Part 4 out of 7
Apennines; no more limestone precipices. The boundary of the old
provinces of Calabria and Basilicata ran over this spot. . . .
I was glad to descend once more, and to reach the _Altipiano di
Pollino--_an Alpine meadow with a little lake (the merest puddle),
bright with rare and beautiful flowers. It lies 1780 metres above
sea-level, and no one who visits these regions should omit to see this
exquisite tract encircled by mountain peaks, though it lies a little off
the usual paths. Strawberries, which I had eaten at Rossano, had not yet
opened their flowers here; the flora, boreal in parts, has been studied
by Terracciano and other Italian botanists.
It was on this verdant, flower-enamelled mead that, fatigued with the
climb, I thought to try the powers of my riding mule. But the beast
proved vicious; there was no staying on her back. A piece of string
attached to her nose by way of guiding-rope was useless as a rein; she
had no mane wherewith I might have steadied myself in moments of danger,
and as to seizing her ears for that purpose, it was out of the question,
for hardly was I in the saddle before her head descended to the ground
and there remained, while her hinder feet essayed to touch the stars.
After a succession of ignominious and painful flights to earth, I
complained to her owner, who had been watching the proceedings with
"That lady-mule," he said, "is good at carrying loads. But she has never
had a Christian on her back till now. I was rather curious to see how
she would behave."
"_Santo Dio!_ And do you expect me to pay four francs a day for having
my bones broken in this fashion?"
"What would you, sir? She is still young--barely four years old. Only
wait! Wait till she is ten or twelve."
To do him justice, however, he tried to make amends in other ways. And
he certainly knew the tracks. But he was a returned emigrant, and when
an Italian has once crossed the ocean he is useless for my purposes, he
has lost his savour--the virtue has gone out of him. True Italians will
soon be rare as the dodo in these parts. These _americani_ cast off
their ancient animistic traits and patriarchal disposition with the ease
of a serpent; a new creature emerges, of a wholly different
character--sophisticated, extortionate at times, often practical and in
so far useful; scorner of every tradition, infernally wideawake and
curiously deficient in what the Germans call "Gemuet" (one of those
words which we sadly need in our own language). Instead of being regaled
with tales of Saint Venus and fairies and the Evil Eye, I learnt a good
deal about the price of food in the Brazilian highlands.
The only piece of local information I was able to draw from him
concerned a mysterious plant in the forest that "shines by night." I
dare say he meant the _dictamnus fraxinella,_ which is sometimes luminous.
The finest part of the forest was traversed in the afternoon. It is
called Janace, and composed of firs and beeches. The botanist Tenore
says that firs 150 feet in height are "not difficult to find" here, and
some of the beeches, a forestal inspector assured me, attain the height
of 35 metres. They shoot up in straight silvery trunks; their roots are
often intertwined with those of the firs. The track is not level by any
means. There are torrents to be crossed; rocky ravines with splashing
waters where the sunshine pours down through a dense network of branches
upon a carpet of russet leaves and grey boulders--the envious beeches
allowing of no vegetation at their feet; occasional meadows, too, bright
with buttercups and orchids. No pines whatever grow in this forest. Yet
a few stunted ones are seen clinging to the precipices that descend into
the Coscile valley; their seeds may have been wafted across from the
In olden days all this country was full of game; bears, stags and
fallow-deer are mentioned. Only wolves and a few roe-deer are now left.
The forest is sombre, but not gloomy, and one would like to spend some
time in these wooded regions, so rare in Italy, and to study their life
and character--but how set about it? The distances are great; there are
no houses, not even a shepherd's hut or a cave; the cold at night is
severe, and even in the height of midsummer one must be prepared for
spells of mist and rain. I shall be tempted, on another occasion, to
provide myself with a tent such as is supplied to military officers.
They are light and handy, and perhaps camping out with a man-cook of the
kind that one finds in the Abruzzi provinces would be altogether the
best way of seeing the remoter parts of south and central Italy. For
decent food-supplies can generally be obtained in the smallest places;
the drawback is that nobody can cook them. Dirty food by day and dirty
beds by night will daunt the most enterprising natures in the long run.
These tracks are only traversed in summer. When I last walked through
this region--in the reverse direction, from Lagonegro over Latronico and
San Severino to Castrovillari--the ground was still covered with
stretches of snow, and many brooks were difficult to cross from the
swollen waters. This was in June. It was odd to see the beeches rising,
in full leaf, out of the deep snow.
During this afternoon ramble I often wondered what the burghers of
Taranto would think of these sylvan solitudes. Doubtless they would
share the opinion of a genteel photographer of Morano who showed me some
coloured pictures of local brides in their appropriate costumes, such as
are sent to relatives in America after weddings. He possessed a good
camera, and I asked whether he had never made any pictures of this fine
forest scenery. No, he said; he had only once been to the festival of
the Madonna di Pollino, but he went alone--his companion, an
_avvocato,_ got frightened and failed to appear at the last moment.
"So I went alone," he said, "and those forests, it must be confessed,
are too savage to be photographed. Now, if my friend had come, he might
have posed for me, sitting comically at the foot of a tree, with crossed
legs, and smoking a cigar, like this. ... Or he might have pretended to
be a wood-cutter, bending forwards and felling a tree . . . tac, tac,
tac . . . without his jacket, of course. That would have made a picture.
But those woods and mountains, all by themselves--no! The camera
revolts. In photography, as in all good art, the human element must
It is sad to think that in a few years' time nearly all these forests
will have ceased to exist; another generation will hardly recognize the
site of them. A society from Morbegno (Valtellina) has acquired rights
over the timber, and is hewing down as fast as it can. They import their
own workmen from north Italy, and have built at a cost of two million
francs (say the newspapers) a special funicular railway, 23 kilometres
long, to carry the trunks from the mountain to Francavilla at its foot,
where they are sawn up and conveyed to the railway station of Cerchiara,
near Sibari. This concession, I am told, extends to twenty-five
years--they have now been at work for two, and the results are already
apparent in some almost bare slopes once clothed with these huge
There are inspectors, some of them conscientious, to see that a due
proportion of the timber is left standing; but we all know what the
average Italian official is, and must be, considering his salary. One
could hardly blame them greatly if, as I have been assured is the case,
they often sell the wood which they are paid to protect.
The same fate is about to overtake the extensive hill forests which lie
on the watershed between Morano and the Tyrrhenian. These, according to
a Castrovillari local paper, have lately been sold to a German firm for
It is useless to lament the inevitable--this modern obsession of
"industrialism" which has infected a country purely agricultural. Nor is
it any great compensation to observe that certain small tracts of
hill-side behind Morano are being carefully reafforested by the
Government at this moment. Whoever wishes to see these beautiful
stretches of woodland ere their disappearance from earth--let him hasten!
After leaving the forest region it is a downhill walk of nearly three
hours to reach Terranova di Pollino, which lies, only 910 metres above
sea-level, against the slope of a wide and golden amphitheatre of hills,
at whose entrance the river Sarmento has carved itself a prodigious
gateway through the rock. A dirty little place; the male inhabitants are
nearly all in America; the old women nearly all afflicted with goitre. I
was pleased to observe the Calabrian system of the house-doors, which
life in civilized places had made me forget. These doors are divided
into two portions, not vertically like ours, but horizontally. The upper
portion is generally open, in order that the housewife sitting within
may have light and air in her room, and an opportunity of gossiping with
her neighbours across the street; the lower part is closed, to prevent
the pigs in the daytime from entering the house (where they sleep at
night). The system testifies to social instincts and a certain sense of
The sights of Terranova are soon exhausted. They had spoken to me of a
house near the woods, about four hours distant, inhabited just now by
shepherds. Thither we started, next day, at about 3 p.m.
The road climbs upwards through bare country till it reaches a dusky
pinnacle of rock, a conspicuous landmark, which looks volcanic but is
nothing of the kind. It bears the name of Pietra-Sasso--the explanation
of this odd pleonasm being, I suppose, that here the whole mass of rock,
generally decked with grass or shrubs, is as bare as any single stone.
There followed a pleasant march through pastoral country of streamlets
and lush grass, with noble views downwards on our right, over
many-folded hills into the distant valley of the Sinno. To the left is
the forest region. But the fir trees are generally mutilated--their
lower branches lopped off; and the tree resents this treatment and often
dies, remaining a melancholy stump among the beeches. They take these
branches not for fuel, but as fodder for the cows. A curious kind of
fodder, one thinks; but Calabrian cows will eat anything, and their milk
tastes accordingly. No wonder the natives prefer even the greasy fluid
of their goats to that of cows.
"How?" they will ask, "You Englishmen, with all your money--you drink
the milk of cows?"
Goats are over-plentiful here, and the hollies, oaks and thorns along
the path have been gnawed by them into quaint patterns like the
topiarian work in old-fashioned gardens. If they find nothing to their
taste on the ground, they actually climb trees; I have seen them
browsing thus, at six feet above the ground. These miserable beasts are
the ruin of south Italy, as they are of the whole Mediterranean basin.
What malaria and the Barbary pirates have done to the sea-board, the
goats have accomplished for the regions further inland; and it is really
time that sterner legislation were introduced to limit their
grazing-places and incidentally reduce their numbers, as has been done
in parts of the Abruzzi, to the great credit of the authorities. But the
subject is a well-worn one.
The solitary little house which now appeared before us is called
"Vitiello," presumably from its owner or builder, a proprietor of the
village of Noepoli. It stands in a charming site, with a background of
woodland whence rivulets trickle down--the immediate surroundings are
covered with pasture and bracken and wild pear trees smothered in
flowering dog-roses. I strolled about in the sunset amid tinkling herds
of sheep and goats that were presently milked and driven into their
enclosure of thorns for the night, guarded by four or five of those
savage white dogs of the Campagna breed. Despite these protectors, the
wolf carried off two sheep yesterday, in broad daylight. The flocks come
to these heights in the middle of June, and descend again in October.
The shepherds offered us the only fare they possessed--the much-belauded
Pollino cheeses, the same that were made, long ago, by Polyphemus
himself. You can get them down at a pinch, on the principle of the
German proverb, "When the devil is hungry, he eats flies." Fortunately
our bags still contained a varied assortment, though my man had
developed an appetite and a thirst that did credit to his Berserker
We retired early. But long after the rest of them were snoring hard I
continued awake, shivering under my blanket and choking with the acrid
smoke of a fire of green timber. The door had been left ajar to allow it
to escape, but the only result of this arrangement was that a glacial
blast of wind swept into the chamber from outside. The night was
bitterly cold, and the wooden floor on which I was reposing seemed to be
harder than the majority of its kind. I thought with regret of the tepid
nights of Taranto and Castrovillari, and cursed my folly for climbing
into these Arctic regions; wondering, as I have often done, what demon
of restlessness or perversity drives one to undertake such insane
A MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL
Leaving the hospitable shepherds in the morning, we arrived after
midday, by devious woodland paths, at the Madonna di Pollino. This
solitary fane is perched, like an eagle's nest, on the edge of a cliff
overhanging the Frida torrent. Owing to this fact, and to its great
elevation, the views inland are wonderful; especially towards evening,
when crude daylight tints fade away and range after range of mountains
reveal themselves, their crests outlined against each other in tender
gradations of mauve and grey. The prospect is closed, at last, by the
lofty groups of Sirino and Alburno, many long leagues away. On all other
sides are forests, interspersed with rock. But near at hand lies a
spacious green meadow, at the foot of a precipice. This is now covered
with encampments in anticipation of to-morrow's festival, and the
bacchanal is already in full swing.
Very few foreigners, they say, have attended this annual feast, which
takes place on the first Saturday and Sunday of July, and is worth
coming a long way to see. Here the old types, uncon-taminated by
modernism and emigration, are still gathered together. The whole
country-side is represented; the peasants have climbed up with their
entire households from thirty or forty villages of this thinly populated
land, some of them marching a two days' journey; the greater the
distance, the greater the "divozione" to the Mother of God. _Piety
conquers rough tracks,_ as old Bishop Paulinus sang, nearly fifteen
hundred years ago.
