115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Of Dogs and Humans in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo: A Post-Jungian and Ecopsychological Reading

Enrico Vettore, California State University, Long Beach

My paper studies how animals and humans interrelate in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo. My main theoretical framework is the work of post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman, and that of Theodore Roszak and Rinda West. My conclusion is that Il Gattopardo is a reflection on how humans and animals (especially dogs) are meaningfully close and how the borders between the two species are so blurred as to constitute a continuum.


My paper studies  the presence and meaning of animals (especially dogs, but not exclusively), nature, and the interrelation between them and the main characters of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo. My goal is to discover what Tomasi di Lampedusa meant when he claimed that Bendicò (Prince Fabrizio’s dog) is “the key to understand the novel.” I intend to do so by applying to my reading the ideas of post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman, and the later developments in the field brought about by Theodore Roszak, Laura Sewell and Rinda West. My provisional conclusion is that Il Gattopardo is not only a sort of historical novel informed by the failure of the Italian Risorgimento, or a personal and melancholic meditation on death, but a reflection on the relationship between humans and animals, and on the empathy ––or at least meaningful proximity–– that takes place between the two species.

The inspiration for this research came from the realization that the presence of the black Great Dane Bendicò bookcases Il Gattopardo: he is the only sentient being who is introduced by name in the novel’s first sequence. He is also the last image offered to the reader when his embalmed body is thrown out of the window ––fifty year later–– in the novel’s final scene. 

Bendicò is not the only animal dear to the Prince: he and other dogs will reappear in some key scenes of the novel and during the Prince’s death scene, where he is ranking all the important moments of his life. Here, the Prince places dogs before quite a few important events, including the realization of his daughter intelligence and character, and his moment of glory at the Sorbonne University. Such important presence must be paired with the text’s frequent references to Fabrizio as a lion, a gattopardo (leopard, cheetah): this compresence of human and animal is stressed throughout the novel. Such a simultaneuous presence of human and animal, however, seems to be less symbolical and suggests instead a psychological shifting of perspective. If Cartesian philosophy (and Christian theology before Descartes) propagated the belief that human beings are the rational and only ensouled beings in the world, that the rest of nature is soulless, and that for that reason it must be an object that humans are justified to use and abuse, post-Jungian psychology claims instead that the boundaries of the soul are nowhere to be found, and therefore the environment is equally subject and ensouled as the human beings who populate it (and almost destroy it). The role of Bendicò is to bring such an awareness into the novel, and the scene depicting in detail the agony and death of a hare is designed to restore that empathy (compassion, suffering together) that most of the characters of the novel seem to ignore or to have lost. Fabrizio, in his long meditations on death, decay, and the end of aristocracy, often compares other members of aristocracy to animals. Dogs are not animals do be debased to the function of tropes, however. They seem to be the key that opens the gate to a world which is not “other than human” (higher or lower) but simply “more than human,” therefore intimating a different perspective on the world of which we are part.