Old Calabria By Norman Douglas

 -  It is all
very well for Admiral de la Graviere to speak of Gallia Victrix - the
Americans, too, might have - Page 56
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It Is All Very Well For Admiral De La Graviere To Speak Of "Gallia Victrix" - The Americans, Too, Might Have Something To Say On That Point.

The fact is that neither European nor American arms crushed the pest.

But for the invention of steam, the Barbary corsairs might still be with us.



It has a pleasant signification, that word "Dolcedorme": it means Sweet slumber. But no one could tell me how the mountain group came by this name; they gave me a number of explanations, all fanciful and unconvincing. Pollino, we are told, is derived from Apollo, and authors of olden days sometimes write of it as "Monte Apollino." But Barrius suggests an alternative etymology, equally absurd, and connected with the medicinal herbs which are found there. Pollino, he says, a polleo dictus, quod nobilibus herbis medelae commodis polleat. Pro-venit enim ibi, ut ab herbariis accepi, tragium dictamnum Cretense, chamaeleon bigenum, draucus, meum, nardus, celtica, anonides, anemone, peucedamum, turbit, reubarbarum, pyrethrum, juniperus ubertim, stellarla, imperatoria, cardus masticem fundens, dracagas, cythisus - whence likewise the magnificent cheeses; gold and the Phrygian stone, he adds, are also found here.

Unhappily Barrius - we all have a fling at this "Strabo and Pliny of Calabria"! So jealous was he of his work that he procured a prohibition from the Pope against all who might reprint it, and furthermore invoked the curses of heaven and earth upon whoever should have the audacity to translate it into Italian. Yet his shade ought to be appeased with the monumental edition of 1737, and, as regards his infallibility, one must not forget that among his contemporaries the more discerning had already censured his philopatria, his immoderate love of Calabria. And that is the right way to judge of men who were not so much ignorant as unduly zealous for the fair name of their natal land. To sneer at them is to misjudge their period. It was the very spirit of the Renaissance to press rhetorical learning into the service of patriotism. They made some happy guesses and not a few mistakes; and when they lied deliberately, it was done in what they held a just cause - as scholars and gentlemen.

The Calabria Illustrata of Fiore also fares badly at the hands of critics. But I shall not repeat what they say; I confess to a sneaking fondness for Father Fiore.

Marafioti, a Calabrian monk, likewise dwells on these same herbs of Pollino, and gives a long account of a medical secret which he learnt on the spot from two Armenian botanists. Alas for Marafioti! Despite his excellent index and seductively chaste Paduan type and paper, the impartial Soria is driven to say that "to make his shop appear more rich in foreign merchandise, he did not scruple to adorn it with books and authors apocryphal, imaginary, and unknown to the whole human race." In short, he belonged to the school of Pratilli, who wrote a wise and edifying history of Capua on the basis of inscriptions which he himself had previously forged; of Ligorio Pirro, prince of his tribe, who manufactured thousands of coins, texts and marbles out of sheer exuberance of creative artistry!

Gone are those happy days of authorship, when the constructive imagination was not yet blighted and withered. . . .

Marching comfortably, it will take you nearly twelve hours to go from Morano to the village of Terranova di Pollino, which I selected as my first night-quarter. This includes a scramble up the peak of Pollino, locally termed "telegrafo," from a pile of stones - ? an old signal-station - erected on the summit. But since decent accommodation can only be obtained at Castrovillari, a start should be made from there, and this adds another hour to the trip. Moreover, as the peak of Pollino lies below that of Dolcedorme, which shuts oil a good deal of its view seaward, this second mountain ought rather to be ascended, and that will probably add yet another hour - fourteen altogether. The natives, ever ready to say what they think will please you, call it a six hours' excursion. As a matter of fact, although I spoke to numbers of the population of Morano, I only met two men who had ever been to Terranova, one of them being my muleteer; the majority had not so much as heard its name. They dislike mountains and torrents and forests, not only as an offence to the eye, but as hindrances to agriculture and enemies of man and his ordered ways. "La montagna" is considerably abused, all over Italy.

It takes an hour to cross the valley and reach the slopes of the opposite hills. Here, on the plain, lie the now faded blossoms of the monstrous arum, the botanical glory of these regions. To see it in flower, in early June, is alone almost worth the trouble of a journey to Calabria.

On a shady eminence at the foot of these mountains, in a most picturesque site, there stands a large castellated building, a monastery. It is called Colorito, and is now a ruin; the French, they say, shelled it for harbouring the brigand-allies of Bourbonism. Nearly all convents in the south, and even in Naples, were at one time or another refuges of bandits, and this association of monks and robbers used to give much trouble to conscientious politicians. It is a solitary building, against the dark hill-side; a sombre and romantic pile such as would have charmed Anne Radcliffe; one longs to explore its recesses. But I dreaded the coming heats of midday. Leone da Morano, who died in 1645, belonged to this congregation, and was reputed an erudite ecclesiastic. The life of one of its greatest luminaries, Fra Bernardo da Rogliano, was described by Tufarelli in a volume which I have never been able to catch sight of. It must be very rare, yet it certainly was printed. [Footnote: Haym has no mention of this work. But it is fully quoted in old Toppi's "Biblioteca" (p. 317), and also referred to in Savonarola's "Universus Terrarum," etc.

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