It is a vast picnic in honour of the Virgin. Two thousand persons are
encamped about the chapel, amid a formidable army of donkeys and mules
whose braying mingles with the pastoral music of reeds and
bagpipes--bagpipes of two kinds, the common Calabrian variety and that
of Basilicata, much larger and with a resounding base key, which will
soon cease to exist. A heaving ebb and flow of humanity fills the eye;
fires are flickering before extempore shelters, and an ungodly amount of
food is being consumed, as traditionally prescribed for such
occasions--"si mangia per divozione." On all sides picturesque groups of
dancers indulge in the old peasants' measure, the _percorara,_ to the
droning of bagpipes--a demure kind of tarantella, the male capering
about with faun-like attitudes of invitation and snappings of fingers,
his partner evading the advances with downcast eyes. And the church
meanwhile, is filled to overflowing; orations and services follow one
another without interruption; the priests are having a busy time of it.
The rocky pathway between this chapel and the meadow is obstructed by
folk and lined on either side with temporary booths of green branches,
whose owners vociferously extol the merits of their wares--cloths,
woollens, umbrellas, hot coffee, wine, fresh meat, fruit, vegetables
(the spectre of cholera is abroad, but no one heeds)--as well as gold
watches, rings and brooches, many of which will be bought ere to-morrow
morning, in memory of to-night's tender meetings. The most interesting
shops are those which display ex-votos, waxen reproductions of various
ailing parts of the body which have been miraculously cured by the
Virgin's intercession: arms, legs, fingers, breasts, eyes. There are
also entire infants of wax. Strangest of all of them is a many-tinted
and puzzling waxen symbol which sums up all the internal organs of the
abdomen in one bold effort of artistic condensation; a kind of heraldic,
materialized stomache-ache. I would have carried one away with me, had
there been the slightest chance of its remaining unbroken. [Footnote: A
good part of these, I dare say, arc intended to represent the enlarged
spleen of malaria. In old Greece, says Dr. W. H. D. Rouse, votives of
the trunk are commonest, after the eyes--malaria, again.]
These are the votive offerings which catch the visitor's eye in southern
churches, and were beloved not only of heathendom, but of the neolithic
gentry; a large deposit has been excavated at Taranto; the British
Museum has some of marble, from Athens; others were of silver, but the
majority terra-cotta. The custom must have entered Christianity in early
ages, for already Theo-doret, who died in 427, says, "some bring images
of eyes, others of feet, others of hands; and sometimes they are made of
gold, sometimes of silver. These votive gifts testify to cure of
maladies." Nowadays, when they become too numerous, they are melted down
for candles; so Pericles, in some speech, talks of selling them for the
benefit of the commonwealth.
One is struck with the feast of costumes here, by far the brightest
being those of the women who have come up from the seven or eight
Albanian villages that surround these hills. In their variegated array
of chocolate-brown and white, of emerald-green and gold and flashing
violet, these dames move about the sward like animated tropical flowers.
But the Albanian girls of Civita stand out for aristocratic
elegance--pleated black silk gowns, discreetly trimmed with gold and
white lace, and open at the breast. The women of Morano, too, make a
Night brings no respite; on the contrary, the din grows livelier than
ever; fires gleam brightly on the meadow and under the trees; the
dancers are unwearied, the bagpipers with their brazen lungs show no
signs of exhaustion. And presently the municipal music of Castrovillari,
specially hired for the occasion, ascends an improvised bandstand and
pours brisk strains into the night. Then the fireworks begin,
sensational fireworks, that have cost a mint of money; flaring wheels
and fiery devices that send forth a pungent odour; rockets of many hues,
lighting up the leafy recesses, and scaring the owls and wolves for
Certain persons have told me that if you are of a prying disposition,
now is the time to observe amorous couples walking hand in hand into the
gloom--passionate young lovers from different villages, who have looked
forward to this night of all the year on the chance of meeting, at last,
in a fervent embrace under the friendly beeches. These same stern men
(they are always men) declare that such nocturnal festivals are a
disgrace to civilization; that the Greek Comedy, long ago, reprobated
them as disastrous to the morals of females--that they were condemned by
the Council of Elvira, by Vigilantius of Marseilles and by the great
Saint Jerome, who wrote that on such occasions no virgin should wander a
hand's-breadth from her mother. They wish you to believe that on these
warm summer nights, when the pulses of nature are felt and senses
stirred with music and wine and dance, the _Gran Madre di Dio_ is adored
in a manner less becoming Christian youths and maidens, than heathens
celebrating mad orgies to _Magna Mater_ in Daphne, or the Babylonian
groves (where she was not worshipped at all--though she might have been).
In fact, they insinuate that-----
It may well be true. What were the moralists doing there?
Festivals like this are relics of paganism, and have my cordial
approval. We English ought to have learnt by this time that the
repression of pleasure is a dangerous error. In these days when even
Italy, the grey-haired _cocotte,_ has become tainted with
Anglo-Pecksniffian principles, there is nothing like a little
time-honoured bestiality for restoring the circulation and putting
things to rights generally. On ethical grounds alone--as
safety-valves--such nocturnal feasts ought to be kept up in regions such
as these, where the country-folk have not our "facilities." Who would
grudge them these primordial joys, conducted under the indulgent
motherly eye of Madonna, and hallowed by antiquity and the starlit
heavens above? Every one is so happy and well-behaved. No bawling, no
quarrelsomeness, no staggering tipplers; a spirit of universal good
cheer broods over the assembly. Involuntarily, one thinks of the
drunkard-strewn field of battle at the close of our Highland games; one
thinks of God-fearing Glasgow on a Saturday evening, and of certain
other aspects of Glasgow life. . . .
I accepted the kindly proffered invitation of the priests to share their
dinner; they held out hopes of some sort of sleeping accommodation as
well. It was a patriarchal hospitality before that fire of logs (the
night had grown chilly), and several other guests partook of it,
forestal inspectors and such-like notabilities--one lady among them who,
true to feudal traditions, hardly spoke a word the whole evening. I was
struck, as I have sometimes been, at the attainments of these country
priests; they certainly knew our Gargantuan novelists of the Victorian
epoch uncommonly well. Can it be that these great authors are more
readable in Italian translations than in the original? One of them took
to relating, in a strain of autumnal humour, experiences of his life in
the wilds of Bolivia, where he had spent many years among the Indians;
my neighbour, meanwhile, proved to be steeped in Horatian lore. It was
his pet theory, supported by a wealth of aptly cited lines, that Horace
was a "typical Italian countryman," and great was his delight on
discovering that I shared his view and could even add another--somewhat
improper--utterance of the poet's to his store of illustrative quotations.
They belonged to the old school, these sable philosophers; to the days
when the priest was arbiter of life and death, and his mere word
sufficient to send a man to the galleys; when the cleverest boys of
wealthy and influential families were chosen for the secular career and
carefully, one might say liberally, trained to fulfil those responsible
functions. The type is becoming extinct, the responsibility is gone, the
profession has lost its glamour; and only the clever sons of pauper
families, or the dull ones of the rich, are now tempted to forsake the
Regarding the origin of this festival, I learned that it was
"tradition." It had been suggested to me that the Virgin had appeared to
a shepherd in some cave near at hand--the usual Virgin, in the usual
cave; a cave which, in the present instance, no one was able to point
out to me. _Est traditio, ne quaeras amplius._
My hosts answered questions on this subject with benignant ambiguity,
and did not trouble to defend the divine apparition on the sophistical
lines laid down in Riccardi's "Santuari." The truth, I imagine, is that
they have very sensibly not concerned themselves with inventing an
original legend. The custom of congregating here on these fixed days
seems to be recent, and I am inclined to think that it has been called
into being by the zeal of some local men of standing. On the other hand,
a shrine may well have stood for many years on this spot, for it marks
the half-way house in the arduous two days' journey between San Severino
and Castro-villari, a summer _trek_ that must date from hoary antiquity.
Our bedroom contained two rough couches which were to be shared between
four priests and myself. Despite the fact that I occupied the place of
honour between the two oldest and wisest of my ghostly entertainers,
sleep refused to come; the din outside had grown to a pandemonium. I lay
awake till, at 2.30 a.m., one of them arose and touched the others with
a whispered and half-jocular _oremus!_ They retired on tiptoe to the
next room, noiselessly closing the door, to prepare themselves for early
service. I could hear them splashing vigorously at their ablutions in
the icy water, and wondered dreamily how many Neapolitan priests would
indulge at that chill hour of the morning in such a lustrai rite,
prescribed as it is by the rules of decency and of their church.
After that, I stretched forth at my ease and endeavoured to repose
seriously. There were occasional lulls, now, in the carnival, but
explosions of sound still broke the stillness, and phantoms of the
restless throng began to chase each other through my brain. The exotic
costumes of the Albanian girls in their green and gold wove themselves
into dreams and called up colours seen in Northern Africa during still
wilder festivals--negro festivals such as Fro-mentin loved to depict. In
spectral dance there flitted before my vision nightmarish throngs of
dusky women bedizened in that same green and gold; Arabs I saw, riding
tumultuously hither and thither with burnous flying in the wind; beggars
crawling about the hot sand and howling for alms; ribbons and flags
flying--a blaze of sunshine overhead, and on earth a seething orgy of
colour and sound; methought I heard the guttural yells of the
fruit-vendors, musketry firing, braying of asses, the demoniacal groans
of the camels----
Was it really a camel? No. It was something infinitely worse, and within
a few feet of my ears. I sprang out of bed. There, at the very window,
stood a youth extracting unearthly noises out of the Basilicata bagpipe.
To be sure! I remembered expressing an interest in this rare instrument
to one of my hosts who, with subtle delicacy, must have ordered the boy
to give me a taste of his quality--to perform a matutinal serenade, for
my especial benefit. How thoughtful these people are. It was not quite 4
a.m. With some regret, I said farewell to sleep and stumbled out of
doors, where my friends of yesterday evening were already up and doing.
The eating, the dancing, the bagpipes--they were all in violent
activity, under the sober and passionless eye of morning.
A gorgeous procession took place about midday. Like a many-coloured
serpent it wound out of the chapel, writhed through the intricacies of
the pathway, and then unrolled itself freely, in splendid convolutions,
about the sunlit meadow, saluted by the crash of mortars, bursts of
military music from the band, chanting priests and women, and all the
bagpipers congregated in a mass, each playing his own favourite tune.
The figure of the Madonna--a modern and unprepossessing image--was
carried aloft, surrounded by resplendent ecclesiastics and followed by a
picturesque string of women bearing their votive offerings of candles,
great and small. Several hundredweight of wax must have been brought up
on the heads of pious female pilgrims. These multi-coloured candles are
arranged in charming designs; they are fixed upright in a framework of
wood, to resemble baskets or bird-cages, and decked with bright ribbons
and paper flowers.
Who settles the expenses of such a festival? The priests, in the first
place, have paid a good deal to make it attractive; they have improved
the chapel, constructed a number of permanent wooden shelters (rain
sometimes spoils the proceedings), as well as a capacious reservoir for
holding drinking water, which has to be transported in barrels from a
considerable distance. Then--as to the immediate outlay for music,
fireworks, and so forth--the Madonna-statue is "put up to auction":
_fanno l'incanto della Madonna,_ as they say; that is, the privilege of
helping to carry the idol from the church and back in the procession is
sold to the highest bidders. Inasmuch as She is put up for auction
several times during this short perambulation, fresh enthusiasts coming
forward gaily with bank-notes and shoulders--whole villages competing
against each other--a good deal of money is realized in this way. There
are also spontaneous gifts of money. Goats and sheep, too, decorated
with coloured rags, are led up by peasants who have "devoted" them to
the Mother of God; the butchers on the spot buy these beasts for
slaughter, and their price goes to swell the funds.
This year's expenditure may have been a thousand francs or so, and the
proceeds are calculated at about two-thirds of that sum.
