Six Dia­logues with Leuco

Cesare Pavese

Through leaves that flut­tered in dark­ness rose hills where the things of the day — the slopes, the trees, the vine­yards — stood clearly defined and dead, and life was another thing, made of wind, of sky,​of leaves, and of noth­ing.1
If there is an actor in Trop tôt, trop tard, it’s the land­scape. This actor has a text to recite: His­tory (the peas­ants who resist, the land which remains), of which it is the liv­ing wit­ness. The actor per­forms with a cer­tain amount of tal­ent: the cloud that passes, a break­ing loose of birds, a bou­quet of trees bent by the wind, a break in the clouds…2

As Jacques Ran­cière observed in Film Fables (2006), ‘images, prop­erly speak­ing, are the things of the world.’ This sim­ple asser­tion — a belief that cin­ema might not be the name of an art but, in fact, ‘the name of the world’ — is rarely more promi­nent than in the films of Jean-​Marie Straub and Danièle Huil­let. In the essay which this sec­tion is intended to accom­pany, Denis Lévy writes that their films are (his­tory) lessons for visual and aural atten­tion, encoun­ters with ideas and things that force us to refo­cus our atten­tion, reveal­ing the dialec­tics of word and image, myth and real­ity. Straub-Huillet’s films always orig­i­nate from exist­ing texts or non-​filmic sources (nov­els, plays, let­ters, inter­views, poetry, the­ory, opera) and con­sis­tently fore­ground a ten­sion between the per­for­mance of those texts and the places upon which they reflect. This ‘adap­ta­tion’ of the world and its his­tory is their dec­la­ra­tion of mate­ri­al­ity, both visual and sonic, and the full­ness of the resul­tant encounter can leave the spec­ta­tor, in Lévy’s words, ‘as if struck par­tially blind by the text.’

With this in mind, we present here, with the per­mis­sion of Jean-​Marie Straub, the trans­la­tion of six dia­logues by Cesare Pavese for Eng­lish and Amer­i­can sub­ti­tled prints of Dalla nube alla resistenza (From the Clouds to the Resis­tance, 1979). Pavese’s orig­i­nal texts were pub­lished in 1947 as part of his final work, Dialoghi con Leucò (Dia­logues with Leuco), twenty-​seven dia­logues between gods and mor­tals drawn from Greek mythol­ogy. There are two prin­ci­ple rea­sons for repro­duc­ing the dia­logues in Eng­lish here. The first is that the tex­tual trans­la­tion for Straub-Huillet’s film often dif­fers rad­i­cally from William Arrow­smith and D.S. Carne-Ross’s, pub­lished in 1965 — the only other Eng­lish trans­la­tion, now out of print. The repro­duc­tion of Pavese’s prose in Dalla nube alla resistenza is sim­pler, more direct, respect­ful of the Ital­ian order of words and phrases. It refuses to com­pro­mise lan­guage by “con­vert­ing” the text or attempt­ing, in essence, to ren­der it anew: Eng­lish “equiv­a­lents” for par­tic­u­lar words are rejected, and only the most ele­men­tal mate­ri­al­ity of words conveyed.

Danièle Huil­let fre­quently, if not always, super­vised for­eign sub­ti­tles for Straub-Huillet’s films, and her guid­ance here is evi­dent. Bar­ton Byg, who worked on the Eng­lish sub­ti­tles for Klassen­ver­hält­nisse (Class Rela­tions, 1984) and many sub­se­quent films, recalls Danièle’s influ­ence: ‘In keep­ing with the aes­thetic of the films, Danièle’s key word for the sub­ti­tling was “sim­plic­ity”.’ With regard to trans­lat­ing Kafka’s novel Amerika for Klassen­ver­hält­nisse, Byg adds: ‘In Eng­lish, more than in French, it is pos­si­ble to find lin­guis­tic cor­re­spon­dences with the ori­gin, sound and form of the Ger­man words, even if the mean­ing would be some­what strained. She encour­aged me to go in this direc­tion, as long as it did not become too “Shake­spear­ian”.’ “Lit­eral” mean­ing in the sub­ti­tles of Straub-Huillet’s films is sac­ri­ficed for an alto­gether dif­fer­ent mode of clar­ity, one that is appro­pri­ate not merely to min­imis­ing the vis­i­ble tex­tual ele­ment of the pro­jected image, but the ren­der­ing of Pavese’s plain yet vivid prose itself. In order to reflect the con­trast in method between both ver­sions of the dia­logues in Dalla nube alla resistenza, we have added foot­notes refer­ring to Arrow­smith & Carne-Ross’s trans­la­tion, acknowl­edg­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of fur­ther interpretation.

Our sec­ond rea­son is, sim­ply, that the visual plen­i­tude of Straub-Huillet’s films, and the direct­ness of their sound (of speech, of a sonic record of place), ben­e­fits from the full­ness of unadorned pre­sen­ta­tion. Sub­ti­tles are an unfor­tu­nate impo­si­tion upon cinema’s images of the world, and a nec­es­sary evil best avoided here, if pos­si­ble. In Dalla nube alla resistenza, the per­form­ers of Pavese’s text are both its land­scapes and its peo­ple, fixed like rocks and trees, reach­ing out to the hills, val­leys, and sky. Repeated view­ings are nec­es­sary even to begin to per­ceive the film’s prox­im­ity to this mate­r­ial voice. So we offer the oppor­tu­nity for view­ers to observe, and hear, the film with­out sub­ti­tles, and to con­sult the text sep­a­rately. Both are equally valuable.

