“Mateo Falcone” is the product of Prosper Mérimée’s lifelong fascination with bandits, outcasts, and the code of honor among thieves. These same ingredients also appear in Mérimée’s most famous stories, “Carmen” (1845) and “Colomba” (1840). Mérimée loved tales of primitive justice and the desperate men who lived by a code remote from that of conventional law. Like many Romantic authors, he set his stories in exotic locations, such as Córdoba and the Basque countryside in “Carmen,” Lithuania in “Lokis” (1869), the African coast in “Tamango” (1829), and Corsica in both “Colomba” and “Mateo Falcone.”
The characters of Mérimée’s stories often adhere to a brutal code of justice, at once impressive in its severity and appalling in its cost to human life. The character of Mateo Falcone was the author’s first embodiment of such a code. Although he lives in a cabin that consists of only a single room, Mateo Falcone is transformed by Mérimée into a descendent of the caesars, a paterfamilias (head of the household) who literally has the power of life and death over everyone who lives in his home.
Mérimée—who was something of an antiquarian and classical scholar—based “Mateo Falcone” on a legend of ancient Rome. The first Roman consul, Lucius Junius Brutus (late sixth century b.c.), who freed the Romans from the tyranny of the Tarquin kings, is said by the...
(The entire section is 554 words.)