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Last Updated on December 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 658

“We’re not Christians,” they say. “Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli.” “Christian,” in their way of speaking[,] means “human being,” and this almost proverbial phrase that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority. We’re not Christians,...

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“We’re not Christians,” they say. “Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli.” “Christian,” in their way of speaking[,] means “human being,” and this almost proverbial phrase that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority. We’re not Christians, we’re not human beings; we’re not thought of as men but simply as beasts, beasts of burden, or even less than beasts, mere creatures of the wild.

In this quote, Levi explains the meaning behind the title of his memoir. The people of Gagliano feel that they have been excluded from Christianity because it was never brought to them, but only traveled as far as Eboli. Because of this religious alienation, as well as their geographic alienation and extreme poverty, the people of Gagliano are viewed as inferior—even inhuman—by the rest of Italy.

Only one thing was clear from his stammerings: that he no longer had the slightest knowledge of medicine, if he had ever had any. The glorious teachings of the Neapolitan School had faded away from his memory and melted into the monotony of a prolonged everyday indifference.

Soon after meeting Dr. Milillo, one of Gagliano’s two “doctors,” Levi realizes that Milillo is highly unqualified to be practicing medicine. Whether due to old age, lack of care for his profession, or both, Milillo has very limited knowledge of medicine. Levi soon learns that other figures of authority in Gagliano are equally unqualified and insincere in their roles. The town’s second doctor, Dr. Gibilisco, appears to have no more knowledge of medicine than Milillo and does not care about the townspeople apart from their money. 

In the monotony of the passing hours there was place for neither memory nor hope; the past and the future were two separate unrippled pools. The entire future, as far as the end of the world, was merging for me too in the vague crai of the peasants, with its implications of futile endurance, remote from history and time. How deceiving are the contradictions of language! In this timeless land the dialect was richer in words with which to measure time than any other language; beyond the motionless and everlasting crai every day in the future had a name of its own.

Levi and the people of Gagliano experience a sensation of timelessness in the winter, when snow blocks the roads and they cannot receive mail. When Gagliano’s history is taken into account, however, this timelessness can apply to their historical alienation from the rest of Italy and their neglect by the Italian government. Levi explains that, since antiquity, the people of impoverished towns in southern Italy have been ignored, and unless the government begins to consider and represent their interests, their future will be characterized by “futile endurance, remote from history and time.” 

“We’re dogs,” they said to me, “and in Rome they want us to die like dogs. One Christian soul took pity on us, and now they want to take him away.”

The day after Levi is officially banned from practicing medicine, a man arrives on horseback from a neighboring region and requests that Levi come and help his sick brother. Levi petitions the mayor and police to allow him to help, and they initially refuse; Levi is eventually allowed to visit the man but is unable to save him. The people of Gagliano blame the death on the town authorities and wish to revolt, claiming that if Levi had been allowed to go earlier, he might have saved the man. This quote parallels Levi’s explanation of the memoir’s title from chapter 1, where he writes that the Italian government sees the people as “beasts.” Furthermore, the townspeople have always felt alienated from Christianity; they now lament the fact that Levi, the “one Christian soul” who helped them, has been prohibited from continuing his medical practice.

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