— Matthew Flana­gan, Exeter, 2011

I. The Cloud

It seems likely that Ixion was con­demned to Tar­tarus because of his pre­sump­tion. But that he fathered the Cen­taurs on the clouds is false, since the race of Cen­taurs already existed at the time of his son’s mar­riage. The Lap­iths and the Cen­taurs belong to the age of the Titans, when very dif­fer­ent crea­tures were still per­mit­ted to mate and inter­breed. The result was that swarm of mon­sters which Olym­pus later pur­sued with implaca­ble hatred.3

The Cloud: There is a law, Ixion, which we must obey.

Ixion: Up here the law does not arrive, Nephele. Here the law is the snow-​field, the storm, the dark­ness. And when the clear day comes and you draw, light, near to the rock, it is too beau­ti­ful still to think about it.

The Cloud: There is a law, Ixion, which there wasn’t before. The clouds, a stronger hand gath­ers them.

Ixion: Here this hand does not arrive. You your­self, now that it is fine, laugh. And when the sky grows dim and the wind howls, what mat­ters the hand which scat­ters us like droplets? It hap­pened already in the times when there was no mas­ter. Noth­ing has changed on the mounts. We are used to all this.

The Cloud: Many things have changed on the mounts. Pelion knows it, Ossa and Olym­pus know it. Still wilder mounts know it.

Ixion: What has changed on the mounts, Nephele?

The Cloud: Nei­ther the sun nor the water, Ixion. Man’s fate has changed. There are mon­sters. A limit is imposed upon you men. The water, the wind, the rock and the cloud are no longer your things, you can no longer press them close to you, engen­der­ing and liv­ing. Other hands hence­forth hold the world. There is a law, Ixion.

Ixion: My fate, I have it in my fist, Nephele. What has changed? These new mas­ters can per­haps hin­der me from cast­ing a rock in play, or from going down to the plain and break­ing an enemy’s spine? Will they be more ter­ri­ble than fatigue and death?

The Cloud: It is not that, Ixion. All that you can do, and other things more. But you can no longer min­gle with us oth­ers, the nymphs of the springs and of the mounts, with the daugh­ters of the wind, with the god­desses of the earth. Des­tiny has changed.

Ixion: You can no longer… What does it mean, Nephele?

The Cloud: It means that, want­ing that, you will on the con­trary do ter­ri­ble things. As would he who, to caress a com­pan­ion, would stran­gle him, or be stran­gled by him.

Ixion: You won’t come any more on the moun­tain? You are afraid of me?

The Cloud: I’ll come on the moun­tain and every­where. You can­not do any­thing to me, Ixion. You can­not do any­thing against the water and against the wind. But you must bow your head. Only thus will you save your fate. I am afraid. I have seen the peaks of the mounts. But not for me, Ixion. I can­not suf­fer. I am afraid for you, who are only men. These mounts, where you once wan­dered as mas­ters, these crea­tures, ours and yours, engen­dered in free­dom, now trem­ble at a nod. We are all enslaved by a stronger hand. The sons of the water and the wind, the Cen­taurs, are hid­ing at the bot­tom of the ravines. They know they are monsters.

Ixion: Who says so?

The Cloud: Don’t defy the hand, Ixion. It is fate. I have seen some more auda­cious than them and you hurled from the rock and not die. Death, which was your courage, can be taken from you, like some good.

Ixion: What does it mat­ter? We’ll live longer.

The Cloud: You play and do not know the immortals.

Ixion: I want to know them, Nephele.

The Cloud: Ixion, you believe that they are pres­ences like us, like Night, Earth and old Pan. You are young, Ixion, but you were born under the old des­tiny. For you no mon­sters exist but only com­pan­ions. For you death is some­thing that hap­pens, like day and night. You are one of us, Ixion. You are all in the ges­ture you make. But for them, the immor­tals, your ges­tures have a sense that lingers. They feel every­thing from afar with their eyes, their nos­trils, their lips. They are immor­tals and they do not know how to live alone. What you achieve or do not achieve, what you say, what you seek, every­thing glad­dens or dis­pleases them. And if you dis­gust them — if by mis­take you dis­turb them in their Olym­pusthey pounce on you and give you death,that death which they know, which is a bit­ter savour which lasts and is felt.

Ixion: Then one can still die.

The Cloud: No, Ixion. They will make of you like a shadow, but a shadow that wants to live again and does not ever die.

Ixion: Have you seen them, these gods? I have, Nephele. They are not terrible.

The Cloud: I knew it. Your fate is marked. Whom have you seen?

Ixion: It was a young man, who was walk­ing bare­foot through the for­est. He passed by me and did not say a word to me. Then in front of a rock he van­ished. I sought him for a long time, to ask him who he was. He seemed made of the same flesh as you. Then in a dream I saw him again, with the god­desses. They told me the things that you are telling, but with­out fear, with­out trem­bling like you. We talked together of des­tiny and death. We talked of Olym­pus, we laughed at the ridicu­lous monsters.

The Cloud: O Ixion, Ixion, your fate is marked. Now you know what has changed above the mounts, you too have changed. You believe your­self to be some­thing more than a man.

Ixion: I tell you, Nephele, that you are like them. Why, at least in a dream, should not they please me?

The Cloud: Fool, you can­not stop at dreams. You will climb up as far as them. You will do some­thing ter­ri­ble. Then that death will come.

Ixion: Tell me the names of all the goddesses.

The Cloud: You see that dream­ing is not enough for you any­more? And that you believe in your dream as if it were real? I implore you, Ixion, don’t climb to the top. Think of the mon­sters and of the pun­ish­ments. Noth­ing else can come from them.

Ixion: I had another dream last night. You were there too. We were fight­ing the Cen­taurs. I had a son who was the son of a god­dess, I don’t know which. And he seemed to me like that young man who walked through the for­est. He was stronger even than me, Nephele. The Cen­taurs fled, and the moun­tain was ours. You were laugh­ing, Nephele. You see that even in a dream my fate is acceptable.

