justice_turtle: Image of the TARDIS in a field on a sunny day (we need electricity)
justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-07-15 01:01 am

Newbery Honor: The Boy Who Was (Grace Taber Hallock), Part 3 and final

Okay, when we left Nino and the artist last week, they were looking at the little wooden statues Nino has carved representing notable figures in the Sorrento coast's history. We'd seen the Sirens, some Phoenicians, Odysseus - I note in passing that this book adheres to the then-current idea which set the wanderings of Odysseus all over the Mediterranean, rather than putting them mainly on the logical travel route back from Troy to Ithaca as Tim Severin's Ulysses Voyage, published in 1987, suggests - and Poseidon.

* Next comes the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who had his vacation house on nearby Capri. We hear that it's said he used to throw prisoners over the cliffs there, but also that this is a lie made up by his political enemies, of whom he had many. I've got to check this. *sigh* I AM NEVER FINISHING THIS BOOK, am I? O_O

* Okay, all this is from Wiki. According to Tacitus, Tiberius did historically retire from Rome to Capri in A.D. 26, leaving one Sejanus (who eventually tried to usurp the imperial throne) to do the actual ruling in Rome. Tacitus further claims that after Sejanus's execution for the usurpation thing, Tiberius went on a rampage of trying people for treason, and wiped out many of the political rivals Sejanus hadn't already taken out -- but modern historian Edward Togo Salmon challenged these claims in a book first published in 1944. I don't have time to root around and see if they were already being challenged in 1929.

* Also from Wiki: Suetonius records "rumors" of Tiberius's decadent and paranoid life in Capri, in his Lives of Twelve Caesars. Someone called Andrew Wallace-Hadrill writing in 1984 asserted that these rumors were "heavily sensationalized" and inaccurate. I have no idea what current scholarship said in 1929; I could be dealing here with either accurate current scholarship or a form of Whitewash ALL The Authority Figures. ;P

* Next comes a little Jewish slave girl who once lived in Pompeii, which seems oddly specific if I wasn't beginning to suspect that the rest of this book is going to consist of short-stories centred around each of Nino's figurines, and then a Byzantine soldier who shall have silvery armor. Following him are a big blond Goth who will fight against the Byzantines, then a Norman soldier named Robert the Wise. Next are two Saracens - "Saracens are brown", says Nino, which is the second instance of Fierce People being specifically mentioned as Brown in this list while the skin color of Greeks, Italians, and Byzantines is passed over in silence... o_O *koff koff*

* Next there is a boy from the Children's Crusade, blond with blue eyes like our Goth and Norman. "Buttercup yellow" hair and "periwinkle blue" eyes, forsooth! O_O

* Emperor Frederick II of the House of Hohenstaufen. I don't know if I've heard of him or not? *checks* Okay, only in passing. He was a grandson of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and I think he sacked Monte Cassino in 1230 - at least, a life of St Thomas Aquinas that I once read said he did. Wiki doesn't mention it.

* Nino tells us that Frederick went on a crusade but "didn't like it", and that after he died, the Pope had the French evict the Hohenstaufens from Italy. Our next figurine is Charles of Anjou, the relevant French commander, who has a golden crown and purple clothes because he ruled the Hohenstaufen lands as a king.

* The locals disliked the French, and someone called Lord John of Procida schemed (according to Nino) and diplomatted (according to Wiki) against the French in favor of the Hohenstaufens. Nino carved him disguised as a monk.

* Okay, and there's more than one Barbarossa in history! That makes more sense. Nino has a figure of "Barbarossa the Turk", who... oh dear... may be either Oruç Reis, who helped his fellow Muslims flee Spain during the Inquisition and received the affectionate nickname Baba Oruç (Papa Oruç) which was italianized "Barbarossa", or his younger brother Hayreddin Barbarossa who inherited the nickname after Baba Oruç was killed fighting the Spanish in North Africa! Whichever Barbarossa I'm dealing with, he "was wicked" (thank you for that value judgment, Nino ;P), the evidence being that he "tried to sack Amalfi". Best I can figure, this would be Hayreddin Barbarossa in 1526, but since the brothers pirated extensively all over the Mediterranean, it's hard to tell.

* My opinion of this book's attitude toward race is going farther and farther downhill. But I'm learning so much! I didn't even know half these people existed.

* (A throwaway line in Hayreddin's Wiki article remarks that the Barbarossa brothers took to privateering "to counteract the privateering of the Knights Hospitallers, based out of Malta until 1522". WHY DOES NOBODY EVER TELL ME THESE STORIES. The Christian-vs-Muslim Pirate Wars of the Mediterranean! Tell me there's a scholarly unbiased book. There has to be a book. Please? :S)

* Anyway. Next we have some fierce Italian bandits in black hats, and finally a figurine Nino has not quite finished carving - Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for Italian independence in the mid-to-late 1800s. Nino is very reverential about him.

* Finally, the artist pulls out his paintbox and says he will start painting the figurines, beginning with the sirens; Nino remarks that "It all began with the sirens". End prologue, begin Chapter 1.

* (I have done math and I need to do 50-63 pages a day to get both these books done in time. Okay then.)

* Chapter 1 is called "Siren Songs". It opens about 3,000 years ago, when a boy of Nino's description is sitting on the seashore chucking pebbles into the water. He calls "Wake up, Parthenope, and sing me a song." Parthenope is a traditional name of one of the Sirens, and indeed, a Siren comes up out of the water and says "You are a bold boy. What shall I sing about?"

* Nino, if you are Nino - what is this. I... presume you're not going to die? Because you're alive 3,000 years later? I'm... guessing you're going to wind up... living forever for some reason? Instead of DYING like everyone else who listens to siren song without being tied up?

