2004 Jeff Matthews & napoli.com
National Park; monasteries (4)
is the name of the city as well as of the larger administrative unit—the
province—of which it is the capital. The province is, in turn,
part of the yet larger unit—the region—of Campania. The
province of Naples is not the largest in area in the Campania region,
however. That distinction goes to the neighbouring province of Salerno
to the south.
The province of Salerno occupies about 3,000 square
miles. About one-third of that area has been given over since 1991 to
the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, an area of great natural
beauty and extreme historic interest. The park is almost all mountains
and starts just below Battipaglia, running down to Sapri on the coast
at the end of the Campania region. The bulk of the park occupies the
rugged terrain called "Cilento," a bulge on the coast that accommodates
a section of the Apennine mountain range that has wandered over from
the main line to drop off into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
of coast separates the Gulf of Salerno to the north from the Gulf of
Policastro in the south. Although the mountains are not high by the
absolute standards of the Alps (Monte Cervati at 1900 meters—5700
feet—is the highest summit in the Cilento), the relative height
is impressive, especially near the coast, where the immediate change
in altitude is from sea-level to the 1200 meters (3600 feet) of Monte
Bulgheria, a mountain that rises immediately from the coast above
and behind the town of Scario.
It is this section of the Cilento
that provides some fascinating glimpses into the history of Christianity.
If you stand in the little harbor of Scario, you look up at Monte
Bulgheria (photo, right)—an archaic Italian spelling for "Bulgaria"—Bulgarian
Mountain. It is in the middle of southern Italy but is so-called because
the area was settled by refugee monks from the east over 1000 years
ago. The great Iconoclast controversies of the 8th and 9th centuries
drove a number of monks to escape the severe persecutions of Constantinople
(indeed, the most severe of the "icon smashers" aimed to destroy monasticism,
itself). The monasteries founded in the immediate area of Monte Bulgheria
are Santa Maria di Pattano, San Giovanni Battista, San Marcurio di Roccagloriosa,
Santa Maria di Centola, San Nazario di Cuccaro, Santa Maria di Grottaferrata
in Rofrano, Santa Cecilia di Eremiti, San Cono di Camerota and San Pietro
di Licusati. All of them were founded between 750 and 950 a.d.
Italian peninsula of the 700s and 800s was not a bad place for people
looking to be left alone. There were long periods when sections of the
south were under only the nominal control of a central authority. The
Lombards had invaded Italy late in the late 500s. In 800, they were
replaced by Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, but even that
affected mostly central and northern Italy. In the 800s and 900s the
south stayed Lombard. First, it was the large Duchy of Benevento; then,
that splintered through civil war into smaller units, one of which was
the Duchy of Salerno. All of this was
then gobbled up in the 1000s by the Normans. Important for this brief discussion is
that Lombards, Salernitans, Normans—whatever—were all devout
followers of the western church. Yet, followers of the eastern Greek
church were, to my knowledge, pretty much left alone to worship as they
pleased, even after the schismatic movements from Constantinople, first
by Photius in 867, and, finally, the schism in 1054 that officially
separated Christianity into east and west. There was not then—nor
has there ever been in southern Italy—any particular persecution
of the Greek Orthodox religion by Roman Catholics. It is true, however,
that, little by little over the centuries, these eastern religious orders
in southern Italy became westernised and in many cases were simply absorbed
into the mainstream of the western monastic tradition.
statue of Giordano Bruno stands in the square of that name in
the town of his birth, Nola, near Naples."
became a modern science in the 16th and 17th centuries, largely through
the efforts of Copernicus and Galileo. It is less remembered than
it should be that the life's work of Nicolas Copernicus, De Revolutionibus
Orbium Coelestium Libri, containing his observations that the
Earth and all the planets revolved around the sun— though formulated
thirty years earlier— was not published until the year of his
death, 1543. Nick had a good head on his shoulders and that is precisely
where he wanted to keep it. Thus, he knew better than to go rip-snorting
through the streets of Unenlightenment Europe advising princes of
The Church that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe. Even
a century later, a very old, tired and beat up Galileo, understandably
afraid of the torture that awaited him unless he knuckled under, recanted
his blasphemous confirmation of Copernican heliocentricity.
Copernicus and Galileo in time, we find the fascinating figure of
Giordano Bruno from Nola, near Naples. Unlike Copernicus, Bruno didn't
believe in soft-pedaling what he believed to be the truth. He was
flamboyant, vain and loud. He was also, most improbably, a monk for
eleven years of his young adulthood at the Franciscan monastery in
Naples before renouncing his vows in order to set off around Europe
as a wandering teacher of philosophy. And unlike Galileo, he not only
didn't fear torture and death, but his last words on the subject—literally
his last words on the subject, (spoken to his tormentors just after
they had sentenced him)—were defiant: "Perhaps you who pronounce
my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it."
Bruno still fascinates us today. (Indeed, even James Joyce used
to puzzle his friends by references to "the Nolan," and on occasion
paid homage to this fellow heretic and believer in the magical power
of words by using the pen-name "Gordon Brown"!) Bruno was caught, so
to speak, between two ages in our civilization. He was a mystic, a devout
man who brought with him from the past a belief in numerology, astrology
and alchemy and even an interest in the revival of ancient Egyptian
magic. He was, however, also a universal and tolerant man—one
who wanted the universe to make sense, and, in that, he was a forerunner
of the Age of Reason. He was, thus, ill at ease with the confining theology
of his day, which proclaimed the Earth the center of all things. He
believed in an infinite universe, a literal interpretation of the biblical
"worlds upon worlds," a universe in which nothing is fixed, not even
the stars, and where everything is relative, including time and motion,
a universe in which we are but a tiny part of the great unknown and
in which God becomes more of a universal mind, a substance inherent
in all things, not a personal, external Prime Mover. Unorthodox views
like this were to put him on a collision course with the Inquisition.
early 1580s Bruno traveled to England where he lectured at Oxford and
met the great men of English letters, perhaps, they say, even Shakespeare.
Then, he left England and returned to France, Germany and back to Italy,
where he thought he would be able to convince the Inquisition that he
was no heretic and that his views were reasonable. He had, after all,
time and again as a monk apologized for his doubts and, now, before
the Inquisition, offered to defend his views. The Inquisition, of course,
was not interested in debate; they wanted penitence, and Bruno would
not give it to them. He spent eight years in prison, being "examined
and questioned". On February 19, 1600, he was burned at the stake
in the Piazza de' Fiori in Rome.
no Copernicus or Galileo in the scientific sense. His vision of the
cosmos was not based on puzzling over the apparent retrograde orbit
of planets or on observations through telescopes. His was more of a
philosophical, aesthetic stance. In order to make sense, the universe
had to be greater, infinitely greater, than his contemporaries imagined.
Or, in his own words (from De la Causa, principio et uno):
entire globe, this star, not being subject to death, and dissolution
and annihilation being impossible anywhere in Nature, from time
to time renews itself by changing and altering all its parts.
There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute
position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that
of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change
in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always
at the center of things.
shortest-lived dynasty to rule the Kingdom of Naples in its long history
was the one installed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. It was the second
time in less than a decade that the French had "liberated" Naples
from the Bourbons. Earlier, in 1799, the forces of the revolutionary
French Republic had set up and shored up the Pathenopean Republic
in Naples; however, this sister republic to the south lasted a mere
six months before the Bourbon rulers returned from Sicilian exile
to restore their monarchy.
however, France was firmly in the hands of Napoleon, who, this time
around, was taking no chances. He chased the King and Queen of Naples
back to Sicily and installed his own brother, Joseph, as King of Naples.
Two years later he moved Joseph over to the throne of Spain and installed
as King of Naples his sister Carolina's husband, Joachim (Gioacchino,
in Italian) Murat, a trusted military aide. Murat already had a reputation
as a daring cavalry leader, having distinguished himself in support
of the French Republic and, later, Napoleon's meteoric rise to power.
