June 28, 2009

Luigi Pirandello

Luigi Pirandello
Luigi Pirandello was born on June 28, 1867 in Caos, a small hamlet in Girgenti (now Agrigento), Sicily. He studied Philology in Rome and Bonn, and published his doctoral thesis, Sounds and Developments of Sounds in the Dialect of Girgenti, in 1891. He was a prolific writer best remembered for his plays, the most famous of which was, Six Characters in Search of an Author. The dramatist also produced poems, novels and numerous short stories, often expressing tragedy and disillusionment inspired by his own personal experiences. In 1934 Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The literary giant passed away in Rome on December 10, 1936.

"Oh why...I asked myself desperately,...does mankind toil so to make the apparatus of the living more and more complicated? Why this clatter of machines? And what will man do when machines do everything for him? Will he then realize that what is called progress has nothing to do with happiness? Even if we admire all the inventions that science sincerely believes will enrich our lives (instead they make it poorer, because their price is so high), what joy do they bring us, after all?" – Luigi Pirandello, The Late Mattia Pascal [Il fu Mattia Pascal, 1904], p. 102-103, New York Review Books, 2005. 
"The real cause of all our sufferings, of this sadness of ours—do you know what it is? Democracy, my dear man. Yes, democracy; that is, the government of the majority. Because when power is in the hands of a single man, this man knows he is one and must make many happy; but when the many govern, they think only of making themselves happy, and the result is the most absurd and hateful of tyrannies. Of course! Why do you think I suffer? I'm suffering because of this tyranny masked as freedom..." – Luigi Pirandello, The Late Mattia Pascal [Il fu Mattia Pascal, 1904], p. 121-122, New York Review Books, 2005.

June 22, 2009

Death of Ruggero d'Altavilla (Roger I of Sicily)

Ruggiero il Normanno (Roger II) 
The facade of the Palazzo Reale di Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Dextera Domini fecit virtutem. Dextera Domini exaltavit me. (The right hand of God gave me courage. The right hand of God raised me up) – The inscription on Roger's shield following his victory at Cerami (Quoted from The Normans in Sicily by John Julius Norwich)
June 22, 1101 Marks the death of Ruggero d'Altavilla (Roger de Hauteville).

The Norman arrival in Southern Italy began in the eleventh century. According to tradition, in 1016 a group of pilgrims drove away a band of Moslem raiders plaguing the Lombard Principality of Salerno. Grateful and impressed with the Normans' martial prowess the Lombards invited them to stay. Word quickly spread through the halls of Normandy about the opportunities for soldiers-of-fortune and it wasn't long before the rival lords of Southern Italy were employing Norman freebooters in their wars.

Led by the Altavilla (Hauteville) clan, Norman expansion was steady. Under Guglielmo Braccio di Ferro (William "Iron Arm") they established themselves at Melfi. In 1046 William's half-brother Roberto il Guiscardo (Robert the cunning) joined in the conquest. The renowned condottiere wrenched Apulia and Calabria from Byzantium and was granted the title of Duke by Pope Nicholas II.

Following in his brothers' footsteps the youngest Altavilla, Ruggero (Roger), arrived in Southern Italy in 1055. Looking for fortune and adventure he was to gain great fame for expelling the Moslems from Sicily.

His chronicler Goffredo Malaterra writes:

"While he was staying at Reggio with his brother the duke, that most distinguished young man Count Roger of Calabria heard that Sicily was in the hands of the unbelievers. Seeing it from close hand, with only a short stretch of sea laying between, he was seized by the desire to capture it, for he was always eager for conquest." (Quoted from The Age of Robert Guiscard by G.A. Loud)
Ruggero invaded Sicily in May 1061. His forces crossed the Straits of Messina from Calabria eventually taking control of northeastern Sicily. He was granted the title of Count of Sicily and Calabria. In 1063 Roger won an astounding victory against a massive Moslem army at Cerami. The stuff of legends, an estimated 130 knights and 500 infantry defeated a much larger force of three thousand men! Routed, many of the Saracens were slain on the field of battle. The rest were hunted down and sold off into slavery or ransomed back to their families. By January 1071 Palermo capitulated; Syracuse yielded in March 1086; and in February 1091 Noto was captured. In just 30 years the Moslem dominion of Sicily was finally broken.
Roger I of Sicily at the Battle of Cerami in 1063
Painted by Prosper Lafaye
On June 22, 1101, in the small Calabrian town of Mileto, the Great Count of Sicily died. His third wife, Countess Adelaide, ruled as Regent until their son's Coronation. On Christmas Day, 1130, Ruggero II (picture up top), was proclaimed King of Sicily, which included mainland Southern Italy. The Kingdom's boundaries were to remain more or less the same until its conquest in 1861.

