By Tommaso Fattori
From Commons to the referendum
Earth, water, air and fire (what we would call, in contemporary terms, energy) have, for thousands of years, been considered primary elements and the common base materials of life, ever since the dawn of Western philosophical thought in ancient Greece. In the Metamorphosis by Ovid – a classic of Latin literature written more than two thousand years ago – the goddess Latona thus addresses a group of peasants who refuse to allow her to drink from a pool: “Why do you refuse me water? The common use of water is the sacred right of all mankind. Nature allows to no one to claim as property the sunshine, the air, or the water. When I drew near, it was a public good I came to share. Yet I ask it of you a favour (…). A draught of water would be nectar to me; it would revive me, and I would own myself indebted to you for life itself”. These words condense the elements that were to proper legal regulation more than five hundred years later, in the Justinian Code.