The Island of the Day Before

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The Island of the Day Before (Italian title: L'isola del giorno prima) is a 1995 novel by Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco that tells the life story of a young man, Roberto della Griva, as he is shipwrecked aboard a fully provisioned but (apparently) abandoned ship anchored in a bay in the South Pacific. The narrative proceeds through a series of flashbacks, often interspersed with commentary by an unknown narrator, calling into question truth, reality, and the stability of meaning.

Quotes[edit]

  • "Sir," Pozzo said, "be so kind as to make way for us, for we must go and take up our proper position in order to fire on you." The officer doffed his hat, bowed with a salute that would have swept dust two meters before him, and said: "Señor, no es menor gloria vencer al enemigo con la cortesía en la paz que con las armas en la guerra." Then, in good Italian, he added: "Proceed, sir. If a fourth of our men prove to have one half of your courage, we will win. May Heaven grant me the pleasure of meeting you on the field of battle, and the honor of killing you."
    • Chapter 2, "An Account of Events in the Monferrato"
    • Upon Roberto trying to enter the besieged Casale Monferrato along with his father.
  • Dissimulating means drawing a veil composed of honest shadows, which does not constitute falsehood but allows truth some respite. The rose seems beautiful because at first sight it dissimulates, pretending to be so fleeting, and although it is frequently said of mortal beauty that is seems not of this earth, it is simply a corpse dissimulated by the favor of youth.
    • Chapter 11, "The Art of Prudence"
  • "Keep calm. You are speaking of love, you are not loving."
    • Chapter 12, "The Passions of the Soul"
  • "You must know that beneath this foolishness lies a mystery."
    • Chapter 14, "A Treatise on the Science of Arms"
  • From the way he recalls it on the Daphne, I tend to believe that at Casale, while he lost both his father and himself in a war of too many meanings and of no meaning at all, Roberto learned to see the universal world as a fragile tissue of enigmas, beyond which there was no longer an Author; or if there was, He seemed lost in the remaking of Himself from too many perspectives. If there Roberto had sensed a world now without any center, made up only of perimeters, here he felt himself truly in the most extreme and most lost of peripheries, because, if there was a center, it lay before him, and he was its immobile satellite.
    • Chapter 14, "A Treatise on the Science of Arms"
    • The narrator commenting on the protagonist, Roberto, after a flashback in which his father was killed in battle and before describing at length his current predicament of being shipwrecked aboard a ship.
  • If it seems strange that during a week or more on board the ship Roberto had not succeeded in seeing everything, suffice it to recall what happens to a boy who climbs into the attics or cellars of a great and ancient dwelling, irregular in its plan. At every step cases of old books appear, discarded clothing, empty bottles, and piles of fagots, ruined furniture, dusty and rickety cupboards. The boy advances, lingers on the discovery of some treasure, glimpses and entrance, a dark passage, and imagines some alarming presence there, postpones the search to a later occasion, and he proceeds always in tiny steps, on the one hand fearing to go too far, on the other, in anticipation of future discoveries, yet daunted by the emotion of the recent ones, and that attic or cellar never ends, and can have in store for him enough new nooks and crannies to last through his boyhood and beyond. And if the boy is frightened every time by new noises, or if—to keep him away from those labyrinths—he is daily told terrifying tales (and if that boy, in addition, is drunk), obviously the space will expand at each new adventure. Such was Roberto's life in the exploration of his still hostile territory.
    • Chapter 20, "Wit and the art of Ingenuity"
  • We have said that he had no particular inclination not to believe what the Jesuit was telling him. But often he enjoyed provoking him to make him say more, and then Roberto would resort to the whole repertory of argumentation he had picked up in the gatherings of those fine gentlemen that the Jesuits considered if not emissaries of Satan, at least topers and debauchees who had made the tavern their lyceum.
    • Chapter 24, "Dialogues of the Maximum Systems"
  • I lack the courage to summarize all of Roberto's summary, so I will only mention the fourth side, which supposedly expounded all the wonders of botanical medicine, spagyrical, chemical, and hermetical, with simple and compound medicines derived from mineral or animal substances, and the "Alexipharmaca, attractive, lenitive, purgative, mollificative, digestive, corrosive, conglutinative, aperitive, calefactive, infrigidative, mundificative, attenuative, incisive, soporative, diuretic, narcotic, caustic, and comfortative."
    • Chapter 24, "Dialogues of the Maximum Systems"
  • But an amorous symbol is forgiven many things, and it never ceases to attract poets.
    • Chapter 26, "Delights for the Ingenious: A Collection of Emblems"
  • The dove is there to signify that the world speaks in hieroglyphics, and there is a hieroglyph that itself signifies hieroglyphics. And a hieroglyph does not say and does not conceal; it simply shows.
    • Chapter 26, "Delights for the Ingenious: A Collection of Emblems"
  • Indeed, as he sees it distant not only in space but also (backwards) in time, from this moment on, whenever he mentions that distance, Roberto seems to confuse space and time, and he writes, "The bay, alas, is too yesterday," and ,"How much sea separates me from the day barely ended," and even, "Threatening rainclouds are coming from the Island, whereas today it is already clear . . . . But if the Island moves ever farther away, is it still worth the effort to learn to reach it?
    • Chapter 27, "The Secrets of the Flux and Reflux of the Sea"
  • Only a nose bleeding because struck by a falling fruit would really allow him to understand, at one blow, both the laws that draw the grave to gravity and de motu cordis et anguinis in animalibus.
    • Chapter 27, "The Secrets of the Flux and Reflux of the Sea"
    • Translation of "de motu cordis et anguinis in animalibus": on the motion of the heart and blood in living beings.
  • The jealous man is not able, nor does he have the will, to imagine the opposite of what he fears, indeed he cannot feel joy except in the magnification of his own sorrow, and by suffering through the magnified enjoyment from which he knows he is banned. The pleasures of love are pains that become desirable, where sweetness and torment blend, and so love is voluntary insanity, infernal paradise, and celestial hell—in short, harmony of opposite yearnings, sorrowful laughter, soft diamond.
