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My muleteer met with an old friend here, and got at once into an animated conversation respecting some one, whom I could just discover that they united in ridiculing in no common way. The Italians of all classes make use of signs much more than words to express their feelings, and I could not help laughing at the way they showed their contempt for the person of whom they spoke. One of them moved his fingers up and down alongside of his temples, like the flapping of an ass's ears, while the other thrust out his tongue with a very expressive sound. You will recollect a passage in Persius (i. 58) where the same ideas appear. It is among the lower classes of a people that habits continue long after they have been discarded by the educated, and here we find these vulgar but expressive modes of showing contempt still in use among the southern Italians. The following is the passage in Persius to which I refer :
O Jane, a tergo quem nulla ciconia pinsit,
So true is it that, after so many centuries and such numberless changes, this country exhibits among its inhabitants the same customs and habits of life, and, indeed, I may add, the same inclinations and tastes. There is, as in days of old, a marked language of gesticulation, with which they accompany the expression of their intentions, views, and feelings. I met an intelligent inhabitant as I was strolling through Venusia, and had an interesting conversation with him on various points. Among other things, he inquired, laughing, if I had ever heard of the following mode of discovering whether a youth or maiden is still without knowledge of the other sex. He said that the custom was not unknown to southern Italy, and maintained that it was an excellent criterion. Measure the neck of a marriageable youth or maiden correctly with a ribbon; then double the length, and, bringing the two ends together, place the middle of it between the teeth. If we find that it is sufficiently long to be carried from the mouth over the head without difficulty, it is a sign that the person is still a virgin, but if not, we are to infer the contrary. This custom must have been known to the Romans, as Catullus (Nuptiae Pelei et Thetidos, I. 377) seems to refer to it: Non illam nutrix orienti luce revisens, Hesterno collum poterit circumdare filo.
“The nurse, when she sees Thetis on the day following her bridal night, will no longer be able to make the thread meet round her neck.” As I had some portion of the day still at my command, I determined to proceed forward to Palazzo, six miles distant from Venosa, where the celebrated Fons Bandusia of Horace (Car. iii. 13) is supposed to have been. I reached the village one hour after sunset, and with some appearance at one time of spending the night in the open air; but we luckily stumbled on the village, and I took up my residence at a house for muleteers. It consisted of one large apartment, in which men and beasts
slept amicably together. The people were particularly obliging, and when I asked if they could give me a room, they showed me a passage, which was one of the entrances to the stable, having an outer and inner door, and here they proposed to cage me. If I did not accept this, I must remain in the stable or go out of doors, as I could get nothing else. As it allowed me comparative quiet, I accepted their offer. They collected some cloths for covering mules, and, spreading them on the stone passage, behold my primitive bed. Nature was too much worn out to make me doubt that I would sleep, notwithstanding the hardness of my couch, and accordingly I dropped asleep without taking off my clothes, when I was awoke by a terrible uproar in the stable, and a loud bang at my door, as if some one had knocked up against it. There was no bolt on the inside, and I knew, therefore, that I was at the mercy of the people. ... I started up in considerable fright, and, seizing my umbrella, prepared to show fight so far as I was able. As soon as I was fairly awake, I perceived that I was in no way concerned in the matter, and I was somewhat curious to see what was going on. There was a woman's voice loud and furious, and there were violent oaths of men striking my ear. I was rather surprised to find, when I tried to open the door, that I was a prisoner, and I had great difficulty in procuring my release, as the noise was so loud that my voice could not be heard. When the door was opened, I issued forth in a scene truly ludicrous. The large chamber was lighted by a solitary lamp, which only served to make the darkness more visible. In the middle appeared as the most prominent figures the landlord, a muleteer, and the landlord's wife. The muleteer was belabouring
the landlord for stealing the food of his mule, while the woman, a strong,
masculine Amazon, the worthy representative of Meg Merrilies, was defending her husband, who was far inferior to her in strength and courage. In the distance appeared the horses and mules, with several muleteers lying by their sides, who merely raised themselves on their elbows to look unconcernedly on the scene. The muleteer was at last satisfied, and the hubbub ceased. I threw myself again on my couch—if so it could be called—and was soon soundly asleep. I awoke thoroughly chilled,
finding a strong current of cold air passing through my cage. This was
too dangerous, and I determined to pass the remainder of the night in the stable, where I should at least be free from the draught. This turned
to be truly out of the frying-pan into the fire, for I found the stable in
a state of stifling heat, and this caused the swarms of insects to receive renewed vigour. There I sat on a low stool for a couple of hours, like “Patience on a monument,” with all around me soundly asleep. I fear that I shall never be able to read with any degree of pleasure the beautiful ode to Fons Bandusiae, as it will always call up my disagreeable
associations with Palazzo. The ode, with Francis's translation, I give you :
AD FONTEM BANDUSIAM.
Primis et Venerem et prelia destinat,
TO THE FOUNTAIN BANDUSIA.
I requested my landlord, who was really a merry, good-natured fellow—though not over-honest, if the muleteer was to be believed—to conduct me to the chief man of his village, when he introduced me to an old man, to whom I told the cause of my visit. . He expressed surprise at my pilgrimage for such a purpose, and said that there were two fountains which claimed to represent the Fons Bandusiae. He took me to them: the one is called Fontana del Fico, the fountain of the fig-tree, and the other Fontana Grande, which was nearly dry, little deserving of its name, as it was of diminutive size. The former has been lately repaired, and its whitewashed, utilitarian appearance was a sad damper to all the poetical embellishments with which my fancy had invested it. Whatever trees had once surrounded it had disappeared; and though it may be much more useful in its present state, it would have little to recommend it to the fancy of the poet. If it had been in this state in the time of Horace, the world would never have been delighted by his address to Bandusia.
