Giacomo Leopardi - Opera Omnia >>  Dialogue between a goblin and a gnome
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illeopardi text integral passage complete quotation of the sources comedies works historical literary works in prose and in verses

Translated by Charles Edwardes

GOBLIN -- You here, son of Beelzebub! where are you going?

GNOME -- My father has sent me to find out what these rascals of men are doing. He is inclined to suspect something, because it is so long since they gave us any trouble, and in all his realms there is not a single one to be seen. He wonders whether any great change has taken place, and thinks perhaps they have returned to the primitive system of barter, whereby they use sheep instead of gold and silver; or the civilised people have become dissatisfied with paper notes for money, as they have often been, or have taken to cowrie shells such as savages use; or the laws of Lycurgus have been re-established. The last possibility seems to him the least likely.

GOBLIN -- "You seek them in vain, for they are all dead," as said the survivors in a tragedy where the principal personages died in the last act.

GNOME -- What do you mean?

GOBLIN -- I mean that men are all dead, and the race is lost.

GNOME -- My word! what news for the papers! But how is it they have not already mentioned it?

GOBLIN -- Stupid. Do you not see that if there are no men there will be no more newspapers?

GNOME -- Yes, that is true. But how shall we know in future the news of the world?

GOBLIN -- News! what news? That the sun rises and sets? That it is hot or cold? That here or there it has rained or snowed, or been windy? Since men disappeared, Fortune has unbandaged her eyes, put on spectacles, and attached her wheel to a pivot. She sits with arms crossed, watching the world go round without troubling .herself in the least as to its affairs. There are no more kingdoms nor empires to swell themselves, and burst like bubbles, for they have all vanished. There is no more war; and the years are as like one another as two peas.

GNOME -- No one will know the day of the month, since there will be no more calendars printed!

GOBLIN -- What a misfortune! Nevertheless, the moon will continue her course.

GNOME -- And the days of the week will be nameless!

GOBLIN -- What does it matter? Do you think they will not come unless you call them? or, that once passed, they will return if you call out their names?

GNOME -- And no one will take any count of the years!

GOBLIN -- We shall be able to say we are young when we are old; and we shall forget our cares when we cannot fix their anniversary. Besides, when we are very old, we shall not know it, nor be expecting death daily.

GNOME -- But how is it these rogues have disappeared?

GOBLIN -- Some killed themselves with fighting; others were drowned in the sea. Some ate each other. Not a few committed suicide. Some died of ennui in idleness; and some turned their brains with study. Debauch, and a thousand other excesses, put an end to many more. In short, they have arrived at their end, by endeavouring, as long as they lived, to violate the laws of nature, and to go contrary to their welfare.

GNOME -- Still, I do not understand how an entire race of animals can become extinct without leaving any trace behind it.

GOBLIN -- You who are a specialist in geology ought to know that the circumstance is not a new one, and that many kinds of animals lived anciently, which to-day are nowhere to be found except in the remains of a few petrified bones. Moreover, these poor creatures employed none of the means used by men for their destruction.

GNOME -- It may be so. I should dearly like to resuscitate one or two of the rascals, just to know what they would think when they saw all going on as before, in spite of the disappearance of the human race. Would they then imagine that everything was made and maintained solely for them?

GOBLIN -- They would not like to realise that the world exists solely for the use of the Goblins.

GNOME -- You are joking, my friend, if you mean what you say.

GOBLIN -- Why? Of course I do.

GNOME -- Go along with you, buffoon! who does not know that the world is made for the Gnomes?

GOBLIN -- For the Gnomes, who live underground! That is one of the best jokes I have ever heard. What good are the sun, moon, air, sea, and country to the Gnomes?

GNOME -- And pray of what use to the Goblins are the mines of gold and silver, and the whole body of earth, except the outer skin?

GOBLIN -- Well, well: suppose we abandon the discussion. It is unimportant after all. Tor I imagine even the lizards and gnats think the whole world was created for their exclusive service. Let each of us believe what we please, for nothing will make us change our opinion. But, between ourselves, if I had not been born a Goblin, I should be in despair.

GNOME -- And I, had I not been born a Gnome. But I should like to know what men would say of their impertinence in former times, when, besides other misdeeds, they sank thousands of underground shafts, and stole our goods from us by force, asserting that they belonged to the human race. Nature, they said, concealed and buried the things down below, as a sort of game at hide and seek, just to see if they could discover and abstract them.

GOBLIN -- I do not wonder at that, since they not only imagined the things of the world were at their service, but they also regarded them as a mere trifle compared to the human race. They called their own vicissitudes "revolutions of the world;" and histories of their nations, "histories of the world;" although the earth contained about as many different species of animals as living individual human beings. Yet these animals, though made expressly for the use of men, were never conscious of the so-called revolutions of the world!

GNOME -- Then even the fleas and gnats were made for the service of men?

GOBLIN -- Just so. To exercise their patience, men said.

GNOME -- As if, apart from fleas, man's patience were not tried sufficiently!

GOBLIN -- And a certain man named Chrysippus termed pigs pieces of meat expressly prepared by nature for man's table. Their souls, he said, served the purpose of salt, in preserving them from decay.

GNOME -- In my opinion, if Chrysippus had had a little sense (salt) in his brain, instead of imagination (soul), he would never have conceived such an idea.

GOBLIN -- Here is another amusing circumstance. An infinite number of species of animals were never seen, nor heard of by men their masters, either because they lived where man never set foot, or because they were too small to be observed. Many others were only discovered during the last days of the human race. The same may be said of plants, minerals, &c. Similarly, from time to time, by means of their telescopes, they perceived some star or planet, of tlie existence of which hitherto, during thousands and thousands of years, they had been ignorant. They then immediately entered it on the catalogue of their possessions; for they regarded the stars and planets as so many candles placed up above to give light to their dominions, because they were wont to transact much business in the night.

GNOME -- And in summer, when they saw those little meteor flames that rush through the air at night, they imagined them to be sprites employed in snuffing the candles for the good of mankind.

GOBLIN -- Yet now that they are all gone, the earth is none the worse off. The rivers still flow, and the sea, although no longer used for navigation and traffic, is not dried up.

GNOME -- The stars and planets still rise and set; nor have they gone into mourning. Goblin. Neither has the sun put on sackcloth and ashes, as it did, according to Virgil, when Csesar died; about whom I imagine it concerned itself as little as Pompey's Pillar.

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