BY THE IONIAN SEA
NOTES OF A RAMBLE IN SOUTHERN ITALY
I FROM NAPLES II PAOLA III THE GRAVE OF ALARIC IV TARANTO V DULCE GALAESI FLUMEN VI THE TABLE OF THE PALADINS VII COTRONE VIII FACES BY THE WAY IX MY FRIEND THE DOCTOR X CHILDREN OF THE SOIL XI THE MOUNT OF REFUGE XII CATANZARO XIII THE BREEZY HEIGHT XIV SQUILLACE XV MISERIA XVI CASSIODORUS XVII THE GROTTA XVIII REGGIO
This is the third day of sirocco, heavy-clouded, sunless. All the colour has gone out of Naples; the streets are dusty and stifling. I long for the mountains and the sea.
To-morrow I shall leave by the Messina boat, which calls at Paola. It is now more than a twelvemonth since I began to think of Paola, and an image of the place has grown in my mind. I picture a little marina; a yellowish little town just above; and behind, rising grandly, the long range of mountains which guard the shore of Calabria. Paola has no special interest that I know of, but it is the nearest point on the coast to Cosenza, which has interest in abundance; by landing here I make a modestly adventurous beginning of my ramble in the South. At Paola foreigners are rare; one may count upon new impressions, and the journey over the hills will be delightful.
Were I to lend ear to the people with whom I am staying, here in the Chiatamone, I should either abandon my project altogether or set forth with dire misgivings. They are Neapolitans of the better class; that is to say, they have known losses, and talk of their former happiness, when they lived on the Chiaia and had everything handsome about them. The head of the family strikes me as a typical figure; he is an elderly man, with a fine head, a dignified presence, and a coldly courteous demeanour. By preference he speaks French, and his favourite subject is Paris. One observes in him something like disdain for his own country, which in his mind is associated only with falling fortunes and loss of self-respect. The cordial Italian note never sounds in his talk. The signora (also a little ashamed of her own language) excites herself about taxation—as well she may—and dwells with doleful vivacity on family troubles. Both are astonished at my eccentricity and hardiness in undertaking a solitary journey through the wild South. Their geographical notions are vague; they have barely heard of Cosenza or of Cotrone, and of Paola not at all; it would as soon occur to them to set out for Morocco as for Calabria. How shall I get along with people whose language is a barbarous dialect? Am I aware that the country is in great part pestilential?—la febbre! Has no one informed me that in autumn snows descend, and bury everything for months? It is useless to explain that I only intend to visit places easily accessible, that I shall travel mostly by railway, and that if disagreeable weather sets in I shall quickly return northwards. They look at me dubiously, and ask themselves (I am sure) whether I have not some more tangible motive than a lover of classical antiquity. It ends with a compliment to the enterprising spirit of the English race.
I have purchases to make, business to settle, and I must go hither and thither about the town. Sirocco, of course, dusks everything to cheerless grey, but under any sky it is dispiriting to note the changes in Naples. Lo sventramento (the disembowelling) goes on, and regions are transformed. It is a good thing, I suppose, that the broad Corso Umberto I. should cut a way through the old Pendino; but what a contrast between that native picturesqueness and the cosmopolitan vulgarity which has usurped its place! "Napoli se ne va!" I pass the Santa Lucia with downcast eyes, my memories of ten years ago striving against the dulness of to-day. The harbour, whence one used to start for Capri, is filled up; the sea has been driven to a hopeless distance beyond a wilderness of dust-heaps. They are going to make a long, straight embankment from the Castel dell'Ovo to the Great Port, and before long the Santa Lucia will be an ordinary street, shut in among huge houses, with no view at all. Ah, the nights that one lingered here, watching the crimson glow upon Vesuvius, tracing the dark line of the Sorrento promontory, or waiting for moonlight to cast its magic upon floating Capri! The odours remain; the stalls of sea-fruit are as yet undisturbed, and the jars of the water-sellers; women still comb and bind each other's hair by the wayside, and meals are cooked and eaten al fresco as of old. But one can see these things elsewhere, and Santa Lucia was unique. It has become squalid. In the grey light of this sad billowy sky, only its ancient foulness is manifest; there needs the golden sunlight to bring out a suggestion of its ancient charm.
Has Naples grown less noisy, or does it only seem so to me? The men with bullock carts are strangely quiet; their shouts have nothing like the frequency and spirit of former days. In the narrow and thronged Strada di Chiaia I find little tumult; it used to be deafening. Ten years ago a foreigner could not walk here without being assailed by the clamour of cocchieri; nay, he was pursued from street to street, until the driver had spent every phrase of importunate invitation; now, one may saunter as one will, with little disturbance. Down on the Piliero, whither I have been to take my passage for Paola, I catch but an echo of the jubilant uproar which used to amaze me. Is Naples really so much quieter? If I had time I would go out to Fuorigrotta, once, it seemed to me, the noisiest village on earth, and see if there also I observed a change. It would not be surprising if the modernization of the city, together with the state of things throughout Italy, had a subduing effect upon Neapolitan manners. In one respect the streets are assuredly less gay. When I first knew Naples one was never, literally never, out of hearing of a hand-organ; and these organs, which in general had a peculiarly dulcet note, played the brightest of melodies; trivial, vulgar if you will, but none the less melodious, and dear to Naples. Now the sound of street music is rare, and I understand that some police provision long since interfered with the soft-tongued instruments. I miss them; for, in the matter of music, it is with me as with Sir Thomas Browne. For Italy the change is significant enough; in a few more years spontaneous melody will be as rare at Naples or Venice as on the banks of the Thames.
Happily, the musicians errant still strum their mandoline as you dine. The old trattoria in the Toledo is as good as ever, as bright, as comfortable. I have found my old corner in one of the little rooms, and something of the old gusto for zuppa di vongole. The homely wine of Posillipo smacks as in days gone by, and is commended to one's lips by a song of the South. . . .
Last night the wind changed and the sky began to clear; this morning I awoke in sunshine, and with a feeling of eagerness for my journey. I shall look upon the Ionian Sea, not merely from a train or a steamboat as before, but at long leisure: I shall see the shores where once were Tarentum and Sybaris, Croton and Locri. Every man has his intellectual desire; mine is to escape life as I know it and dream myself into that old world which was the imaginative delight of my boyhood. The names of Greece and Italy draw me as no others; they make me young again, and restore the keen impressions of that time when every new page of Greek or Latin was a new perception of things beautiful. The world of the Greeks and Romans is my land of romance; a quotation in either language thrills me strangely, and there are passages of Greek and Latin verse which I cannot read without a dimming of the eyes, which I cannot repeat aloud because my voice fails me. In Magna Graecia the waters of two fountains mingle and flow together; how exquisite will be the draught!
I drove with my luggage to the Immacolatella, and a boatman put me aboard the steamer. Luggage, I say advisedly; it is a rather heavy portmanteau, and I know it will be a nuisance. But the length of my wanderings is so uncertain, its conditions are so vaguely anticipated. I must have books if only for rainy days; I must have clothing against a change of season. At one time I thought of taking a mere wallet, and now I am half sorry that I altered my mind. But——
We were not more than an hour after time in starting. Perfect weather. I sang to myself with joy upon the sunny deck as we steamed along the Bay, past Portici, and Torre del Greco, and into the harbour of Torre Annunziata, where we had to take on cargo. I was the only cabin passenger, and solitude suits me. All through the warm and cloudless afternoon I sat looking at the mountains, trying not to see that cluster of factory chimneys which rolled black fumes above the many-coloured houses. They reminded me of the same abomination on a shore more sacred; from the harbour of Piraeus one looks to Athens through trails of coal-smoke. By a contrast pleasant enough, Vesuvius to-day sent forth vapours of a delicate rose-tint, floating far and breaking seaward into soft little fleeces of cirrus. The cone, covered with sulphur, gleamed bright yellow against cloudless blue.
The voyage was resumed at dinner-time; when I came upon deck again, night had fallen. We were somewhere near Sorrento; behind us lay the long curve of faint-glimmering lights on the Naples shore; ahead was Capri. In profound gloom, though under a sky all set with stars, we passed between the island and Cape Minerva; the haven of Capri showed but a faint glimmer; over it towered mighty crags, an awful blackness, a void amid constellations. From my seat near the stern of the vessel I could discern no human form; it was as though I voyaged quite alone in the silence of this magic sea. Silence so all-possessing that the sound of the ship's engine could not reach my ear, but was blended with the water-splash into a lulling murmur. The stillness of a dead world laid its spell on all that lived. To-day seemed an unreality, an idle impertinence; the real was that long-buried past which gave its meaning to all around me, touching the night with infinite pathos. Best of all, one's own being became lost to consciousness; the mind knew only the phantasmal forms it shaped, and was at peace in vision.
I slept little, and was very early on deck, scanning by the light of dawn a mountainous coast. At sunrise I learnt that we were in sight of Paola; as day spread gloriously over earth and sky, the vessel hove to and prepared to land cargo. There, indeed, was the yellowish little town which I had so long pictured; it stood at a considerable height above the shore; harbour there was none at all, only a broad beach of shingle on which waves were breaking, and where a cluster of men, women and children stood gazing at the steamer. It gave me pleasure to find the place so small and primitive. In no hurry to land, I watched the unloading of merchandise (with a great deal of shouting and gesticulation) into boats which had rowed out for the purpose; speculated on the resources of Paola in the matter of food (for I was hungry); and at moments cast an eye towards the mountain barrier which it was probable I should cross to-day.
