“The disease of Europe is to believe in nothing and to claim to know everything,” wrote Albert Camus (1913-1960) prophetically in his essay “Reflections on the Guillotine,” which had a complex publication history.
Manès Sperber, a friend of Malraux, had decided to have the book Reflections on Hanging (1955), a collection of the writings of Arthur Koestler published in the Observer on the topic of the death penalty, translated into French, and asked Camus to write a text to accompany it. Composed at the beginning of 1957, his essay appeared in the June and July issues of the Nouvelle Revue Française, and then, in the same year, was included in a volume by Calmann-Lévy under the title Réflections sur la peine capitale (“Reflections on the Death Penalty”).
Beside the essay by Camus and the partial translation of Koestler’s texts, this volume included an investigation on the death penalty in France edited by Jean-Michel Bloch, who also wrote a short preface. Now, Edizioni Medusa are commendably reprinting Camus’ essay in Italian under the title La ghigliottina: Riflessioni sulla pena di morte (“The Guillotine: Reflections on the Death Penalty,” 108 pages, €13), in the qualitative Italian translation by Maria Lilith prepared for Longanesi in 1958, appropriately revised by Alfredo Rovatti and preceded by a foreword by Riccardo De Benedetti. (A full version of the original collection was published under the title The Death Penalty by Newton Compton in 1972, and another translation of Camus’ text was reprinted in 1993 by SE as Reflections on the Death Penalty).