Articles by: Tom Verso

  • Op-Eds

    “Trinacria” – At Long Last! … A Southern-Italian American (Pre-Ellis Island) Historic Novel … and High-Brow Literature ‘To Boot’

     Preface – Southern-Italian American ‘Culture Warriors’
    The history of culture-evolution is one of individuals, outside prevailing cultural milieu institutions (e.g. universities, media companies, political parties, etc.), producing ‘counter-culture’ works (literature, film, music, etc.).
    Currently, the prevailing institutionalized Italian American culture takes two forms: Renaissance and post-Ellis Island historiography, exemplified by curriculums of the only two courses of study offered in the American university system (“Italian Studies” and “Italian American Studies”)
    Both of these university programs have one thing in common: the absence of the 3,000 year pre-Ellis Island history and culture of near seventeen million Americans of southern-Italian decent. The history and culture of Italy south of Rome is literally non-existent in the American education system from public schools through universities.
    However, outside of the increasingly ossified university cultural milieu, a robust historically genuine southern-Italian American culture is developing by individual artist and scholars. For example,
    - 82 of the 190 Italian American Studies Association (IASA) members (43%) do NOT identify themselves as members of a college or university (per 2013 online membership list).
     Donna Gabaccia in her keynote address to the 2012 IASA Conference noted the high number of presentations at that conference by “independents”
    More specifically:
    Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola in the “Godfather” trilogy presented the culture of Sicily.
    Steve Chase followed in the “Sopranos’ Naples’ episodes
    John Domini presented Naples history and culture in his novel “A Tomb on the Periphery”
    Victoria  Sferlazza’s presentation at the IASA 2012 Conference “The Linguistic Status of Sicilian”
    Joseph Privitera “Sicilian: The Oldest Romance Language”, etc.
    Michela Musolino’s Sicilian songs in the ‘Sicilian Language’ (not dialect)  
    John Di Napoli’s “Magna Grece” website
    Susan Russo Anderson’s Sicilian “Serafina Florio Mystery Series”
    Gaetano Cipolla et al.’s many Sicilian language, history and culture publications (e.g. Arba Sicula, etc.)
    What these and many other southern-Italian American scholars and artist like them have in common is a common theme:
    We were Before Ellis Island!
    We are Not from Tuscany!
    Patria Meridionale is Our Homeland!
    And, the most recent addition to this list of Southern Italian Culture Warriors:
    Anthony Di Renzo
    “Leave Sicily, but you will return.
    Trinacria is our mother and always calls us home”
    The Words
    Stephen King, in his biographical “Memoir of the Craft”, recounts a conversation he had with another prolific writer Amy Tan. He asked her:
     “…if there was any one question she was never asked during the Q-and-A that follows almost every writer’s talk – that question you never get to answer when you’er standing in front of a group of author-struck fans and pretending you don’t put your pants on one leg at a time like everyone else.
    Amy … said: ‘No one ever asks about the language.’ ” (p. xiv)
    Accordingly, King wrote: “This book is dedicated to Amy Tan.
    In that vain (i.e. language), the first think that struck me about Trainacria was the vocabulary.
    Oh! My! What a vocabulary!  A voluminous reader, I have an above average vocabulary. Nevertheless, I found myself dedicating “Hail Mary Beads” on my Rosary to the inventors of the iPad; which was on my lap at all times open to a dictionary while reading Trinacria. If, as ‘back-in-the-day’, I had to resort to an unabridged book dictionary (and it would have to be unabridged) it would have taken me weeks to read the novel.
    I hasten to add, Di Renzo’s use of uncommon words is not to be construed as ‘flowery” (i.e. “flowery speech or writing using complicated and rare words instead of simple clear language”). It’s been a long time since I’ve read Hemingway; however, I can’t recall using a dictionary. I’m sure I must have, but certainly not very often.
    Hemingway is renown for his quest for ‘perfect declarative sentences’, which were assembles of relatively common words.
    When describing physical entities a writer can effectively use common nouns and adjectives. For example, from “A Farewell to Arms”, an absolutely beautiful description in a middle school vocabulary:
    “She had wonderfully beautiful hair and I would lie sometimes and watch her twisting it up in the light that came in the open door and it shone even in the night as water shines sometimes just before it is really daylight.”
    However, when writers are ‘describing’ abstractions like ethical and aesthetic concepts in a literary format, the appropriate words are not as obvious.
    The prolific philosophy and literary writer Jean-Paul Sartre said: “I regard words as the quintessence of things” (“The Words”, 1964, p.87). Understanding quintessence as “the most typical instance or representation of a thing”; if the things are non-material ethical/aesthetic abstract concepts, the writer struggles to find the right words that capture their “quintessence”.
    To my mind, Di Renzo’s vocabulary is product of the complex historical, psychological, ethical and aesthetic cultural nuances he is trying to convey to the readers. Readers, such as southern-Italian Americans whose pre-Ellis Island historic cultural is unknown, indeed esoteric.
    The Historic Novel
    I take the meaning of Historical Novel from “A Handbook to Literature” (Thrall, et el., 1960 p.223).
    “The classic formula for the ‘historical novel’, as evolved by Scott … calls for:
    1) an age when two cultures are in conflict, one dying and the other being born;
    2) into this cultural conflict, fictional personages are introduced who participate in actual historical events and actual personages from history
    3) these fictional characters undergo and give expression to the impact which the historical events had upon people living through them
    4) resulting in a picture of a bygone age given in personal and immediate terms.”
    Proto-Historical Novel - “Death of a Serpent”
    When Susan Russo Anderson, put down her paintbrush and pick up her pen, turning from painting a canvass of immigrant Manhattan’s Lower East Side to writing the mystery novel “Death of a Serpent” set in 1860s Palermo, she took a quantum step towards writing a Sicilian historical novel. While the book (albeit a great crime story) did not meet the above four “test” (if you will) of an historic novel, it is significant as the birth of a pre-Ellis Island historic consciousness in the writer’s mind. Further, the book in the hands of southern-Italian American readers will conjure that same sense of historic cultural roots. It stimulates southern-Italian Americans: think about who you where, that you may know who you are.
    “Trinacria - A Tale of Bourbon Sicily”
    Trainacria is a quintessential example of the Historical Novel in the tradition originating with Sir Walter Scott down to Hugo, Fenimore-Cooper, Manzoni, etc. Clearly, “Trinacrai” meets all four tests of a historical novel.
    The Plot / Narrator
    The ‘plot’ (or story line) is a sequence of biographical events told in the first person narrative by the‘ghost’ of Zita Valangurra Spinelli (1794 – 1882).
    Similar to Domini’s Tomb on the Periphery, Trinacria begins with an encounter with a skeleton. However, unlike Domini’s novel, where the ghost of the skeleton ‘haunts’ the protagonist and affects the action of the plot, the ghost in Trinacria is the protagonist whose actions constitute the plot.
    While the main body of the novel is Zita’s first person narrative, in the Prologue to the novel she is introduced in the ‘commentator’ narrative style.
    The ‘commentator’ tells us about a “Milanese” movie director who came to Sicily in the early 1960s to make an “epic movie” about the “Risorgimento” in Sicily at the time of Garibaldi’s invasion. Touring Palermo looking for filming sites and ideas, the Director visits “the famous catacombs at the Convento dei Capppuccini.”
    Walking through the catacombs he came upon what is described as:
    “The most striking figure …a shrunken harpy, dressed in the late fashion of the ‘ancient regime’ [i.e. the pre-Risorgimento Bourbon regime].
    Zita Valanguerra Spinelli …19th century literary figure and caricaturist featured in the popular journal ‘Don Pirlone’ …child prodigy …captivated the Queen of Naples …promoted Bellini’s opera and supported the poet Leopardi … partnered with wine merchants Ingham and Whitaker … translated Lichtenberg’s aphorism and produced a monograph on Hume … Her 18th century Palermo ‘Feste, Forche e Farina’ became a source for Lord Action’s two-volume ‘The Bourbons of Naples.” (p.20)
    Thus, the novel’s narrator is introduced in the Prologue, and a foretelling of the historic plot.
    1) Two Cultures in Conflict
    Even though Zita died in 1882, twenty-two years after the onset of the Risorgimento, she was mummified and dressed in the late fashion of the ‘ancient regime’. Much of the narrative thought in the novel has to do with Zita, who, born into the pre-Risorgimento Bourbon landed aristocratic society, has nothing but contempt for post-Garibaldi bourgeoisie Sicily.
    This cultural change is exemplified by the life of Zita’s granddaughter’s husband Ciccio.
    “Although born a peasant and briefly replacing his father as overseer [of the Zita family estate], Ciccio had become a successful carriage maker. [In the manner of the bourgeoisie], borrowing cash, he converted our stable into a workshop … he work wonders with gilt and ebony, glass and upholstery.
    “The aristocrats having lost their coaches in the revolution [because they were symbols of the aristocratic society Garibaldi was destroying], were obliged to lease new ones.
    The gentry had taken every measure to save face. Some bribed the Red Shirts … One countess slept with an entire regiment… Such pride may be admirable, but it cannot support an estate.
    Without Ciccio’s [bourgeois] income, we would have starved. (p.60)
    2) fictional personages … actual historical events and actual personages
    Zita, the ‘fictional person’ interacts with the ‘actual people’ and ‘events’. For example,
    King Ferdinand and Queen Maria Carolina who were transplanted to Palermo to escape the French … The Queen hated the French for guillotining her sister Marie Antoinette. (p. 52)
    "[They] had fled Caserta to escape the Pathenopean Republic and had established a temporary court in Palermo. (p.72)
    There is much discussion about Garibaldi and his invading army.
    “Don Benjamin said ‘[not to worry] they were young bloods stirring up trouble that’s all’.
    “We had survived many upheavals; most recently the April riots, so we were indifferent towards the rumor of another invasion. Nothing fundamentally would change, except perhaps we would be forced to speak Turinese instead of Neapolitan. Back then, Turin manufactured revolutions rather than carriages [i.e. automobiles].
    At various points in the novel, fictional Zita has extensive discussions with the “actual poet Leopardi”.
    3) fictional characters …give expression to the impact historical events had upon people living through them
    Though out the novel, indeed one may argue the theme, the fictional narrative either explicitly or implicitly references the affects actual historical events had on Sicilian society as a whole. Cutting to the chase, Zita says:
    “I hated Garibaldi for wreaking my world. (p. 33)
    4) picture of a bygone age
    For example, the automobile vs. the horse carriage is a metaphor for the ‘bygone age’. She reports from the “catacombs”:
    “…the traffic above us purls like a stream in a grotto. I would love to see these new machines. [But] what do these Northerners know about carriages?
    They never parked at the Marina, in a carriage of ebony and gold, making love and eating jasmine-petal ices till town in the morning. They never defied Lord Bentinck’s edict and drove through the Quattro Canti in a coach and six, the coins for the fine sown in the horses’ plumed headbands… My great-grandson sells horseless carriages in America…(p. 26)
    Zita Valanguerra Spinelli – Marchesa of Scalea – was also know by her ‘nom de plum’ Trainacria: the symbol of Sicily, consisting of the Gorgon Head and three legged Trickelion. Further, she had a “gorgon-headed walking stick”.
    In short, Zita was the personification of Sicily – she was Sicily!
    To know Zita is to know Sicily.
    Pedagogical Implications
    Trinacria is an excellent novel per se: “a good read as they say”. Moreover, it is an excellent historic novel in that it not only is enjoyable reading, it provides insight into the actual history of Sicily in the ninetieth century.
    If the Italian American prominenti spent less time complaining about negative images of Italian Americans in media and holding gala parties celebrating themselves; if they would use their prominence to affect the education of the southern-Italian American youth, then books like Trinacria and Tomb on the Periphery would get into the classroom.
    Not to mention: wouldn’t it be nice if the prominenti used their prestige to get South of Rome history and culture courses and curriculum into the university system.
    What the Italian prominenti don’t understand is that the greatest insult and damage to their people (i.e. southern-Italian Americans) doesn’t come from media Mafia stories. The greatest insult comes from colleges and universities that denigrate us by ignoring us; implying that South of Rome history, culture and people are insignificant and meaningless.