At last my portmanteau was dropped down on to the laden boat; I, as best I could, managed to follow it; and on the top of a pile of rope and empty flour-sacks we rolled landward. The surf was high; it cost much yelling, leaping, and splashing to gain the dry beach. Meanwhile, not without apprehension, I had eyed the group awaiting our arrival; that they had their eyes on me was obvious, and I knew enough of southern Italians to foresee my reception. I sprang into the midst of a clamorous conflict; half a dozen men were quarreling for possession of me. No sooner was my luggage on shore than they flung themselves upon it. By what force of authority I know not, one of the fellows triumphed; he turned to me with a satisfied smile, and—presented his wife.
"Mia sposa, signore!"
Wondering, and trying to look pleased, I saw the woman seize the portmanteau (a frightful weight), fling it on to her head, and march away at a good speed. The crowd and I followed to the dogana, close by, where as vigorous a search was made as I have ever had to undergo. I puzzled the people; my arrival was an unwonted thing, and they felt sure I was a trader of some sort. Dismissed under suspicion, I allowed the lady to whom I had been introduced to guide me townwards. Again she bore the portmanteau on her head, and evidently thought it a trifle, but as the climbing road lengthened, and as I myself began to perspire in the warm sunshine, I looked at my attendant with uncomfortable feelings. It was a long and winding way, but the woman continued to talk and laugh so cheerfully that I tried to forget her toil. At length we reached a cabin where the dazio (town dues) officer presented himself, and this conscientious person insisted on making a fresh examination of my baggage; again I explained myself, again I was eyed suspiciously; but he released me, and on we went. I had bidden my guide take me to the best inn; it was the Leone, a little place which looked from the outside like an ill-kept stable, but was decent enough within. The room into which they showed me had a delightful prospect. Deep beneath the window lay a wild, leafy garden, and lower on the hillside a lemon orchard shining with yellow fruit; beyond, the broad pebbly beach, far seen to north and south, with its white foam edging the blue expanse of sea. There I descried the steamer from which I had landed, just under way for Sicily. The beauty of this view, and the calm splendour of the early morning, put me into happiest mood. After little delay a tolerable breakfast was set before me, with a good rough wine; I ate and drank by the window, exulting in what I saw and all I hoped to see.
Guide-books had informed me that the corriere (mail-diligence) from Paola to Cosenza corresponded with the arrival of the Naples steamer, and, after the combat on the beach, my first care was to inquire about this. All and sundry made eager reply that the corriere had long since gone; that it started, in fact, at 5 A.M., and that the only possible mode of reaching Cosenza that day was to hire a vehicle. Experience of Italian travel made me suspicious, but it afterwards appeared that I had been told the truth. Clearly, if I wished to proceed at once, I must open negotiations at my inn, and, after a leisurely meal, I did so. Very soon a man presented himself who was willing to drive me over the mountains—at a charge which I saw to be absurd; the twinkle in his eye as he named the sum sufficiently enlightened me. By the book it was no more than a journey of four hours; my driver declared that it would take from seven to eight. After a little discussion he accepted half the original demand, and went off very cheerfully to put in his horses.
For an hour I rambled about the town's one street, very picturesque and rich in colour, with rushing fountains where women drew fair water in jugs and jars of antique beauty. Whilst I was thus loitering in the sunshine, two well-dressed men approached me, and with somewhat excessive courtesy began conversation. They understood that I was about to drive to Cosenza. A delightful day, and a magnificent country! They too thought of journeying to Cosenza, and, in short, would I allow them to share my carriage? Now this was annoying; I much preferred to be alone with my thoughts; but it seemed ungracious to refuse. After a glance at their smiling faces, I answered that whatever room remained in the vehicle was at their service—on the natural understanding that they shared the expense; and to this, with the best grace in the world, they at once agreed. We took momentary leave of each other, with much bowing and flourishing of hats, and the amusing thing was that I never beheld those gentlemen again.
Fortunately—as the carriage proved to be a very small one, and the sun was getting very hot; with two companions I should have had an uncomfortable day. In front of the Leone a considerable number of loafers had assembled to see me off, and of these some half-dozen were persevering mendicants. It disappointed me that I saw no interesting costume; all wore the common, colourless garb of our destroying age. The only vivid memory of these people which remains with me is the cadence of their speech. Whilst I was breakfasting, two women stood at gossip on a near balcony, and their utterance was a curious exaggeration of the Neapolitan accent; every sentence rose to a high note, and fell away in a long curve of sound, sometimes a musical wail, more often a mere whining. The protraction of the last word or two was really astonishing; again and again I fancied that the speaker had broken into song. I cannot say that the effect was altogether pleasant; in the end such talk would tell severely on civilized nerves, but it harmonized with the coloured houses, the luxuriant vegetation, the strange odours, the romantic landscape.
In front of the vehicle were three little horses; behind it was hitched an old shabby two-wheeled thing, which we were to leave somewhere for repairs. With whip-cracking and vociferation, amid good-natured farewells from the crowd, we started away. It was just ten o'clock.
At once the road began to climb, and nearly three hours were spent in reaching the highest point of the mountain barrier. Incessantly winding, often doubling upon itself, the road crept up the sides of profound gorges, and skirted many a precipice; bridges innumerable spanned the dry ravines which at another season are filled with furious torrents. From the zone of orange and olive and cactus we passed that of beech and oak, noble trees now shedding their rich-hued foliage on bracken crisped and brown; here I noticed the feathery bowers of wild clematis ("old man's beard"), and many a spike of the great mullein, strange to me because so familiar in English lanes. Through mists that floated far below I looked over miles of shore, and outward to the ever-rising limit of sea and sky. Very lovely were the effects of light, the gradations of colour; from the blue-black abysses, where no shape could be distinguished, to those violet hues upon the furrowed heights which had a transparency, a softness, an indefiniteness, unlike anything to be seen in northern landscape.
The driver was accompanied by a half-naked lad, who, at certain points, suddenly disappeared, and came into view again after a few minutes, having made a short cut up some rugged footway between the loops of the road. Perspiring, even as I sat, in the blaze of the sun, I envied the boy his breath and muscle. Now and then he slaked his thirst at a stone fountain by the wayside, not without reverencing the blue-hooded Madonna painted over it. A few lean, brown peasants, bending under faggots, and one or two carts, passed us before we gained the top, and half-way up there was a hovel where drink could be bought; but with these exceptions nothing broke the loneliness of the long, wild ascent. My man was not talkative, but answered inquiries civilly; only on one subject was he very curt—that of the two wooden crosses which we passed just before arriving at the summit; they meant murders. At the moment when I spoke of them I was stretching my legs in a walk beside the carriage, the driver walking just in front of me; and something then happened which is still a puzzle when I recall it. Whether the thought of crimes had made the man nervous, or whether just then I wore a peculiarly truculent face, or had made some alarming gesture, all of a sudden he turned upon me, grasped my arm and asked sharply: "What have you got in your hand?" I had a bit of fern, plucked a few minutes before, and with surprise I showed it; whereupon he murmured an apology, said something about making haste, and jumped to his seat. An odd little incident.
At an unexpected turn of the road there spread before me a vast prospect; I looked down upon inland Calabria. It was a valley broad enough to be called a plain, dotted with white villages, and backed by the mass of mountains which now, as in old time, bear the name of Great Sila. Through this landscape flowed the river Crati—the ancient Crathis; northward it curved, and eastward, to fall at length into the Ionian Sea, far beyond my vision. The river Crathis, which flowed by the walls of Sybaris. I stopped the horses to gaze and wonder; gladly I would have stood there for hours. Less interested, and impatient to get on, the driver pointed out to me the direction of Cosenza, still at a great distance. He added the information that, in summer, the well-to-do folk of Cosenza go to Paola for sea-bathing, and that they always perform the journey by night. I, listening carelessly amid my dream, tried to imagine the crossing of those Calabrian hills under a summer sun! By summer moonlight it must be wonderful.
We descended at a sharp pace, all the way through a forest of chestnuts, the fruit already gathered, the golden leaves rustling in their fall. At the foot lies the village of San Fili, and here we left the crazy old cart which we had dragged so far. A little further, and before us lay a long, level road, a true Roman highway, straight for mile after mile. By this road the Visigoths must have marched after the sack of Rome. In approaching Cosenza I was drawing near to the grave of Alaric. Along this road the barbarian bore in triumph those spoils of the Eternal City which were to enrich his tomb.
By this road, six hundred years before the Goth, marched Hannibal on his sullen retreat from Italy, passing through Cosentia to embark at Croton.
THE GRAVE OF ALARIC
It would have been prudent to consult with my driver as to the inns of Cosenza. But, with a pardonable desire not to seem helpless in his hands, I had from the first directed him to the Due Lionetti, relying upon my guide-book. Even at Cosenza there is progress, and guide-books to little-known parts of Europe are easily allowed to fall out of date. On my arrival——
But, first of all, the dazio. This time it was a serious business; impossible to convince the rather surly officer that certain of the contents of my portmanteau were not for sale. What in the world was I doing with tanti libri? Of course I was a commercial traveller; ridiculous to pretend anything else. After much strain of courtesy, I clapped to my luggage, locked it up, and with a resolute face cried "Avanti!" And there was an end of it. In this case, as so often, I have no doubt that simple curiosity went for much in the man's pertinacious questioning. Of course the whole dazio business is ludicrous and contemptible; I scarce know a baser spectacle than that of uniformed officials groping in the poor little bundles of starved peasant women, mauling a handful of onions, or prodding with long irons a cartload of straw. Did any one ever compare the expenses with the results?