The Cloud: Your fate is marked. One does not lift one’s eyes to a god­dess with impunity.

Ixion: Not even to the one of the oak, the lady of the peaks?

The Cloud: The one or the other, Ixion, it does not mat­ter. But don’t be afraid. I’ll be with you until the end.

II. The Chimera

It was with high hearts that the youth of Greece set out for the East in quest of glory and death. Here their courage and dar­ing took them through a sea of fab­u­lous atroc­i­ties, in which some of them failed to keep their heads. There is no point in cit­ing names. Besides, there were more than seven such Cru­sades. It is Homer him­self who — in Book VI of the Iliadtells us of the melan­choly which con­sumed the killer of the Chimera in his old age, and of his young grand­son Sarpe­don who died under the walls of Troy.4

Sarpe­don: I have seen your father, Hip­polochus. He won’t hear of com­ing back. He wan­ders, ugly and stub­born, through the coun­try­side, and does not care about inclement weather nor washes him­self. He is old and beggarly.

Hip­polochus: About him, what do the boors say?

Sarpe­don: The Aleian plain is des­o­late, uncle. There is noth­ing but reeds and swamps. On the Xan­thus, where I asked about him, they had not seen him for days. He does not remem­ber either us or the houses. When he meets some­body, he talks to him of the Solymi, and of Glau­cus, Sisy­phus, the Chimera. See­ing me he said: ‘Boy, if I were your age, I would already have thrown myself into the sea.’ But he does not threaten a liv­ing soul. ‘Boy,’ he said to me, ‘you are just and pious. We are just and pious men. If you want to live just and pious, stop living.’

Hip­polochus: Truly he grum­bles and com­plains in this manner?

Sarpe­don: He says threat­en­ing and ter­ri­ble things. He calls the gods to mea­sure them­selves against him. Day and night, he walks. But he insults and pities only the dead and the gods.

Hip­polochus: Glau­cus and Sisy­phus, you said?

Sarpe­don: He says they were pun­ished by treach­ery. Why wait until they got old to over­take the sad and decay­ing? ‘Bellerophon,’ he says, ‘was just and pious as long as the blood coursed in his mus­cles. And now that he is old and that he is alone, the gods aban­don him?’

Hip­polochus: Strange thing, to be aston­ished about it. And to accuse the gods of what falls to all liv­ing men. But he, what has he in com­mon with those who are dead, he who was always just?

Sarpe­don: I too asked myself, see­ing that bewil­dered eye, if I was speak­ing with the man who once was Bellerophon. To your father some­thing has hap­pened. He is not only old. He is not only sad and alone. Your father is aton­ing for the Chimera. Your father accuses the injus­tice of the gods who wanted him to kill the Chimera. ‘From that day,’ he repeats, ‘when I red­dened myself in the monster’s blood, I have no longer had a true life. I have sought ene­mies, tamed the Ama­zons, mas­sa­cred the Solymi, I have ruled over the Lycians and planted a gar­den — but what is all this? Where is there another Chimera? Where is the strength of the arms that killed her? Sisy­phus too and Glau­cus my father were young and just – then both of them get­ting old, the gods betrayed them, let them become like beasts and die. He who once faced the Chimera, how can he resign him­self to die? This, says your father, who one day was Bellerophon.

Hip­polochus: From Sisy­phus, who enchained the child Thanatos, to Glau­cus who fed horses with liv­ing men, our breed has vio­lated many bound­aries. But these are men of the past and from a mon­strous age. The chimera was the last mon­ster they saw. Our earth now is just and pious.

Sarpe­don: Do you believe it, Hip­polochus? Do you believe that it was enough to have killed her? Our fatherI can call him thatshould know. And yet he is as sad as a godas a for­saken and white-​haired godand he crosses coun­try­side and swamps talk­ing to these dead. He lacks the arm that killed her. He lacks the pride of Glau­cus and Sisy­phus, pre­cisely now that he, like his fathers, has attained the limit, the end. Their auda­cious­ness tor­ments him. He knows that nev­er­more will another Chimera wait for him among the rocks. And he calls the gods in defiance.

Hip­polochus: I know his son, Sarpe­don, but I do not under­stand these things. Upon the earth hence­forth made pious, one should get old in peace. In a young man, almost a boy, like you, Sarpe­don, I under­stand the tumult of the blood. But only in a young man. But for hon­ourable causes. And not to set one­self against the gods.

Sarpe­don: But he, he who knows what is a young man and an old man, has seen other days. He has seen the gods, as we see each other. He tells of ter­ri­ble things. And who wouldn’t want to lis­ten to him? Bellerophon has seen things which don’t hap­pen often.

Hip­polochus: I know, Sarpe­don, I know, but that world is past. When I was a child, he told me of those too.

Sarpe­don: Only that then, he was not talk­ing with the dead. At that time they were fables. Today, on the con­trary, the des­tinies he touches become his own.5 They are facts that you know. But you don’t know the cold­ness, the bewil­dered look, as from him who is noth­ing any­more and knows every­thing. They are sto­ries of Lydia and Phry­gia, old sto­ries, with­out jus­tice or piety. Do you know the one of the Silenus that a god pro­voked and defeated on mount Celae­nae, and then killed by slay­ing him like the butcher slaugh­ter­ing a young goat? From the cave a tor­rent now wells up, as if it were his blood. The story of the mother pet­ri­fied, turned into a weep­ing rock, because it pleased a god­dess to kill her sons, one by one, with arrows. And the story of Arachne, who by Athena’s hatred was struck with hor­ror and became a spi­der. These are things that hap­pened. The gods did them.