Murat's role in the Egyptian campaign (1798-99) and then in the battles
of Austerliz and Jena was heroic. His rule in Naples would last until
1815 and would produce sweeping political and social changes way out
of proportion to the few brief years involved.
that took place in Naples under Murat more or less paralleled the changes
in the rest of Europe brought about through the imposition of the so-called
"Napoleonic Code," a legal system as monumental in human history as
the codes of Hammurabi and Justinian, or the Magna Carta. In the Kigdom
of Naples, the Napoleonic Code dismantled the 1000-year-old social structure
of feudalism. It also instituted a civil service based on merit, one
through which even modest citizens of the kingdom could advance. Those
two items mark the beginning of an economic middle class—truly
the end of one age and the beginning of another. (It is important to
remember that in spite of Napoleon's ultimate defeat, these changes
helped shape subsequent European history.)
revamped the former Bourbon military academy, the Nunziatella, so as to make the military less alienated
from the people. He encouraged citizens to avail themselves of military
careers and rise through the ranks. He, the king, himself, was the prime
example, having started life as the son of an inn-keeper. University
reform and the beginnings of scientific facilities such as the observatory
and the Botanical Gardens are all part of the innovations in Naples
under Murat. Physically, the city acquired broad new roads such as via
Posillipo and the boulevard leading from the National
Museum out to Capodimonte. (The original name of that splendid thoroughfare
was, fittingly, Corso Napoleone.) Additionally, the mammoth structure
in what is now Piazza Plebescito, the Church
of San Francesco di Paola, was begun under Murat. It was planned
to be but the beginning of an enormous civic center, a forum.
fascinates about Murat, however, is not the social change he wrought
in Naples, substantial though that may be. It was his political ambition.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the main actors in what is
termed the Risorgimento—the movement to unify Italy—Mazzini,
Cavour, Garibaldi, were still a generation
in the future. The first rumblings of the Risorgimento were already
being heard, however. The famous patriotic phrase of Italian patriots
in the 19th century, "We shall not be free until we are one,"
was borrowed from Vincenzo Cuoco, a Neapolitan
writer and social philosopher very active during Murat's reign. Additionally,
secret societies such as the Carbonari
first took hold in Italy in the south at the time of Murat;
their avowed aim was constitutional government and eventual unification
of Italy. Interestingly, Murat encouraged these groups, for he saw himself
as the fulfillment of their vision—he would be the unifier
and King of Italy!
of Murat and his queen, Carolina (Royal Palace, anon.)
as such ambitions were, they were piddling next to those of his brother-in-law's,
who was worried about continents and not mere nations. Thus, Murat found
himself back at Napoleon's side, serving as valiantly as ever in the
Russian campaign of 1812. Concerned about his own Kingdom in Naples,
however, Murat returned in early 1813 and in spite of Napoleon's crumbling
foretunes—or maybe because of them—decided
to make his own move for posterity. He publicly distanced himself from
the Emperor and moved north in Italy, taking over the Papal States and
Tuscany, unifying a large portion of the peninsula on his own. All this
required signing a treaty with Austria, Napoleon's archenemy, a deed
which earned him the label of "betrayer" from the man who had put him
in power in the first place.
move was premature. Napoleon's defeat and exile to Elba meant the restoration
of the old European monarchies, and Murat was forced to cede his newly
acquired territory. He was not done, however. Napoleon's bold return
from exile gave Murat another chance. In March of 1815 he allied himself
once again with Bonaparte, agreeing to march north and hold a defensive
line against the Austrians to keep them from attacking France through
northern Italy. There is no way of knowing how Napoleon might have fared
if Murat had simply followed orders. Instead, he attacked the Austrians
and lost a major battle at Tolentino.
six weeks between his own defeat on the battlefield and Napoleon's ultimate
defeat at Waterloo, Murat left the Kingdom of Naples in the face of
advancing Austrian troops. Murat's last proclamation to the people of
the Kingdom of Naples appears in the Giornale delle Due Sicilie (Journal
of the Two Sicilies) on May 18, 1815. He writes from San Leucio, near
Caserta. He warns against fearmongers and says, "The enemy is still
distant...but I shall never expose you to the terrors of warfare within
our capital [the city of Naples]." Then, in what amounts to a farewell,
says, "If destiny must strike, let it strike only me." With that, he
was gone. The newspaper appears a few days later on May 23, 1815. The
lead article is a proclamation from Ferdinand IV, welcoming himself
back to his kingdom and promising love and benevolence. It is
written from Palermo, Sicily, where he had weathered, for the second
time in 10 years, the storm of exile. He assumed the title of Ferdinand
I, King of the Two Sicilies (as opposed to Ferdinand IV, King of Naples).
His wife, Queen Caroline, had died in Austria in 1814. Ferdinand married again. He died in 1825, having ruled Naples—with
a few interruptions—since 1759.
to Paris where Napoleon refused to see him. After Waterloo, Murat's
fate was sealed. His kingdom was back in the hands of the Bourbons and
there was nothing he could do about it. Yet, he still wasn't through.
This quixotic would–be king of a united Italy refused benevolent
offers to be put out to pasture and live out his days in peace. Instead,
he took a handful of men and landed at Pizzo on the coast of Calibria,
no doubt imagining himself rallying the local military forces and then
marching north to retake his kingdom. Instead, he was imprisoned and
sentenced to death. His appeals to Ferdinand, the restored King of Naples,
that you just didn't shoot fellow kings, fell on deaf ears.
18, 1815, Gioacchino Murat, in a last typical display of bravado, refused
the blindfold and commanded his own execution. A second-hand account
of the episode is found in the The Nooks and By-Ways of Italyby
Craufurd Tait Ramage, which went through a single edition in 1868. (There
exists a scholarly edition, published in 1965 and 1987 as Ramage
in South Italy and edited by Edith Clay, Academy Chicago Publishers,
[ Click here to read an excerpt from that source.]
of Murat was erected in the 1880s as one of the eight that line the
west facade of the Royal Palace in Naples.
residence in Naples was in the Barbaja villa (photo, below), across
from the main cable-car station on via Toledo (via Roma).
Domenico Barbaja (1778-1841), the owner of the building, was the
foremost impresario in the Naples of the day. He got Rossini to
come to Naples in the first place and also managed the rebuilding
of San Carlo after it burned in 1816.
you saw that awkwardly-rendered musical pun at the top of this entry
and said, "Hey, I know that...," then you are living proof of the omnipresence
of Gioacchino Rossini’s music, even in the lives of those who
wouldn’t know an overture if one bit them on the bassoon. It is
strange, indeed, that we should be surrounded by the music of one whom
we have never quite taken seriously.
a list of the world’s most popular classical composers, rated
by number of performances in concert halls around the world over the
last century. As might be expected, Beethoven is in first place. No
one is in second place and fading fast. Beethoven deserves it, of course.
If you take Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Einstein, and roll them all
up into one very very large musician, you get Beethoven. It is impossible,
for example, to play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to death —although
many have tried. That’s how good it is.
other hand, one notch or so down the list, at the level of mere mortal
composers who are only great, Rossini, too, gets a good workout,
especially if you count all the bits and fragments of stray Rossini
that wind up as background music on radio, TV and film sound tracks.
He wrote mostly operas, but concert-goers generally get
their Rossini in orchestral format, since overtures to operas
are often played as stand-alone symphonic works. Even total musical
morons can get theirs if they’re not careful, just by watching,
say, that magnificent Bugs Bunny cartoon where our wascally fwiend conducts
a fine, if somewhat truncated, version of the opening aria —the
silliest piece of great music ever written— of Rossini’s
opera, The Barber of Seville, (the lyrics read, approximately,
"Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro") until the Hollywood Bowl collapses.
And if you have really and truly never heard Biddy-bump, biddy-bump,
biddy-bump-bump-bump!— from the overture to the opera William
Tell—you should check your birth certificate; it’s a
fake—you don’t exist.
was born in Pesaro in central Italy in 1792, the year Mozart died. It would thus be poetic justice if he
were remembered as some sort of a link between the perfect classicism
of Mozart and the passionate Romanticism of the early 1800s —in
short, if he had been Beethoven. That would have been difficult, however,
because Beethoven was already Beethoven at the time. Rossini comes down
to us, then, as a composer born a few decades too late. He said of himself
that he ‘was born to write Comic Opera,’ referring to the
school of Neapolitan farce that was the rage of Europe from 1750 to
1800. He, himself, is remembered as the last in the line of such composers,
the one who wrote the greatest of all such works, The Barber
of Seville. It was unfortunate for Rossini that he wrote at a time
when Europe was no longer interested in musical comedy. People wanted
passion and thunder—volcanoes of music. That was something Rossini
could not give them. Beethoven, of course, could and did.
is one of the five composers who have defined Italian opera over the
last 200 years in terms of quality and quantity of their work, their
popularity and their critical acclaim. Working backwards chronologically,
these composers are: Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini.
Puccini is the undisputed master of the late Romantic Italian opera,
a composer with an uncanny flair for couching tragedy in beautiful
melody. Then, Verdi’s career overarches almost the entire history
of 19th-century Italian nationalism, and his music is inextricably bound
up with the struggle to create a unified nation during that period;
he was a patriot as well as a musician. Donizetti
and Bellini, contemporaries, mark the beginnings
of Italian lyric romanticism in music: love, passion, heroism, all to
the sounds of beautiful melody—now the trademark of Italian opera.
Then comes Rossini, the last great Italian composer of the 1700s—
which is strange to say, since he lived until 1867. Indeed, he was called
the "grand old man of Italian music" by Verdi, whom everyone else called
the "grand old man of Italian music."
was a child prodigy, performing at the age of 12 as a pianist and soprano
singer. In 1815, at the age of 23, he was appointed "house composer"
and musical director of the San Carlo theater
in Naples. He served in Naples for seven years, during which time he
composed some of his best–remembered works. One of these was The
Barber of Seville. The scandal surrounding the opening of that work
is well-known. An opera by that name already existed in the repertoire
of Neapolitan comic opera, and it was extremely popular. Rossini decided
to write another one, thus incurring the wrath of Neapolitan fans of
Giovanni Paisiello, the composer of the original.