A glance shows the situation of Cosenza. The town is built on a steep hillside, above the point where two rivers, flowing from the valleys on either side, mingle their waters under one name, that of the Crati. We drove over a bridge which spans the united current, and entered a narrow street, climbing abruptly between houses so high and so close together as to make a gloom amid sunshine. It was four o'clock; I felt tired and half choked with dust; the thought of rest and a meal was very pleasant. As I searched for the sign of my inn, we suddenly drew up, midway in the dark street, before a darker portal, which seemed the entrance to some dirty warehouse. The driver jumped down—"Ecco l'albergo!"
I had seen a good many Italian hostelries, and nourished no unreasonable expectations. The Lion at Paola would have seemed to any untravelled Englishman a squalid and comfortless hole, incredible as a place of public entertainment; the Two Little Lions of Cosenza made a decidedly worse impression. Over sloppy stones, in an atmosphere heavy with indescribable stenches, I felt rather than saw my way to the foot of a stone staircase; this I ascended, and on the floor above found a dusky room, where tablecloths and an odour of frying oil afforded some suggestion of refreshment. My arrival interested nobody; with a good deal of trouble I persuaded an untidy fellow, who seemed to be a waiter, to come down with me and secure my luggage. More trouble before I could find a bedroom; hunting for keys, wandering up and down stone stairs and along pitch-black corridors, sounds of voices in quarrel. The room itself was utterly depressing—so bare, so grimy, so dark. Quickly I examined the bed, and was rewarded. It is the good point of Italian inns; be the house and the room howsoever sordid, the bed is almost invariably clean and dry and comfortable.
I ate, not amiss; I drank copiously to the memory of Alaric, and felt equal to any fortune. When night had fallen I walked a little about the scarce-lighted streets and came to an open place, dark and solitary and silent, where I could hear the voices of the two streams as they mingled below the hill. Presently I passed an open office of some kind, where a pleasant-looking man sat at a table writing; on an impulse I entered, and made bold to ask whether Cosenza had no better inn than the Due Lionetti. Great was this gentleman's courtesy; he laid down his pen, as if for ever, and gave himself wholly to my concerns. His discourse delighted me, so flowing were the phrases, so rounded the periods. Yes, there were other inns; one at the top of the town—the Vetere—in a very good position; and they doubtless excelled my own in modern comfort. As a matter of fact, it might be avowed that the Lionetti, from the point of view of the great centres of civilization, left something to be desired—something to be desired; but it was a good old inn, a reputable old inn, and probably on further acquaintance——
Further acquaintance did not increase my respect for the Lionetti; it would not be easy to describe those features in which, most notably, it fell short of all that might be desired. But I proposed no long stay at Cosenza, where malarial fever is endemic, and it did not seem worth while to change my quarters. I slept very well.
I had come here to think about Alaric, and with my own eyes to behold the place of his burial. Ever since the first boyish reading of Gibbon, my imagination has loved to play upon that scene of Alaric's death. Thinking to conquer Sicily, the Visigoth marched as far as to the capital of the Bruttii, those mountain tribes which Rome herself never really subdued; at Consentia he fell sick and died. How often had I longed to see this river Busento, which the "labour of a captive multitude" turned aside, that its flood might cover and conceal for all time the tomb of the Conqueror! I saw it in the light of sunrise, flowing amid low, brown, olive-planted hills; at this time of the year it is a narrow, but rapid stream, running through a wide, waste bed of yellow sand and stones. The Crati, which here has only just started upon its long seaward way from some glen of Sila, presents much the same appearance, the track which it has worn in flood being many times as broad as the actual current. They flow, these historic waters, with a pleasant sound, overborne at moments by the clapping noise of Cosenza's washerwomen, who cleanse their linen by beating it, then leave it to dry on the river-bed. Along the banks stood tall poplars, each a spire of burnished gold, blazing against the dark olive foliage on the slopes behind them; plane trees, also, very rich of colour, and fig trees shedding their latest leaves. Now, tradition has it that Alaric was buried close to the confluence of the Busento and the Crati. If so, he lay in full view of the town. But the Goths are said to have slain all their prisoners who took part in the work, to ensure secrecy. Are we to suppose that Consentia was depopulated? On any other supposition the story must be incorrect, and Alaric's tomb would have to be sought at least half a mile away, where the Busento is hidden in its deep valley.
Gibbon, by the way, calls it Busentinus; the true Latin was Buxentius. To make sure of the present name, I questioned some half a dozen peasants, who all named the river Basenzio or Basenz'; a countryman of more intelligent appearance assured me that this was only a dialectical form, the true one being Busento. At a bookseller's shop (Cosenza had one, a very little one) I found the same opinion to prevail.
It is difficult to walk much in this climate; lassitude and feverish symptoms follow on the slightest exertion; but—if one can disregard the evil smells which everywhere catch one's breath—Cosenza has wonders and delights which tempt to day-long rambling. To call the town picturesque is to use an inadequate word; at every step, from the opening of the main street at the hill-foot up to the stern mediaeval castle crowning its height, one marvels and admires. So narrow are the ways that a cart drives the pedestrian into shop or alley; two vehicles (but perhaps the thing never happened) would with difficulty pass each other. As in all towns of Southern Italy, the number of hair-dressers is astonishing, and they hang out the barber's basin—the very basin (of shining brass and with a semicircle cut out of the rim) which the Knight of La Mancha took as substitute for his damaged helmet. Through the gloom of high balconied houses, one climbs to a sunny piazza, where there are several fine buildings; beyond it lies the public garden, a lovely spot, set with alleys of acacia and groups of palm and flower-beds and fountains; marble busts of Garibaldi, Mazzini, and Cavour gleam among the trees. Here one looks down upon the yellow gorge of the Crati, and sees it widen northward into a vast green plain, in which the track of the river is soon lost. On the other side of the Crati valley, in full view of this garden, begins the mountain region of many-folded Sila—a noble sight at any time of the day, but most of all when the mists of morning cling about its summits, or when the sunset clothes its broad flanks with purple. Turn westward, and you behold the long range which hides the Mediterranean so high and wild from this distance, that I could scarce believe I had driven over it.
Sila—locally the Black Mountain, because dark with climbing forests—held my gaze through a long afternoon. From the grassy table-land of its heights, pasturage for numberless flocks and herds when the long snows have melted, one might look over the shore of the Ionian Sea where Greek craftsmen built ships of timber cut upon the mountain's side. Not so long ago it was a haunt of brigands; now there is no risk for the rare traveller who penetrates that wilderness; but he must needs depend upon the hospitality of labourers and shepherds. I dream of sunny glades, never touched, perhaps, by the foot of man since the Greek herdsman wandered there with his sheep or goats. Somewhere on Sila rises the Neaithos (now Neto) mentioned by Theocritus; one would like to sit by its source in the woodland solitude, and let fancy have her way.
In these garden walks I met a group of peasants, evidently strange to Cosenza, and wondering at all they saw. The women wore a very striking costume: a short petticoat of scarlet, much embroidered, and over it a blue skirt, rolled up in front and gathered in a sort of knot behind the waist; a bodice adorned with needlework and metal; elaborate glistening head-gear, and bare feet. The town-folk have no peculiarity of dress. I observed among them a grave, intelligent type of countenance, handsome and full of character, which may be that of their brave ancestors the Bruttii. With pleasure I saw that they behaved gently to their beasts, the mules being very sleek and contented-looking. There is much difference between these people and the Neapolitans; they seem to have no liking for noise, talk with a certain repose, and allow the stranger to go about among them unmolested, unimportuned. Women above the poorest class are not seen in the streets; there prevails an Oriental system of seclusion.
I was glad to come upon the pot market; in the south of Italy it is always a beautiful and interesting sight. Pottery for commonest use among Calabrian peasants has a grace of line, a charm of colour, far beyond anything native to our most pretentious china-shops. Here still lingers a trace of the old civilization. There must be a great good in a people which has preserved this need of beauty through ages of servitude and suffering. Compare such domestic utensils—these oil-jugs and water-jars—with those in the house of an English labourer. Is it really so certain that all virtues of race dwell with those who can rest amid the ugly and know it not for ugliness?
The new age declares itself here and there at Cosenza. A squalid railway station, a hideous railway bridge, have brought the town into the European network; and the craze for building, which has disfigured and half ruined Italy, shows itself in an immense new theatre—Teatro Garibaldi—just being finished. The old one, which stands ruinous close by, struck me as, if anything, too large for the town; possibly it had been damaged by an earthquake, the commonest sort of disaster at Cosenza. On the front of the new edifice I found two inscriptions, both exulting over the fall of the papal power; one was interesting enough to copy:—
"20 SEPT., 1870. QUESTA DATA POLITICA DICE FINITA LA TEOCRAZIA NEGLI ORDINAMENTI CIVILI. IL DI CHE LA DIRA FINITA MORALMENTE SARA LA DATA UMANA."
which signifies: "This political date marks the end of theocracy in civil life. The day which ends its moral rule will begin the epoch of humanity." A remarkable utterance anywhere; not least so within the hearing of the stream which flows over the grave of Alaric.
