The Cloven Viscount was rereleased in 1960 as part of the trilogy I nostri antenati (1960; Our Ancestors, 1980). Although the three novellas have no specifics in common, they are nonetheless connected by their similar exploration of concepts illuminating contemporary cultural crises. The Cloven Viscount probes ethics by interpreting literally the division of human good and evil; The Baron in the Trees explores the isolation and egocentricity of individuals; and The Non-Existent Knight examines the clash between the ideal and the real, between image and actuality.
The Cloven Viscount is deceptively simple. Participating in his first battle, Medardo is cloven in two by a cannonball. Patched by doctors, the recovered half returns to Terralba, immediately causes his father’s death, and terrorizes the countryside; it is Medardo’s evil self. Soon his good side returns. Inevitably, the two sides meet, duel, and, because of their wounds, are finally fused into “a whole man again, neither good nor bad, but a mixture of goodness and badness.”
Clearly a parable on human nature, Medardo’s division alludes to the archetypal struggle between good and evil. Yet Calvino offers alternate interpretations of this central dichotomy. In this story and its seventeenth century setting, Medardo’s division refers to philosophical dualism—the human being perceived as mind and body, subject and...
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