Part 3 out of 7
down every tree that fails to bear fruit. Split into peasant
proprietorships, this forest would soon become a scientifically
irrigated campagna for the cultivation of tomatoes or what not, like the
"Colonia Elena," near the Pontine Marshes. The national exchequer would
profit, without a doubt. But I question whether we should all take the
economical point of view--whether it would be wise for humanity to do
so. There is a prosperity other than material. Some solitary artist or
poet, drawing inspiration from scenes like this, might have contributed
more to the happiness of mankind than a legion of narrow-minded, grimy
and litigious tomato-planters.
To all appearances, Italy is infected just now with a laudable mania for
the "exploitation of natural resources"--at the expense, of course, of
wealthy landowners, who are described as withholding from the people
their due. The programme sounds reasonable enough; but one must not
forget that what one reads on this subject in the daily papers is
largely the campaign of a class of irresponsible pressmen and
politicians, who exploit the ignorance of weak people to fill their own
pockets. How one learns to loathe, in Italy and in England, that lovely
word _socialism,_ when one knows a little of the inner workings of the
cause and a few--just a few!--details of the private lives of these
unsavoury saviours of their country!
The lot of the southern serfs was bad enough before America was
"discovered"; and quite unendurable in earlier times. There is a village
not many hours from Naples where, in 1789, only the personal attendants
of the feudal lord lived in ordinary houses; the two thousand
inhabitants, the serfs, took refuge in caves and shelters of straw.
Conceive the conditions in remote Calabria! Such was the anguished
poverty of the country-folk that up to the eighties of last century they
used to sell their children by regular contracts, duly attested before
the local mayors. But nowadays I listen to their complaints with
"You are badly treated, my friend? I quite believe it; indeed, I can see
it. Well, go to Argentina and sell potatoes, or to the mines of
Pennsylvania. There you will grow rich, like the rest of your
compatriots. Then return and send your sons to the University; let them
become _avvocati_ and members of Parliament, who shall harass into
their graves these wicked owners of the soil."
This, as a matter of fact, is the career of a considerable number of them.
For the rest, the domain of Policoro--it is spelt _Pelicaro_ in older
maps like those of Magini and Rizzi-Zannone--seems to be well
administered, and would repay a careful study. I was not encouraged,
however, to undertake this study, the manager evidently suspecting some
ulterior motive to underlie my simple questions. He was not at all
responsive to friendly overtures. Restive at first, he soon waxed
ambiguous, and finally taciturn. Perhaps he thought I was a tax-gatherer
in disguise. A large structure combining the features of palace,
fortress and convent occupies an eminence, and is supposed by some to
stand on the site of old Heracleia; it was erected by the Jesuits; the
workpeople live in humble dwellings that cluster around it. Those that
are now engaged in cutting the corn receive a daily wage of two carlini
(eightpence)--the Bourbon coinage still survives in name.
You walk to this building from the station along an avenue of eucalypti
planted some forty years ago. Detesting, as I do, the whole tribe of gum
trees, I never lose an opportunity of saying exactly what I think about
this particularly odious representative of the brood, this eyesore, this
grey-haired scarecrow, this reptile of a growth with which a pack of
misguided enthusiasts have disfigured the entire Mediterranean basin.
They have now realized that it is useless as a protection against
malaria. Soon enough they will learn that instead of preventing the
disease, it actually fosters it, by harbouring clouds of mosquitoes
under its scraggy so-called foliage. These abominations may look better
on their native heath: I sincerely hope they do. Judging by the "Dead
Heart of Australia"--a book which gave me a nightmare from which I shall
never recover--I should say that a varnished hop-pole would be an
artistic godsend out there.
But from here the intruder should be expelled without mercy. A single
eucalyptus will ruin the fairest landscape. No plant on earth rustles in
such a horribly metallic fashion when the wind blows through those
everlastingly withered branches; the noise chills one to the marrow; it
is like the sibilant chattering of ghosts. Its oil is called "medicinal"
only because it happens to smell rather nasty; it is worthless as
timber, objectionable in form and hue--objectionable, above all things,
in its perverse, anti-human habits. What other tree would have the
effrontery to turn the sharp edges of its leaves--as if these were not
narrow enough already!--towards the sun, so as to be sure of giving at
all hours of the day the minimum of shade and maximum of discomfort to
But I confess that this avenue of Policoro almost reconciled me to the
existence of the anaemic Antipodeans. Almost; since for some reason or
other (perhaps on account of the insufferably foul nature of the soil)
their foliage is here thickly tufted; it glows like burnished bronze in
the sunshine, like enamelled scales of green and gold. These eucalypti
are unique in Italy. Gazing upon them, my heart softened and I almost
forgave the gums their manifold iniquities, their diabolical thirst,
their demoralizing aspect of precocious senility and vice, their peeling
bark suggestive of unmentionable skin diseases, and that system of
radication which is nothing short of a scandal on this side of the
globe. . . .
In the exuberance of his joy at the prospect of getting rid of me, the
manager of the estate lent me a dog-cart to convey me to the forest's
edge, as well as a sleepy-looking boy for a guide, warning me, however,
not to put so much as the point of my nose inside the jungle, on account
of the malaria which has already begun to infect the district. One sees
all too many wan faces hereabouts. Visible from the intervening plain is
a large building on the summit of a hill; it is called Acinapura, and
this is the place I should have gone to, had time permitted, for the
sake of the fine view which it must afford over the whole Policoro region.
Herds of buffaloes wallow in the mire. An old bull, reposing in solitary
grandeur, allowed me so near an approach that I was able to see two or
three frogs hopping about his back, and engaged in catching the
mosquitoes that troubled him. How useful, if something equally efficient
and inexpensive could be devised for humanity!
We entered the darksome forest. The boy, who had hitherto confined
himself to monosyllables, suddenly woke up under its mysterious
influence; he became alert and affable; he related thrilling tales of
the outlaws who used to haunt these thickets, lamenting that those happy
days were over. There were the makings of a first-class brigand in
Paolo. I stimulated his brave fancy; and it was finally proposed that I
should establish myself permanently with the manager of the estate, so
that on Sundays we could have some brigand-sport together, on the sly.
Then out again--into the broad and sunlit bed of the Sinno. The water
now ripples in bland content down a waste of shining pebbles. But its
wintry convulsions are terrific, and higher up the stream, where the
banks are steep, many lives are lost in those angry floods that rush
down from the hill-sides, filling the riverbed with a turmoil of crested
waves. At such moments, these torrents put on new faces. From placid
waterways they are transformed into living monsters, Aegirs or dragons,
that roll themselves seaward, out of their dark caverns, in tawny coils
And precisely this angry aspect of the waters has been acclaimed as one
of the origins of that river-dragon idea which used to be common in
south Italy, before the blight of Spaniardism fell upon the land and
withered up the pagan myth-making faculty. There are streams still
perpetuating this name--the rivulet Dragone, for instance, which falls
into the Ionian not far from Cape Colonne.
A non-angry aspect of them has also been suggested as the origin: the
tortuous wanderings of rivers in the plains, like the Meander, that
recall the convolutions of the serpent. For serpent and dragon are apt
to be synonymous with the ancients.
Both these explanations, I think, are late developments in the evolution
of the dragon-image. They leave one still puzzling as to what may be the
aboriginal conception underlying this legendary beast of earth and
clouds and waters. We must go further back.
What is a dragon? An animal, one might say, which looks or regards
(Greek _drakon);_ so called, presumably, from its terrible eyes. Homer
has passages which bear out this interpretation:
_[Greek: Smerdaleon de dedorken],_ etc.
Now the Greeks were certainly sensitive to the expression of animal
eyes--witness "cow-eyed" Hera, or the opprobrious epithet "dog-eyed";
altogether, the more we study what is left of their zoological
researches, the more we realize what close observers they were in
natural history. Aristotle, for instance, points out sexual differences
in the feet of the crawfish which were overlooked up to a short time
ago. And Hesiod also insists upon the dragon's eyes. Yet it is
significant that _ophis,_ the snake, is derived, like _drakon,_ from a
root meaning nothing more than to perceive or regard. There is no
connotation of ferocity in either of the words. Gesner long ago suspected
that the dragon was so called simply from its keen or rapid perception.
One likes to search for some existing animal prototype of a fabled
creature like this, seeing that to invent such things out of sheer
nothing is a feat beyond human ingenuity--or, at least, beyond what the
history of others of their kind leads us to expect. It may well be that
the Homeric writer was acquainted with the Uromastix lizard that occurs
in Asia Minor, and whoever has watched this beast, as I have done,
cannot fail to have been impressed by its contemplative gestures, as if
it were gazing intently _(drakon)_ at something. It is, moreover, a
"dweller in rocky places," and more than this, a vegetarian--an "eater
of poisonous herbs" as Homer somewhere calls his dragon. So Aristotle
says: "When the dragon has eaten much fruit, he seeks the juice of the
bitter lettuce; he has been seen to do this."
Are we tracking the dragon to his lair? Is this the aboriginal beast?
Not at all, I should say. On the contrary, this is a mere side-issue, to
follow which would lead us astray. The reptile-dragon was invented when
men had begun to forget what the arch-dragon was; it is the product of a
later stage--the materializing stage; that stage when humanity sought to
explain, in naturalistic fashion, the obscure traditions of the past. We
must delve still deeper. . . .
My own dragon theory is far-fetched--perhaps necessarily so, dragons
being somewhat remote animals. The dragon, I hold, is the
personification of the life within the earth--of that life which, being
unknown and uncontrollable, is _eo ipso_ hostile to man. Let me explain
how this point is reached.
The animal which _looks or regards. . . ._ Why--why an animal? Why not
_drakon =_ that which looks?
Now, what looks?
This is the key to the understanding of the problem, the key to the
The conceit of fountains or sources of water being things that see
_(drakon)_--that is, eyes--or bearing some resemblance to eyes, is common
to many races. In Italy, for example, two springs in the inland sea near
Taranto are called "Occhi"--eyes; Arabs speak of a watery fountain as an
eye; the notion exists in England top--in the "Blentarn" of Cumberland,
the blind tarn (tarn = a trickling of tears), which is "blind" because
dry and waterless, and therefore lacking the bright lustre of the open eye.
There is an eye, then, in the fountain: an eye which looks or regards.
And inasmuch as an eye presupposes a head, and a head without body is
hard to conceive, a material existence was presently imputed to that
which looked upwards out of the liquid depths. This, I think, is the
primordial dragon, the archetype. He is of animistic descent and
survives all over the earth; and it is precisely this universality of
the dragon-idea which induces me to discard all theories of local origin
and to seek for some common cause. Fountains are ubiquitous, and so are
dragons. There are fountain dragons in Japan, in the superstitions of
Keltic races, in the Mediterranean basin. The dragon of Wantley lived in
a well; the Lambton Worm began life in fresh water, and only took to
dry land later on. I have elsewhere spoken of the Manfredonia legend of
Saint Lorenzo and the dragon, an indigenous fable connected, I suspect,
with the fountain near the harbour of that town, and quite independent
of the newly-imported legend of Saint Michael. Various springs in Greece
and Italy are called Dragoneria; there is a cave-fountain Dragonara on
Malta, and another of the same name near Cape Misenum--all are sources
of apposite lore. The water-drac. . . .
So the dragon has grown into a subterranean monster, who peers up from
his dark abode wherever he can--out of fountains or caverns whence
fountains issue. It stands to reason that he is sleepless; all dragons
are "sleepless "; their eyes are eternally open, for the luminous
sparkle of living waters never waxes dim. And bold adventurers may well
be devoured by dragons when they fall into these watery rents, never to
Furthermore, since gold and other treasures dear to mankind lie hidden
in the stony bowels of the earth and are hard to attain, the jealous
dragon has been accredited with their guardianship--hence the plutonic
element in his nature. The dragon, whose "ever-open eye" protected the
garden of the Hesperides, was the _Son of Earth._ The earth or
cave-dragon. . . . Calabria has some of these dragons' caves; you can
read about them in the _Campania. Sotteranea_ of G. Sanchez.
