“Ours is a country of arrangements,” Prince Don Fabrizio Corbera of Salina tells his chaplain, Father Pirrone, in Luchino Visconti’s monumental, melancholy historical epic The Leopard, based on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Another translation for “arrangements” is “compromises.”
The year is 1860, toward the end of the wars of the Italian Unification, or Risorgimento. General Garibaldi has just captured Sicily — the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as it was then known — annexing it as part of what was soon to be called the Kingdom of Italy. Garibaldi had wanted a republic, but had to settle for a constitutional monarchy under Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the united Italy.
Garibaldi was staunchly anti-Catholic, and two years later attacked Rome, the capital of the papal states governed by Pope Pius IX, though his own government hadn’t sanctioned this and the city was defended by Napoleon’s troops. In 1870, when Napoleon’s troops finally withdrew and Italian forces captured Rome, Pius IX defiantly declared himself a “prisoner in the Vatican” — a status maintained by his successors through Pius XI, when the Lateran Treaty of 1929 recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See, creating the state of Vatican City.
The Leopard is full of such “arrangements” or “compromises.” The arrangement with which Don Fabrizio is principally concerned is the coming détente between his class, the Italian aristocracy, and the popular forces, notably the Piedmontese, who have backed Garibaldi’s conquest of Sicily. Many of Don Fabrizio’s fellow noblemen are fleeing for their lives, but Don Fabrizio believes little real change is imminent. “The middle class doesn’t want to destroy us. They simply want to take our places — and very gently.”
Sure enough, when a contingent of Garibaldi’s volunteer Redshirt forces arrive at Don Fabrizio’s palatial villa, they come as sightseers, even addressing the prince as “Excellency.” As they gaze up at the famous frescoes gracing the ceilings, the prince names the various larger-than-life mythological figures hovering above them: Jupiter and Juno, Mars, Venus and Mercury, Thetis and Apollo — ”all of them,” Don Fabrizio adds, pointing out the coat of arms, “glorifying the house of Salina.” Another “arrangement”: the gods of antiquity glorifying the lords of today (soon yesterday).
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.