Hip­polochus: And it is well. What does it mat­ter? It is no use think­ing about it. Of those des­tinies noth­ing remains.

Sarpe­don: There remains the tor­rent, the rock, the hor­ror. There remain the dreams. Bellerophon can­not take a step with­out strik­ing a corpse, a hatred, a pool of blood, from the times when all hap­pened and it was not dreams. His arm at that time weighed in the world, and killed.6

Hip­polochus: He too was cruel, then.

Sarpe­don: He was just and pious. He killed Chimeras. And now that he is old and tired, the gods aban­don him.

Hip­polochus: For that he wan­ders through the fields?

Sarpe­don: He is the son of Glau­cus and of Sisy­phus. He fears the caprice and the feroc­ity of the gods. He feels him­self becom­ing like a beast and does not want to die. ‘Boy,’he says to me, ‘here is the mock­ery and the treach­ery: first they take away from you all strength and then they are indig­nant if you are less than a man. If you want to live, stop living.’

Hip­polochus: And why doesn’t he kill him­self, he who knows these things?

Sarpe­don: Nobody kills him­self. Death is des­tiny. One can only wish it, Hippolochus.

III. The Blind

Noth­ing hap­pened in Thebes in which the blind prophet Tire­sias did not play a part. Shortly after this con­ver­sa­tion, the mis­for­tunes of Oedi­pus began — that is, his eyes were opened, and he him­self dashed them out in hor­ror.7

Oedi­pus: Old Tire­sias, must I believe what they say, that the gods blinded you out of envy?

Tire­sias: If it is true that every­thing comes to us from the gods, you must believe it.

Oedi­pus: You, what do you say?

Tire­sias: That there is too much talk about the gods. Being blind is a mis­for­tune no dif­fer­ent from being alive. I have always seen mishaps fall in their own time where they had to fall.

Oedi­pus: But then, the gods, what do they do?

Tire­sias: The world is older than them. It was already fill­ing space, and it bled, it enjoyed, it was the only godwhen time was still not born. Things them­selves reigned then. Things hap­pened. Now through the gods every­thing is made into words, illu­sion, threats. But the gods can give annoy­ance, bring them together or pull them apart. Not touch them, not change them. They came too late.

Oedi­pus: Pre­cisely you, a priest, say this?

Tire­sias: If I did not know at least this, I would not be a priest. Take a boy who bathes in the Aso­pus. It is a sum­mer morn­ing. The boy comes out of the water, goes back in hap­pily, dives and dives again, then he is taken ill and drowns. What do the gods have to do with this? Should he attribute his end to the gods or else the plea­sure he enjoyed? Nei­ther the one nor the other. Some­thing hap­penedwhich is nei­ther good nor evil, some­thing which has no namethen the gods will give it a name.

Oedi­pus: And to give a name, to explain things, seems lit­tle to you, Tiresias?

Tire­sias: You are young, Oedi­pus, and like the gods who are young you your­self clear up things and name them.8 You still don’t know that beneath the earth there is stone, and that the bluest sky is the emp­ti­est. For him who like me does not see, all things are a blow, noth­ing else.

Oedi­pus: But yet you have lived prac­tic­ing the gods.9 Sea­sons, plea­sures, human mis­eries have occu­pied you for a long time. They tell more than one fable about you, as about a god. And one so strange, so unusual, that yet it must have a mean­ing — maybe the one of the clouds in the sky.

Tire­sias: I have lived long. I have lived so much that every story I lis­ten to seems to be my own. Which mean­ing do you say about the clouds in the sky?

Oedi­pus: A pres­ence within the void…

Tire­sias: But what is this fable which you think has a meaning?

Oedi­pus: Have you always been what you are, old Tiresias?

Tire­sias: Ah, I catch you.10 The story of the snakes. When I was a woman for seven years. Well, what do you find in this story?

Oedi­pus: To you it hap­pened and you know it. But with­out a god these things do not happen.

Tire­sias: You believe it? Every­thing can hap­pen on earth. There is noth­ing unusual. At that time I felt dis­gust about the things of sexit seemed to me that the spirit, the sanc­tity, my char­ac­ter, would be debased by it. When I saw the two snakes enjoy and bite each other on the moss, I could not hold back my vex­a­tion: I touched them with my stick. Shortly after­wards I was a woman, and for years my pride was con­strained to sub­mit. The things of the world are stone, Oedipus.

Oedi­pus: But is the sex of woman truly so base?

Tire­sias: Not at all. There are no base things, except to the gods. There are annoy­ances, dis­gusts and illu­sions, which, on touch­ing the stone, are dis­pelled. Here the stone was the strength of sex, its ubiq­uity and omnipres­ence under all forms and changes. From man to woman and vice versa (seven years later I saw the two snakes again), what I did not want to con­sent to with my spirit was done to me through vio­lence or through lust, and I, dis­dain­ful man or debased woman, I broke loose like a woman and was abject like a man, and I knew every­thing of sex: I reached the point where as a man I sought men and as a woman women.

Oedi­pus: You see there­fore that a god has taught you something.

Tire­sias: There is no god above sex. It is the stone, I tell you. Many gods are wild beasts, but the snake is the old­est of all the gods. When he con­ceals him­self in the ground, there you have the image of sex. There is in it life and death. What god can incar­nate and include so much?

Oedi­pus: But you your­self. You said so.

Tire­sias: Tire­sias is old, and is not a god. When he was young, he was igno­rant. Sex is ambigu­ous and always equiv­o­cal. It is a half which appears a whole. Man suc­ceeds in incar­nat­ing it, in liv­ing inside it like the good swim­mer in the water, but mean­while he has got old, he has touched the stone. At the end one idea, one illu­sion is left to him: that the other sex comes out of it sati­ated. Well, don’t believe it: I know that for all it is a wasted fatigue.