In volcanic regions there are fissures in the rocks exhaling pestiferous
emanations; these are the _spiracula,_ the breathing-holes, of the
dragon within. The dragon legends of Naples and Mondragone are probably
of this origin, and so is that of the Roman Campagna (1660) where the
dragon-killer died from the effects of this poisonous breath: Sometimes
the confined monster issues in a destructive lava-torrent--Bellerophon
and the Chimsera. The fire-dragon. ... Or floods of water suddenly
stream down from the hills and fountains are released. It is the hungry
dragon, rushing from his den in search of prey; the river-dragon. . . .
He rages among the mountains with such swiftness and impetuosity.
This is chiefly the poets' work, though the theologians have added one
or two embellishing touches. But in whatever shape he appears, whether
his eyes have borrowed a more baleful fire from heathen basilisks, or
traits of moral evil are instilled into his pernicious physique by
amalgamation with the apocalyptic Beast, he remains the vindictive enemy
of man and his ordered ways. Of late--like the Saurian tribe in
general--he has somewhat degenerated. So in modern Greece, by that
process of stultified anthropomorphism which results from grafting
Christianity upon an alien mythopoesis, he dons human attributes,
talking and acting as a man (H. F. Tozer). And here, in Calabria, he
lingers in children's fables, as "sdrago," a mockery of his former self.
To follow up his wondrous metamorphoses through medievalism would be a
pastime worthy of some leisured dilettante. How many noble shapes
acquired a tinge of absurdity in the Middle Ages! Switzerland alone,
with its mystery of untrodden crevices, used to be crammed with
dragons--particularly the calcareous (cavernous) province of Rhaetia.
Secondary dragons; for the good monks saw to it that no reminiscences of
the autochthonous beast survived. Modern scholars have devoted much
learning to the local Tazzelwurm and Bergstutz. But dragons of our
familiar kind were already well known to the chroniclers from whom old
Cysat extracted his twenty-fifth chapter (wherein, by the way, you will
learn something of Calabrian dragons); then came J. J. Wagner (1680);
then Scheuchzer, prince of dragon-finders, who informs us that _multorum
draconum historta mendax._
But it is rather a far cry from Calabria to the asthmatic Scheuchzer,
wiping the perspiration off his brow as he clambers among the Alps to
record truthful dragon yarns and untruthful barometrical observations;
or to China, dragon-land _par excellence;_ [Footnote: In Chinese
mythology the telluric element has remained untarnished. The dragon is
an earth-god, who controls the rain and thunder clouds.] or even to our
own Heralds' College, where these and other beasts have sought a refuge
from prying professors under such queer disguises that their own mothers
would hardly recognize them.
Exhausted with the morning's walk at Policoro, a railway journey and a
long drive up nearly a thousand feet to Rossano in the heat of midday, I
sought refuge, contrary to my usual custom, in the chief hotel,
intending to rest awhile and then seek other quarters. The establishment
was described as "ganz ordentlich" in Baedeker. But, alas! I found
little peace or content. The bed on which I had hoped to repose was
already occupied by several other inmates. Prompted by curiosity, I
counted up to fifty-two of them; after that, my interest in the matter
faded away. It became too monotonous. They were all alike, save in point
of size (some were giants). A Swammerdam would have been grieved by
their lack of variety.
And this, I said to myself, in a renowned city that has given birth to
poets and orators, to saints like the great Nilus, to two popes
and--last, but not least--one anti-pope! I will not particularize the
species beyond saying that they did not hop. Nor will I return to this
theme. Let the reader once and for all take _them_ for granted.
[Footnote: They have their uses, to be sure. Says Kircher: _Cunices
lectularii potens remedium contra quartanum est, si ab inscio aegro cum
vehiculo congrua potentur; mulierum morbis medentur et uterum prolapsum
solo odore in mum locum restituunt._] Let him note that most of the inns
of this region are quite uninhabitable, for this and other reasons,
unless he takes the most elaborate precautions. . . .
Where, then, do I generally go for accommodation?
Well, as a rule I begin by calling for advice at the chemist's shop,
where a fixed number of the older and wiser citizens congregate for a
little talk. The cafes and barbers and wine-shops are also
meeting-places of men; but those who gather here are not of the right
type--they are the young, or empty-headed, or merely thirsty. The other
is the true centre of the leisured class, the philosophers' rendezvous.
Your _speciale_ (apothecary) is himself an elderly and honoured man,
full of responsibility and local knowledge; he is altogether a superior
person, having been trained in a University. You enter the shop,
therefore, and purchase a pennyworth of vaseline. This act entitles you
to all the privileges of the club. Then is the moment to take a seat,
smiling affably at the assembled company, but without proffering a
syllable. If this etiquette is strictly adhered to, it will not be long
ere you are politely questioned as to your plans, your present
accommodation, and so forth; and soon several members will be vying with
each other to procure you a clean and comfortable room at half the price
charged in a hotel.
Even when this end is accomplished, my connection with the pharmacy
coterie is not severed. I go there from time to time, ostensibly to
talk, but in reality to listen. Here one can feel the true pulse of the
place. Local questions are dispassionately discussed, with ample forms
of courtesy and in a language worthy of Cicero. It is the club of the
In olden days I used to visit south Italy armed with introductions to
merchants, noblemen and landed proprietors. I have quite abandoned that
system, as these people, bless their hearts, have such cordial notions
of hospitality that from morning to night the traveller has not a moment
he can call his own. Letters to persons in authority, such as syndics or
police officers, are useless and worse than useless. Like Chinese
mandarins, these officials are so puffed up with their own importance
that it is sheer waste of time to call upon them. If wanted, they can
always be found; if not, they are best left alone. For besides being
usually the least enlightened and least amiable of the populace, they
are inordinately suspicious of political or commercial designs on the
part of strangers--God knows what visions are fermenting in their turbid
brains--and seldom let you out of their sight, once they have known you.
Excepting at Cosenza, Cotrone and Catanzaro, an average white man will
seldom find, in any Calabrian hostelry, what he is accustomed to
consider as ordinary necessities of life. The thing is easily
explicable. These men are not yet in the habit of "handling" civilized
travellers; they fail to realize that hotel-keeping is a business to be
learnt, like tailoring or politics. They are still in the patriarchal
stage, wealthy proprietors for the most part, and quite independent of
your custom. They have not learnt the trick of Swiss servility. You must
therefore be prepared to put up with what looks like very bad treatment.
On your entrance nobody moves a step to enquire after your wants; you
must begin by foraging for yourself, and thank God if any notice is
taken of what you say; it is as if your presence were barely
tolerated. But once the stranger has learnt to pocket his pride and
treat his hosts in the same offhand fashion, he will find among them an
unconventional courtesy of the best kind.
The establishment being run as a rule by the proprietor's own family,
gratuities with a view to exceptional treatment are refused with quiet
dignity, and even when accepted will not further your interests in the
least; on the contrary, you are thenceforward regarded as tactless and
weak in the head. Discreet praise of their native town or village is the
best way to win the hearts of the younger generation; for the parents a
little knowledge of American conditions is desirable, to prove that you
are a man of the world and worthy, a priori, of some respect. But if
there exists a man-cook, he is generally an importation and should be
periodically and liberally bribed, without knowledge of the family, from
the earliest moment. Wonderful, what a cook can do!
It is customary here not to live _en pension_ or to pay a fixed price
for any meal, the smallest item, down to a piece of bread, being
conscientiously marked against you. My system, elaborated after
considerable experimentation, is to call for this bill every morning
and, for the first day or two after arrival, dispute in friendly fashion
every item, remorselessly cutting down some of them. Not that they
overcharge; their honesty is notorious, and no difference is made in
this respect between a foreigner and a native. It is a matter of
principle. By this system, which must not be overdone, your position in
the house gradually changes; from being a guest, you become a friend, a
brother. For it is your duty to show, above all things, that you are not
_scemo_--witless, soft-headed--the unforgivable sin in the south. You
may be a forger or cut-throat--why not? It is a vocation like any other,
a vocation for _men._ But whoever cannot take care of him-self--i.e. of
his money--is not to be trusted, in any walk of life; he is of no
account; he is no man. I have become firm friends with some of these
proprietors by the simple expedient of striking a few francs off their
bills; and should I ever wish to marry one or their daughters, the
surest way to predispose the whole family in my favour would be this
method of amiable but unsmiling contestation.
Of course the inns are often dirty, and not only in their sleeping
accommodation. The reason is that, like Turks or Jews, their owners do
not see dirt (there is no word for dirt in the Hebrew language); they
think it odd when you draw their attention to it. I remember
complaining, in one of my fastidious moments, of a napkin, plainly not
my own, which had been laid at my seat. There was literally not a clean
spot left on its surface, and I insisted on a new one. I got it; but not
before hearing the proprietor mutter something about "the caprices of
pregnant women." . . .
The view from these my new quarters at Rossano compensates for divers
other little drawbacks. Down a many-folded gorge of glowing red earth
decked with olives and cistus the eye wanders to the Ionian Sea shining
in deepest turquoise tints, and beautified by a glittering margin of
white sand. To my left, the water takes a noble sweep inland; there lies
the plain of Sybaris, traversed by the Crathis of old that has thrust a
long spit of fand into the waves. On this side the outlook is bounded by
the high range of Pollino and Dolcedorme, serrated peaks that are even
now (midsummer) displaying a few patches of snow. Clear-cut in the
morning light, these exquisite mountains evaporate, towards sunset, in
an amethystine haze. A restful prospect.
But great was my amazement, on looking out of the window during the
night after my arrival, to observe the Polar star placed directly over
the Ionian Sea--the south, as I surely deemed it. A week has passed
since then, and in spite of the map I have not quite familiarized myself
with this spectacle, nor yet with that other one of the sun setting
apparently due east, over Monte Pollino.
The glory of Rossano is the image of the Madonna Achiropita.
Bartholomaeus tells us, in his life of Saint Nilus, that in olden days
she was wont to appear, clothed in purple, and drive away with a divine
torch the Saracen invaders of this town. In more recent times, too, she
has often saved the citizens from locusts, cholera, and other calamitous
visitations. Unlike most of her kind, she was not painted by Saint Luke.
She is _acheiropoeta--_not painted by any human hands whatever, and in
so far resembles a certain old image of the Magna Mater, her prototype,
which was also of divine origin. It is generally supposed that this
picture is painted on wood. Not so, says Diehl; it is a fragment of a
fresco on stone.
Hard by, in the clock-tower of the square, is a marble tablet erected to
the memory of the deputy Felice Cavalotti. We all remember Cavalotti,
the last--with Imbriani--of the republican giants, a blustering
rhetorician-journalist, annihilator of monarchs and popes; a fire-eating
duellist, who deserved his uncommon and unlovely fate. He provoked a
colleague to an encounter and, during a frenzied attack, received into
his open mouth the point of his adversary's sword, which sealed up for
ever that fountain of eloquence and vituperation.
Cavalotti and the Virgin Achiropita--the new and the old. Really, with
such extreme ideals before his eyes, the burghers of Rossano must
sometimes wonder where righteousness lies.
They call themselves Calabrians. _Noi siamo calabresi!_ they proudly
say, meaning that they are above suspicion of unfair dealing. As a
matter of fact, they are a muddled brood, and considerably given to
cheating when there is any prospect of success. You must watch the
peasants coming home at night from their field-work if you wish to see
the true Calabrian type--whiskered, short and wiry, and of dark
complexion. There is that indescribable mark of _race_ in these
countrymen; they are different in features and character from the
Italians; it is an ascetic, a Spanish type. Your Calabrian is strangely
scornful of luxury and even comfort; a creature of few but well-chosen
words, straightforward, indifferent to pain and suffering, and dwelling
by preference, when religiously minded, on the harsher aspects of his
faith. A note of unworldliness is discoverable in his outlook upon life.
Dealing with such men, one feels that they are well disposed not from
impulse, but from some dark sense of preordained obligation. Greek and
other strains have infused versatility and a more smiling exterior; but
the groundwork of the whole remains that old _homo ibericus_ of austere
Rossano was built by the Romans, says Procopius, and during Byzantine
days became a fortress of primary importance. An older settlement
probably lay by the seashore, and its harbour is marked as "good" so
late as the days of Edrisius. Like many of these old Calabrian ports, it
is now invaded by silt and sand, though a few ships still call there.