One goes to bed early at Cosenza; the night air is dangerous, and—Teatro Garibaldi still incomplete—darkness brings with it no sort of pastime. I did manage to read a little in my miserable room by an antique lamp, but the effort was dispiriting; better to lie in the dark and think of Goth and Roman.
Do the rivers Busento and Crati still keep the secret of that "royal sepulchre, adorned with the splendid spoils and trophies of Rome"? It seems improbable that the grave was ever disturbed; to this day there exists somewhere near Cosenza a treasure-house more alluring than any pictured in Arabian tale. It is not easy to conjecture what "spoils and trophies" the Goths buried with their king; if they sacrificed masses of precious metal, then perchance there still lies in the river-bed some portion of that golden statue of Virtus, which the Romans melted down to eke out the ransom claimed by Alaric. The year 410 A.D. was no unfitting moment to break into bullion the figure personifying Manly Worth. "After that," says an old historian, "all bravery and honour perished out of Rome."
Cosenza is on a line of railway which runs northward up the Crati valley, and joins the long seashore line from Taranto to Reggio. As it was my wish to see the whole of that coast, I had the choice of beginning my expedition either at the northern or the southern end; for several reasons I decided to make straight for Taranto.
The train started about seven o'clock in the morning. I rose at six in chill darkness, the discomfort of my room seeming worse than ever at this featureless hour. The waiter—perhaps he was the landlord, I left this doubt unsolved—brought me a cup of coffee; dirtier and more shabbily apparelled man I have never looked upon; viler coffee I never drank. Then I descended into the gloom of the street. The familiar odours breathed upon me with pungent freshness, wafted hither and thither on a mountain breeze. A glance upwards at the narrow strip of sky showed a grey-coloured dawn, prelude, I feared, of a dull day.
Evidently I was not the only traveller departing; on the truck just laden I saw somebody else's luggage, and at the same moment there came forth a man heavily muffled against the air, who, like myself, began to look about for the porter. We exchanged greetings, and on our walk to the station I learned that my companion, also bound for Taranto, had been detained by illness for several days at the Lionetti, where, he bitterly complained, the people showed him no sort of attention. He was a commercial traveller, representing a firm of drug merchants in North Italy, and for his sins (as he put it) had to make the southern journey every year; he invariably suffered from fever, and at certain places—of course, the least civilized—had attacks which delayed him from three days to a week. He loathed the South, finding no compensation whatever for the miseries of travel below Naples; the inhabitants he reviled with exceeding animosity. Interested by the doleful predicament of this vendor of drugs (who dosed himself very vigorously), I found him a pleasant companion during the day; after our lunch he seemed to shake off the last shivers of his malady, and was as sprightly an Italian as one could wish to meet—young, sharp-witted, well-mannered, and with a pleasing softness of character.
We lunched at Sybaris; that is to say, at the railway station now so called, though till recently it bore the humbler name of Buffaloria. The Italians are doing their best to revive the classical place-names, where they have been lost, and occasionally the incautious traveller is much misled. Of Sybaris no stone remains above ground; five hundred years before Christ it was destroyed by the people of Croton, who turned the course of the river Crathis so as to whelm the city's ruins. Francois Lenormant, whose delightful book, La Grande Grece, was my companion on this journey, believed that a discovery far more wonderful and important than that of Pompeii awaits the excavator on this site; he held it certain that here, beneath some fifteen feet of alluvial mud, lay the temples and the streets of Sybaris, as on the day when Crathis first flowed over them. A little digging has recently been done, and things of interest have been found; but discovery on a wide scale is still to be attempted.
Lenormant praises the landscape hereabouts as of "incomparable beauty"; unfortunately I saw it in a sunless day, and at unfavourable moments I was strongly reminded of the Essex coast—grey, scrubby fiats, crossed by small streams, spreading wearily seaward. One had only to turn inland to correct this mood; the Calabrian mountains, even without sunshine, had their wonted grace. Moreover, cactus and agave, frequent in the foreground, preserved the southern character of the scene. The great plain between the hills and the sea grows very impressive; so silent it is, so mournfully desolate, so haunted with memories of vanished glory. I looked at the Crathis—the Crati of Cosenza—here beginning to spread into a sea-marsh; the waters which used to flow over golden sands, which made white the oxen, and sunny-haired the children, that bathed in them, are now lost amid a wilderness poisoned by their own vapours.
The railway station, like all in this region, was set about with eucalyptus. Great bushes of flowering rosemary scented the air, and a fine cassia tree, from which I plucked blossoms, yielded a subtler perfume. Our lunch was not luxurious; I remember only, as at all worthy of Sybaris, a palatable white wine called Muscato dei Saraceni. Appropriate enough amid this vast silence to turn one's thoughts to the Saracens, who are so largely answerable for the ages of desolation that have passed by the Ionian Sea.
Then on for Taranto, where we arrived in the afternoon. Meaning to stay for a week or two I sought a pleasant room in a well-situated hotel, and I found one with a good view of town and harbour. The Taranto of old days, when it was called Taras, or later Tarentum, stood on a long peninsula, which divides a little inland sea from the great sea without. In the Middle Ages the town occupied only the point of this neck of land, which, by the cutting of an artificial channel, had been made into an island: now again it is spreading over the whole of the ancient site; great buildings of yellowish-white stone, as ugly as modern architect can make them, and plainly far in excess of the actual demand for habitations, rise where Phoenicians and Greeks and Romans built after the nobler fashion of their times. One of my windows looked towards the old town, with its long sea-wall where fishermen's nets hung drying, the dome of its Cathedral, the high, squeezed houses, often with gardens on the roofs, and the swing-bridge which links it to the mainland; the other gave me a view across the Mare Piccolo, the Little Sea (it is some twelve miles round about), dotted in many parts with crossed stakes which mark the oyster-beds, and lined on this side with a variety of shipping moored at quays. From some of these vessels, early next morning, sounded suddenly a furious cannonade, which threatened to shatter the windows of the hotel; I found it was in honour of the Queen of Italy, whose festa fell on that day. This barbarous uproar must have sounded even to the Calabrian heights; it struck me as more meaningless in its deafening volley of noise than any note of joy or triumph that could ever have been heard in old Tarentum.
I walked all round the island part of the town; lost myself amid its maze of streets, or alleys rather, for in many places one could touch both sides with outstretched arms, and rested in the Cathedral of S. Cataldo, who, by the bye, was an Irishman. All is strange, but too close-packed to be very striking or beautiful; I found it best to linger on the sea-wall, looking at the two islands in the offing, and over the great gulf with its mountain shore stretching beyond sight. On the rocks below stood fishermen hauling in a great net, whilst a boy splashed the water to drive the fish back until they were safely enveloped in the last meshes; admirable figures, consummate in graceful strength, their bare legs and arms the tone of terra cotta. What slight clothing they wore became them perfectly, as is always the case with a costume well adapted to the natural life of its wearers. Their slow, patient effort speaks of immemorial usage, and it is in harmony with time itself. These fishermen are the primitives of Taranto; who shall say for how many centuries they have hauled their nets upon the rock? When Plato visited the Schools of Taras, he saw the same brown-legged figures, in much the same garb, gathering their sea-harvest. When Hannibal, beset by the Romans, drew his ships across the peninsula and so escaped from the inner sea, fishermen of Tarentum went forth as ever, seeking their daily food. A thousand years passed, and the fury of the Saracens, when it had laid the city low, spared some humble Tarentine and the net by which he lived. To-day the fisher-folk form a colony apart; they speak a dialect which retains many Greek words unknown to the rest of the population. I could not gaze at them long enough; their lithe limbs, their attitudes at work or in repose, their wild, black hair, perpetually reminded me of shapes pictured on a classic vase.
Later in the day I came upon a figure scarcely less impressive. Beyond the new quarter of the town, on the ragged edge of its wide, half-peopled streets, lies a tract of olive orchards and of seed-land; there, alone amid great bare fields, a countryman was ploughing. The wooden plough, as regards its form, might have been thousands of years old; it was drawn by a little donkey, and traced in the soil—the generous southern soil—the merest scratch of a furrow. I could not but approach the man and exchange words with him; his rude but gentle face, his gnarled hands, his rough and scanty vesture, moved me to a deep respect, and when his speech fell upon my ear, it was as though I listened to one of the ancestors of our kind. Stopping in his work, he answered my inquiries with careful civility; certain phrases escaped me, but on the whole he made himself quite intelligible, and was glad, I could see, when my words proved that I understood him. I drew apart, and watched him again. Never have I seen man so utterly patient, so primaevally deliberate. The donkey's method of ploughing was to pull for one minute, and then rest for two; it excited in the ploughman not the least surprise or resentment. Though he held a long stick in his hand, he never made use of it; at each stoppage he contemplated the ass, and then gave utterance to a long "Ah-h-h!" in a note of the most affectionate remonstrance. They were not driver and beast, but comrades in labour. It reposed the mind to look upon them.