Oedi­pus: To refute what you say is not easy. It is not for noth­ing that your story begins with the snakes. But it begins also with the dis­gust, with the annoy­ance of sex. And what would you say to a fit man who swore to you that he ignored disgust?

Tire­sias: That he is not a fit man. He is still a child.

Oedi­pus: I too, Tire­sias, have had encoun­ters on the road to Thebes. And in one of these we talked of manfrom child­hood to deathwe too have touched the stone. From that day I was hus­band and I was father, and King of Thebes. There is noth­ing ambigu­ous or wasted, for me, in my days.

Tire­sias: You are not alone, Oedi­pus, in believ­ing this. But the stone is not touched with words. May the gods pro­tect you. I too speak to you and am old. Only the blind man knows dark­ness. It seems to me that I live out­side time, that I have always lived, and I no longer believe in the days. In me too there is some­thing that enjoys and that bleeds.

Oedi­pus: You said that this some­thing was a god. Why, good Tire­sias, don’t you try pray­ing to it?

Tire­sias: We all pray to some god, but what hap­pens has no name. The boy drowned on a sum­mer morn­ing, what does he know of the gods? What does it help him to pray? There is a big snake in every day of life, and it con­ceals itself and watches us. Have you ever asked your­self, Oedi­pus, why the unhappy, as they get old, go blind?

Oedi­pus: I pray to the gods that it does not hap­pen to me.

IV. The Werewolf

Zeus changed Lycaon, lord of Arca­dia, into a wolf as a pun­ish­ment for inhu­man­ity. But the myth does not say where and how Lycaon died.11

First Hunter: It is not the first time that a beast has been killed.

Sec­ond Hunter: But it is the first time that we have killed a man.

First Hunter: Who was think­ing of his name and the sto­ries of another time? He has the heart of a beast besides the hair. For a long time in these brush­woods a sim­i­lar or big­ger wolf has not been seen.12

Sec­ond Hunter: Me, I think of his name. I was still a boy and they were already talk­ing about him. They told unbe­liev­able things of when he was a man––that he tried to slaugh­ter the Lord of the mounts.13

First Hunter: Now it is done. We must skin him and go back to the plain. Think of the feast which awaits us.14

Sec­ond Hunter: I ask myself if, once his skin taken, we should bury him. He was a man once.15

First Hunter: He was already a wolf when the moun­tains were still desert. He had got older than the hoary and mouldy trunks. Who remem­bers that he had a name and was some­body? If we want to be frank, he should have been dead for a long time.

Sec­ond Hunter: But his body left unburied… He was Lycaon, a hunter like us.

First Hunter: To any one of us can befall death on the mounts, and nobody would find us any more if not the rain or the vul­ture. If he was truly a hunter, he died badly.

Sec­ond Hunter: He defended him­self as an old man, with his eyes. But you deep down, you don’t believe that he was your own kind? You don’t believe in his name. If you believed it you would not want to insult his corpse, because you’d know that he too despised the dead, that he too lived wild and inhu­man — not for any­thing else the Lord of the mounts turned him into a wild beast.

First Hunter: They tell about him that he cooked his own kind.

Sec­ond Hunter: I know men who have done much less and are wolves — they are lack­ing only the howl­ing and skulk­ing in the woods. Are you so sure of your­self that you don’t some­times feel Lycaon like him? All of us oth­ers have days when, if a god touched us, we’d howl and jump at the throat of any­one who resists us. What is it that saves us if not that by wak­ing up we find again these hands and this mouth and this voice? But he had no escape — he left for ever the human eyes and the houses. Now at least that he is dead, he should have peace.

First Hunter: I do not believe that he needed peace. Who more in peace than him, when he could squat upon the rocks and howl at the moon? I’ve lived enough in the woods to know that the trunks and the wild beasts do not fear any­thing sacred and do not look at the sky but to rus­tle or to yawn. There is even some­thing that makes them equal to the lords of the sky: they have no remorse.

Sec­ond Hunter: To hear you, it seems that the wolf’s is a high destiny.

First Hunter: I do not know if high or low, but did you ever hear of a beast or of a plant that turned itself into a human being? On the con­trary all these places are full of men and women touched by the god — this one becomes bush, this one bird, this one wolf. And how­ever impi­ous he was, what­ever crime he had com­mit­ted, he gained not hav­ing red hands any longer, he escaped remorse and hope, he did not remem­ber he was a man.16 Do the gods feel otherwise?

Sec­ond Hunter: A pun­ish­ment is a pun­ish­ment, and he who inflicts has com­pas­sion at least in this that he removes from the impi­ous the uncer­tainty and of remorse makes des­tiny. Even if the beast does not remem­ber the past and lives only for its prey and death, there remains its name, there remains what it was. There is old Cal­listo buried on the hill. Who knows still her crime? The lords of the sky pun­ished her much. Of a woman — she was beau­ti­ful, they say — to make a bear who growls and sheds tears, who in the night out of fear wants to go back to the houses.16 Here is a wild beast who had no peace. The son came and killed her with his lance and the gods did not move. There are some too who say that, repen­tant, they turned her into a clus­ter of stars. But the body remains and that is buried.

First Hunter: What do you mean? I know the sto­ries. And if Cal­listo did not know how to resign her­self, it is not the fault of the gods. It is like some­one who goes melan­choli­cally to a ban­quet or gets drunk at a funeral. If I were a wolf, I would be a wolf even in my sleep.