  • “Vendetta Mountain” by C. A. Fiore ... A ‘Low-Brow’ Symptom of ‘Culture War’ Waged Against Southern-Italian Americans


    Generally understood and used in this context:
    Melodrama is a [fiction] based on a romantic plot … with a constant appeal to the emotions of the audience/reader … the characters (who are either very good or very bad) are rewarded or punished according to their [respective ‘very good’ or very bad’] deeds. (A Handbook to Literature, C. H. Holman, p. 280)
    Melodrama … rigs the consequences of actuality in manipulating the plot toward escape, reprieve, or rescue, and culminated in a happy ending. (Orientation to the Theater, T. W. Hatlen, p. 86)
    A Cowboy-esque Melodrama set in Southern-Italy
    The plot of Vendetta Mountain follows the enduring melodramatic Manichaean early Cowboy ‘dime novels’, comic books and movies: quintessential good guys and bad guys. Often the basis of the conflict involves a fair-haired maiden captured by the bad guy and liberated by the good guy.
    In movies, good guys are clean-cut and generally wear white hats, and bad guys are always unshaved grubby looking wearing black hats.
    Bob Steel and Gertrude Messenger in the 1932 Riders of the Desert is a good example of this motif. In the pictures below, notice: Bob’s ‘clean cut’ look and white hat, and Gertrude is a fair skin (Nordic) blond.
    Compare with the picture below of the black-hatted ‘grubby’ bad guy “Hashknife.” (played by: George ‘Gabby’ Hays, before the  later transformation of ‘Gabby’ into a good guy ‘sidekick’ and 1950s children’s cowboy television host).
    The action of the movie’s plot is driven by the conflict generated by bad guy “Hashknife” kidnapping the Messenger character, and Bob the good guy rescuing her.
    Vendetta Mountain differs from early cowboy movies only in that the there are no symbolically colored hats. With the exception of the hats, the primary characters of Vendetta Mountain are cloned from movies such as “Raiders of the Desert.”  The plot can be characterized, as the Lone Ranger would say: “Hi-Yo Silver and Away”
    I will not describe nor summarize the plot; least I spoil the story for those yet to read Fiore’s book – although the author provides a brief plot description at his site:
    Moreover, given the inherently simplistic nature of melodrama there is not much one can say about the plot or characters. As noted above, such plots are always about good guys confronting bad guys; a fair maiden’ put into harms way by the bad guys; she is saved by the good guy; good guy and fair maiden live happily ever after.
    However, any work of art (high or low-brow) manifests the cultural values and social milieu of the society, in which the work is produced. Accordingly, a work may not be aesthetically significant, nevertheless may prove to be invaluable to the cultural historian.
    It is from such an historiographic cultural point of view that Vendetta Mountain should be seriously considered by students of southern-Italian American culture.

    Culture War
    The cultural determinates of southern Italy and southern-Italian Americana cannot be understood without reference to the post-Risorgimento Culture War northern Italians waged against the people of the South and their American progeny. This War and its effects in southern Italy have been brilliantly described by Pino Aprile’s book Terroni .
    There has yet to be written a comparable culture war history of southern-Italian Americana describing the nefarious effects Northern Italy’s operatives in universities and mass media have had on southern-Italian Americans.
    What is a Culture War? In short, Aprile captures it eloquently:
    “I had no idea that I was a Southerner…through Cultual Lobotomy, the South was deprived of its self-awareness; its memory … We no longer knew who we were. (Terroni, p.4, 8 emp. +)
    Identically, today Americans of southern Italian descent have no self-awareness or memory of their Southern Italian history and culture. They think of Italy as a homogenous culture defined by northern Italian history and culture (e.g. Renaissance). 
    Culturally, we no longer know who we were or are.
    Worst … We have come to think of the South in terms of primitiveness. For example, a women, who was the daughter of Calabrian immigrants and spoke fluent Calabrian, would only speak English when on vacation in Italy because she “did not want to sound like a country bumpkin”
    This concept of southern primitiveness is captured by the title of Aprile’s book.

    “The word ‘Terrone’ is an offensive term used by people in northern Italy in order to describe those from southern Italy. With an etymology tied to the term ‘terra' (dirt)… an English equivalent such as ‘Dirtball’‘Grease-ball’ …” (Terroni  Publisher’s Note, emp.+)
    Note: In America, the pre-1920 immigrants, their children and post-World War II grandchildren were frequently characterized as ‘Grease-balls’ (e.g. Google term for multiple references).  
    This idea of the Southern Italians being ‘dirty’ and ‘greasy’ is repeatedly presented throughout Vendetta Mountain. Just a couple of examples:
    “Attilio: the odor of urine and feces emanating from his body…heavy odor of sweat-stained clothing and unwashed oily hair” (e-book location L 276)
     “Luigi: sour body odor and oily hair was offensive…Cathleen tied to hold her breath when he was close to her…She smelled his sour body odor. His breath reeked of wine…she could see the blackheads on his porous-skinned face (L 1714)
    Now I know why my grandfather left
    Godforsaken Southern Italy
    The clash between the good guys and bad guys defines the plot and determines the action of Vendetta Mountain. However, the juxtaposition of southern-Italian American Donato "Donny" Belardo and his Irish American wife Cathleen Ryan Delardo defines what I judge to be the book’s theme – namely:
    Southern-Italy is a degenerate place
    No wonder and thank god our grandparents came to America.
    Whereas Cathleen hates southern Italy from the start of their visit, Donny is wildly excited about visiting the land of his ancestry. However, by the end of the book he can’t want to get back to the “good ole U S of A”.
    Essentially, the theme of the book (the 'narrative arc’ that unifies the plot), apart from telling a time honored totally predictable cowboy-esque story, is to destroy the nostalgic idea of an idyllic southern Italy and thereby perpetuate the Culture War myth of a superior northern Italy.
    Unlike books such as Under the Tuscan Sun, where northern Italy is represented as very much ideal and picturesque (e.g. one reviewer writes: "One must linger over the poetic descriptive flow, the picturesque countryside coming to life on each page") ... 
    the South of Italy in Vendetta Mountain is (in Cathleen’s words) “A desolate, strange-looking wasteland”. At best, the South is (in Donny’s words) “beautiful in the awesome bleakness.” (L 43)
    Donny is the American grandchild of an Italian immigrant from Montenovo – a fictional town in vicinity of Pignola, Basilicata, southern Italy.
    (see map below for approximate location – note: I assume Montenovo is a fictional name; I can’t find a reference to it in southern Italy with Goggle search. Although, there is a Montenovo di Montiano in Northern Italy. Pignola is specifically referenced in the text).
    Donny is “seeking out his Italian roots”. He says:
    “At least six Belardo generations can be traced back to Montenovo. And I don’t know how many on my mother’s side.” So – I’ve got to see it …” (L 57)
    “This is my dream of a lifetime. My genes are home. I can feel them stirring deep inside me. Just wish I could have brought my grandfather with me. He would have loved it so much. To be home again. … (L 132)
    However, the first clause in the book captures the Culture War theme. Irish Cathleen says:
    This is a big mistake leaving Sorrento for these wild-looking hills and mountains.(L 22)
    Specifically, the “big mistake” is coming to the heart of southern Italy – i.e. Basilicata Region.
    Notice the juxtaposition of Sorrento with Basilicata. She does not have a problem with Italy per se, rather the interior of the South. She goes on:
     “What a desolate, strange-looking wasteland. Haven’t seen a really big tree in miles. Nothing but scruffy vegetation, rocks and chalky ground.” (L 39)
    “I think this whole isolation thing is depressing. I feel trapped up here already. Gray-white cliffs, eroded crevices, pockmarked alleys, looming mountains – its all so un-Italian, after the lush green and blue of Sorrento and Capri.” (L 123)
    Basilicata is "so un-Italian"!
    In just a couple of clauses, Fiore manages to capture the whole cultural history of post-Risorgimento Italy. As they use to say in the nineteenth century:
    “Italy ends at the Garigliano”
    In short, the southern portion of the Italian peninsula is not ‘really’ ItalyThe real Italy is in the North and the tourist resorts on the southern coastline.
    The criticism of the South does not improve when the Donny and Cathleen pass from the countryside into the town. Indeed, it gets worst – the Piedmontese could not have put the denigration better.
    Again, the Irish lady is the twenty-first century voice of the Piedmont.
    “If this isn’t Dogpatch, it’s not far from it…Why were so many women standing around that fountain filling jars and buckets? Don’t they have indoor plumbing?
    The narrative picks up where Cathleen’s dialogue leaves off:
    “The houses…sagging roofs…front walls sported lighting-shaped cracks wide enough for an over weight rat to crawl through…Doors missing or hanging open on one hinge...only one room
    “Women sat next to open doorways …some nursed babies from exposed breast, which Cathleen thought was disgusting…others gossiped or hollered at restless children..
    Women stood in patient silence around the fountain watching its steady stream of water fill a terra-cotta jar, with other jars and metal buckets…
    “Old men dozing …ever-sniffing, ever-scratching mongrel dogs, loose roaming chicken … grunting pigsgoats
    “Distinct aroma of decaying matter, plus human and animal waste. The pig was in competition with the dogs for the scraps of garbage strewn about the street…  (L 153- 187)
    “…row of aged houses that still passed for human living quarters (L 268
    Moving further into the denigating cornucopia from negative descriptions of the countryside, to negative descriptionsof the town, we are then presented with negative descriptions of the house where Donny and Cathleen will live in during their weeklong visit.
    “Their ‘new’ home did not have a front window…a naked bulb dangling from the ceiling … iron stove, wash bowl, no faucet … most houses had no inside water drains … they pour dirty water down the slop chute … floors paved with rough stones … rooms smelled of must, stale air and age … pile of sticks next to the stove for heat …woman bring them water in jars twice a day from the public fountain … no inside toilet … lidded pot in bedroom (peeshadude) to winky-tinky in … no shower or tub … (l 232)
    The exasperated Irish American Cathleen wails:
    “Is this Dogpatch, or isn’t it? Complete with flies already. I’ve never seen so many goddamn flies in my life! ... complaining of insect bites on her legs, the town was full of fleas as well as flies ” (L 240, 392)
    Nevertheless, the southern-Italian American Donny is still feeling positive about his “dream of a lifetime”. He took:
    “A sight-seeing, picture-taking walking tour of the twisting, crooked, seldom level streets to satisfy his insatiable curiosity concerning his biological, geographical and sociological roots. (L 376)
    Full Circle
    Nevertheless, by the end of the book, Donny had come ‘full-circle’ completely rejecting any virtues in the South and embraced Cathleen’s Dogpatch attitude about southern Italy.
    “Donny confessed to Cathleen that he felt more American and less Italian than ever before in his life and was glad to be getting home. Italy may be the land of his ancestors and his roots, but his country of choice was America, and his family American never mind the vowel on the end of the Belardo name. (L 1963)
    (note: It was not uncommon for pre-1920s immigants to drop the vowel at the end of their names so as to sound American. Also, no vowel at the end of Cathleen's maiden name - Ryan.)
    If you like low-brow melodramatic crime stories, as I do, this is a good read. In the context of that genre, it is well written story. Albeit not as good as other southern-Italian American melodramatic crime novelist such a Lisa Scottlione and Frank Lentricchia, and certainly it is very amateurish when compared to the high literary crime work of John Domini; nevertheless as old fashion ‘good-guy’ vs. ‘bad-guy’ stories, this is a worthwhile work.
    However, as a manifestation of the Northern Italian Culture War against southern-Italian Americans it is absolutely MUST READINGfor it is an excellent example of how the negativity that the north heaped on the South for the past 150 years has not been limited to southern Italy. The 150-year denegation of the South describe by Pino Aprile, has effected the descendants of southern Italy in America.
    The philo-Northern Italian literati and promineti in America continue in the post-Risorgimento tradition of promoting and glorify northern Italian history and culture at the expense of the South; thereby instilling in the minds of southern-Italian Americans the idea that the South is not the ‘real’ Italy; rather, it is a primitive and gangster-esque aberration of the genuine Italy north of Rome.

