“Dialogue Between Frederick Ruysch and His Mummies” by Giacomo Leopardi (1827)

This is an English translation (published in an 1882 collection) of a short 1827 piece by the great Italian writer Giacomo Leopardi. In it he uses the macabre creations of the seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch — who created remarkable "still life" displays using the preserved organs and skeletons of the dead — to reflect upon the mysteries of death. Leopardi has the piece open with Ruysch's "mummies", having come alive at night, singing in chorus. An awoken Ruysch watches through a crack in the door and, after overcoming his initial fears, ends up asking one of them for a brief description of what they felt when they were at death’s door. They assure him that dying is like falling asleep, like a dissolving of consciousness, and not at all painful. They declare that death, the fate of all living things, has brought them peace. For them, life is but a memory, and although they are not happy, at least they are free of old sorrows and fears.

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