This Holiday Season keep Envy and the She-Wolf separate and behind a closed door under lock and key, and pursue the meaning of virtu and Fortuna. I became familiar with these two diabolical figures, Envy and the She-Wolf while reading “The Inferno,” Canto I by Dante Alighieri. In Canto I Envy throws the She-Wolf out of Hell, and the She-Wolf blocks Dante’s ascension of Mount Joy. The She-Wolf “tracks down all, kills all, and knows no glut, but, feeding, she grows hungrier than she was. She mates with any beast, and will mate with more before the Greyhound comes to hunt her down. He will not feed on lands nor loot, but honor and love and wisdom will make straight his way. He will rise between Feltro and Feltro, and in him shall be the resurrection and new day of that sad Italy for which Nisus died, and Turnus and Euryalus, and the maid Camilla. He shall hunt her through every nation of sick pride till she is driven back forever to Hell whence Envy first released her on the world” (92-104).
“The Greyhound comes to hunt her down. He will not feed on lands nor loot, but honor and love and wisdom will make straight his way. He will rise between Feltro and Feltro” this passage refers to Can Grande della Scala, from 1290 to 1329. Can Grande della Scala was an Italian born leader in Verona. Verona lies between the towns of Feltre and Montefeltro. “Nisus, Turnus, Euryalus and Camilla” all were killed during the war between the Trojans and Latians. According to legend, Aeneas led the survivors of Troy to Italy. In the “Aeneid,” IX, by Virgil, Nisus and Euryalus were Trojan comrades in arms who died together. In the “Aeneid,” XI, by Virgil, Camilla was the daughter of the Latian king and a warrior woman. Camilla was killed in a horse charge against the Trojans. According to “Aeneid,” XII, by Virgil, Turnus was killed by Aeneas during a duel. So who is Envy and the She-Wolf, and why did Envy throw the She-Wolf out of Hell?
Who is Envy? Envy is a noun and as a noun takes on a form of personification; she symbolizes one of the seven deadly sins, and emerges out of the joint experience of covetousness and impotence. Thus Envy requires a minimum of two social elements for its development the one who covets and the desired possession that is owned or under the control of another. The phrase, “Comparisons are odious,” points to the painful process whereby Envy begins. The perception of differences in possessions, the attribution of value to that which one does not possess, the inability to obtain a desired object, the designation of the possessors as holding the desideratum against right or justice, and the realization of one’s own impotence with respect to acquisition are the steps that result in envy.
The objects of Envy might be any thing or character that is capable of social or personal valuation. These include material objects and wealth, culturally and socially ranked characteristics such as beauty and physique, and the virtues that are said to reside in another person or social group such as honesty, honor, courage, and fidelity. The universality and pervasiveness of Envy is attested to by many objects, characteristics, virtues, qualities, and capacities; in effect, both virtu and fortuna, the twin facets of life itself.
Envy emerges out of frustrated desire for possession of the things belonging to another. Hence, Envy is inextricably related to the power structures that control the distribution of value and valued items. Envy is both a form of and a resource for protest at the injustice of the world. Envy is more often experienced in isolation from one’s associates, or as a secret sin to be hidden from view. Envy is likely to reside in a heat of darkness, a secret sharer as well as a corrosive product of the sorrow and anguish of unrequited desire.
Who is the She-Wolf? The She-Wolf is a story told in Italian Folklore. The She-Wolf is tall and thin; she had the firm and vigorous breasts of the olive skinned and yet she was no longer young; she was pale, as if always plagued by malaria, and in that pallor, two enormous eyes, and fresh red lips which devoured you.
In the village they called her the She-Wolf, because she never had enough of anything. The women made the sign of the cross when they saw her pass, alone as a wild bitch, prowling about suspiciously like a famished wolf; with her red lips she sucked the blood of their sons and husbands in a flash, and pulled them behind her skirt with a single glance of those devilish eyes, even if they were before the altar of Saint Agrippina. The She-Wolf never goes to church, not at Easter, nor at Christmas, not to hear Mass, not for confession. Father Angiolino of Saint Mary of Jesus, a true servant of God, had lost his soul on account of her.
One day the She-Wolf fell in love with a handsome young man who had just returned from the service and was mowing hay with her in the fields of the notary; and she fell in love in the strongest sense of the word, feeling the flesh afire beneath her clothes; and staring him in the eyes, she suffered the thirst one has in the hot hours of June, deep in the plain. But he went on mowing undisturbed, his nose bent over the swaths.
In the immense fields, where you heard only the crackling flight of the grasshoppers, as the sun hammered down overhead, the She-Wolf gathered bundle after bundle, and sheaf after sheaf, never tiring, never straightening up for an instant, never raising the flask to her lips, just to remain at the heels of Nanni, who mowed and mowed and asked from time to time:
“What is it you want, Pina?”