No matter. If the priests do not make good the deficiency, some one else
will be kind enough to step forward. Better luck next year! The
festival, they hope, is to become more popular as time goes on, despite
the chilling prophecy of one of our friends: "It will finish, this
comedy!" The money, by the way, does not pass through the hands of the
clerics, but of two individuals called "Regolatore" and "Priore," who
mutually control each other. They are men of reputable families, who
burden themselves with the troublesome task for the honour of the thing,
and make up any deficiencies in the accounts out of their own pockets.
Cases of malversation are legendary.
This procession marked the close of the religious gathering. Hardly was
it over before there began a frenzied scrimmage of departure. And soon
the woodlands echoed with the laughter and farewellings of pilgrims
returning homewards by divergent paths; the whole way through the
forest, we formed part of a jostling caravan along the
Castrovillari-Morano track--how different from the last time I had
traversed this route, when nothing broke the silence save a chaffinch
piping among the branches or the distant tap of some woodpecker!
So ended the _festa._ Once in the year this mountain chapel is rudely
disquieted in its slumbers by a boisterous riot; then it sinks again
into tranquil oblivion, while autumn dyes the beeches to gold. And very
soon the long winter comes; chill tempests shake the trees and leaves
are scattered to earth; towards Yuletide some woodman of Viggianello
adventuring into these solitudes, and mindful of their green summer
revels, discovers his familiar sanctuary entombed up to the door-lintle
under a glittering sheet of snow. . . .
There was a little episode in the late afternoon. We had reached the
foot of the Gaudolino valley and begun the crossing of the plain, when
there met us a woman with dishevelled hair, weeping bitterly and showing
other signs of distress; one would have thought she had been robbed or
badly hurt. Not at all! Like the rest of us, she had attended the feast
and, arriving home with the first party, had been stopped at the
entrance of the town, where they had insisted upon fumigating her
clothes as a precaution against cholera, and those of her companions.
That was all. But the indignity choked her--she had run back to warn the
rest of us, all of whom were to be treated to the same outrage. Every
approach to Morano, she declared, was watched by doctors, to prevent
wary pilgrims from entering by unsuspected paths.
During her recital my muleteer had grown thoughtful.
"What's to be done?" he asked.
"I don't much mind fumigation," I replied.
"Oh, but I do! I mind it very much. And these doctors are so dreadfully
distrustful. How shall we cheat them? ... I have it, I have it!"
And he elaborated the following stratagem:
"I go on ahead of you, alone, leading the two mules. You follow, out of
sight, behind. And what happens? When I reach the doctor, he asks slyly:
'Well, and how did you enjoy the festival this year?' Then I say:
'Not this year, doctor; alas, no festival for me! I've been with an
Englishman collecting beetles in the forest, and see? here's his riding
mule. He walks on behind--oh, quite harmless, doctor! a nice gentleman,
indeed--only, he prefers walking; he really _likes_ it, ha, ha, ha!----"
"Why mention about my walking?" I interrupted. The lady-mule was still a
"I mention about your not riding," he explained graciously, "because it
will seem to the doctor a sure sign that you are a little"--here he
touched his forehead with a significant gesture--"a little like some
other foreigners, you know. And that, in its turn, will account for your
collecting beetles. And that, in its turn, will account for your not
visiting the Madonna. You comprehend the argument: how it all hangs
"I see. What next?"
"Then you come up, holding one beetle in each hand, and pretend not to
know a word of Italian--not a word! You must smile at the doctor, in
friendly fashion; he'll like that. And besides, it will prove what I
said about----" (touching his forehead once more). "In fact, the truth
will be manifest. And there will be no fumigation for us."
It seemed a needlessly circuitous method of avoiding such a slight
inconvenience. I would have put more faith in a truthful narrative by
myself, suffused with that ingratiating amiability which I would
perforce employ on such occasions. But the stronger mind, as usual, had
"I'll smile," I agreed. "But you shall carry my beetles; it looks more
natural, somehow. Go ahead, and find them."
He moved forwards with the beasts and, after destroying a considerable
tract of stone wall, procured a few specimens of native coleoptera,
which he carefully wrapped up in a piece of paper. I followed slowly.
Unfortunately for him, that particular doctor happened to be
an _americana_ a snappy little fellow, lately returned from the States.
"Glad to make your acquaintance, sir," he began, as I came up to where
the two were arguing together. "I've heard of your passing through the
other day. So you don't talk Italian? Well, then, see here: this man of
yours, this God-dam son of Satan, has been showing me a couple of bugs
and telling me a couple of hundred lies about them. Better move on right
away; lucky you struck _me!_ As for this son of a ----, you bet I'll
sulphur him, bugs and all, to hell!"
I paid the crestfallen muleteer then and there; took down my bags,
greatly lightened, and departed with them. Glancing round near the
little bridge, I saw that the pair were still engaged in heated
discussion, my man clinging despairingly, as it seemed, to the
beetle-hypothesis; he looked at me with reproachful eyes, as though I
had deserted him in his hour of need.
But what could I do, not knowing Italian?
Moreover, I remembered the "lady-mule."
Fifteen minutes later a light carriage took me to Castrovillari, whence,
after a bath and dinner that compensated for past hardships, I sped down
to the station and managed, by a miracle, to catch the night-train to
MILTON IN CALABRIA
You may spend pleasant days in this city of Cosenza, doing nothing
whatever. But I go there a for set purpose, and bristling with energy. I
go there to hunt for a book by a certain Salandra, which was printed on
the spot, and which I have not yet been able to find, although I once
discovered it in an old catalogue, priced at 80 _grani._ Gladly would I
give 8000 for it!
The author was a contemporary of that Flying Monk of whom I spoke in
Chapter X, and he belonged to the same religious order. If, in what I
then said about the flying monk, there appears to be some trace of light
fooling in regard to this order and its methods, let amends be made by
what I have to tell about old Salandra, the discovery of whose book is
one of primary importance for the history of English letters. Thus I
thought at the time; and thus I still think, with all due deference to
certain grave and discerning gentlemen, the editors of various English
monthlies to whom I submitted a paper on this subject--a paper which
they promptly returned with thanks. No; that is not quite correct. One
of them has kept it; and as six years have passed over our heads, I
presume he has now acquired a title by "adverse possession." Much good
may it do him!
Had the discovery been mine, I should have endeavoured to hide my light
under the proverbial bushel. But it is not mine, and therefore I make
bold to say that Mr. Bliss Perry, of the "Atlantic Monthly," knew better
than his English colleagues when he published the article from which I
take what follows.
"Charles Dunster ('Considerations on Milton's Early Reading,' etc.,
1810) traces the _prima stamina_ of 'Paradise Lost' to Sylvester's 'Du
Bartas.' Masenius, Cedmon, Vendei, and other older writers have also
been named in this connection, while the majority of Milton's English
commentators--and among foreigners Voltaire and Tiraboschi--are inclined
to regard the 'Adamus Exul' of Grotius or Andreini's sacred drama of
'Adamo' as the prototype."
This latter can be consulted in the third volume of Cowper's 'Milton'
The matter is still unsettled, and in view of the number of recent
scholars who have interested themselves in it, one is really surprised
that no notice has yet been taken of an Italian article which goes far
towards deciding this question and proving that the chief source of
'Paradise Lost' is the 'Adamo Caduto,' a sacred tragedy by Serafino
della Salandra. The merit of this discovery belongs to Francesco Zicari,
whose paper, 'Sulla scoverta dell' originale italiano da cui Milton
trasse il suo poema del paradiso perduto,' is printed on pages 245
to 276 in the 1845 volume of the Naples 'Album scientifico-
artistico-letterario' now lying before me. It is in the form of
a letter addressed to his friend Francesco Ruffa, a native of
Tropea in Calabria. [Footnote: Zicari contemplated another paper on
this subject, but I am unaware whether this was ever published. The
Neapolitan Minieri-Riccio, who wrote his 'Memorie Storiche' in 1844,
speaks of this article as having been already printed in 1832, but does
not say where. This is corroborated by N. Falcone ('Biblioteca
storica-topo-grafica della Calabria,' 2nd ed., Naples, 1846, pp.
151-154), who gives the same date, and adds that Zicari was the author
of a work on the district of Fuscaldo. He was born at Paola in Calabria,
of which he wrote a (manuscript) history, and died in 1846. In this
Milton article, he speaks of his name being 'unknown in the republic of
letters.'. He it mentioned by Nicola Leoni (' Della Magna Grecia,' vol.
ii, p. 153),]
Salandra, it is true, is named among the writers of sacred tragedies in
Todd's 'Milton' (1809, vol. ii, p. 244), and also by Hayley, but neither
of them had the curiosity, or the opportunity, to examine his 'Adamo
Caduto'; Hayley expressly says that he has not seen it. More recent
works, such as that of Moers ('De fontibus Paradisi Amissi Miltoniani,'
Bonn, 1860), do not mention Salandra at all. Byse ('Milton on the
Continent,' 1903) merely hints at some possible motives for the Allegro
and the Penseroso.
As to dates, there can be no doubt to whom the priority belongs. The
'Adamo' of Salandra was printed at Cosenza in 1647. Richardson thinks
that Milton entered upon his 'Paradise Lost' in 1654, and that it was
shown, as done, in 1665; D. Masson agrees with this, adding that 'it was
not published till two years afterwards.' The date 1665 is fixed, I
presume, by the Quaker Elwood's account of his visit to Milton in the
autumn of that year, when the poet gave him the manuscript to read; the
two years' delay in publication may possibly have been due to the
confusion occasioned by the great plague and fire of London.
The castigation bestowed upon Lauder by Bishop Douglas, followed, as it
was, by a terrific 'back-hander' from the brawny arm of Samuel Johnson,
induces me to say that Salandra's 'Adamo Caduto,' though extremely
rare--so rare that neither the British Museum nor the Paris Bibliotheque
Nationale possesses a copy--is _not_ an imaginary book; I have had it in
my hands, and examined it at the Naples Biblioteca Nazionale; it is a
small octavo of 251 pages (not including twenty unnumbered ones, and
another one at the end for correction of misprints); badly printed and
bearing all the marks of genuineness, with the author's name and the
year and place of publication clearly set forth on the title-page. I
have carefully compared Zicari's references to it, and quotations from
it with the original. They are correct, save for a few insignificant
verbal discrepancies which, so far as I can judge, betray no indication
of an attempt on his part to mislead the reader, such as using the word
_tromba_ (trumpet) instead of Salandra's term _sambuca_ (sackbut). And
if further proof of authenticity be required, I may note that the 'Adamo
Caduto' of Salandra is already cited in old bibliographies like Toppi's
'Biblioteca Napoletana' (1678), or that of Joannes a S. Antonio
('Biblioteca universa Franciscana, etc.,' Madrid, 1732-1733, vol. iii,
p. 88). It appears to have been the only literary production of its
author, who was a Franciscan monk and is described as 'Preacher, Lector
and Definitor of the Reformed Province of Basilicata.'
We may take it, then, that Salandra was a real person, who published a
mystery called 'Adamo Caduto' in 1647; and I will now, without further
preamble, extract from Zicari's article as much as may be sufficient to
show ground for his contention that Milton's 'Paradise Lost' is a
transfusion, in general and in particular, of this same mystery.
Salandra's central theme is the Universe shattered by the disobedience
of the First Man, the origin of our unhappiness and sins. The same with
Salandra's chief personages are God and His angels; the first man and
woman; the serpent; Satan and his angels. The same with Milton.
Salandra, at the opening of his poem (the prologue), sets forth his
argument, and dwells upon the Creative Omnipotence and his works. The
same with Milton.
Salandra then describes the council of the rebel angels, their fall from
heaven into a desert and sulphurous region, their discourses. Man is
enviously spoken of, and his fall by means of stratagem decided upon; it
is resolved to reunite in council in Pandemonium or the Abyss, where
measures may be adopted to the end that man may become the enemy of God
and the prey of hell. The same with Milton.
Salandra personifies Sin and Death, the latter being the child of the
former. The same with Milton.