There is a dispute whether this celebrated fountain is not near the poet's Sabine farm, a little way from Tivoli, which I shall afterwards describe to you, and where travellers are shown, in the valley of Licenza, a fountain called Fonte Bello, said to be the Fons Bandusiae. The Abbé Chaupy, however, says that this fountain of Palazzo was known as late as the beginning of the twelfth century by the name of Fons Bandusinus, and an ancient church is mentioned in ecclesiastical documents as “Eccle: siam SS. M.M., Gervasi et Protasi, in Bandusino Fonte apud Venastan.” I found that Palazzo is known as Palazzo di Cervaso, which is evidently a corruption of Gervasus. I do not doubt, therefore, that we may conclude that the evidence is in favour of this spot being the site of the fountain, though it is six to seven miles from Venusia.
It was a beautiful morning, and the country through which I passed was thickly covered with wood, protecting me from the heat. The sweet choristers sung joyfully in answer to each other amidst the leafy boughs; you cannot stroll through such a country as this without feeling that its poets develop a rich and animated conception of the life of nature. Ariosto must have witnessed many such mornings before he could depict such a scene in the glowing terms that we find in his immortal work (Orl. Fur. c. xxxiv. st. 50):
Cantan fra i rami gli augelletti vaghi,
Warble the wanton birds in verdant brake,
And what can be more vivid than the description of Boccaccio (Fiammetta, lib. v.), when he says: “Hear the querulous birds, plaining with
sweet songs, and the boughs trembling, and moved by a gentle wind, as it were keeping tenour to their notes.”
I had omitted to get my passport signed last night at Wenosa by the magistrate, really because I did not know where I was going, and I know that I am now at the mercy of the police. This forces me back, in spite of myself, to Venosa, and yet I have resolved to proceed at all risks ten miles farther, to a spot, Minervino, the name of which had attracted my attention, and which I was told is the site of a temple of Minerva. I passed through a picturesque country, hill and dale alternating, but with little appearance of cultivation. The inhabitants are clustered together,
as in Calabria, in villages, and not scattered over the country as with us.
When I reached the public square of Minervino, I addressed myself to
a priest, who was seated at a door, and inquired respecting the anti
quities of the place. He told me that the temple was now called the
Grotto of St. Michael, and that the saint had usurped the place of the
Goddess of Wisdom. On examination, I found that the grotto, which
contained a small chapel, was a natural cave of no great size, not equal to the one which I had visited near Maratea, and that it contained nothing that had any appearance of antiquity except a sepulchral inscription, which was so defaced, that it was impossible to discover the name of the party to whose honour it was erected. The old beadle regarded St. Michael with superstitious veneration, and told me that his worship had been so much neglected by the people of the village, that they dared to work on the day of his festival. Last year, however, he took vengeance for this disrespect, by sending a severe hailstorm, which occasioned great mischief to the country, and in consequence of this the inhabitants are now more attentive to his honour. This village is prettily situated on the slope of low hills, called Murgie di Minervino, and is surmounted by a picturesque old baronial castle. All this neighbourhood serves in the winter as grazing ground for the sheep that descend from the Abruzzi. It was now necessary to return to Venosa, which I found it possible to do by some cross paths, which would shorten my journey by many miles; and though I must cross the same woods as yesterday, I shut my eyes to all dangers, and plunged into the unfrequented forest. I passed again through the thick wood of Montemilone, on the opposite side from that on which I had yesterday crossed it. The village stands on a hill rising in the midst of deep valleys, and looked a picturesque object in the distance. The whole of this country looks as if it had been subject to the convulsive throes of earthquakes; and this we know it must have been, as the volcanic mountain of Vultur is close by. With the exception of some wild goats, which started away as we approached, and flocks of wood-pigeons, I saw no living creature, and was glad when I again reached Venosa. I presented myself at once before the chief magistrate, to whom I stated my object in visiting Palazzo and Minervino, begging that he would overlook any irregularity in my proceedings. I found him ready to give me every assistance in his power, and that he had no suspicions of my having any political object. Being anxious to visit Mons Vultur, I inquired respecting the state of the country, for, to my great annoyance, I was told that I was again to be exposed to brigands; but he said that, while he should not like to be responsible for my safety, as even the peasants were not always to be trusted when they fell in with an unprotected stranger, he did not think there was any special danger. There had been a band of brigands on the slopes of Vultur, but he had information that they had been broken up, and probably it was safer now than it had been for some time. I told him, therefore, to insert Melfi as the place where I should pass the night, as this was the nearest point to the foot of the mountain. The magistrate got quite interested in my “virtù,” as he called it, and pressed me to remain the remainder of the day; time, however, was too precious, and I started at once for Melfi, as I was told that I should find the road rough and hilly, and I did not care to be benighted as I had been last night. I was now, I knew, on the great Appian Way which led from Venusia to Asculum Appulum, whither I was bound. Here I saw none of the large stones which are to be found in other parts of the road, nor did I see any appearance of a road at all. It was a mere bridle path along which I was passing. I found the village Barile small and miserable. Entering into conversation with the inhabitants, who crowded round me as a strange phenomenon, since no Eng