She told him, “It’s you I want. You who’re beautiful as the sun and sweet as honey. I want you!”
Nanni answered, “And I want you daughter, instead, who’s a maid.”
The She-Wolf thrust her hands into her hair, scratching her temples without saying a word, and walked away. And she did not appear at the threshing floor any more. But she saw Nanni again in October, when they were making olive oil; for he was working near her house, and the creaking of the press kept her awake all night.
The She-Wolf commanded, “Get the sack of olives,” to her daughter, “and come with me.”
Nanni was pushing olives under the millstone with a shovel, shouting “Ohee” to the mule.
The She-Wolf asked, “You want my daughter Maricchia?”
Nanni answered, “What’ll you give your daughter Maricchia?”
“She has all her father’s things, and I’ll give her my house too; as for me, all I need is a little corner in the kitchen, enough for a straw mattress.”
Maricchia didn’t want Nanni at any price. But her mother grabbed her by the hair before the fireplace, muttering between her teeth: “If you don’t take him, I’ll kill you!”
The She-Wolf was almost sick, and the people were saying that when the devil gets old he becomes a hermit. She no longer roamed here and there, no longer lingered at the doorway, with those bewitched eyes. Whenever she fixed them on his face, those eyes of hers, her son in law began to laugh and pulled out the scapular of the Virgin to cross himself. Maricchia stayed at home nursing the babies, and her mother went into the fields to work with the men, and just like a man too, weeding, hoeing, feeding the animals, pruning the vines, despite the northeast and Levantine winds of January or the August sirocco, when the mules’ heads drooped and the men slept face down along the wall, on the north side. “In those hours between nones and vespers when no good woman goes roving around,” Pina was the only living soul to be seen wandering in the countryside, over the burning stones of the paths, through the scorched stubble of the immense fields that became lost in the suffocating heat, far, far away toward the foggy Etna, where the sky was heavy on the horizon.
An old Sicilain proverb, which refers to the hours of the early afternoon, when the Sicilian countryside lies motionless under a scorching sun and no person would dare walk on the roads. Those hours are traditionally believed to be under the spell of malignant spirits.
“Wake up!” said the She-Wolf to Nanni, who was sleeping in the ditch, along the dusty hedge, his head on his arms. “Wake up. I’ve brought you some wine to cool your throat.”
Nanni opened his drowsy eyes wide, still half asleep, and finding her standing before him, pale, with her arrogant breasts and her coal-black eyes, he stretched out his hands gropingly.
“No! no good woman goes roving around in the hours between nones and vespers!” sobbed Nanni, throwing his face back into the dry grass of the ditch, deep, deep, his nails in his scalp. “Go away! Go away! Don’t come to the threshing floor again!”
The She-Wolf was going away, in fact retying her superb tresses, her gaze bent fixedly before her as she moved through the hot stubble, her eyes as black as coal. But she came to the threshing floor again and more than once, and Nanni did not complain. On the contrary, when she was late, in the hours between nones and vespers, he would go and wait for her at the top of the white, deserted path, with his forehead bathed in sweat; and he would thrust his hands into his hair, and repeat every time: “Go away! Go away! Don’t come to the threshing floor again!”
Maricchia cried night and day, and glared at her mother, her eyes burning with tears and jealousy, like a young She-Wolf herself, every time she saw her come, mute and pale, from the fields. “Vile, vile mother!” she said to her. “Vile mother!”
“I’ll go to the Sergeant, I will”
And she really did go, with her babies in her arms, fearing nothing, and without shedding a tear, like a madwoman, because now she too loved that husband who had been forced on her, greasy and filthy, spattered with oil and fermented olives.
The Sergent sent for Nanni; he threatened him even with jail and the gallows. Nanni began to sob and tear his hair; he didn’t deny anything, he didn’t try to clear himself.
“It’s the temptation!” he said. “It’s the temptation of hell!”
He threw himself at the Sergeant’s feet begging to be sent to jail. “For God’s sake, Sergeant, take me out of this hell! Have me killed, put me in jail; don’t let me see her again, never! Never!”
“No!” answered the She-Wolf instead, to the Sergeant. “I kept a little corner in the kitchen to sleep in, when I gave him my house as dowry. It’s my house. I don’t intend to leave it.”
Shortly afterward, Nanni was kicked in the chest by a mule and was at the point of death, but the priest refused to bring him the Sacrament if the She-Wolf did not go out of the house. The She-Wolf left, and then her son-in-law could also prepare to leave like a good Christian; he confessed and received communion with such signs of repentance and contrition that all the neighbors and the curious wept before the dying man’s bed. And it would have been better for him to die that day, before the devil came back to tempt him again and creep into his body and soul, when he got well.