Salandra describes Omnipotence foreseeing the effects of the temptation
and fall of man, and preparing his redemption. The same with Milton.
Salandra depicts the site of Paradise and the happy life there. The same
Salandra sets forth the miraculous creation of the universe and of man,
and the virtues of the forbidden fruit. The same with Milton.
Salandra reports the conversation between Eve and the Serpent; the
eating of the forbidden fruit and the despair of our first parents. The
same with Milton.
Salandra describes the joy of Death at the discomfiture of Eve; the
rejoicings in hell; the grief of Adam; the flight of our first parents,
their shame and repentance. The same with Milton.
Salandra anticipates the intercession of the Redeemer, and the overthrow
of Sin and Death; he dwells upon the wonders of the Creation, the murder
of Abel by his brother Cain, and other human ills; the vices of the
Antediluvians, due to the fall of Adam; the infernal gift of war. The
same with Milton.
Salandra describes the passion of Jesus Christ, and the comforts which
Adam and Eve receive from the angel who announces the coming of the
Messiah; lastly, their departure from the earthly paradise. The same
So much for the general scheme of both poems. And now for a few
particular points of resemblance, verbal and otherwise.
The character of Milton's Satan, with the various facets of pride, envy,
vindictiveness, despair, and impenitence which go to form that
harmonious whole, are already clearly mapped out in the Lucifero of
Salandra. For this statement, which I find correct, Zicari gives chapter
and verse, but it would take far too long to set forth the matter in
this place. The speeches of Lucifero, to be sure, read rather like a
caricature--it must not be forgotten that Salandra was writing for
lower-class theatrical spectators, and not for refined readers--but the
elements which Milton has utilized are already there.
Here is a coincidence:
Here we may reign secure . . .
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
MILTON (i, 258)
. . . . Qui propria voglia, Son capo, son qui duce, son
SALANDRA (p. 49).
. . . Whom shall we find Sufficient?
. . . This enterprise None shall
partake with me.
--MILTON (ii, 403, 465).
A chi bastera l' anima di voi?
. . . certo che quest' affare
A la mia man s' aspetta.
--SALANDRA (p. 64).
Milton's Terror is partially taken from the Megera of the Italian poet.
The 'grisly Terror' threatens Satan (ii, 699), and the office of Megera,
in Salandra's drama, is exactly the same--that is, to threaten and
chastise the rebellious spirit, which she does very effectually (pages
123-131). The identical monsters--Cerberus, Hydras, and Chimseras--are
found in their respective abodes, but Salandra does not content himself
with these three; his list includes such a mixed assemblage of creatures
as owls, basilisks, dragons, tigers, bears, crocodiles, sphynxes,
harpies, and panthers. Terror moves with dread rapidity:
. . . and from his seat
The monster moving onward came as fast
With horrid strides.
--MILTON (ii, 675).
and so does Megera:
In atterir, in spaventar son . . .
Rapido si ch' ogni ripar e vano.
--SALANDRA (p. 59).
Both Milton and Salandra use the names of the gods of antiquity for
their demons, but the narrative epic of the English poet naturally
permitted of far greater prolixity and variety in this respect. A most
curious parallelism exists between Milton's Belial and that of Salandra.
Both are described as luxurious, timorous, slothful, and scoffing, and
there is not the slightest doubt that Milton has taken over these mixed
attributes from the Italian. [Footnote: This is one of the occasions in
which Zicari appears, at first sight, to have stretched a point in order
to improve his case, because, in the reference he gives, it is Behemoth,
and not Belial, who speaks of himielf as cowardly _(imbelle)._ But in
another place Lucifer applies this designation to Belial as well,]
The words of Milton's Beelzebub (ii, 368):
Seduce them to our party, that their god
May prove their foe . . .
are copied from those of the Italian Lucifero (p. 52):
. . . Facciam Accio, che l' huom divenga
A Dio nemico . . .
Regarding the creation of the world, Salandra asks (p. 11):
Qual lingua puo di Dio,
Benche da Dio formato
Lodar di Dio le meraviglie estreme?
which is thus echoed by Milton (vii, 112):
. . . to recount almighty works
What words or tongue of Seraph can suffice?
There is a considerable resemblance between the two poets in their
descriptions of Paradise and of its joys. In both poems, too, Adam warns
his spouse of her frailty, and in the episode of Eve's meeting with the
serpent there are no less than four verbal coincidences. Thus Salandra
writes (p. 68):
Ravviso gli animal, ch' a schiera a schiera
Gia fanno humil e _reverente_ inclino . . .
Ravveggio il bel serpente _avvolto_ in giri;
O sei bello
Con tanta varieta che certo sembri
Altro stellato ciel, _smaltata_ terra.
O che sento, _tu parli?_
and Milton transcribes it as follows (ix, 517-554):
. . . She minded not, as used
To such disport before her through the field
From every beast, more _duteous_ at her call . . .
Curled many a wanton _wreath_ in sight of Eve.
His turret crest and sleek _enamelled_ neck . . .
What may this mean?
Language of man _pronounced_
By tongue of brute?
Altogether, Zicari has observed that Rolli, although unacquainted with
the 'Adamo Caduto,' has sometimes inadvertently hit upon the same words
in his Italian translation of Milton which Salandra had used before him.
Eve's altered complexion after the eating of the forbidden fruit is
noted by both poets:
Torbata ne la faccia? Non sei quella
Qual ti lasciai contenta . . .--SALANDRA (p. 89).
Thus Eve with countenance blithe her story told;
But in her cheek distemper flushing glowed. --MILTON (ix, 886).
only with this difference, that the Italian Eve adds a half-lie by way
of explaining the change:
. . . Forse cangiata (del che non mi avveggio)
Sono nel volto per la tua partenza.--(p. 89).
In both poems Sin and Death reappear on the scene after the transgression.
The flight of Innocence from earth; the distempered lust which dominates
over Adam and Eve after the Fall; the league of Sin and Death to rule
henceforward over the world; the pathetic lament of Adam regarding his
misfortune and the evils in store for his progeny; his noble sentiment,
that none can withdraw himself from the all-seeing eye of God--all these
are images which Milton has copied from Salandra.
Adam's state of mind, after the fall, is compared by Salandra to a boat
tossed by impetuous winds (p. 228):
Qual agitato legno d'Austro, e Noto,
Instabile incostante, non hai pace,
Tu vivi pur . . .
which is thus paraphrased in Milton (ix, 1122):
. . . High winds worse within
Began to rise . . . and shook sore
Their inward state of mind, calm region once
And full of peace, now tossed and turbulent.
Here is a still more palpable adaptation:
... So God ordains:
God is thy law, thou mine.
--MILTON (iv, 636)
. . . . Un voler sia d' entrambi,
E quel' uno di noi, di Dio sia tutto.
--SALANDRA (p. 42).
After the Fall, according to Salandra, _vacillo la terra_ (i), _geme_
(2), _e pianse_ (3), _rumoreggiano i tuoni_ (4), _accompagnati da
grandini_ (5), _e dense nevi_ (6), (pp. 138, 142, 218). Milton
translates this as follows: Earth trembled from her entrails (1), and
nature gave a second groan (2); sky loured and, muttering thunders (4),
some sad drops wept (3), the winds, armed with ice and snow (6) and hail
(5). ('Paradise Lost,' ix, 1000, x. 697).
Here is another translation:
. . . inclino il ciclo
Giu ne la terra, e questa al Ciel innalza.
--SALANDRA (p. 242).
And Earth be changed to Heaven, and Heaven to Earth.
--MILTON (vii, 160).
It is not to my purpose to do Zicari's work over again, as this would
entail a complete translation of his long article (it contains nearly
ten thousand words), to which, if the thing is to be done properly, must
be appended Salandra's 'Adamo,' in order that his quotations from it can
be tested. I will therefore refer to the originals those who wish to go
into the subject more fully, warning them, _en passant,_ that they may
find the task of verification more troublesome than it seems, owing to a
stupid mistake on Zicari's part. For in his references to Milton, he
claims (p. 252) to use an 1818 Venice translation of the 'Paradise Lost'
by Rolli. Now Rolli's 'Paradiso Perduto' is a well-known work which was
issued in many editions in London, Paris, and Italy throughout the
eighteenth century. But I cannot trace this particular one of Venice,
and application to many of the chief libraries of Italy has convinced me
that it does not exist, and that 1818 must be a misprint for some other
year. The error would be of no significance if Zicari had referred to
Rolli's 'Paradiso' by the usual system of cantos and lines, but he
refers to it by pages, and the pagination differs in every one of the
editions of Rolli which have passed through my hands. Despite every
effort, I have not been able to hit upon the precise one which Zicari
had in mind, and if future students are equally unfortunate, I wish them
joy of their labours. [Footnote: Let me take this opportunity of
expressing my best thanks to Baron E. Tortora Brayda, of the Naples
Biblioteca Nazionale, who has taken an infinity of trouble in this
These few extracts, however, will suffice to show that, without
Salandra's 'Adamo,' the 'Paradise Lost,' as we know it, would not be in
existence; and that Zicari's discovery is therefore one of primary
importance for English letters, although it would be easy to point out
divergencies between the two works--divergencies often due to the
varying tastes and feelings of a republican Englishman and an Italian
Catholic, and to the different conditions imposed by an epic and a
dramatic poem. Thus, in regard to this last point, Zicari has already
noted (p. 270) that Salandra's scenic acts were necessarily reproduced
in the form _of visions_ by Milton, who could not avail himself of the
mechanism of the drama for this purpose. Milton was a man of the world,
traveller, scholar, and politician; but it will not do for us to insist
too vehemently upon the probable mental inferiority of the Calabrian
monk, in view of the high opinion which Milton seems to have had of his
talents. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The 'Adamo
Caduto,' of course, is only one of a series of similar works concerning
which a large literature has now grown up, and it might not be difficult
to prove that Salandra was indebted to some previous writer for those
words and phrases which he passed on to the English poet.
But where did Milton become acquainted with this tragedy? It was at
Naples, according to Cowper ('Milton,' vol. iii, p. 206), that the
English poet may first have entertained the idea of 'the loss of
paradise as a subject peculiarly fit for poetry.' He may well have
discussed sacred tragedies, like those of Andreini, with the Marquis
Manso. But Milton had returned to England long before Salandra's poem
was printed; nor can Manso have sent him a copy of it, for he died in
1645--two years before its publication--and Zicari is thus mistaken in
assuming (p. 245) that Milton became acquainted with it in the house of
the Neapolitan nobleman. Unless, therefore, we take for granted that
Manso was intimate with the author Salandra--he knew most of his
literary countrymen--and sent or gave to Milton a copy of the manuscript
of 'Adamo' before it was printed, or that Milton was personally
familiar with Salandra, we may conclude that the poem was forwarded to
him from Italy by some other friend, perhaps by some member of the
_Accademia, degli Oziosi_ which Manso had founded.
A chance therefore seems to have decided Milton; Salandra's tragedy fell
into his hands, and was welded into the epic form which he had designed
for Arthur the Great, even as, in later years, a chance question on the
part of Elwood led to his writing 'Paradise Regained.' [Footnote: _Thou
hast said much of Paradise Lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise
Found?_ He made no answer, but sat some time in a muse. . . .]
For this poem there were not so many models handy as for the other, but
Milton has written too little to enable us to decide how far its
inferiority to the earlier epic is due to this fact, and how far to the
inherent inertia of its subject-matter. Little movement can be contrived
in a mere dialogue such as 'Paradise Regained '; it lacks the grandiose
_mise-en-scene_ and the shifting splendours of the greater epic; the
stupendous figure of the rebellious archangel, the true hero of
'Paradise Lost,' is here dwarfed into a puny, malignant sophist; nor is
the final issue in the later poem _even for a moment_ in doubt--a
serious defect from an artistic point of view. Jortin holds its peculiar
excellence to be 'artful sophistry, false reasoning, set off in the most
specious manner, and refuted by the Son of God with strong unaffected
eloquence'; merits for which Milton needed no original of any kind, as
his own lofty religious sentiments, his argumentative talents and long
experience of political pamphleteering, stood him in good stead. Most of
us must have wondered how it came about that Milton could not endure to
hear 'Paradise Lost' preferred to 'Paradise Regained,' in view of the
very apparent inferiority of the latter. If we had known what Milton
knew, namely, to how large an extent 'Paradise Lost' was not the child
of his own imagination, and therefore not so precious in his eyes as
'Paradise Regained,' we might have understood his prejudice.
