maandag 11 juli 2016

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '9. Ritual Battles and Popular Frenzies'

"With unintentional but certainly bitter irony, many went on saying and repeating that the one and only treasure of the poor - the thesaurus pauperum - consisted in the maintenance of their health. None the less, many of the poor preferred sickness and death to a state of health which forced them to live an insufferable life and bear the intolerable torment of hunger. [...]
The medicina pauperum (medicine of the poor) attempted to apply inexpensive therapies which made use of preventive and curative remedies, the composition of which did not require rare and costly ingredients. On the one hand, the two-way medicinal path led to the complicated
and very expensive triaca (theriac) for the rich, believed to be a powerful remedy for almost all sicknesses, a universal panacea; and, on the other hand, to the 'theriac of the poor', composed only of herbs. For those with 'strong stomachs and used to hard work', like peasants and porters, the great preserver of health was garlic, the 'theriac of the rustic', suited to rough and work-weary people, those selected in reverse, from whom - according to the science of the time - could only be born rustic and obtuse offspring, since 'no son is born who does not obtain his quality and  temperament from the food which his father ate before he was conceived.' From this  presupposition, which seems to have been widely shared, it was deduced that

'the meat of the cow, steer and pig, the bread of red wheat, beans,
cheese, red wine and other heavy foods cause strong semen and bad
temperament: the son that is conceived will have great strength,
but will be wild and of animal wits. From this results that
among men of the countryside it would be a miracle if one turned
out to be of acute intelligence and prone to study, especially
where such coarse foods are eaten. The opposite occurs among citydwellers,
whose sons we see have more intelligence and ability. '
[Giuseppe Rosaccio, Fabrica universale dell'huomo sotto titolo di Microcosmo dichiarata 
(...) (Venice: G. Imberti, 1627), pp. 45-46]"

[Giuseppe Rosaccio (1530-1620), Italian geographer and physician (Wikimedia Commons, dd. 11/07/2016)]

"Fortunately for the peasants of the plain and the cacamarroni (literally, 'chestnut-shitters') of the mountains, popular medicine was less poisonous and probably more effective than the medicine of the rich. [...] The poor of the city, in fact, were very often forced to devour foods that were 'fetid, putrid and verminous ... [filled] even with mice, worms, snakes or other most disgusting and abominable animals'. " [Giulio Cesare Luigi Canali, La carità del prossimo celebrata, spiegata e promossa in più ragionamenti [...], Bologna: Gaspare de Franceschi, 1763, (ch. 5, n. 3), II, p. 32]

"'Plenty' was the great absentee; rare were the days when songs could be sung to praise its return and the defeat of 'Famine' (a literary exercise as well, modelled on the very popular theme of the struggle between Carnival and Lent in which, as in all the forms deriving from folk rituals, archaic apotropaic virtues were obscurely presented). In 1597, Giulio Cesare Croce 

Giulio Cesare Croce 
[Giulio Cesare Croce (1550–1609) was an Italian writer, actor/producer of cantastoria [a theatrical form where a performer tells or sings a story while gesturing to a series of images: these images can be painted, printed or drawn on any sort of material] and enigma writer. He wrote more than 400 works in Italian and Bolognese dialect. To be a literary man in his period meant living at court, having patrons, or else being left to one's own devices for financial purposes. Croce was never a true literary man in the strictest sense of the word since he preferred laymen audiences to the court. In fact, he was principally a story teller and a blacksmith and most likely wrote for his own personal satisfaction. As such, his stories and inspiration come from the lower class, from the audiences at the market, who, if able to read, bought his works. This is in stark opposition to many contemporary authors who were inspired by the whims of their patrons. (Wikipedia, dd. 11/07/2016)]

- after the good summer harvest which seemed to spell an end to the seven years of tribulations during which he himself had been heavily hit [...] - exalted the return of plenty to Bologna, praising the vice-legate Orazio Spinola for his decisive and victorious intervention during the years of dearth. In the excited dialogue between Plenty and Famine, Spinola's intervention is described as fundamental to the safety of the community for which Croce presented himself as intermediary and spokesman: a bard assigned to the expression of the city's collective conscience. Victor at last, Plenty can let its ringing voice be heard:

A baker in front of his oven. From a 15th-16th century Book of Hours, attributed to Jean Bourdichon © Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon (Ms 5141, f. 11v-12).