~ Giovanni di Napoli, June 20th, Feast of San Silverio

Also see: The Seeds of the Kingdom

June 19, 2009

Statue of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca at the Italian American Museum

While visiting the Italian American Museum yesterday I stumbled across an amazing statue of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca. Called the Maddona of the club, because she wields a cudgel, it's symbolism is crystal clear: she is the protectress of the innocent. The Devil's "Moorish" features appear to be an allusion to the Christian reconquest of Sicily and the expulsion of the Moslems. I inquired about it's origins and discovered that it was donated by a now defunct Sicilian-American organization. The curator promised to email me more information and I look forward to sharing it with you when I receive it.
Photos by New York Scugnizzo

June 17, 2009

Discovering Our Cultural Heritage at the MET

Graziella, by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre
For anyone interested in his or her Southern Italian heritage I highly recommend a visit to the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is one of the premier art institutions in the country and houses some of the most incredible works of Western art, including a nice collection from Southern Italy. The MET's permanent galleries are vastly superior to the periodic exhibits held at smaller venues, which usually focus on athletes, politicians, organized criminals or other vapid individuals with little or no attention paid to our true heritage and cultural contributions. 
As our people continue to leave the city in droves for the greener pastures of small town USA, it becomes more and more difficult to enjoy our culture and each other’s company. The declining attendance and enthusiasm for our traditional feasts and festivals and the marring of the few remaining ones with consumer pop culture clearly attest to this phenomenon. It also spotlights the importance of institutions like the MET.

I admit there is no substitution for the real thing. Nothing compares to the Amalfi Coast or the Valley of Temples, but apart from visiting the Mezzogiorno itself, the next best way to enjoy the treasures of our ancestral homeland (here in New York City) is to visit the MET.

While fine examples of the prodigious art and civilization from Southern Italy is on display, there is no doubt that the antiquities of Magna Graecia are it's primary attractions. The scope of the other periods and genres is smaller by comparison, but still worth the trip. Highlights include paintings by Luca Giordano, Salvator Rosa and Mattia Preti. There are also some fantastic depictions of the Mezzogiorno by foreign artists, including the enchanting Neapolitan fisherman's daughter, Graziella, by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre.

During the Christmas season don’t miss the museum’s annual presentation of Neapolitan baroque tableau. The crèche, or presepe (Nativity scene), is a Neapolitan forte that developed into an earnest art form in the eighteenth century.

Museum hours
Monday: Closed
Tuesday—Thursday: 9:30 am—5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 am—9:00 pm
Sunday: 9:30 am—5:30 pm

1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, NY 10028-0198
Info: 212-535-7710
TTY: 212-570-3828

June 8, 2009

Brief Excerpts: The Temptation to Exist

I'm currently reading The Temptation to Exist by E.M. Cioran and thought I would share some excerpts.
On a Winded Civilization

“‘If the sun and the moon should doubt, they’d immediately go out” (Blake). Europe has doubted for a long time…and if her eclipse disturbs us, the Americans and the Russians contemplate it with either composure or delight.