Certain parts of 'Paradise Lost' are drawn, as we all know, from other
Italian sources, from Sannazario, Ariosto, Guarini, Bojardo, and others.
Zicari who, it must be said, has made the best of his case, will have it
that the musterings and battles of the good and evil angels are copied
from the 'Angeleide' of Valvasone published at Milan in 1590. But G.
Polidori, who has reprinted the 'Angeleide' in his Italian version of
Milton (London, 1840), has gone into this matter and thinks otherwise.
These devil-and-angel combats were a popular theme at the time, and
there is no reason why the English poet should copy continental writers
in such descriptions, which necessarily have a common resemblance. The
Marquis Manso was very friendly with the poets Tasso and Marino, and it
is also to be remarked that entire passages in 'Paradise Lost' are
copied, _totidem verbis,_ from the writings of these two, Manso having
no doubt drawn Milton's attention to their beauties. In fact, I am
inclined to think that Manso's notorious enthusiasm for the _warlike_
epic of Tasso may first of all have diverted Milton from purely pastoral
ideals and inflamed him with the desire of accomplishing a similar feat,
whence the well-known lines in Milton's Latin verses to this friend,
which contain the first indication of such a design on his part. Even
the familiar invocation, 'Hail, wedded Love,' is bodily drawn from one
of Tasso's letters (see Newton's 'Milton,' 1773, vol. i, pp. 312, 313).
It has been customary to speak of these literary appropriations as
'imitations '; but whoever compares them with the originals will find
that many of them are more correctly termed translations. The case, from
a literary-moral point of view, is different as regards ancient writers,
and it is surely idle to accuse Milton, as has been done, of pilferings
from Aeschylus or Ovid. There is no such thing as robbing the classics.
They are our literary fathers, and what they have left behind them is
our common heritage; we may adapt, borrow, or steal from them as much as
will suit our purpose; to acknowledge such 'thefts' is sheer pedantry
and ostentation. But Salandra and the rest of them were Milton's
contemporaries. It is certainly an astonishing fact that no scholar of
the stamp of Thyer was acquainted with the 'Adamo Caduto'; and it says
much for the isolation of England that, at a period when poems on the
subject of paradise lost were being scattered broadcast in Italy and
elsewhere--when, in short, all Europe was ringing with the doleful
history of Adam and Eve--Milton could have ventured to speak of
his work as 'Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyma'--an amazing
verse which, by the way, is literally transcribed out of Ariosto
('Cosa, non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima'). But even now the
acquaintance of the British public with the productions of continental
writers is superficial and spasmodic, and such was the ignorance of
English scholars of this earlier period, that Birch maintained that
Milton's drafts, to be referred to presently, indicated his intention of
writing an _opera_ (!); while as late as 1776 the poet Mickle,
notwithstanding Voltaire's authority, questioned the very existence of
Andreini, who has written thirty different pieces.
Some idea of the time when Salandra's tragedy reached Milton might be
gained if we knew the date of his manuscript projects for 'Paradise
Lost' and other writings which are preserved at Cambridge. R. Garnett
('Life of Milton,' 1890, p. 129) supposes these drafts to date from
about 1640 to 1642, and I am not sufficiently learned in Miltonian lore
to controvert or corroborate in a general way this assertion. But the
date must presumably be pushed further forward in the case of the
skeletons for 'Paradise Lost,' which are modelled to a great extent upon
Salandra's 'Adamo' of 1647, though other compositions may also have been
present before Milton's mind, such as that mentioned on page 234 of the
second volume of Todd's 'Milton,' from which he seems to have drawn the
hint of a 'prologue spoken by Moses.'
Without going into the matter exhaustively, I will only say that from
these pieces it is clear that Milton's primary idea was to write, like
Salandra, a sacred tragedy upon this theme, and not an epic. These
drafts also contain a chorus, such as Salandra has placed in his drama,
and a great number of mutes, who do not figure in the English epic, but
who reappear in the 'Adamo Caduto' and all similar works. Even Satan is
here designated as Lucifer, in accordance with the Italian Lucifero; and
at the end of one of Milton's drafts we read 'at last appears Mercy,
comforts him, promises the Messiah, etc.,' which is exactly what
Salandra's Misericordia (Mercy) does in the same place.
Milton no doubt kept on hand many loose passages of poetry, both
original and borrowed, ready to be worked up into larger pieces; all
poets are smothered in odd scraps of verse and lore which they 'fit in'
as occasion requires; and it is therefore quite possible that some
fragments now included in 'Paradise Lost' may have been complete before
the 'Adamo Caduto' was printed. I am referring, more especially, to
Satan's address to the sun, which Philips says was written before the
commencement of the epic.
Admitting Philips to be correct, I still question whether this
invocation was composed before Milton's visit to Naples; and if it was,
the poet may well have intended it for some other of the multitudinous
works which these drafts show him to have been revolving in his mind, or
for none of them in particular.
De Quincey rightly says that Addison gave the initial bias in favour of
'Paradise Lost' to the English national mind, which has thenceforward
shrunk, as Addison himself did, from a dispassionate contemplation of
its defects; the idea being, I presume, that a 'divine poem' in a manner
disarmed rational criticism. And, strange to say, even the few faults
which earlier scholars did venture to point out in Milton's poem will be
found in that of Salandra. There is the same superabundance of allegory;
the same confusion of spirit and matter among the supernatural persons;
the same lengthy astronomical treatise; the same personification of Sin
and Death; the same medley of Christian and pagan mythology; the same
tedious historico-theological disquisition at the end of both poems.
For the rest, it is to be hoped that we have outgrown our fastidiousness
on some of these points. Theological fervour has abated, and in a work
of the pure imagination, as 'Paradise Lost' is now--is it
not?--considered to be, there is nothing incongruous or offensive in an
amiable commingling of Semitic and Hellenic deities after the approved
Italian recipe; nor do a few long words about geography or science
disquiet us any more. Milton was not writing for an uncivilized mob, and
his occasional displays of erudition will represent to a cultured person
only those breathing spaces so refreshing in all epic poetry. That
Milton's language is saturated with Latinisms and Italianisms is
perfectly true. His English may not have been good enough for his
contemporaries. But it is quite good enough for us. That 'grand manner'
which Matthew Arnold claimed for Milton, that sustained pitch of kingly
elaboration and fullness, is not wholly an affair of high moral tone; it
results in part from the humbler ministrations of words happily
chosen--from a felicitous alloy of Mediterranean grace and Saxon mettle.
For, whether consciously or not, we cannot but be influenced by the
_colour-effects_ of mere words, that arouse in us definite but
indefinable moods of mind. To complain of the foreign phraseology and
turns of thought in 'Paradise Lost' would be the blackest ingratitude
nowadays, seeing that our language has become enriched by steady gleams
of pomp and splendour due, in large part, to the peculiar _lustre_ of
Milton's comely importations.
THE "GREEK" SILA
It was to be the Sila in earnest, this time. I would traverse the whole
country, from the Coscile valley to Catanzaro, at the other end.
Arriving from Cosenza the train deposited me, once more, at the unlovely
station of Castrovillari. I looked around the dusty square, half-dazed
by the sunlight--it was a glittering noonday in July--but the postal
waggon to Spezzano Albanese, my first resting-point, had not yet
arrived. Then a withered old man, sitting on a vehicle behind the sorry
skeleton of a horse, volunteered to take me there at once; we quickly
came to terms; it was too hot, we both agreed, to waste breath in
bargaining. With the end of his whip he pointed out the church of
Spezzano on its hilltop; a proud structure it looked at this distance,
though nearer acquaintance reduced it to extremely humble proportions.
The Albanian Spezzano (Spezzano Grande is another place) lies on the
main road from Castrovillari to Cosenza, on the summit of a
long-stretched tongue of limestone which separates the Crati river from
the Esaro; this latter, after flowing into the Coscile, joins its waters
with the Crati, and so closes the promontory. An odd geographical
feature, this low stretch, viewed from the greater heights of Sila or
Pollino; one feels inclined to take a broom and sweep it into the sea,
so that the waters may mingle sooner.
Our road ascended the thousand feet in a sinuous ribbon of white dust,
and an eternity seemed to pass as we crawled drowsily upwards to the
music of the cicadas, under the simmering blue sky. There was not a soul
in sight; a hush had fallen upon all things; great Pan was brooding over
the earth. At last we entered the village, and here, once more,
deathlike stillness reigned; it was the hour of post-prandial slumber.
At our knocking the proprietor of the inn, situated in a side-street,
descended. But he was in bad humour, and held out no hopes of
refreshment. Certain doctors and government officials, he said, were
gathered together in his house, telegraphically summoned to consult
about a local case of cholera. As to edibles, the gentlemen had lunched,
and nothing was left, absolutely nothing; it had been _uno
sterminio--_an extermination--of all he possessed. The prospect of
walking about the burning streets till evening did not appeal to me, and
as this was the only inn at Spezzano I insisted, first gently, then
forcibly--in vain. There was not so much as a chair to sit upon, he
avowed; and therewith retired into his cool twilight.
Despairing, I entered a small shop wherein I had observed the only signs
of life so far--an Albanian woman spinning in patriarchal fashion. It
was a low-ceilinged room, stocked with candles, seeds, and other
commodities which a humble householder might desire to purchase,
including certain of those water-gugglets of Corigliano ware in whose
shapely contours something of the artistic dreamings of old Sybaris
still seems to linger. The proprietress, clothed in gaudily picturesque
costume, greeted me with a smile and the easy familiarity which I have
since discovered to be natural to all these women. She had a room, she
said, where I could rest; there was also food, such as it was, cheese,
and wine, and----
"Fruit?" I queried.
"Ah, you like fruit? Well, we may not so much as speak about it just
now--the cholera, the doctors, the policeman, the prison! I was going to
Salami? I thanked her. I know Calabrian pigs and what they feed on,
though it would be hard to describe in the language of polite society.
Despite the heat and the swarms of flies in that chamber, I felt little
desire for repose after her simple repast; the dame was so affable and
entertaining that we soon became great friends. I caused her some
amusement by my efforts to understand and pronounce her language--these
folk speak Albanian and Italian with equal facility--which seemed to my
unpractised ears as hopeless as Finnish. Very patiently, she gave me a
long lesson during which I thought to pick up a few words and phrases,
but the upshot of it all was:
"You'll never learn it. You have begun a hundred years too late."
I tried her with modern Greek, but among such fragments as remained on
my tongue after a lapse of over twenty years, only hit upon one word
that she could understand.
"Quite right!" she said encouragingly. "Why don't you always speak
properly? And now, let me hear a little of your own language."
I gave utterance to a few verses of Shakespeare, which caused
"Do you mean to tell me," she asked, "that people really talk like that?"
"Of course they do."
"And pretend to understand what it means?"
"Maybe they do," she agreed. "But only when they want to be thought
funny by their friends."
The afternoon drew on apace, and at last the pitiless sun sank to rest.
I perambulated Spezzano in the gathering twilight; it was now fairly
alive with people. An unclean place; an epidemic of cholera would work
wonders here. . . .
At 9.30 p.m. the venerable coachman presented himself, by appointment;
he was to drive me slowly (out of respect for his horse) through the
cool hours of the night as far as Vaccarizza, on the slopes of the Greek
Sila, where he expected to arrive early in the morning. (And so he did;
at half-past five.) Not without more mirth was my leave-taking from the
good shopwoman; something, apparently, was hopelessly wrong with the
Albanian words of farewell which I had carefully memorized from our
preceding lesson. She then pressed a paper parcel into my hand.