Said boors showed up at the premiere in Rome and disrupted the performance;
they say that even members of the cast conspired to make the premiere
a flop, which it was—an utter and total flop, getting catcalls
and walk-outs all evening and leaving Rossini almost suicidally depressed
by evening’s end.
of the day has fun with the exuberance of Rossini's music.
fact that Rossini did not take failure lightly may have been at the
heart of his decision at the ripe old age of 37 in 1829 to stop composing
opera altogether. His last opera, William Tell, starts with the
overture that "everyone remembers". It is perhaps the most overplayed
piece of music in the entire classical repertoire. Indeed, at least
in the United States, where the overture was for years the theme music
of the popular radio and TV western series, The Lone Ranger,
it is said that the only ones who can hear the music and not think of
horses and Cheerios (the sponsor) are intellectuals —and
they're lying. Yet, in spite of that, it remains a magnificently
stirring piece of music and still has the power to move. Rossini wrote
William Tell as somewhat of an answer to critics who told him
that the age of the comic opera was over and that he should start generating
a little true fire. William Tell is, thus, Rossini at his most
passionate. It was the most Romantic, stirring, and deliberately 19th-century
piece of music he could wring out of his 18th-century soul. It didn’t
flop, but it wasn’t a smash hit, either.
lived the last half of his life in France and never wrote another opera.
He composed some sacred music, most prominent of which is the Stabat
Mater. He lived far into the 19th century, yet was viewed as a composer
firmly rooted in the music of the distant past. He did not have the
mysterious and revolutionary passions of Beethoven, or even the simple
flair for a beautiful melody, like his countrymen Bellini or Donizetti.
By the calendar, he was a contemporary of the two giants of 19th century
Romantic opera, Verdi and Wagner; yet, compared to them musically, he
was truly a time traveler—and if he could not get back to the
past, he did the next best thing: he quit composing opera and let the
world of music go forward without him.
however—this person "born to write Comic Opera," and whose music
seems so light-weight to our ears—was esteemed by his contemporaries.
Verdi’s famous Requiem was originally conceived by Verdi
to be a joint effort by himself and other Italian composers to honor
Rossini on his death in 1867. The work went unfinished at the
time and was reworked by Verdi and ultimately performed as a requiem
mass for the author Alessandro Manzoni in 1875. Rossini, thus, never
got the honor which he was due. In a sense, he is still waiting.
calling up a lot of publishers to make sure, I'm guessing, but I'd say
that the most popular living Neapolitan author is Luciano De Crescenzo.
He was born in 1928 in Naples, got a degree in engineering and went
to work for IBM in Rome. Just shy of his 50th birthday, he decided to
write a book about Naples, Così Parlò Bellavista—accurately
rendered in the English translation ten years later (since it is a pun
on Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra) as Thus Spake Bellavista.
The introduction contains a one-sentence summary of De Crescenzo's
philosophy: "Naples isn't simply a city; it is a part of the human spirit
that I know I can find in everyone, whether or not they are Neapolitan".
On the dust-jacket of one of his books—where the editor
tells you about the author—De Crescenzo sneaks in a few
lines in the third person: "He didn't do well at IBM because he was
always late...Those who don't like him call him a 'humorist'."
first book came out in 1977, he appeared as a guest on a popular Italian
talk-show. He was (and is) eminently likeable and unassuming, and his
new career took off. Since then he has written about 20 more books.
He has sold almost 20 million books in 25 different countries and 19
languages. Almost all of them are light-hearted looks at the human
condition, including "histories" or "stories" (the Italian word is the
same) of Greek philosophy, in the course of which he tells us that the
famous "Seven Sages" consisted of 22 different people. He tacks on his
friend, Peppino Russo, at the end of the list. De Crecenzo's style
is readable in a way that most Italian writing—even modern
popular Italian literature—is not. It is entirely conversational
in the same way that, say, Mark Twain is. In other words, you get the
impression that you are listening to a very intelligent person
talking about some serious matters that would have interested you all
along if they hadn't been styled in concrete all these years by other
writers. "Who are we?" he asks. "Where do we come from? Where are we
going?" and then, "And what have we gained or lost by being born one
sex and not the other?" (This from his book, Women Are Different.)
besides writing books, has now collaborated on screenplays and appeared
in films, himself—where he is a total natural. I saw him
the other night in Lina Wertmueller's brilliant 1990 film version of
Eduardo De Filippo's 1959 play, Sabato,
Domenica, Lunedì. The film stars Sophia Loren as Rosa Priore,
the family matriarch who sets out on Saturday to buy the makings for
the ritual ragù—her magic ragout known
in all Pozzuoli—the big Sunday stew for the entire family.
That opening scene is hilarious. Loren orders her usual ingredients
in a machine-gun monologue that attracts first the attention of the
other 10 women in the butcher shop, then their friendly advice on how
to make a real ragù, and then, through a Laurel-and-Hardy-type
escalation, come the know-it-all suggestions, more suggestions to "mind
your own business," general verbal abuse, and, finally, physical violence.
This is all watched by two cops on the sidewalk, one of whom sums up
the situation: "They're making ragù."
of the play centers on the misplaced jealousy on the part of husband,
Peppino, played by Eduardo's son, Luca. This jealousy is directed at
the supposed alienator of his wife's affections, professor Ianniello,
played by De Crescenzo. Peppino vents his false accusations at the Sunday
dinner table, devasting eveyone, especially his wife. Monday is taken
up with resolution and reconciliation.
It is Eduardo's
fusing of Checkov and Strindberg: the failure to communicate plus the
battle of the sexes. Since the film is an adaptation of the play, there
is liberty with the dialogue, including the professor's (De Crescenzo's)
good-hearted shrugging off of the accusation, explaining to the husband
how we all get caught sometimes at either the "Apollonian or Dionysian
extreme"—the realm of calm intelligence or that of raging
emotion. Peppino just got caught at the Dionysian end, that's all. That's
the way Neapolitans are. That's the way everyone is. That sentiment
is 100% De Crescenzo: "Naples isn't simply a city; it is a part of the
human spirit that I know I can find in everyone, whether or not they
Sea-level astronomy is hampered by general atmospheric
haze and—especially in or near a big city such as Naples—light
pollution. Having said that, I am still tempted to run up to the new
store on Vomero, where they sell digital cameras, computers, digital
cameras, computers, and digital cameras and computers. I think I saw
a small telescope on a shelf a few weeks ago. I can't miss this chance
to see Mars as it—in the words of the great astronomer,
Percival Lowell—"blazes forth against the dark background
of space with a splendor that outshines Sirius and rivals the giant
Jupiter himself." Mars is at "perihelic opposition" and has not been
this close to Earth for 50,000 years. I recall working on a particularly
good drawing of a bison for the Lascaux Municipal Museum at the time.
I might be able to get something Neapolitan out of Mars—Marte,
in Italian. Maybe a good Neapolitan noodle—say, martellini.
("Man, that's some fine plate of martellini! Think I might get
the recipe?") If only…if only. Alas, martellino means "little
hammer". It is also a regional name of the bird called, scientifically,
the cisticola juncidis, the Fan-tailed Warbler. At least, I think
that's the English name, and if you had a fan-tail, wouldn't you
warble? I rest my case. I thought, too, that perhaps Giovanni Schiaparelli
(1835-1910) the astronomer who started us looking for "canals" on Mars,
might have been from Naples, but, no, he had to come from Savigliano,
not far from Cuneo, a town way up there west of Genoa. Cuneo has a folk-reputation
for turning out slow-witted people, of whom Schiaparelli was definitely
event, most serious star-gazing in these parts operates out of the observatory
in the Apennines near Castelgrande, well east of Salerno. It is one
of the most important observatories in Europe and is run by the Naples
observatory. The Naples observatory, itself, is located on the Capodimonte
hill and has its roots in the—if not infinite, at least
benevolently despotic—wisdom of Charles
III of Bourbon; he endowed a Chair of Navigation and Astronomy at
the University of Naples in 1735. Actual construction of an observatory,
however, had to wait a while. During the French decade in Naples, Murat
approved the plan, and construction was started in 1812. The observatory
was completed after the Bourbon restoration and conducted its first
measurements in 1820.
observatory has a 40 cm main telescope that, on occasion, is open to
the public. There is also a good library and museum of astronomical
artifacts. I see that on September 2 they will have a "Mars Party."
They will have missed the close encounter by a few days. (Gods of War
may come and Gods of War may go, but August vacation runs through the
31st.) Nevertheless, it will still be a good glance through the telescope.
obervatory has a website at
Fabrizio; Pathenopean Republic (2)
totally unnoticed amid the clutter of modern buildings near the
port, this cross was set in place in 1799 to commemorate the reconquest
of the Kingdom of Naples by Ruffo's Army of the Holy Faith.