Wishful to learn something of the past glories of the town, I enquired
at the municipality for the public library, but was informed by the
supercilious and not over-polite secretary that this proud city
possesses no such institution. A certain priest, he added, would give me
all the desired information.
Canonico Rizzo was a delightful old man, with snowy hair and candid blue
eyes. Nothing, it seemed, could have given him greater pleasure than my
appearance at that particular moment. He discoursed awhile, and sagely,
concerning England and English literature, and then we passed on, _via_
Milton, to Calvin and the Puritan movement in Scotland; next, _via_
Livingstone, to colonial enterprises in Africa; and finally, _via_
Egypt, Abyssinia, and Prester John, to the early history of the eastern
churches. Byzantinism--Saint Nilus; that gave me the desired
opportunity, and I mentioned the object of my visit.
"The history of Rossano? Well, well! The secretary of the municipality
does me too much honour. You must read the Book of Genesis and Hesiod
and Berosus and the rest of them. But stay! I have something of more
modern date, in which you will find these ancient authors conveniently
From this book by de Rosis, printed in 1838, I gleaned two facts,
firstly, that the city of Rossano is now 3663 years old--quite a
respectable age, as towns go--and lastly, that in the year 1500 it had
its own academy of lettered men, who called themselves "I spensierati,"
with the motto _Non alunt curai--_an echo, no doubt, of the Neapolitan
renaissance under Alfonso the Magnificent. The popes Urban VIII and
Benedict XIII belonged to this association of "thoughtless ones." The
work ends with a formidable list of local personages distinguished in
the past for their gentleness of birth and polite accomplishments. One
wonders how all these delicately nurtured creatures can have survived at
Rossano, if their sleeping accommodation----
You might live here some little time before realizing that this place,
which seems to slope gently downhill against a pleasing background of
wooded mountains, is capable of being strongly fortified. It lies, like
other inland Calabrian (and Etruscan) cities, on ground enclosed by
stream-beds, and one of these forms a deep gully above which Rossano
towers on a smooth and perpendicular precipice. The upper part of this
wall of rock is grey sandstone; the lower a bed of red granitic matter.
From this coloured stone, which crops up everywhere, the town may have
drawn its name of Rossano (rosso = red); not a very old settlement,
therefore; although certain patriotic philologers insist upon deriving
it from "rus sanum," healthy country. Its older names were Roscia, and
Ruscianum; it is not marked in Peutinger. Countless jackdaws and
kestrels nestle in this cliff, as well as clouds of swifts, both Alpine
and common. These swifts are the ornithological phenomenon of Rossano,
and I think the citizens have cause to be thankful for their existence;
to them I attribute the fact that there are so few flies, mosquitoes,
and other aerial plagues here. If only the amiable birds could be
induced to extend their attentions to the bedrooms as well!
This shady glen at the back of the city, with its sparse tufts of
vegetation and monstrous blocks of deep red stone cloven into rifts and
ravines by the wild waters, has a charm of its own. There are undeniable
suggestions of Hell about the place. A pathway runs adown this vale of
Hinnom, and if you follow it upwards to the junction of the streams you
will reach a road that once more ascends to the town, past the old
church of Saint Mark, a most interesting building. It has five little
cupolas, but the interior, supported by eight columns, has been
whitewashed. The structure has now rightly been declared a "national
monument." It dates from the ninth or tenth century and, according to
Bertaux, has the same plan and the same dimensions as the famous
"Cattolica" at Stilo, which the artistic Lear, though he stayed some
time at that picturesque place, does not so much as mention. They say
that this chapel of Saint Mark was built by Euprassius, protos-padarius
of Calabria, and that in the days of Nilus it was dedicated to Saint
Anastasius. Here, at Rossano, we are once more _en plein Byzance._
Rossano was not only a political bulwark, the most formidable citadel of
this Byzantine province. It was a great intellectual centre, upon which
literature, theology and art converged. Among the many perverse
historical notions of which we are now ridding ourselves is this-that
Byzantinism in south Italy was a period of decay and torpid dreamings.
It needed, on the contrary, a resourceful activity to wipe out, as did
those colonists from the east, every trace of Roman culture and language
(Latin rule only revived at Rossano in the fifteenth century). There was
no lethargy in their social and political ambitions, in their military
achievements, which held the land against overwhelming numbers of
Saracens, Lombards and other intruders. And the life of those old monks
of Saint Basil, as we now know it, represented a veritable renaissance
of art and letters.
Of the ten Basilean convents that grew up in the surroundings of Rossano
the most celebrated was that of S. M. del Patir. Together with the
others, it succeeded to a period of eremitism of solitary anchorites
whose dwellings honeycombed the warm slopes that confront the
The lives of some of these Greco-Calabrian hermits are valuable
documents. In the _Vitae Sanctorum Siculorum_ of O. Caietanus (1057)
the student will find a Latin translation of the biography of one of
them, Saint Elia Junior. He died in 903. It was written by a
contemporary monk, who tells us that the holy man performed many
miracles, among them that of walking over a river dryshod. And the
Bollandists _(Acta Sanctorum,_ 11th September) have reprinted the
biography of Saint Elia Spelaeotes-the cave-dweller, as composed in
Greek by a disciple. It is yet more interesting. He lived in a "honesta
spelunca" which he discovered in 864 by means of a flight of bats
issuing therefrom; he suffered persecutions from a woman, exactly after
the fashion of Joseph and Potiphar's wife; he grew to be 94 years old;
the Saracens vainly tried to burn his dead body, and the water in which
this corpse was subsequently washed was useful for curing another holy
man's toothache. Yet even these creatures were subject to gleams of
common sense. "Virtues," said this one, "are better than miracles."
How are we to account for these rock-hermits and their inelegant habits?
How explain this poisoning of the sources of manly self-respect?
Thus, I think: that under the influence of their creed they reverted
perforce to the more bestial traits of aboriginal humanity. They were
thrust back in their development. They became solitaries, animalesque
and shy--such as we may imagine our hairy progenitors to have been.
Hence their dirt and vermin, their horror of learning, their unkempt
hair, their ferocious independence, their distrust of sunshine and
ordered social life, their foul dieting, their dread of malign spirits,
their cave-dwelling propensities. All bestial characteristics!
This atavistic movement, this retrogression towards primevalism, must
have possessed a certain charm, for it attracted vast multitudes; it was
only hemmed, at last, by a physical obstacle.
The supply of caves ran out.
Not till then were its votaries forced to congregate in those unhealthy
clusters which afterwards grew to be monasteries. Where many of them
were gathered together under one roof there imposed itself a certain
rudimentary discipline and subordination; yet they preserved as much as
they could of their savage traits, cave-like cells and hatred of
cleanliness, terror of demons, matted beards.
Gradually the social habits of mundane fellow-creatures insinuated
themselves into these hives of squalor and idleness. The inmates began
to wash and to shave; they acquired property, they tilled the ground,
they learnt to read and write, and finally became connaisseurs of books
and pictures and wine and women. They were pleased to forget that the
eunuch and the beggar are the true Christian or Buddhist. In other
words, the allurements of rational life grew too strong for their
convictions; they became reasonable beings in spite of their creed. This
is how coenobitism grew out of eremitism not only in Calabria, but in
every part of the world which has been afflicted with these
eccentrics. Go to Mount Athos, if you wish to see specimens of all the
different stages conveniently arranged upon a small area. . . .
This convent of Patir exercised a great local influence as early as the
tenth century; then, towards the end of the eleventh, it was completely
rebuilt without and reorganized within. The church underwent a thorough
restoration in 1672. But it was shattered, together with the rest of the
edifice, by the earthquake of 1836 which, Madonna Achiropita
notwithstanding, levelled to the ground one-half of the fifteen thousand
houses then standing at Rossano.
These monastic establishments, as a general rule, were occupied later on
by the Benedictines, who ousted the Basileans and were supplanted, in
their turn, by popular orders of later days like the Theatines. Those
that are conveniently situated have now been turned into post offices,
municipalities, and other public buildings--such has been the common
procedure. But many of them, like this of Patir, are too decayed and
remote from the life of man. Fiore, who wrote in 1691, counts up 94
dilapidated Basilean monasteries in Calabria out of a former total of
about two hundred; Patir and thirteen others he mentions as having, in
his day, their old rites still subsisting. Batiffol has recently gone
into the subject with his usual thoroughness.
Nothing is uglier than a modern ruin, and the place would assuredly not
be worth the three hours' ride from Rossano were it not for the church,
which has been repaired, and for the wondrous view to be obtained from
its site. The journey, too, is charming, both by the ordinary track that
descends from Rossano and skirts the foot of the hills through olives
and pebbly stream-beds, ascending, finally, across an odorous tangle of
cistus, rosemary and myrtle to the platform on which the convent
stands--or by the alternative and longer route which I took on the
homeward way, and which follows the old water conduit built by the monks
into a forest of enormous chestnuts, oaks, hollies and Calabrian pines,
emerging out of an ocean of glittering bracken.
I was pursued into the church of Patir by a bevy of country wenches who
frequented this region for purposes of haymaking. There is a miraculous
crucifix in this sanctuary, hidden behind a veil which, with infinite
ceremony, these females withdrew for my edification. There it was, sure
enough; but what, I wondered, would happen from the presence of these
impure creatures in such a place? Things have changed considerably since
the days of old, for such was the contamination to be expected from the
mere presence of a woman within these walls that even the Mother of God,
while visiting Saint Nilus--the builder, not the great saint--at work
upon the foundations, often conversed with him, but never ventured to
step within the area of the building itself. And later on it was a
well-authenticated phenomenon recorded by Beltrano and others, that if a
female entered the church, the heavens immediately became cloudy and
sent down thunders and lightnings and such-like signs of celestial
disapproval, which never ceased until the offending monster had left the
From this ancient monastery comes, I fancy, the Achiropita image.
Montorio will tell you all about it; he learnt its history in June 1712
from the local archbishop, who had extracted his information out of the
episcopal archives. Concerning another of these wonder-working
idols--that of S. M. del Patirion--you may read in the ponderous tomes
Whether the celebrated Purple Codex of Rossano ever formed part of the
library of Patirion has not yet been determined. This wonderful
parchment--now preserved at Rossano--is mentioned for the first time by
Cesare Malpica, who wrote some interesting things about the Albanian and
Greek colonies in Calabria, but it was only discovered, in the right
sense of that word, in March 1879 by Gebhardt and Harnack. They
illustrated it in their _Evangeliorum Codex Graecus._ Haseloff also
described it in 1898 _(Codex Purpureus Rossanensis),_ and pointed out
that its iconographical value consists in the fact that it is the only
Greek Testament MS. containing pictures of the life of Christ before the
eighth-ninth century. These pictures are indeed marvellous--more
marvellous than beautiful, like so many Byzantine productions; their
value is such that the parchment has now been declared a "national
monument." It is sternly guarded, and if it is moved out of Rossano--as
happened lately when it was exhibited at Grottaferrata--it travels in
the company of armed carbineers.
Still pursued by the flock of women, I took to examining the floor of
this church, which contains tesselated marble pavements depicting
centaurs, unicorns, lions, stags, and other beasts. But my contemplation
of these choice relics was disturbed by irrelevant remarks on the part
of the worldly females, who discovered in the head of the stag some
subtle peculiarity that stirred their sense of humour.
"Look!" said one of them to her neighbour. "He has horns. Just like your
"Pasquale indeed! And how about Antonio?"
I enquired whether they knew what kind of animals these were.
"Beasts of the ancients. Beasts that nobody knows. Beasts that have
horns--like certain Christians. . . ."
From the terrace of green sward that fronts this ruined monastery you
can see the little town of Corigliano, whose coquettish white houses lie
in a fold of the hills. Corigliano--[Greek: xorion __hellaion] (land of
olives): the derivation, if not correct, is at least appropriate, for it
lies embowered in a forest of these trees. A gay place it was, in
Bourbon times, with a ducal ruler of its own. Here, they say, the
remnants of the Sybarites took refuge after the destruction of their
city whose desolate plain lies at our feet, backed by the noble range of
Dolcedorme. Swinburne, like a sensible man, takes the Sybarites under
his protection; he defends their artificially shaded streets and those
other signs of voluptuousness which, to judge by certain modern
researches, seem to have been chiefly contrived for combating the demon
of malaria. Earthly welfare, the cult of material health and ease--such
was _their_ ideal.