"For the love of God," she whispered, "silence! Or we shall all be in
It contained a dozen pears.
Driving along, I tried to enter into conversation with the coachman who,
judging by his face, was a mine of local lore. But I had come too late;
the poor old man was so weakened by age and infirmities that he cared
little for talk, his thoughts dwelling, as I charitably imagined, on his
wife and children, all dead and buried (so he said) many long years ago.
He mentioned, however, the _diluvio,_ the deluge, which I have heard
spoken of by older people, among whom it is a fixed article of faith.
This deluge is supposed to have affected the whole Crati valley,
submerging towns and villages. In proof, they say that if you dig near
Tarsia below the present river-level, you will pass through beds of silt
and ooze to traces of old walls and cultivated land. Tarsia used to lie
by the river-side, and was a flourishing place, according to the
descriptions of Leandro Alberti and other early writers; floods and
malaria have now forced it to climb the hills.
The current of the Crati is more spasmodic and destructive than in
classical times when the river was "navigable"; and to one of its
inundations may be due this legend of the deluge; to the same
one, maybe, that affected the courses of this river and the Coscile,
mingling their waters which used to flow separately into the Ionian. Or
it may be a hazy memory of the artificial changing of the riverbed when
the town of Sybaris, lying between these two rivers, was destroyed. Yet
the streams are depicted as entering the sea apart in old maps such as
those of Magini, Fiore, Coronelli, and Cluver; and the latter writes
that "near the mouth of the Crati there flows into the same sea a river
vulgarly called Cochile." [Footnote: In the earlier part of
Rathgeber's astonishing "Grossgriechenland und Pythagoras" (1866) will
be found a good list of old maps of the country.]
This is important. It remains to be seen whether this statement is the
result of a personal visit, or whether he simply repeated the old
geography. His text in many places indicates a personal acquaintance
with southern Italy--_Italian_, says Heinsius, _non semel
peragravit--_ and he may well have been tempted to investigate a site
like that of Sybaris. If so, the change in the river courses and
possibly this "deluge" has taken place since his day.
Deprived of converse, I relapsed into a doze, but soon woke up with a
start. The carriage had stopped; it was nearly midnight; we were at
Terranova di Sibari, whose houses were lit up by the silvery beams of
Thurii--death-place of Herodotus! How one would like to see this place
by daylight. On the ancient site, which lies at a considerable distance,
they have excavated antiquities, a large number of which are in the
possession of the Marchese Galli at Castrovillari. I endeavoured to see
his museum, but found it inaccessible for "family reasons." The same
answer was given me in regard to a valuable private library at Rossano,
and annoying as it may be, one cannot severely blame such local
gentlemen for keeping their collections to themselves. What have they to
gain from the visits of inquisitive travellers?
During these meditations on my part, the old man hobbled busily to and
fro with a bucket, bearing water from a fountain near at hand wherewith
to splash the carriage-wheels. He persisted in this singular occupation
for an unreasonably long time. Water was good for the wheels, he
explained; it kept them cool.
At last we started, and I began to slumber once more. The carriage
seemed to be going down a steep incline; endlessly it descended, with a
pleasant swaying motion. . . . Then an icy shiver roused me from my
dreams. It was the Crati whose rapid waves, fraught with unhealthy
chills, rippled brightly in the moonlight. We crossed the malarious
valley, and once more touched the hills.
From those treeless slopes there streamed forth deliciously warm
emanations stored up during the scorching hours of noon; the short scrub
that clothed them was redolent of that peculiar Calabrian odour which
haunts one like a melody--an odour of dried cistus and other aromatic
plants, balsamic by day, almost overpowering at this hour. To aid and
diversify the symphony of perfume, I lit a cigar, and then gave myself
up to contemplation of the heavenly bodies. We passed a solitary man,
walking swiftly with bowed head. What was he doing there?
"Lupomanaro," said the driver.
A werewolf. . . .
I had always hoped to meet with a werewolf on his nocturnal rambles, and
now my wish was gratified. But it was disappointing to see him in human
garb--even werewolves, it seems, must march with the times. This
enigmatical growth of the human mind flourishes in Calabria, but is not
popular as a subject of conversation. The more old-fashioned werewolves
cling to the true _versipellis_ habits, and in that case only the pigs,
the inane Calabrian pigs, are dowered with the faculty of distinguishing
them in daytime, when they look like any other "Christian." There is a
record, in Fiore's book, of an epidemic of lycanthropy that attacked the
boys of Cassano. (Why only the boys?) It began on 31 July, 1210; and the
season of the year strikes me as significant.
After that I fell asleep in good earnest, nor did I wake up again till
the sun was peering over the eastern hills. We were climbing up a long
slope; the Albanian settlements of Vaccarizza and San Giorgio lay before
us and, looking back, I still saw Spezzano on its ridge; it seemed so
close that a gunshot could have reached it.
These non-Italian villages date from the centuries that followed the
death of Scanderbeg, when the Grand Signior consolidated his power. The
refugees arrived in flocks from over the sea, and were granted tracts of
wild land whereon to settle--some of them on this incline of the Sila,
which was accordingly called "Greek" Sila, the native confusing these
foreigners with the Byzantines whose dwellings, as regards Calabria, are
now almost exclusively confined to the distant region of Aspromonte.
Colonies of Albanians are scattered all over South Italy, chiefly in
Apulia, Calabria, Basilicata, and Sicily; a few are in the north and
centre--there is one on the Po, for instance, now reduced to 200
inhabitants; most of these latter have become absorbed into the
surrounding Italian element. Angelo Masci (reprinted 1846) says there
are 59 villages of them, containing altogether 83,000 inhabitants--
exclusive of Sicily; Morelli (1842) gives their total population
for Italy and Sicily as 103,466. If these figures are correct,
the race must have multiplied latterly, for I am told there are
now some 200,000 Albanians in the kingdom, living in about 80 villages.
This gives approximately 2500 for each settlement--a likely number, if
it includes those who are at present emigrants in America. There is a
voluminous literature on the subject of these strangers, the authors of
which are nearly all Albanians themselves. The fullest account of older
conditions may well be that contained in the third volume of Rodota's
learned work (1758); the ponderous Francesco Tajani (1886) brings
affairs up to date, or nearly so. If only he had provided his book with
There were troubles at first. Arriving, as they did, solely "with their
shirts and rhapsodies" (so one of them described it to me)--that is,
despoiled of everything, they indulged in robberies and depredations
somewhat too freely even for those free days, with the result that
ferocious edicts were issued against them, and whole clans wiped out. It
was a case of necessity knowing no law. But in proportion as the forests
were hewn down and crops sown, they became as respectable as their
hosts. They are bilingual from birth, one might almost say, and numbers
of the men also express themselves correctly in English, which they pick
up in the United States.
These islands of alien culture have been hotbeds of Liberalism
throughout history. The Bourbons persecuted them savagely on that
account, exiling and hanging the people by scores. At this moment there
is a good deal of excitement going on in favour of the Albanian revolt
beyond the Adriatic, and it was proposed, among other things, to
organize a demonstration in Rome, where certain Roman ladies were to
dress themselves in Albanian costumes and thus work upon the sentiments
of the nation; but "the authorities" forbade this and every other
movement. None the less, there has been a good deal of clandestine
recruiting, and bitter recriminations against this turcophile attitude
on the part of Italy--this "reactionary rigorism against every
manifestation of sympathy for the Albanian cause." Patriotic
pamphleteers ask, rightly enough, why difficulties should be placed in
the way of recruiting for Albania, when, in the recent cases of Cuba and
Greece, the despatch of volunteers was actually encouraged by the
government? "Legality has ceased to exist here; we Albanians are watched
and suspected exactly as our compatriots now are by the Turks. . . .
They sequestrate our manifestos, they forbid meetings and conferences,
they pry into our postal correspondence. . . . Civil and military
authorities have conspired to prevent a single voice of help and comfort
reaching our brothers, who call to us from over the sea." A hard case,
indeed. But Vienna and Cettinje might be able to throw some light upon
it. [Footnote: This was written before the outbreak of the Balkan war.]
The Albanian women, here as elsewhere, are the veriest beasts of burden;
unlike the Italians, they carry everything (babies, and wood, and water)
on their backs. Their crudely tinted costumes would be called more
strange than beautiful under any but a bright sunshiny sky. The fine
native dresses of the men have disappeared long ago; they even adopted,
in days past, the high-peaked Calabrian hat which is now only worn by
the older generation. Genuine Calabrians often settle in these foreign
villages, in order to profit by their anti-feudal institutions. For even
now the Italian cultivator is supposed to make, and actually does make,
"voluntary" presents to his landlord at certain seasons; gifts which are
always a source of irritation and, in bad years, a real hardship. The
Albanians opposed themselves from the very beginning against these
mediaeval practices. "They do not build houses," says an old writer, "so
as not to be subject to barons, dukes, princes, or other lords. And if
the owner of the land they inhabit ill-treats them, they set fire to
their huts and go elsewhere." An admirable system, even nowadays.
One would like to be here at Easter time to see the _rusalet--_those
Pyrrhic dances where the young men group themselves in martial array,
and pass through the streets with song and chorus, since, soon enough,
America will have put an end to such customs. The old Albanian guitar of
nine strings has already died out, and the double tibia--_biforem dat
tibia cantum--_will presently follow suit. This instrument, familiar
from classical sculpture and lore, and still used in Sicily and
Sardinia, was once a favourite with the Sila shepherds, who called it
"fischietto a pariglia." But some years ago I vainly sought it in the
central Sila; the answer to my enquiries was everywhere the same: they
knew it quite well; so and so used to play it; certain persons in
certain villages still made it--they described it accurately enough, but
could not produce a specimen. Single pipes, yes; and bagpipes galore;
but the _tibia: pares_ were "out of fashion" wherever I asked for them.
Here, in the Greek Sila, I was more fortunate. A boy at the village of
Macchia possessed a pair which he obligingly gave me, after first
playing a song--a farewell song--a plaintive ditty that required, none
the less, an excellent pair of lungs, on account of the two mouthpieces.
Melodies on this double flageolet are played principally at Christmas
time. The two reeds are about twenty-five centimetres in length, and
made of hollow cane; in my specimen, the left hand controls four, the
other six holes; the Albanian name of the instrument is "fiscarol."
From a gentleman at Vaccarizza I received a still more valuable
present--two neolithic celts (aenolithic, I should be inclined to call
them) wrought in close-grained quartzite, and found not far from that
village. These implements must be rare in the uplands of Calabria, as I
have never come across them before, though they have been found, to my
knowledge, at Savelli in the central Sila. At Vaccarizza they call such
relics "pic"--they are supposed, as usual, to be thunderbolts, and I am
also told that a piece of string tied to one of them cannot be burnt in
fire. The experiment might be worth trying.
Meanwhile, the day passed pleasantly at Vaccarizza. I became the guest
of a prosperous resident, and was treated to genuine Albanian
hospitality and excellent cheer. I only wish that all his compatriots
might enjoy one meal of this kind in their lifetime. For they are poor,
and their homes of miserable aspect. Like all too many villages in South
Italy, this one is depopulated of its male inhabitants, and otherwise
dirty and neglected. The impression one gains on first seeing one of
these places is more than that of Oriental decay; they are not merely
ragged at the edges. It is a deliberate and sinister chaos, a note of
downright anarchy--a contempt for those simple forms of refinement which
even the poorest can afford. Such persons, one thinks, cannot have much
sense of home and its hallowed associations; they seem to be
everlastingly ready to break with the existing state of things. How
different from England, where the humblest cottages, the roadways, the
very stones testify to immemorial love of order, to neighbourly feelings
and usages sanctioned by time!