Fabrizio Ruffo (1744—1827) figures prominently in the history
surrounding the short-lived Neapolitan (or Parthenopean) Republic of
1799; he was the one who formed and led the loyalist Army of the Holy
Faith in its campaign to retake the kingdom of Naples from the forces
of the Revolution.
born at San Lucido in Calabria in 1744, son of Litterio Ruffo, duke
of Baranello. He was educated by his uncle, the cardinal Thomas Ruffo,
as a result of which he gained the favor of Giovanni Angelo Braschi
di Cesera, who in 1775 became Pope Pius VI. Ruffo became a member of
the papal civil and financial service and was created a cardinal in
1791, though he had never been a priest. He then went to Naples
where he was named administrator of the royal domain of Caserta. When
the French troops advanced on Naples in in December 1798, Ruffo fled
to Palermo with the royal family.
chosen to head a royalist movement in Calabria with the goal of advancing
north on Naples and overthrowing the revolutionary government. He landed
at La Cortona on February 8, 1799 and began to raise the "Army of the
Holy Faith," organizing for his cause the aid of well-known Calabrian
bandits such as Fra Diavolo and Nicola
Gualtieri, known as "Panedigrano". It is impossible to find an impartial
statement about the conduct of Ruffo's army as it marched north. On
the one hand, he is described as somewhat of a Robin Hood, out to free
his kingdom from the French. On the other hand, he is said to have done
very little to prevent his bandit army from killing and pillaging as
they went. Supporters point to Republican atrocities, as well.
Perhaps all that can be said is that neither side was particularly interested
in taking prisoners. Whatever the case, by June, Ruffo's army had advanced
to the city of Naples. When the French army occupying the city in support
of the Republic withdrew to the north, the revolution was doomed.
broker the surrender of the city to his forces, guaranteeing safe passage
to those members of the Republican government who wanted to sail for
France. He was more interested in reconciliation than revenge. In a
letter to Admiral Nelson, dated April 30, 1799, he wrote:
we show that we want only to put on trial and to punish ... we
close the path to conciliation... Is clemency perhaps a fault?
No, some will say—but it is dangerous. I don't believe that,
and with some caution I believe it preferable to punishment."
in Il Risorgimento Napoletano (1799-1860) Pironti, Lucio.
Collana Ricciardiana II. Libreria Lucio Pironto. Naples. 1993.]
was not to be, and Ruffo was then genuinely outraged when his guarantee
was violated by the King of Naples, Ferdinand (certainly at the behest
of Queen Caroline), who had the refugees removed from ships in the harbor,
returned to prison, and put on trial. Ruffo, himself, was part of the
tribunal that was now to sit in judgment on the revolutionaries. He
was so inclined to be forgiving and lenient that the King removed him
from the tribunal.
may read more about the Neapolitan Republic and events surrounding its
demise by clicking on
Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel; and
on The Bourbons (1).]
under Napoleon, retook the Kingdom of Naples in 1806 and stayed until
Napoleon's ultimate defeat almost 10 years later. Interestingly, Ruffo
stayed in Naples during the French decade. He apparently lived calmly
and undisturbed by the French, who might have had reason to act otherwise
toward their former enemy. When the Bourbons were again restored to
the throne of Naples, Ruffo took a ministerial post in the government
and again became a confidante of the same King, Ferdinand IV (now known
as Ferdinand I) whom he had aided so many years earlier. Ruffo
died in 1827 in Naples.
Luca (and the church of Santa Brigida)
church of Santa Brigida started out in the early 1600s to be a home,
a shelter for young women (called a "conservatory" in those days). It
evolved into a church named for the Swedish Saint, Brigida, said to
have visited Naples in the days of Joan I (the mid-1300s).
two remarkable things about the church. The first is that it is still
standing. It is on via Santa Brigida, the rest of the length
of which constitutes the entire east flank of the mammoth Galleria Umberto. A number of buildings were razed
in the late 1880s when the Gallery was put up, but Santa Brigida was
spared. They simply built the new gallery around and over the smaller
church, causing some damage to it but essentially managing to save a
piece of history. History and art, that is—for the
art in the church is the second remarkable thing about Santa Brigida
and, no doubt, what saved it from the wrecking crews. The church contains
a number of works by—and also the tomb of—Luca Giordano
(1632—1705), the great painter of the Neapolitan Baroque.
was, by most accounts, a child prodigy pushed along by his father, also
a painter. Giordano spent his formative years acquiring a reputation
for great speed and the uncanny abilty to copy the works of masters
such as Raphael and Michelangelo. As a result, he picked up amusing
nicknames such as "Hurry-up Luca", "Lightning" and "Proteus". He worked
throughout Italy for commission, including anonymous ones that had him
painting those ornate borders of mirrors and pieces of crystal. In 1687
he was invited to Spain by Charles II of
Spain (known as "The Little King" in Neapolitan lore), the last king
of the once mighty Spanish Empire. In 1687, of course, Naples was part
of that empire and was ruled from Madrid by a viceroy.
returned to Naples in 1700, having become a very popular and very wealthy
painter in Spain. He spent the last five years of life helping struggling
artists in Naples. He was well liked and, artistically, he is still
highly regarded. He left many works throughout Italy and in Spain, but
a great number are in Naples. Besides the ones in Santa Brigida, his
Christ Expelling the Money Changers from the Temple is in the
church of the Girolamini (across the
street from the Naples cathedral) and the monastery (now museum) of
San Martino has some frescoes, including The Triumph of Judith.
The Botanical Garden of Naples is another of the "green
lungs" in the city—those welcome, large patches of vegetation
that help the city breathe in the midst of asphalt and traffic. (Others
are the Villa Comunale, the Floridiana,
and the Vineyard of San Martino. ) The
Garden in Naples takes up about 30 acres and is located on via Foria,
adjacent to the gigantic old Albergo dei
Poveri, the poorhouse, and is part of the University of Naples
Department of Natural Science. It is one of the many scientific and
educational facilities instituted under French rule in Naples (1806-15).
(Another was the observatory.) The Garden opened in 1810 and had a
single director for the next 50 years.
the Garden displays on the premises around 25,000 samples of vegetation,
covering about 10,000 plant species. Although open to the public, the
Orto Botanico is not, strictly speaking, a public park. It is
really an educational facility for the university and local high schools
and is separate from the agricultural department of the University of
Naples (on the grounds of the old Royal Palace
in Portici). The Garden is also actively engaged in the preservation
of some endangered plant species. There is also an ethnobotany section
of the Garden where plants are studied that are potentially useful,
medicinally, to humans. Besides smaller structures on the premises,
there are two larger ones: the 17th-century "castle," recently restored,
and the 5.000 sq. meter Merola Greenhouse. The castle contains lecture
and display rooms, and houses the ethnobotany section as well as the
fascinating section on paleobotany, displaying the evolution of plant
life throughout the history of our planet.
Palimpsests were medieval documents that—in order
to conserve precious paper—were erased and then reused a number
of times. The erasures were not perfect and the older writings often
showed through, building up, layer by layer, a kind of ghostly record
of all that had gone before.
In a sense,
most of Southern Italy could be called an archaeological palimpsest.
The region of Basilicata (or Lucania) is a case in point. There are
still remnants of the ditch villages of pre-European peoples from 8,000
years ago. On top of this there are signs of early
Indo-European peoples such as the Oenotrians and the early Greeks
of Magna Grecia who displaced them in
the 8th century, b.c. This is mixed with signs of Italic tribes such
as the Lucanians, Oscans, and Samnites —all absorbed by the civilization
which was ultimately to leave its own indelible imprint across three
continents: the Romans. Then came the Lombards, Byzantine Greeks,
the Normans, the Angevin French, the
great Spanish realm of Charles V, (on whose empire "the sun never set"),
and so forth down to our own day when the area was taken up into a united
is one of the two provinces of Basilicata; the capital city of the province
is also named Matera. The old part of this city of 50,000 inhabitants
is known the world over for its ancient urban complex, the Sassi.