Walking onward in the same direction, one approaches a great wall, with gateway sentry-guarded; it is the new Arsenal, the pride of Taranto, and the source of its prosperity. On special as well as on general grounds, I have a grudge against this mass of ugly masonry. I had learnt from Lenormant that at a certain spot, Fontanella, by the shore of the Little Sea, were observable great ancient heaps of murex shells—the murex precious for its purple, that of Tarentum yielding in glory only to the purple of Tyre. I hoped to see these shells, perhaps to carry one away. But Fontanella had vanished, swallowed up, with all remnants of antiquity, by the graceless Arsenal. It matters to no one save the few fantastics who hold a memory of the ancient world dearer than any mechanic triumph of to-day. If only one could believe that the Arsenal signified substantial good to Italy! Too plainly it means nothing but the exhaustion of her people in the service of a base ideal.
The confines of this new town being so vague, much trouble is given to that noble institution, the dazio. Scattered far and wide in a dusty wilderness, stand the little huts of the officers, vigilant on every road or by-way to wring the wretched soldi from toilsome hands. As became their service, I found these gentry anything but amiable; they had commonly an air of ennui, and regarded a stranger with surly suspicion.
When I was back again among the high new houses, my eye, wandering in search of any smallest point of interest, fell on a fresh-painted inscription:—
"ALLA MAGNA GRAECIA. STABILIMENTO IDROELETTROPATICO."
was well meant. At the sign of "Magna Graecia" one is willing to accept "hydroelectropathic" as a late echo of Hellenic speech.
DULCE GALAESI FLUMEN
Taranto has a very interesting Museum. I went there with an introduction to the curator, who spared no trouble in pointing out to me all that was best worth seeing. He and I were alone in the little galleries; at a second or third visit I had the Museum to myself, save for an attendant who seemed to regard a visitor as a pleasant novelty, and bestirred himself for my comfort when I wanted to make sketches. Nothing is charged for admission, yet no one enters. Presumably, all the Tarentines who care for archaeology have already been here, and strangers are few.
Upon the shelves are seen innumerable miniature busts, carved in some kind of stone; thought to be simply portraits of private persons. One peers into the faces of men, women, and children, vaguely conjecturing their date, their circumstances; some of them may have dwelt in the old time on this very spot of ground now covered by the Museum. Like other people who grow too rich and comfortable, the citizens of Tarentum loved mirth and mockery; their Greek theatre was remarkable for irreverent farce, for parodies of the great drama of Athens. And here is testimony to the fact: all manner of comic masks, of grotesque visages; mouths distorted into impossible grins, eyes leering and goggling, noses extravagant. I sketched a caricature of Medusa, the anguished features and snaky locks travestied with satiric grimness. You remember a story which illustrates this scoffing habit: how the Roman Ambassador, whose Greek left something to be desired, excited the uproarious derision of the assembled Tarentines—with results that were no laughing matter.
I used the opportunity of my conversation with the Director of the Museum to ask his aid in discovering the river Galaesus. Who could find himself at Taranto without turning in thought to the Galaesus, and wishing to walk along its banks? Unhappily, one cannot be quite sure of its position. A stream there is, flowing into the Little Sea, which by some is called Galeso; but the country-folk commonly give it the name of Gialtrezze. Of course I turned my steps in that direction, to see and judge for myself.
To skirt the western shore of the Mare Piccolo I had to pass the railway station, and there I made a few inquiries; the official with whom I spoke knew not the name Galeso, but informed me that the Gialtrezze entered the sea at a distance of some three kilometres. That I purposed walking such a distance to see an insignificant stream excited the surprise, even the friendly concern, of my interlocutor; again and again he assured me it was not worth while, repeating emphatically, "Non c'e novita." But I went my foolish way. Of two or three peasants or fishermen on the road I asked the name of the little river I was approaching; they answered, "Gialtrezze." Then came a man carrying a gun, whose smile and greeting invited question. "Can you tell me the name of the stream which flows into the sea just beyond here?" "Signore, it is the Galeso."
My pulse quickened with delight; all the more when I found that my informant had no tincture of the classics, and that he supported Galeso against Gialtrezze simply as a question of local interest. Joyously I took leave of him, and very soon I was in sight of the river itself. The river? It is barely half a mile long; it rises amid a bed of great reeds, which quite conceal the water, and flows with an average breadth of some ten feet down to the seashore, on either side of it bare, dusty fields, and a few hoary olives.
The Galaesus?—the river beloved by Horace; its banks pasturing a famous breed of sheep, with fleece so precious that it was protected by a garment of skins? Certain it is that all the waters of Magna Graecia have much diminished since classic times, but (unless there have been great local changes, due, for example, to an earthquake) this brook had always the same length, and it is hard to think of the Galaesus as so insignificant. Disappointed, brooding, I followed the current seaward, and upon the shore, amid scents of mint and rosemary, sat down to rest.
There was a good view of Taranto across the water; the old town on its little island, compact of white houses, contrasting with the yellowish tints of the great new buildings which spread over the peninsula. With half-closed eyes, one could imagine the true Tarentum. Wavelets lapped upon the sand before me, their music the same as two thousand years ago. A goatherd came along, his flock straggling behind him; man and goats were as much of the old world as of the new. Far away, the boats of fishermen floated silently. I heard a rustle as an old fig tree hard by dropped its latest leaves. On the sea-bank of yellow crumbling earth lizards flashed about me in the sunshine. After a dull morning, the day had passed into golden serenity; a stillness as of eternal peace held earth and sky.
"Dearest of all to me is that nook of earth which yields not to Hymettus for its honey, nor for its olive to green Venafrum; where heaven grants a long springtime and warmth in winter, and in the sunny hollows Bacchus fosters a vintage noble as the Falernian——" The lines of Horace sang in my head; I thought, too, of the praise of Virgil, who, tradition has it, wrote his Eclogues hereabouts. Of course, the country has another aspect, in spring and early summer; I saw it at a sad moment; but, all allowance made for seasons, it is still with wonder that one recalls the rapture of the poets. A change beyond conception must have come upon these shores of the Ionian Sea. The scent of rosemary seemed to be wafted across the ages from a vanished world.
After all, who knows whether I have seen the Galaesus? Perhaps, as some hold, it is quite another river, flowing far to the west of Taranto into the open gulf. Gialtrezze may have become Galeso merely because of the desire in scholars to believe that it was the classic stream; in other parts of Italy names have been so imposed. But I shall not give ear to such discouraging argument. It is little likely that my search will ever be renewed, and for me the Galaesus—"dulce Galaesi flumen"—is the stream I found and tracked, whose waters I heard mingle with the Little Sea. The memory has no sense of disappointment. Those reeds which rustle about the hidden source seem to me fit shelter of a Naiad; I am glad I could not see the water bubbling in its spring, for there remains a mystery. Whilst I live, the Galaesus purls and glistens in the light of that golden afternoon, and there beyond, across the blue still depths, glimmers a vision of Tarentum.
Let Taranto try as it will to be modern and progressive, there is a retarding force which shows little sign of being overcome—the profound superstition of the people. A striking episode of street life reminded me how near akin were the southern Italians of to-day to their predecessors in what are called the dark ages; nay, to those more illustrious ancestors who were so ready to believe that an ox had uttered an oracle, or that a stone had shed blood. Somewhere near the swing-bridge, where undeniable steamships go and come between the inner and the outer sea, I saw a crowd gathered about a man who was exhibiting a picture and expounding its purport; every other minute the male listeners doffed their hats, and the females bowed and crossed themselves. When I had pressed near enough to hear the speaker, I found he was just finishing a wonderful story, in which he himself might or might not have faith, but which plainly commanded the credit of his auditors. Having closed his narrative, the fellow began to sell it in printed form—little pamphlets with a rude illustration on the cover. I bought the thing for a soldo, and read it as I walked away.
A few days ago—thus, after a pious exordium, the relation began—in that part of Italy called Marca, there came into a railway station a Capuchin friar of grave, thoughtful, melancholy aspect, who besought the station-master to allow him to go without ticket by the train just starting, as he greatly desired to reach the Sanctuary of Loreto that day, and had no money to pay his fare The official gave a contemptuous refusal, and paid no heed to the entreaties of the friar, who urged all manner of religious motives for the granting of his request. The two engines on the train (which was a very long one) seemed about to steam away—but, behold, con grande stupore di tutti, the waggons moved not at all! Presently a third engine was put on, but still all efforts to start the train proved useless. Alone of the people who viewed this inexplicable event, the friar showed no astonishment; he remarked calmly, that so long as he was refused permission to travel by it, the train would not stir. At length un ricco signore found a way out of the difficulty by purchasing the friar a third-class ticket; with a grave reproof to the station-master, the friar took his seat, and the train went its way.
But the matter, of course, did not end here. Indignant and amazed, and wishing to be revenged upon that frataccio, the station-master telegraphed to Loreto, that in a certain carriage of a certain train was travelling a friar, whom it behoved the authorities to arrest for having hindered the departure of the said train for fifteen minutes, and also for the offense of mendicancy within a railway station. Accordingly, the Loreto police sought the offender, but, in the compartment where he had travelled, found no person; there, however, lay a letter couched in these terms: "He who was in this waggon under the guise of a humble friar, has now ascended into the arms of his Santissima Madre Maria. He wished to make known to the world how easy it is for him to crush the pride of unbelievers, or to reward those who respect religion."
