‘The Professor and The Siren’ by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, translated by Stephen Twilley

The story is set in Turin in 1938, narrated by a young journalist called Paolo Corbera. One evening he strikes up a friendship in a café with an elderly man called Rosario La Ciura, an eminent professor in the field of Hellenic Studies. The pair return to the café on a nightly basis to share stories of the past and debate the present day. La Ciura reminisces on a romance he had in his youth which still haunts him, a tryst with a mermaid named Lighea, daughter of Calliope. Her voice was irresistible to him, “a bit guttural, husky, resounding with countless harmonics; behind the words could be discerned the sluggish undertow of summer seas, the whisper of receding beach foam, the wind passing over lunar tides” – and so she became his first and only love. A meditation on loss, love and time, this is a bittersweet story which possesses the dreamlike, enigmatic feeling of a Fellini film.

First published in Italian by Feltrinelli 1961; first published in English in Two Stories and a Memory, Collins and Harvill, 1962, translated by Archibald Colquhoun. The Stephen Twilley translation is in The Professor and the Siren, The New York Review of Books Classics 2014

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