In sharpest contrast to these strivings stands the aim of those old
monks who scorned the body as a mere encumbrance, seeking spiritual
enlightenment and things not of this earth.
And now, Sybarites and Basileans--alike in ruins!
A man of to-day, asked which of the two civilizations he would wish
restored, would not hesitate long in deciding for the Hellenic one.
Readers of Lenormant will call to mind his glowing pages on the wonders
that might be found buried on the site of Sybaris. His plan of
excavation sounds feasible enough. But how remote it becomes, when one
remembers the case of Herculaneum! Here, to our certain knowledge, many
miracles of antique art and literature lie within a few feet of our
reach; yet nothing is done. These hidden monuments, which are the
heritage of all humanity, are withheld from our eyes by the
dog-in-the-manger policy of a country which, even without foreign
assistance, could easily accomplish the work, were it to employ thereon
only half the sum now spent in feeding, clothing and supervising a horde
of criminals, every one of whom ought to be hanged ten times over.
Meanwhile other nations are forbidden to co-operate; the fair-minded
German proposals were scornfully rejected; later on, those of Sir
"What!" says the _Giornale d' Italia_, "are we to have international
excavation-committees thrust upon us? Are we to be treated like the Turks?"
That, gentle sirs, is precisely the state of the case.
The object of such committees is to do for the good of mankind what a
single nation is powerless or unwilling to do. Your behaviour at
Herculaneum is identical with that of the Turks at Nineveh. The system
adopted should likewise be the same.
I shall never see that consummation.
But I shall not forget a certain article in an American paper--"The New
York Times," I fancy--which gave me fresh food for thought, here at
Patirion, in the sight of that old Hellenic colony, and with the light
chatter of those women still ringing in my ears. Its writer, with whom
not all of us will agree, declared that first in importance of all the
antiquities buried in Italian soil come the lost poems of Sappho. The
lost poems of Sappho--a singular choice! In corroboration whereof he
quoted the extravagant praise of J. A. Symonds upon that amiable and
ambiguous young person. And he might have added Algernon Swinburne, who
calls her "the greatest poet who ever was at all."
Sappho and these two Victorians, I said to myself. . . . Why just these
two? How keen is the cry of elective affinity athwart the ages! _The
soul,_ says Plato, _divines that which it seeks, and traces obscurely
the footsteps of its obscure desire._
The footsteps of its obscure desire----
So one stumbles, inadvertently, upon problems of the day concerning
which our sages profess to know nothing. And yet I do perceive a certain
Writing upon the Wall setting forth, in clearest language, that 1 + 1 =
3; a legend which it behoves them not to expunge, but to expound. For it
refuses to be expunged; and we do not need a German lady to tell us how
much the "synthetic" sex, the hornless but not brainless sex, has done
for the life of the spirit while those other two were reclaiming the
waste places of earth, and procreating, and fighting--as befits their
REPOSING AT CASTROVILLARI
I remember asking my friend the Roman deputy of whom I have already
spoken, and whom I regard as a fountain of wisdom on matters Italian,
how it came about that the railway stations in his country were apt to
be so far distant from the towns they serve. Rocca Bernarda, I was
saying, lies 33 kilometres from its station; and even some of the
largest towns in the kingdom are inconveniently and unnecessarily remote
from the line.
"True," he replied. "Very true! Inconveniently . . . but perhaps not
unnecessarily. . . ." He nodded his head, as he often does, when
revolving some deep problem in his mind.
"Inasmuch as everything has its reasons, be they geographical,
sociological, or otherwise . . ." and he mused again. "Let me tell you
what I think as regards our respective English and Italian points of
view," he said at last. "And to begin with--a few generalities! We may
hold that success in modern life consists in correctly appreciating the
principles which underlie our experiences--in what may be called the
scientific attitude towards things in general. Now, do the English
cultivate this attitude? Not sufficiently. They are in the stage of
those mediaeval scholars who contentedly alleged separate primary causes
for each phenomenon, instead of seeking, by the investigation of
secondary ones, for the inevitable interdependence of the whole. In
other words, they do not subordinate facts; they co-ordinate them. Your
politicians and all your public men are guided by impulse--by
expediency, as they prefer to call it; they are empirical; they never
attempt to codify their conduct; they despise it as theorizing. What
happens? This old-fashioned hand-to-mouth system of theirs invariably
breaks down here and there. And then f Then they trust to some divine
interposition, some accident, to put things to rights again. The success
of the English is largely built up on such accidents--on the mistakes of
other people. Provi dence has favoured them so far, on the whole; but
one day it may leave them in the lurch, as it did the anti-scientific
Russians in their war with the Japanese. One day other people will
forget to make these pleasant mistakes."
He paused, and I forbore to interrupt his eloquence.
"To come now to the practical application--to this particular instance.
Tell me, does your English system testify to any constructive
forethought? In London, I am assured, the railway companies have built
stations at enormous expense in the very heart of the town. What will be
the consequence of this hand-to-mouth policy? This, that in fifty years
such structures will have become obsolete--stranded in slums at the back
of new quarters yet undreamed of. New depots will have to be built.
Whereas in Italy the now distant city will in fifty years have grown to
reach its station and, in another half-century, will have encircled it.
Thanks to our sagacity, the station will then be in its proper place, in
the centre of the town. Our progeny will be grateful; and that again,
you will admit, is a worthy aim for our politicians. Besides, what would
happen to our coachmen if nobody needed their services on arriving at
his destination? The poor men must not be allowed to starve! Cold head
and warm heart, you know; humanitarian considerations cannot be thrust
aside by a community that prides itself on being truly civilized. I
trust I have made myself intelligible?"
"You always do. But why should I incommode myself to please your
progeny, or even my own? And I don't like the kind of warm heart that
subordinates my concerns to those of a cab-driver. You don't altogether
convince me, dear sir."
"To speak frankly, I sometimes don't convince myself. My own country
station, for example, is curiously remote from the city, and it is
annoying on wintry nights to drive through six miles of level mud when
you are anxious to reach home and dinner; so much so that, in my
egoistical moments, I would have been glad if our administration had
adopted the more specious British method. But come now! You cannot raise
that objection against the terminus at Rome."
"Not that one. But I can raise two others. The platforms are
inconveniently arranged, and a traveller will often find it impossible
to wash his hands and face there; as to hot water----"
"Granting a certain deplorable disposition of the lines--why on earth,
pray, should a man cleanse himself at the station when there are
countless hotels and lodging-houses in the city? O you English originals!"
"And supposing," I urged, "he is in a hurry to catch another train going
south, to Naples or Palermo?"
"There I have you, my illustrious friend! _Nobody travels south of Rome."_
Nobody travels south of Rome. . . .
Often have I thought upon those words.
This conversation was forcibly recalled to my mind by the fact that it
took our creaky old diligence two and a half hours (one of the horses
had been bought the day before, for six pounds) to drive from the
station of Castrovillari to the entrance of the town, where we were
delayed another twenty minutes, while the octroi zealots searched
through every bag and parcel on the post-waggon.
Many people have said bad things about this place. But my once
unpleasant impressions of it have been effaced by my reception at its
new and decent little hostelry. What a change after the sordid filth of
Rossano! Castrovillari, to be sure, has no background of hoary eld to
atone for such deficiencies. It was only built the other day, by the
Normans; or by the Romans, who called it Aprustum; or possibly by the
Greeks, who founded their Abystron on this particular site for the same
reasons that commended it in yet earlier times to certain bronze and
stone age primitives, whose weapons you may study in the British Museum
and elsewhere. [Footnote: Even so Taranto, Cumae, Paestum, Metapontum,
Monteleone and other southern towns were founded by the ancients on the
site of prehistoric stations.]
But what are the stone ages compared with immortal and immutable
Rossano? An ecclesiastical writer has proved that Calabria was inhabited
before the Noachian flood; and Rossano, we may be sure, was one of the
favourite haunts of the antediluvians. None the less, it is good to rest
in a clean bed, for a change; and to feed off a clean plate.
We are in the south. One sees it in sundry small ways--in the behaviour
of the cats, for instance. . . .
The Tarentines, they say, imported the cat into Europe. If those of
south Italy still resemble their old Nubian ancestors, the beast would
assuredly not have been worth the trouble of acclimatizing. On entering
these regions, one of the first things that strikes me is the difference
between the appearance of cats and dogs hereabouts, and in England or
any northern country; and the difference in their temperaments. Our dogs
are alert in their movements and of wideawake features; here they are
arowsy and degraded mongrels, with expressionless eyes. Our cats are
sleek and slumberous; here they prowl about haggard, shifty and
careworn, their fur in patches and their ears a-tremble from nervous
anxiety. That domestic animals such as these should be fed at home does
not commend itself to the common people; they must forage for their food
abroad. Dogs eat offal, while the others hunt for lizards in the fields.
A lizard diet is supposed to reduce their weight (it would certainly
reduce mine); but I suspect that southern cats are emaciated not only
from this cause, but from systematic starvation. Many a kitten is born
that never tastes a drop of cow's milk from the cradle to the grave, and
little enough of its own mother's.
To say that our English _zoophilomania--_our cult of lap-dogs--smacks of
degeneracy does not mean that I sympathize with the ill-treatment of
beasts which annoys many visitors to these parts and has been attributed
to "Saracenic" influences. Wrongly, of course; one might as well
attribute it to the old Greeks. [Footnote: Whose attitude towards
animals, by the way, was as far removed from callousness as from
sentimentalism. We know how those Hellenic oxen fared who had laboured
to draw up heavy blocks for the building of a temple--how, on the
completion of their task, they were led into green fields, there to
pasture unmolested for the rest of their lives. We know that the Greeks
were appreciative of the graces and virtues of canine nature--is not the
Homeric Argo still the finest dog-type in literature? Yet to them the
dog, even he of the tender Anthology, remained what he is: a tamed
beast. The Greeks, sitting at dinner, resented the insolence of a
creature that, watching every morsel as it disappeared into the mouth of
its master, plainly discovered by its physiognomy the desire, the
presumed right, to devour what he considered fit only for himself.
Whence that profound word [Greek: kunopes]--dog-eyed, shameless. In
contrast to this sanity, observe what an Englishman can read into a
That liquid, melancholy eye,
From whose pathetic, soul-fed springs
Seemed surging the Virgilian cry--
The sense of tears in mortal things. . . .
[That is how Matthew Arnold interprets the feelings of Fido, watching his
master at work upon a tender beefsteak. . . .]
Poor Saracens! They are a sort of whipping-boy, all over the country.
The chief sinner in this respect is the Vatican, which has authorized
cruelty to animals by its official teaching. When Lord Odo-Russell
enquired of the Pope regarding the foundation of a society for the
prevention of cruelty to animals in Italy, the papal answer was: "Such
an association _could not be sanctioned_ by the Holy See, being founded
on a theological error, to wit, that Christians owed any duties to
animals." This language has the inestimable and rather unusual merit of
being perspicuous. Nevertheless, Ouida's flaming letters to "The Times"
inaugurated an era of truer humanity. . . .
And the lateness of the dining-hour--another symptom of the south. It
was eleven o'clock when I sat down to dinner on the night of my arrival,
and habitues of the hotel, engineers and so forth, were still dropping
in for their evening meal. Appetite comes more slowly than ever, now
that the heats have begun.
They have begun in earnest. The swoon of summer is upon the land, the
grass is cut, cicadas are chirping overhead. Despite its height of a
thousand feet, Castrovillari must be blazing in August, surrounded as it
is by parched fields and an amphitheatre of bare limestone hills that
exhale the sunny beams. You may stroll about these fields observing the
construction of the line which is to pass through Cassano, a pretty
place, famous for its wine and mineral springs; or studying the habits
of the gigantic grasshoppers that hang in clusters to the dried thistles
and start off, when scared, with the noise of a covey of partridges; or
watching how the cows are shod, at this season, to thresh the corn. Old
authors are unanimous in declaring that the town was embowered in oak
forests; as late as 1844 it was lamented that this "ancient barbarous
custom" of cutting them down had not yet been discontinued. The
mischief is now done, and it would be interesting to know the difference
between the present summer temperature and that of olden days.