Sec­ond Hunter: You don’t know the way of blood. The gods add noth­ing to you nor take any­thing away. Solely, with a light touch, they nail you where you reached. What at first was wish, was choice, reveals itself to you as des­tiny. That is what it means: to become a wolf. But you remain the one who ran from the houses, you remain the old Lycaon.

First Hunter: Then you mean that Lycaon suf­fered like a man whom one would chase with dogs?

Sec­ond Hunter: He was old, fin­ished: you your­self agree that he did not know how to defend him­self. While he was dying with­out voice on the stones, I thought of these old beg­gars who some­times stop in front of the court-​yards, and the dogs stran­gle them­selves with their chains to bite them. That too occurs, in the houses down there. Let us even say that he lived like a wolf. But, dying and see­ing us, he under­stood he was a man. He told us with his eyes.

First Hunter: Friend, and you think it mat­ters to him to rot under­ground like a man, when the last thing he saw were hunt­ing men?

Sec­ond Hunter: There is a peace beyond death. A com­mon fate. It mat­ters to the liv­ing, it mat­ters to the wolf that is in us all. It has fallen to us to kill him. Let us at least fol­low the cus­tom and leave the insult to the gods. We shall go back to the houses with clean hands.

V. The Guest

Phry­gia and Lydia were coun­tries about which the Greeks liked to tell ter­ri­ble sto­ries. There can be no doubt that they all took place in Greece, but that was in ear­lier times. No need to say who won the reap­ing con­test. 17

Lity­erses: Here is the field, stranger. From here it is not pos­si­ble for you to make off. And as you have eaten and drunk with us, our earth will drink your blood. Next year the Mean­der will see a wheat tighter and thicker than this one.

Her­a­cles: You have killed many in the past on this field?

Lity­erses: Enough. But nobody who had your strength or was good enough alone.

Her­a­cles: Who taught you this custom?

Lity­erses: It has always been done. If you don’t nour­ish the earth, how can you ask it to nour­ish you?

Her­a­cles: Already this year your wheat seems to me in full vigour. Whom did you slaughter?

Lity­erses: No stranger came to us. We killed an old ser­vant and a goat. It was flabby blood which the earth barely felt. See the spike, how empty it is. The body which we lac­er­ate must first sweat, foam in the sun. For that we’ll make you reap, carry the sheaves, stream with fatigue, and only at the end, when your blood is boil­ing brisk and pure, will it be the moment to slit your throat.

Her­a­cles: Your gods, what do they say?

Lity­erses: There is no god above the field. There is only the earth, the Mother, the Cave which is always wait­ing, and shakes only under the flow of blood. Tonight, stranger, you will your­self be in the cave.

Her­a­cles: You other Phry­gians, you don’t go down into the cave?

Lity­erses: We come out of it when we’re born and there is no hurry to go back.

Her­a­cles: I under­stand. And thus the excre­ment of blood is nec­es­sary to your gods.

Lity­erses: No gods, but the earth, stranger. You, you don’t live on the earth?

Her­a­cles: Our gods are not on earth, but they rule the sea and the earth, the for­est and the cloud, as the shep­herd keeps his flock and the mas­ter com­mands his ser­vants. They keep them­selves sep­a­rate, on the mount, like the thoughts inside the eyes of one who is speak­ing or like the clouds in the sky. They do not need blood.

Lity­erses: I don’t under­stand you, for­eign guest. The cloud, the rock, the cave have for us the same name and can­not be sep­a­rated. The blood the mother has given us we give back to her in sweat, in excre­ment, in death. It is really true that you come from far away. Those gods of yours are nothing.

Her­a­cles: They are a breed of immor­tals. They have con­quered the for­est, the earth and its mon­sters. They have dri­ven into the cave all those like you who shed blood to nour­ish the earth.

Lity­erses: Oh you see, your gods know what they are doing. They too have had to sati­ate the earth. And besides you are too robust to have been born of an earth not sati­ated. But don’t you fear death on the sheaves? Maybe you hope to run off through the fur­rows like a quail or a squirrel?

Her­a­cles: If I have under­stood well it is not death but a return to the Mother and like a hos­pitable gift. All these boors who tire them­selves out on the field will hail with prayers and with songs him who will give his blood for them. It is a great honour.

Lity­erses: Guest, thank you. I assure you that the ser­vant we slaugh­tered last year did not say that. He was old and fin­ished and still we had to tie him up with bark bands, and for a long time he strug­gled under the sick­les, so much that before he fell he had already lost all his blood.

Her­a­cles: This time, Lity­erses, it will go bet­ter. And tell me, the unfor­tu­nate man killed, what do you do with him?

Lity­erses: He is lac­er­ated while still half alive, and we scat­ter the pieces over the fields to touch the Mother. We keep the bleed­ing head, wrap­ping it in spikes and flow­ers, and among songs and cheer­ful­ness we throw it into the Mean­der. Because the Mother is not only earth but, as I have told you, also cloud and water.

Her­a­cles: You know many things, you Lity­erses, not for noth­ing are you the lord of the fields at Celae­nae. And in Pess­i­nus, tell me, do they kill many?

Lity­erses: Every­where, stranger, they kill under the sun. The earth is alive, and must also be nourished.

Her­a­cles: But why must the one you kill be a stranger? The earth, the cave that made you should still pre­fer to take back the juices that most resem­ble her. You too, when you eat, don’t you pre­fer the bread and the wine from your field?

Lity­erses: I like you, stranger, you take to heart our good as if you were our son. But reflect a moment: why do we endure the fatigue and the effort of this work? To live, no? And so it is just that we stay alive to enjoy the har­vest and that the oth­ers die. You are not a peasant.