  • Op-Eds

    Robert M. Lombardo’s book: “Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond Mafia” … Or, in short, “Chicago = America”


    “Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town / Chicago, Chicago, I'll show you around, I love it /...Chicago, Chicago that's my home town (Frank Sinatra)

    Robert Lombardo
    was born and raised in CHICAGO.
    Officer Lombardo served thirty years with the CHICAGO Police Department.
    Sheriff Lombardo was the Deputy Chief of the Cook County [CHICAGO] Sheriff’s Department for five years.
    Professor Lombardo received a PhD in Sociology from the University of Illinois –CHICAGO and is Associate Professor and member of the Graduate staff at Loyola University – CHICAGO.  
    All scientific knowledge begins with descriptions of observations made:
    - under a microscope,
    - through a telescope,
    - in a test tube,
    - on a street-corner, etc. 
    In this respect, Professor Lombardo’s book is an invaluable contribution to the study of organized crime IN CHICAGO! The book is an enormous compendium of anecdotal descriptions of various types, and ethnic groupings, of “organized crime” IN CHICAGO!
    However, scientific knowledge is not limited to observations. Valid Logical inferences are at least as important in the corpus of science, and therein lies the weakness of the Lombardo book. The author’s propensity to generalize about organized crime in America (indeed, other countries) is so obviously logically fallacious (i.e. "hasty generalization") that it’s perplexing.

    He provides no descriptions of organized crime in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Miami, Brazil, Argentina, or most egregiously ignored southern Italy; yet posits generalizations, based on Chicago descriptions, that encompasse those locations.
    For example he writes in the “Conclusion”:
    "This study has demonstrated that traditional organized crime in America is not the result of a transplanted Sicilian Mafia but is directly related to the social conditions that were found in American society during the early years of the twentieth century. 
    This argument is supported by the fact that Italian-dominated organized crime does not exist in Brazil or Argentina, other countries that experienced major southern Italian immigration... (e-book Location L. 4182)
    No mention or consideration of the very eminent scholars who have provided voluminous documentary evidence to the contrary. 
    For example, Letizia Paoli writes:
    Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ′NdranghetaNot only are these Italy's most dangerous criminal organizations, but they have also profoundly influenced the mafia phenomenon in North America.
    It was from the Sicilian Cosa Nostra's nineteenth-century forerunners that the Italian American mafia developed,
    The Calabrian ′Ndrangheta also has offshoots in the Anglo-Saxon world. In the early twentieth century, 'Ndrangheta groups were established in both Canada and Australia, and these are still active now, maintaining close contacts with their Calabrian counterparts. (Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, p.vii)
    Or, the Schnieders who wrote:
    “In 1957, Sicilian-American boss Joe Bonanno initiated a meeting in Palermo, where he mobilized the heads of several Sicilian cosche to create a translocal coordinating “commission, ” similar to that of organized crime families in New York...
    “…clandestine emigration of mafiosi to America under fascism…
    “… families from the Trapani towns whose Sicilian-American connections were well developed.” (Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo Jane C. Schneider & Peter T. Schneider p. 63-64)
    Or, Salvatore Lupo who wrote:
    "In the 1970s [Mafiosi] Salvatore Greco and his cousin moved to Venezuela...they might have chosen to invest their skills in the network of trafficking and business, the South American territory began to constitute a significant terminus p234
    “…Buscetta showed up in Brazil and went to see Buscetta...(History of the Mafia p. 234, 245)
    One could go on and on with examples of Professor Lombardo’s undocumented generalizations that stand in stark contradiction of numerous highly respected Mafia study scholars.
    One wonders: How can an obviously well trained sociologist indulge himself in such grandiose generalizations about national and international organized crime without first positing a rigorous factual basis of organize crime in America, beyond the Chicago City Limits (or Cook County)?
    A ‘House-Cat’ is not a ‘Lion’, but they have a lot in common.
    To my mind, the fundamental fallacious flaw in Professor Lombardo’s thesis is the failure to differentiate between characteristics of a genus and characteristics of species.
    Genus characteristics, by definition, can be observed in all members of the genus. However, species, within the genus, have defining characteristics, which cannot be observed in all members of the genus. Species characteristics differentiate one species from another.
    The relation between genus and species may be illustrated with a Venn diagram:
    In the above diagram, all the individual members in Species 1, 2, 3 share the common Genus characteristics. Nevertheless, each species have individual characteristics that separate them from each other.
    For example, the members of the genus Homo all share common characteristics such as: ‘upright posture’, ‘large brains’, ‘high intelligence’, ‘hairlessness’, etc.
    However, the members of the Homo genus are subdivided into Homo species (e.g. Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalis, Homo sapiens), which are differentiated one from the other by characteristics not shared with other species in the homo genus.
    The species Homo sapiens (i.e. humans) share common genus characteristics with other species in the Homo Genus, but they are differentiated by unique species characteristics (e.g. anatomical, physiological, intellectual, etc.)
    To my mind, Professor Lombardo’s book is an excellent study of the Genus ‘Organized Crime’. However, by ignoring the differentiating characteristics of the various species within the genus organized crime (e.g. African American, Irish, Neapolitan, Sicilian, etc.), he deduces fallacious and inaccurate generalizations about organized crime.
    Southern Italian and Southern-Italian American “Organized Crime”
    Other Ethnic “Organized Crime” Groups
    Professor Lombardo identifies the defining characteristic of the Genus “Organized Crime”:
    What is organized Crime? It's crime that has political protection … part and parcel with government ... two sides of the same thing: upper world and underworld ... vice money used to fund political activities…”
    (C-Span Book TV interview June 9, 2013
    "The term organized crime is used to define the political corruption that afforded protections to gambling, prostitution, and other vice activity in large American cities (Organized Crime in Chicago, e-book location L 173)
    For example, Lombardo writes:
    Organized crime in Chicago had its beginning in the 1870s with the activities of Michael Cassius McDonald who owned a tavern which was the largest liquor and gambling house in downtown Chicago.
    McDonald was also active in politics and headed what was commonly referred to as the ‘gambler’s trust.’
    In an effort to overcome the reform activities of Mayor Medill, McDonald organized Chicago’s saloon and gambling interests. ‘Mike McDonald’s Democrats’…and elected their own candidate as mayor of Chicago in 1873.
    McDonald organized the first criminal syndicate in Chicago composed of both gamblers and compliant politicians…and alliance between gambling interests and politicians. (L. 986, 994 emp. +)
    This Generic Definition of Organized Crime entailing a symbiotic relationship between Crime and Politics lends itself to the contention that organized crime is not peculiar to southern-Italian Americans, for it can be shown that virtually all ethnic and immigrant groups engaged in organized crime. Any ethnic or nationality groups that melds criminal activity with political actions may be considered an organize crime organization.
    Thus for example, studies and discussions of organized crime typically ignore African American organized crime. Professor Lombardo writes:
    “The historical role of African Americans in organized crime in Chicago…has been greatly ignored by the academic community…[whereas] sophisticated African American organized crime groups existed in Chicago independent of white organized crime…(L.398)
    He goes on to describe, consistent with his generic definition of organized crime as the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics, how African American criminal groups used money from vice to affect Chicago politics. He writes:
    “Chicago blacks learned early that the political life of community was powerfully allied with the world of the saloon and the gambling house. (L. 1371)
    However, while there is no doubt that both African Americans and southern-Italian Americans engaged in organized crime (crime and politics), it does not logically or empirically follow that there are not significantly different (species differentiating) cultural characteristics.
    For example, there is a preponderance of evidence that various individual unique southern-Italian American organized crime organizations (“Families”) had integrating relationships with one another at the city, national and international levels. In New York City there were five individually operating crime Families organized into a coordinating Commission. In turn, southern-Italian Families in various cities had coordinating relations at the national level (e.g. the famous 1957 Apalachin, NY meeting which brought together gangsters from New York, Florida, Los Angeles, etc.). Further, southern-Italian Americans also had internationally, as noted above, integrated activities with southern Italy.
    There is no evidence of such a comprehensive magnitude of inter-organizational relations existing with other organize crime groups such as African American, Irish, etc. The inter-organizational relations of southern-Italian American and southern Italy organize crime groups is a species differentiating characteristic; i.e. it differentiates them from other ethic organize crime groups.
    Culture and Crime
    Professor Lombardo’s book is a good historical description of various ethnic organized crime groups in Chicago and should be read as such. His extensive descriptions of the genus neighborhood and poverty conditions that give rise to organize crime across ethnic lines are excellent.

    However, he not only ignores the significant cultural characteristics of the manner in which the respective ethnic groups conduct their criminal business, he categorically rejects the notion that cultural differences determine the character of organized crime groups. He writes:
    “Italian historian Humbert Nelli argues that what set the Italians apart in their struggle to dominate organized crime in Chicago and elsewhere was their cultural heritage …

    However, the idea that southern Italian culture lent itself  to organized crime has its critics and is a point well taken." (L.4233 -4248)
    To my mind, the idea that there are no culturally determined characteristics of respective ethnic organize crime organizations is categorically, empirically and demonstrably false
    In any detail comparative study of respective organize crime groups one will see (science begins with observation) differences. As noted above, only the southern-Italian American groups (Families) had integrating city, national and international relations between the groups.
    Further, not only are there cultural differences between southern Italian organized crime groups and other ethnic groups; there are cultural differences between the southern Italian groups themselves. 
    John Dickie in his presentation to the American Association of Italian Studies noted:
    “The Cosa Nostra in Sicily did not engage in prostitution; Sicilian mafiosi did not pimp women. However, in Naples, pimping women was very common among the men of the Camorra. (AAIS Conference 2012, video)
    Similarly, in her very scholarly Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, Letizia Paoli also reports that, unlike the Neapolitan Camorra, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ′Ndrangheta had prohibitions against prostitution. 
    Indeed, she notes: "American Mafia organizations had similar prohibitions with the exception of the Chicago area, which had a large Neapolitan population." (pp. 7, 159, 217)
    In sum
    Again, Professor Lombardo’s book is a good and important read for factual detail descriptions of organized crime IN CHICAGO. However, it suffers from an overly Chicago centric point of view, and failing to appreciate the differentiating cultural characteristics of respective ethnic organize crime groups; all of which lends itself to fallacious sociological generalizations.

  • Mysterious Sicilians: Trojan Refugees, Odyssey Women, Ligurian Colonizers, Rome’s Founders – “Curiouser and Curiouser"


    Any study of ancient Sicilian history must from the onset include the seminal and incredible scholarly work of the great classical scholar Edward A. Freeman: The History of Sicily – From The Earliest Times (1891).  
    The following is drawn in large part from Professor Freeman’s book. However, it seems to me, Freeman by limiting his evidence base solely to ancient documentary evidence (as would be expected from a nineteenth century Critical Method historian), and not taking into consideration some archeological and geographic evidence, limited the range of possible inferences about the Elymain Sicilians.
    Significant evidence in the form of similar geographic characteristics of:
    - Troy (where the ancients universally agree the Elymians came from),
    - Elymian cities in Sicily,
    - Ligurian and Roman settlements circa 1000 – 750 BC
    when contextualized along with ancient source documentary evidence provides a more comprehensive (albeit still very speculative) picture of the Sicilians Freeman rightfully characterized as Mysterious.
    This is not to say or imply that I presume to improve on the work of a great classical scholar. Rather, to point out some interesting facts and correlations that one might want to take into consideration when delving into the history of La Mysteriosa Sicilia
    Before the Greek and Phoenician colonizers arrive in Sicily circa 750 B.C., there were three district groups of people who came before them. Freeman writes:
    “Every ancient writer who undertakes to give a view of Sicilian history begins by a list of the nations which were already dwelling in the island when the Phoenician and Greek settlement began.” (p. 99)
    Those pre-Phoenician/Greek “nations” were the Sicels, Sicani and Elymians.
    [Note: It is not uncommon to read characterizations of these three people as “indigenous” (or words to that effect) at the time the Greeks and Phoenicians arrived.  
    However, they were not in any sense “native” in the sense of “Native Americans” when the European colonist arrived. The Sicels, Sicani and Elymians were themselves colonist who came from other places not long before (perhaps a few centuries) the Greeks and Phoenicians.]
    Much more is know about the Sicels and Sicani than Elymians. There are remnants of the Sicels and Sicani Latin language and volumes of Greek documents describing their society. However, the Elymian language is lost and there is much less recorded about them in Greek documents. Freeman:
    “The little that we know of Sikans and Sikels is strictly traditional; that is it comes from a source trustworthy in is own nature, though not a little liable to be corrupted.
    The origin of the Elymians comes within the range of legend, and that kind of legend which always savours of deliberate invention. (p. 195)
    However, what little is known about the Elymians is intellectually provocative and stimulating for historians with a detective’s bent. Due to the lack of documentary evidence, the study of Elymians must draw heavily on material evidence. Historical geography is an important tool in the historiography of Elymian history. (see map below)