'The bread has grown in size, just as your insolence
Had so lowered and diminished,
That with difficulty its presence was seen;
And if it was black, badly cooked and, worse, dense,
Now all the bakers have the order
To make it good, white, large and with care;
And all the granaries are wide open
And what was worth sixteen is now worth eight,
So that misers hang themselves from the pain;
Bread is no longer seen on display
Already spoiled, as it used to be,
But bright as snow, and well-baked;
The bean, which sat on the throne,
And which seemed like sugar to the artisans,
Is now little appreciated or valued;
Now, in these plains, thanks to God,
Goods abound, and all the countryside
Produces abundant grains in great plenty;
Such that Bologna will once again
Be glorious and great, and neither
Will there ever be heard laments and complaints:
Never more will there be seen atop the dung-heap
So many wretched, afflicted and lifeless people,
Wrapped up in the straw and refuse;
In the future, they will be strong men,
Proud and robust, they will gather vigour,
Not weak and half-dead like before;
A healthy colour will return to their faces,
Strength will be put back where it belongs,
And natural warmth to its rightful state... '

(Il solennissimo trionfo dell'Abbondanza, per la sua fertilissima entrata nella Città di Bologna; il di primo d'Agosto 1597. Con l'amaro pianto, che fà la Carestia, nella dolorosa sua partita, in Dialogo (Bologna: Gio. Battista Bellagamba, 1597), fols. 5r.-6v.)[e-book]

This portrait painted by Plenty corresponds to the octaves of Girolamo Accolti, the 'Allegrezza de' poveri sopra il crescimento del pane' (published in Rome and republished in Bologna: Vittorio Benacci, 1597) (Cheerfulness of the poor over the growth of the bread', in which is written 'Of wheat we have great plenty', octave 1,5), and 'Il gran lamento fatto da Nicolotto Fornar da Pesaro. Per non poter fare il pane piccolo e nero come prima. Con il grandissimo pianto della Carestia nell'uscir di Bologna' (Bologna: Vittorio Benacci, 1603) ('The great lament made by Nicolotto Baker of Pesaro. Of not being able to make the bread small and black as before. With the very great weeping of Famine on leaving Bologna'. Newly composed by Alessandro de' Monti),

'Since the bread has increased in size,
White and beautiful and even well-baked,
Fancy breads, twice baked,
And no one can be satisfied.
We poor bakers.
Scottish-style and side-table breads,
With the finest flour,
From evening to morning
We are forced to make... (fol. 1 v.)
Even the husk and the pollard
Are not sold, but are thrown away... (fol. 2r.)'

The bakers, much hated by the poverelli ('little poor') and singled out by everyone as profiteers and creators of hunger, frequently saw their shops attacked and plundered by the mob. Together with the usurers and tax collectors they were the first to face the popular fury, as in the attack on the oven of the Gasse district of Bologna in August, 1677.
The popular furore had entered some time ago into the 'museums' of realistic literature, whether it examined the immense reservoir of human activities and appearances with regard to trades and professions, or specialized in the typological analysis of the various faces of famine. In this excited atmosphere of social tensions, uprisings and looting, it is not surprising that G. B. Segni rifled a page by Garzoni  [Giovanni Garzoni (1419–1506) was an Italian humanist and physician from Bologna, where he was professor of medicine and teacher of rhetoric  (Wikipedia, dd. 11/07/2016)] (even more sensational plagiarism was committed with casual frequency during a century when copyright was an unknown expression), replacing it in a real-life scenario of social disorder and disintegration, even though it remains essentially an exemplum: a rhetorical model of the abstract theme of human frenzy.
Whoever would like to see the misery of this present famine and starvation in its most wretched form should go to certain cities and lands that are tyrannized, where the taxes could not be higher, and see bread put in the warehouses and storerooms which is as black as coal or as grey as a donkey's hide, and of such a mixture that even hearty eaters could not stand it, and so small it seems like the balls of zarabottana, and so expensive that those responsible are wished a thousand evils, and sold with such an appearance that it seems to come from the executioner's hand, and so often contested that clubs, daggers and pikes are necessary in order to possess it, and brought out in such low quantities that many poor families die from hardship and hunger, cursing the traitorous usurers, the villainous rich and the murderous tax-collectors who are to blame for such a wicked and cruel famine. He would then hear all the people scream; he would see the common people rioting, with good reason; the poor crying into the wind; the peasants from outside claiming greater power; the hospitals filling up; the doors of the rich echoing with miserable voices; the square full of acts of rage; the warehouses and storerooms surrounded by calamitous and unhappy people; the earth crying out and the air sighing, the sky weeping for so much dearth and such an unbearable famine. He would witness many thefts, much stealing, much plundering of granaries, many virgins raped for a piece of bread; many husbands become voluntary scoundrels for a penny, that he would recognize as true the saying of Regnicolo Foretano, 'In times of famine due to lack of bread, there is no better foodstuff than human flesh.' What Quintilian also meant when he said 'Non habitant simul pudor et fames' ['Shame and hunger do not dwell together']. He would see many rich people murdered, so much clashing of arms that everything would exhaust itself. The customs-houses would be ransacked, the warehouses emptied, the banks broken into, the bakers beaten or pilloried, or forced to walk the rope in public, or hanged by the neck, for behaving like gluttons and scoundrels. 
[Giovan Battista Segni, Trattato sopra la carestia e fame, sue cause, accidenti, provisioni e reggimenti, varie moltiplicazioni, e sorte di pane. Discorsi filosofici, (Bologna: Gio. Rossi, 1602)]
(Camporesi 1996, '9. Ritual Battles and Popular Frenzies', pp. 103-107)

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