Saturday, November 26, 2016

Communication, syphilis, Este and culture.

Some years ago at the Porta Portese market in Rome (though not quite as long ago as the engraving here might suggest) I bought a version of Ptolemy's map of 'Southeast' Asia which had been a fold out frontispiece of the French edition of this history by the Scots historian William Robertson, name too long to type. The original published in Edinburgh in 1791, the French edition in 1792. I liked the map, for itself, but also found it intriguing that in a moment when France was busy with the guillotine and Britain and France were going to war knowledge, wisdom, academic literature moved so swiftly.
We don't hear about Robertson but "Robertson was a founder member of Edinburgh’s Select Society in 1754 along with David Hume, Adam Smith and Allan Ramsay and supported the establishment of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783." [source]

source Amazon

Now, in reading Rita Castagna Mantua, History and Art, Firenze 1979 pages 24 and 26, I read that Francisco II and his son Federico II Gonzaga, Marquesses of Mantova, both died of syphilis.

Wikipedia reports that too, alleging also that the entirely philanderous Francesco contracted it from prostitutes while the son 'inherited it from his father'. [source] [source]  Were Francesco here he would probably sue Wikipedia for suggesting he had to pay.

Lucrezia Borgia, blamed for everything in those years that could not be precisely pinned on her brother Cesare and her dad Pope Alex 6, died aged 39, also in 1519, the record showing death caused by childbirth difficulties. But the record also shows that inter alia Francesco and Lucrezia had a long term raging affair.

Come back to them in a moment. First I want to note that the dominant theory is that syphilis entered Europe with the return of Columbus in March 1493 from his first voyage to the Caribbean.

Then, quick as you can publish a French translation of a history published in Scotland three hundred years later, the armies of Charles VIII of France carried syphilis to Italy and most notoriously to Naples. But as that last link indicates he stopped along the way with quite a bit of customary rape and pillage. That link also brings into focus all the families of the period in Rome and northern Italy. There is mention in particular of the Sforza family, ruling in Milan. I wrote earlier of Caterina Sforza of Forli, bastard child of her role model the dreaded Gian Galleazo Sforza.

source wikipedia
His younger brother Ludovico Sforza was in charge by the time Charles VIII came by, ally in one direction, not in the other, check how the wind blows from Rome. Interesting how these families alternate raging monsters with cultured people with imagination. Ludovico and his sister married a brother and sister Este, from Ferrara, in a joint ceremony orchestrated by Leonardo da Vinci. Leo also splashed some fresco on the wall adjacent to Ludo's dad Francesco's tomb. Not many people go to see Frank's tomb but a crush of people go to see the Ultima Cena - Last Supper. The historical context is often lost in the tourist rush for Big Things.

Easily distracted ... my point was to draw attention to the turmoil of the times and this other dimension of the times, not only a proliferation of printing presses in Italy but also of syphilis. But it seems ridiculous to pin the rampaging, soldiering Francesco Gonzaga's syphilis on the sex industry when he was an archetype of the rape and pillage industry. Nobody of course (or that I've seen) writes about same sex lifestyles of the armies of the renaissance. Though at court there must have been a bit and one suspects that the great idealised poet Torquato Tasso, tolerated especially in Ferrara, may have been a bit queer.

For more on sex in the renaissance try this search.

source wikipedia
Francesco Gonzaga married Isabella d'Este, the Ferrara family of culture and style. I mentioned the Este court in Ferrara before as an end note to discussing the Gonzagas at Mantova. Now I realise that in both courts, the great civilising and artistic patrons were Alfonso II and his sister Isabella, the Estes. Though I earlier suggested that Alfonso's wife Lucrezia Borgia may have been influential in the shaping of Italian language, not least as while known for her affair with Frank Gonzaga, she also carried on some horizontal correspondence with the towering figure of Italian literature Pietro Bembo an owned administrator at the Este court of Ferrara.

Isabella outlived Francesco II Gonzaga by twenty years, dying the same year as her beloved, sensitive, artistic and not-very-good-at-obligatory-war-stuff son Federico. Of whose death wikipedia claims he 'inherited' syphilis from his father. It's not genetic, of course, it's sexually transmitted. Isabella showed no signs. Dad must have introduced his son to it some other ways, perhaps in shared experience, perhaps more directly? I have no background as a historian, but if people are going to leave around such nonsenses as the prostitute and inherited claims, surely I can raise questions.

I commend to you Rita Castagna's book Mantua, History and Art which led me on this expedition through the wild side of the renaissance.

Makes you realise how tame Shakespeare's take on Italy is. Perhaps he had to keep it tame to stay out of prison in fusty England. I note Anthony Burgess's speculations on Shakespeare's syphilis.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Italian referendum 4 December 2016.

We blithely plan for March but Italy heads towards a possible cliff edge on 4 December with a referendum to alter the constitution to end the capacity of the upper house of the parliament to bring down governments:   Italy has had 64 governments since the republic was established after World War II. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said he will resign if the vote is 'no'. He comes from the left. Today The Economist  which does not come from the left says people should vote no including because the proposed changes to the upper house would make it less representative — a bit thick coming from an establishment journal in the UK with its House of Lords! Otherwise there is a widespread apprehension that an anti-government vote in Italy, on the heels of Brexit and Trump, and with the EU destabilised, could have very wide repercussions, given the state of the Italian banks. One wonders who within the world of The Economist is shorting Italian stocks. See this review of The Big Short on the last great American crash; the review expresses concern about Italy.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Trumps and the Borgias

screenshot images from Foreign Policy
I wrote two blog entries recently on this, here and here — go down to the end of the second link for discussion of Lucrezia Borgia, the House of Este and the history of the Italian language.

Now comes Foreign Policy magazine with "A Working Theory: the Trumps are the Borgias of the 21st Century".

Whether this comparison holds up in detail is not the issue, comparisons never hold up when exposed to scepticism.

screenshot from Foreign Policy
The piece in Foreign Policy dwells on comparison of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d'Este with Ivanka and Jared Kuschner. Given that we are living in the Era of the Unexpected, it may, just may, be possible to imagine Jared assembling a court of finest painters and musicians and presiding over some equivalent of the foundations of modern Italian language, as happened under the Estes. Please consider in light of the decision by the Oxford Dictioaries to award the word of the year title for 2016 to 'post-truth'.
Here begins the future of language? We should also note that Foreign Policy relies on fiction for images of the Borgias...

Trump and literature and culture, I hear you smile... Cop this

With the day by day stories of the Trumps, we have a return to the conventionalism of scholars, in putting the women in the story in ancillary roles, as well may be the actuality of their lives, but who would know if it were different?

I ventured at the end of this blog entry (link as above) that we might consider whether Lucrezia Borgia had a role in the foundation years of Italian language. I look forward to seeing a feminist revisionist perspective of the Once and Future Trumps. There are many fairy tale elements already, if we survive long enough for more to be written. On the male side the great grandfather changing his name from Drumpf to Trump and the grandfather apprenticed as a hairdresser before running away to Seattle to escape military service: surely the present was on the cards.

But the future, what do the cards say about that? I know who thinks he holds the cards but people have to play to make it a game. The other great gangster houses of the renaissance begin to form alliances. See this and this and this. Just a start. Trump-Putin-Assad-Netanyahu against the world of multinational business?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

San Severino Marche

We have been in happy contact with our airbnb host in San Severino Marche and all will be well for our visit in March.