Nothing more was discoverable; wherefore the learned of the Church—i dotti della chiesa—came to the conclusion that under the guise of a friar there had actually appeared "N. S. G. C." The Supreme Pontiff and his prelates had not yet delivered a judgment in the matter, but there could be no sort of doubt that they would pronounce the authenticity of the miracle. With a general assurance that the good Christian will be saved and the unrepentant will be damned, this remarkable little pamphlet came to an end. Much verbiage I have omitted, but the translation, as far as it goes, is literal. Doubtless many a humble Tarentine spelt it through that evening, with boundless wonder, and thought such an intervention of Providence worthy of being talked about, until the next stabbing case in his street provided a more interesting topic.
Possibly some malevolent rationalist might note that the name of the railway station where this miracle befell was nowhere mentioned. Was it not open to him to go and make inquiries at Loreto?
THE TABLE OF THE PALADINS
For two or three days a roaring north wind whitened the sea with foam; it kept the sky clear, and from morning to night there was magnificent sunshine, but, none the less, one suffered a good deal from cold. The streets were barer than ever; only in the old town, where high, close walls afforded a good deal of shelter, was there a semblance of active life. But even here most of the shops seemed to have little, if any, business; frequently I saw the tradesman asleep in a chair, at any hour of daylight. Indeed, it must be very difficult to make the day pass at Taranto. I noticed that, as one goes southward in Italy, the later do ordinary people dine; appetite comes slowly in this climate. Between colazione at midday and pranzo at eight, or even half-past, what an abysm of time! Of course, the Tarantine never reads; the only bookshop I could discover made a poorer display than even that at Cosenza—it was not truly a bookseller's at all, but a fancy stationer's. How the women spend their lives one may vainly conjecture. Only on Sunday did I see a few of them about the street; they walked to and from Mass, with eyes on the ground, and all the better-dressed of them wore black.
When the weather fell calm again, and there was pleasure in walking, I chanced upon a trace of the old civilization which interested me more than objects ranged in a museum. Rambling eastward along the outer shore, in the wilderness which begins as soon as the town has disappeared, I came to a spot as uninviting as could be imagined, great mounds of dry rubbish, evidently deposited here by the dust-carts of Taranto; luckily, I continued my walk beyond this obstacle, and after a while became aware that I had entered upon a road—a short piece of well-marked road, which began and ended in the mere waste. A moment's examination, and I saw that it was no modern by-way. The track was clean-cut in living rock, its smooth, hard surface lined with two parallel ruts nearly a foot deep; it extended for some twenty yards without a break, and further on I discovered less perfect bits. Here, manifestly, was the seaside approach to Tarentum, to Taras, perhaps to the Phoenician city which came before them. Ages must have passed since vehicles used this way; the modern high road is at some distance inland, and one sees at a glance that this witness of ancient traffic has remained by Time's sufferance in a desert region. Wonderful was the preservation of the surface: the angles at the sides, where the road had been cut down a little below the rock-level, were sharp and clean as if carved yesterday, and the profound ruts, worn, perhaps, before Rome had come to her power, showed the grinding of wheels with strange distinctness. From this point there is an admirable view of Taranto, the sea, and the mountains behind.
Of the ancient town there remains hardly anything worthy of being called a ruin. Near the shore, however, one can see a few remnants of a theatre—perhaps that theatre where the Tarentines were sitting when they saw Roman galleys, in scorn of treaty, sailing up the Gulf.
My last evenings were brightened by very beautiful sunsets; one in particular remains with me; I watched it for an hour or more from the terrace-road of the island town. An exquisite after-glow seemed as if it would never pass away. Above thin, grey clouds stretching along the horizon a purple flush melted insensibly into the dark blue of the zenith. Eastward the sky was piled with lurid rack, sullen-tinted folds edged with the hue of sulphur. The sea had a strange aspect, curved tracts of pale blue lying motionless upon a dark expanse rippled by the wind. Below me, as I leaned on the sea-wall, a fisherman's boat crept duskily along the rocks, a splash of oars soft-sounding in the stillness. I looked to the far Calabrian hills, now scarce distinguishable from horizon cloud, and wondered what chances might await me in the unknown scenes of my further travel.
The long shore of the Ionian Sea suggested many a halting-place. Best of all, I should have liked to swing a wallet on my shoulder and make the whole journey on foot; but this for many reasons was impossible. I could only mark points of the railway where some sort of food or lodging might be hoped for, and the first of these stoppages was Metaponto.
Official time-bills of the month marked a train for Metaponto at 4.56 A.M., and this I decided to take, as it seemed probable that I might find a stay of some hours sufficient, and so be able to resume my journey before night. I asked the waiter to call me at a quarter to four. In the middle of the night (as it seemed to me) I was aroused by a knocking, and the waiter's voice called to me that, if I wished to leave early for Metaponto, I had better get up at once, as the departure of the train had been changed to 4.15—it was now half-past three. There ensued an argument, sustained, on my side, rather by the desire to stay in bed this cold morning than by any faith in the reasonableness of the railway company. There must be a mistake! The orario for the month gave 4.56, and how could the time of a train be changed without public notice? Changed it was, insisted the waiter; it had happened a few days ago, and they had only heard of it at the hotel this very morning. Angry and uncomfortable, I got my clothes on, and drove to the station, where I found that a sudden change in the time-table, without any regard for persons relying upon the official guide, was taken as a matter of course. In chilly darkness I bade farewell to Taranto.
At a little after six, when palest dawn was shimmering on the sea, I found myself at Metaponto, with no possibility of doing anything for a couple of hours. Metaponto is a railway station, that and nothing more, and, as a station also calls itself a hotel, I straightway asked for a room, and there dozed until sunshine improved my humour and stirred my appetite. The guidebook had assured me of two things: that a vehicle could be had here for surveying the district, and that, under cover behind the station, one would find a little collection of antiquities unearthed hereabout. On inquiry, I found that no vehicle, and no animal capable of being ridden, existed at Metaponto; also that the little museum had been transferred to Naples. It did not pay to keep the horse, they told me; a stranger asked for it only "once in a hundred years." However, a lad was forthcoming who would guide me to the ruins. I breakfasted (the only thing tolerable being the wine), and we set forth.
It was a walk of some two or three miles, by a cart road, through fields just being ploughed for grain. All about lay a level or slightly rolling country, which in winter becomes a wilderness of mud; dry traces of vast slough and occasional stagnant pools showed what the state of things would be a couple of months hence. The properties were divided by hedges of agave—huge growths, grandly curving their sword-pointed leaves. Its companion, the spiny cactus, writhed here and there among juniper bushes and tamarisks. Along the wayside rose tall, dead thistles, white with age, their great cluster of seed-vessels showing how fine the flower had been. Above our heads, peewits were wheeling and crying, and lizards swarmed on the hard, cracked ground.
We passed a few ploughmen, with white oxen yoked to labour. Ploughing was a fit sight at Metapontum, famous of old for the richness of its soil; in token whereof the city dedicated at Delphi its famous Golden Sheaf. It is all that remains of life on this part of the coast; the city had sunk into ruin before the Christian era, and was never rebuilt. Later, the shore was too dangerous for habitation. Of all the cities upon the Ionian Sea, only Tarentum and Croton continued to exist through the Middle Ages, for they alone occupied a position strong for defence against pirates and invaders. A memory of the Saracen wars lingers in the name borne by the one important relic of Metapontum, the Tavola de' Paladini; to this my guide was conducting me.
It is the ruin of a temple to an unknown god, which stood at some distance north of the ancient city; two parallel rows of columns, ten on one side, five on the other, with architrave all but entire, and a basement shattered. The fine Doric capitals are well preserved; the pillars themselves, crumbling under the tooth of time, seem to support with difficulty their noble heads. This monument must formerly have been very impressive amid the wide landscape; but, a few years ago, for protection against peasant depredators, a wall ten feet high was built close around the columns, so that no good view of them is any longer obtainable. To the enclosure admission is obtained through an iron gateway with a lock. I may add, as a picturesque detail, that the lock has long been useless; my guide simply pushed the gate open. Thus, the ugly wall serves no purpose whatever save to detract from the beauty of the scene.
Vegetation is thick within the temple precincts; a flowering rose bush made contrast of its fresh and graceful loveliness with the age-worn strength of these great carved stones. About their base grew luxuriantly a plant which turned my thoughts for a moment to rural England, the round-leaved pennywort. As I lingered here, there stirred in me something of that deep emotion which I felt years ago amid the temples of Paestum. Of course, this obstructed fragment holds no claim to comparison with Paestum's unique glory, but here, as there, one is possessed by the pathos of immemorial desolation; amid a silence which the voice has no power to break, nature's eternal vitality triumphs over the greatness of forgotten men.
At a distance of some three miles from this temple there lies a little lake, or a large pond, which would empty itself into the sea but for a piled barrier of sand and shingle. This was the harbour of Metapontum.
