Sicilian Idiom - Pilatue, ne sarvu ne dannatu


New Member
English, USA

Hopefully someone can help me here. My maternal grandmother just passed away. She was 102 and had a good life. Going through her papers I found the following annotation on an old deed: "Pilatue, ne sarvu ne dannatu". I've found literal translations on the web, but am not sure what it means or how it might be tied to a deed. "Pilate, neither saved nor damned" doesn't make much sense in the context... but it sure is intriguing. Has anyone ever heard this before? Can you give me an idea of the idiom's meaning?

Thanks in advance
  • I am not from Sicily so I am just guessing, pehaps she referred to Ponzio Pilato? As he "washed her hands" he is not innocent nor guilty with Jesus' death.
    Dear friend,

    Welcome to the Forum!

    I had never heard this saying before, at least not in this form, and not that I remember... Surely the contest you describe is, at a minimum, peculiar. And well, ignoring my curiosity to know more about it, the phrase seems to make quite a clear sense by itself. Pilate, neither saved nor damned: it may apply to every situation where either a decison stands halfway (neither saved nor damned; neither black nor white, neither good nor evil...), OR a real, responsible choice hasn't been made at all (just like Pilate, washing his hands...). So, although it may sometimes be positive, it oftentimes expresses a negative view of any given matter, denouncing inconclusiveness and sloth. Southern language is especially imbued with references to Christian history (or mith) and culture; here you have one exapmple of so strong an influence...

    Hope that helps,

    No, I would agree with the first couple responses. I think it may be "Pilatu è né sarvu né dannatu" which in a more standard Sicilian would be "Pilatu nun esti ní sarvu ní dannatu" or in Italian "Pilato non è né salvo né (con)dannato".

    I'll admit I've never heard it, but this is what it sounds like and makes a lot of sense, as literally washing his hands, figuratively of the situation, Pilate took no responsibility for the death of Jesus. I don't know what the deed was about and what the relevence could have been. Could you share, by any chance? I'm more intrigued because most Sicilians, very unfortunately, don't write in Sicilian. So it's curious that this was written in Sicilian.

    Although I do have some letters of my great-grandparents as they wrote in "Sicilian." I don't know if they thought they consciously were writing in Sicilian or if they thought they were writing in Italian. Nevertheless, I'm curious about your grandmother's writing.

    I am from Sicily, so maybe I can help...

    I think the comma may be important in the interpretation of the sentence. She wrote "Pilatue, ne sarvu ne dannatu" so I think she's not talking about Pilato, but referring to someone and saying that this person is like Pilato. In fact, Pilatue could actually be the combination of "Pilatu" (Pilato's name in Sicilian) and "e", the 3rd person of the verb "to be" in italian. Normally it takes an accent, but also "ne" does, so this mistake is consistent with the writer's Sicilian writing "style" ;)

    In Sicilian we put the verb at the end of the sentence. Some examples of this kind of construction are:

    bedda sì: you are beautiful
    luoccu è: he is stupid

    Like in these sentences, Pilatu may be used here as an "adjective"... so "Pilatu e" means: He is Pilato (meaning that this person is LIKE Pilato). The rest of the sentence explains why: he's "ne sarvu ne dannatu". The translations provided in the previous posts for this part of the sentence are correct: neither saved nor damned.

    For calicchiulusiculu:
    The Sicilian translation for "Pilato non è né salvo né (con)dannato" would be "Pilatu unn'è né sarvu né dannatu". In Sicily we have very different dialects so the pronounciation may vary.

    "Pilatu nun esti ní sarvu ní dannatu": I am afraid "nun esti" is not Sicilian! At least I have never heard this verb ever. However, it is true that "né" can be pronounced "nì"...

    I hope this helped.

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