Spring 2013

Dialogue Between Fashion and Death

A sisterly conversation

Giacomo Leopardi

Composed in 1824, “Dialogue Between Fashion and Death” was one of twenty short texts included in Leopardi’s posthumously published Operette Morali. The version here is adapted from Giovanni Cecchetti’s translation in Operette Morali: Essays and Dialogues (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982).

FASHION: Madam Death, Madam Death.

DEATH: Wait for your time, and I’ll come without your calling me.

FASHION: Madam Death.

DEATH: Go to hell. I’ll come when you don’t want me.

FASHION: As if I weren’t immortal.

DEATH: Immortal? “More than a thousand years have passed” since the time of the immortals.[1]

FASHION: Oh, our Madam spews Petrarch too, just like a sixteenth- or nineteenth-century Italian poet.

DEATH: I love Petrarch’s poetry because there I find my Triumph[2] and because it mentions me almost everywhere. But now get out of my way.

FASHION: Come, in the name of your love for the seven deadly sins, stop a moment and look at me.

DEATH: I’m looking.

FASHION: Don’t you recognize me?

DEATH: You should know that I don’t see very well and that I can’t wear glasses because the English don’t make any that fit me, and even if they did, I wouldn’t know how to keep them on.

FASHION: I’m Fashion, your sister.

DEATH: My sister?

FASHION: Yes. Don’t you remember that we are both Caducity’s daughters?

DEATH: What can I remember, I who am memory’s greatest enemy?

FASHION: But I remember well; and I know that you and I together keep undoing and changing things down here on earth, although you go about it one way and I another.

DEATH: If you are not talking to yourself or to someone who is inside your throat, raise your voice and chisel your words better; if you keep mumbling between your teeth with that spider-web voice of yours, I’ll never hear you, for if you don’t know it already, my hearing is no better than my eyesight.

FASHION: Even if it isn’t good manners—and in France[3] people don’t speak in order to be heard—and since we are sisters and don’t have to stand on ceremony, I’ll speak as you want. I’m saying that it is our nature and our custom to keep renovating the world. But right from the start you threw yourself on people and on blood, whereas I’m generally satisfied with beards, hair, clothes, furnishings, buildings, and the like. It is quite true, however, that I haven’t refrained—nor am I refraining now—from playing many games comparable with yours, such as, for instance, piercing ears, lips, or noses with holes and causing them to be torn by the trinkets I hang in those holes; charring the flesh of men with red-hot brands, as I make them do for beauty’s sake; misshaping the heads of babies with bandages and other trappings, making it a custom for all the men of a country to have their heads in the same shape, as I have done in America and in Asia; crippling people with tight shoes; cutting off their breath and making their eyes pop out because of their tight corsets; and a hundred other such things. As a matter of fact and generally speaking, I persuade and force all genteel men to endure daily a thousand hardships and a thousand discomforts and often pain and torment and I even get some of them to die gloriously for love of me. I won’t tell you about the headaches, the colds, the inflammations of all kinds, the quotidian, tertian, or quartan fevers that men catch to obey me, agreeing to shiver in the cold or to stifle in the heat according to my wishes, by protecting their shoulders with wool and their chests with cloth, and by doing everything my way, no matter how much it hurts them.

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