* ...also weren't the sirens, um, seductresses? Which adds a deep layer of squick to Nino's casual "sing me a song". *double-checks*

* ...no, they were companions of Persephone when she was abducted by Hades. A modern analyst named Jane Ellen Harrison notes specifically that the lure of the Sirens is not fleshly. The most popular translations of the Odyssey on Project Gutenberg give us these versions of their song:

"No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song—and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world." (Samuel Butler prose translation, Book XII, page 102)

"Blest is the man ordain'd our voice to hear,
The song instructs the soul, and charms the ear.
Approach! thy soul shall into raptures rise!
Approach! and learn new wisdom from the wise!
We know whate'er the kings of mighty name
Achieved at Ilion in the field of fame;
Whate'er beneath the sun's bright journey lies.
Oh stay, and learn new wisdom from the wise!"
(Alexander Pope's verse translation, Book XII)

"Here stay thy course, and listen to our lay!
These shores none passes in his sable ship
Till, first, the warblings of our voice he hear,
Then, happier hence and wiser he departs.
All that the Greeks endured, and all the ills
Inflicted by the Gods on Troy, we know,
Know all that passes on the boundless earth."
(William Cowper's verse translation, Book XII, lines 219-225)

So the temptation of the Sirens is knowledge, not sex. That makes Nino's story here a good deal less squicky, if no more sense-making so far. ;P

* Anyway, Nino asks for a song about the Phoenicians' trading trips "past the end of the world", where they buy tin from the Celtic inhabitants of Cornwall. I am dubious of Parthenope's claim that they make spearheads from the tin? *investigates*

* Ah. We don't have a lot of physical evidence of what ancient peoples did with pure tin, because at low temperatures it develops something called tin pest or "tin leprosy" which makes it fall apart. But tin is a necessary component of bronze, which Bronze Age people did make spearheads and pretty much everything else out of.

(Apparently the idea that the Phoenicians supplied Cornish tin to the entire Mediterranean basin is not supported by archaeology. I don't know if that was known in 1929, or if Grace Taber Hallock just thought it'd make a good story anyway. Sometimes I really wish there was some way I could set Google to find only what was known in a certain year or year-range. ;P)

* While Parthenope sings, Nino sees her song as a sort of Late Hellenic movie, "moving across the sky like colored clouds at sunset", and ceases to see the real world.

* With Nino, we see the Phoenicians sailing to Britain, then trading gold to the blue-painted Celts for tin, with some scuffling over the price. The Phoenicians leave, sail back through the Pillars of Hercules and back towards the sirens' island, where they are about to crash...

...and because this is apparently what the sirens' song does in this universe, Nino dashes out into the sea shouting for the ship to stop and turn away. If Parthenope didn't stop singing and un-enchant him just now, he would run out beyond his depth and drown himself. But she un-enchants him and assures him that although "I always play tricks with my songs", she will never actually kill him because "I must have someone to play with". Which seems awfully... human? Sympathetic, anyway, for a siren; I always had the impression that their playtime was killing people.

* Anyway, now Parthenope's older sister (not named) turns up and criticizes her for not killing Nino, so maybe she's just the youngest or softest-hearted of the Sirens. They go back to their meadow surrounded by sharp rocks and covered in the rotting bones of dead mariners, and Nino goes back to his goats.

* "Lucky for him that he was only a boy. Lucky for him it was all a game," the author remarks. I'm not quite sure how to take that. It seems weirdly creepy, and not quite... aimed at children? It seems more aimed at the adults who will be frowning as I am over the "but SIRENS" issue.

* Now it is another day, and Nino sees a ship sailing by - a real ship, not a Siren-induced hallucination ship. It belongs to Odysseus, who is even now filling his men's ears with wax and being tied to the mast in order to sail safely past the Sirens. He and Nino shout back a forth a bit, Odysseus giving his name and purpose, Nino jeering "Ho, I'm not afraid of the sirens". Because... of reasons? I DON'T KNOW. Nobody in this book so far is really showing signs of consistent personality.

* Anyway, Odysseus et alia sail off, the Sirens start to sing, and because of MORE REASONS, their song does not draw Nino because it isn't "meant for him", but he can see all the pictures from it anyway. Basically so that the next chapter can be the Story of Odysseus.

* Which it is. We get a quick overview of how Odysseus and his twelve black ships left Troy and were carried off by a storm, then a longer telling of their meeting with the Cyclops, another super-quick story of the Laestrygonians (I always want to call them Lacedaemonians, but that's Spartans) which is when Odysseus lost eleven of his ships and their crews, and then Circe. Finally we see the sirens themselves, and hear an expanded version of Homer's siren song, focusing on how long and dark and tragic the trip home will be and how Odysseus had much better stay here.

* Odysseus gets away, and Parthenope is weeping because the siren song has failed for the first time. (Wiki tells me that the Sirens had to die once someone escaped them. Ms Hallock doesn't say this in so many words.) Nino tries to comfort her and asks her to sing him a song, and she says that instead of tricking him with this last song, she will give him a gift, in return for playing with her.

* Parthenope's last song, written out in full, covers two opposing pages, and tells us that Nino will live forever, young and happy, and will see the history of this coast and be able to tell about it. Which tells us what the rest of the book is going to be about. ;-) Then the two Siren sisters throw themselves into the sea.

* Next chapter is called "Poseidon and the Greeks". In my googling, I've learned that this area was part of what's called Greater Greece, the Mediterranean coastal areas settled by Greek emigrants during the Etruscan and early Roman times. (Tim Severin, linked above, posits that the Greater Greece expansion was when the scene of Odysseus's wanderings got shifted westward - because Odysseus was the greatest explorer of all, so he had to be here first, yeah? XD) So that's why we have Greeks here, and Poseidon instead of Neptune.