The manna ash used to be cultivated in these parts. I cannot tell
whether its purgative secretion is still in favour. The confusion
between this stuff and the biblical manna gave rise to the legends about
Calabria where "manna droppeth as dew from Heaven." Sandys says it was
prepared out of the mulberry. He copied assiduously, did old Sandys, and
yet found room for some original blunders of his own. R. Pococke, by the
way, is one of those who were dissatisfied with Castrovillari. He found
no accommodation save an empty house. "A poor town." . . .
Driving through modern Castrovillari one might think the place flat and
undeserving of the name of _castrum._ But the old town is otherwise. It
occupies a proud eminence--the head of a promontory which overlooks the
junction of two streams; the newer settlement stands on the more level
ground at its back. This acropolis, once thronged with folk but now
well-nigh deserted, has all the macabre fascination of decay. A mildewy
spirit haunts those tortuous and uneven roadways; plaster drops unheeded
from the walls; the wild fig thrusts luxuriant arms through the windows
of palaces whose balconies are rusted and painted loggias crumbling to
earth ... a mournful and malarious agglomeration of ruins.
There is a castle, of course. It was built, or rebuilt, by the
Aragonese, with four corner towers, one of which became infamous for a
scene that rivals the horrors of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Numbers of
confined brigands, uncared-for, perished miserably of starvation within
its walls. Says the historian Botta:
"The abominable taint prevented the guards from approaching; the dead
bodies were not carried away. The pestilence increased; in pain and
exhaustion, the dying fell shuddering on the dead; the hale on the
dying; all tearing themselves like dogs with teeth and nails. The tower
of Castrovillari became a foul hole of corruption, and the stench was
spread abroad for a long season."
This castle is now used as a place of confinement. Sentries warned me at
one point not to approach too near the walls; it was "forbidden." I had
no particular desire to disobey this injunction. Judging by the number
of rats that swarm about the place, it is not exactly a model prison.
One of the streets in this dilapidated stronghold bears to this day the
inscription "Giudea," or Jewry. Southern Italy was well stocked with
those Hebrews concerning whom Mr. H. M. Adler has sagely discoursed.
They lived in separate districts, and seem to have borne a good
reputation. Those of Castrovillari, on being ejected by Ferdinand the
Catholic in 1511, obligingly made a donation of their school to the
town. But they returned anon, and claimed it again. Persecuted as they
were, they never suffered the martyrdom of the ill-starred Waldensian
colonies in Calabria.
The houses of this Jewry overlook the Coscile river, the Sybaris of old,
and from a spot in the quarter a steep path descends to its banks. Here
you will find yourself in another climate, cool and moist. The livid
waters tumble gleefully towards the plain, amid penurious plots of beans
and tomatoes, and a fierce tangle of vegetation wherever the hand of man
has not made clearings. Then, mounting aloft once more, you will do well
to visit the far-famed chapel that sits at the apex of the promontory,
Santa Maria del Castello. There is a little platform where you may
repose and enjoy the view, as I have done for some evenings
past--letting the eye roam up-country towards Dolcedorme and its sister
peaks, and westwards over the undulating Sila lands whose highest point,
Botte Donato, is unmistakable even at this distance of forty miles, from
its peculiar shape.
The Madonna picture preserved within the sanctuary has performed so many
miracles in ages past that I despair of giving any account of them. It
is high time, none the less, for a new sign from Heaven. Shattered by
earthquakes, the chapel is in a dis-ruptured and even menacing
condition. Will some returned emigrant from America come forward with
the necessary funds?
That would be a miracle, too, in its way. But gone, for the present, are
the ages of Faith--the days when the peevishly-protestant J. H. Bartels
sojourned here and groaned as he counted up the seven monasteries of
Castrovillari (there used to be nearly twice that number), and viewed
the 130 priests, "fat-paunched rascals, loafing about the streets and
doorways." . . .
From my window in the hotel I espy a small patch of snow on the hills. I
know the place; it is the so-called "Montagna del Principe" past which
the track winds into the Pollino regions. Thither I am bound; but so
complicated is life that even for a short three days' ramble among those
forests a certain amount of food and clothing must be provided--a mule
is plainly required. There seem to be none of these beasts available at
"To Morano!" they tell me. "It is nearer the mountain, and there you
will find mules plentiful as blackberries. To Morano!"
Morano lies a few miles higher up the valley on the great military road
to Lagonegro, which was built by Murat and cuts through the interior of
Basilicata, rising at Campo Tenese to a height of noo metres. They are
now running a public motor service along this beautiful stretch of 52
kilometres, at the cheap rate of a sou per kilometre.
POSTSCRIPT.--Another symptom of the south:
Once you have reached the latitude of Naples, the word _grazie_ (thank
you) vanishes from the vocabulary of all save the most cultured. But to
conclude therefrom that one is among a thankless race is not altogether
the right inference. They have a wholly different conception of the
affair. Our septentrional "thanks" is a complicated product in which
gratefulness for things received and for things to come are
unconsciously balanced; while their point of view differs in nothing
from that of the beau-ideal of Greek courtesy, of Achilles, whose mother
procured for him a suit of divine armour from Hephaistos, which he
received without a word of acknowledgment either for her or for the god
who had been put to some little trouble in the matter. A thing given
they regard as a thing found, a hermaion, a happy hit in the lottery of
life; the giver is the blind instrument of Fortune. This chill attitude
repels us; and our effusive expressions of thankfulness astonish these
people and the Orientals.
A further difference is that the actual gift is viewed quite
extrinsically, intellectually, either in regard to what it would fetch
if bartered or sold, or, if to be kept, as to how far its possession may
raise the recipient in the eyes of other men. This is purely Homeric,
once more--Homeric or primordial, if you prefer. Odysseus told his kind
host Alkinoos, whom he was never to see again, that he would be glad to
receive farewell presents from him--to cherish as a friendly memory?
No, but "because they would make him look a finer fellow when he got
home." The idea of a keepsake, of an emotional value attaching to some
trifle, is a northern one. Here life is give and take, and lucky he who
takes more than he gives; it is what Professor Mahaffy calls the
"ingrained selfishness of the Greek character." Speaking of all below
the upper classes, I should say that disinterested benevolence is apt to
surpass their comprehension, a good-natured person being regarded as
weak in the head.
Has this man, then, no family, that he should benefit strangers? Or is
he one of nature's unfortunates--soft-witted? Thus they argue. They will
do acts of spontaneous kindness towards their family, far oftener than
is customary with us. But outside that narrow sphere, _interesse_
(Odyssean self-advantage) is the mainspring of their actions. Whence
their smooth and glozing manners towards the stranger, and those
protestations of undying affection which beguile the unwary--they wish
to be forever in your good graces, for sooner or later you may be of
use; and if perchance you do content them, they will marvel
(philosophically) at your grotesque generosity, your lack of
discrimination and restraint. Such _malizia_ (cleverness) is none the
more respectable for being childishly transparent. The profound and
unscrupulous northerner quickly familiarizes himself with its technique,
and turns it to his own profit. Lowering his moral notions, he soon--so
one of them expressed it to me--"walks round them without getting off
his chair" and, on the strength of his undeserved reputation for
simplicity and fair dealing, keeps them dangling a lifetime in a tremble
of obsequious amiability, cheered on by the hope of ultimately
over-reaching him. Idle dream, where a pliant and sanguine southerner is
pitted against the unswerving Saxon or Teuton! This accounts for the
success of foreign trading houses in the south. Business is business,
and the devil take the hindmost! By all means; but they who are not
rooted to the spot by commercial exigencies nor ready to adopt debased
standards of conduct will find that a prolonged residence in a centre
like Naples--the daily attrition of its ape-and-tiger elements--sullies
their homely candour and self-respect.
For a tigerish flavour does exist in most of these southern towns.
Camorra, the law of intimidation, rules the city. This is what Stendhal
meant when, speaking of the "simple and inoffensive" personages in the
_ Vicar of Wakefield,_ he remarked that "in the sombre Italy, a simple
and inoffensive creature would be quickly destroyed." It is not easy to
be inoffensive and yet respected in a land of teeth and claws, where a
man is reverenced in proportion as he can browbeat his fellows. So much
ferocity tinctures civic life, that had they not dwelt in towns while we
were still shivering in bogs, one would deem them not yet ripe for
herding together in large numbers; one would say that post-patriarchal
conditions evoked the worst qualities of the race. And we must revise
our conceptions of fat and lean men; we must pity Cassius, and dread
"What has happened"--you ask some enormous individual--"to your
adversary at law?"
"To which one of them?"
"Oh, Signor M----, the timber merchant."
"_L'abbiamo mangiato!_" (I have eaten him.)
Beware of the fat Neapolitan. He is fat from prosperity, from, dining
off his leaner brothers.
Which reminds me of a supremely important subject, eating.
The feeding here is saner than ours with its all-pervading animal grease
(even a boiled egg tastes of mutton fat in England), its stock-pot,
suet, and those other inventions of the devil whose awful effects we
only survive because we are continually counteracting or eliminating
them by the help of (1) pills, (2) athletics, and (3) alcohol. Saner as
regards material, but hopelessly irrational in method. Your ordinary
employe begins his day with a thimbleful of black coffee, nothing more.
What work shall be got out of him under such anti-hygienic conditions?
Of course it takes ten men to do the work of one; and of course all ten
of them are sulky and irritable throughout the morning, thinking only of
their luncheon. Then indeed--then they make up for lost time; those few
favoured ones, at least, who can afford it.
I once watched a young fellow, a clerk of some kind, in a restaurant at
midday. He began by informing the waiter that he had no appetite that
morning--_sangue di Dio!_ no appetite whatever; but at last allowed
himself to be persuaded into consuming a _hors d' oeuvres_ of anchovies
and olives. Then he was induced to try the maccheroni, because they were
"particularly good that morning"; he ate, or rather drank, an immense
plateful. After that came some slices of meat and a dish of green stuff
sufficient to satisfy a starving bullock. A little fish? asked the
waiter. Well, perhaps yes, just for form's sake--two fried mullets and
some nondescript fragments. Next, he devoured a couple of raw eggs "on
account of his miserably weak stomach," a bowl of salad and a goodly
lump of fresh cheese. Not without a secret feeling of envy I left him at
work upon his dessert, of which he had already consumed some six
peaches. Add to this (quite an ordinary repast) half a bottle of heavy
wine, a cup of black coffee and three glasses of water--what work shall
be got out of a man after such a boa-constrictor collation? He is as
exasperated and prone to take offence as in the morning--this time from
another cause. . . .
That is why so many of them suffer from chronic troubles of the
digestive organs. The head of a hospital at Naples tells me that stomach
diseases are more prevalent there than in any other part of Europe, and
the stomach, whatever sentimentalists may say to the contrary, being the
true seat of the emotions, it follows that a judicious system of dieting
might work wonders upon their development. Nearly all Mediterranean
races have been misfed from early days; that is why they are so small. I
would undertake to raise the Italian standard of height by several
inches, if I had control of their nutrition for a few centuries. I would
undertake to alter their whole outlook upon life, to convert them from
utilitarians into romantics--were such a change desirable. For if
utilitarianism be the shadow of starvation, romance is nothing but the
vapour of repletion.
And yet men still talk of race-characteristics as of something fixed and
immutable! The Jews, so long as they starved in Palestine, were the most
acrimonious bigots on earth. Now that they live and feed sensibly, they
have learnt to see things in their true perspective--they have become
rationalists. Their less fortunate fellow-Semites, the Arabs, have
continued to starve and to swear by the Koran--empty in body and empty
in mind. No poise or balance is possible to those who live in uneasy
conditions. The wisest of them can only attain to stoicism--a dumb
protest against the environment. There are no stoics among well-fed
people. The Romans made that discovery for themselves, when they
abandoned the cheese-paring habits of the Republic.
