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You are aware that ecclesiastical tradition asserts, that the Apostle Peter visited Rome towards the end of his life, and suffered martyrdom there in the persecution raised against the Christians by Nero. The people of this part of Italy maintain that they owe their first knowledge of Christianity to this apostle, who landed at a spot about twenty miles south of Taranto, on the shore of the bay, where he performed divine service, and where a chapel is still found sacred to St. Peter. In one of the churches of Taranto he is said to have performed the first mass in Italy. I traversed the city in various directions, and found the streets narrow and gloomy, with the houses lofty and crowded together. The population is somewhere about fifteen thousand. Like Croto, it is fully contained within the walls of the ancient fortress, or acropolis, which stood on a rocky island in front of the inner harbour. Beautiful and picturesque walks might be made along the banks of the Mare Piccolo, but the inhabitants are either too poor, or possess too little public spirit, to put in execution anything that may require exertion. It was in this direction that the ancient city was built; and in the fields you observe quantities of bricks and broken vases. Here, too, at the Monte di Chiócciole, you see a large hill of the débris of the shell-fish (Murex), from which they procured the purple that vied with the Tyrian dye. The hill is entirely composed of this shell-fish, and, at the end of last century, it is said that a large vat was discovered, the plastered sides of which still exhibited purple streaks. It is long since the use of this fish to furnish a purple dye was given up ; and even the method employed by the ancients to extract the colouring matter has been lost, but the shell-fish still remains, and a large number of the inhabitants are employed in oyster and mussel fishing. There are two kinds of shell-fish from which the purple was obtained. First, Buccina, or Murice, which is of small dimension; secondly, Porpora (Toppápa), much larger. The oysterfishery at the present time begins on St. Andrew's Day, and ends at Easter; while the mussel-fishery extends from Easter to Christmas. The chief officer of the Dogana, to whom I was introduced, keeps a strict watch over the fishing, and showed me a book called “Il Libro Rosso,” in which the rules are contained.
The remains of the ancient amphitheatre are seen in the gardens of the Padri Teresiani, on the road leading to Lecce, and show that it must have been of a size corresponding to the magnificence of the city. When the sea is tranquil, the remains of a bridge across a narrow strait of the Mare Piccolo are still visible; this is the spot where tradition informs us Plato landed, and was received by a crowd of Tarantine philosophers. What a change since that period! It can no longer boast among its citizens of an Archytas and Aristoxenus. Learning and philosophy have long been disregarded. Its learned men have disappeared, and in their place we have a host of priests and monks, who are unwilling to study themselves, and who exert their influence to discourage it in others. I am told that the epithets, “molle” and “imbelle,” are still as applicable as in the time of Horace. The climate is delicious; the severity of a northern winter is unknown; a perpetual spring may be said to exist. The soil of the surrounding country is still as fertile; its wine and its oil are still of the best quality. Pliny praises the lusciousness of its figs and
the excellence of its walnuts; while Martial (xiii. 18) extols its strongsmelling leeks: Fila Tarentini graviter redolentia porri Edisti quoties, oscula clausa dato.