* (Yes, any time Odysseus comes up I'm going to be quoting Tim Severin a lot. Experimental archaeology for the win! :D)

* It's hot summer. Nino's goats (he's been keeping goats for 3,000 years? well, I guess it works) are thin and unhappy. They catch wind of a green field and run down to it, and Nino sits down with his current wolf-dog "Red-eyes" to keep an eye on them. A man shows up and fusses at him for pasturing his goats in the "pastures of Poseidonia", which are supposed to be for cows. Nino says it won't do the cows any harm and he'll take the goats back up the mountainside tonight.

* The man notes that Nino has a lot of black goats in his herd, and recommends he take them to the marketplace and sell them; the priests of Poseidon are looking for a sacrifice, and while the proper sacrifice is a black bull, the raiding mountaineers have taken all but one of the city's bulls and they really, really can't sacrifice the last one.

* There's a sad little bit of by-play where the fussy man calls the mountain people "your people" and Nino says "I have no people". The man assumes Nino is an escaped slave or a freedman, but -- you know, I almost didn't catch that it's been who-knows-how-long since the last story, and Nino must have lost his whole family and all his people at some point between then and now. :-( Being a lone immortal is enough to make anyone grumpy.

* Anyway, so the idea is, to sacrifice Nino's black goats with a lot of pomp and ceremony, and maybe Poseidon will be busy somewhere else and not notice they aren't a bull, and maybe he'll be okay with it because a sacrifice is a sacrifice, and hey, they're the... right... color? Yeah, the people of Poseidonia (the future Naples) are definitely floundering a bit here.

* Nino is uncomfortable with this plan, which seems a little too much like cheating a god to him, and he mutters, "Hail Poseidon, god of the dark hair, what I do I do against my will" - rationalizing that he has no backup and if he refuses to sell his goats, the men of the city can just take them away.

* The fussy man requires Nino to drive his goats into the city. Then Red-eyes the wolf dog watches the rest of the goats while Nino and the man take the black goats into the city, making flower wreaths for them on the way.

* Once they reach the city, a gang of boys take the goats from Nino and shoo them haphazardly toward the marketplace, which is also the place where the sacrifice will be held. Nino follows more slowly. He mutters again, "Hail Poseidon; what I do, I do against my will", while he sorts out the goats and keeps them from running away.

* Or, no, they pass the temples of Demeter and Zeus, and then they go out on the seashore to sacrifice the goats. Nino notes Poseidon himself standing near the fire with his trident, though nobody else seems to notice him; if I'm right in my reading of Parthenope's song, this is part of the gift she gave him, to be in the right place at the right time and to be able to notice the gods and important people in Italy's history.

* Nino speaks to Poseidon while the crowd breaks up after the sacrifice, and Poseidon, after noting that "you are almost one of us" - of course, because Nino is indeed one of the immortals now, though not a god by blood - Poseidon explains that he wants a temple in the town. Nino is to carry the message, saying that he had the vision in a dream, and as a sign that the message is true, Poseidon Earth-shaker will tonight sink the harbor and its barrier islands into the sea.

* All this happens in proper order, and for his reward, Nino is given permission to pasture the rest of his goats in the fields of Poseidonia for as long as he wants. So he stays down on the plain all summer and watches the building of the temple, and when it is finished, Poseidon assures Nino that he is pleased and that the temple will stand long past the fading of the rest of the city.

* Next chapter is called "The Romans and the Volcano". I noted when looking at the area map earlier that Mount vesuvius stands at the back end of the Bay of Naples, so this chapter is presumably about Pompeii and Herculaneum. *checks up-post* And will be about a little Jewish slave girl? Okay. Why not.

* Yup, August 23, A.D. 79 - which is to say, Volcano Night. ;P Titus is emperor, Jerusalem was conquered in A.D. 70, and a Pompeiian gentleman called Marcus Lucretius Publio is having supper with two friends. They're discussing the recent small earthquakes. Sixteen years ago a big earthquake destroyed half the city after similar small rumblings, but nobody in authority seems to remember or care about that incident. Anyway, it's harvest-time in the vineyards, nobody's going to pack up and evacuate the city.

* Yadda yadda blah blah, conversation about "maybe the mountain is a volcano" etc etc. Setting up what's going to happen at great length so we can't miss it, and simultaneously pointing out how unconcerned everyone is because they don't know. Tomorrow there will be a sacrifice, an augur deal about the acceptability to the gods of the next election, and one of the men suggests that if the animal's liver augurs some terrible event, maybe the people will take action. But I don't notice them packing up and leaving. ;P

* Last time they tried to have an auguring sacrifice, the animal ran away from the priest; apparently if it doesn't walk willingly to the slaughter, the gods do not approve the offering. But everyone just rolled their eyes and said "animals, what can you do?", and this time our Marcus Publio is supplying the victim himself - a tame pet goat which will happily walk up to anybody holding a treat.

* Publio sends our Jewish slave girl, Miriam, to bring the white goat (named Nick) to show his guests. Miriam considers this goat her especial pet, having raised him, but Publio states that a slave technically has no possessions so it's his goat. He offers to give Miriam the price of ten goats instead of the pet, but she starts crying and declares that she only wants her own goat.

* Obviously we're supposed to sympathize with the slave girl. Just as obviously, Publio is very fond of her and is being quite kind by his Pagan Roman lights. He tries to explain that they really, really have to have a guaranteed willing victim for the sacrifice tomorrow and so somebody's pet has to die, and he volunteered Miriam's pet and can't break his word; but Miriam points out somewhat incoherently that the Roman gods are not hers, and that Rome has destroyed her home and killed her people and exiled her, and now Publius is even taking her pet for a sacrifice to his gods. It's a kind of "straw breaks the camel's back" tone.