Of all the kinds of dwellings we humans have built over the ages—our
huts, shanties, castles, hovels—nothing quite arrests the attention
as the sassi of Matera. Built on—into, really—both
sides of a gigantic limestone outcropping overlooking a deep ravine,
the sassi (meaning, simply, "stones") are a labyrinth of
cave–dwellings. The caves, themselves, were lived in without interruption
from the Neolithic (about 10 thousand years ago) until the 1960s and
are thus likely to be the oldest continually inhabited human settlement
came into their own between the 8th and 13th centuries, a.d., when the
caves became a refuge for groups of monks persecuted in the Iconoclast
controversy that shook the Byzantine Empire. In Matera, these refugees
were isolated and safe in a no-man's land between waning Byzantine power
further south and unstable Lombard influence to the north. The monks
moved into the caves and built halls, sanctuaries and chapels. Later,
many of the cave dwellings were taken over by peasants as homes for
themselves and quarters for their animals. Over the last millennium,
houses have organically grown out of the original fissures and
caves (photo, above); steps, roofs and balconies have been added and
everything is arrayed in an irregular jumble, layer upon jagged layer,
roof to wall, balcony to doorstep, all so helter-skelter that the overall
impression is that of a beehive built by bees who don't like following
On a more
sombre note, writer Carlo Levi, upon seeing the sassi for the
first time, said he was reminded of his childhood visions of what Dante's
Inferno must have looked like: the descending layers spiralling
down into darkness and who knows what awful perdition—and when
the sassi were still inhabited, the thousands of candles glimmering
in the small windows at night might indeed have looked like fires burning
in hell. Levi's infernal vision notwithstanding, others have seen quite
the opposite in Matera. The strange combination of age and agelessness
about Matera lends it a Biblical quality, and here is where, in 1964,
director Pier Paolo Pasolini filmed his life of Christ, The Gospel
According to Matthew (and where, more recently, Mel Gibson filmed
The Passion of the Christ.)
entire complex is perhaps the most outstanding example anywhere in the
world of spontaneous rural architecture, yet the problems of great numbers
of people living at such close quarters were enormous. There have been
utopian claims that the 20,000 inhabitants living in the sassi
at mid–20th–century were a unique example of peasants, landowners,
shepherds, craftsmen, merchants and laborers living in social harmony.
The modern Italian state did not see things quite that way. It saw
an infant mortality rate of 43% (!) and a medieval folk magic that treated
ills by sprinkling the blood of a freshly slaughtered chicken on the
passed during the 1950s to alleviate the overcrowded and unhygienic
living conditions. This meant moving most of the people out. New quarters
were built in the town of Matera, itself, and the sassi have
now essentially become empty shells, except for a small and strictly
limited number of inhabitants. The area has become—as well it
should—an object of tourist interest, and this has led to an ongoing
project to keep the houses, churches, villas, the small squares and
long flights of stairs of the sassi from deteriorating. Indeed,
the sassi have recently been added to the United Nations World
Heritage list of cultural artifacts worth preserving at all cost.
the houses, themselves, there are in the area a great number of ancient
cave churches displaying Orthodox as well as Catholic ornamentation
within. Time and vandals have ravaged them to a certain extent, but
some original Greek icons on cave walls are still clearly visible
and venerable. Even traces of prehistoric habitation can be found within
some of the caves.
want to actually buy one of the sassi dwellings and restore it, you
can do that, too, and get a 50% subsidy from the state! On the other
hand, if you just want to visit for a day, it's only a few hours south
of Naples on a fast autostrada.
recently (April, 2004) had a kind letter from Elizabeth Jennings of
Matera, who tells me that "...A goodly portion of the Sassi are now restored
and the area is a beehive of activity, particularly in summer. Restaurants,
bars, pizzerie, salsa clubs...the streets hum with the sound of foot
traffic and voices...concerts and
plays...and a plan to convert a huge grotto into the Casa Grotta, a big cultural center. The human
overlay is very modern and young."
musicals, musical comedy, light opera, comedy opera—all of these
terms have been used at times in English since the early 1800s to describe
a form of musical theater in which there is spoken dialogue as well
as music; this, as opposed to simply "opera", in which even lines of
dialogue are sung, or at least talk–sung as recitativo.
This type of musical theater, mixing music and spoken dialogue, is also
generally shorter than, say, traditional Italian Classical and Romantic
opera and generally felt to be less serious and less ambitious, dramatically.
Many of the names associated with this mixed form of entertainment are
well known: Offenbach, Johann Strauss, Gilbert and Sullivan, Franz Lehar,
Victor Herbert, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sometimes we remember only
the name of the person who composed the music, and sometimes we remember
both, even though we may not be sure who wrote what. It is conventional,
too, to group this music into "national schools"; thus, we speak of
the French opéra comique, Viennese operetta, English operetta,
American musical comedy, and Spanish Zarzuela.
many local, regional versions of this kind of musical theater. In Naples,
it is called the sceneggiata. It is always sung and spoken in
Neapolitan dialect and generally revolves around domestic grief, the
agony of leaving home, personal deceit and treachery, betrayal in love,
and life in the world of petty crime. (If you get all of that in one
piece, then you may understand why I don't like it very much. I am allergic
to musical theater in which men bite their knuckles when they find out
they've been cuckolded, then stab the other man, disfigure the woman
involved, and break into song.)
started shortly after WWI, was extremely popular in the 1920s, faded,
but has been enjoying somewhat of a comeback with newer generations
of performers since the 1960s. It is, today, extremely popular in small
theaters and on local television.
interesting about the sceneggiata is that besides the one focus
of popularity, Naples, the other main one is (or, at least, was) that
area of New York City known as Little Italy. That is not surprising,
given, one, the large Neapolitan and Sicilian population in the New
York of the early 20th-century and, two, the drama and trauma that naturally
spin off from the theme of immigration. (Indeed, one of the most popular
of all "Neapolitan Songs" comes from the tradition of the sceneggiata:
Lacreme Napuletane, composed in 1925 by Libero Bovio (lyrics) amd
Francesco Buongiovanni (music). It is the ultimate immigrant tearjerker
written in the form of a letter home to mamma in Naples at Christmas.
The writer is the immigrant son in America, who bewails being far from
home; the famous refrain begins, "How many tears America has cost us".
says—as I did—that the song "comes from" the tradition of
the sceneggiata, that ties in with another interesting point about this
kind of musical theater: the relationship between an individual song
in the piece and the entire piece, itself. Most people who have seen,
say, American musical comedy, are used to the idea that songs are written
for a musical. That is, the story first exists in some form or
another and then a tunesmith and lyricist (on occasion, one person does
both) get together and knock out 7 or 8 songs for the production. (It
is also the case, however, that the plots are often weak; thus, the
musical will be forgotten while some of the songs become independently
famous. (Quick, what musical does "Someone to Watch Over Me," come from?
See?) In the sceneggiata, the opposite obtains: a song is written
and the theme is so potentially dramatic that writers then decide to
weave a plot around the song—basically, something for actors to
do until the main song comes along. The result is perhaps the same:
the individual song tends to outlive the larger dramatic framework.
days when small neighborhood theaters were the main form of entertainment,
and when audiences were less sophisticated (or maybe just less jaded),
the sceneggiata evoked real passion among onlookers. I have some
friends who, even today, talk to the television, offering advice such
as "Watch out!" so I have no problem at all in believing that in the
1920s, fistfights used to break out in the audience during one sceneggiata
or another as people chose up sides in support of either the betrayed
husband or the unfaithful wife. (Even in straight Italian opera, Enrico
Caruso and company—in the tenor's very early career—were
once chased from the stage and through the streets of a small town near
Naples because the audience was scared out of its wits by the apparition
of the Devil in a production of Gounod's Faust.)
popular sceneggiata ever written is probably Zappatore, (meaning,
exactly, "clodbuster," one who works the land and breaks up the soil
for farming) written as a song in 1929 by Bovio and Albano. It was then
spun out into a full-fledged stage production and even made into a film
on various occasions, the first actually from a film company in Little
Italy in New York. The most recent film version is the 1980 version
starring Mario Merola, easily the most popular performer of the Neapolitan
sceneggiata in the last 40 years and one whose considerable talents
have no doubt contributed to the staying power of the sceneggiata
in an age when it might have otherwise become passé.
The plot is typical: Hardworking Father—the Zappatore—sacrifices
to give Son an education. Said son promptly forgets his family and is
even embarrassed by their peasant presence. Etc. etc.
think you have never seen a sceneggiata, you have seen at least
a small bit of one if you have ever seen The Godfather, part II.
There is a scene in which the young Vito Corleone (played by Robert
De Niro) is watching just such a production in a small theater in Littly
Italy. In the scene, a young woman bursts onto the stage and says "Una
lettera per te!" (A letter for you). The male lead then reads that
his mother in Naples has died, pulls out a pistol, and is about to shoot
himself. That is when the main plot in The Godfather, part II
moves on to something else, so we never find out what happened. I suspect
that the young man did not, in fact, blow his brains out, but simply
broke into song.
in Naples (1)
Vergilius Maro (70-19 bc), one of the great names in Western literature,
is still connected in some slightly bizarre ways to modern-day Naples.
