“A must for lovers of Sicily who are offended by the stereotyped image of Sicilians manufactured by the mass media.”–Antonio Pagano, Sicilia Parra
Read a few paragraphs of “What makes a Sicilian” by Prof. Gaetano Cipolla:
It is ironic that the majority of Americans recognize the name of Sicily, in spite of the fact that it is a small island, barely one fourth the size of Cuba, whereas they probably would have difficulty locating even larger countries on a globe. So perhaps the first thing we can say about Sicily is that it occupies a place of renown in modem American and European consciousness that is not commensurate with its present economic or political importance. This apparent disproportion, however, rather than being an unusual feature, is the norm for the island. Both for what it has contributed to the world and in people’s perceptions of it, there seems to be an element of hyperbole and exaggeration that colors everything Sicilian. Sicily, as Ben Morreale said in a recent article, has been a talisman for the powerful: the domination of the Mediterranean has always been tied to the possession of the island. Inversely, the loss of Sicily has marked the decline of empires.
When Sicily was lost to the invading Vandal hordes, Rome declined; the Byzantines lost their dominance in Italy when Sicily fell to the Arabs; the Bourbons lost the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies when they lost Sicily to Garibaldi. Sicily has been the gateway to Italy and Europe. No wonder that the Allies chose it to begin their assault on Europe in 1943. Its geographical position has guaranteed for it a place of prominence far beyond what one would expect from its size, something it shares with Italy. People have come to Sicily to fight their wars on its soil, to plunder its wealth, to leap from it into Europe. From the beginning of recorded history, it has been the point of contact between the various civilizations that have left their mark on the lands of the Mediterranean sea, the meeting point between East and West, between Africa and Europe.
The beauties of the island attracted the seafaring Phoenicians who founded Palermo; the mysterious and elusive Elymians established a cult of Venus, the goddess of love, high on Mount Erice; the Carthaginians controlled much of the western half of the island; the Greeks considered the island a promised land and once they established themselves as Sicilians they outdid their brothers in the grandeur of their achievements; Rome grew into the most powerful empire in the world after its conquest of Sicily; the Arabs transformed it into the Garden of Allah; the Norman warriors made of it the most advanced state in Europe; and Frederick II, the great emperor who was born eight centuries ago last year, made it the most important center of learning in Europe. But Sicily and Sicilians do not enjoy a good reputation. In the United States, or in any other part of the world for that matter, when people hear the name of Sicily, images of mayhem and violence are inevitably displayed before their mind’s eye and knife-wielding villains with dark hair stand ready to do mischief against law and order. The media has portrayed Sicilians so exclusively as belonging to the Mafia that the two nouns go together linguistically like “bread and butter”.
The mafioso’s modus operandi has been extended to all Sicilians and they are seen as greedy and ruthless individuals. Many actually believe that Sicilians carry the seeds of criminality and lawlessness in their blood. The gulf between real Sicilians and the image concocted by the media is very wide indeed and growing wider, judging by pictures like True Romance by Quentin Tarantino which characterizes Sicilians as degenerate liars and goes so far as to question even their belonging to the Caucasian race. [ …. ]
Professore Gaetano Cipolla
This booklet, 32 pages, has been published by Prof. G. Cipolla through “ARBA SICULA” and you can buy it in Amazon
Professor Gaetano Cipolla teaches at St. John’s University. He is the leading authority on Sicilian language and culture. He is president and editor of Arba Sicula, the only literary Sicilian-English journal in the world.