* I am sort of pleased with how neither side of the conversation is demonized, though. Publio is doing his best, and Miriam makes perfectly valid points about conqueror/conquered interactions, and... it's just really well written, if a tiiiny bit obvious that we're supposed to sympathize with the monotheist in the conversation.

* Miriam gets up before dawn, sneaks her pet goat through the city -- really? Really? One of the bits of local color we get on this trip through the city is that someone has graffiti'd "Sodoma, Gomora" on a wall. Bit on the nose, isn't that, Ms Hallock? O_O I know there were both Jews and Christians in Pompeii and Herculaneum, but... that is a bit on the nose right now. *headshake*

* Anyway, Miriam takes Nick to the house of an elderly freed couple who've been saving up to buy her, and on learning that the husband plans to sail down toward Capri to buy goat cheese this morning, hastens to the docks where she catches him up. His name is Peter, which makes me think that he is a Christian rather than a Jew (the name Peter means "rock", and I've always heard that before Jesus gave the name Peter to his disciple Simon, Jewish convention reserved the epithet "rock" for God, e.g. "The Lord is my rock and my salvation"). The wife's name is Rebecca, which doesn't indicate either way.

* Peter sends Miriam to wait in the boat, then goes back to fetch Rebecca, because he used to live in Sicily under the shadow of notorious volcano Mount Etna and he doesn't like the look of Vesuvius right now.

* Peter rows the three of them down the coast past Vesuvius, past Surrentum, and around the cape to Amalfi, where Nino is waiting by the shore with goat-cheeses Peter ordered from him last week. Miriam and Nick go with Nino - who assures the old couple she'll be safe with him - while Peter and Rebecca head further south to Salernum.

* Nino takes Miriam up to the caves where he currently lives and keeps his sheep, and he gives her bread and milk and cheese to eat. Miriam asks him about Tiberius throwing prisoners over the cliff, which Nino dismisses as "That story!", italics original, and says he knew Tiberius as a "kind and upright man". Miriam is just noting that Tiberius died forty years ago when the volcano explodes, cutting short the conversation.

* The caves on the far side of the mountain from Vesuvius keep Nino and Miriam safe, but the chapter ends with Nino assuring Miriam that nobody will ever wonder what became of a Pompeii slave after today. ;P

* Next chapter is called "The Last of the Goths". We're jumping hundreds of years each time we move on, which I guess we have to in order to fit 3,000 years of Italian history into a book 150 pages long.

* ...now I'm curious. *does math* That's an average of 20 years per page, but since we're just hitting highlights - well, this is page 60-ish and we're halfway through the timescale, 1500 years past and 1500 to go. We spent 12 pages in modern times getting to the storytelling, 14 more on the sirens and setting up the premise of the book. 16 pages in Poseidonia, 16 in Pompeii, and this chapter is also 16 pages long; interesting.

* We're in Amalfi, 553 A.D., where a boatload of wounded Byzantine soldiers is being offloaded on a rainy midnight. Their commander reports that the last army of the Goths have just been routed at a place called Angri, which it seems is quite near Salerno.

* The local Amalfi guards fetch two doctors, one short and fat and grumbling about how a man of his status should not be routed out this way and forced through the streets at spearpoint, the other tall and thin and short-sighted. They're apparently both meant for comic relief? I don't know. They certainly don't seem competent by anybody's standards, but once they are got to work, their treatment of the wounded men is reportedly efficacious. In a couple weeks, the soldiers start raiding all the shops in town while they wait for their transport boat to take them to Constantinople.

* They take fine imported silks and linens to be their bandages, and although the area is in the grip of a war-induced famine, they commandeer all the food they can find. They are clearly intended to be very unpleasant people and we are not meant to like them.

* On one particular day, the Byzantine soldiers head down to the waterfront to raid a wineshop, and a tall man in monk's garb follows them. He's very bad at walking in the skirted robe, and has "fierce eyes" and yellow hair slightly visible under his cowl, so he's clearly a warrior in disguise, probably the Last Goth of our chapter title.

* Yadda yadda, evil Byzantine soldiers have already drunk almost all the wine in the shop, and the merchant wanted the last little cask to make "wine soup" for his sick daughter, but do the soldiers care? They Do Not Care. They are the most don't-caring soldiers in all of Italy right now. They open the wine-cask and begin to get drunk.

* At this point our disguised "monk", hiding in a corner, quietly asks the wine-seller for food and drink, and offers to pay with a large gold bracelet studded with... turquoises?

* Okay, yeah, turquoise is found in the Old World - in Iran and Sinai, among other places. It's named after Turkey, where it was mined, and was also found in Saxony, which explains why a Goth bracelet has it.

* Before the wine-seller can agree to give the monk food, a Byzantine soldier notes the conversation and interrupts, thinking the "monk" an assassin. On finding him to be purportedly a monk, he offers to swap wine for a blessing, but drops the helmetful of wine just before handing it to the "monk"; I can't tell if that's on purpose or not.

* The purported monk reaches out for the helmet, the gold Gothic bracelet on his wrist shows out of his sleeve, and the Byzantine soldiers strip his habit from him, revealing a Goth soldier in full battle gear, draped with gold bracelets and necklaces all over his limbs.

* Of course the greedy Byzantine soldiers want the treasure. The Goth refuses; he's on orders from the Gothic king Totila to rescue what he can of his people's treasure from its hiding-place under the besieged city of Cumae -- apparently the entrance to the underworld was located under the Cumaean sibyl's seat and the Gothic king stored the treasure there? At any rate, the Goth soldier is claiming he went through the underworld to fetch out the treasure. RESEARCH TIME.

* Yup, accurate. Cumae was the first Greek settlement in the Neapolitan area, was most famous as the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl, and was the site from which Aeneas descended to the underworld to get advice from his dead father in the Aeneid. There actually are tunnels in the area which one could theoretically use to sneak in and out of the besieged city.

