On March 25, 1938, before embarking for Naples from Palermo, the famous physicist Ettore Majorana wrote a letter to his colleague Antonio Carrelli, referring cryptically to an “inevitable decision” related to his “sudden disappearance.” In another letter to the family, he asked them to limit their mourning to “not more than three days.” They sounded like the words from a suicidal person (except that he carried his passport and had withdrawn all his money).
The next day, 79 years ago this week, Majorana sent his last dispatch. He wrote again to Carrelli from Palermo: “The sea has refused me.” He also announced he would return to Naples. When Majorana had announced his intention to disappear, he resurfaced. Then he said he would return and instead he disappeared. Since then, many have asked about his letters: Were these the doubts of an undecided suicide or a perfectly concocted escape?
In 1975, the writer Leonardo Sciascia published an inquiry on Majorana that raised interest in the case. He identified possible theories: an escape to join the Nazis, a mysterious crisis, depression, a desertion from science to take up arms. The noteworthy theories can be counted on one hand because the scarcity of clues scare professional historians away. Aside from Sciascia, it’s been mostly physicists who have dealt with Majorana’s disappearance. Not even Giorgio Agamben is a historian; he teaches philosophy in universities across the world.