Sicily is the land of myths, evocative and magnetic, perhaps thanks to its triangular shape, perhaps thanks to its position at the centre of the Mediterranean.
The most attractive aspect is the great variety of landscapes to be found here, from the plains to the hills, from the sea to the mountains, to the abrupt and vigorous nature of the volcanoes, at once infernal and heavenly. Not to mention the tangible signs, fruit of the ingenuity, customs, culture and language of the peoples who have determined the very essence of the Sicilian way of life. Or should we say the Sicilian attitude?
Sicily itself is a true source of inspiration for its literature, which is equally varied and multifaceted, capable of accompanying us on a journey through places linked to the names of its most authoritative and important representatives.
If we were to journey back in time, to let ourselves be guided by the ancient authors indissolubly linked to this island, we would visit the pleasant places, the scene of poetic duels between shepherds, of the literary tale of the poet Theocritus, born in Syracuse. With a leap forward in history, we follow in the footsteps of Frederick II and the authors of the Sicilian school of poetry. We arrive at the Norman Palace in Palermo and from there begin a tour of the courts of some of the most majestic Swabian castles in eastern Sicily, before heading to the Tower of Frederick II in Enna, the navel of Sicily.
Also in Palermo, Giuseppe Pitrè opens the doors of his Sicilian Ethnographic Museum, where we meet Giufà!
Sicilian literature is multifaceted, long-winded and baroque, but also dry and vigorous, like the prose of one of its fathers, Giovanni Verga, who lived between Vizzini and Catania. He gave life to a language steeped in his dialect, which comes to life, rejoices and suffers along with the characters in his numerous writings. The novels Mastro-don Gesualdo, the subject of the first major Italian drama series by director Giacomo Vaccari, I Malavoglia transposed by Luchino Visconti in La Terra Trema, set in the village of Acitrezza, together with Cavalleria Rusticana, set to music by the great Mascagni, which made Verga and Italian opera known throughout the world, are the works that best represent his Sicily.
Let us follow the Author’s Itinerary to continue our journey through the places that comprise the poetic universe of Sicilian writers. This is the case of Luigi Capuana, a writer from Mineo, a small town in the province of Catania, bound to Verga by sincere friendship and common ideals.
Verga and Capuana, together with Federico De Roberto, gave life to Verismo, which partly borrowed the themes of French Naturalism. Think of De Roberto’s detailed description of Catania in his novel The Viceroys and of life there, with particular reference to the Benedictine Monastery.
Drawing the rich geo-literary map of Sicily, tracing an itinerary of writers, is tantamount to sketching a baroque doodle.
Take the case of Vitaliano Brancati, born in Pachino, a town in the province of Syracuse. A Catanian by education and literary “domicile”, the father of the Gallic saga, he used a caricatured farce to mock the superhumanism of the Fascist hero, dressing him up as a prissy Sicilian “vizietto” (“queer”).
From Capo Passero, we move on to Capo Peloro: in Alì Terme, near Messina, the town with the golden landing place for sailors arriving on its shores, Stefano D’Arrigo was born, the writer of Horcynus Orca, a heartfelt portrait of the hard life of Sicilian fishermen.
Staying in the province of Messina, our journey continues in the poetry of Salvatore Quasimodo, an exponent of European hermeticism, who condenses in his verses the theme of existential solitude and exile from the homeland, in which the island becomes the emblem of lost happiness. Let us visit his magnificent Modica, in the province of Ragusa, which is also the protagonist of Argo il cieco, a declaration of love by Gesualdo Bufalino, who is very attached to his city of Comiso.
Our journey among the writers in Sicily could turn into a long journey of rediscovery of evocative and fictional atmospheres of a variety of settings.
Let us return to the regal capital, Palermo, where we find a universe in itself: Muslim, cosmopolitan, anarchic and contradictory, splendid in beauty and ancient opulence, to the extent that all the noble families of Sicily wanted to reside there.
Among these, the family of Don Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is almost a symbol: his The Leopard, also made famous by Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation, tells the story of the Prince of Salina’s family during the landing of Garibaldi’s army.
Sicilian literature is never provincial, even in the case of the so-called minor writers, especially since they had real European libraries at their disposal.
Take, for example, Lucio Piccolo, Baron of Calanovella and cousin of Tomasi. An almost clandestine poet, he led a secluded life; but his poetic universe, despite the fact that his life took place between Palermo and Capo d’Orlando, on a hillock overlooking Capo Tìndari and Cefalù, at the two extremes of the horizon, has vigorous European roots. This is evidenced by his intense correspondence with the Irish poet Yeats, whose esoteric inclinations he shared.
Continuing our journey in the footsteps of Sicily’s greatest writers, we take the Writers’ Route, which takes us into the beautiful Sicilian hinterland, to the evocative Valley of the Temples, where another literary titan awaits us: Luigi Pirandello.
And again, Leonardo Sciascia from Racalmuto, an author with tremendous civil awareness and responsibility. His shrewd works of not-so-subtle denunciation, Todo Modo and Il giorno della Civetta, are part of the literary and cinematic imagination of the same climate that produced the prolific and now very famous Andrea Camilleri. His legendary Commissario Montalbano has made famous all over the world glimpses of a more rugged Sicily, all to be discovered in a wonderful new chapter of your trip to Sicily.
The comparison between the north of a rational, grey life and the south characterised by dreams and the passionate colours of life is at the heart of the work of Pier Maria Rosso di San Secondo, a journalist and playwright born in Caltanissetta.
Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini, a native of Syracuse, is the result of a train journey across Italy from north to south. In particular, he minutely describes places and stations encountered between Messina and Syracuse.
Many Sicilian writers move away from this land, but their nostalgia and tormenting love do not leave them. This is the case of Vincenzo Consolo, a friend of Bufalino and Sciascia, who fled Sicily, only to return there in his imagination, in a vision that is simultaneously dreamlike and bitter.
But perhaps for him, as for others, this island has a strange magic: those who are born here or live here for a while can never truly leave.