Her­a­cles: But wouldn’t it be more just to find the way to put an end to the killings and that all, strangers and coun­try­men, eat the wheat? To kill for one last time him who alone will make the earth fruit­ful for ever and the clouds and the strength of the sun on this plain?

Lity­erses: You are not a peas­ant, I see it. You don’t even know that the earth begins again at every sol­stice and that the course of the year wears every­thing out.

Her­a­cles: But there will be on this plain some­one who has been nour­ished, going back to his fathers, by all the juices of the sea­sons, who is so rich and so strong and with so gen­er­ous a blood that he should suf­fice once for all to renew the earth from the past seasons?

Lity­erses: You make me laugh, stranger. It seems almost that you are talk­ing about me. I’m the only one in Celae­nae who, through my fathers, has always lived here. I am the lord, and you know it.

Her­a­cles: I am talk­ing in fact about you. We shall reap, Lity­erses. I came from Greece for this deed of blood. And tonight you will go back to the cave.

Lity­erses: You want to kill me, on my own field?

Her­a­cles: I want to fight with you to the death.

Lity­erses: Do you know at least how to han­dle the sickle, stranger?

Her­a­cles: Don’t worry, Lityerses.

VI. The Bonfires

Even the Greeks prac­ticed human sac­ri­fice. Every peas­ant cul­ture has done so, and all the cul­tures were at one time peas­ant cul­tures.18

Son: Our bon­fire, nobody sees it.19

Father: We make it, it does not mat­ter. Every­where this night there are bon­fires. O Zeus, receive this offer­ing of milk and sweet honey; we are poor shep­herds and of the flock not ours we can­not dis­pose. May this fire which burns drive away the mis­for­tunes and as it is cov­er­ing itself with spi­rals of smoke, let it cover us with clouds. Wet and sprin­kle, boy. It is enough if they kill a calf in the big farms. If it rains, it rains every­where. You must sprin­kle towards the sea. The rains come from the sea.

Son: Father, why is it not rain­ing now?20

Father: They have lit the bon­fires.21 It is the feast, boy. If it were rain­ing, it would put them out. To whom is it con­ve­nient? It will rain tomorrow.

Son: And on the bon­fires while they were still burn­ing, it has never rained?

Father: You were still not born, and I nei­ther, when they were already light­ing the bon­fires. Always this night. They say that one time it did rain, on the bon­fire. But that was when man lived more justly than now, and even the kings’ sons were shep­herds. All this earth was like a thresh­ing floor, then, clean and smoothed, and it obeyed to King Athamas. One worked and lived and there was no need to hide the young goats from the mas­ter. They say that ter­ri­ble dog-​days came and thus the mead­ows and the wells dried up and peo­ple died. The bon­fires were of no use at all. Then Athamas asked for advice. But he was old and had at home since a short time a young wife, who com­manded him, and she began to fill his head that it was not the moment to show him­self flabby, to lose his credit. They had prayed and sprin­kled? Yes. They had killed the calf and the bull, many bulls? Yes. What had resulted? Nothing.

Then, let them offer the sons. But not her sons of her own, who did not have any: fig­ure it out; the two already grown sons of the first wife, two boys who worked in the fields all day. And Athamas, the dolt, decides: he had them called. They under­stand, it’s known, kings’ sons are not silly, and so to their heels. And with them dis­ap­peared the first clouds that, hardly hav­ing heard such a thing, a god had sent over the coun­try­side. And imme­di­ately that witch say­ing: ‘You see? The idea was just, the clouds were already there; here we have to slaugh­ter some­one.’ And so much does she that peo­ple decide to seize Athamas and burn him. They pre­pare the fire, light it, con­duct Athamas bound and adorned with flow­ers like an ox, and when they are about to throw him in the bon­fire, the weather breaks, there is thun­der, light­ning, and down comes a god’s water. The coun­try­side is reborn. The water puts out the bon­fire and Athamas, good man, par­dons every­one, even his wife. Beware, boy, of women. It’s eas­ier to recog­nise the female snake from the snake.

Son: And the king’s sons?

Father: Noth­ing was known of them again. But two boys like those will have found some good to do.

Son: And if at that time they were just, why did they want to burn two boys?

Father: Silly, you don’t know what dog-​days are. I have seen some, and your grand­fa­ther saw some. Win­ter is noth­ing. In win­ter one suf­fers, but one knows that it’s doing the crops good. Not the dog-​days. The dog-​days burn. Every­thing dies, and hunger and thirst change a man. Take one who hasn’t eaten: he is quar­rel­some. And you think these peo­ple who all agreed with each other and every­one had his land, used to doing good and being well. The wells dry up, the wheat burns, they are hun­gry and thirsty. But they become fierce beasts.

Son: They were bad people.

Father: Not worse than we are. Our dog-​days are our mas­ters. And there is no rain that can set us free.

Son: I do not like these fires any more. Why do the gods need them? Is it true that at one time they always burned some­body on them?

Father: They moved slowly. They burned on them crip­ples, idlers and insane peo­ple. They burned on them use­less peo­ple. Peo­ple who stole on the fields. Any­way the gods are con­tented with it. Good or bad, it rained.

Son: I do not under­stand what taste the gods found for that. If it rained just the same. Also Athamas. They have put out the pyre.

Father: You see, the gods are the mas­ters. They are like the mas­ters. You want them to see one of their own burn­ing? Amongst them­selves they help each other. Us on the con­trary nobody helps. Whether it is rain­ing or fine, what does it mat­ter to the gods? Now we’re light­ing the fires and they say it brings rain. What does it mat­ter to our mas­ters? Have you ever seen them come to the fields?

Son: Me, no.

