Sunday, 11 January 2009

In Praise of Italians

I found the following observation in my well-thumbed copy of Montaigne´s essays today.
It seems that the Italians have had a reputation for discretion, rather than valor stretching back centuries. This is greatly to their credit.

An Italian lord once said this, in my presence, to the disadvantage of his own nation: that the subtlety of the Italians, and the vivacity of their conceptions were so great, and they foresaw the dangers and accidents that might befall them so far off, that it was not to be thought strange, if they were often, in war, observed to provide for their safety, even before they had discovered the peril; that we French and the Spaniards, who were not so cunning, went on further, and that we must be made to see and feel the danger before we would take the alarm; but that even then we could not stick to it.
But the Germans and Swiss, more gross and heavy, had not the sense to look about them, even when the blows were falling about their ears.

It reminds me of a supposed incident during the Spanish Civil War, when an Italian regiment took to their heels as a battle got nasty. The soldiers later explained to their Nationalist allies that it was simply a mistranslation. They had heard the order, "¡A las ca├▒ones!"("To the canons!") and interpreted it as, "¡A las camiones!"("To the trucks!") Which was why they had all jumped in and smartly driven off in the opposite direction.
If only the Germans had been a bit less gross and heavy during that sorry conflict.


There are two things that one must get used to or one will find life unendurable: the damages of time and injustices of men.
Nicolas de Chamfort

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