Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Drought Remedy

Piero Camporesi (1926-1997) taught literature and history and anthropology  all combined  during a long career at the University of Bologna. His late masterpiece, La Casa dell'Eternità, was published in Milan in 1987, then translated into English by Lucinda Byatt and published by Pennsylvania State University Press in 1990 as The Fear of Hell : Images of Damnation and Salvation in Early Modern Europe. 

Camporesi's signature technique involved creating a forest of quotations based on massive reading of primary sources  in this case, sermons and tracts and advice manuals and anthologies printed in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries. Part of his investigation of the historical Hell involved him in tracing the web of intense superstition that surrounded the consecrated Host (traditionally elevated by the priest as a sign of Transubstantiation at the climax of the Mass) 

"Even in the seventeenth century (as is reported in the Compendium of Frate F.M. Guaccio) an old story, first told by Gioviano Pontano in De bello neapolitano, was still heard; it was a tale of sacrilegious meteorological spells, in which the desecration of the host reached a level of sabbatical iniquity, almost comparable to a black version of the carnevalesque 'feast of asses'."

"While laying siege to a piece of ground, which lay under the fortress of Mondragrone, King Ferdinand reduced it to such penury because of the lack of water, that it was about to surrender at any moment. In order to avoid the danger of surrender, some priests, using diabolic and unhallowed arts, thought they would invoke the rain to help the soldiers and the inhabitants. Thus, having placed an ass above the door of a temple, as if it were dying, they sang hymns and funereal verses over it; then (oh horror) having placed the holy eucharist in its mouth, they buried it alive. Hardly had this been done than the sky was darkened by clouds, lightning flashed from storm clouds, thunder roared and the air was shaken by winds with such violence and roaring that the trees were uprooted from the ground and flew through the air; the stones were shattered as if by arrows, and rain fell so abundantly that it made the cisterns and riverbeds overflow, and the flood-gates of heaven seemed to have reopened to absorb the world. When the King saw this portent he had no wish to continue the siege, but turned his army to go elsewhere."