Last tracks from a genius

On Friday 25 March 1938 Majorana went to the Institute of Physics and handed over the lecture notes and some other papers to one of his students. After that, Ettore returned to his hotel and, after writing farewell letters to his family and to Carrelli, embarked on a ship to Palermo. He reached his destination the following morning, where he lodged for a short time in the Grand Hotel Sole. It was here that he wrote the telegram and the letter to Carrelli pointing out a change of mind about his disappearance. On Saturday evening Majorana embarked on a ship from Palermo to Naples. From here onwards, no other reliable information about him is available.

There have been several conjectures about the fate of Majorana, including suicide, a retreat in a monastery and a flight to a foreign country. The search for a reason for such a dramatic decision ranges from the personal and familiar, such as Ettore’s peculiar relationship with his extremely possessive mother (especially after the death of his father), to nice literary tales, such as that related by Leonardo Sciascia in one of his famous novels on Majorana’s possible foresight of the tragedy of the atomic bomb. However, to quote Ettore himself on his approach to doing physics: “We cannot give to such hypothesis greater likelihood than to some other theoretical presumptions without a too much subjective appraisal.”

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