino has also been a very charismatic mentor and teacher. One of his students, the writer Muzi Epifani, dedicated to him the comedy The Escape. In this work, the protagonist Ernesto discusses the changing role of women in post-industrial society.
Ferrari, Fabrizio M. (2012). Ernesto de Martino on Religion. The Crisis and the Presence. London and Oakville: Equinox.