Feature Articles

February 2014

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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Vendetta (from the Latin vindicta ) as defined in three Italian dictionaries published in different years:

"To do damage, insult or shame to another for damage, insult or shame received." (1893)

"Satisfaction taken by the offended against the offender." (1919)

"Retaliation by the offended or restoration of damages." (1941)

"A blood feud involves avenging the wrongful death of a person's kin by killing the murderer or by receiving compensation from the murderer's possessions." (Legal definition)

"Vendetta is a primordial form of justice, an action necessary to reestablish a lost equilibrium. In that sense it constitutes the model of today's legality. The personal rebellion against an unjust act was replaced by modern legal statues, abstract and impersonal, and by the concept of the disinterested state collectivity. What survives of vendetta today is found in the world of art: First in the painting and in literature, then above all in cinema, where it has become the expression of the mass of a true and proper age of resentment. An old sentiment, seen through fables and archaic myths, epic stories, the classic tragedy, Shakespearean dramas, and lastly in the films of Tarantino." ( Antonio Fichera, Breve storia della vendetta, 2004)

"There are wronged persons who will remember the event much later with as much primacy as if it had just occurred. There are others having received an even more grievous wrong that profoundly influenced their lives, yet, for them the need for vendetta is less and the memory will diminish. What is the difference among those who act and those who do not? Those who hold the injury in mind have competitive and envious natures. There is pleasure, outright glee, in striking back, to make the offender feel pain. Those who don't seek revenge are not competitive or envious. The principle of vendetta is absent. They are in the majority. For the others, the urgent necessity for retaliation, like for like, to set things straight, is conditioned, justified and, yes, demanded as an ingrained expectation." (Francesco Alberoni)

"La vendetta e' un piatto che si serve freddo."

Palermo, Sicily, 1996. Mafioso blood vendetta. Mafia justice is the fate of Francesco Di Carlo. Mob boss of Altofonte, a town 15 kilometers south of Palermo, Di Carlo decided to turn state's evidence, fingering the killer of the banker Roberto Calvi, putting him on the mafia's most wanted list. To guarantee his safety, the Italian authorities sent Di Carlo to England. On his return to Sicily to appear in court, he was gunned down.

     The concept of vendetta (vengeance, retributive justice) has had a very long history. In the tribal version it often consisted of an ongoing feud between members of two kinship groups to avenge a dispute. The term is said to have originated in the Mediterranean island of Corsica. This conflict resolution custom spread to Italy, into Europe and to Arabic ethnic groups. The social systems of these peoples were characterized by a strong authority structure in extended family units. "Loss of face" was the phrase used to indicate a disgrace to a person or social unit. The ultimate authority was home-based with distain and distrust of outside authority structures being imposed from without. Private hot-blooded justice was considered more equitable, less abstract, to be delivered by the injured party.

"An insult to me is an insult to my family. An insult to my family must be acted upon."

     Vendetta demonstrates clearly the enduring ties of loyalty in extended families and the enduring distrust of those outside bloodlines of family/tribal systems. Such conflicts have been well documented in Corsica. The Corsicans have been known as a fierce and proud people, vendetta and banditry and feuding surviving into the modern era. An agricultural society, there was much conflict over the use and ownership of fertile land. Envy and distrust of neighbors were commonplace and revenge plots were cultivated by groups of relatives. Court cases, killings, threats to the damage of a farmer's property were ever present. A general wariness was a part of life.

     The personality characteristics of Corsicans included primitive, passionate and rebellious inclinations. Such is the traditional literature of the island's inhabitants. To the extent that there is a term that sums up the Corsican stereotype, it is La vendetta corsa: Corsican revenge. Personal honor was sovereign. The consequence of vendetta carried beyond the grave in the belief that the spirit of the slain required to be placated with the shedding of blood.

     Resolutions do not necessarily hold; conflicts do persist; vendetta can fail to produce a satisfying balancing of the books. Many have noted opposing axioms as expressed in such sayings as "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." And the Christ-like choice of turning the other cheek, letting bygones be bygones. Vendetta, the rush to judgment, is an anti-Christian value that rejects out-of-hand the efficacy of a criminal justice system in bringing fair resolution; that the state must be the ultimate authority. True justice is personal.

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