In short, it seems to me that virtues and vices which cannot be
expressed in physiological terms are not worth talking about; that when
a morality refuses to derive its sanction from the laws which govern our
body, it loses the right to exist. This being so, what is the most
conspicuous native vice?
Envy, without a doubt.
Out of envy they pine away and die; out of envy they kill one another.
To produce a more placid race, [Footnote: By placid I do not mean
peace-loving and pitiful in the Christian sense. That doctrine of loving
and forgiving one's enemies is based on sheer funk; our pity for others
is dangerously akin to self-pity, most odious of vices. Catholic
teaching--in practice, if not in theory---glides artfully over the
desirability of these imported freak-virtues, knowing that they cannot
appeal to a masculine stock. By placid I mean steady, self-contained.]
to dilute envious thoughts and the acts to which they lead, is at bottom
a question of nutrition. One would like to know for how much black
brooding and for how many revengeful deeds that morning thimbleful of
black coffee is responsible.
The very faces one sees in the streets would change. Envy is reflected
in all too many of those of the middle classes, while the poorest
citizens are often haggard and distraught from sheer hunger--hunger
which has not had time to be commuted into moral poison; college-taught
men, in responsible positions, being forced to live on salaries which a
London lift-boy would disdain. When that other local feature, that
respect for honourable poverty--the reverse of what we see in England
where, since the days of the arch-snob Pope, a slender income has grown
to be considered a subject of reproach.
And yet another symptom of the south----
Enough! The clock points to 6.20; it is time for an evening walk--my
final one--to the terrace of S. M. del Castello.
This Morano is a very ancient city; Tufarelli, writing in 1598, proves
that it was then exactly 3349 years old. Oddly enough, therefore, its
foundation almost coincides with that of Rossano. . . .
There may be mules at Morano; indeed, there are. But they are illusive
beasts: phantom-mules. Despite the assistance of the captain of the
carbineers, the local innkeeper, the communal policeman, the secretary
of the municipality, an amiable canon of the church and several
non-official residents, I vainly endeavoured, for three days, to procure
one--flitting about, meanwhile, between this place and Castrovillari.
For Morano, notwithstanding its size (they say it is larger than the
other town) offers no accommodation or food in the septentrional sense
of those terms.
Its situation, as you approach from Castrovillari, is striking. The
white houses stream in a cataract down one side of a steep conical hill
that dominates the landscape--on the summit sits the inevitable castle,
blue sky peering through its battered windows. But the interior is not
at all in keeping with this imposing aspect. Morano, so far as I was
able to explore it, is a labyrinth of sombre, tortuous and fetid alleys,
whexe black pigs wallow amid heaps 'of miscellaneous and malodorous
filth--in short, the town exemplifies that particular idea of civic
liberty which consists in everybody being free to throw their own
private refuse into the public street and leave it there, from
generation to generation. What says Lombroso? "The street-cleaning is
entrusted, in many towns, to the rains of heaven and, in their absence,
to the voracity of the pigs." None the less, while waiting for mules
that never came, I took to patrolling those alleys, at first out of
sheer boredom, but soon impelled by that subtle fascination which
emanates from the _ne plus ultra_ of anything--even of grotesque
dirtiness. On the second day, however, a case of cholera was announced,
which chilled my ardour for further investigations. It was on that
account that I failed to inspect what was afterwards described to me as
the chief marvel of the place--a carved wooden altar-piece in a certain
"It is prodigious and _antichissimo,"_ said an obliging citizen to
whom I applied for information. "There is nothing like it on earth, and
I have been six times to America, sir. The artist--a real artist, mind
you, not a common professor--spent his whole life in carving it. It was
for the church, you see, and he wanted to show what he could do in the
way of a masterpiece. Then, when it was finished and in its place, the
priests refused to pay for it. It was made not for them, they said, but
for the glory of God; the man's reward was sufficient. And besides, he
could have remission of sins for the rest of his life. He said he did
not care about remission of sins; he wanted money--money! But he got
nothing. Whereupon he began to brood and to grow yellow. Money--money!
That was all he ever said. And at last he became quite green and died.
After that, his son took up the quarrel, but he got as little out of the
priests as the father. It was fixed in the church, you understand, and
he could not take it away. He climbed through the window one night and
tried to burn it--the marks are there to this day--but they were too
sharp for him. And he took the business so much to heart that he also
soon died quite young! And quite green--like his father."
The most characteristic item in the above history is that about growing
green. People are apt to put on this colour in the south from
disappointment or from envy. They have a proverb which runs "sfoga o
schiatta"--relieve yourself or burst; our vaunted ideal of
self-restraint, of dominating the reflexes, being thought not only
fanciful but injurious to health. Therefore, if relief is thwarted,
they either brood themselves into a green melancholy, or succumb to a
sudden "colpo di sangue," like a young woman of my acquaintance who,
considering herself beaten in a dispute with a tram-conductor about a
penny, forthwith had a "colpo di sangue," and was dead in a few hours. A
primeval assertion of the ego . . .
Unable to perambulate the streets of Morano, I climbed to the ruined
fortress along the verdant slope at its back, and enjoyed a fair view
down the fertile valley, irrigated by streamlets and planted with
many-hued patches of culture, with mulberries, pomegranates and poplars.
Some boys were up here, engaged in fishing--fishing for young kestrels
in their nest above a shattered gateway. The tackle consisted of a rod
with a bent piece of wire fixed to one end, and it seemed to me a pretty
unpromising form of sport. But suddenly, amid wild vociferations, they
hooked one, and carried it off in triumph to supper. The mother bird,
meanwhile, sailed restlessly about the aether watching every movement,
as I could see by my glasses; at times she drifted quite near, then
swerved again and hovered, with vibrating pinions, directly overhead. It
was clear that she could not tear herself away from the scene, and
hardly had the marauders departed, when she alighted on the wall and
began to inspect what was left of her dwelling. It was probably rather
untidy. I felt sorry for her; yet such harebrained imprudence cannot go
unpunished. With so many hundred crannies in this old castle, why choose
one which any boy can reach with a stick? She will know better next season.
Then an old shepherd scrambled up, and sat on the stone beside me. He
was short-sighted, asthmatic, and unable to work; the doctor had
recommended an evening walk up to the castle. We conversed awhile, and
he extracted a carnation out of his waistcoat pocket--unusual receptacle
for flowers--which he presented to me. I touched upon the all-absorbing
topic of mules.
"Mules are very busy animals in Morano," he explained. _"Animali
occupatissimi."_ However, he promised to exert himself on my behalf; he
knew a man with a mule--two mules--he would send him round, if possible.
Quite a feature in the landscape of Morano is the costume of the women,
with their home-dyed red skirts and ribbons of the same hue plaited into
their hair. It is a beautiful and reposeful shade of red, between
Pompeian and brick-colour, and the tint very closely resembles that of
the cloth worn by the beduin (married) women of Tunisia. Maybe it was
introduced by the Saracens. And it is they, I imagine, who imported that
love of red peppers (a favourite dish with most Orientals) which is
peculiar to these parts, where they eat them voraciously in every form,
particularly in that of red sausages seasoned with these fiery condiments.
The whole country is full of Saracen memories. The name of Morano, they
say, is derived from _moro,_ [Footnote: This is all wrong, of course.
And equally wrong is the derivation from _moral,_ a mulberry--abundant
as these trees are. And more wrong still, if possible, is that which is
drawn from a saying of the mysterious Oenotrians--that useful
tribe--who, wandering in search of homesteads across these regions and
observing their beauty, are supposed to have remarked: _Hic moremur--_
here let us stay! Morano (strange to say) is simply the Roman Muranum.]
a Moor; and in its little piazza--an irregular and picturesque spot,
shaded by a few grand old elms amid the sound of running waters--there
is a sculptured head of a Moor inserted into the wall, commemorative, I
was told, of some ancient anti-Saracen exploit. It is the escutcheon of
the town. This Moor wears a red fez, and his features are painted black
(this is _de rigueur,_ for "Saracens "); he bears the legend _Vivit
sub arbore morus._ Near at hand, too, lies the prosperous village
Saracena, celebrated of old for its muscatel wines. They are made from
the grape which the Saracens brought over from Maskat, and planted all
over Sicily. [Footnote: See next chapter.]
The men of Morano emigrate to America; two-thirds of the adult and
adolescent male population are at this moment on the other side of the
Atlantic. But the oldsters, with their peaked hats (capello pizzuto)
shading gnarled and canny features, are well worth studying. At this
summer season they leave the town at 3.30 a.m. to cultivate their
fields, often far distant, returning at nightfall; and to observe these
really wonderful types, which will soon be extinct, you must take up a
stand on the Castrovillari road towards sunset and watch them riding
home on their donkeys, or walking, after the labours of the day.
Poorly dressed, these peasants are none the less wealthy; the post
office deposit of Morano is said to have two million francs to its
credit, mostly the savings of these humble cultivators, who can discover
an astonishing amount of money when it is a question, for example, of
providing their daughters with a dowry. The bridal dress alone, a blaze
of blue silk and lace and gold embroidery, costs between six hundred and
a thousand francs. Altogether, Morano is a rich place, despite its
sordid appearance; it is also celebrated as the birthplace of various
learned men. The author of the "Calascione Scordato," a famous
Neapolitan poem of the seventeenth century, certainly lived here for
some time and has been acclaimed as a son of Morano, though he
distinctly speaks of Naples as his home. Among its elder literary
glories is that Leonardo Tufarelli, who thus apostrophizes his birthplace:
"And to proceed--how many _letterati_ and _virtuosi_ have issued from
you in divers times? Among whom--not to name all of them--there has been
in our days Leopardo de l'Osso of happy memory, physician and most
excellent philosopher, singular in every science, of whom I dare say
that he attained to Pythagorean heights. How many are there to-day,
versed in every faculty, in theology, in the two laws, and in medicine?
How many historians, how many poets, grammarians, artists, actors?"
The modern writer Nicola Leoni is likewise a child of Morano; his
voluminous "Della Magna Grecia e delle Tre Calabrie" appeared in
1844-1846. He, too, devotes much space to the praises of his natal city,
and to lamentations regarding the sad condition of Calabrian letters
during those dark years.
"Closed for ever is the academy of Amantea! Closed for ever is
the academy of Rossano! Rare are the lectures in the academy of
Monteleone! Rare indeed the lectures in the academy of Catan-zaro!
Closed for ever is the public library of Monteleone! O ancient days! O
wisdom of our fathers! Where shall I find you?. . ."
To live the intellectual life amid the ferociously squalid surroundings
of Morano argues an enviable philosophic calm--a detachment bordering on
insensibility. But perhaps we are too easily influenced by externals, in
these degenerate times. Or things may have been better in days of
old--who can tell? One always likes to think so, though the evidence
usually points to the contrary.
When least I expected it, a possessor of mules presented himself. He was
a burly ruffian of northern extraction, with clear eyes, fair moustache,
and an insidious air of cheerfulness.
Yes, he had a mule, he said; but as to climbing the mountain for three
or four days on end--ha, ha!--that was rather an undertaking, you know.
Was I aware that there were forests and snow up there? Had I ever been
up the mountain? Indeed! Well, then I must know that there was no food----
I pointed to my store of provisions from Castrovillari. His eye wandered
lovingly over the pile and reposed, finally, upon sundry odd bottles and
a capacious demijohn, holding twelve litres.
"Wine of family," I urged. "None of your eating-house stuff."
He thought he could manage it, after all. Yes; the trip could be
undertaken, with a little sacrifice. And he had a second mule, a
lady-mule, which it struck him I might like to ride now and then; a
pleasant beast and a companion, so to speak, for the other one. Two
mules and two Christians--that seemed appropriate. . . . And only four
francs a day more.
Done! It was really cheap. So cheap, that I straightway grew suspicious
of the "lady-mule."
We sealed the bargain in a glass of the local mixture, and I thereupon
demanded a _caparra--_ a monetary security that he would keep his word,
i.e. be round at my door with the animals at two in the morning, so as
to reach the uplands before the heat became oppressive.