For example, if you drive past the Castel
dell'Ovo—the Egg Castle off of Santa Lucia and ask yourself
why it's called the "egg" castle, the answer is that about a thousand
years ago the rumor started that Virgil, a thousand years earlier,
had placed an egg in a small container on the premises. If the egg
was ever broken, disaster would befall the city. Indeed, egg shells
on the castle grounds were enough to cause small-scale disorder among
the population of Naples in the Middle Ages!
of Gastave Dore's illustrations for the Divine
Comedy shows Vergil guiding Dante into the Inferno at
one: if you drive through the Mergellina tunnel on your way to Fuorigrotta, you
pass within a stone's throw of a Roman tunnel. It was one of a few such
tunnels—all major feats of engineering at the time—that
the Romans built to get in and out of Naples. Legend has it that Virgil
conjured this one tunnel into existence by his powers of sorcery. The
Mergellina entrance to the tunnel is now on the premises of an historical
site called "Virgil's Tomb". And, three,
if you wander down to the seaside near Cape Posillipo, you can see the
paltry remains of what, over the centuries, has been called, The Sorcerer's
you say? Isn't this the person who wrote The Aeneid? The
Bucolics? The Georgics? Indeed, it is, and he would probably
be amused at his putative powers of legerdemain —all due, by the
way, to the medieval Italian love of attributing magical ability
to the Greats of Antiquity. But when Virgil was alive, he wasn't yet
Antiquity; he was just great. No magic in great writing— just
was born near Mantua. His father was a prosperous farmer who sent his
son off to Rome to study. Virgil returned home to study Greek philosophy
and poetry on his own and began to write poetry that came to the notice
of Gaius Cilnius Maecenus, a friend and advisor to the young Octavius
(later to become "Augustus Caesar"). Maecenas' name has come down to
us as a metaphor of "patron of the arts". That reputation has largely
to do with his support of Virgil and the other great poet of the age
of Augustus, Horace.
patronage of Maecnas, Virgil published a collection of eclogues, idyllic
poetry, called Bucolica —"The Bucolics," in English. As
the title implies, they were filled with a spirit of nostalgia, a longing
for a simpler time. This was understandable when you consider that Virgil
was a young man when Julius Caesar was assassinated, an event that almost
tore Italy apart. That episode, itself, came on the heels of great unrest
during the previous 50 years in Italy. Rome was not yet the Roman Empire,
and events seemed to be coursing out of control. Perhaps, indeed, a
sensitive young poet might have thought—in different words,
perhaps, than it occurred to Yeats 2,000 years later—that "the
center cannot hold".
ten pastoral poems in the Bucolica, one of which contains the
secret as to why Virgil was held in such high, magical esteem by Italians
in the Middle Ages. It is Eclogue number four, the so-called Messianic
Eclogue, in which Virgil predicts a new age of peace for the world,
ushered in by the birth of a child:
soon, dear child of the gods, Jupiter's great viceroy!
Come soon—the time is near—to begin your life illustrious!"
Christian scholars saw this as a prediction of the birth of Christ and,
thus, held the poet to have been a "pagan Christian", if you will—one
in a position of privilege regarding the divine course of things. No
doubt, this is the reason Dante chose Virgil to be his guide through
Hell and Purgatory in la Divina Commedia—and no
doubt why, among all pagan authors, Virgil did not share their fate
of centuries of benign and even malign neglect by Christian scholars.
event, Octavius prevailed, the empire geared up, and Virgil moved to
the Campania, to Nola, near Naples. Here Virgil wrote the Georgics
-- a hymn of praise to the farmer, another bit of nostalgia
about a simpler, happier time, full of hope that the new emperor, Augustus,
would be the beginning of a great reign of peace. The Georgics
are marked by an extraordinary upbeat ending, one of regeneration and
resurrection, told in the form of an optimistic allegory of new swarms
of honey-bees issuing forth from the carcasses of sacrificed cattle.
Here, at the end of the last Georgic, is where Virgil makes a
famous reference to Naples:
was the time when I, Virgil, nurtured in sweetest
Parthenope, did follow unknown to fame the pursuits
was the siren in Greek mythology who gave her name to the first Greek
settlement in the Bay of Naples-to-be. Indeed, Neapolitans commonly
refer to themselves, even today, as "Parthenopeans".
then set about immortalizing Augustus. Drawing on the form of
the Greek epic, he sang of Aeneas:
fate had made him fugitive; he was the first
to journey from the coasts of Troy as far
...until he brought a city into being...
from this have come the Latin race, the lords
of Alba, and the ramparts of high Rome..."
of the day, the Aeneid was the epic summing up of their history
and a statement of their aspirations —this was to be The Roman
Empire. As with the Bucolica and the Georgics, Virgil
chose an earlier Greek model for his work: the Homeric epic form. Here,
it is interesting to note that all later epic poetry in the Middle Ages,
and even something as late as Paradise Lost (1667), owes more
to Virgil than to Homer. Until our own Renaissance had rediscovered
the Greeks, knowledge of the works of Homer was sketchy and anecdotal.
No one in Italy could even read classical Greek in, say, 1400, even
if they had had a Greek copy of the Odyssey, which they didn't.
originals (or, at least, copies of copies) would not be available for
another century and, thus, Latin translations of Homer were not completed
until the mid-1500s; so, the "epic" tradition, as originally Greek as
it might have been, passed into and through our Middle Ages and into
modern times as "Virgilian" rather than "Homeric". When Dante sat around
with his friends in 1300 talking about Homer —as he must have
done— he knew about Homer and mythical Troy only through references
in Roman writers, primarily Virgil, and through the veil of mythology,
one much more impenetrable to him than it is to us today. Homer and
Classical Greece must have seemed to Dante as, perhaps, tales
of Atlantis do to us, today. But Virgil? The entire Middle Ages knew
Virgil —he was on the bookshelf. They quoted his language; indeed,
they still wrote in Virgil's language, Latin, though, ironically,
it would be Dante, himself, to desert that language for the vernacular
form later to become known as "Italian".
sections of the Aeneid play out in the area around Naples. It
is no problem at all, today, to walk up to the height of Posillipo where
Virgil must have stood. It was called Posillipo even then, so named
by Greeks centuries earlier —Pavsillipon, the "place where
unhappiness ends". From there you can look west across the Bay of Pozzuoli,
as Virgil must have looked as he struggled to put into poetry the mythology
and events that were ancient even to him. You see a point of land that
closes the bay at the other end. This is where Aeneas' comrade, Misenus,
master of the sea-horn—the conch-shell—made "the waves ring"
with his music and challenged the sea-god Triton to musical battle.
For his troubles, he was dashed into the sea and killed by "jealous
sets up a mighty tomb above Misenus
bearing his arms, a trumpet, and an oar;
it stands beneath a lofty promontory,
now known as Cape Misenus after him:
it keeps a name that lasts through all the ages."
ages" is a long time, but at least 2,000 years later, it is still Cape
Miseno and the end of the bay, Aeneas and his men "glide to the Euboean
coast of Cuma"—"Euboean" from the Greek isle of "Evvoia", purported
home of those who had founded the city. Here
you reach the town of Cumae
the sacred lakes, the loud wood of Avernus,
there you will see the frenzied prophetess
deep in her cave of rocks she charts the fates
... She will unfold for you...
the wars that are to come and in what way
you are to face or flee each crisis..."
course, is where Aeneas has come to get the answer he seeks —where
and whether the wandering Trojans will be able to rest. Here is the
cave of the prophetess, the Sibyl of Cuma:
giant flank of that Euboean crag
has been dug out into a cave; a hundred
broad ways lead to that place, a hundred gates;
as many voices rush from these..."
is off to the lake of Avernus to descend into the underworld to seek
his father. At the lake still called Lago Averno,
was a wide-mouthed cavern, deep and vast
and rugged, sheltered by a shadowed lake
and darkened groves; such vapor poured from those
black jaws to heaven's vault, no bird could fly
above unharmed (for which the Greeks have called
the place "Aornos" or "The birdless")..."
is Virgil's repetition of the popular etymology that has Averno as
the source of “infernal,” and even the word “inferior”
in the sense of "the bottom part of"—i.e. the underworld, Hell.
finds his father Anchises, who tells him
famous Rome will make her boundaries
as broad as earth itself, will make her spirit
the equal of Olympus, and enclose
her seven hills within a single wall,
rejoicing in her race on men..."
are the epic justification for what Rome was to become. They were undoubtedly
lines that Octavius —Caesar Augustus—wanted to hear and
once Virgil had given him those lines, there was no way that Augustus
was going to give them back. That is to say, Virgil left Naples on a
trip to Greece. He took ill and returned, dying in Brindisi in 19 bc
at the age of 51. He had not finished the Aeneid, and he left
instructions for the work to be destroyed. The emperor made sure that
did not happen. Augustus entrusted the unfinished work to two of Virgil's
friend for editing, and that is the version that passed through the
centuries to Dante and to us.
remains were returned to Naples and entombed. Whether they are in the
exact spot of Virgil's Tomb in Mergellina is irrelevant. As George Sarton
says: "...his main creations were the fruits of his life in Campania.
What a country to live in for a poet, a country full of natural beauty
and glorious remembrances... If one wants to visualize Virgil, it is
there that one must seek for him, not in the land of his birth,
but in the one that was the nursery of his genius."
