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"Justice is a steady and enduring will to render unto every one his right
on 7 August 2007
The basic principles of right are: to live honorably, not to harm any other person, to render to each his own." Digest of the Emperor Justinian.
The Latin phrase "suum cuique tribuere" or "to each his own" is one of the three fundamental maxims of the law laid down by the Emperor Justinian. The peculiar interpretation of that phrase in Sciascia's native Sicily forms the emotional core of his brilliant "To Each His Own."
"To Each His Own" begins with a double-murder. A local pharmacist, Manno, receives a death threat in the mail, compiled with words and letters cut and pasted from a newspaper. The pharmacist laughs it off. He considers the letter to be a joke and although these threats are usually taken seriously in his town, Manno leads a blameless life and simply cannot believe anyone intends him harm. So he goes off hunting the next day with his friend Dr. Roscio and, without further ado, both Manno and Roscio are shot dead in the woods.
A police investigation follows but it is doomed to go nowhere. Sciascia paints a very explicit portrait of a society in which everyone knows (or suspects) everything but says nothing, certainly not to the local police. The general consensus (on the surface) seems to be that Manno was killed by a jealous husband and Roscio was an innocent bystander. The matter would have ended there but for the curious intercession of Professor Laurana. Laurana is a history and Italian teacher at the local liceo (high school). He walks into the pharmacy where the police are reading the anonymous letter and quickly spots a clue. The police dismiss his information out of hand. Laurana, however, driven by what appears to be no more than a desire to solve a puzzle, decides to follow up on the clue. In short order he seems to have solved the mystery. Laurana is oblivious to the fact that his musings on the crime pose more of a threat to the murderers than a typical local police investigation. Events play out to their natural conclusion, and in Sciascia's Sicily natural conclusions are not quite so neat and tidy as say in Agatha Christie's parlor room England.
The enjoyment to be found in reading "To Each His Own" is not the mystery itself. The fact of the matter is that, for Sciascia, solving a mystery doesn't require great insight. Rather, it simply requires a willingness to actually see that which is self-evident. As blind as Laurana may be to the danger he puts himself in, he can see well enough to understand why Manno and Roscio were murdered and who murdered them. Laurana's problem is not that he knows more than anyone else in town, Sciascia makes it clear that the actual events do not seem a surprise to anyone. No, Laurana's problem is that unlike everyone else in town, he doesn't bother to hide his knowledge.
Sciascia's writing is both precise and enjoyable. He seems to have a keen eye and affection for his native place, but that affection does not diminish, but likely enhances, the despair he feels for a culture in which silence is golden and in which "to each his own" does not bring to mind Roman traditions of equity but, rather, the critical importance of minding ones own business. "To Each His Own" is a cynical, but highly-entertaining piece or work. L. Fleisig