“As often as you eat shreds of the strong-smelling leek of Tarentum, give kisses with your mouth closed.” Swift expresses this idea very cleverly:
For it is every cook's opinion,
I was struck by the stately appearance of the cypress in the gardens on the banks of the Mare Piccolo, which shows that they are still the same as in the time of Cato, B.C. 171. Cato (c. 151) gives instructions as to the sowing of the seeds of the Tarentine cypress, while Columella (5, 10) praises the luscious nature of the pears. These productions of nature have not degenerated, and the honey, that once rivalled that of the famed Hymettus, has not yet lost its sweetness. The peculiar flavour is caused by the odoriferous herbs with which the country abounds; and there is a small valley called Le Pacchie, where it is produced in greatest perfection. The sea abounds in every sort of fish, and, among the various objects on which the industry of the Tarentines is exerted, I may mention the sowing of the Chiócciole mere, from which they derive a considerable revenue. They fix in the sea long stakes of the pine-tree, which are found in March to be covered with the young of this shell-fish. In June they take the stakes out of the water, and, scraping the fish from them, throw them into the Mare Piccolo, where they are kept for two years, and on the third they are ready for market. I paid a visit to the manufactory of the famed Lanapenna, or Lanapesce, a downy substance, which they obtain from a shell-fish about seven inches in length; its two shells are covered with a very fine hair, which they collect and steep in fresh water for two days; it is then beat and carded like flax, when it is ready for the spinning-wheel. They make stockings, gloves, shirts, and even caps of this material. The only other place in Italy where this manufacture is said to exist is Reggio, on the Faro. I find Photius, who lived in the ninth century of the Christian era, says in his Lexicon: “Tapavrivov : Aerröv kai 8taqavés iudriov.” “Tarentine dress: a thin and transparent garment;” no doubt referring to this peculiar manufacture. There is a castle built by Charles V. which commands both seas, and is flanked by enormous towers. It is occupied at present by a regiment of Sicilians, a fine body of men. I could not be at Tarentum without visiting the banks of the famed Galaesus, of which Horace (Od. xi. 6, 10) says:
Unde si Parcae prohibent iniquae,
I found the stream, which is supposed to be the ancient Galaesus, about four miles distant, to be now called Le Citrezze, and near it an old church, Santa Maria de Galeso. It is a very small stream, only about twenty feet in breadth, rising not more than half a mile from the Mare Piccolo, into which it falls. Like many of these streams in Italy, it bursts at once in a considerable volume of water from the ground. I saw no sheep in its neighbourhood, nor do I believe that native geographers are correct in fixing on this small stream as the Galaesus. I can believe, as I was told, that some few sheep may graze in the winter season on its banks, but no army of any size could have encamped here, as Hannibal is said to have done to watch and protect the blockade of the citadel of Tarentum. I should be much more inclined to consider another stream of which I heard, rising near the village of Martina, as the celebrated Galaesus. It is said to fall into the Mare Piccolo, on the north side, and, having a course of nearly twenty miles, would have sufficient grazing for sheep, which Le Citrezze has not. This, too, seems to agree better with the ideas of the stream, which we derive from ancient writers.
Virgil (Georg. iv. 126) says:
Qua niger humectat flaventia culta Galaesus.
“Where the dark-flowing Galaesus waters the yellow fields of corn.”
“Thou singest under the pine-groves of the shady Galaesus.” Pine-groves there are none on the Citrezze, whereas in the upper course of the other I understand pines are to be found. The sheep have certainly degenerated, like everything else in this country; but they complain of some disease given to them by a plant called Sanguinara, Iperica crespa, or Fumolo, ascribing the degeneracy of the wool to this circumstance. Strabo (vi. p. 278) gives the following account of the city: “The whole of the bay of Tarentum is, in a great measure, without havens, with the exception of this harbour, which is large and most beautiful, being closed by a bridge of considerable size ; it is in circumference one hundred stadia. The city is situated on a peninsula, which is formed b the outer sea and this inner harbour; so low is the narrow neck of i. that ships can be drawn with ease across it. The city lies low, though it rises somewhat towards the acropolis. The old wall enclosed a large space, but now the greatest part in the vicinity of the peninsula is deserted, and only what is near the mouth of the harbour is in existence, where the citadel is situated, which forms, however, a city of some size.