They lack the sense of home as a fixed and old-established topographical
point; as do the Arabs and Russians, neither of whom have a word
expressing our "home" or "Heimat." Here, the nearest equivalent is _la
famiglia._ We think of a particular house or village where we were born
and where we spent our impressionable days of childhood; these others
regard home not as a geographical but as a social centre, liable to
shift from place to place; they are at home everywhere, so long as their
clan is about them. That acquisitive sense which affectionately adorns
our meanest dwelling, slowly saturating it with memories, has been
crushed out of them--if it ever existed--by hard blows of fortune; it is
safer, they think, to transform the labour of their hands into gold,
which can be moved from place to place or hidden from the tyrant's eye.
They have none of our sentimentality in regard to inanimate objects.
Eliza Cook's feelings towards her "old arm-chair" would strike them as
savouring of childishness. Hence the unfinished look of their houses,
within and without. Why expend thought and wealth upon that which may be
The two churches of Vaccarizza, dark and unclean structures, stand side
by side, and I was shown through them by their respective priests, Greek
and Catholic, who walked arm in arm in friendly wise, and meekly smiled
at a running fire of sarcastic observations on the part of another
citizen directed against the "bottega" in general--the _shop,_ as the
church is sometimes irreverently called. The Greco-Catholic cult to
which these Albanians belong is a compromise between the Orthodox and
Roman; their priests may wear beards and marry wives, they use bread
instead of the wafer for sacramental purposes, and there are one or two
other little differences of grave import.
Six Albanian settlements lie on these northern slopes of the Sila--San
Giorgio, Vaccarizza, San Cosimo, Macchia, San Demetrio Corone, and Santa
Sofia d' Epiro. San Demetrio is the largest of them, and thither, after
an undisturbed night's rest at the house of my kind host--the last, I
fear, for many days to come--I drove in the sunlit hours of next
morning. Along the road one can see how thoroughly the Albanians have
done their work; the land is all under cultivation, save for a dark belt
of trees overhead, to remind one of what once it was. Perhaps they have
eradicated the forest over-zealously, for I observe in San Demetrio that
the best drinking water has now to be fetched from a spring at a
considerable distance from the village; it is unlikely that this should
have been the original condition of affairs; deforestation has probably
diminished the water-supply.
It was exhilarating to traverse these middle heights with their aerial
views over the Ionian and down olive-covered hill-sides towards the wide
valley of the Crati and the lofty Pollino range, now swimming in
midsummer haze. The road winds in and out of gullies where rivulets
descend from the mountains; they are clothed in cork-oak, ilex, and
other trees; golden orioles, jays, hoopoes and rollers flash among the
foliage. In winter these hills are swept by boreal blasts from the
Apennines, but at this season it is a delightful tract of land.
ALBANIANS AND THEIR COLLEGE
San Demetrio, famous for its Italo-Albanian College, lies on a fertile
incline sprinkled with olives and mulberries and chestnuts, fifteen
hundred feet above sea-level. They tell me that within the memory of
living man no Englishman has ever entered the town. This is quite
possible; I have not yet encountered a single English traveller, during
my frequent wanderings over South Italy. Gone are the days of Keppel
Craven and Swinburne, of Eustace and Brydone and Hoare! You will come
across sporadic Germans immersed in Hohenstaufen records, or searching
after Roman antiquities, butterflies, minerals, or landscapes to
paint--you will meet them in the most unexpected places; but never an
Englishman. The adventurous type of Anglo-Saxon probably thinks the
country too tame; scholars, too trite; ordinary tourists, too dirty. The
accommodation and food in San Demetrio leave much to be desired; its
streets are irregular lanes, ill-paved with cobbles of gneiss and
smothered under dust and refuse. None the less, what noble names have
been given to these alleys--names calculated to fire the ardent
imagination of young Albanian students, and prompt them to valorous and
patriotic deeds! Here are the streets of "Odysseus," of "Salamis" and
"Marathon" and "Thermopylae," telling of the glory that was Greece; "Via
Skanderbeg" and "Hypsilanti" awaken memories of more immediate renown;
"Corso Dante Alighieri" reminds them that their Italian hosts, too, have
done something in their day; the "Piazza Francesco Ferrer" causes their
ultra-liberal breasts to swell with mingled pride and indignation; while
the "Via dell' Industria" hints, not obscurely, at the great truth that
genius, without a capacity for taking pains, is an idle phrase. Such
appellations, without a doubt, are stimulating and glamorous. But if the
streets themselves have seen a scavenger's broom within the last
half-century, I am much mistaken. The goddess "Hygeia" dost not figure
among their names, nor yet that Byzantine Monarch whose infantile
exploit might be re-enacted in ripest maturity without attracting any
attention in San Demetrio. To the pure all things are pure.
The town is exclusively Albanian; the Roman Catholic church has fallen
into disrepair, and is now used as a shed for timber. But at the door of
the Albanian sanctuary I was fortunate enough to intercept a native
wedding, just as the procession was about to enter the portal. Despite
the fact that the bride was considered the ugliest girl in the place,
she had been duly "robbed" by her bold or possibly blind lover--her
features were providentially veiled beneath her nuptial _flammeum,_ and
of her squat figure little could be discerned under the gorgeous
accoutrements of the occasion. She was ablaze with ornaments and
embroidery of gold, on neck and shoulders and wrist; a wide lace collar
fell over a bodice of purple silk; silken too, and of brightest green,
was her pleated skirt. The priest seemed ineffably bored with his task,
and mumbled through one or two pages of holy books in record time; there
were holdings of candles, interchange of rings, sacraments of bread and
wine and other solemn ceremonies--the most quaint being the
_stephanoma,_ or crowning, of the happy pair, and the moving of their
respective crowns from the head of one to that of the other. It ended
with a chanting perlustration of the church, led by the priest: this is
the so-called "pesatura."
I endeavoured to attune my mind to the gravity of this marriage, to the
deep historico-ethnologico-poetical significance of its smallest detail.
Such rites, I said to myself, must be understood to be appreciated, and
had I not been reading certain native commentators on the subject that
very morning? Nevertheless, my attention was diverted from the main
issue--the bridegroom's face had fascinated me. The self-conscious male
is always at a disadvantage during grotesquely splendid buffooneries of
this kind; and never, in all my life, have I seen a man looking such a
sorry fool as this individual, never; especially during the
perambulation, when his absurd crown was supported on his head, from
behind, by the hand of his best man.
Meanwhile a handful of boys, who seemed to share my private feelings in
regard to the performance, had entered the sacred precincts, their
pockets stuffed with living cicadas. These Albanian youngsters, like all
true connaisseurs, are aware of the idiosyncrasy of the classical insect
which, when pinched or tickled on a certain spot, emits its
characteristic and ear-piercing note--the "lily-soft voice" of the Greek
bard. The cicadas, therefore, were duly pinched and then let loose; like
squibs and rockets they careered among the congregation, dashing in our
faces and clinging to our garments; the church resounded like an
olive-copse at noon. A hot little hand conveyed one of these tremulously
throbbing creatures into my own, and obeying a whispered injunction of
"Let it fly, sir!" I had the joy of seeing the beast alight with a
violent buzz on the head of the bride--doubtless the happiest of
auguries. Such conduct, on the part of English boys, would be deemed
very naughty and almost irreverent; but here, one hopes, it may have its
origin in some obscure but pious credence such as that which prompts the
populace to liberate birds in churches, at Easter time. These escaping
cicadas, it may be, are symbolical of matrimony--the individual man and
woman freed, at last, from the dungeon-like horrors of celibate
existence; or, if that parallel be far-fetched, we may conjecture that
their liberation represents the afflatus of the human soul, aspiring
upwards to merge its essence into the Divine All. . . .
The pride of San Demetrio is its college. You may read about it in
Professor Mazziotti's monograph; but whoever wishes to go to the
fountain-head must peruse the _Historia Erectionis Pontifici Collegi
Corsini Ullanensis, etc.,_ of old Zavarroni--an all-too-solid piece of
work. Founded under the auspices of Pope Clement XII in 1733 (or 1735)
at San Benedetto Ullano, it was moved hither in 1794, and between that
time and now has passed through fierce vicissitudes. Its president,
Bishop Bugliari, was murdered by the brigands in 1806; much of its lands
and revenues have been dissipated by maladministration; it was
persecuted for its Liberalism by the Bourbons, who called it a "workshop
of the devil." It distinguished itself during the anti-dynastic revolts
of 1799 and 1848 and, in 1860, was presented with twelve thousand ducats
by Garibaldi, "in consideration of the signal services rendered to the
national cause by the brave and generous Albanians." [Footnote: There
used to be regiments of these Albanians at Naples. In Filati de
Tassulo's sane study (1777) they are spoken of as highly prized.] Even
now the institution is honeycombed with Freemasonry--the surest path to
advancement in any career, in modern Italy. Times indeed have changed
since the "Inviolable Constitutions" laid it down that _nullus omnino
Alumnus in Collegio detineatur, cuius futura; Chris-tianae pietatis
significatio non extet._ But only since 1900 has it been placed on a
really sound and prosperous footing. An agricultural school has lately
been added, under the supervision of a trained expert. They who are
qualified to judge speak of the college as a beacon of learning--an
institution whose aims and results are alike deserving of high respect.
And certainly it can boast of a fine list of prominent men who have
issued from its walls.
This little island of stern mental culture contains, besides twenty-five
teachers and as many servants, some three hundred scholars preparing for
a variety of secular professions. About fifty of them are
Italo-Albanians, ten or thereabouts are genuine Albanians from over the
water, the rest Italians, among them two dozen of those unhappy orphans
from. Reggio and Messina who flooded the country after the earthquake,
and were "dumped down" in colleges and private houses all over Italy.
Some of the boys come of wealthy families in distant parts, their
parents surmising that San Demetrio offers no temptations to youthful
folly and extravagance. In this, so far as I can judge, they are
The heat of summer and the fact that the boys were in the throes of
their examinations may have helped to make the majority of them seem
pale and thin; they certainly complained of their food, and the cook was
the only prosperous-looking person whom I could discover in the
establishment--his percentages, one suspects, being considerable. The
average yearly payment of each scholar for board and tuition is only
twenty pounds (it used to be twenty ducats); how shall superfluities be
included in the bill of fare for such a sum?
The class-rooms are modernized; the dormitories neither clean nor very
dirty; there is a rather scanty gymnasium as well as a physical
laboratory and museum of natural history. Among the recent acquisitions
of the latter is a vulture _(Gyps fulvus)_ which was shot here in the
spring of this year. The bird, they told me, has never been seen in
these regions before; it may have come over from the east, or from
Sardinia, where it still breeds. I ventured to suggest that they should
lose no time in securing a native porcupine, an interesting beast
concerning which I never fail to enquire on my rambles. They used to be
encountered in the Crati valley; two were shot near Corigliano a few
years ago, and another not far from Cotronei on the Neto; they still
occur in the forests near the "Pagliarelle" above Petilia Policastro;
but, judging by all indications, I should say that this animal is
rapidly approaching extinction not only here, but all over Italy.
Another very rare creature, the otter, was killed lately at Vaccarizza,
but unfortunately not preserved.
Fencing and music are taught, but those athletic exercises which led to
the victories of Marathon and Salamis are not much in vogue--_mens sana
in corpare sana_ is clearly not the ideal of the place; fighting among
the boys is reprobated as "savagery," and corporal punishment forbidden.
There is no playground or workshop, and their sole exercise consists in
dull promenades along the high road under the supervision of one or more
teachers, during which the youngsters indulge in attempts at games by
the wayside which are truly pathetic. So the old "Inviolable
Constitutions" ordain that "the scholars must not play outside the
college, and if they meet any one, they should lower their voices." A
rule of recent introduction is that in this warm weather they must all
lie down to sleep for two hours after the midday meal; it may suit the
managers, but the boys consider it a great hardship and would prefer
being allowed to play. Altogether, whatever the intellectual results may
be, the moral tendency of such an upbringing is damaging to the spirit
of youth and must make for precocious frivolity and brutality. But the
pedagogues of Italy are like her legislators: theorists. They close
their eyes to the cardinal principles of all education--that the waste
products and toxins of the imagination are best eliminated by motor
activities, and that the immature stage of human development, far from
being artificially shortened, should be prolonged by every possible
means. . If the internal arrangement of this institution is not all it
might be as regards the healthy development of youth, the situation of
the college resembles the venerable structures of Oxford in that it is
too good, far too good, for mere youngsters. This building, in its
seclusion from the world, its pastoral surroundings and soul-inspiring
panorama, is an abode not for boys but for philosophers; a place to fill
with a wave of deep content the sage who has outgrown earthly ambitions.