* Okay, our Gothic soldier himself is guaranteed safe-conduct by the Byzantine general, who said all the Goths might leave Italy with their weapons; but the Byzantine soldiers repeatedly demand the treasure, and the soldier says he will go down fighting rather than hand it over. The Byzantine soldiers begin to attack.

* At this point Nino shows up, yells "Stop!", and talks the soldiers into letting the Goth go by threatening them with a little sandalwood box which he claims he has only to throw on the fire and all the soldiers will magically find themselves in Purgatory by means of the black arts. ...I find it kind of weird that Purgatory is the threat. The soldiers all gasp and cross themselves as if Nino said "Hell", but Purgatory is merely -- you know, it's a gateway-to-Heaven kind of place, at least in my understanding. If you go there after you die, you'll definitely wind up in Heaven, you just have to suffer a little first. Shouldn't a box made by "an Egyptian master of the black arts" have the same effect as selling your soul to the Devil or something, i.e. you go to Hell? Why would a black arts practitioner want to send people to Heaven, even if indirectly? O_O

I don't know. My best guess is honestly that the publisher didn't want the word "Hell" to appear in a kiddie book in case it got banned from Sunday-school libraries or some such thing. "Purgatory" sounds nicely creepy, and has the additional advantage that non-Catholic kids reading the book won't necessarily know the theological meaning from other contexts? *shrugs*

* Anyway, Nino manages to get the Goth out of the house by waving his little magic box around, and then they duck through side streets and go eventually up to Nino's hut. The townspeople all hate the Byzantine soldiers by now, so even the gate-guard agrees not to betray them.

* Nino doesn't have a lot of food left either, because war-induced famine, but there is goat-meat stew, and during the meal Nino explains that his little magic box was in fact just empty and he was lying all along. Nino thinks this is kind of funny, but the soldier quite accurately points out that when you're used to being able to defend yourself with a sword and shield, something that cannot be defended against is pretty scary. I'm really liking how this book doesn't take the "haha stupid ancient people!" angle or even the "sympathize with THESE people!" angle much at all - although this current Byzantines-vs-Goths scuffle is a pretty strongly coded "sympathize with the guy who happens to be blond, also Unselfish And Not Greedy, as opposed to those guys" deal.

* The Goth soldier tells us about King Totila's death on the battlefield of Tagina, and then King Teias's death at the very battle of Angri which concluded about two weeks ago, and how the Goths were still unbroken and demanded safe conduct out of Italy. The chapter ends with Nino musing on how awesome the Goths are, to be the only people who have ever tried to conquer Italy who get to leave in peace with their weapons. I don't even know... what that's about; the only reference I can find on Wiki to the (Ostro)goths leaving Italy says they were driven out of Italy, nothing about a safe-conduct anywhere. And the article about Totila says that many of the Ostrogoths remained in southern Italy and were absorbed by the Lombards, who conquered the area three years after Totila's death.

* I can only guess that the Goths are supposed to be Heroic Forerunners of somebody or other that I'd know about if I lived in 1929? I did pick up that Theoderic the Great, of whom Nino spoke highly in a throwaway line I didn't blog, is supposed to have been an Arian who allowed freedom of religion in his kingdom - though the assertion isn't cited, gah. It's a better excuse for apotheosizing the Goths than "hey, they're blond!", though. ;P

* Next chapter: "The Normans and the Saracens". Oh dear. I'm not looking forward to this; we haven't had a very good track record here of treating the browner people in a conflict or contrast as any good. :P

* It's December 1076. Nino is driving his goats down to the Norman camp outside Salerno, hoping to sell goats' milk and meat to the soldiers, as he has done before. You know, I hope Nino really likes herding goats, if he's going to be doing it for three thousand years.

* Sentry interaction, casual banter among a group of soldiers playing dice, and Nino trades goat-milk for some stew. It's nicely written scene-setting stuff. -- ah, and the Normans are apparently besieging Salerno. Nino seems to have this total unconcern about which people he's going to sympathize with, except when someone like Tiberius or Garibaldi turns up, which goes rather nicely with the whole book's overall tone of "I'm not telling you who to sympathize with except when I am". *dry grin* I'm not sure if that's a criticism or not.

* I mean, it does make sense for Nino to be extremely unconcerned with politics. If anyone's going to know that "this too shall pass", it's a teenage boy who's been living in the same much-conquered region for two thousand years and who probably didn't care much about politics before he got turned into an immortal.

* Nino claims to like Duke Robert Guiscard "the clever", leader of the Normans, much better than "these craven Greeks and Lombards who hide behind a city wall", but he's saying it to cajole a very large Norman named Rollo (a common Norman name, as the first Duke of Normandy was named Rollo, frenchified from Hrolf) into telling him how the siege goes, so I don't know how much we can take it as his actual opinion. ;P

* "But you must have heard of it," said Nino. "It happened less than sixty years ago." "It" is a time when the Salernitans and Normans were friends, but I'm mostly just amused by Nino's attitude toward time - quite in character for an immortal of this sort. It reminds me a bit of JRR Tolkien's Elves, in a way.

* Just before Nino starts to tell the story, a very tall Norman with flashing eyes turns up, and sits down quietly behind a pile of wine casks to hear the story. Odds are this is mon seigneur Robert Guiscard, eh?

