The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vol. XIII: ItalianSpanish
Dialogue Between the Earth and the Moon
By Giacomo Leopardi (17981837)
Earth. My dear Moon, I know you can talk, and answer questions, since you are a person, as I have often heard from the poets; besides which, our children say you have really got a mouth and nose and eyes, just like any one of themselves, and that they can see this with their own eyes, which at their time of life indeed are pretty sharp. As for me, I doubt not you know that I, too, am no less a person; so much so, indeed, that when I was younger I had plenty of children of my own; and so you wont be surprised to hear me talk.
Well, then, my sweet Moon, though I have been so close to you for so many ages that I cant remember their number, I have never yet addressed a word to you till now, because my own affairs have hitherto so occupied me that I have never before found time for a chat. But now that my business is so reduced that it can take care of itself, I dont know what to do with myself, and am fairly bursting with boredom. Therefore I propose in future to talk to you often, and to take much interest in your affairsthat is to say, provided I shall not thereby be troublesome to you.
Moon. Have no anxiety on that score. I would I were as certain that fortune would insure me against all other inconveniences, as I am certain that you will not cause me any. If you want to talk to me, talk away at your pleasure, for, although I am a lover of silence, as I think you know, yet, to oblige you, I am willing to listen to you, and even to answer your questions.
Earth. Well, for the matter of that, no more do I, unless it be the roar of the wind as it rushes from my poles to the equator, or from the equator to the poles, and theres not much music in that. But Pythagoras asserts that the celestial spheres create a certain wonderfully sweet sound, and that you yourself contribute to it, and actually form the eighth chord of the universal lyre; but he adds that I am deafened by the sound of it, and therefore do not hear it.
Earth. Well, let us change the subject. Tell me, are you really inhabited, as has been alleged and sworn to by a thousand philosophers, ancient and modern, from Orpheus down to De Lalande? As for me, no matter how I try to stretch these horns of mine which men call mountain peaks, and from which I stare at you, just like a snail with extended horns, yet I never can make out a single inhabitant on you; though I have heard that one David Fabricius, whose eyesight was sharper even than that of Lynceus, once saw some of them spreading their linen out in the sun to dry.
Moon. Neither brutes nor men. Indeed, for the matter of that, I do not even know what sorts of creatures brutes or men may be; and I may as well tell you that I have not understood a syllable of these things you have just been saying to me, about these men, I presume.
Earth. Nay, surely, if you do not know what arms are, you assuredly know what war is, for, not long ago, a certain philosopher down here, by means of certain instruments called telescopes, which enable people to see a great distance, plainly saw up there on you a first-class fortress with tall bastionsa thing which proves that your people are accustomed at least to sieges and mural combats.
Moon. Pardon me, Madam Earth, if I reply to you a trifle more freely than is perhaps becoming in one who, like me, is only your vassal and handmaiden. But I really must say you appear to me something more than overvain in supposing that all things in all parts of creation must be similar to what prevails in your limits, as if Nature had no other idea except to copy you exactly in all her operations. When I tell you that I am inhabited, straightway you must jump to the conclusion that my inhabitants must be men. Then, when I tell you that they are not so, and when you seem to realize that they may possibly be creatures of some other species, you immediately assume that they must have the same properties and must live under the same conditions as your people, and begin to tell me about telescopes and philosophers and what not. But if these telescopes do not enable you to examine other things more accurately than it seems they do in my case, then I suspect their accuracy is on a par with that of the children down there on you, who, as you have just said, discover in me a mouth and nose and eyes, which I have no knowledge of possessing.
Earth. I suppose you will tell me next that it is not true that your provinces are provided with fine broad roads, or that you are cultivated, although these things can be plainly seen from Germany with the help of a telescope.
Earth. My dear Moon, I would have you to know that I am rather uneducated and something dull in understanding, and so it is no wonder if men easily impose on me. But, nevertheless, I am in a position to tell you that though, as you say, your own inhabitants have never evinced a desire to conquer you, still you have not always been quite free from dangers of this kind; since at various times various people down here have cherished schemes of conquering you themselves, and have even proceeded far in their preparations to that end. And truly they might have succeeded in their attempts, were it not that although they ascended to the highest points on my surface, and stood on their tiptoes, and stretched out their arms as far as ever they could, they somehow never managed to reach you. Besides this, for some years past I have observed that my people have been carefully surveying every part of you, and drawing up maps of your various countries. They have also measured the heights of your mountains, and they know the names of them all. Well, for the good-will I bear you, I have thought it only right to tell you of these things, in order that you may be prepared for all possible contingencies.
