The Sicilian writer Luigi Pirandello, best known as a dramatist, was also a master of the short story. In one of his tales (many of them set in his native island) a half-mad peasant crone, speaking in the last years of the nineteenth century, tells of her son, who went to the bad and became a bandit. ‘Is he still alive?’ the narrator asks. ‘No,’ comes the answer, ‘he was killed in the days of the great chief Cunebardo.’ She doesn’t know anything about this Cunebardo, save that he came to Sicily, made a lot of noise and went away again. Her interlocutor is puzzled, until it finally dawns on him that the old woman is referring to Giuseppe Garibaldi, whose invasion, at the head of his famous ‘Thousand’ in 1860, overwhelmed the army of the Bourbon King Francis of Naples and made the island part of a united Italy.
Pirandello’s story enshrines a classic ambiguity, that of the hero figure making a species of history with no obvious impact on the lesser folk over whose lands armies march in the cause of a national destiny. The expedition of Garibaldi’s Thousand was indeed the kind of adventure which launches whole