* Anyway, Nino tells the story. It takes place in 1016 A.D. Some Normans on their way back from the Holy Land are staying in Salerno till they can get a ship home, and one day a ship full of Saracens lands in the harbor, demanding a huge sum of gold money for sparing the city, as apparently they do a lot. The Norman chief, who has no name given, mocks the Salernitans for being such cowards as to pay off the Saracens, and goes to --

-- wait. Not a Saracen ship. An entire Saracen fleet. Okay, I am judging these Normans hard for their "oh, REAL men would just fight back!" attitude. (Not least because when Normans come up I always have to mention the Danegeld, which is identical to what these Saracens are demanding - but I'm sure anyone who demanded Danegeld would think less of his victims for paying it, so that's consistent, anyway.)

* Anyway, our little group of Norman pilgrims go up to the castle of the Prince of Salerno to try to talk him into fighting, but instead he invites the emissaries of the Saracen boss-dude (that's totally a technical term) up to his castle and treats with them.

* Ha, ha. The Prince comes out with the emissaries a bit later, and we get to hear - along with a whole slew of historically accurate bad words about the Saracens, from "dark-skinned misbelievers" to "followers of Mahound" ("misbelievers" is rich coming from you, Nino, who have talked with pagan gods) - as I was saying, we get to hear how the Prince wears flowing silks and walks with a "mincing step" like any sissy Byzantine. Clearly we are not supposed to like the Prince. I take back what I was saying about the book not telling us whom to sympathize with.

* The Norman leads shouts out to the Prince that he should be ashamed to "buy off a pack of heathen dogs whom you might beat back to the kennel with the flat of a sword", because these Normans aren't just macho, they're stupid. CLEARLY an entire Saracen fleet with really, really nice ships can't be at all good at fighting! :P

* The Prince tries to explain patiently that he has no men stupid enough to take on the entire Saracen fleet here, without actually saying "stupid" to the Normans' faces. After quizzing them a bit to make sure they aren't going to demand the city treasury as payment and their heirs aren't going to descend for revenge or anything like that, he gives them permission to take on the Saracens, loans them swords and armor, and washes his hands of the matter.

* The forty Normans make a cavalry charge out onto the beach, where the Saracens have been waiting for the Salernitan gold, because -- oh dear, their emissaries are still in the town, aren't they? That is NOT ON, Grace Taber Hallock! You can't ask me to cheer for the Prince changing his mind and letting the Normans save his town when he BREAKS THE RULES of all civilized diplomacy to do so! :P I see that your other option was to let the Normans into the palace for Plotty Reasons, but... you could at least have addressed the matter. At least act like treating the Saracens with common diplomatic courtesy was something anybody ever considered, instead of nattering about Dark-Skinned Misbelievers and Heathen Dogs. You're treating them like dogs, literally - not like human beings who deserve basic respect of the rules of warfare. I don't care how all-powerful they are up and down this coast, YOU DO NOT DO THAT.

*koff* Sorry. Got a tiny bit excited there. Can you tell who grew up on the rules of medieval chivalry and just-war theory? ;P

* Anyway, that's how the first Normans settled in the area. Robert Guiscard compliments Nino's storytelling, and after some more banter, Guiscard comes up with an idea based on Odysseus's trick with the sheep to get out of the Cyclops's cave, to sneak some men inside the city walls. First he asks to use Nino's goats for the trick, but Nino refuses, saying "I betray no men to their deaths". So Guiscard gets a flock of sheep from somewhere and uses that. End chapter.

* The next chapter is called "The Crusader". Okay.

* I feel I should mention that Nino isn't being called Nino, here. It's mostly "the goat boy", sometimes just "the boy". I find "Nino" the best choice for making sure everyone knows whom I'm talking about, even though there haven't been a lot of other boys in this story.

* Also the illustrations. I didn't really notice before, but whoever's done these full-color illustrations - Harrie Wood? - is amazing. The style changes with the time period: Greek, Byzantine, here we seem to be at the start of the Renaissance.

* It's 1212 A.D., and Nino lives in a little cottage just above Ravello's city walls. Today, we are in late September; Nino gets up, bathes in a nearby stream, gets dressed in his goatskin tunic (I take it he's been making new ones over the years? I can't help thinking of [personal profile] eponymous_rose's wonderful Doctor Who fanfic Turning and Turning where a character who's been inadvertently made immortal figures out after a few hundred years that his clothes are immortal too, and eventually decides that the series villains who did the work "really ought to go into tailoring". ...it made sense in context, okay? ;P I was just thinking it would be mildly hilarious if Parthenope had randomly decided to make Nino's goatskin tunic immune to decay like Nino himself. He'd be so puzzled.)

* Where was I? Right. Nino got dressed and ate breakfast while looking down the mountainside at the peasants working in the vineyards. There are always vineyards in this area, I should point out, because volcanic soil is ideal for growing grapes in.

* Nino leaves most of his goats behind with his current dog (how many dogs die of old age in three thousand years? O_O), and takes the milk goats down into the town to sell fresh milk to the townsfolk. Or, well, to give it away, because most of the people are too poor to pay him a farthing for a bowlful of milk, but he fills their bowls anyway. I guess if you have a dying siren's guarantee that you'll never lack food and shelter, you can afford to be generous. *wry grin*

* After a couple full pages of colorful description of the town and marketplace, Nino gets his little herd of milk goats to the spot where he usually sits in the marketplace beside a cheese-seller's stall. The cheese-seller has a blond boy with him, about twelve years old, to whom Nino is to give a free drink of goat's milk because he is hungry and the cheese-seller can't afford to give his own wares away, having a wife and children. ;-) Like I say - being immortal and guaranteed your living is awfully freeing.

* This blond boy has hair "as yellow as butter" and "periwinkle blue" eyes, so I deduce that he's the child crusader we heard about waaay up yonder. It'd just be weird if Ms Hallock used those exact descriptors about two different boys.

* The child crusader is dressed in the ragged remains of his crusade outfit. He drinks the milk hungrily, and eats a little of the bread Nino gives him, though he's so starved he can't eat much.