    Elymian Sicilian Homeland

    Elymian Cities (brown circles on map)

    There are two locations of ancient Elymian cities that are not disputable:
    Eryx (modern Erice; mountain top adjacent to modern Trapani)
    Segesta (same modern name)
    The city of Entella (left bank of the modern Belice River about 25 miles from the mouth of the Belice) is disputed to be either Elymian or Sicani.  
    The significance of the ethnicity of Entella will be discussed below in terms of inferences about Sicilian colonists in Liguria.
    Regions (solid blue line OR dotted red line on map)
    Accordingly, because of there is no agreement about the status of Entella, the general territorial region under Elymian control (indicted on the map respectively with solid blue line or dash red line) will vary depending on the status of Entella being either Elymian or Sicani (see 'textbox' notes on map).
    Neighbors ('textbox' notes on map)
    It is significant that in either case (blue line or red), various other national groups surround the Elymian territory:
    Phoenicians to the North (Palermo) and Southwest (Mozia)
    Greeks to the South (Selinunte)
    Sicani town to the North (Hyccare/Carini) and territory to the West
    The significance of this surrounding territorial configuration will be discussed below in terms of inferences about Elymian colonists in Liguria and possibly the founding of Rome.
    Entella (Elymian: “to be or not to be”)
    Freeman categorically and emphatically rejects Entella as an Elymian location. He writes:
    Entella: The hill fortress by the eastern branch of the Hypsas or Belice [river], which is to this day know in a marked way as the Rock of Entella stands apart from both the known Elymian settlements [Eryx & Segesta], in a land thoroughly Sikan. Its territory may well have bordered on that of Segesta, but that is all. A hill-town without a haven [seaport], even a haven as distant as that of Segesta, it bears the stamp of the most primitive occupations.” (p. 122)
    Freeman presents an incredibly comprehensive ancient source document analysis substantiating his argument that Entella was Sican and not Elymian. However, in a noteworthy demonstration of objective scholarship, he also indicates that there are both ancients and modern commentators who differ with his conclusion. He writes:
    What was the number of the Elymian settlements? Thucydides mentions Segesta and Eryx only…But it is quite clear that some of the later [ancient] writers looked on Entella as an Elymian foundation, and some modern scholars have adopted the same view…Holm and Busolt accept Entella as Elymian.” (p. 552)
    As noted above, Freeman’s argument is based solely (so far as I understand him) on a meticulous analysis of ancient source documents. However, it seems to me that he fails to at least consider the fact of Ligurian settlements with identical place names as those in Elymian Sicily and the inferences that fact may have for conclusions about Entella being Elymian or not. He writes:
    “When Holm finds the names Eryx, Entella, Segesta  itself, repeated in Liguria…I do not draw from it any inferences…I look on the names rather as traces of the general pre-Aryan occupation…” (p. 554)
    Sicilians in Liguria – Common Place Names
    Three outstanding classical scholars, the German Adolph Holm in 1870, the Italian in Ettore Pais in 1908, and the English Toynbee in 1932, noted the presence of three Sicilian place names in Liguria: Eryx [modern Lerici], Segesta [modern Sestri Levante]  and Entella [near modern Chiavari Entella river]. Moreover, unlike Freeman who ignored them as insignificant similarities, they considered what the common names might imply about Elymian history.
    Most significantly, to my mind, Toynbee posits that a linguistic characteristic of the word 'Eryx' clearly implies that colonizing Elymians from Sicily created the Ligurian settlements. He writes:
     “The probability that the group of names in Liguria was derived from the group in Sicily is indicated by the fact that in Liguria, as in Sicily, the mountain-name appears in the Graecized form ‘Eryx’ and not in a Ligurian equivalent ... ‘verruca’ (‘peak’), which we should expect to find surviving here if the name had originated in Liguria and had been carried thence to Sicily.” (A Study of History v.8 p.705 emp.+)
    In short, the Elymian language in Sicily showed the influence of the Greek language as the Greeks and Elymains interacted with each other. Accordingly, there is no other probable way to explain a mountain in Liguria with a ‘Elymian-Greek’ name Eryx.
    [Note: Pais in his book (Ancient Italy: Historical and Geographical Investigations in Central Italy, Magna Graecia, Sicily, and Sardinia) discusses in detail the linguistics of the common Ligurian/Elymain place names (p. 111-115). However, it is a very technical linguistic presentation that I don’t completely understand. There seems to be some agreement with Toynbee but there may also be some differences. 
    A teacher in a rigorously historiographic course on the ancient history of Sicily would, it seems to me, be obliged to guide the students through Pais’ very challenging text.
    Nevertheless, Toynbee and Pais, unlike Freeman, agree that the commonality of names in Sicily and Liguria is not just coincident even if they may differ about the implications.]
    Thus: If  Toynbee is correct (i.e. Elymains colonized Liguria), then (a fortiori) Entella Sicily was likely Elymian. Specifically:
    If  Freeman is correct and Entella Sicily is Sican
    then the implication is that
    both Elymians and Sicani colonized Liguria: Elymains at Eryx and Segesta, and Sicani at Entella.
    In table form:
    If Freeman is correct
    Then Two colonial groups






    Sicily Location

    Ethnic Group



    Ethnic Group
    If  Freeman is incorrect (i.e. Entella Sicily is an Elymian city)
    then the implication is that
    only the Elymians colonized Liguria.
    In table form:
    If Freeman is Not correct
    Then One colonial group






    Sicily Location

    Ethnic Group



    Ethnic Group
    Subjectively: It seems to me a low probability that two different Sicilian national groups would colonize the same general area in proximity to one another in Liguria (think England and Spain in the Americas)

    This is to say: that it seems much more likely that Elymians from the three Sicilian sites colonized Liguria; thus, to my mind, Entella Sicily was likely Elymian.
    Elymians in Sicily – No Seaport Cities
    If one knew nothing else about the Elymians than the locations of their Sicilian cities, there would be no doubt that the occupants of those cities were a very different people than the Phoenicians and the Greeks.
    Freeman writes:
    "Little as we know of the mysterious race [i.e. Eymians] that held Segesta, we know at least what manner of sites they chose for their cities...They are not such as either the Phoenician or the Greek would have chosen. 
    The Elymian settlers had clearly not learned to love the sea. Of their two sites neither is on the sea-shore. Both indeed stand within sight of the sea; one of them [Eryx] is very near to it; both in after times made havens [seaports] on the shore; but we may doubt whether they had havens from the beginning. We may suspect that Drepana [Trapani] did not become the haven of Eryx till ages after Eryx, town and temple, had come into being. (p. 200)
    To fully appreciate the difference between Phoenician and Greek cites vs. Elymian that Freeman is talking about; consider the map below which overlays the river/port system of Phoenician Palermo on to a modern street map.
    Clearly, this is a seaport city designed to provide a safe harbor and easy access to the sea for ships. [Note: for a detail discussion of the history of Palermo rivers and port see: “Palermo: Ancient Rivers and Modern Streets”…]
    Now compare Palermo with the location of Elymian Eryx at the top of a mountain. Below is the view of the location of the ancient city looking up from the Trapani coast. Notice, as Freeman points out, that the mountain top city was in close proximity to the sea but most definitely not a seaport city. 
    Similarly Segesta the other Elymian city is about six miles inland, but the sea (Castellamare del Golfo) can be seen from its mountain location (image below).
    Because the two known Elymian cities (Eryx and Segesta) are in close proximity to the sea, and Entella is approximately twenty-five miles inland, Freeman concludes that Entella is not Elymian. However, it seems to me that one has to consider the fact that Entella is on the Belice River which flows out to the Mediterranean. Thus, Entella was an inland city but not a ‘land-locked’ city; indeed, the access to the sea by river may have been easier than the six mile walk to the sea from Segesta.
    In short, the two (or three) Elymian cities in Sicily were Not seaport cities and were located on mountains in proximity to the sea or with access to the sea by river.
    Accordingly, when presented with other cities with similar geographic characteristics, the question comes to mind: are they ALSO Elymian cities?
    Elymian Sicilian Citadel Locations … implications about Troy, Liguria and Rome
    Trojan Origins
    Freeman writes:
    “The Trojan origin of the Elymians is asserted or assumed by nearly all ancient writers who speak of the matter.” (p. 542)
    Again, Freeman does not find this credible based on meticulous document analysis. However, again, I think his analysis may have been two narrow in that he was not open to two facts (document and geography), which would render at least possible the Trojan origins of the Elymians.
    First, Freeman does not seem to appreciate the implications of his own documentary evidence.
    “The Elymians in the north-west corner of Sicily [were] a people whom the Greek writers set down as barbarians along with Sikans and Sikels, but who had traditions, or at least pretensions, which brought them nearer to the Hellenic range (p101)
    Note: “Barbariani is a term use by the Greeks to denote “all non-Greeks” ( However, not all Barbarians were the same.
    Thus, Freeman writes:
    “The Elymians were, in the Greek sense, barbarians…But, they are barbarians that stand alone. (p. 197-198)
    What does it mean to say:
     "Elymians were barbarians...but...traditions nearer to Hellenic"? 
    Freeman writes:
    “Thucydides tells us that the people of Segesta were Elymian, and that the Elymians were barbarians; but neither in his narrative nor in any other [i.e. narratives by other Greeks] are they [Elymians ] systematically marked of as in the way in which both Phoenicians and Sikels are marked off.”
    Segesta is constantly spoken of along with the Greek cities, Selinous or any other, in matters of war and peace, without any hint that she was not a Greek city like the rest. A war with Segesta, a treaty with Segesta, is hardly ever spoken of as a war or a treaty with barbarians.” (p.203)
    Thus, Phoenicians, Sekels and Elymians were classified (characterized) as barbarians (non-Greeks). But, the Elmians were thought of as a different kind (type) of barbarian.

    It seems to me that this Greek attitude towards the Elymians is analogous to the Greek attitude  towards the Trojans

    Troy was not a Greek city but was clearly associated with Greek culture
     (above:"traditons nearer to Hellenic") as evidenced by the fact that in the Iliad some Greek gods and goddess helped the Trojans (e.g. Aries and Artemis).
    Accordingly, the ancient documents positing the idea that the Elymians were some sort of refugees from Troy have to be given some credence.

    Second, Freeman again ignores geographic evidence. Above it is noted that the Elymian cities were not seaport cities, and were citadels in proximity to the sea. Archeologists have demonstrated that was exactly the characteristic of Troy. See for example, the map below of a reconstruction of the Bronze Age seacoast setting of Troy.
    Also, consider the computer rendition of Troy based on archeological data. 
    Clearly, the map and graphic of Troy indicates a citadel city in proximity to the sea. I submit that the map and geographic reproductions of Troy as a non-seaport citadel city in proximity to the sea is almost an exact match of Eryx and Segesta.
    In sum, the probability that the Elymians were of Trojan origin is not insignificant based on the following facts:
    1. Ancient documents stipulate they were Trojans
    2. The Greeks held them to be a special category of barbarian as they did the Trojans
    3. The geographic characteristics of Elymian cities Erxy and Segesta are identical to Troy
    As discussed above, evidence that Elymians from Sicily colonized Liguria takes the form of ‘common place name’ and Grecized word for mountain.
    Also, it should be noted that the Ligurian settlements were geographically identical to the Sicilian cities of Eryx and Segesta (and Troy) – a citadel in proximity to the sea.

