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L’ANTICO, THE SICILIAN CONFUCIUS

by Rose Madeline Mula

Have you ever heard of l’Antico? His name, in lower case, means “the old man”; but with a capital “A,” he’s the Confucius of the Mediterranean — a Sicilian Chinese philosopher yet.

Of course, there were a few differences. Confucius was inscrutable, calm, wise; but l’Antico, Mamma Mia! He was excitable, melodramatic, emotional! (He was Sicilian, after all). But he was also very wise — so wise that (if my relatives had been quoting him correctly for decades) he had something to say about every subject imaginable, even things that hadn’t yet been thought of in his day. In fact, I have it on good authority (my Zia Maria) that l’Antico was the first proponent of trickle-down economics — which she claims was the real cause of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Hundreds of l’Antico’s sayings have been handed down to us, in translation, almost word-for-word, including the mundane and familiar:

“ Cani cc’abbaja no muzzica" — A barking dog doesn’t bite.

“Ajutati ca’ Dio t’ ajuta” — God helps those who help themselves.

“A pignata vaddata, no n’ vugghi mai” — A watched pot never boils.

Some of his other adages, on the other hand, convey familiar proverbs, but with a bit of a twist. Consider, for example:

“Sciumi ca grida assai, passalu sicuru/ Di sciumi mutu, passaci luntanu ma quannu grida passilu sicuru“ — You can pass a babbling brook safely. (Still waters run deep.)

“Cu dommi, non pigghia pisci” — He who sleeps doesn’t catch any fish. (The early bird catches the worm.)

"L’asinu e’ ciecu e u patruni no n’ vidi” — The donkey is blind and the master can’t see. (The blind leading the blind.)

"Non si buttuni pi st’ucchjeddu” — You’re not a button for this buttonhole. (You can’t put a square peg in a round hole.)

“Cu accuzza, allonga" — He who tries to shorten, lengthens. (Haste makes waste.)

Though we’ve been told that absence makes the heart grow fonder, l’Antico believed, “L’avvicinamentu fa l’amuri,” or proximity breeds love — which, come to think of it is another way of saying “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Still other of l’Antico’s pearls of wisdom are either more inscrutable than anything ever attributed to Confucius, or they lose something in the translation.

One example: “Di jornu, ni ni vogghiu, e a sira spaddu l’ogghju” which means, “During the day I don’t want it, and at night I waste oil.” Huh???

But he also had practical, easily comprehendible advice: “Non sputari n’ cjelu ca n’ faccia ti torna,” or “Don’t spit in the sky because it will return to your face.” Who can argue with such logic?

Because he was Italian, l’Antico had a different take on the grass always being greener in another person’s yard. Instead, he observed that “A mugghieri d’autru sempri pari chiu’ bedda. ” (Another’s wife always seems more beautiful.”)

And no one who has ever heard it can forget the poignant, “ Passau du tempu ca Berta filava,” or The time for Bertha to weave is ended.” Old timers say this is roughly equivalent to “Make hay while the sun shines,” but it probably simply means that synthetic fibers and modern automated machinery have replaced the loom, so Bertha had better take a crash course in computer programming if she expects to find another job.

And speaking of jobs, l’Antico did not recommend multi-tasking. “Cu assicuta dui cunigghi,” he said, “no n’afferra ne l’ uno e ne l’autru,” or “He who chases two rabbits will not catch either one."

And he also didn’t ascribe to the “You can if you think you can” school of thought, since he preached, “Cu auta a’ pigghia, prestu si stocca,Or/ Quantu e’ chiu’ grossa, chiu’ presto si lassa”” or “The higher you reach, the faster you fall.”

Apparently human nature hasn’t changed much since the days of l’Antico who said, “Cu chiu’ c’ javi , chiu’ assai voli,” or “The more the rich man has, the more he wants.” Frowning on greed, he advocated charitable sharing, warning, “Cu mangja sulu s’affuca,” or “He who eats alone, chokes.”

Hundreds of other maxims — maybe even thousands — have been attributed to l’Antico.

Don't worry. I've forgotten the rest.

©2009 Rose Mula for SeniorWomenWeb

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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