‘La sirena’ (‘The siren’) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, translated by Stephen Twilley

This short story was the last work the author completed before his death. Like Tomasi di Lampedusa’s famous masterpiece, the historical novel The Leopard, ‘The Siren’ was published only after his death; and, like The Leopard, it is a meditation on the past and the passage of time. What makes this beautiful story stand apart, though, is its streak of romanticism and eroticism, and its heartbreaking mixture of realistic and fantastic. 
 
Two men become friends in 1930s Turin; they are both Sicilian-born, and their friendship deepens to the point that the oldest one, renowned classicist Rosario La Ciura, opens up to his friend about his past. He has a story to tell. As a young man, on a wild remote Sicilian beach, he once met the experience of true love. She was sixteen. She had beautiful pale lips. And she was a siren. The memory of that impossible love will haunt Rosario for his entire life. 

First published in I racconti, Feltrinelli, 1961. Collected in The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories, edited by Jhumpa Lahiri, 2019

‘The Professor and the Siren’ by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, trans. Archibald Colquhoun

Saturated with the same melancholy and desire as The Leopard, this is the story of a professor’s encounter with a mermaid. Marina Warner, in her introduction to a later edition from NYRB Classics, speculates that Lampedusa’s story is based on Ettore Majorana, a Sicilan physicist that disappeared at sea in 1938. It is a Homeric story written with a concision and voice that is impossible to forget once heard.

Included in Two Stories and a Memory, Collins Harvill, 1962; also available, translated by Stephen Twilley, as The Professor and the Siren, NYRB Classics, 2014