Primo Levi

(1919 - 1987 / Turin / Italy)

Quotations

  • ''Anyone who has obeyed nature by transmitting a piece of gossip experiences the explosive relief that accompanies the satisfying of a primary need.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. repr. In The Mirror Maker (1989). "About Gossip," La Stampa (Turin, Italy, June 24, 1986).
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  • ''The butterfly's attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry: deeper motives contribute to it. We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "Butterflies," Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
  • ''After the planet becomes theirs, many millions of years will have to pass before a beetle particularly loved by God, at the end of its calculations will find written on a sheet of paper in letters of fire that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. The new kings of the world will live tranquilly for a long time, confining themselves to devouring each other and being parasites among each other on a cottage industry scale.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "Beetles," Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
  • ''The bond between a man and his profession is similar to that which ties him to his country; it is just as complex, often ambivalent, and in general it is understood completely only when it is broken: by exile or emigration in the case of one's country, by retirement in the case of a trade or profession.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "Ex-Chemist," Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
  • ''For me chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black volutes torn by fiery flashes, like those which had hidden Mount Sinai. Like Moses, from that cloud I expected my law, the principle of order in me, around me, and in the world.... I would watch the buds swell in spring, the mica glint in the granite, my own hands, and I would say to myself: "I will understand this, too, I will understand everything."''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "Hydrogen," The Periodic Table (1975, trans. 1984).
  • ''The future of humanity is uncertain, even in the most prosperous countries, and the quality of life deteriorates; and yet I believe that what is being discovered about the infinitely large and infinitely small is sufficient to absolve this end of the century and millennium. What a very few are acquiring in knowledge of the physical world will perhaps cause this period not to be judged as a pure return of barbarism.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "News From the Sky," Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
  • ''I live in my house as I live inside my skin: I know more beautiful, more ample, more sturdy and more picturesque skins: but it would seem to me unnatural to exchange them for mine.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "My House," Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
  • ''The aims of life are the best defense against death.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian author. The Drowned and the Saved, ch. 6 (1988).
  • ''Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument.... The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian author. The Drowned and the Saved, ch. 1 (1988).
  • ''To accuse another of having weak kidneys, lungs, or heart, is not a crime; on the contrary, saying he has a weak brain is a crime. To be considered stupid and to be told so is more painful than being called gluttonous, mendacious, violent, lascivious, lazy, cowardly: every weakness, every vice, has found its defenders, its rhetoric, its ennoblement and exaltation, but stupidity hasn't.''
    Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian chemist, author. "The Irritable Chess-players," Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).

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Shema

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread

[Hata Bildir]