The Italian of the middle class in the South is to the Italian of the rest of Italy as the latter is to the European of the North: the accentuation of qualities and defects is identical, and there is also analogy in the legends and fictions by which we try to explain this. Amongst us Italians of the North too the old picture of the "inefficient" Southerner sometimes obtains.
One might say that for a visitor who is content with the Museum, Vesuvius, Pompeii and Capri at Naples, the small middle-class citizen, well dressed and badly nourished, who idles in the Chiaia and the Toledo, gives the impression of a man who will never accomplish anything anywhere but will pass his life in idleness: one is surprised to learn that he cares less for music than the Northerners and is content with the facile Neapolitan melodies which one takes -- and how mistakenly -- for a supposed Parthenopean light-hearted happiness. Very few "foreigners" have really intruded into the nights of Piedigrotta -- it is always night at Piedigrotta -- to discover that the gioia is confined to drunken Germans and lusty Slavs, while the Neapolitan masses, mournful, hidden in the darkness, have discarded the smile assumed for the Toledo and the Via Partenope, to bewail the mediocrity of their lives, rendered more cruel by the fact that their sufferings too are mediocre.
The old stock portrait of the "idle Southerners" is no longer in fashion. It is enough to come in contact at Milan or Genoa -why not also in New York or Buenos Aires ? -- with business men and industrials from Apulia or the Basilicata: they are silent, obstinate, very hardworking, without wit : just, in fact, the reverse of the old model.
The struggle of the Lombards with the marshes of the Po valley lasted four or five centuries; but they ended in triumph and they have made of their lands one of the richest regions of Europe. In the South the work is more heroic because one has constantly to begin again; save in two or three privileged cases, it is almost everywhere something the same as on the slopes of Vesuvius where after every eruption new vines have to be planted, in a soil empty and virgin again. The struggle of the Southern Italian with his land is one of the most splendid and rare examples of human resistance, but one hears nothing of it, the newspapers are silent and there is no propaganda about it.
The Normans came to these Neapolitan Provinces; they were one of the most daring and adventurous peoples of their time : they proved it in England, where for centuries they imposed the French tongue as the current speech. But in South Italy they soon disappeared, swallowed up by the Neapolitans. The French and the Spaniards met later the same fate. Whoever saw the Naples of 1943-5 knows that in a certain sense it was the same and the English and Americans, laughing, admitted their defeat.
If we look to the reality of history, we find that nothing at all remains of the theory of an Hellenic South fatally different from a Germanic North. And races -- if in this case one can speak of races -- are like those rivers which disappear in a flash at the bottom of a valley and after a long journey underground suddenly appear again in the form of lakes or new sources.
The only real difference between North and South in Italy is of the economic order; the land south of Rome cannot be compared for richness to that to the north. Just as the civilization of Magna Grecia was probably less brilliant than we are told, so Rome was but a cruel step-mother to the little-known South whence came disagreeable rumours of agrarian revolts, and from which before the Roman conquest fat Carthage used to recruit her mercenaries.