Your eye embraces the snow-clad heights of Dolcedorme and the Ionian
Sea, wandering over forests, and villages, and rivers, and long reaches
of fertile country; but it is not the variety of the scene, nor yet the
historical memories of old Sybaris which kindle the imagination so much
as the spacious amplitude of the whole prospect. In England we think
something of a view of ten miles. Conceive, here, a grandiose valley
wider than from Dover to Calais, filled with an atmosphere of such
impeccable clarity that there are moments when one thinks to see every
stone and every bush on the mountains yonder, thirty miles distant. And
the cloud-effects, towards sunset, are such as would inspire the brush
of Turner or Claude Lorraine. . . .
For the college, as befits its grave academic character, stands by
itself among fruitful fields and backed by a chestnut wood, at ten
minutes' walk from the crowded streets. It is an imposing edifice--the
Basilean convent of St. Adrian, with copious modern additions; the
founders may well have selected this particular site on account of its
fountain of fresh water, which flows on as in days of yore. One thinks
of those communities of monks in the Middle Ages, scattered over this
wild region and holding rare converse with one another by gloomy forest
paths--how remote their life and ideals! In the days of Fiore (1691) the
inmates of this convent still practised their old rites.
The nucleus of the building is the old chapel, containing a remarkable
font; two antique columns sawn up (apparently for purposes of
transportation from some pagan temple by the shore)--one of them being
of African marble and the other of grey granite; there is also a
tessellated pavement with beast-patterns of leopards and serpents akin
to those of Patir. Bertaux gives a reproduction of this serpent; he
assimilates it, as regards technique and age, to that which lies before
the altar of Monte Cassino and was wrought by Greek artisans of the
abbot Desiderius. The church itself is held to be two centuries older
than that of Patir.
The library, once celebrated, contains musty folios of classics and
their commentators, but nothing of value. It has been ransacked of its
treasures like that of Patir, whose _disjecta membra_ have been tracked
down by the patience and acumen of Monsignor Batiffol.
Batiffol, Bertaux--Charles Diehl, Jules Gay (who has also written on San
Demetrio)--Huillard-Breholles--Luynes--Lenormant. . . here are a few
French scholars who have recently studied these regions and their
history. What have we English done in this direction?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Such thoughts occur inevitably.
It may be insinuated that researches of this kind are gleanings; that
our English genius lies rather in the spade-work of pioneers like Leake
or Layard. Granted. But a hard fact remains; the fact, namely, that
could any of our scholars have been capable of writing in the large and
profound manner of Bertaux or Gay, not one of our publishers would have
undertaken to print his work. Not one. They know their business; they
know that such a book would have been a dead loss. Therefore let us
frankly confess the truth: for things of the mind there is a smaller
market in England than in France. _How much smaller_ only they can tell,
who have familiarized themselves with other departments of French thought.
Here, then, I have lived for the past few days, strolling among the
fields, and attempting to shape some picture of these Albanians from
their habits and such of their literature as has been placed at my
disposal. So far, my impression of them has not changed since the days
when I used to rest at their villages, in Greece. They remind me of the
Irish. Both races are scattered over the earth and seem to prosper best
outside their native country; they have the same songs and bards, the
same hero-chieftains, the same com-bativeness and frank hospitality;
both are sunk in bigotry and broils; they resemble one another in their
love of dirt, disorder and display, in their enthusiastic and
adventurous spirit, their versatile brilliance of mind, their incapacity
for self-government and general (Keltic) note of inspired inefficiency.
And both profess a frenzied allegiance to an obsolete tongue which, were
it really cultivated as they wish, would put a barrier of triple brass
between themselves and the rest of humanity.
Even as the Irish despise the English as their worldly and effete
relatives, so the Albanians look down upon the Greeks--even those of
Pericles--with profoundest contempt. The Albanians, so says one of their
writers, are "the oldest people upon earth," and their language is the
"divine Pelasgic mother-tongue." I grew interested awhile in Stanislao
Marchiano's plausibly entrancing study on this language, as well as in a
pamphlet of de Rada's on the same subject; but my ardour has cooled
since learning, from another native grammarian, that these writers are
hopelessly in the wrong on nearly every point. So much is certain, that
the Albanian language already possesses more than _thirty different
alphabets_ (each of them with nearly fifty letters). Nevertheless they
have not yet, in these last four (or forty) thousand years, made up
their minds which of them to adopt, or whether it would not be wisest,
after all, to elaborate yet another one--a thirty-first. And so
difficult is their language with any of these alphabets that even after
a five days' residence on the spot I still find myself puzzled by such
simple passages as this:
. . . Zilji,
mosse vet, ce asso mbremie
to ngcnrct me iljis, praa
gjith e miegculem, mhi siaarr
rriij i sgjuat. Nje voogh e keljbur
sorrevet te liosta
ndjej se i oxtenej
e pisseroghej. Zuu shiu
menes; ne mee se Ijinaar
chish Ijeen pa-shuatur
skiotta, e i ducheje per moon.
I will only add that the translation of such a passage--it contains
twenty-eight accents which I have omitted--is mere child's play to its
AN ALBANIAN SEER
Sometimes I find my way to the village of Macchia, distant about three
miles from San Demetrio. It is a dilapidated but picturesque cluster of
houses, situate on a projecting tongue of land which is terminated by a
little chapel to Saint Elias, the old sun-god Helios, lover of peaks and
promontories, whom in his Christian shape the rude Albanian colonists
brought hither from their fatherland, even as, centuries before, he had
accompanied the Byzantines on the same voyage and, fifteen centuries yet
earlier, the Greeks.
At Macchia was born, in 1814, of an old and relatively wealthy family,
Girolamo de Rada, [Footnote: Thus his friend and compatriot, Dr. Michele
Marchiano, spells the name in a biography which I recommend to those who
think there is no intellectual movement in South Italy. But he himself,
at the very close of his life, in 1902, signs himself Ger. de Rhada. So
this village of Macchia is spelt indifferently by Albanians as Maki or
Makji. They have a fine Elizabethan contempt for orthography--as well
they may have, with their thirty alphabets.] a flame-like patriot in
whom the tempestuous aspirations of modern Albania took shape. The ideal
pursued during his long life was the regeneration of his country; and if
the attention of international congresses and linguists and folklorists
is now drawn to this little corner of the earth--if, in _1902,_
twenty-one newspapers were devoted to the Albanian cause (eighteen in
Italy alone, and one even in London)--it was wholly his merit.
He was the son of a Greco-Catholic priest. After a stern religious
upbringing under the paternal roof at Macchia and in the college of San
Demetrio, he was sent to Naples to complete his education. It is
characteristic of the man that even in the heyday of youth he cared
little for modern literature and speculations and all that makes for
exact knowledge, and that he fled from his Latin teacher, the celebrated
Puoti, on account of his somewhat exclusive love of grammatical rules.
None the less, though con-genitally averse to the materialistic and
subversive theories that were then seething in Naples, he became
entangled in the anti-Bourbon movements of the late thirties, and
narrowly avoided the death-penalty which struck down some of his
comrades. At other times his natural piety laid him open to the
accusation of reactionary monarchical leanings.
He attributed his escape from this and every other peril to the hand of
God. Throughout life he was a zealous reader of the Bible, a firm and
even ascetic believer, forever preoccupied, in childlike simplicity of
soul, with first causes. His spirit moved majestically in a world of
fervent platitudes. The whole Cosmos lay serenely distended before his
mental vision; a benevolent God overhead, devising plans for the
prosperity of Albania; a malignant, ubiquitous and very real devil,
thwarting these His good intentions whenever possible; mankind on earth,
sowing and reaping in the sweat of their brow, as was ordained of old.
Like many poets, he never disabused his mind of this comfortable form of
anthropomorphism. He was a firm believer, too, in dreams. But his
guiding motive, his sun by day and star by night, was a belief in the
"mission" of the Pelasgian race now scattered about the shores of the
Inland Sea--in Italy, Sicily, Greece, Dalmatia, Roumania, Asia Minor,
Egypt--a belief as ardent and irresponsible as that which animates the
_Lost Tribe_ enthusiasts of England. He considered that the world hardly
realized how much it owed to his countryfolk; according to his views,
Achilles, Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Pyrrhus,
Diocletian, Julian the Apostate--they were all Albanians. Yet even
towards the end of his life he is obliged to confess:--
"But the evil demon who for over four thousand years has been hindering
the Pelasgian race from collecting itself into one state, is still
endeavouring by insidious means to thwart the work which would lead it
to that union."
Disgusted with the clamorous and intriguing bustle of Naples, he
retired, at the early age of 34, to his natal village of Macchia,
throwing over one or two offers of lucrative worldly appointments. He
describes himself as wholly disenchanted with the "facile fatuity" of
Liberalism, the fact being, that he lacked what a French psychologist
has called the _function of the real;_ his temperament was not of the
kind to cope with actualities. This retirement is an epoch in his
life--it is the Grand Renunciation. Henceforward he loses personal touch
with thinking humanity. At Macchia he remained, brooding on Albanian
wrongs, devising remedies, corresponding with foreigners and
writing--ever writing; consuming his patrimony in the cause of Albania,
till the direst poverty dogged his footsteps.
I have read some of his Italian works. They are curiously oracular, like
the whisperings of those fabled Dodonian oaks of his fatherland; they
heave with a darkly-virile mysticism. He shares Blake's ruggedness, his
torrential and confused utterance, his benevolence, his flashes of
luminous inspiration, his moral background. He resembles that visionary
in another aspect: he was a consistent and passionate adorer of the
_Ewig-weibliche._ Some of the female characters in his poems retain
their dewy freshness, their exquisite originality, even after passing
through the translator's crucible.
At the age of 19 he wrote a poem on "Odysseus," which was published
under a pseudonym. Then, three years later, there appeared a collection
of rhapsodies entitled "Milosao," which he had garnered from the lips of
Albanian village maidens. It is his best-known work, and has been
translated into Italian more than once. After his return to Macchia
followed some years of apparent sterility, but later on, and especially
during the last twenty years of his life, his literary activity became
prodigious. Journalism, folklore, poetry, history, grammar, philology,
ethnology, aesthetics, politics, morals--nothing came amiss to his
gifted pen, and he was fruitful, say his admirers, even in his errors,
Like other men inflamed with one single idea, he boldly ventured into
domains of thought where specialists fear to tread. His biographer
enumerates forty-three different works from his pen. They all throb with
a resonant note of patriotism; they are "fragments of a heart," and
indeed, it has been said of him that he utilized even the grave science
of grammar as a battlefield whereon to defy the enemies of Albania. But
perhaps he worked most successfully as a journalist. His "Fiamuri
Arberit" (the Banner of Albania) became the rallying cry of his
countrymen in every corner of the earth.
These multifarious writings--and doubtless the novelty of his central
theme--attracted the notice of German philologers and linguists, of all
lovers of freedom, folklore and verse. Leading Italian writers like
Cantupraised him highly; Lamartine, in 1844, wrote to him: "Je suis
bien-heureux de ce signe de fraternite poetique et politique entre vous
et moi. La poesie est venue de vos rivages et doit y retourner. . . ."
Hermann Buchholtz discovers scenic changes worthy of Shakespeare, and
passages of Aeschylean grandeur, in his tragedy "Sofonisba." Carnet
compares him with Dante, and the omniscient Mr. Gladstone wrote in
1880--a post card, presumably--belauding his disinterested efforts on
behalf of his country. He was made the subject of many articles and
pamphlets, and with reason. Up to his time, Albania had been a myth. He
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