Virgil, himself, said: he was "nurtured in sweetest Parthenope".
cited from the Aeneid, are from The Aenid of Virgil, a
verse translation by Allen Mandelbaum, A Bantam Classic Edition, 1981.
Translation © 1971 by Allen Mandelbaum. Passages from The Eclogues
or The Georgics are from Virgil, The Eclgues, The Georgics. The
World's Classics, Oxford University Press, 1983, translation by C. Day
Lewis © 1983.] The Sarton quote at the end is from his A History
of Science, Vol. 2: Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three
Centuries B.C. 1959. Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge.]
Relations, US/Naples (2)
just acquired a fascinating two-volume work entitled Diplomatic Relations
Between The United States and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies by the
late Howard R. Marraro, the prominent historian at Columbia University.
The work contains most of the official correspondence between US diplomats
in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (also known as the Kingdom of Naples)
and the various presidents of the United States between 1816 (following
the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of European monarchies) and
1861, the year of the defeat of the Kingdom and its incorporation into
reading. You're at the elbow of the ambassador in Naples in 1816 as
he gets instructions from President Madison on pressing Ferdinand IV
for reparations from Naples for an episode in which Murat,
ruling for the French in Naples a few years earlier, had confiscated
American goods and ships in Naples*. King Ferdinand's point-of-view,
of course, was that Murat—indeed, Napoleon, himself—had
been a usurper, so why should the rightful Bourbon government now be
required to pay for crimes committed by an illegitimate predecessor?
That took until the early 1830s to straighten out. (Naples eventually
paid, caving in to robust Yankee logic that said, Yes, Murat was a usurper,
but how could Naples claim to bear no responsability for the usurper's
debts and continue to reap the fruits of the usurper's actions?--meaning
that Naples had kept (!) the American ships and was even using
them in the Neapolitan fleet!)
sidelight to the whole affair is that the US expressed its willingness
to take land instead of money as reparations—maybe a tiny island
such as Lampedusa or one of the Lipari group with, say, a good harbor,
which the US could use for its "Mediterranean Squadron"! The Bourbons
of Naples weren't too keen on that one. (A British paper at the time,
reporting on the earlier failure of the US to get any concessions out
of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, happily declared that the US had failed
to get the island of Lampedusa. America, the paper continued, was a
rising power, but perhaps it was a bit premature for her to start trying
to colonize Europe.)
confiscation of US ships and property by Murat (and by Napoleon in France)
is part of a long and complicated dispute between the United States,
France, and Great Britain over the rights of neutral countries (the
US in regards to the war between France and Britain at the time) to
trade with whomever they wished. The French, however, had blockaded
Britain in 1806 and declared that a neutral ship that visited a British
port had lost the protection of her neutral flag and was subject to
seizure. Thus, the French --and Murat in Naples-- justified the seizures
because the same US ships that were in French and Neapolitan ports had
just visited British ports. Napoleon (and Murat) used, as an ulterior
justification, the fact that US ships in French (and Neapolitan) ports
had also violated America's own Embargo Act of 1807, which forbade US
ships from carrying on commerce with Britain and France. President Jefferson
thought that the act would show both nations how much they really needed
Yankee trade. All it did was bankrupt and infuriate New England merchant
firms, who openly flouted the Embargo Act. To pursue this matter further,
there is a description of the relevant trade agreements at
an explanation of the Embargo Act of 1807 at
also right there half a century later to read the diplomatic despatches
as Garibaldi invades Sicily, then the
mainland, then takes the city of Naples, itself. General public opinion
in the US viewed the Bourbons (primarily Ferdinand II) as a tyrant and supported Garibaldi.
Yet, the last US diplomat in Naples, the man who closed out the legation
when the Kingdom was annexed to Italy in 1861, J.R. Chandler—perhaps
because he was by training and disposition inclined to seek diplomatic
solutions instead of military ones—writes less benevolently of
the liberator, Garibaldi:
before had "revolution" in any country arrived at such a degree
of perversity and anarchy. [Speaking of Garibaldi's decision to
reward the family of a Neapolitan soldier who had tried to assassinate
the King of Naples a few years earlier,]...To canonize as holy
the regicide, to reward publicly the assassin, to excite officially
with such an example to extermination of sovereigns…Such
examples speak louder than all declamations of the miserable moral
state into which the Kingdom has fallen and upon the anarchy which
has obtained the mastery of its destiny since the triumph of the
introduction to this unbelievably complete book (published in 1951),
Marraro acknowledges, of course, the National Archives in the United
States and the State Archives of Naples. He also mentions the encouragement
he received from the Neapolitan historian and philosopher, Bendetto Croce, who was anxious to have material
from original sources researched and published, since many of the relevant
documents that had resided in the archives in Naples had been destroyed
by the Germans when they retreated from Naples in 1943. There was no
strategic reason for pillaging the archives, as far as I know. Perhaps
that is a thought for another day.
Under the Double Eagle
great Spanish Empire founded shortly after the discovery of the
New World came to an end in the year 1700 when Charles II of Spain died
without an heir. He was a Hapsburg, but willed his throne to the grandson
of the French King, Louis XIV, of the House of Bourbon. This potential
fusion of Spain and France into a single dynasty so threatened the balance
of European power that virtually all of Europe took up arms in the War
of the Spanish Succession, a term so dry that it rather sounds like
a description of gentleman barristers dickering over the Rule of Perpetuities.
It was, however, as wars go, the real deal, the first widespread European
conflict among modern rival nation states, true kin to the Napoleonic
Wars of a century later and the aptly named World Wars of our own times.
as a Spanish possession, was affected by the War of the Spanish Succession.
While the war raged from 1700-1713 in northern Europe, Naples fell under
the domination of the Austrians when that state successfully moved to
take over Spanish territory in Italy. Naples, meaning all of southern
Italy, thus became an Austrian dominion, ruled by the Hapsburgs of distant
Vienna through a succession of Austrian viceroys stationed in Naples.
That state of affairs lasted until the Austrians, as part of the treaty
ending the War of the Polish Succession, ceded Naples to Charles III
of Spain in 1734, at which time Naples became a sovereign kingdom of
The period from 1700-1734 is somewhat neglected in the
history of Naples. (There is, however, a statue in Piazza Monteoliveto
(photo, left) of the above-mentioned Charles II, the last Hapsburg king
of the Spanish Empire. He was known as the "Reuccio,"
meaning the "Little King," so dubbed because he ascended the throne
at the age of four.) Compared to the great Spanish period before
and the equally great Bourbon period afterwards, the few years under Austria
are, perhaps, less important, yet not insignificant; they produced interesting
social changes and were a time of great art, music and philosophy in
in the year 1700 was almost dead in the water. Spanish rule, innovative
and dynamic in the 1500s and early 1600s, had become harsh and corrupt
in its last decades, and the city of Naples, itself, had just been through
the mother of all wringers —the plague. The ferocious pestilences
of 1656 and 1691 had reduced the population of the city from 450,000
to 140,000, and by the first decade of the 1700s Naples still had only
about 200,000 inhabitants. It was a loss that crippled the working and
merchant classes; sketches of the layout of the city in the early 1700s
look the same as half–a–century earlier—no new buildings,
no new streets. There had been no growth.
was the Naples that the Austrians inherited when they entered
the city in 1707. The plight was aggravated by two factors that had
traditionally been another sort of plague in Naples. One was baronial
power, a feudal system of local lords wielding virtually independent
power throughout the kingdom, paying but lip service to the central
authority of the king. The second problem was land grabbing by
the Church within the city. Some estimates set the number of clergy
in the city as high as 16,000 in the early 1700s, which would make
one out of every 15 persons a cleric! That many clergy needed
a lot of land and even a brief trip through the Naples of today
sheds light on the problem of three centuries ago: a faithful church-goer
in Naples can change houses of worship once a week and probably run
out of Sundays before Naples runs out of churches. Early Austrian critics
of the church/state relationship in Naples spoke of a "church–state
within a state," a situation made worse by the centuries-old tradition
of sanctuary—the premises of a church and even the surrounding
area becoming ‘safe houses’ and havens for outlaws. Entire
quarters of Naples were, thus, off–limits to the authorities.
brief time in Naples, the Austrian viceroys at least held their own
against baronial privilege, a dying societal structure anyway, but one
that would not crumble until Napoleon
dismantled feudalism a century later. The Austrian stance against the
Vatican is worthy of note, however. It was the first time in the history
of Naples that the authority of the state openly challenged the Church’s
presumptive right to large untaxed land-holdings. The Hapsburg emperor
in Vienna rather enjoyed antagonizing the Pope in this manner, since
the Vatican had been openly on the side of the French in the War of
the Spanish Succession. Austrian rule made it much more difficult for
the Church to wheel and deal in Naples as it had done over the centuries.