I passed the day in rambling and idling, and returned for a meal at the station just before train-time. The weather could not have been more enjoyable; a soft breeze and cloudless blue. For the last half-hour I lay in a hidden corner of the eucalyptus grove—trying to shape in fancy some figure of old Pythagoras. He died here (says story) in 497 B.C.—broken-hearted at the failure of his efforts to make mankind gentle and reasonable. In 1897 A.D. that hope had not come much nearer to its realization. Italians are yet familiar with the name of the philosopher, for it is attached to the multiplication table, which they call tavola pitagorica. What, in truth, do we know of him? He is a type of aspiring humanity; a sweet and noble figure, moving as a dim radiance through legendary Hellas. The English reader hears his name with a smile, recalling only the mention of him, in mellow mirth, by England's greatest spirit. "What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?" Whereto replies the much-offended Malvolio: "That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird." He of the crossed garters disdains such fantasy. "I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion."
I took my ticket for Cotrone, which once was Croton. At Croton, Pythagoras enjoyed his moment's triumph, ruling men to their own behoof. At Croton grew up a school of medicine which glorified Magna Graecia. "Healthier than Croton," said a proverb; for the spot was unsurpassed in salubrity; beauty and strength distinguished its inhabitants, who boasted their champion Milon. After the fall of Sybaris, Croton became so populous that its walls encircled twelve miles. Hither came Zeuxis, to adorn with paintings the great temple of Hera on the Lacinian promontory; here he made his picture of Helen, with models chosen from the loveliest maidens of the city. I was light-hearted with curious anticipation as I entered the train for Cotrone.
While daylight lasted, the moving landscape held me attentive. This part of the coast is more varied, more impressive, than between Taranto and Metaponto. For the most part a shaggy wilderness, the ground lies in strangely broken undulations, much hidden with shrub and tangled boscage. At the falling of dusk we passed a thickly-wooded tract large enough to be called a forest; the great trees looked hoary with age, and amid a jungle of undergrowth, myrtle and lentisk, arbutus and oleander, lay green marshes, dull deep pools, sluggish streams. A spell which was half fear fell upon the imagination; never till now had I known an enchanted wood. Nothing human could wander in those pathless shades, by those dead waters. It was the very approach to the world of spirits; over this woodland, seen on the verge of twilight, brooded a silent awe, such as Dante knew in his selva oscura.
Of a sudden the dense foliage was cleft; there opened a broad alley between drooping boughs, and in the deep hollow, bordered with sand and stones, a flood rolled eastward. This river is now called Sinno; it was the ancient Sins, whereon stood the city of the same name. In the seventh century before Christ, Sins was lauded as the richest city in the world; for luxury it outrivalled Sybaris.
I had recently been reading Lenormant's description of the costumes of Magna Graecia prior to the Persian wars. Sins, a colony from Ionia, still kept its Oriental style of dress. Picture a man in a long, close-clinging tunic which descended to his feet, either of fine linen, starched and pleated, or of wool, falling foldless, enriched with embroidery and adorned with bands of gay-coloured geometric patterns; over this a wrap (one may say) of thick wool, tight round the bust and leaving the right arm uncovered, or else a more ample garment, elaborately decorated like the long tunic. Complete the picture with a head ornately dressed, on the brow a fringe of ringlets; the long hair behind held together by gold wire spirally wound; above, a crowning fillet, with a jewel set in the front; the beard cut to a point, and the upper lip shaven. You behold the citizen of these Hellenic colonies in their stately prime.
Somewhere in that enchanted forest, where the wild vine trails from tree to tree, where birds and creatures of the marshy solitude haunt their ancient home, lie buried the stones of Sins.
Night hid from me the scenes that followed. Darkling, I passed again through the station called Sybaris, and on and on by the sea-shore, the sound of breakers often audible. From time to time I discerned black mountain masses against a patch of grey sky, or caught a glimpse of blanching wave, or felt my fancy thrill as a stray gleam from the engine fire revealed for a moment another trackless wood. Often the hollow rumbling of the train told me that we were crossing a bridge; the stream beneath it bore, perhaps, a name in legend or in history. A wind was rising; at the dim little stations I heard it moan and buffet, and my carriage, where all through the journey I sat alone, seemed the more comfortable. Rain began to fall, and when, about ten o'clock, I alighted at Cotrone, the night was loud with storm.
There was but one vehicle at the station, a shabby, creaking, mud-plastered sort of coach, into which I bundled together with two travellers of the kind called commercial—almost the only species of traveller I came across during these southern wanderings. A long time was spent in stowing freightage which, after all, amounted to very little; twice, thrice, four, and perhaps five times did we make a false start, followed by uproarious vociferation, and a jerk which tumbled us passengers all together. The gentlemen of commerce rose to wild excitement, and roundly abused the driver; as soon as we really started, their wrath changed to boisterous gaiety. On we rolled, pitching and tossing, mid darkness and tempest, until, through the broken window, a sorry illumination of oil-lamps showed us one side of a colonnaded street. "Bologna! Bologna!" cried my companions, mocking at this feeble reminiscence of their fat northern town. The next moment we pulled up, our bruised bodies colliding vigorously for the last time; it was the Albergo Concordia.
A dark stone staircase, yawning under the colonnade; on the first landing an open doorway; within, a long corridor, doors of bedrooms on either side, and in a room at the far end a glimpse of a tablecloth. This was the hotel, the whole of it. As soon as I grasped the situation, it was clear to me why my fellow travellers had entered with a rush and flung themselves into rooms; there might, perchance, be only one or two chambers vacant, and I knew already that Cotrone offered no other decent harbourage. Happily I did not suffer for my lack of experience; after trying one or two doors in vain, I found a sleeping-place which seemed to be unoccupied, and straightway took possession of it. No one appeared to receive the arriving guests. Feeling very hungry, I went into the room at the end of the passage, where I had seen a tablecloth; a wretched lamp burned on the wall, but only after knocking, stamping, and calling did I attract attention; then issued from some mysterious region a stout, slatternly, sleepy woman, who seemed surprised at my demand for food, but at length complied with it. I was to have better acquaintance with my hostess of the Concordia before I quitted Cotrone.
Next morning the wind still blew, but the rain was over; I could begin my rambles. Like the old town of Taranto, Cotrone occupies the site of the ancient acropolis, a little headland jutting into the sea; above, and in front of the town itself, stands the castle built by Charles V., with immense battlements looking over the harbour. From a road skirting the shore around the base of the fortress one views a wide bay, bounded to the north by the dark flanks of Sila (I was in sight of the Black Mountain once more), and southwards by a long low promontory, its level slowly declining to the far-off point where it ends amid the waves. On this Cape I fixed my eyes, straining them until it seemed to me that I distinguished something, a jutting speck against the sky, at its farthest point. Then I used my field-glass, and at once the doubtful speck became a clearly visible projection, much like a lighthouse. It is a Doric column, some five-and-twenty feet high; the one pillar that remains of the great temple of Hera, renowned through all the Hellenic world, and sacred still when the goddess had for centuries borne a Latin name. "Colonna" is the ordinary name of the Cape; but it is also known as Capo di Nau, a name which preserves the Greek word naos (temple).
I planned for the morrow a visit to this spot, which is best reached by sea. To-day great breakers were rolling upon the strand, and all the blue of the bay was dashed with white foam; another night would, I hoped, bring calm, and then the voyage! Dis aliter visum.
A little fleet of sailing vessels and coasting steamers had taken refuge within the harbour, which is protected by a great mole. A good haven; the only one, indeed, between Taranto and Reggio, but it grieves one to remember that the mighty blocks built into the sea-barrier came from that fallen temple. We are told that as late as the sixteenth century the building remained all but perfect, with eight-and-forty pillars, rising there above the Ionian Sea; a guide to sailors, even as when AEneas marked it on his storm-tossed galley. Then it was assailed, cast down, ravaged by a Bishop of Cotrone, one Antonio Lucifero, to build his episcopal palace. Nearly three hundred years later, after the terrible earthquake of 1783, Cotrone strengthened her harbour with the great stones of the temple basement. It was a more legitimate pillage.
Driven inland by the gale, I wandered among low hills which overlook the town. Their aspect is very strange, for they consist entirely—on the surface, at all events—of a yellowish-grey mud, dried hard, and as bare as the high road. A few yellow hawkweeds, a few camomiles, grew in hollows here and there; but of grass not a blade. It is easy to make a model of these Crotonian hills. Shape a solid mound of hard-pressed sand, and then, from the height of a foot or two, let water trickle down upon it; the perpendicular ridges and furrows thus formed upon the miniature hill represent exactly what I saw here on a larger scale. Moreover, all the face of the ground is minutely cracked and wrinkled; a square foot includes an incalculable multitude of such meshes. Evidently this is the work of hot sun on moisture; but when was it done? For they tell me that it rains very little at Cotrone, and only a deluge could moisten this iron soil. Here and there I came upon yet more striking evidence of waterpower; great holes on the hillside, generally funnel-shaped, and often deep enough to be dangerous to the careless walker. The hills are round-topped, and parted one from another by gully or ravine, shaped, one cannot but think, by furious torrents. A desolate landscape, and scarcely bettered when one turned to look over the level which spreads north of the town; one discovers patches of foliage, indeed, the dark perennial verdure of the south; but no kindly herb clothes the soil. In springtime, it seems, there is a growth of grass, very brief, but luxuriant. That can only be on the lower ground; these furrowed heights declare a perpetual sterility.
