“Human Greatness” by Dino Buzzati Summary

Human Greatness Dino Buzzati Summary
“Human Greatness” Summary

“Human Greatness” is a short story by Dino Buzzati that can be found in the collection Restless Nights: Selected Stories. It’s about an old man with an unusual name who gets thrown into prison for vagrancy. He relates the interesting history of his name, which offers a perspective on what makes a person great. Here’s a summary of “Human Greatness”.

“Human Greatness” Summary

One night, a tiny old man with a long white beard is thrown into a cell. It’s dark, so he asks if anyone else is there. There are sneers and howls and then the other prisoners introduce themselves. They give their names and the crime they’ve committed. One man, Lavataro, says he’s innocent, which gets a big laugh from everyone. Those who’ve committed the worst crimes sound most proud of themselves.

The old man was asked for his papers, but he’s never had any, which makes him a vagrant. He’s called Morro the Great, which a prisoner points out doesn’t suit a man of his size. Morro agrees; he was given the name to make fun of him. It gets him into trouble sometimes too, but it’s a long story. His fellow prisoners urge him to tell the story; there’s plenty of time.

Once while visiting a city, he saw servants coming out of a palace with lots of good things. When he approached to beg for alms, a guard grabbed him and accused him of stealing something from the site yesterday. Despite Morro’s protests of innocence, the guard drags him into the courtyard. When Morro identifies himself as Morrow the Great, the guard laughs and tells him the master of the palace is known by that name.

The master is informed of the situation. He finds it funny that this wretch bears his name. He brings the old man into the palace, shows him around and feeds him. The master finds it remarkable and reveals the same thing happened to him in India. His wealth was noticed in the marketplace and he gave his name. Those present objected that greatness comes from the intellect, not from being a merchant, and the only real Morro the Great lives in their city.

They bring him by force to their city’s scientist. He finds the situation funny and shows Morro the merchant around his laboratory and inventions. He finds it remarkable because the same thing happened to him while visiting a volcano on the islands of Levant. He was accosted by a group of armed men suspicious of his foreign clothes. On identifying himself as Morrow the Great, they object on the grounds that greatness doesn’t come from knowledge but from heroic deeds. Morrow the Great is lord of the island and a valiant warrior. They take him to answer to their leader.

Morro of the island is fearsome but he also finds the situation funny. He shows Morro the scientist around his palace and shares testimonies of his heroic acts. He finds it remarkable because the same thing happened to him when he fought in Europe. When some mountain dwellers heard his name was Morro the Great, they seemed to pity him. They explain that greatness comes not from fighting but from self-denial and spiritual enlightenment.

They lead Morro the warrior to a little old man with a long white beard. He’s in a wretched hut and wearing rags, but he looks more serene and happy than any other man. He spends his time contemplating nature and adoring God.

And so this story was passed from the island warrior to the scientist to the merchant to the poor little old man asking for alms—all of them named Morro the Great.

The newly imprisoned old man’s story is over. One of the prisoners asks if that last old man in the hut, the greatest of all the Morros, is in fact him. The old man only comments that life is a funny thing. The prisoners all stay silent; they have much to think about.

I hope this summary of “Human Greatness” by Dino Buzzati was helpful.

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