* While the crusader drinks, the Bishop of Milan and the Lord Rufolo of Ravello come processing through the town with their courts on the way to Mass; it is rumored that after Mass the Bishop will preach about "the new crusade". The townsfolk banter back and forth about how Italians have never participated much in crusades, but someone cracks a joke about the Venetians that sets everybody laughing. The child-crusader hasn't heard this joke before, so he asks for the backstory.

* There follows a story which... blames the Venetians for the sack of Constantinople? *investigates* What do you know. It's basically accurate. I never heard that before! O_O This is what happens when you grow up on exclusively "pro-Catholic" history textbooks.

* I wouldn't exactly call this book educational in itself - it's pretty deeply oversimplified at times - but I am learning SO MUCH by googling all this stuff. XD

* Anyway, then a fellow from the Lord Rufolo's house recruits Nino and the boy crusader to be emergency serving-varlets at the Lord Rufolo's house tonight, payment to be made in table scraps. The job of the serving varlet is to run the hot dishes from the kitchen down a long hallway to the dining room, where the servitors proper carry them around and serve the guests. So I guess Nino's goatskin tunic and the crusader-boy's rags aren't inappropriate?

* Hm. Nothing is said about giving the two boys appropriate garb for the evening, but toward the end of the meal, Nino and the crusader-boy are set to carrying baskets in the great hall itself to collect table-scraps for the poor - so they must be seen as appropriately dressed, whatever they're wearing.

* Clearly the point of this is so that they can overhear the talk at the high table. The bishop and Lord Rufolo are talking about the new crusade the Pope has announced -- this has to be the Fifth Crusade, since the Fourth Crusade was that unholy mess that involved the Venetians and the sack of Constantinople just above.

* There is a line in the crusade announcement referring to the Children's Crusade, which Lord Rufolo does not understand, so one of his jongleurs or minstrels - who had the tale from the Bishop's jongleur last night - steps up to tell the story. Which we will, of course, hear at full length.

* The tale goes thus: In Cologne, France, a boy named Nicholas is persuaded by an old man claiming to be Jesus that he should organize a children's crusade, and that the sea will part and allow the children to walk straight into the Holy Land, where the Saracens will easily be persuaded to leave and hand the place over to the Christians. Because nobody ever tried talking to Saracens before. ;P (Okay, if you believed the attitude of the Normans in the previous chapter, maybe you'd think they hadn't. :S)

* I mean, this is all historical. Except the old man; I'm not sure about him. But Nicholas really did organize a Children's Crusade, and twenty thousand children really did walk from Cologne to the Mediterranean seashore.

* ...hah, and Fairest Lord Jesus, presented here with rewritten words to make it specifically a Children's Crusade song, actually is traditionally attributed to German Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. GOOD RESEARCH, Ms Hallock. I don't know who you were, but you have clearly put in a lot of work on this stuff, especially for someone who lived pre-Google. ;-)

(I'm sure there were ways to do extensive research pre-Google, but some of these specific requests must have been a lot harder. "Hail, thou all-powerful reference librarian!1 Yes, thank you, the stack of books from last week was very helpful. Now I need a traditional Crusaders' hymn, please?")

1: One of my housemates is studying to be a reference librarian. Yes, she reads this blog, but even if she didn't - reference librarians are good to talk up occasionally. They really were pretty much the Gatekeepers of All Knowledge pre-internet, or at least of all knowledge you needed in a hurry. ;-) They're still excellent when you can't think how to format your search string for any particular question, or when the information isn't online.

* A-ny-way. The Children's Crusade walk from Cologne. A lot of them die on the way, which is artistically phrased as "passed dry shod / Into the lovely land of God". Half of them have died or left the Crusade by the time they reach the hospice at the top of the Alpine pass they cross.

* They go on to Genoa, and wait for the sea to part and let them cross, but it does not. The author skips lightly over the part where most of them were sold into slavery by unscupulous boat-having people who made false bargains with them, saying only that "whether they found their homes again... no one knows". The boy crusader starts crying near the end of the song and reveals to Nino that he is Nicholas, who organized the crusade, and that he is crying for his home and for the children whose lives he ruined "who followed [him]". Nino takes him home to Nino's own cottage and says he can live there as long as he chooses. End chapter.

* The next chapter is "Students of Salerno". It's April 1282; the current Prince of Salerno is Charles the Lame (Charles II of Anjou). He's giving a fête.

* A page and a half of description about the town's atmosphere leads to our particular guest-stars for this episode of The Boy Who Was: three medical students working toward their final examinations. (I don't think I mentioned, but in "The Normans and the Saracens" and afterward, it was mentioned that Salerno was famed for its doctors; Wiki tells me it had the world's first medical university, the Schola Medica Salernitana, or in English the "Salerno Medical School".)

* The students are Wilfred the English boy, Otto the German, and Luigi the Florentine. Luigi is currently quizzing Wilfred and Otto about verses they have memorized, which tell such things as "the proper demeanor for a physician". Of course in reality the studies would all have been in Latin, but here the verses are written in rather good English couplets. There's been a lot of poetry in this book, really, and I've never found it cringe-worthy - which, since I have a pretty high standard for poetry, means I should probably actually mention that it's quite good. ;P

* The students inform us, bantering between themselves, that politics these days are full of poisoning; that the current Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, was poisoned by his "favorite", Peter di Vinea, and only saved by the efforts of his court physician John of Procida - whom Nino mentioned in the Prologue, so I deduce he will appear.

I can't find anything on Wiki about Peter di Vinea under that name. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, hosted free online by NewAdvent.org, gives me a short bio of Peter de Vinea [sic] as well as some alternate names to check, and tells me that he was suspected - for good reason - of being complicit in a poisoning attempt which happened just as the emperor was discovering Peter's massive embezzlements from the imperial treasury.