His face clouded--a good omen, indicating that he was beginning to
respect me. Then he pulled out his purse, and reluctantly laid two
francs on the table.
The evening was spent in final preparations; I retired early to bed, and
tried to sleep. One o'clock came, and two o'clock, and three o'clock--no
mules! At four I went to the man's house, and woke him out of ambrosial
"You come to see me so early in the morning?" he enquired, sitting up in
bed and rubbing his eyes. "Now that's really nice of you."
One of the mules, he airily explained, had lost a shoe in the afternoon.
He would get it put right at once--at once.
"You might have told me so yesterday evening, instead of keeping me
awake all night waiting for you."
"True," he replied. "I thought of it at the time. But then I went to
bed, and slept. Ah, sir, it is good to sleep!" and he stretched himself
The beast was shod, and at 5 a.m. we left.
There is a type of physiognomy here which is undeniably Semitic--with
curly hair, dusky skin and hooked nose. We may take it to be of
Saracenic origin, since a Phoenician descent is out of the question,
while mediaeval Jews never intermarried with Christians. It is the same
class of face which one sees so abundantly at Palermo, the former
metropolis of these Africans. The accompanying likeness is that of a
native of Cosenza, a town that was frequently in their possession.
Eastern traits of character, too, have lingered among the populace. So
the humour of the peddling Semite who will allow himself to be called by
the most offensive epithets rather than lose a chance of gaining a sou;
who, eternally professing poverty, cannot bear to be twitted on his
notorious riches; their ceaseless talk of hidden treasures, their
secretiveness and so many other little Orientalisms that whoever has
lived in the East will be inclined to echo the observation of Edward
Lear's Greek servant: "These men are Arabs, but they have more clothes on."
Many Saracenic words (chiefly of marine and commercial import) have
survived from this period; I could quote a hundred or more, partly in
the literary language (balio, dogana, etc.), partly in dialect (cala,
tavuto, etc.) and in place-names such as Tamborio (the Semitic Mount
Tabor), Kalat (Calatafimi), Marsa (Marsala).
Dramatic plays with Saracen subjects are still popular with the lower
classes; you can see them acted in any of the coast towns. In fact, the
recollection of these intruders is very much alive to this day. They
have left a deep scar.
Such being the case, it is odd to find local writers hardly referring to
the Saracenic period. Even a modern like l'Occaso, who describes the
Castrovillari region in a conscientious fashion, leaps directly from
Greco-Roman events into those of the Normans. But this is in accordance
with the time-honoured ideal of writing such works: to say nothing in
dispraise of your subject (an exception may be made in favour of
Spano-Bolani's History of Reggio). Malaria and earthquakes and Saracen
irruptions are awkward arguments when treating of the natural
attractions and historical glories of your native place. So the once
renowned descriptions of this province by Grano and the rest of them are
little more than rhetorical exercises; they are "Laus Calabria." And
then--their sources of information were limited and difficult of access.
Collective works like those of Muratori and du Chesne had not appeared
on the market; libraries were restricted to convents; and it was not to
be expected that they should know all the chroniclers of the Byzantines,
Latins, Lombards, Normans and Hohenstaufen--to say nothing of Arab
writers like Nowairi, Abulfeda, Ibn Chaldun and Ibn Alathir--who throw a
little light on those dark times, and are now easily accessible to
Dipping into this old-world literature of murders and prayers, we gather
that in pre-Saracenic times the southern towns were denuded of their
garrisons, and their fortresses fallen into disrepair. "Nec erat formido
aut metus bellorum, quoniam alta pace omnes gaudebant usque ad tempora
Saracenorum." In this part of Italy, as well as at Taranto and other
parts of old "Calabria," the invaders had an easy task before them, at
In 873, on their return from Salerno, they poured into Calabria, and by
884 already held several towns, such as Tropea and Amantea, but were
driven out temporarily. In 899 they ravaged, says Hepi-danus, the
country of the Lombards (? Calabria). In 900 they destroyed Reggio, and
renewed their incursions in 919, 923, 924, 925, 927, till the Greek
Emperor found it profitable to pay them an annual tribute. In 953, this
tribute not being forthcoming, they defeated the Greeks in Calabria, and
made further raids in 974, 975; 976, 977, carrying off a large store of
captives and wealth. In 981 Otto II repulsed them at Cotrone, but was
beaten the following year near Squillace, and narrowly escaped capture.
It was one of the most romantic incidents of these wars. During the
years 986, 988, 991, 994, 998, 1002, 1003 they were continually in the
country; indeed, nearly every year at the beginning of the eleventh
century is marked by some fresh inroad. In 1009 they took Cosenza for
the third or fourth time; in 1020 they were at Bisignano in the Crati
valley, and returned frequently into those parts, defeating, in 1025, a
Greek army under Orestes, and, in 1031, the assembled forces of the
Byzantine Catapan------ [Footnote: I have not seen Moscato's "Cronaca
dei Musulmani in Calabria," where these authorities might be
conveniently tabulated. It must be a rare book. Martorana deals only
with the Saracens of Sicily.]
No bad record, from their point of view.
But they never attained their end, the subjection of the mainland. And
their methods involved appalling and enduring evils.
Yet the presumable intent or ambition of these aliens must be called
reasonable enough. They wished to establish a provincial government here
on the same lines as in Sicily, of which island it has been said that it
was never more prosperous than under their administration.
Literature, trade, industry, and all the arts of peace are described as
flourishing there; in agriculture they paid especial attention to the
olive; they initiated, I believe, the art of terracing and irrigating
the hill-sides; they imported the date-palm, the lemon and sugar-cane
(making the latter suffice not only for home consumption, but for
export); their silk manufactures were unsurpassed. Older writers like
Mazzella speak of the abundant growth of sugar-cane in Calabria
(Capialbi, who wallowed in learning, has a treatise on the subject);
John Evelyn saw it cultivated near Naples; it is now extinct from
economical and possibly climatic causes. They also introduced the
papyrus into Sicily, as well as the cotton-plant, which used to be
common all over south Italy, where I have myself seen it growing.
All this sounds praiseworthy, no doubt. But I see no reason why they
should have governed Sicily better than they did North Africa, which
crumbled into dust at their touch, and will take many long centuries to
recover its pre-Saracen prosperity. There is something flame-like and
anti-constructive in the Arab, with his pastoral habits and contempt of
forethought. In favour of their rule, much capital has been made out of
Benjamin of Tudela's account of Palermo. But it must not be forgotten
that his brief visit was made a hundred years after the Norman
occupation had begun. Palermo, he says, has about 1500 Jews and a large
number of Christians and Mohammedans; Sicily "contains all the pleasant
things of this world." Well, so it did in pre-Saracen times; so it does
to-day. Against the example of North Africa, no doubt, may be set their
activities in Spain.
They have been accused of destroying the old temples of Magna Gracia
from religious or other motives. I do not believe it; this was against
their usual practice. They sacked monasteries, because these were
fortresses defended by political enemies and full of gold which they
coveted; but in their African possessions, during all this period, the
ruins of ancient civilizations were left untouched, while Byzantine
cults lingered peacefully side by side with Mos-lemism; why not here?
Their fanaticism has been much exaggerated. Weighing the balance between
conflicting writers, it would appear that Christian rites were tolerated
in Sicily during all their rule, though some governors were more bigoted
than others; the proof is this, that the Normans found resident
fellow-believers there, after 255 years of Arab domination. It was the
Christians rather, who with the best intentions set the example of
fanaticism during their crusades; these early Saracen raids had no more
religious colouring than our own raids into the Transvaal or elsewhere.
The Saracens were out for plunder and fresh lands, exactly like the
English. [Footnote: The behaviour of the Normans was wholly different
from that of the Arabs, immediately on their occupation of the country
they razed to the ground thousands of Arab temples and sanctuaries. Of
several hundred in Palermo alone, not a single one was left standing.]
Nor were they tempted to destroy these monuments for decorative
purposes, since they possessed no palaces on the mainland like the
Palermitan Cuba or Zisa; and that sheer love of destructive-ness with
which they have been credited certainly spared the marbles of Paestum
which lay within a short distance of their strongholds, Agropoli and
Cetara. No. What earthquakes had left intact of these classic relics was
niched by the Christians, who ransacked every corner of Italy for
such treasures to adorn their own temples in Pisa, Rome and Venice--
displaying small veneration for antiquity, but considerable taste.
In Calabria, for instance, the twenty granite pillars of the
cathedral of Gerace were drawn from the ruins of old Locri; those of
Melito came from the ancient Hipponium (Monteleone). So Paestum, after
the Saracens, became a regular quarry for the Lombards and the rich
citizens of Amalfi when they built their cathedral; and above all, for
the shrewdly pious Robert Guiscard. Altogether, these Normans, dreaming
through the solstitial heats in pleasaunces like Ravello, developed a
nice taste in the matter of marbles, and were not particular where they
came from, so long as they came from somewhere. The antiquities remained
intact, at least, which was better than the subsequent system of Colonna
and Frangipani, who burnt them into lime.
Whatever one may think of the condition of Sicily under Arab rule, the
proceedings of these strangers was wholly deplorable so far as the
mainland of Italy was concerned. They sacked and burnt wherever they
went; the sea-board of the Tyrrhenian, Ionian and Adriatic was
depopulated of its inhabitants, who fled inland; towns and villages
vanished from the face of the earth, and the richly cultivated land
became a desert; they took 17,000 prisoners from Reggio on a single
occasion--13,000 from Termula; they reduced Matera to such distress,
that a mother is said to have slaughtered and devoured her own child.
Such was their system on the mainland, where they swarmed. Their numbers
can be inferred from a letter written in 871 by the Emperor Ludwig II
to the Byzantine monarch, in which he complains that "Naples has become
a second Palermo, a second Africa," while three hundred years later, in
1196, the Chancellor Konrad von Hildesheim makes a noteworthy
observation, which begins: "In Naples I saw the Saracens, who with their
spittle destroy venomous beasts, and will briefly set forth how they
came by this virtue. . . ." [Footnote: He goes on to say, "Paulus
Apostolus naufragium passus, apud Capream insulam applicuit _[sic]_ quae
in Actibus Apostolorum Mitylene nuncupatur, et cum multis allis evadens,
ab indigenis tcrrae benigne acceptatus est." Then follows the episode of
the fire and of the serpent which Paul casts from him; whereupon the
Saracens, naturally enough, begin to adore him as a saint. In recompense
for this kind treatment Paul grants to them and their descendants the
power of killing poisonous animals in the manner aforesaid--i.e. with
their spittle--a superstition which is alive in south Italy to this day.
These gifted mortals are called Sanpaulari, or by the Greek word
Cerauli; they are men who are born either on St. Paul's night (24-25
January) or on 29 June. Saint Paul, the "doctor of the Gentiles," is a
great wizard hereabouts, and an invocation to him runs as follows:
"Saint Paul, thou wonder-worker, kill this beast, which is hostile to
God; and save me, for I am a son of Maria."]
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the coastal regions of south
Italy were practically in Arab possession for centuries, and one is
tempted to dwell on their long semi-domination here because it has
affected to this day the vocabulary of the people, their lore, their
architecture, their very faces--and to a far greater extent than a
visitor unacquainted with Moslem countries and habits would believe.
Saracenism explains many anomalies in their mode of life and social
From these troublous times dates, I should say, that use of the word
_cristiano_ applied to natives of the country--as opposed to Mohammedan
"Saraceno" is still a common term of abuse.
The fall of Luceria may be taken as a convenient time-boundary to mark
the end of the Saracenic period. A lull, but no complete repose from
attacks, occurs between that event and the fall of Granada. Then begins
the activity of the corsairs. There is this difference between them,
that the corsairs merely paid flying visits; a change of wind, the
appearance of an Italian sail, an unexpected resistance on the part of
the inhabitants, sufficed to unsettle their ephemeral plans. The
coast-lands were never in their possession; they only harried the
natives. The system of the Saracens on the mainland, though it seldom
attained the form of a provincial or even military government, was
different. They had the _animus manendi._ Where they dined, they slept.
