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In the beginning of Chapter Three of his autobiography, Benito Mussolini writes the following:

War had come — war — that female of dreads and fascinations.

What is supposed to be conveyed by calling war a "female of dreads and fascinations"? Is it meant to metaphorically/symbolically evoke some perceived aspect of femininity? If so, what?

A quick Google search for the phrase found no other uses besides Mussolini's autobiography, so it doesn't seem to be a common expression.

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    In Italian, war is la guerra — feminine. If Italians personify war, as Mussolini is doing, she is going to be a femaie (unless they use a synonym, like il conflitto, for it).
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 11 at 15:49
  • @PeterShor Isn't there a difference between using a gendered pronoun and actually calling something female? For instance, in English ships are often referred to with feminine pronouns. E.g. you might say "that ship, she's magnificent", but I don't think you would say "that ship, a magnificent female" (unless you were trying to specifically make some kind of comparison relating to femininity (which I suspect is the case here)).
    – Alex
    Jul 11 at 15:58
  • There is a difference, but in Romance languages, I believe it's quite uncommon to personify something using the opposite sex as the grammatical gender. (But often words have synonyms of the opposite gender, so for example, in French hope can be either male or female, depending on whether it's l'espoir or l'espérance.)
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 13 at 14:59
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That war is grammatically feminine in Italian probably helps, but the chief element here is that he is personifying war as a femme fatale, beautiful and alluring while very dangerous. This allows him to explain shortly how something so ghastly can also fascinate.

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    Is it possible to find some other passages or context in the book to further support this interpretation?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 11 at 17:32
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Astarte

However often fought by men, war itself has been personified as feminine longer than writing, in Mesopotamia as well as among the various Indo-European warbands. The Proto-Germanic root of war and guerra seems to have been feminine and of course guerra itself is feminine in modern Italian.

Bellona with Janus

For what it's worth, I know we aren't trying to make Mussolini sound better for the next generation but female is just a cringingly bad/lazy translation here. Femmina should just be woman or, if you really wanted to drive home the point about his own vulgarity and the fact he's purposely avoiding the more common and respectful donna, something base and sexist. His imagery there is doubtless something about how she's really just waiting for a manly man (in tights!) to submit herself to.

Of course that all ended about as well as you'd expect, just from these lines alone.

Mussolini hanging from a petrol station in Milan

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  • War is masculine in German Krieg and neuter in Romanian război. I think the fact that guerra/guerre is feminine is more of an accident than anything else.
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 19 at 16:21
  • As already sourced, you're wrong but you're certainly welcome to your opinion. De gustibus ...
    – lly
    Jul 19 at 20:21

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