Callas and death I

No one has ever been able to dialogue with death as she did, and her own death resembles a suicide, wrapped in a veil of uneasiness, like something unresolved. But when her time ended, it began again.
Marco Innocenti and Enrica Roddolo, Belle da morire
Belle da morire is a middlebrow book about great female beauties of the twentieth century who (allegedly) came to an unhappy end. The title is hard to translate: Fatal beauties or Beauties to die for, though neither is quite right.

The book trots out all the hoary, dim-witted clichés about female sexuality and its supposed nexus with shame, unhappiness, and death. Maria Callas is one of its subjects, along with a surprising number of women she knew or had met: Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, and (yes) Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

And yet… the snippet I quoted, from the end of the Callas chapter, struck me with its lyricism and stunning turnabout: Callas not as victim but as phoenix (Φοῖνιξ), immortal, triumphant. The Wiktionary entry on phoenix reads, in part:
from Ancient Egyptian Fnkhw (“Syrian people”). Signifies “mythical bird,” also “the date” (fruit and tree), also “Phoenician,” literally “purple-red,” perhaps a foreign word, or from phoinos (“blood-red”).
Splendor, nobility, sensuality, nourishment, life: Callas indeed shares much with the Φοῖνιξ.


  1. I didn't know this book yet, but I'll look for it!

    The beautiful end of the Callas chapter could inspire a verse for an opera about her:

    "Morta al mondo, ma viva alla Storia."

  2. Dear José Luiz: Your idea for a verse is fantastic. Unless you find the book used, for very little money--or unless you love page after page of misogynistic clichés--I would not bother with it! :-)

  3. Hello, Marion!

    I've just written a first stanza using that verse. Tell me what you think, will you?

    Morta al mondo, ma viva alla Storia -
    Tu, Maria, per sempre sarà.
    Un futuro eternale di Gloria
    Il tuo nome divino godrà.

  4. Dear José Luiz: I say avanti, avanti! :-))