Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli
, tr. Frances Frenaye (New York: Time Incorporated, 1964), pp. 76-78:
The gentry were all Party members, even the few like Dr.
Milillo who were dissenters. The Party stood for Power, as
vested in the Government and the State, and they felt entitled to a share of it.
For exactly the opposite reason none
of the peasants were members; indeed, it was unlikely that
they should belong to any political party whatever, should,
by chance, another exist. They were not Fascists, just as they
would never have been Conservatives or Socialists, or any
thing else. Such matters had nothing to do with them; they
belonged to another world and they saw no sense in them.
What had the peasants to do with Power, Government, and
the State? The State, whatever form it might take, meant
"the fellows in Rome." "Everyone knows," they said, "that
the fellows in Rome don't want us to live like human beings.
There are hailstorms, landslides, droughts, malaria and
... the State. These are inescapable evils; such there always have been and there always will be. They make us kill
off our goats, they carry away our furniture, and now they're
going to send us to the wars. Such is life!"
To the peasants the State is more distant than heaven and
far more of a scourge, because it is always against them.
Its political tags and platforms and, indeed, the whole structure of it do not matter. The peasants do not understand them
because they are couched in a different language from their
own, and there is no reason why they should ever care to
understand them. Their only defense against the State and
the propaganda of the State is resignation, the same gloomy
resignation that bows their shoulders under the scourges of
For this reason, quite naturally, they have no conception
of a political struggle; they think of it as a personal quarrel
among the "fellows in Rome." They were not concerned with
the views of the political prisoners who were in compulsory
residence among them, or with the motives for their coming.
They looked at them kindly and treated them like brothers
because they too, for some inexplicable reason, were victims
of fate. During the first days of my stay whenever I happened to meet along one of the paths outside the village an
old peasant who did not know me, he would stop his donkey to greet me and ask in dialect: "Who are you? Where
are you going?" "Just for a walk; I'm a political prisoner,"
I would answer. "An exile? (They always said exile instead of prisoner.) Too bad! Someone in Rome must have
had it in for you." And he would say no more, but smile
at me in a brotherly fashion as he prodded his mount into
This passive brotherliness, this sympathy in the original sense of the word, this fatalistic, comradely, age-old
patience, is the deepest feeling the peasants have in common, a bond made by nature rather than by religion. They
do not and can not have what is called political awareness,
because they are literally pagani, "pagans," or countrymen,
as distinguished from city-dwellers. The deities of the State
and the city can find no worshipers here on the land, where
the wolf and the ancient black boar reign supreme, where
there is no wall between the world of men and the world of
animals and spirits, between the leaves of the trees above
and the roots below. They can not have even an awareness
of themselves as individuals, here where all things are held
together by acting upon one another and each one is a power
unto itself, working imperceptibly, where there is no barrier
that can not be broken down by magic. They live submerged
in a world that rolls on independent of their will, where man
is in no way separate from his sun, his beast, his malaria,
where there can be neither happiness, as literary devotees
of the land conceive it, nor hope, because these two are adjuncts of personality and here there is only the grim passivity
of a sorrowful Nature. But they have a lively human feeling
for the common fate of mankind and its common acceptance.
This is strictly a feeling rather than an act of will; they do
not express it in words but they carry it with them at every
moment and in every motion of their lives, through all the
unbroken days that pass over these wastes.
"Too bad! Someone had it in for you." You, too, are subject to fate. You, too, are here because of the power of ill
will, because of an evil star; you are tossed hither and yon
by the hostile workings of magic. And you, too, are a man;
you are one of us. Never mind what motives impelled you,
politics, legalities, or the illusion of reason. Such things as
reason or cause and effect, do not exist; there is only an
adverse fate, a will for evil, which is the magic power of
things. The State is one shape of this fate, like the wind that
devours the harvest and the fever that feeds on our blood.
There can be no attitude toward fate except patience and
silence. Of what use are words? And what can a man do?