Folk Traditions: Popular Wisdom




The experience of nations and of centuries is collected in the Bible and in the proverbs. N. Tommaseo

Venerate the Sages because they have been teachers for a hundred centuries. F. Rapisardi

LAntichi knnu prudenza e spirienza, cu’ d’appressu cci vd, ‘nzerta ed accdnza. Sicilian Wisdom


Expressions, pithy phrases, proverbs and witty sayings which are very brief, aphoristic and doctrinal, and present the quintessence of the thought, and wisdom of the people, gathered and proved by long experience.

They pass through the mouths of everyone and serve to quickly illuminate and provide advice, rules and fundamental principles for action.

Among the excellent writers of proverbs, parables, aphorisms and sayings merits the great name of Public Siro, translated by Bertini; the Latin poet who excels in this specialty is Orazio Flacco with his Arte Poetica, a short didactic poem in 476 verses and hemistichs, which is held to be the standard of good taste, much admired and frequently cited. Other illustrious names also come to mind:

Atto Vannucci, Paolo Manuzio, Giuseppe Giusti, and the Sicilians:

Antonio Veneziano, Giovanni Meli in his philosophical poetry and in Fata Galante [Gallant Fainj], Giuseppe Pitre, the Catanian Abbot Sante Rapisardi, Francesco Rapisardi in his Specchio di Virtu [Mirror of Virtue], Giovanni Verga in Malavogha, Ibn Kaider, translated from the Arabic bv F. Idrasipar and others.

The proverbs of Sancio Panza in Don Quixote still have merit.

In collecting these proverbs I included only those taken from the living voices of the elderly of Poggioreale; many proverbs are known in other Sicilian towns. In addition, I disregarded those (which constitute only a few exceptions) which were not within genuine civil and moral bounds and therefore of sincere educative-Christian nature; I cite some here as examples: ch’e bedddra la risposta di tant’anni chi si duna a la calata di li tenni.

As one can see, vendetta cannot be called a good thing and even worse if it is carried out much later with the double proposal to make it most effective by being unexpected, as well as to elude the threat of any punishment.

In contrast, how beautiful this one is:

A cu’ ti fa nullified beni, as Christ said: Bless him who despises you.

This one is no less selfish than the other:

cu’ avi lu commudu e ‘un si nni serin, rnancu lu cunfissuri lu pd assdnhri.

The instigation to crime is clear in this proverb: a cu’ ti leva pani levacci la vita-, here there is exaltation of the vendetta.

The usefulness of moral maxims and in general of all the sayings and aphorisms is assured again by the importance that the people attribute to them, so that it is rare that in people’s conversations they are not heard repeated frequently and at every opportunity.

The maxim, taken in quick and witty spirit, enlivens our dialect, as in the various Sicilian dialects, and it can be called a true Sicilian specialty. There is in fact a couplet in which Sicily is designated as the land of the proverb, since Sicilians are particularly aphoristic:

Tratti fiorintini, tiri napulitani, gesti rumdni e mutti sidedni.

The pronunciation is orthographically written based on the natural pronunciation gathered in the midst of the Poggiorealese people.


PROVERBI / Selected Proverbs


1. A cu sputa ‘ncelu ‘nfacci torna.
Who spits to the heavens it will come back to you.
( The consequences of any bad deeds will come back on you.)

2. A lu peju nun c’e’ fini.
There is no end to the worse.
(Things can always be worse.)

3. A la squagghiata di la nivi parinu li pirtusa.
When the snow melts, the holes become obvious.
( Not everything is at is seems.)

4. La megghiu palora e chidda ch’un si dici.
The best word is the one never spoken.
(Things are better left unsaid.)

5. La megghiu acqua la scavanu li porci.
Pigs dig around in the best water.
( The more selfish and crass one is, the more fortunate one seems to be.)

6. L’amicu quannu si perdi si canusci.
You know your friend after you lose him.
(One doesn’t appreciate something or really know someone until it’s gone.)

7. L’arvulu s’addrizza quann’e’ nicu.
You straighten a tree when its young.
(Do things correctly from the beginning.)

8. Lu cavulu assimigghia a lu trunzu.
The floret of the cauliflower resembles the stem.
(The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree)

9. Megghiu centu firuti chi uno morto.
Better a hundred wounded than one death.
(Better than small things happen than a catastrophe.)

10. Pigghia sterru di lu to’ munnizzaru e jettatillu ‘nfacci.
Get dirt from your own trash and throw it in their face.
( Make sure you have done what you are supposed to have done. )


[** Translator’s note: In the original Italian text there was an extensive collection of over 50 proverbs in Sicilian. For this translated text, we chose 10 representative proverbs for translation.]

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: ]