In point of destructiveness, I should think there was little to choose
between them. One thinks of the hundreds of villages the corsairs
devastated; the convents and precious archives they destroyed,
[Footnote: In this particular branch, again, the Christians surpassed
the unbeliever. More archives were destroyed in the so-called "Age of
Lead"--the closing period of Bour-bonism--than under Saracens and
Corsairs combined. It was quite the regular thing to sell them as
waste-paper to the shopkeepers. Some of them escaped this fate by the
veriest miracle--so those of the celebrated Certoza of San Lorenzo in
Padula. The historian Marincola, walking in the market of Salerno,
noticed a piece of cheese wrapped up in an old parchment. He elicited
the fact that it came from this Certosa, intercepted the records on
their way for sale in Salerno, and contrived by a small present to the
driver that next night two cartloads of parchments were deposited in the
library of La Cava.] the thousands of captives they carried
off--sometimes in such numbers that the ships threatened to sink till
the more unsaleable portion of the human freight had been cast
overboard. And it went on for centuries. Pirates and slave-hunters they
were; but not a whit more so than their Christian adversaries, on whose
national rivalries they thrived. African slaves, when not chained to the
galleys, were utilized on land; so the traveller Moore records that the
palace of Caserta was built by gangs of slaves, half of them Italian,
half Turkish. We have not much testimony as to whether these Arab slaves
enjoyed their lot in European countries; but many of the Christians in
Algiers certainly enjoyed theirs. A considerable number of them refused
to profit by Lord Exmouth's arrangement for their ransom. I myself knew
the descendant of a man who had been thus sent back to his relations
from captivity, and who soon enough returned to Africa, declaring that
the climate and religion of Europe were alike insupportable.
In Saracen times the Venetians actually sold Christian slaves to the
Turks. Parrino cites the severe enactments which were issued in the
sixteenth century against Christian sailors who decoyed children on
board their boats and sold them as slaves to the Moslem. I question
whether the Turks were ever guilty of a corresponding infamy.
This Parrino, by the way, is useful as showing the trouble to which the
Spanish viceroys were put by the perpetual inroads of these Oriental
pests. Local militia were organized, heavy contributions levied, towers
of refuge sprang up all along the coast--every respectable house had its
private tower as well (for the dates, see G. del Giudice, _Del Grande
Archivio di Napoli,_ 1871, p. 108). The daring of the pirates knew no
bounds; they actually landed a fleet at Naples itself, and carried off a
number of prisoners. The entire kingdom, save the inland parts, was
terrorized by their lightning-like descents.
A particular literature grew up about this time--those "Lamenti" in
rime, which set forth the distress of the various places they afflicted.
The saints had work to do. Each divine protector fought for his own town
or village, and sometimes we see the pleasing spectacle of two patrons
of different localities joining their forces to ward off a piratical
attack upon some threatened district by means of fiery hail, tempests,
apparitions and other celestial devices. A bellicose type of Madonna
emerges, such as S. M. della Libera and S. M. di Constantinopoli, who
distinguishes herself by a fierce martial courage in the face of the
enemy. There is no doubt that these inroads acted as a stimulus to the
Christian faith; that they helped to seat the numberless patron saints
of south Italy more firmly on their thrones. The Saracens as
saint-makers. . . .
But despite occasional successes, the marine population suffered
increasingly. Historians like Summonte have left us descriptions of the
prodigious exodus of the country people from Calabria and elsewhere into
the safer capital, and how the polished citizens detested these new
The ominous name "Torre di Guardia" (tower of outlook)--a cliff whence
the sea was scanned for the appearance of Turkish vessels--survives all
over the south. Barbarossa, too, has left his mark; many a hill,
fountain or castle has been named after him. In the two Barbarossas were
summed up the highest qualities of the pirates, and it is curious to
think that the names of those scourges of Christendom, Uruj and
Kheir-eddin, should have been contracted into the classical forms of
Horace and Ariadne. The picturesque Uruj was painted by Velasquez; the
other entertained a polite epistolatory correspondence with Aretino, and
died, to his regret, "like a coward" in bed. I never visit
Constantinople without paying my respects to that calm tomb at
Beshiktah, where, after life's fitful fever, sleeps the _Chief of the Sea._
And so things went on till recently. K. Ph. Moritz writes that King
Ferdinand of Naples, during his sporting excursions to the islands of
his dominions, was always accompanied by two cruisers, to forestall the
chance of his being carried off by these _Turchi._ But his loyal
subjects had no cruisers at their disposal; they lived _Turcarum
praedonibus semper obnoxii._ Who shall calculate the effects of this
long reign of terror on the national mind?
For a thousand years--from 830 to 1830--from the days when the
Amalfitans won the proud title of "Defenders of the Faith" up to those
of the sentimental poet Waiblinger (1826), these shores were infested by
Oriental ruffians, whose activities were an unmitigated evil. It is all
very well for Admiral de la Graviere to speak of "Gallia Victrix"--the
Americans, too, might have something to say on that point. The fact is
that neither European nor American arms crushed the pest. But for the
invention of steam, the Barbary corsairs might still be with us.
UPLANDS OF POLLINO
It has a pleasant signification, that word "Dolcedorme": it means
_Sweet slumber._ But no one could tell me how the mountain group came by
this name; they gave me a number of explanations, all fanciful and
unconvincing. Pollino, we are told, is derived from Apollo, and authors
of olden days sometimes write of it as "Monte Apollino." But Barrius
suggests an alternative etymology, equally absurd, and connected with
the medicinal herbs which are found there. _Pollino,_ he says, _a
polleo dictus, quod nobilibus herbis medelae commodis polleat. Pro-venit
enim ibi, ut ab herbariis accepi, tragium dictamnum Cretense, chamaeleon
bigenum, draucus, meum, nardus, celtica, anonides, anemone, peucedamum,
turbit, reubarbarum, pyrethrum, juniperus ubertim, stellarla,
imperatoria, cardus masticem fundens, dracagas, cythisus--_whence
likewise the magnificent cheeses; gold and the Phrygian stone, he adds,
are also found here.
Unhappily Barrius--we all have a fling at this "Strabo and Pliny of
Calabria"! So jealous was he of his work that he procured a prohibition
from the Pope against all who might reprint it, and furthermore invoked
the curses of heaven and earth upon whoever should have the audacity to
translate it into Italian. Yet his shade ought to be appeased with the
monumental edition of 1737, and, as regards his infallibility, one must
not forget that among his contemporaries the more discerning had already
censured his _philopatria,_ his immoderate love of Calabria. And that is
the right way to judge of men who were not so much ignorant as unduly
zealous for the fair name of their natal land. To sneer at them is to
misjudge their period. It was the very spirit of the Renaissance to
press rhetorical learning into the service of patriotism. They made some
happy guesses and not a few mistakes; and when they lied deliberately,
it was done in what they held a just cause--as scholars and gentlemen.
The _Calabria Illustrata_ of Fiore also fares badly at the hands of
critics. But I shall not repeat what they say; I confess to a sneaking
fondness for Father Fiore.
Marafioti, a Calabrian monk, likewise dwells on these same herbs of
Pollino, and gives a long account of a medical secret which he learnt on
the spot from two Armenian botanists. Alas for Marafioti! Despite his
excellent index and seductively chaste Paduan type and paper, the
impartial Soria is driven to say that "to make his shop appear more rich
in foreign merchandise, he did not scruple to adorn it with books and
authors apocryphal, imaginary, and unknown to the whole human race." In
short, he belonged to the school of Pratilli, who wrote a wise and
edifying history of Capua on the basis of inscriptions which he himself
had previously forged; of Ligorio Pirro, prince of his tribe, who
manufactured thousands of coins, texts and marbles out of sheer
exuberance of creative artistry!
Gone are those happy days of authorship, when the constructive
imagination was not yet blighted and withered. . . .
Marching comfortably, it will take you nearly twelve hours to go from
Morano to the village of Terranova di Pollino, which I selected as my
first night-quarter. This includes a scramble up the peak of Pollino,
locally termed "telegrafo," from a pile of stones--? an old
signal-station--erected on the summit. But since decent accommodation
can only be obtained at Castrovillari, a start should be made from
there, and this adds another hour to the trip. Moreover, as the peak of
Pollino lies below that of Dolcedorme, which shuts oil a good deal of
its view seaward, this second mountain ought rather to be ascended, and
that will probably add yet another hour--fourteen altogether. The
natives, ever ready to say what they think will please you, call it a
six hours' excursion. As a matter of fact, although I spoke to numbers
of the population of Morano, I only met two men who had ever been to
Terranova, one of them being my muleteer; the majority had not so much
as heard its name. They dislike mountains and torrents and forests, not
only as an offence to the eye, but as hindrances to agriculture and
enemies of man and his ordered ways. "La montagna" is considerably
abused, all over Italy.
It takes an hour to cross the valley and reach the slopes of the
opposite hills. Here, on the plain, lie the now faded blossoms of the
monstrous arum, the botanical glory of these regions. To see it in
flower, in early June, is alone almost worth the trouble of a journey to
On a shady eminence at the foot of these mountains, in a most
picturesque site, there stands a large castellated building, a
monastery. It is called Colorito, and is now a ruin; the French, they
say, shelled it for harbouring the brigand-allies of Bourbonism. Nearly
all convents in the south, and even in Naples, were at one time or
another refuges of bandits, and this association of monks and robbers
used to give much trouble to conscientious politicians. It is a solitary
building, against the dark hill-side; a sombre and romantic pile such as
would have charmed Anne Radcliffe; one longs to explore its recesses.
But I dreaded the coming heats of midday. Leone da Morano, who died in
1645, belonged to this congregation, and was reputed an erudite
ecclesiastic. The life of one of its greatest luminaries, Fra Bernardo
da Rogliano, was described by Tufarelli in a volume which I have never
been able to catch sight of. It must be very rare, yet it certainly was
printed. [Footnote: Haym has no mention of this work. But it is fully
quoted in old Toppi's "Biblioteca" (p. 317), and also referred to in
Savonarola's "Universus Terrarum," etc. (1713, Vol. I, p. 216). Both say
it was printed at Cosenza; the first, in 1650; the second, in 1630.]
The path ascends now through a long and wearisome limestone gap called
Valle di Gaudolino, only the last half-hour of the march being shaded by
trees. It was in this gully that an accidental encounter took place
between a detachment of French soldiers and part of the band of the
celebrated brigand Scarolla, whom they had been pursuing for months all
over the country. The brigands were sleeping when the others fell upon
them, killing numbers and carrying off a large booty; so rich it was,
that the soldiers were seen playing at "petis palets"--whatever that may
be--with quadruples of Spain--whatever _that_ may be. Scarolla escaped
wounded, but was afterwards handed over to justice, for a consideration
of a thousand ducats, by some shepherds with whom he had taken refuge;
and duly hanged. His band consisted of four thousand ruffians; it was
one of several that infested south Italy. This gives some idea of the
magnitude of the evil.
It was my misfortune that after weeks of serene weather this particular
morning should be cloudy. There was sunshine in the valley below, but
wreaths of mist were skidding over the summit of Pollino; the view, I
felt sure, would be spoilt. And so it was. Through swiftly-careering
cloud-drifts I caught glimpses of the plain and the blue Ionian; of the
Sila range confronting me; of the peak of Dolcedorme to the left, and
the "Montagna del Principe" on the right; of the large forest region at
my back. Tantalizing visions!
Viewed from below, this Pollino is shaped like a pyramid, and promises
rather a steep climb over bare limestone; but the ascent is quite easy.
No trees grow on the pyramid. The rock is covered with a profusion of
forget-me-nots and gay pansies; some mez-ereon and a few dwarfed
junipers--earthward-creeping--nearly reach the summit. When I passed
here on a former trip, on the 6th of June, this peak was shrouded in
snow. There are some patches of snow even now, one of them descending in
glacier fashion down the slope on the other side; they call it
"eternal," but I question whether it will survive the heats of autumn.
Beyond a brace of red-legged partridges, I saw no birds whatever. This
group of Pollino, descending its seven thousand feet in a precipitous
flight of terraces to the plain of Sibari, is an imposing _finale_ to
the Apennines that have run hitherward, without a break, from Genoa and
Bologna. Westward of this spot there are mountains galore; but no more
Back to Full Books