Austrian revision of tax laws encouraged the beginning of planned rebuilding
in Naples after the stagnant period at the turn of the century. The
Austrians also instituted reform in the University, and, perhaps most importantly of all,
encouraged the formation of a iureconsultus, a body of
experts in matters of the law, experts—lawyers—who would
advise the state and the people when necessary. Even those who love
lawyer jokes will see how revolutionary that concept was in an age of
as the physical plant of the city goes, the Austrians built coastal
roads from the city out to the slopes of Vesuvius, roads which eventually
led to modern expansion of Naples in that direction.
Naples thrived under the Austrians. It was home to great painters of
the Baroque, such as Luca Giordano and
Francesco Solimena (self-portrait, left). The latter's works adorn
churches in Naples, Rome and Vienna and are on display in museums
in Britain and the United States. His studio in Naples became a workshop
for numbers of northern European painters who made the trip south just
to study with him. They coincidentally got in on the beginning of the
great age of the Grand Tour: northerners coming to Italy to study antiquity;
for it was under the Austrians that Naples began the rediscovery of
its own Greek and Roman past.
the early 1700s in Europe was greatly shaped by the powerful influences
of Neapolitan composers, primarily Alessandro Scarlatti, one of the innovators in early
classical music, as important as his contemporary, J.S. Bach, and even
as important as Mozart almost a century later. Also, the prodigious
Pergolesi changed the face of opera by
virtually inventing the Neapolitan Comic Opera, music that greatly influenced
Mozart [for an item on Mozart and the Neapolitan Comic Opera, click
here] and subsequent operatic and symphonic music.
life in Naples in the early 1700s was active. Naples was the home of
the misunderstood and obscure philosopher, Giovambattista Vico, whose cyclical view of history
was quaint even when he formulated it. It was certainly to be overshadowed
by the powerful thoughts of Hegel and Marx in the next century—their
idea holding that history evolves through conflict to ever new and higher
states in the human condition. It may well be that Vico’s quaint
idea of a returning age, say, of great mythic heroes will never come
to pass; yet, on the other hand, it doesn't take whatever passes for
a rocket scientist among historians to notice that Karl Marx has been
having his problems recently, too. So maybe the jury is still out.
was Austrian Naples: a brief and interesting period, with one foot in
the future —a time that set the stage for the Bourbon take-over
in 1734 when Naples would finally become a modern European nation.
The Revolt of Masaniello is more of an interesting sidelight
than a pivotal chapter in the history of Naples. That is, this brief
rebellion by the people—les miserables—of
Naples against the Spanish rulers of the city in 1647 is now solidly
entrenched in Neapolitan folklore. It has heroism, treachery, deceit,
murder, success and defeat — all the elements of a good
Anielo (nicknamed "Masaniello") (1620-1647) was an illiterate fishmonger
living and working in the area of Piazza Mercato —Market Square. That
part of the city was, at the time, much more central to the everyday
affairs of Naples than it is today. The rebuilding
of Naples in the late 1800s and early 1900s separated the
old Market Square from the new "downtown" and removed it from the vital
position it had held for centuries. It was not simply a market place.
It was the site of the popular Church of the Carmine; it was a place for folk festivals;
it was the scene of historic events such as the execution of the
Swabian pretender, Conradin; it had a gallows and various instruments
of torture set up in the square—all used in the 1600s;
the king's soldiers thronged the square; it was filthy, loud, crowded,
colorful, busy and—very important—here was
where you went to pay your taxes.
apparently had a background of legitimate popular discontent at ever-increasing
taxes imposed by the Spanish crown through their viceroy in Naples.
The actual outburst, itself, came at a popular festival held in early
June for the Feast of the Madonna of the Carmine. This yearly festival
entailed a mock battle between the people and Turkish invaders. (This
was at a time, of course, when the memory of such invasions was still
fresh. The many Saracen towers set up
around the city—and, indeed, the entire coastline of the
Kingdom of Naples-- were a constant reminder of the recent past. At
the time of the revolt, there were no doubt still those in Naples who
remembered the epic sea battle of Lepanto in 1571 when the Turks had
finally been defeated.)
folklore simply says that when the news broke in Piazza Mercato (painting,
left) that the Spanish had levied yet another tax on fruit, Masaniello—in
charge of the mock army fighting the mock Turks in the festival—was
outraged and through the power of his Robin Hood-type charisma transformed
his make-believe army into a real one and marched on the palace to wring
justice from the evil overlord, the Spanish viceroy. There is some evidence
that Masaniello, however, had been contacted by one Don Giulio Genoino,
an elderly priest who had tried and failed 20 years earlier to get some
redress from the viceroy and had actually spent time in prison for his
efforts. Genoino may have been the puppet master pulling Masaniello's
strings —the brains behind the revolt.
event, on Sunday morning, June 7, 1647, Masaniello's ragtag army, with
him and his cousin at the head, spilled out of the festival —out
of the world of make-believe—and into the tax-collection
stalls of the market place and the battle was on. Their cry is said
to have been, "Long live the King! Down with bad government!" They wrecked
the tax stalls, kept moving, and destroyed the nearby home of an infamous
tax collector by the name of Girolamo Letizia. With a mob/army
of, by now, tens of thousands on the loose and roaming the streets,
the Spanish viceroy was forced into concessions, that, on paper, seem
modest enough: the repeal of unjust taxes and the reinstitution
of some of the early reforms set up in the previous century by the great
founder of the Spanish Empire, Charles V. There was no realistic expectation
or demand in 1647 for the abolition of the monarchy, a constitution,
or even, what some say Masaniello (probably Genoino, above) really wanted:
a reordering of society by which the people and the noble classes would
be declared "equal"—whatever that might have meant.
got his few concessions, but they were apparently a rearguard action
while the viceroy regrouped his forces. In other words, the viceroy
caved in quickly, wined and dined Masaniello and his wife, and then
set about getting rid of Masaniello. Simple murder makes martyrs, so
that was out of the question. Somehow he had to make Masaniello irrelevant,
disengage him from his cause and his followers.
A few days
into the revolt, Masaniello started exhibiting strange behavior. He
went mad, they say. There are two possibilities: one is that he was
totally drunk with the trappings of power conceded to him by the viceroy—by
the parades, the banquets, the white horses, by having himself appointed
Captain of the People, by hearing his wife referred to as "the Queen
of the People", etc. etc. Two—by most accounts, a likely
possibility—is that he was poisoned with roserpina, a powerful
hallucinogenic dumped into his wine at one of the many banquets he attended
at the palace.
16, after giving a rambling, incoherent declaration to the people, he
stormed into a church and disrobed. At that point, obviously helpless
and useless, he was dragged into a room in an adjacent monastery and
murdered, probably by hired assassins. They severed his head and took
it to the viceroy. The rest of Masaniello was collected by his loyal
followers, who managed to get the head back and give the entire body
a decent burial in the Church of the Carmine. More than a century later,
these remains were disinterred and disposed of —probably
strewn in the sea—on the order of Ferdinand IV of Naples
, who was taking no chances that the burial site might serve as some
sort of a pilgrimage point for yet more revolutionaries.
lasted nine days, start to finish. At its headiest, it sufficed to make
the viceroy desert the palace and hole up in the Castel dell'Ovo for a while. At Masaniello's death,
the revolt was spent, and it is difficult to judge whatever potential
it might have had in the hands of a solid block of organized revolutionaries.
It did set the stage for a very short-lived First Neapolitan Republic
as part of the struggle for Naples between Spain and France.
this plaque marks Masaniello's birthplace and home near Piazza Mercato.
was no doubt a natural rallier of men. They say that he and his rebels
refused bribes from the Spanish to calm down, and that they even turned
down an offer of help from the French, who would have been happy to
see the Spanish lose Naples, land that had once been French. Be all
that as it may, no constitution was granted —or even demanded.
Masaniello wanted a redress of grievances, which he got, and which did
not last long after his demise. States are not toppled by charisma
alone. They may be toppled by charismatic leaders with a power
base, something that Masaniello lacked.
support he had, evaporated almost immediately. From a historical distance—one
from which we can view the American Revolution, the French Revolution,
The Russian Revolution—it is easy to read too much into
the Neapolitan revolution of 1647 and, thus, it is difficult to judge
Masaniello. Modern romantic claims that Masaniello's ideals forked over
like lightning to inspire the downtrodden elsewhere in Europe are difficult
to substantiate. Interestingly, a great revolution was taking place
elsewhere in Europe at exactly the same time—the civil
war in England, which resulted in a king being beheaded and a "protector,"
Oliver Cromwell, taking his place. The circumstances in Naples were
totally different. (For one thing, religious strife was not a factor
in Naples; everyone was—and still is—Roman
no evidence that the rebellion, itself, produced any lasting effects
on the social conditions of Naples or on the generally miserable lives
that the masses led. The episode, perhaps, served to remind the rulers
that the masses could get out of hand. It is not clear that the rulers
stored that bit of knowledge in any but the most peripheral parts of
their consciousness. It would be 150 years before Naples was swept by
other waves of revolutionary fervor, this time more solid ones
coming in the wake of the French Revolution
and Napoleon Bonaparte.