But now to come to some other matters which I want to ask you. How ever do you stand the incessant baying of our dogs at you? What is your opinion of those people who show you to their friends in a well? Are you feminine or masculine? For in former times opinions were much divided on this point. Is it a fact that the Arcadians existed before you were made? Is it true that the women on you, or whatever your female inhabitants ought to be called, are oviparous, and that an egg of one of them actually fell down here once upon a time, I know not when? Is it the case that you are perforated just like the bead of a rosary, as is maintained by a modern philosopher; or that you are made of green cheese, as certain Englishmen affirm? Are we to believe that one day, or it may have been one night, Mohammed sliced you in two through the middle like a watermelon, and that a good large piece of you slipped up his sleeve? And, finally, why do you like to hang on the tops of minarets; and what are your views as to the feast of Bairam?
Moon. Perhaps you will be good enough to ask me a few more questions, for while you run on like this I have no need to answer you, and can comfortably maintain my wonted silence. If it pleases you to indulge in chatter like this, and can find nothing more sensible to talk about, then, instead of addressing yourself to me, who do not know what you mean, I would recommend you to get your inhabitants to manufacture for you a brand-new satellite which shall revolve round you, and which shall be composed and peopled after your own notions. Apparently you can talk of nothing but men and dogs and other things of which I know no more than I do of that stupendous sun round which it is said our own sun rotates.
Earth. I confess that the more I resolve, in my conversation with you, to avoid topics specially connected with myself, the less do I succeed in doing so. But I shall be still more careful in future. So now, is it you who amuse yourself by alternately raising and depressing the water in my oceans?
Moon. Possibly it may be so, but whether I do that, or produce any other effects on you, I am no more conscious of the fact than you probably are of the many effects which you produce on me; and you may imagine that they must exceed those of me on you in proportion as you excel me in size and power.
Earth. As to any effects that I may produce on you I am not aware of any except that from time to time I intercept from you the light of the sun, and your own from myself; and also that while it is night with you, I shine very brightly on you, as indeed I myself occasionally perceive. But I was nearly forgetting a point which interests me above all others. I should like to know if Ariosto is right where he declares that all the properties which men are continually losing, such as youth, beauty, health, and the like, as well as all the efforts which they expend in the pursuit of earthly renown, in the education of their children, and in the promotion of so-called useful objectsI say, I should like to know if it is true that all these things evaporate in your direction, and are eventually piled up in you as in a lumber-room, so that all human things are to be found there, except, indeed, folly, which never departs from men. If this be so, I reckon that by this time you must be pretty well crammed, and must have very little spare room left; the more so, seeing that of late men have been parting with an unusual number of things, such as patriotism, virtue, magnanimity, and rectitude; and this not only partially or exceptionally, as used to be the case, but universally and totally. At all events, if these things have not flown away to you, I do not know where else they can be. Well, I would propose that we enter into a convention, by the terms of which you shall agree to return these things to me, either at once or by degrees. I judge it likely that you would be glad to be rid of them, especially of common sense, which, I hear, takes up a great deal of space on your globe. On the other hand, I for my part will cause my inhabitants to pay you a good round sum annually for this accommodation.
Moon. Still harping on those blessed men! For all you have said as to folly never leaving your confines, you are like to drive me mad, and rob me of my own share of common sense in your search for that of men, as to which I have no sort of idea where it is, or whether it still exists in any corner of the universe. The only thing I do know about it is that it is not to be found up hereno, nor any of the other things you ask me for.
Moon. Oh, I know them well; and not only the names, but the things which they mean. Too well do I know them, for I am filled quite full with them, instead of with the other things you mentioned just now.
Moon. Nay, I resemble you also in form, in rotatory movement, and in being illumined by the sun; and the resemblance you marvel at is no more wonderful than our resemblance in these other particulars, seeing that evil is a condition as common to all the planets of the universeor, at all events, of our solar systemas is rotundity and the other points just noted by me. Indeed, I will venture to say that if you could raise your voice so as to be heard by Uranus or Saturn, or any other planet of our system, and were to ask it whether unhappiness existed there, or whether good or evil most prevailed within its limits, any one of them would give you the same answer that I have done. This I am prepared to assert, because I put these very questions to Venus and to Mercury, which two planets from time to time approach more closely to me than I do to you; and I have also asked the same thing from one or two comets which happened to pass near me, and all alike replied in the same terms. Nay, I am quite confident that the sun himself, and all the fixed stars, would say the same.
Earth. Hush! Observedo you see whats happening? The men and animals are beginning to stir. You know that down here it is night, and they were all sleeping; but, alarmed by our talking in this way, they are all awaking in mortal terror.
Earth. Well, well, I do not wish to frighten my creatures and disturb their sleep, which, poor things, is the greatest consolation they possess. So well leave off now, and resume our conversation another time. So good day to you.