    • Chapter 28, "On the Origin of Novels"
  • By inventing the story of another world, which existed only in his mind, he would become that world's master, able to ensure that the things that happened there would not exceed his capacity for endurance.
    • Chapter 28, "On the Origin of Novels"
  • On the other hand, for all their virtues, romances have their defects, which Roberto should have known. As medicine teaches also about poisons, metaphysics disturbs with inopportune subtelties the dogmata of religion, ethics recommends magnificence (which is not of help to everyone), astrology fosters superstition, optics deceives, music rouses lust, geometry encourages unjust dominion, and mathematics avarice—so the art of Romance, though warning us that it is providing fictions, opens a door into the Palace of Absurdity, and when we have lightly stepped inside, slams it shut behind us.
    • Chapter 28, "On the Origin of Novels"
  • The virtue of sovereigns is their caprice, and Power is an insatiable monster, to be served with slavish devotion in order to snatch every crumb falling from that table. [...] He could not help but be of lively intelligence, even when constrained to villany, and in that environment he immediately learned how to behave. [...] Ferrante cultivated his own mediocrity (the baseness of his bastard origins), not fearing to be eminent in mediocre things, so as to avoid one day being mediocre in eminent things. He understood that when you cannot wear the skin of the lion, you wear that of the fox, for after the Flood more foxes were saved than lions. Every creature has its own wisdom, and from the fox he learned that playing openly achieves neither the useful nor the pleasurable.
    • Chapter 29, "The Soul of Ferrante"
  • Espionage (Roberto was shocked and terrified), the most contagious plague of courts, harpy that swoops down on the royal table with rouged face and hooked claws, flying on batwings and listening with ears endowed with great tympana, an owl that sees only in the dark, a viper among roses, cockroach on flowers converting into venom the juice it sips at its sweetest, spider of antechambers weaving the strands of its subtle talk to catch every passing fly, parrot with curved beak reporting everything it hears, transforming truth into falsehood and falsehood into truth, chameleon that receives every color and dresses in all save the one that is its true garb. All qualities of which anyone would be ashamed, save the one who by divine (or infernal) decree is born to the service of evil.
    • Chapter 29, "The Soul of Ferrante"
  • "Oh Love, Love, Love, have you not punished me enough already, is this not a death undying?"
    • Chapter 29, "The Soul of Ferrante"
    • Roberto, after reliving (via flashback) his beloved mistakenly ending up in the arms of another through subterfuge.
  • I shall surely die, he said to himself, if not now thanks to the Stone Fish, in any case later[...] What illusion was I harboring? I would die, perhaps later, even if I had not arrived on this wreck. I entered life knowing that the Law requires us to leave it. As Saint-Savin said, we play our role, some long, some not so long, and then we leave the stage. I have seen others go before me, others will see me go, and they will give the same performance for their successors. For that matter, how long was the time when I did not exist, and for how long in the future will I not be? I occupy a very small space in the abyss of the years. This little interval does not succeed in distinguishing me from the nothingness into which I shall go. I came into the world only to swell the ranks. My part was so small that even had I remained in the wings, everyone would still have declared the play perfect. It is like a storm at sea: some drown immediately, others are dashed against the rocks, still others are cast up on an abandoned ship, but not for long, not even they. Life goes out, on its own, like a candle that has consumed its substance. And we should be accustomed to it, because, like a candle, we have been shedding atoms since the moment we were lit. It is no great wisdom to know these things, Roberto told himself...
    • Chapter 36, “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying”
  • ... We should know them from the moment we are born. But usually we reflect always and only on the death of others. Ah ye, we all have strength enough to bear others' ills. Then the moment comes when we think of death because the illness is our own, and we realize it is impossible to stare directly at the sun and at death. Unless we have had good teachers. I did. Someone said to me that truly few know death. As a rule it is tolerated through stupidity or habit, not through resolve. We die because we cannot do otherwise. Only the philosopher can think of death as a duty, to be performed willingly and without fear. As long as we are here, death is not here, and when death comes, we have gone. Why would I have spent so much time conversing about philosophy if now I were not capable of making my death the masterwork of my life? [...]He told himself that thinking of origins is proper to the philosopher. It is easy for the philosopher to justify death: the we must plunge into obscurity is one of the clearest things in the world. What obsesses the philosopher is not the naturalness of the end, it is the mystery of the beginning. We can lack interest in an eternity that will follow us, but we cannot elude the anguished question of which eternity preceded us: the eternity of matter or the eternity of God?
    • Chapter 36, “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying”
  • And we, inhabitants of the great coral Cosmos, believe the atom (which we still cannot see) to be full matter, whereas, it too, like everything else, is but an embroidery of voids in the Void, and we give the name of being, dense and even eternal, to that dance of inconsistencies, that infinite extension that is identified with absolute Nothingness and that spins from its own non-being the illusion of everything. So here I am illuding myself with the illusion of an illusion—I, an illusion myself? I, who was to lose everything, happened on this vessel lost in the Antipodes only to realize that there was nothing to lose? But, understanding this, do I not perhaps gain everything, because I become the one thinking point at which the Universe recognizes its own illusion?
    • Chapter 37, “Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the Thinking of Stones”
  • He did not know that, especially when their authors are now determined to die, stories often write themselves, and go where they want to go.
    • Chapter 37, “Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the Thinking of Stones”

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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