Father: And so. If once a bon­fire was enough to make it rain, burn­ing some vagabond on it to save a crop, how many mas­ters’ houses would have to be set on fire, how many killed in the streets and on the squares before the world turns just again and we can tell our word?22

Son: They are unjust, the gods.

Father: If it were not thus, they would not be gods. One who does not work, how do you want him to spend his time? When there were no mas­ters and peo­ple lived with jus­tice, one had to kill some­one from time to time to let them enjoy them­selves. They are made thus. But in our time, they don’t need that any more. There are so many of us in a bad way that it is enough for them to watch us.

Son: Vagabonds them too.

Father: Vagabonds. You said justly.

Son: What did they say while burn­ing on the bon­fire the crip­pled boys? Did they shout a lot?

Father: It is not so much the shout­ing. It is who shouts, that counts. A crip­ple or a wicked one don’t do any good. But it is a lit­tle worse when a man who has chil­dren sees the idlers fat­ten. That is unjust.23

Son: I do not want to, you under­stand, I do not want to. They do well, the mas­ters, to eat our mar­row, if we have been so unjust among our­selves. They do well, the gods, to watch us suffer.


  1. Pavese, Cesare. ‘The Night’ in Dis­af­fec­tions: Com­plete Poems 19301950, trans. Geof­frey Brock, Wash­ing­ton: Cop­per Canyon Press, 2002, p.163.
  2. Daney, Serge. Cin­eme­te­o­rol­ogy, orig­i­nally pub­lished in Libéra­tion, 2021 Feb­ru­ary 1982, trans. Jonathan Rosen­baum (for the cat­a­logue that accom­pa­nied a Straub-​Huillet ret­ro­spec­tive at the Pub­lic The­ater in New York, 1982). Last accessed on 17 Octo­ber 2014. <>
  3. These prefa­tory lines are included in William Arrow­smith and D.S. Carne-Ross’s trans­la­tion (first pub­lished by The Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Press in 1965) Dia­logues with Leucò, Boston: Eri­danos Press, 1989, p.4. This trans­la­tion will be referred to below as ‘Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross’.
  4. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross, p.12.
  5. In Arrow­smith & Carne-Ross’s trans­la­tion, Hip­polochus asks the ques­tion: ‘What did he tell you?’ The line is miss­ing in Huillet’s; Sarpe­don speaks with­out interruption.
  6. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross: ‘In those days his right arm had a weight in the world, and killed.’
  7. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross, p. 20.
  8. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross use ‘explain’ rather than ‘clear up.’
  9. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross: ‘And yet you’ve spent your life in touch with the gods.’
  10. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross use ‘under­stand’ rather than ‘catch you.’
  11. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross, p.96.
  12. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add: ‘That’s not our worry. The dogs flushed him. It’s none of our busi­ness who he was. When we saw him turn at bay against the rocks, splash­ing in the mud, his white fur splat­tered with blood and his fangs red­der than his eyes — who wor­ried then about whop he was and the old sto­ries? He died sav­aging the javelin as though it were a dog’s throat. Had the heart of an ani­mal as well as the hide. It’s been a long time since a wolf that size has been seen in these woods.’
  13. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add, at the end: ‘His pelt was the colour of tram­pled snow — he was old, grey, a phan­tom — and his eyes were the colour of blood.’
  14. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross include an addi­tional exchange: ‘Sec­ond Hunter: Let’s leave at dawn. We’ll make a fire tonight to keep our­selves warm. The dogs will watch the corpse. | First Hunter: It isn’t a corpse, it’s a car­cass. But we’d bet­ter skin him now, or he’ll be hard as a rock tomorrow.’
  15. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add: ‘It’s his ani­mal blood that’s soaked the ground. And once he’s skinned, there’ll be noth­ing left but a lit­tle naked pile of bone and flesh — like an old man’s or a child’s.’
  16. Arrow­smith & Carne Ross: ‘No mat­ter how evil they were or what crimes they com­mit­ted, their hands were cleansed of blood, they were freed from guilt and hope, they for­got they were human.’
  17. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross: ‘A beau­ti­ful woman, they say she was, turned into a growl­ing, sob­bing bear…’
  18. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross, p.102.
  19. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross, p.110.
  20. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross begin with: ‘Son: The whole mountain’s blaz­ing! | Father: Oh, it’s noth­ing much, son. Over on Cithaeron, now, that’ll be some­thing to see. Our pas­tures are too high this year. Have you rounded up the animals?’
  21. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add: ‘Even at Thes­piae? Even at Thebes? They don’t have any sea at Thebes. | Father: But they’ve got pas­tures. That’s why they have wells.’
  22. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add: ‘Son: And what about after Thes­piae? And after that? Where the peo­ple live who walk all night and all day and never get out of the moun­tains? I’ve heard that it doesn’t ever rain up there. | Father: There are fires burn­ing every­where tonight. | Son: Why isn’t it rain­ing now? They’ve kin­dled the fires.’
  23. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add: ‘Son: What about the Gods? | Father: What have the Gods got to do with it? | Son: Didn’t you say the gods and the own­ers are in it together? They’re the mas­ters. | Father: yes, they’re the mas­ters. Well, we’ll give them their goat. What else can we do? We’ll burn the use­less loafers, the thieves who steal our wheat! We’ll make a real bonfire.’
  24. Arrow­smith & Carne-​Ross add: ‘Son: It makes me shiver when I think of the bon­fires they had in the old days. Look down there. Bon­fires burn­ing every­where. | Father: It wasn’t the way you think, son. There wasn’t a boy burned on every bon­fire. They did it then as we do now with the goats. Fig­ure it out for your­self. If one goat makes it rain, there’s rain enough for every­body. One man was enough for a whole moun­tain­side, a whole village.’