It possesses a very fine gymnasium, a magnificent market-place, in which stands the bronze colossal statue of Jupiter, the largest in the world next to that of the Rhodians. Between the market-place and the mouth of the haven lies the citadel, which retains only a few remains of the magnificent monuments which once adorned it. For most of them were destroyed by the Carthaginians when they conquered the city, and those that remained were carried off by the Romans when they took it by assault.” All this explains why there should be so little remaining of the ancient city. I met with an old monk who had devoted much time to the examination of the antiquities of Tarentum, and he assured us that he had been able to discover little. He took me two miles out of the city to an old church, Santa Maria di Murvetre (muri veteres), and here he pointed to some slight vestiges of an ancient wall. This was all of ancient Tarentum that seemed to remain. I talked to him about Aulon, the delight and admiration of Horace (Od. ii. 6), and which is also celebrated by Martial (xiii. 125):
Nobilis et lamis et felix vitibus Aulon
And he told me what I already knew, that it is considered to be Monte Melone, a corruption of Aulon, about eight miles to the south of Taranto. Ble assured me that the wine produced was still as good as in the time of Horace, and certainly what I tasted as coming from that district, the light vino Greco, was very palatable. These wines which I get here have none of the fiery qualities of our port and sherry, but have much more of the hock and moselle flavour. I asked about the ponies of Saturum; they have long since disappeared, nor have the Tarentines now any horses such as they had formerly, when they furnished a body of light cavalry to Alexander the Great and his successors, and which are still mentioned so late as the times of the Roman empire. I was anxious to hear what my friend the Capuchin friar had to say respecting the Tarantismo, a curious natural phenomenon firmly believed for several centuries by the whole of Europe. There is a spider, known to naturalists as Tarentula, which is very abundant in this part of Italy, and the bite of which was said to produce symptoms equally severe with those of the most malignant fever, and of such a nature as to admit of being cured only by music. Some authors have even given a list of the tunes which are most efficacious in restoring the tarentolati (for so the patients were called) to health. You may recollect what Berni says (ii. 17) in his “Orlando Innamorato:”
Come in Puglia si fa contro al veleno
“The same as is done in Apulia to get the better of the poison of those
insects, whose bite causes such follies to be committed as by those possessed by the devil; such are called by the vulgar tarantolati. It is necessary to find some one who, after trying several times, at last hits upon the tune which suits the patient; upon which dancing, and while dancing perspiring, he throws off the terrible plague with which he is afflicted.” My friend said that it was a curious idea to have got so firmly fixed in the minds of men, but he could only explain it by the ignorance of those times and the knavery of mankind. The spider is the phalangium of Pliny, who says that it possesses a malignant poison. In some cases, and with some constitutions, my friend said that the bite caused severe convulsions. The natives of this part of Italy he considered to be, from the excessive heat and the kind of food on which they live, peculiarly subject to hysterical affections. . They are fond of music, and when a number of young people join together in what we, in Scotland, call “daffing,” they become so excited, that they might well be considered to be the descendants of the priestesses of Cybele, whose maddening dances are handed down to us on ancient vases. He had no belief in the extraordinary stories that are told respecting the tarantolati, except so far that it is occasionally assumed, and when the affection is real it arises from constitutional hysterics. It is the young that show such symptoms; and as to the food, he said that shell-fish was abundant, and also snails, of which they made great use in soup. Such kind of food was peculiarly exciting to the nervous system, and produced, in his opinion, much of that excitability for which his countrymen were remarkable. No doubt music was employed as an excitement, and he believed that the violent exercise to which they submitted got rid of their superabundant spirits, and by mere exhaustion brought them to a state of calm. The feeling of the more intelligent of his countrymen respecting the knavery that was often mixed up with these scenes was well expressed in the two lines which were sung to the air of a common tune of the tarantati:
Non fu Taranta, né fu Tarantella
“It was neither the taranta nor the tarantella, but it was the wine from the barrel.” It is curious to trace the history of such a strange delusion as far as human records will allow us. My friend was well acquainted with the old writers of his country, and had found allusions to it about A.D. 1064, in the work of Malaterra, where he gives an account of the attack of the Normans on Palermo. He states that the troops were encamped on a hill above the city, and suffered much from the taranta, though he does not allude to music being used as a cure. The first writer, however, that gives a clear and distinct account of the peculiar attack of this spider and its cure is Nicholas Perotto da Sassaferrato, Archbishop of Sipontum, in Apulia, who flourished about A.D. 1450, and in his work “Cornucopia” thus expresses himself: “There is another kind of spider, called by the Greeks Ascalabotes, Colotes, and Galeotes, speckled, dwelling in rents of the ground caused by excessive heat. It was not known in the time of our forefathers, now it is very frequent in Apulia, also in the country of Tarquinii and Corni