What has become of the ruins of Croton? This squalid little town of to-day has nothing left from antiquity. Yet a city bounded with a wall of twelve miles circumference is not easily swept from the face of the earth. Bishop Lucifer, wanting stones for his palace, had to go as far as the Cape Colonna; then, as now, no block of Croton remained. Nearly two hundred years before Christ the place was forsaken. Rome colonized it anew, and it recovered an obscure life as a place of embarkation for Greece, its houses occupying only the rock of the ancient citadel. Were there at that date any remnants of the great Greek city?—still great only two centuries before. Did all go to the building of Roman dwellings and temples and walls, which since have crumbled or been buried?
We are told that the river AEsarus flowed through the heart of the city at its prime. I looked over the plain, and yonder, towards the distant railway station, I descried a green track, the course of the all but stagnant and wholly pestilential stream, still called Esaro. Near its marshy mouth are wide orange orchards. Could one but see in vision the harbour, the streets, the vast encompassing wall! From the eminence where I stood, how many a friend and foe of Croton has looked down upon its shining ways, peopled with strength and beauty and wisdom! Here Pythagoras may have walked, glancing afar at the Lacinian sanctuary, then new built.
Lenormant is eloquent on the orange groves of Cotrone. In order to visit them, permission was necessary, and presently I made my way to the town hall, to speak with the Sindaco (Mayor) and request his aid in this matter. Without difficulty I was admitted. In a well-furnished office sat two stout gentlemen, smoking cigars, very much at their ease; the Sindaco bade me take a chair, and scrutinized me with doubtful curiosity as I declared my business. Yes, to be sure he could admit me to see his own orchard; but why did I wish to see it? My reply that I had no interest save in the natural beauty of the place did not convince him; he saw in me a speculator of some kind. That was natural enough. In all the south of Italy, money is the one subject of men's thoughts; intellectual life does not exist; there is little even of what we should call common education. Those who have wealth cling to it fiercely; the majority have neither time nor inclination to occupy themselves with anything but the earning of a livelihood which for multitudes signifies the bare appeasing of hunger.
Seeing the Sindaco's embarrassment, his portly friend began to question me; good-humouredly enough, but in such a fat bubbling voice (made more indistinct by the cigar he kept in his mouth) that with difficulty I understood him. What was I doing at Cotrone? I endeavoured to explain that Cotrone greatly interested me. Ha! Cotrone interested me? Really? Now what did I find interesting at Cotrone? I spoke of historic associations. The Sindaco and his friend exchanged glances, smiled in a puzzled, tolerant, half-pitying way, and decided that my request might be granted. In another minute I withdrew, carrying half a sheet of note-paper on which were scrawled in pencil a few words, followed by the proud signature "Berlinghieri." When I had deciphered the scrawl, I found it was an injunction to allow me to view a certain estate "senza nulla toccare"—without touching anything. So a doubt still lingered in the dignitary's mind.
Cotrone has no vehicle plying for hire—save that in which I arrived at the hotel. I had to walk in search of the orange orchard, all along the straight dusty road leading to the station. For a considerable distance this road is bordered on both sides by warehouses of singular appearance. They have only a ground floor, and the front wall is not more than ten feet high, but their low roofs, sloping to the ridge at an angle of about thirty degrees, cover a great space. The windows are strongly barred, and the doors show immense padlocks of elaborate construction. The goods warehoused here are chiefly wine and oil, oranges and liquorice. (A great deal of liquorice grows around the southern gulf.) At certain moments, indicated by the markets at home or abroad, these stores are conveyed to the harbour, and shipped away. For the greater part of the year the houses stand as I saw them, locked, barred, and forsaken: a street where any sign of life is exceptional; an odd suggestion of the English Sunday in a land that knows not such observance.
Crossing the Esaro, I lingered on the bridge to gaze at its green, muddy water, not visibly flowing at all. The high reeds which half concealed it carried my thoughts back to the Galaesus. But the comparison is all in favour of the Tarentine stream. Here one could feel nothing but a comfortless melancholy; the scene is too squalid, the degradation too complete.
Of course, no one looked at the permesso with which I presented myself at the entrance to the orchard. From a tumbling house, which we should call the lodge, came forth (after much shouting on my part) an aged woman, who laughed at the idea that she should be asked to read anything, and bade me walk wherever I liked. I strayed at pleasure, meeting only a lean dog, which ran fearfully away. The plantation was very picturesque; orange trees by no means occupied all the ground, but mingled with pomegranates and tamarisks and many evergreen shrubs of which I knew not the name; whilst here and there soared a magnificent stone pine. The walks were bordered with giant cactus, now and again so fantastic in their growth that I stood to wonder; and in an open space upon the bank of the Esaro (which stagnates through the orchard) rose a majestic palm, its leaves stirring heavily in the wind which swept above. Picturesque, abundantly; but these beautiful tree-names, which waft a perfume of romance, are like to convey a false impression to readers who have never seen the far south; it is natural to think of lovely nooks, where one might lie down to rest and dream; there comes a vision of soft turf under the golden-fruited boughs—"places of nestling green for poets made." Alas! the soil is bare and lumpy as a ploughed field, and all the leafage that hangs low is thick with a clayey dust. One cannot rest or loiter or drowse; no spot in all the groves where by any possibility one could sit down. After rambling as long as I chose, I found that a view of the orchard from outside was more striking than the picture amid the trees themselves. Senza nulla toccare, I went my way.
FACES BY THE WAY
The wind could not roar itself out. Through the night it kept awaking me, and on the morrow I found a sea foamier than ever; impossible to reach the Colonna by boat, and almost so, I was assured, to make the journey by land in such weather as this. Perforce I waited.
A cloudless sky; broad sunshine, warm as in an English summer; but the roaring tramontana was disagreeably chill. No weather could be more perilous to health. The people of Cotrone, those few of them who did not stay at home or shelter in the porticoes, went about heavily cloaked, and I wondered at their ability to wear such garments under so hot a sun. Theoretically aware of the danger I was running, but, in fact, thinking little about it, I braved the wind and the sunshine all day long; my sketch-book gained by it, and my store of memories. First of all, I looked into the Cathedral, an ugly edifice, as uninteresting within as without. Like all the churches in Calabria, it is white-washed from door to altar, pillars no less than walls—a cold and depressing interior. I could see no picture of the least merit; one, a figure of Christ with hideous wounds, was well-nigh as repulsive as painting could be. This vile realism seems to indicate Spanish influence. There is a miniature copy in bronze of the statue of the chief Apostle in St. Peter's at Rome, and beneath it an inscription making known to the faithful that, by order of Leo XIII. in 1896, an Indulgence of three hundred days is granted to whosoever kisses the bronze toe and says a prayer. Familiar enough this unpretentious announcement, yet it never fails of its little shock to the heretic mind. Whilst I was standing near, a peasant went through the mystic rite; to judge from his poor malaria-stricken countenance, he prayed very earnestly, and I hope his Indulgence benefited him. Probably he repeated a mere formula learnt by heart. I wished he could have prayed spontaneously for three hundred days of wholesome and sufficient food, and for as many years of honest, capable government in his heavy-burdened country.
When travelling, I always visit the burial-ground; I like to see how a people commemorates its dead, for tombstones have much significance. The cemetery of Cotrone lies by the sea-shore, at some distance beyond the port, far away from habitations; a bare hillside looks down upon its graves, and the road which goes by is that leading to Cape Colonna. On the way I passed a little ruined church, shattered, I was told, by an earthquake three years before; its lonely position made it interesting, and the cupola of coloured tiles (like that of the Cathedral at Amalfi) remained intact, a bright spot against the grey hills behind. A high enclosing wall signalled the cemetery; I rang a bell at the gate and was admitted by a man of behaviour and language much more refined than is common among the people of this region; I felt sorry, indeed, that I had not found him seated in the Sindaco's chair that morning. But as guide to the burial-ground he was delightful. Nine years, he told me, he had held the post of custodian, in which time, working with his own hands, and unaided, he had turned the enclosure from a wretched wilderness into a beautiful garden. Unaffectedly I admired the results of his labour, and my praise rejoiced him greatly. He specially requested me to observe the geraniums; there were ten species, many of them of extraordinary size and with magnificent blossoms. Roses I saw, too, in great abundance; and tall snapdragons, and bushes of rosemary, and many flowers unknown to me. As our talk proceeded the gardener gave me a little light on his own history; formerly he was valet to a gentleman of Cotrone, with whom he had travelled far and wide over Europe; yes, even to London, of which he spoke with expressively wide eyes, and equally expressive shaking of the head. That any one should journey from Calabria to England seemed to him intelligible enough; but he marvelled that I had thought it worth while to come from England to Calabria. Very rarely indeed could he show his garden to one from a far-off country; no, the place was too poor, accommodation too rough; there needed a certain courage, and he laughed, again shaking his head.
The ordinary graves were marked with a small wooden cross; where a head-stone had been raised, it generally presented a skull and crossed bones. Round the enclosure stood a number of mortuary chapels, gloomy and ugly. An exception to this dull magnificence in death was a marble slab, newly set against the wall, in memory of a Lucifero—one of that family, still eminent, to which belonged the sacrilegious bishop. The design was a good imitation of those noble sepulchral tablets which abound in the museum at Athens; a figure taking leave of others as if going on a journey. The Lucifers had shown good taste in their choice of the old Greek symbol; no better adornment of a tomb has ever been devised, nor one that is half so moving. At the foot of the slab was carved a little owl (civetta), a bird, my friend informed me, very common about here.