Tyranny and Complicity: Four Short Political Allegories by Leonardo Sciascia

August 30, 2018 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION


Translated by

John L. Gronbeck-Tedesco





Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) was one of the most celebrated Italian authors of the latter half of the 20th century. While Sciascia’s reputation was based primarily on his novels, essays and political activism, he began his literary career as a poet. His earliest collection was Favole della dittatura (Fables of the Dictatorship published in 1950) made up chiefly of brief political allegories featuring animal characters similar to those that “people” Aesop’s tales. As the title suggests, Sciascia’s agenda was twofold: (1) the denunciation of the horrors of the tyrannical regimes that dominated Italy before and during World War II and (2) the condemnation of the abject complicity on the part of so many of his fellow Italians.


Pier Paolo Pasolini—an important author and commentator on European culture of the post war period—acclaimed Sciascia’s Favole as a form of “political condemnation” (“condannato politico,” p. 70) accomplished under the “exquisite cover of fantasy” (p. 69). The most recent, complete English translation of the Favole is by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre published in 2004. In light of the current assaults on democratic institutions in many parts of the world, the parables deserve another look. Here I have translated four of the fables that Pasolini himself singled out for special comment. I hope these translations will encourage renewed interest in Sciascia’s parables about tyranny and complicity.


All page numbers are from the same volume: Leonardo Sciascia’s La Sicilia, il suo cuore; Favole della dittatura, terza edizione (Adelphi, 2010).





Once upon a time

A mouse was trapped in a cage.

There he stood silently, utterly pissed off at himself for having been caught.

A man entered the kitchen and stood there staring at him.

Looking into his eyes, the mouse understood the man was deciding how to kill him.

“Poor guy,” thought the mouse, “he’s more worried about my death than I am.”



Dentro la trappola, una di quelle troppole a

gabbia, il topo stava quieto pieno di disgusto e

di noia.  L’uomo entro` in cucina e stette a

guardarlo.  Quando incontro` gli occhi dell’ uomo, il

topo capi` stave scegliendogli un genere

di morte.   “Poveretto,” penso` “Sta pensandoci

piu di me che debbo morire.”  (p. 51)





There once was a lizard that, having had his tail chopped off, escaped by hiding himself in some rocks while his tail was still convulsing in the grass.


“Kill that evil thing right now,” the farmer told his son.

“His tail is cursing us.”



Mutilata, la lucertola fuggi` a nascondersi tra le

pietre.  Tra l’erba, la coda recisa si muoveva

rapida e convlusa.  “Schiacciala, presto,” disse il

contadino a suo figlio.  “E` maligna, la lucertola:

la sua coda si agita per maledirci.”  (p. 62)





Once upon a time,

a dog was barking at the moon.

But a nightingale kept quiet all night long,

silenced by fear.



Il cane abbaiava alla luna.  Ma l’usignuolo per

tutta la notte tacque di paura.





Once upon a time,

there was a jackass with a very sensitive soul.

He even discovered a way to write some poetry.

And, when his owner died, the jackass confided,

“I wished him well because every one of his beatings

created a rime-scheme for my verse.”



L’asino aveva una sensibilissima anima, trovava

persino dei versi.  Ma quando il padrone mori`,

confidava, “Gli volevo bene; ogni sua bastonata

mi creava una rima.”





John L. Gronbeck-Tedesco

John L. Gronbeck-Tedesco is a poet, dramatist and translator whose work has appeared in a variety of publications and venues, such as Scintilla, Angry Old Man:  A Magazine of Experimental Art and Poetry, San Francesco:  La rivista della Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, Karamu House and The Kansas City Fringe Festival.

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