“Leave me alone!” he told the She-Wolf. “For God’s sake, leave me in peace! I’ve seen death with my own eyes! Poor Maricchia is desperate. Now the whole town knows about it! If I don’t see you it’s better for both of us.” And he would have like to gouge his eyes out not to see those of the She-Wolf, for whenever they peered into his, they made him lose his body and soul. He did not know what to do to free him from the spell. He paid for Masses for the souls in purgatory and asked the priest and the Sergeant for help. At Easter he went to confession, and in penance he publicly licked more than four feet of pavement, crawling on the pebbles in the front of the church and then, as the She-Wolf came to tempt him again: “Listen!” he said to her. “Don’t come to the threshing floor again; if you do, I swear to God, I’ll kill you!”
Kill me,” answered the She-Wolf, “I don’t care; I can’t stand it without you.”
As he saw her from the distance, in the green wheat fields, Nanni stopped hoeing the vineyard, and went to pull the ax from the elm. The She-Wolf saw him come, pale and wild-eyed, with the ax glistening in the sun, but she did not fall back a single step, did not lower her eyes; she continued toward him, her hands laden with red poppies, her black eyes devouring him.
“Ah! Damn your soul!” stammered Nanni.
Envy means a being that is malignant or hostile feeling; ill-will, malice, enmity. Instances of envy include envious feelings, jealousies; and rivalries. Envy may be desire to equal another in achievement or excellence; emulation and enmity. While the She-Wolf is a temptress, who seduces men of her desire by bewitching them with her coal colored eyes, red ruby lips and voluptuous breasts. As we experienced in the story, any man can become victimized, and lose his soul to the devil. The devil presented in this case as the She-Wolf, who satiates her greedy will and desires upon men. Envy and the She-Wolf are natural enemies and diabolical. They operate in a state of mutual hostility, especially when the She-Wolf bewitches a man, and Envy experienced covetousness and impotence towards obtaining said man.
The universality and pervasiveness of Envy is attested to by many objects, characteristics, virtues, qualities, and capacities; in effect, both virtu and fortuna, the twin facets of life itself. Virtu is a concept most notably theorized by Niccolo Machiavelli centered on the martial spirit of a population or leader, but also encompasses a broader collection of traits necessary for maintenance of the state and “the achievement of great things.” Virtu, for Machiavelli, was not equivalent to moral virtue, but instead was linked to the “raison d’état,” reason of the State. What was good for the state and for the leader may be contradictory to that which is morally good. Virtu encompass and includes all the virtues. A person must be virtuous in every area before he can be said to have achieved virtu. Virtu is derived from the Latin virtus. Virtus describes the qualities desirable for a man, which might not be same as virtue. Virtu includes pride, bravery, strength and an amount of ruthlessness.
Fortuna, equivalent to the Greek goddess Tyche, was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck in Roman religion. She might bring good luck or bad; she could be represented as veiled and blind, as in modern depictions of Justice, and came to represent life’s capriciousness. She was also a goddess of fate: as Atrox Fortuna, she claimed the young lives of the princeps Augustus’ grandsons Gaius and Lucius, prospective heirs to the Empire.
During the Holiday Season, men often buy their She-Wolf brilliant and sparkling gifts, diamond rings and fur coats. However, with each gift acquired by the She-Wolf, there is Envy. During the Holiday Season what is good for the She-Wolf may be contradictory to what is morally good; for the diamond ring and fur coat may induce Envy; amongst others involved in the Festive Celebration of the Season. Therefore, this Holiday Season provide gifts in-line with gifts being provided to others. Please do not allow Envy to enter into this Holiday Season Celebration by overindulging your She-Wolf. Pursue virtu, as Machiavelli attests it is not equivalent to moral virtue, but in this case is instead what is linked to “raison d’état;’ what is good for State or in this case, the Celebration. Let us remember that during this Holiday Season there are many who have been visited by Fortuna, who may have brought bad luck upon them. Fortuna is veiled and blind; representing life’s capriciousness. Next year, Fortuna may visit your door, and upon her whim, which is impulsive, unpredictable and arbitrary bring bad rather than good luck. Therefore, during this Holiday Season, keep gifts in-line with what others will be receiving; so the She-Wolf and Envy stay securely locked behind closed doors. I wish everyone a Festive Holiday Season; peace on earth and goodwill towards man.
Alighieri, Dante. “The Inferno,” Trans. John Ciardi. Signet Classics. New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. New York, New York. 2009.
Lyman, Stanford M. “The Seven Deadly Sins, Society and Evil.” Florida Atlantic University. General Hall, Inc. Dix Hills, New York. 1989.
Verga, Giovanni, “The She-Wolf, and Other Stories,” Trans. Giovanni Cecchetti, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London., 1973.