    See pictures:

     [Note: these modern day pictures are not meant to suggest that they are the exact locations of the Sicilian settlements in Liguria. I'm not sure if archeological remnants of those sites have been found. Rather, the pictures indicate the approximate locations of the Elymian settlements in Liguria as described in ancient documents.  The pictures also indicate that the Elymian Sicilians were locating their settlements in geographic areas similar to those in Sicily.]
    Political Geography
    Another reason to give credence to the idea that Elymians colonizing Liguria is the similar political geography of Elymian Sicily and Liguria. As noted above, the Elymian land in Sicily was inserted between foreign nations; the Greeks on the south and the Phoenicians on the north and the Sicani in the east.
    Similarly, the Ligurian settlements were between foreign people. Toynbee writes:
    “The Elymains choose a place to colonize on the Italian Riviera between the north-western outpost of the Etruscans and the eastern outposts of the Massiliots.” (v. 8 p. 705)
    The specifics of Toynbee’s argument that the origin of the city of Rome may have been a Sicilian settlement are discussed in detail in the linked articles below. 
    For present purposes, I would note the similarity of the physical and political geography of original Rome: Citadel (Alban Hills) with access to the sea (on the Tiber River down to Ostia; similar to Entella Sicily) and inserted between the Etruscans on the north and Greeks (Magna Graecia) on the south.
    Also, the ancient legend of Rome being founded by Trojans who came to Italy via Sicily - Eryx (no less)!  For example, Virgil's Aeneid:

    ‘Brave Aeneas, I would not expect to make Italy
    with this sky, though guardian Jupiter promised it.
    The winds, rising from the darkened west, have shifted
    and roar across our path, and the air thickens for a storm.
    We cannot stand against it, or labour enough to weather it.
    Since Fortune overcomes us, let’s go with her,
    and set our course wherever she calls. I think your brother Eryx’s
    friendly shores are not far off, and the harbours of Sicily (Book V)


     The Trojan Aeneas has a brother named Eryx located at a harbor in Sicily.

    In conclusion

    Nothing in the above presentation is meant in any way as proof of any facts of Sicilian history. Rather, to indicate that a close analytical reading of the facts as they are presented by competent classical scholars coupled with the methods of historical geography clearly indicate ancient Sicily was a profoundly complex and intellectually stimulating society with profound implications for the history of the Sicilian people, the people of Italy and the whole of Europe. 
    That so much scholarly and teaching effort is devoted to that small tab of history called Renaissance and so little to Sicily is fascinating; especially in a country with millions of Sicilian descendants and virtually none from the Arno Valley.
    Daydreaming … a someday university South of Rome Studies Program: the curriculum in such a program would include a course offered by a master teacher who would guide students through the comprehensive source document narratives, the geographic history and ideologies of the ancients. The intention of such a course would not be to simply learn about ancient Sicily, but perhaps more importantly to learn the concepts, methods and techniques of the “Historian’s Craft”.


    Bibliographic links

    Sicilian Origins of Rome
    “Sicilian Lights on Roman Origins”
    February 9, 2008
    Science, Irony and Italian History - a “Southern Question” twist!
    August 9, 2009
    Sicilian Founders of Rome (revisited...again) – The Logic of Historiography (wonkish: hate philosophy?...forget-about-it!)
    Sicilian Odyssey
    Step Aside Homer! "The Authoress of the Odyssey” is a Sicilian Girl from Trapani
    April 23, 2013
    “Odyssey” ‘Song of Sicily’… Poet’s Images = Sicilian Reality
    April 29, 2013
     “Odyssey” – Women of Greece vs. the Women of Sicily
    May 14, 2013

  • Op-Eds

    Step Aside Homer! "The Authoress of the Odyssey” is a Sicilian Girl from Trapani


    Samuel Butler, a classical scholar and translator of the Iliad and Odyssey, in his 1897 book The Authoress of the Odyssey, argued that a Sicilian girl residing in what has come to be present day Trapani wrote the Odyssey. Further, most of the places cited throughout the poem are in fact locations in or around Sicily; for example references in the poem to “Ithaca” and “Scheria” are in fact descriptions of Trapani.
    Butler’s book is a challenging read. He was a classically trained scholar with extraordinary wide-ranging intellectual interest. Further, he wrote in what I call the Victorian upper middle-class English idiom characterized by long sentences linking many parenthetical phrases, pluperfect tenses, etc. Also, he wrote in a polemical style essentially carrying on a ‘running debate’ with scholars who rejected his theories in previous publications. In short, his book is not for “reading at the beach”, so to speak.
    Fortunately, some sixty years later, another classical scholar, of no small reputation and Odyssey authority, L. G. Pocock, in his book The Sicilian Origin of the Odyssey, wrote an explication and elaboration of one aspect of Butler’s theory. Pocock’s book is written in an excellent pedagogic form and may be used as a text for students studying Sicilian history and culture. Also, the 1986 edition comes with an Italian translation by Nina e Nat Scammacca, and can be used in advanced Italian language courses by teachers who want students to read something other than Dante and Monzoni.

    Women and the Odyessy
    While Pocock absolutely embraces Butler’s theory that “the Odyssey was not in fact an eastern Mediterranean work, but a poem of Trapani in north-west Sicily…” (Origin p. 7), and agrees that the author was someone other than Homer, he seemingly does not accept Butler’s theory of female authorship. He tacitly communicates his disagreement about a female author of the Odyssey by referring to the author with masculine pronouns (he, him). This points to the fact Butler’s book actually develops two separate Odyssey theories: one historiographic and the other literary criticism
    The historiographic question, having to do with the actual historic locations of places referred to in the poem (e.g. Ithaca, Scheria, etc.), is argued objectively, in the manner of historians, based on geographic topography, maps and documents. 
    The gender of the author, on the other hand, falls under the aegis literary criticism; accordingly entails a degree subjective value judgment.
    Matters of the truth or falsity of historic fact can be judged objectively based on material evidence. Subjective judgments of literary critics are just that, subjective. However, even subjective judgments are evaluated in terms of some factual and logical basis. Thus, Butler posits chapters of textual analysis of the poem as the basis of his logically inferred conclusion about authorship. In short, debate about the who wrote the poem does not come down to simply “I think” and “you think”.   The scholar is obliged to demonstrate the textual and logical basis of “why” s/he thinks as s/he does. In this regard, Butler does not come up short; his argument for the female author of the Odyssey is rigorous and will be explored in some detail in a later posting on this site.
    However, regardless of what conclusion one reaches about the author’s gender, the overall gender characteristics of the Odyssey are significant and Butler has done a great service not only for the study of the poem per se; but, more generally Sicilian culture in the first millennium B.C.
    Increasingly literary critics are coming to appreciate the profoundly different gender characteristics of the Iliad and Odyssey, which Butler documented and discussed in great detail. For example, Helene Whittaker of Tromso Univeristy in Norway writes:
    “…in the Iliad women are seen fairly infrequently and are not as a rule the focus of interest, in the Odyssey, on the other hand, they are everywhere and have major roles in the action; this allows for a clearer conception of gender roles to be developed than would have been possible from the Iliad.”
    (“Gender roles in the Odyssey”, see
    While there will always be doubt about the gender of the Odyssey’s author, there is no doubt that the poem’s author presented women in the Odyssey quantitatively and qualitatively in profoundly different ways than women appearing in the Iliad.
    “The Sicilian Origin of the Odyssey”
    As noted above, Butler’s book is challenging and the research for it was done in the early 1890s. Whereas Pocock’s book, “The Sicilian Origins of the Odyssey”, is a clearer presentation of Butler’s historiographic theory and benefits from Pocock’s augmenting research. Keeping in mind that Pocock is in almost perfect agreement with Butler’s theory of the historic Sicilian character of the Odyssey. Where he differs it is clearly noted and generally meant to improve on Butler’s work, not to challenge it.
    [note: Pocock status as a classical scholar, apart from publications is indicated by New Zealand’s “L G Pocock Prize in Classics” established in 1991 on the initiative of Professor Ernst Badian of Harvard University, who studied under Professor Pocock at the University of Canterbury. The prize shall be awarded for the best essay on Ancient History, either Roman or Greek, from the Archaic Period ca. 750 B.C. to the death of Constantine the Great 337 A.D.”]
    Professor Pocock begins his book with the following:
    Butler’s book The Authoress of the Odyssey met with a reception so unfavorable that classical scholarship has never given any serious consideration to what was valuable in it. Nevertheless the theory of the Trapanese origin turns out, in my opinion, to be right.” (p. 7)
    And, he ends his book with the following:
    “I shall conclude by saying firmly that the Odyssey is not a poem of the Aegean, or Anatolia, or the Outer Seas or Fairyland, but quite definitely and clearly a tale of Sicily and the western Mediterranean, the product of a western not an eastern mind.
    “…the misunderstanding of the poem in antiquity and ever since has had, it seems, a regrettable effect on subsequent European literature…
    " The discovery by Butler… makes the idea that the Odyssey was composed by Homer quite untenable: and it opens a vista in the history of the Western Greeks” (p103 emp. +)
    By “Western Greeks” of course he means Sicilians.
    Would that the Italian American literati could see that “vista in the history of [Sicily]” and bring their students and the Italian American people generally to see it.
    Also notice that while he does not embrace Butler’s theory of a female author, he categorically accepts the idea that someone other than Homer was the author.
    The indubitableness with which Pocock writes derives from the comprehensiveness of the empirical factual basis of his and Butler’s conclusions. These are not subjective aesthetic conclusions that can be dismissed as the opinion of the writers to be treated equally with opinions of others. The comprehensiveness of the factual basis of the argument is such that the burden of proof shifts to those who disagree that the Odyssey is a poem about Sicily and the Western Mediterranean and written by someone other than Homer.
    Future articles on this site will present the factual details and logic of the conclusions that Sicily is the origin of the Odyssey, and the discuss the profound role Sicilian women play in the poem.
    Odyssey’s fictional Ithaca and Scheria is historical Trapani – Absolutely No Doubt: “Take it to the bank!”

  • Op-Eds

    Frank Lentricchia follows DeLillo back to Little Italy Home – but not Domini to Southern Italy Homeland



