- FEBRUARY 2018 -
HOME - Puglia - Dialect Proverbs - Fatalism of the weak
Dialect Proverbs
Fatalism of the weak Sorte noscia! – tissi la cozza – Cinca passa ne scafazza
[Oh woe is me! – said the snail – Everyone that passes by tramples me underfoot]
by Alberto Sobrero
SHARE Facebook Twitter

Bruno Maggio. China

      The power of a proverb (in this case from Salento) – Two verses are enough, nine words in all, to portray with a few broad strokes the character of a society, and its philosophy of life. It is a genre picture, a fulminating sketch, along the lines of classic fairy tales, with three ingredients: a talking animal, a man who abuses his power, and a moral. The animal is the snail, which in popular Salento culture symbolizes a thing or person that has little or no value: it has no personality, and it has no beauty – shes a snail can be said even today about a very ugly woman [shes a dog in American slang] – it has an infamous selling value. The abusive man that rides roughshod over the snail: upon doing so he commits two acts of violence because he crushes it and he does so unknowingly, all the while thinking his behavior is natural, obvious, and normal. The moral is: resign yourself to your fate, poor snail. Violence and injustice are inherent traits of human nature, in all societies: one who commits such an act is not even aware of doing it. It will always be like this, because this is a law of nature.

      The rhyming tempo is set, the metrical prose is vernacular: a nine-syllable line followed by an eight-syllable line that produces a rhymed couplet, which is also a near rhyme. It is the structure of moral maxims that are authoritative and indisputable; passing along a message with bitter resignation, without light and without hope.

      There is more. This is not the only proverb that contains such profound resignation. On the contrary, it is found throughout all proverbs from Southern Apulia. None of them ever raise, even faintly, the idea of rebellion, of changing the status quo, or spread the ideas of justice or liberty. The only reaction to injustice is a bitter smile. The snail/the subject is worthless, powerless. It has been trampled on and finds the situation unpleasant – nothing more; an exclamation of disappointment is stated, at most an expletive, like when the weather turns bad or the harvest is scarce, spoken in a low voice so as not to disturb the powerful.

      In the traditional world, agricultural and conservative, the universal unwritten law is that of silence, of resignation, of meekness. It is not something written in treatises by philosophers but it was felt by the humble, the illiterate, and those at the bottom: people who steered their rudder along the course laid out by the three main moral and material guides: the Church, tradition (and therefore proverbs), and the survival instinct; all geared towards preservation, fatalism.

      From proverbs, humble, popular and age-old like the dialect in which they are expressed, emerge beautiful examples of concrete testimony not of the material conditions of life – for that we have archeological findings and material culture – but of the state of the soul, the anima, which the masses had to cope with day after day, in the very hard struggle for survival: in a nutshell, how they lived and what they really thought, in Salento, a century or two ago.

      And what proverbs tell us does not stop there. Here we see in the state of the soul, the basic, underlying existential conditions of a civilization. We will soon see, with other proverbs, along these same lines – pessimistic, bitter, and fatalistic – an outline of a more complex, articulated, and lively reality. Proverbs, we can already say, that are not always so darkly grim.

More articles
Dialect Proverbs   Wives and oxen… Dialect Proverbs   That bad reputation priests have… Dialect Proverbs   Goat Woman From the Middle Ages to Sgarbi Dialect Proverbs   “After Christmas the cold sets in” The meteorological proverbs that have deeper roots than religious ones Dialect Proverbs   A fantastic state-of-the-art teaching tool: the nursery-rhyme Dialect Proverbs   When parody flouts the sacred Dialect Proverbs   Happiness depends on how we manage our time Dialect Proverbs   If the branch indicates quality… Dialect Proverbs   Women, what deceivers! Dialect Proverbs   Back when the proverb was dictated by the calendar... Dialect Proverbs   Be prepared for disappointment! Dialect Proverbs   Hands off the female sex! Dialect Proverbs   That lack of faith in science… Dialect Proverbs   To get to heaven… you have to suffer Dialect Proverbs   From poetry to “prose” This is love Dialect Proverbs   …But Love is Hope Dialect Proverbs   “Verba volant” What has changed between then and now Dialect Proverbs   From the philosophy of Heraclitus to Vasco’s rock music “everything flows” Dialect Proverbs   Beyond the garden there are “the others”. The hateful prejudice dies hard Dialect Proverbs   Hypocrites? More dangerous than the kick of a mule Dialect Proverbs   Nothing can beat wine-Christ’s blood. When folk wisdom is “differently sophisticated” Dialect Proverbs   The revenge of cooking ‘poor man’s style’ Dialect Proverbs   Troubles? Let everyone take care of their own Dialect Proverbs   What “Eldorado”?! Dialect Proverbs   Peasant wisdom The State should consider it too Dialect Proverbs   …And so the idler’s week goes by Dialect Proverbs   Don’t fly into a rage if you want to keep healthy Dialect Proverbs   Rather an “old hand” than a “know-it-all” Dialect Proverbs   If a “poor man” falls ill there’s no hope Dialect Proverbs   The harsh law of hunger Dialect Proverbs   Our first lesson in life? In a nursery rhyme Dialect Proverbs   Man and woman: an old proverb – incredible! – is in favor of equality. As far as hitting each other is concerned… Dialect Proverbs   Women? Witches who lead you to the gallows To be used for love and child-bearing Dialect Proverbs   Marriage: what a sentence for men! Dialect Proverbs   Women “diabolical carriers of perdition” Dialect Proverbs   Women Closer to the devil than to holy water Dialect Proverbs   The longstanding diffidence of the people towards “the caste” Dialect Proverbs   A playful rhyme for the bitter fatalism of underlings Dialect Proverbs   The over-privileged who wield the money: a never-ending story Dialect Proverbs   That hateful prejudice towards anyone different Dialect Proverbs   The power of the poor Dialect Proverbs   If “you add a place at the table”… Dialect Proverbs   The unwritten laws of social injustice Dialect Proverbs   The arrogance of the flea-man Dialect Proverbs   Authority and subjects A relationship without hope Dialect Proverbs   Why proverbs