“America stands before the world as an impetuous void, a fatality without substance. Nothing prepared her for hegemony; yet she tends toward it, not without a certain hesitation. Unlike the other nations which have had to pass through a whole series of humiliation and defeats, she has known till now only the sterility of an uninterrupted good fortune. If, in the future, everything should continue to go as well, her appearance on the scene will have been an accident without influence. Those who preside over her destiny, those who take her interest to heart, should prepare her for bad times; in order to cease being a superficial monster, she requires an ordeal of major scope. Perhaps she is not far from one now. Having lived, hitherto, outside hell, she is preparing to descend into it. If she seeks a destiny for herself, she will find it only on the ruins of all that was her raison d’être." — E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist, 1998, University of Chicago Press, p. 53-54.

“Whatever the world to come, the Western peoples will play in it the part of the Graeculi in the Roman Empire. Sought out and despised by the new conqueror, they will have, in order to impress him, only the jugglery of their intelligence or the luster of their past. The art of surviving oneself—they are already distinguished in that. Symptoms of exhaustion are everywhere: Germany has given her measure in music: what leads us to believe that she will excel in it again? She has used the resources of her profundity, as France those of her elegance. Both—and with them, this entire corner of the world—are on the verge of bankruptcy, the most glamorous since antiquity. Then will come the liquidation: a prospect which is not a negligible one, a respite whose duration cannot be estimated, a period of facility in which each man, before the deliverance finally at hand, will be happy to have behind him the throes of hope and expectation.” — E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist, 1998, University of Chicago Press, p. 59-60.

June 2, 2009

Up the Devolution! Two Sicilies, One People

We the people of Southern Italy stand united and proclaim our right to self-determination. The South’s seven regions—
Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Puglia and Sicilia—comprise our beloved Fatherland (Patria). We are a distinct people with our own culture and our own heritage. We revel in our local traditions, languages and beliefs; and it is our ethnic particularism that constitutes the basis of our national community—a historic community rooted in the immortal principles of kinship, family, faith, loyalty, honor and duty.
We can no longer tolerate the debilitating union that suppresses our regional and local identities. We are unconditionally opposed to the Centralized State and its imposition of global conformity. This morally bankrupt way of life, based on corruption, debauchery and avarice, forcefully levels our populace into units of production and consumption, cogs in a machine where material possessions are the measure of one’s self-worth and success. 

The plutocrats orchestrated economic underdevelopment to disenfranchise the Southern Italian people and sustain their financial dominance. The corrupt system provided northern industries with a dependent market for their goods, a steady supply of cheap labor and inexpensive agricultural products. This materialistic worldview has produced disproportionate economic inequality resulting in dire demographic changes, criminal excess, utopian delusions, class warfare and false claims of progress. We reject the culture of greed, decadence and hatred perpetrated by predatory capitalists, international “banksters,” godless Marxist, media moguls and corrupt politicians.

History has been rewritten at our expense. We have been demonized and denied the simplest of honors; our language, our culture and our history are being stripped from us. Even the dignity of our ancestry is denied with unfounded comparisons to the Bedouin and fellah peoples of Africa meant to demean and ridicule as well as legitimize the colonization of Southern Italy.

But the greatest tragedy inflicted was the dispersion of millions of us from our homeland. In search of “work and bread” the oppressed sons and daughters of the South migrated, often to hostile lands, to enrich the infrastructure, agriculture and industries of foreign countries (including Northern Italy), while their own native soil languished in poverty. The descendants of these migrants, like exiles, are denied the sacred privilege of living in their ancestral homeland, a homeland now being repopulated with disparate peoples from the Maghreb and the Levant by a centralized government more concerned with the global economy and so-called “human rights” than with the wellbeing of its own people.

We are dedicated to the defense of our ancestral homeland and our people, at home and abroad. We believe there is more to life than material possession and consumption. We desire a society free of corruption and dedicated to the advancement of our people. We must build academic and cultural institutions based on our austere traditions with leadership that is conducive to the people’s well being that will facilitate education and the arts, improve the physical and moral health of the people and preserve the environment in which we live. In the spirit of our ancestors we shall rebuild our homeland for the sake of the coming generations. Forza e onore!

~ Giovanni di Napoli, June 1st, Feast of Sant'Annibale Maria di Francia