    Frank Lentricchia admired Don DeLillo’s rejection of the Italian American home as the source and manifestation of DeLillo's creativity. In his 1991 book Introducing Don DeLillo, Lentricchia wrote:
    “…writers like DeLillo [ignore the advice to] write what you know … a snapshot of your neighborhood and your biography…Writers in DeLillo's tradition have too much ambition to stay home … rather writers such as DeLillo: leave their home, region, ethnicity, and the idiom they grew up with behind when they write” (p.67-68 emp.+).
    Similarly, Lentricchia, practicing what he preached, did not “stay at home”. That same year 1991, he began writing his first novel The Edge of Night.
    "For reasons that I do not know I began in the winter of '91 to feel a stirring need to write something in the broad sense personal…”(Linguafranca, Adam Begley interview, Vol. 4, #3, 1994
    James C. Mancuso, in his review of the book writes;
    “In Edge of night, which he subtitles A confession, Lentricchia describes the pilgrim's road by which "the favored grandson" of an Italian-American, working class family travels from Utica, New York to a hallowed sanctuary in Durham, North Carolina. He evocatively describes as the dust and heat, as well as the pleasures of the caressing breezes, cool shade, and sustaining food and drink experienced by pilgrims on that road. (Connections to the Great Italy-USA Immigration --- L'Avventura
    You can take the boy away from Little Italy. But…
    In 1996, five years after Lentricchia celebrated DeLillo’s rejection of his Italian American home, DeLillo negated the celebration “in spades”; writing what is arguably the most brilliant, literary or social scientific rendition of Little Italy in print – Underworld. In that same year, Lentricchia followed suit with Johnny Critelli, and The Knifemen, novellas set in his Little Italy hometown Utica, New York. And again, in 1999 with Music of the Inferno part of the SUNY Series on Italian American Culture, which garnered a positive comment from Don DeLillo – no less.
    Almost twenty years after DeLillo went back to Bronx Little Italy in Underworld; with the publication of The Accidental Pallbearer, Lentricchia again went home to Little Italy Utica, New York. For someone who in 1991 consider it a virtue for a writer to “leave their home, region, ethnicity, and the idiom they grew up with behind when they write”; Lentricchia spills a lot of ink on Utica. And, again DeLillo raved about the book.
    (Note, an interesting aside: early prints of “Pallbearer” had DeLillo’s praise on the front cover. In current prints, DeLillo is replaced with a superlative from prolific pop crime novelist Lisa Scottoline. I’d guess the publisher realized that low-brow crime buffs would largely not be familiar with or impressed by a high-brow postmodern writer like DeLillo. Worst, a recommendation from DeLillo may mislead crime readers into think Lentricchia wrote the same kind of postmodern ‘stuff’ as DeLillo and thus ignore the book. A recommendation, on the other hand, from Scottoline, who writes volumes about her south Philly Italian American neighborhood, communicates to the reader that Lentricchia is a straight up gumshoe story teller like her. Also, it is interesting that the publisher substituted one Italian name author (DeLillo) for another (Scottoline)…But I digress)
    Both DiLillo and Lentricchia with their respective novels demonstrate the tenaciousness of southern-Italian American culture. Both consciously and willfully left Little Italy behind physically and intellectually. However, both found that physical and intellectual distance does not equate to cultural distance.
    You can take the boy away from Little Italy.
    But you can’t take Little Italy away from the boy.
    And the boy is always in the man.
    Similarly, southern-Italian Americans in mass left homogeneous Little Italy behind beginning in the 1950s; moving to the heterogeneous suburbs. Nevertheless, three generations later, southern-Italian American culture is still vibrant and a very distinct subset of the totality of Cultural America.
    The Accidental Pallbearer – “…a snapshot of your neighborhood”
    With Accidental Pallbearer Lentricchia twice reversed himself. First, he profoundly changed aesthetic genre. Whereas The Edge of Night is a highbrow literary undertaking that James Mancuso calls post-modern (whatever that means other than incomprehensible to ‘folks’), The Accidental Pallbearer on the other hand is classic gumshoe ‘who done it’ private eye crime story. Indeed, it’s billed as the first of what will become an “Eliot Conte Series” – kind of like Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series of crime novels.
    Secondly, having jettisoned any pretentions of writing literature (in the academic honorific sense of the word), he came home, as it were, and wrote the very “snapshot of neighborhood, ethnicity and idiom” that in 1991 he praised DeLillo for “leaving behind”.
    As a crime novel it is quite good. Not the greatness of Cornwell’s early Scapetta novels but much better than her more recent contrived works. The plot of Accidental Pallbearer is a tad too complex to fully develop in 208 pages. By current publishing standards, the typical crime novel is about 300 pages long. He could have easily used another 100 or so pages to fully develop all the intricacies of the plot. Nevertheless, it is a good read that crime buffs would enjoy and appreciate.
    More to the point of the present discussion, the protagonist Eliot Conte is the grandchild of southern Italian immigrants. He loves to cook and eat Italian food, his idiom is laced with Italian words and expression, etc. In short, he is imbued with southern Italian culture. However, there is no mention of the southern Italian homeland from which his grandparents emigrated. There is a short anecdote about his grandparents, but they are almost a mystical past and southern Italy is non-existent.
    In short, Eliot is the typical southern-Italian American; completely uninformed about the history of his culture and people further back than a generation or two. And, Lentricchia like the vast majority of Italian American literati perpetuates that ignorance of south of Rome cultural roots.
    Against this tide of history begins at Ellis Island stands John Domini’s “A Tomb on the Periphery”. Also a crime novel; set in Naples. But, not a pop culture gumshoe private eye melodrama. Rather, Domini achieves literary quality without literati esotericism a la postmodern machinations. More importantly, from the point of view of this piece, it melds contemporary Neapolitan culture with its ancient past, demonstrating that southern Italian culture, unlike Athena, did not “leap from the Head of Zeus a complete form”; rather, it evolved over millennia.
    The masses of southern-Italian Americans are ignorant of their millennial history and they are consciously and systematically kept in a state of ignorance by the Italian American literati who either are in love with northern Italian Renaissance culture and its contemporary progeny or are nostalgic for Little Italy and can’t see the history before it.
    Writers and professors like DeLillo and Lentricchia are both the product and perpetuators of this southern-Italian American cultural and historical myopia.
    In sum:
    If there is no history, then there is no culture; if little history, then little culture – hence, Italian American preoccupation with FOOD. That’s the little cultural thread we fanatically hand on. Factor food out of the discussion of Italian American culture, and what’s to talk about? Nostalgic sentiments?
    Whereas Domini writes a crime story that beckons southern-Italian American’s to their long mighty history and culture, urging us to get beyond the sausage at San Gennaro, The Accidental Pallbearer, consistent with the milieu of the Italian American literati, is a work of nostalgic sentiment (the old neighborhood, food, idiom) wrapped in a crime story. 

  • Op-Eds

    Sicilian Dawn

     Classical Language Education (Latin & Greek) and South of Rome Historiography

    If it should ever come to pass that Italian-American prominenti and literati should see fit to make available, to near seventeen million Americans of southern-Italian descent, a curriculum of their three thousand year history and culture, that curriculum should consists of something more than narrative stories of events and biographies. Such a curriculum should consist of training in the concepts, methods and techniques historians use to gain knowledge of the past. We don’t need students who can regurgitate hiSTORIES that they read in hiSTORY books. 
    We need rigorously trained intellectuals who can think analytically and critically about history; not only able to discourse about the past but also how we come to know what we think we know about the past. The history of Italy south of Rome is so complex and profound that southern-Italian American students should be trained as philosopher-historians to fully appreciate the magnitude of their mighty ancestry, to instill a respect and passion that south of Rome history deserves, and able to pass that history and culture on to generations that follow.
    Language – the raw material of historians
    Historians seeks knowledge of past societies based on the remnant documents of the past society; which differentiates them from archeologists who seek knowledge of the past based on remnant materials (shards, arrowheads, structures, etc.). Accordingly, the ability to read and understand the language written in the document is a necessary prerequisite for the historian

    in this sense, is not to be understood as simple comprehension and translation. Rather, the historian must have mastered fluency in the language of the society being studied, such that the nuances and connotation of the language allow him/her to grasp cultural implications.

    then is the historian’s raw material
    . With any craft, the more refine the raw material, the higher the quality of the final product. Similarly, the Historian’s Craft; the better mastery of the language, the more refined the raw material and the higher the quality of the history produced.

    Up to circa 1900 ‘classical education’, modeled on the fifteenth-century Italian standards, was the principle form of upper-middle class education in Europe. It constituted very intense training in ancient Greek and Latin.  The great classical scholar A. J. Toynbee, who was of the last generation trained in the Italian tradition, explained what very intense meant. Students were expected:
     “...not merely to read and write Greek and Latin prose, and verse [but also] produce counterfeits of the original literature that an ancient Greek or Latin author, in each genre, might have mistaken for authentic pieces”
    This is to say, students compose their own original texts and verses in the ancient language. 
    Given that such a classical education no longer prevails, it is reasonable for students of ancient Southern Italy and Sicily history to seek out nineteenth century classically trained scholars before contemporary scholars, who are given attenuated at best classical language training.

    Any student of the Hellenic roots of Western Civilization who ignores ninetieth century scholars like Toynbee, E. A. Freeman, etc. seriously compromises the confidence they can have in their studies. For any contemporary historian who challenges those great scholars, the burden of proof is on the challenger.

    One of the foremost scholars of ancient Sicilian history is Edward A. Freeman, whose 1891 classic The History of Sicily from the earliest times is still cited by twenty-first century historians. Accordingly, it will be the basis for this thumbnail overview of the first Sicilians.
    The Dawn of Sicilian History - Sicani, Sicels and Elymians
    The documents created by the ancient Greeks contain enormous amounts of references to the people in Sicily before the Greek and Phoenician colonists arrived– the Sicani, Sicels and Elymians. While the Sicani, Sicels and Elymians did not leave any documents, historians can reconstruct many of the characteristics of their respective cultures based on Greek documents. Freeman:
    “Every ancient writer who undertakes to give a view of Sicilian history begins by a list of the nations which were already dwelling in the island when Phoenician and Greek settlement began.
    “And there is no very great difference of statement as to the names of those nations, their movements and their ethnical relations. 
    “As the history of Sicily is a record of cycles, it is fitting that the cycles should begin from the beginning. (p 99 emp.+)
    Accordingly, we can say our knowledge of Sicilian history begins with the Sicani, Sicels and Elymians.
    “By common consent, Sikans, Sikels, and Elymians, are set down as the races which inhabited Sicily in times earlier than the beginning of Greek and Phoenicians settlement. It is with these races that we find our first approach to Sicilian history, even in the imperfect shape of tradition and legend.”(p102)
    Sicani (aka Sikans)
    “...those whom all tradition makes the oldest recorded inhabitants of the island...They are the first inhabitants of the island who have any share in the continuous history of Europe (p 107 emp.+)
    Iberian origins:
    It is certain that they emigrated to Sicily at some distant time that cannot be established; but clearly long before the Phoenicians arrived circa 1000 B.C. Nor can it be determined from whence they came; although there is some evidence that they came from Iberia. Freeman:
    “The one fact of importance is the general belief that the most ancient known element both in Sicily and in Spain was a kindred element. Whether they passed from Spain into Sicily, or from Sicily into Spain, or into both lands from some third quarter is a point on which it is unsafe to make guesses.” (p 109)
    Sicani Sites:
    Note: It is not uncommon on internet sites dealing with the history of Sicily to find maps which divide the pre-Phoenician/Greek island into three unique sections corresponding to the three groups (Sicani, Sicel and Elymians). These maps may be misleading. Even if they are accurate they represent one point in time. Indeed, differnt sites show different maps. Freeman clearly documents the diverse overlapping areas of Sicily the Sicani and Sicel covered over time, and it is also not possible to identify precisely the Elymian boundaries.
    “In historical times [begining with Phoenicians/Greeks] we find the Sikans only in the Western part of the island; they had once held the eastern coast; but fell back to the west, some said before the eruptions of Aetna, others before the invasion of the Sikels”
    “At least its safe to say that the Sikans always remained a scattered and divided race...that had no considerable towns, that never came together as subjects of a single king or as members of a single league. (p111)
    Some ancient documents identify the town of Kamikos as a Sicani town corresponding to modern Siculiana (p 113). Also, Hykkara near modern Carini (p.60) between Elymian Segesta and Phoenicians Panormos (i.e. Palermo)
    Sicani Language
    There are no surviving Sicani documents; hence no record of the language they spoke. However, Freeman makes an interesting comment. He writes;
    “Sikans are not uncommonly mentioned among the early inhabitants of Latium. (p110)
    It seems then reasonable to consider that they spoke some form of the Latin language. Indeed, classical scholar A. J. Toynbee felt that could very well be the case. However, as noted, there is no definitive evidence of their language in the form of written documents passed down from them.
    Sicels (aka Siculi, Sikels) - “the people whom the island took the name Sicily”
    Language - Latin
    “No great amount of written language is handed down to us; we have no Sikel writings, no certain Sikel inscriptions; but we have Sikel words which are so plainly Latin that it is hardly needful to argue the point at any length.” (p 125)
    Generally accepted that they came to Sicily from Italy.
    “The general belief of the ancient writers, the belief of men who wrote when there were still Sikels living by that name as a people...[they] came out of Italy, and were of kindred race with other Sikels who still remained in Italy...inhabitants of central Italy, as dweller on Latin soil.” (p. 124)
    “In short, they were a Latin people” (p 125 emp.+)
    “The received belief among the Greeks, doubtless therefore among the Sikels themselves, was that they crossed the straits from the mainland to the island about three hundred years before the first settlements of the Greeks about the eleventh century before Christ” (p128)
    “In the Sikel then we have an Italian settler in the great island, the near kinsman of the Latin of the Tiber and the Latin of the Alban Hills. (p 131 emp.+)
    Sicel Sites
    “ From the coasts then the Sikels withdrew, or abode only as servants of Greek masters. In the inland parts of the island, where the Greeks cared not to settle, they kept their independence...Hemmed in between the Greeks on one side and the barbarians of Western Sicily on the other. (p 134)
    Freeman lists dozens of Sicel sites. He writes:
    “It is a wonderful long list we can put together of places which are recorded as Sikel sites. Not a few of them grew into considerable towns, which play a considerable part in history... (p 136)
    Note: What a great student exercise it would be to assign each student respective Sicel locations and have them find the corresponding modern locations.