Okay, Pietro della Vigna gives us the right listing. Wiki says right in the introductory matter that Pietro was falsely accused; let's see what sources we have. (I've worked with the Catholic Encyclopedia before; on other matters, they've been very up-to-date for their time but unavoidably about a hundred years old, therefore lacking recent scholarship. ;P We actually had a paper copy when I was small, so that and a '50s garage-sale Britannica were my pre-Google.)

* ...uh, that's dramatic. Wiki doesn't give me a cite for any of this beyond the one in the introductory matter, which goes to a book called "Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages" without a page number, but it says that after "members of the royal household" attempted to poison Frederick, he had Pietro "chained like a dog", and a year later turned up apparently for the sole purpose of "ripping" Pietro's eyes out, after which Pietro committed suicide by smashing his head open on the stone floor. The embezzlement charge is not mentioned here at all -- although it is mentioned that Dante Alighieri, who includes Pietro in his "Inferno" among the suicides, apparently believed in his innocence or he would have put him among the Traitors.

* Anyway, back to this book. It seems this long verse "Rule" of the Salerno doctors was first written out for our old friend Robert Guiscard, Duke of Normandy.

* Wilfred gets rather excited about how he's pure Saxon and the Norman Duke was none of his affair. It's been a couple hundred years since 1066 at this point, but if I recall correctly, it wasn't till the Black Death hit that the racial antagonism between Saxons and Normans really faded.

* The boys continue to study for a bit, but eventually get bored and decide to go out for a walk. Just as they put their cloaks on, Nino knocks at the door.

* Nino needs medicine for a shoemaker's little daughter who is sick with a fever, and all the licensed doctors are at the fête. Luigi agrees to mix a basic sage infusion for her, though strictly it's against the law for him to prescribe medicines till he's licensed.

* While Luigi is mixing the medicine, another person knocks at the door: John of Procida, disguised as a mendicant friar. The three students know him and are loyal to him; Nino is also a friend.

* John of Procida is in great danger, since the Sicilians in the town of Palermo have massacred all the French there and John will be accused as a rabble-rouser. (Checking Wiki, I find that this uprising is known as the Sicilian Vespers, and that while no one knows for sure what set it off, this book's claim that a Frenchman "insulted" a Sicilian girl on her way to church is pretty close to the traditional reasons - toned down, since this is a kid's book, to remove the explicit references to sexual harassment and attempted rape in the original.)

* John of Procida claims in this book that he was not at all responsible for the massacre. Wiki says, essentially, that it can't be proved he set it up but it would be just like him. Anyway, Salerno is a very bad place for him to be right now, because the French soldiers will be all over the place looking for anyone anti-French at all. He asks the students to hide him.

* Luigi cooks up the clever idea of disguising John as a corpse: he breaks off the back of a skull on his study table and ties the front over John's face like a mask, then wraps him in a bedsheet and has him stand in a tall chest in a dark corner, surrounded by candles and flammable powders and all sorts of fancy doings.

* When the French soldiers arrive, Luigi claims the students have just reached the section of their studies on raising the dead, and John of Procida is their practice corpse. The common soldiers freak out as soon as their chief opens the "coffin" door, since Luigi has the candles and flammable powders going to produce weird lighting effects; the officer holds his ground until Luigi, chanting a bit of nonsense Latin, gives John of Procida the prearranged signal to "rise from the dead" and take a single zombified step forward.

* Hm. The officer flees, muttering "a strange mixture of the Ave Maria and the Credo" to himself. I really wish there was any biographical information about Grace Taber Hallock available, or anything that would tell me what she means by all this... kind of Catholic quackery? She seems to bring in specifically Catholic terms every time she wants something Specially Superstitious, and I don't know if she was a Catholic and so that's what was closest to hand for her, or if she's being a bit "haha creepy ritualistic religion!", or if she's being accurate to the times and it just strikes me oddly for Reasons. :S

(Also, how do you mix up the Ave Maria and the Credo. I mean, seriously, where do you switch. "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus" versus "Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium, Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri..." I don't know, I only had a few years of saying those daily in Latin, maybe it's easier if you grew up on it. ;P ...that's meant to be snark. Okay, okay, I guess in 1282 even a devout Catholic wouldn't necessarily say either one daily/weekly/regularly, since the Mass wasn't yet call-and-response with the congregation - that happened in the early 20th century - nor did the congregation even sing along with the Credo, which became common "sometime in the 18th century", says Wiki. And St Dominic had only recently started promoting the Rosary in France.)

(Behold the range of my Wikilearnings! XD)

* A-ny-way. John of Procida is saved from the eebil French soldiers looking to arrest a suspected insurgent leader, and tonight after the fête he will sneak out of the city with Nino and head down to Amalfi, whence he can take a boat to Spain. The chapter ends with some more light banter about medical work and the rhyming Rule of the medical students.

* The next chapter is "Redbeard and Saint Andrew", about the Muslim pirate Barbarossa who VERY WICKEDLY tried to sack Amalfi. ;P Sorry, I just have trouble taking this book at all seriously about anything involving race. I'm kind of on Barbarossa's side here already.

...You know what? I'm bored. I'm bored of this book. I don't want to do the last two chapters. (There are only two, about Barbarossa and Garibaldi respectively - and I really, really don't want to hear any more about the Piratey Muslim Wickedness of Hayreddin Barbarossa.) I'm done.

At least I know who Hayreddin Barbarossa is now. ;-) It was really a fairly educational book, if by "book" I mean "source of search strings I never thought to look up before". ;-)

Post a comment in response:

Anonymous (will be screened)
OpenID (will be screened if not validated)
Identity URL: 
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


If you are unable to use this captcha for any reason, please contact us by email at support@dreamwidth.org

Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.