    Sicel Culture
    The Sicels seem to embody the essence of Sicilian culture. Freeman writes:
    “He tills the fruitful ground, he grows rich in flocks and herds and honey; but, like his successors to this day, the center of Sicel life was the fortified town, however small, perched on its hill-top. (p137 emp.+)
    “The history of the Sikels is no small part of the history of the island which was specially theirs. It was not without fitness that the island bore their name and not that of any other of its inhabitants.
    “The Greek-speaking people of Cicero’s time must have been made up of many elements strangely unlike each other; but, if heads could have been counted, the Sikel element must have outnumbered every other. (p194 emp.+)
    Note: “to this day” i.e. 1891 the date of publication, and the time of the great Sicilian migration to America. This is to say: there was a continuous Sicilian cultural tradition from the second millennium B.C. down to twentieth century “Little Italy”That’s heavy! No?

    (aka Elymi, Elymoi)
    Origins: unknown
     “The little that we know of Sikans and Sikels is strictly traditional; that is it comes from a source trustworthy in its own nature, though not a little likely to be corrupted.
    “The origin of the Elymians comes within the range of legend and that kind of legend which always savours of deliberate invention” (p195)
    One thing can be said for sure:
    “The Elymians were, in the Greek sense, barbarians. But, they are barbarians who stand alone; they are not Sikan; they are not Sikel; they are not Phoenician. (p 198)
    Sites – Northwest Sicily
    “The Elymians were strangers from some other land, who found a corner which the Sikans had failed to occupy or from which they could be driven out. “ (p198)
    “The chief of Elymian cities was ever Segesta, but the crown of the Elymian territory was the sacred mount of Eryx (near modern Trapani).
    Language: unknown
    “Of the language of the Elymians we have no certain remains beyond a strange, perhaps barbarian, case-ending which has made its way into coins.” (p 198)
    Note: Both A. J. Toynbee (A Study of History vol. 8 pp. 704-708) and Ettore Pais (Ancient Italy... p113) point out the common place-names in Elymian Sicily and Liguria (near present day Genoa). Also, the prevailing language in the Genoa area was Latin. Accordingly, it seems a reasonable speculation that the Elymians were a Latin speaking people.  Again, Toynbee felt there was a strong possiblity that Latin was the language of all three groups of Sicilian people before the Phoenicians and Greeks. 

    Introduction to the History of Sicily 101- a course in Patria Meridionale curriculum
    The above is a minuscule outline of Freeman’s near six hundred-page mind-boggling scholarly opus.
    A very challenging read meant for advanced students and professional historians, it is not a book that could generally be assigned to undergraduate students, especially in community colleges where so many southern-Italian Americans attend after high school.
    More appropriate popular histories such as Sicily An Informal History by Sammartino and Roberts would serve as general readers for them.
    However, there is no telling how many classroom lectures, homework and term-paper assignments a creative inspired teacher could develop from the Freeman book in social history, geography, historiography, etc.
    Pedagogical Imaginings
    Imagine – A southern-Italian American community college student reading the list of history courses offered.
    History of: England, France, Germany, Russia, China, African American, Women, Hispanics, ... (OMG! could it be?) SOUTH OF ROME!
    Imagine Italian Studies programs not dispatching southern-Italian American students to Florence to stand in lines viewing Renaissance art devoid of southern Italian culture. 
    Rather sending them south of Rome to walk the land, breath the air of their ancestry; to scourer source document archives in Naples; to climbing the limestone gorges near Ragusa in search of the sacred site of the Sicel deity Hybla.

    Imagine The professor/teachers at an Italian American History Association conference discussing such imaginings.

  • Op-Eds

    The Church (re)Turns Right... San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone...Southern-Italian Americana Implications

    Introduction – Same-O, More!

    With the exception of the relatively short period following the fall of the East Roman Empire, when the Byzantine Church challenged the Catholic Church in southern Italy and Sicily, Southern Italians were largely spared the great theological conflicts such as those that tore Europe asunder following the Protestant Reformation.  The people south of Rome were largely immune from the brutal northern European religious wars and the great intra-Church conflicts such as the Albigensian heresy, which took hold in the south of France and parts of northern Italy.
    This high degree of (although not perfect) theological homogeneity and continuity was preserved in American Little Italy urban enclaves through the mid twentieth century.  Accordingly, southern-Italian Americans have virtually no history of profound inter and intra Catholic dissidence.  Of course they were aware of Protestant religions; but there was for the most part a “live and let live” attitude.  They had their religious beliefs and southern-Italian Americans had their Catholic beliefs. –“so be it”!
    All of this changed dramatically for southern-Italian Americans post 1950s.  American secular society as a whole began embracing values that conflicted with Catholic teachings such as sexual freedom, contraception, abortion, marriage, etc.  Southern-Italians were being asked to choose between supporting social policies that contradicted their traditional Church moral teachings.
    To make matters worse, during this same period of profound secular changes in morality, the Catholic Church herself dramatically and profoundly changed in terms teachings, ritual, governance, etc. In short, the Church did not present clear and unequivocal guidance for the tradition oriented southern-Italian Americans. For example:
    ·      Nuns took off their habits, no long taught in Catholic schools, moved out of the convents into the secular world.  Amazingly, they not only challenged Vatican directives, they demanded input into the formulation and interpretation of Sacred Theological teachings.
    ·      The mass was no longer in Latin, the Alter was turn around, twanging guitars and folk songs replaced solemn organ music and Gregorian chant.
    ·      Churches built in the style of millennia old Romanesque architectural traditions were remodeled and new churches were built with no religious architecture symbolism and tradition.
    ·      Statues of saints revered for centuries were removed; the once prominent Stations of the Cross that aligned the walls were rendered minuscule if present at all. 
    ·      The communion host was no longer delivered by a priest, with profound great care with an alter boy at is side holding a protective dish, to the tongue of the kneeling recipient; rather the host is impersonally dropped into outreached hands of a standing receiver by not necessarily a priest.
    ·      Confessionals were closed, penance was no longer prescribed, and the Sacrament of Confession was rendered Reconciliation entailing a simple mental “I’m sorry”.
    ·      Most shocking of all, Priest on a mind-boggling scale did not simply violate their vows of chastity, but did so in the form of child molestation!
    For all of this profound secular and sacred change, southern-Italian Americans had no experience or social history to guide them.  The core institutional values for fully two thousands years were torn asunder in the span of less than a generation.
    For example, in the Rochester, NY Diocese, savor the contradictions:
    ·      A second generation Sicilian (parents off-the-boat) asked the Bishop why a St. Joseph statue was no longer in the church.  The Bishop responded: “He is not important”.  While the very large Rochester area Sicilian community puts on at least two major St. Joseph Tables and many minor ones each year indicative of their devotion to the man who raised, nurtured and protected the boy Jesus, the Bishop render the Saint “unimportant”.
    ·      During the tenure of the Bishop, 72% of the Catholic Schools were closed resulting in an 80% reduction in enrollment.  The traditional school system of southern-Italian Americans was literally obliterated.
    ·      At the same time 10 million dollars was spent remodeling a beautiful 100-year-old Romanesque Cathedral into a de facto Protestant assembly virtual devoid of any traditional Catholic symbols.  Southern-Italian Americans were so moved after their heartfelt impassioned petitions to the Bishop not to “destroy” the beautiful Cathedral fell on deaf ears, they retained the services of a Cannon Law lawyer in Rome to take their case to the Vatican.  That failed, so they raised two million dollars and built a ten thousand square foot St. Padre Pio Chapel. (see below)
    One could go on with these types of anecdotal examples of the contradiction between traditional southern-Italian Catholicism and the contemporary Church.  To the extent that these anecdotes are representative of the near seventeen million Americans of southern Italian descent cannot be ascertained without a systematic sociological study.  Sadly, our literati are more literature and fine arts orientated than social science. However, the numbers of anecdotes clearly suggest generality.
    The Church Turns Right
    For American Catholics generally and southern-Italian Americans particularly, there have recently been clear and unequivocal signs that the Vatican realizes that the American Church has taken the 1960s Vatican II reforms and American liberalism to an extreme that violates if not the letter of the edict, certainly the spirit. In recent years, the Vatican seemingly has come to recognize that the American Church was in big trouble and is responding in a manner that may be appreciated by traditional Catholics such as southern-Italian Americans.
    • American Nuns
    The extreme that some American Nuns have taken their demands vis-à-vis Church Doctrine have recently been met with a clear and unequivocal Vatican rebuke. They have been told in no uncertain terms, they must bring their behavior and teaching into conformity with the Church’s Sacred Doctrines.
    Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior Vatican prelate, said:
    “If The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) can’t be reformed, then it doesn’t have a right to continue,”
    “How in the world can these consecrated religious who have professed to follow Christ more closely … be opposed to what the Vicar of Christ is asking? This is a contradiction,” (see more: "The Vatican, American Nuns..." in the related article box).
    • Obama Care Law Suit
    Across the country Catholic Bishops are suing the White House over contraception, abortion inducing drugs and sterilization provisions of the new Affordable Care Act; and the implications it has for the First Amendment religious freedom rights.
    Forty-two of the most influential Catholic institutions in the country filed suit against the Obama administration over the so-called contraception mandate, including the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and The Catholic University of America.
    The Catholic Diocese of Peoria sued the Obama administration, asking a judge to block the president's health care plan, saying it should not be forced to violate religious beliefs by allowing employees to use their health plans to pay for contraception or abortion-inducing drugs.
    • The San Francisco (theological) Earthquake – Archbishop Joseph Cordileone
    To my mind, the most significant substantive and symbolic indication of the Vatican’s commitment to bring the American Church back into line with Traditional two thousand year Catholic teachings (Yes! DOGMA!), as opposed to the extreme subjective interpretations based on ephemeral social mores, is the appointment of The Most Reverend Bishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone(lion heart) Archbishop of the epicenter of American non-traditionalism – San Francisco.
    Of course, time will tell just exactly what actions Bishop Cordileone will take.  However, there are a some vary clear indications:
    (1) California’s  Proposition 8
    Bishop Cordileon had been a leader in the fight against same-sex marriage and characterized as ‘the father’ of California’s Proposition 8 which Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry, and personally contributed thousands of dollars promoting its passage.
    He is quoted as saying:
    "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because children can only come about with the embrace of a man and a woman together. I don't see how that's discriminatory against anyone."
     (2) Gay sexuality
    As Bishop of Oakland, Cordileoni issued an ultimatum to the Oakland-based national Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, telling the group after a year of talks that he would declare the group “not authentically Catholic” if it refused to endorse traditional Church teaching on sexuality.
    (3) No Drag Queens in Church
    The Archdiocese has some history of what traditional Catholics might call (being polite)‘inappropriate’ involvement with the Gay community. For example:
    • In 2007, Archbishop George Niederauer was filmed giving Holy Communion to the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a group of men in flamboyant nun outfits whose mockery of Catholic culture is a staple at local homosexual events.
    • Most Holy Redeemer Parish has frequently stood at the center of the controversy, hosting “gay pride” masses and sending a contingent to the city’s (what have called) obscene Pride Weekend and gay pride parade
    Also, Most Holy Redeemer annually hosted a fundraiser for a group helping homosexuals recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.  However, the event was known for having Drag Queen performers and emcees.  This year, according to parish pastor Reverend Brian Costello, “There is a new archbishop. The archdiocese told me straight out, ‘No drag queens’ ”.

    In Sum
    The American Catholic Church for approximately fifty years has been, to my mind, bordering on schism. His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke to my mind, eloquently summed this up:
    “What the Holy Father… and I’m just reflecting now on what he himself has written… is trying to communicate is the continuity of our Catholic faith down the centuries.
    Sadly, what happened after the Second Vatican Council was – an idea developed that we were forming a new Church and that everything that had gone on since the time of the first Christians was all retrograde and in some way a defection from what was supposedly this Church of freedom and truth and joy..what happened in the process is that the tradition was lost.”
    Such a rejection of tradition is unprecedented in the history of southern Italians in America through the first half of the twentieth century, and maybe the history of southern Italy generally.
    Exactly how the divisiveness resulting from the spontaneous rejection of tradition in less than a generation has affected southern-Italian American culture, in the absence of systematic sociological study, cannot be precisely known.  All we can do is gather anecdote reports, literary documents and other publications, and make probabilistic judgments.
    However, what makes such a study even more difficult is that the situation continues to be so dynamic; the variables keep changing dramatically.  The southern-Italian American people, now six generations removed from the pre-1920 immigrants, are evolving in the post 1950s American liberal culture generally (minority rights, women’s rights, sexual freedom, violent and foul language entertainment, etc).  At the same time the bedrock of their historic value system, the teachings and liturgy of the Catholic Church, has undergone similar radical changes in an effort to accommodate the new social mores. 
    In turn, attempts at accommodating traditional Church teachings with changing social values led to contradictions.  Society, for example, accepts Gay life style and Catholic theology does not. Yet some clerics seem to ignore theology and embrace Gay culture. Similarly, there appear to be contradictions between Church teaching and clerical behavior on issues such as abortion, contraception, marriage, etc.  While the letter of Catholic theology is abundantly clear in these matters, the behavior of some clerics is contradictory.
    Now the Church seems to be undergoing another change in direction back to its traditional teachings; indeed there is even a resurgence of the Latin Mass. Bishop Morlino of Madison, responding to the Pope's encouragement to revive the "Sacred Liturgy" , now requires all seminarians to learn the Latin Mass.  
     Cardinal Burke calls this post-Vatican II adjustment, “The reform of the reform”. The Vatican seems to be demanding that clerical behavior be consistent with traditional (historical) Church Teachings, for those teachings are nothing less than Sacred and not subject to personal or social ephemeral interpretations.

    Again, what all of this will mean to the southern-Italian American culture as a whole remains to be seen.  But, there can be no doubt that many southern-Italian Americans will appreciate the clear and unequivocal reassertment of Church tradition like those made by Cardinal Raymond Burke and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

  • Op-Eds

    Southern-Italian Americans and the 99% vs. 1% American Class Dichotomy

    Southern-Italian American Demographics
    Demographic data, in the US Census Departments “2005-2007 American Community Survey (ACS)", describing over 17 million self-identified Americans of Italian descent, clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that Italian Americans (more accurately southern-Italian Americans, the vast majority are descended from southern Italian immigrants) are part of the 99% of Americans who are suffering the economic consequences of economic decisions made by 1% of the population.
    The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years.  The 2005-2007 ACS three-year estimates are based on data collected between January 2005 and December 2007.
    Significantly 2007 was year before the crash, so we have a ‘snapshot' of Italian Americans just before the crash. Specifically for this article, the facts about the Education attainment levels and Occupation categories of southern-Italian Americans in 2007 allows us to make inferences about their economic plight post the 2008 ‘Crash’.
    Table I
    Education Attainment of Italian Americans 25 years and older

    Less than high school diploma


    9.6 %

    High School diploma or GED



    Some college or Associate Degree



    Total less than college Bachelors


    67.8 %




    Bachelors Degree



    Graduate or Professional Degree


    (For a much more detailed presentation of ACS Italian American Education Attainment statistics, see the link “Italian Americans by the Numbers – Education: Who will educate our children?” in the ‘related articles’ box on this page.)
    As the above table indicates, over two-thirds of the southern-Italian Americans over the age of 25 have an education of less than a bachelors degree.
    Can there be any doubt that they are part of the 99%ers?  How many of the 1%ers have an education level of less than a Bachelors Degree?
    Now consider the occupation statistics.
    Table II
    Occupation 16 years and older:







    Farming, fish, forestry



    Construction, extraction, maintence, and repair



    Product, transport, material moving



    Total Non-Professional Work


    60.8 %

    Professional / Management



    (For a much more detail presentation of ACS Italian American Employment statistics, see the link “Italian Americans by the Numbers – Employment” in the ‘related articles’ box on this page.)
    As would be expected; with 67.8% of southern-Italian Americans having less education than a Bachelors degree, it follows that 60.8% of southern-Italian Americans are working in non-professional jobs. 
    In as much as ‘non-professional’ equates with relatively low-wages, it is a logical inference from these facts that, the majority of southern-Italian Americans are part of the 99% socio-economic class.
    Unemployment of southern-Italian Americans
    There are no statistics about unemployment levels of southern-Italian Americans per se.  However, there are statistics correlating Unemployment with Education Level, which in turn allow us to make inferences about southern-Italian American unemployment.
    Below is a chart showing Percentage of Unemployment by Level of Education. On the chartI have overlaid a ‘note’ indicating which unemployment ‘lines’  are associated with southern-Italian Americas, and also comment.
    (Chart originally created by the “Calculated Risk” blog and reproduced by James Joiner in his “Outside the Beltway” blog at

    The above chart clearly indicates those with less than a Bachelors degree level of education (i.e. Red, Purple and Green lines) are suffering far worse unemployment than those with a Bachelors or higher (i.e. Blue line). 

    Accordingly, from the facts of Italian American education attainment described in the Census data and the facts of unemployment level by education attainment in the above chart, we can infer a very high percentage of Italian Americans are suffering significant economic hardship and anxiety.
    The literati and promenite pour out publications and have conferences and celebrity parties, about Food, Wine, Art, Guidos, Gangsters, Renaissance glories, Little Italy nostalgia, and on and on...

    But nary a word, a sound, a peep about the low levels of southern Italian American education attainment, low-income employment, high unemployment and economic hardship – go figure!    


  • Op-Eds

    Antiquated Renaissance City-States built walls around their cities, while Southern Italy led Europe into nation-state era


    Currently, in the American university system, there is virtually (literally?) no opportunity for Americans of southern-descent to study the history of their ancestry before they reached Ellis Island. 
    Consider three (what I judge to representative of the whole university system) examples of undergraduate programs:
    New York University – Italian Studies
    Twenty-two courses offered for the Fall 2012 semester and not one (NOT ONE!), not one single course dedicated to the study of the history and culture south of Rome“Italy ends at the Garigliano.”
    SUNY Stony Brook – Italian American Studies
    The catalogue lists seven dedicated Italian American courses and an additional 11 sundry undergraduate courses on Italian and Italian American art, literature, and culture.
    A total of 18 courses offered and not one (NOT ONE!), not one single course dedicated to the study of the history and culture south of Rome – “Southern-Italian American history begins at Ellis Island.”
    University of Connecticut – General History Major
    From the Fall Semester of 2009 to the Spring semester of 2012 there were 5 course offered by the History Department in Italian History (that’s guessed it) not one (NOT ONE!), not one single course dedicated to the study of the history and culture south of Rome – “ Italy south of Rome is not part of history.”
    Guidos and Gangsters
    How sad that the southern-Italian American literati and prominenti (i.e. the professors and professionals), the people who are capable of initiating and promoting post-secondary curriculums, show absolutely no regard for the cultural education of young southern-Italian Americans and have no respect for the mighty history of our people before Ellis Island.
    Rather, these same ‘teachers’ and ‘professionals’ spend untold amount of time complaining, debating, holding conferences and teaching courses about ‘guido and gangster’ mass media representation of southern-Italian Americans.
    In short, southern-Italian American youth have no opportunity to study the history of their ancestry. To add insult to injury, the youth of all European Americans have no opportunity to study the  profound affects that southern Italy and Sicily have had on the history and culture of Europe as a whole.
    Renaissance Art vs. Renaissance Government
    The complete absence of the history and culture of Italy south of Rome in the American university system is not only an insult to Americans of southern-Italian descent, more importantly such historiographic neglect is flat-out intellectually wanting. 
    How can people who call themselves humanist scholars and intellectuals possibly ignore such an important component of the history of Western Civilization? 
    Consider for example, Renaissance Studies.  There is no doubt that the artistic production of Renaissance northern Italy was truly phenomenal in terms of creativity and absolutely mind-boggling volume. Truly, such a phenomena deserves the type of intensity of scholarship and curriculum that our Italian Studies programs allot to them.
    However, a comprehensive historiographic study of Italy during the Renaissance, not limited to the Arno Valley artistic wonders, would note that the ancient Greek revival fountainhead of Renaissance aesthetics was also the basis for the arcane form of government know as the city-state. 
    While Renaissance artist were taking ancient Greek art to new heights, Renaissance city-states were reliving the Peloponnesian (city-state) War. For example, classical scholar and world historian A.J. Toynbee writes regarding northern Italian city-states:
    "...the city-state as a political institution was not a new creation, but was a ghost evoked from the life of the antecedent Hellenic Society" (see: Study of History vol. iv, p. 352 n. 2)
    Southern Italy rejects city-state model and leads Europe to nation-state government
    While Renaissance city-states were building walls around their cities, much of Europe was moving towards the nation-state form of government. 
    Arguably the prototypical origin of the nation state movement can be found in southern Italy as early as the eleventh century, ultimately coming onto fruition as the ‘nation-state’ of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
    All the cities of southern Italy rejected the concept of autonomous city-states as early as the eleventh century.  Toynbee writes:
    "There is every indication that in the eleventh century [in southern Italy] the autonomous principalities of Benevento, Capua, Salerno and Amalfi were ripe for a development of civic institutions like those Tuscany and the Basin of the Po... However, they [rejected the city-state model]"
    The case of Naples is most instructive about the rejection of city-state in favor of a broader national mentality that prevailed south of Rome many centuries before it took hold in northern Italy.
    Toynbee wrties:
    Naples, for example, who surrendered her city-state autonomy to the Normans to become the petty-Constantinople of the Kingdom of Sicily-beyond-the-‘Faro.. (see: Study p. 353 n. 2)
    “The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a Western ‘successor-state of the East Roman Empire, and its talent for efficient administration on a large scale was a legacy which came as a windfall (see: Study vol. iv p.406 n. 3)
    This is to say, as early as the eleventh century; Neapolitans realized that there was no advantage to reverting to the ancient Greek pre-Roman city-state form of government. 
    Rather, they looked to the contemporary Byzantine model of government; realizing the political, economic and military advantage of large integrated states vis-a-vis city-states.  Accordingly, they set there sights on a a unified state of southern Italy and Sicily with the possibility of Naples being the capital.
    Almost immediately the benefits of unification were realized.  The historian Will Durant writes:
    "In 1100 A.D., the 'two Sicilies' - the island and southern Italy - were already a power in the politics of Europe.  Roger II made Palermo his capital, extended his rule in Italy to Naples and Capua...(The Age of Faith p. 703)
    By 1300 A.D., difference between northern Italy and the south in terms of political organization is stunning.  Between seventy and eighty northern city-states verses one state of Two Sicilies. Toynbee:
    "At the opening of the fourteenth century of the Christian Era, the North and Central Italian regions of Lombardy, Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria were partitioned between seventy or eighty city-states"
    By the sixteenth century (four hundred years after southern cities rejected autonym in favor of national unit) the north had achieved some consolidation but still was no were near a nation state...Toynbee:
    "By 1527, the number of sovereign states in the same Italian area had been reduced from seventy or eighty to ten [principalities]..."
    "However, by the end of the fifteenth century every one of the latter-day Italian principalities had been decisively out-classed in political strength by the Louis XI in France and Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain and Henry VII in England.”  (Study vol. iii p. 355)
    The documentary evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that Italy south of Rome was at the forefront of the European nation-state movement, while north Italy desperately clung to the self-destructive pre-Roman Greek city-state model of political economy.
    Yet, the South does not exist in the American university Italian and Italian American Studies history curriculums – go figure!

    Instead of a conference about bias against southern-Italian Americans in the media, I would like to see a conference about bias in the American university system against southern-Italian Americans – with special emphasis on the bias that Italian American scholars have against the history of their own people.