February 24, 2014

Una voce per l'eta!: Enrico Caruso – The King of Tenors

Enrico Caruso
Courtesy of The Enrico Caruso Museum
By Niccolò Graffio
“When you speak of tenors you have to divide them into two groups. Caruso is in the first group and all the others are in the second.” – Rosa Ponselle (legendary soprano)
A frequent criticism of mine in previous articles I have written for this blog is the number of our people (and they are legion) who have made their mark on history but who nevertheless are virtual unknowns in the collective minds of the American public.  This is due for a number of reasons including American attitudes towards Italians (especially Southern Italians) as well as the shabby quality of the American educational system.  On the rare occasion one of our people does manage to become famous here, it is usually a gangster like Al Capone or Carlo “Lucky” Luciano.  The American love of criminals and criminality comes into play here.
Despite these hurdles a people as resourceful and creative as ours will rise to the challenge and occasionally produce figures that will nevertheless captivate the imaginations of even Americans.  It has been said you are truly famous (or infamous) when people know you by just one name.  Many of these figures immediately come to mind – Einstein, Newton, Beethoven, Mozart, Shakespeare, etc.  I’m sure if you, dear reader, think about it for a minute you can come up with many more names.
These are people who the powers that be, mainly in the mass media, have seen fit to honor by ensuring (through repeated exposure) the masses of the great unwashed will easily and forever remember them by a single moniker.  Such a person is usually (but not always) someone who has done something so great it is felt, correctly, they are deserving of some kind of immortality in the collective consciousness of mankind.
The aforementioned criminal garbage notwithstanding, one of our people has been deemed worthy of such an honor for his contributions in that area of human endeavor for which our people are known to excel – the world of music!  To call him a singer would be tantamount to referring to the great Shakespeare as a playwright!  The power of his voice plus his surpassing acting skills made him a presence on stage unmatched in his lifetime and for many years to come.  His stage persona was matched offstage by his own larger than life personality.  He has been referred to by more than one historian as the first true superstar in history.  I am referring, of course, to none other than The Great Caruso.
Caruso was born on February 25th, 1873 in Naples, Italy.  The Kingdom of the Two Siciiles had been conquered 13 years earlier by the Piedmontese, who now imposed their language (Italian) upon the locals.  Caruso’s parents, however, decided to baptize their newborn son “Henricus” but called him “Errico” using the Neapolitan language of their forebears.  Though he was the third of seven children he was only one of three to survive infancy.  Caruso’s parents were poor and such high rates of infant mortality were sadly not uncommon in those days among the impoverished of Southern Italy.  There is also historical evidence his father was an alcoholic.
Much confusion surrounds the actual number of children his parents Marcellino and Anna (neè Baldini) Caruso had.  Caruso himself seems to have been the source of some of this confusion.   Caruso’s widow Dorothy penned in a memoir that he had told her he was one of 21 children!  Caruso family friend Guido D’Onofrio, who researched Caruso’s biography, believed the figure of seven to be the correct one.
Self-caricature as Buddha
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Marcellino Caruso was a mechanic and foundry worker who hoped his son Errico would follow in his footsteps.  Anna Caruso insisted her son attend school and encouraged him to pursue a singing career when he showed promise in a local church choir.  Sadly, she would not live to see her son’s rise to prominence in the music world as she died when he was only 15.  Her death traumatized him but may have inadvertently given him the impetus he needed with his nascent singing career.  To help with family expenses he took various jobs singing at cafes and soirees.  
Though not as destitute as many Neapolitans of the time were the Caruso family was poor, nonetheless.  When Caruso turned 18 he used some of the monies he had earned from singing at a resort to buy for himself his first pair of brand new shoes!  The poverty surrounding him when he grew up would haunt him the rest of his life and play a significant factor in the shaping of his later character and personality.
On March 15th, 1895 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples Enrico Caruso made his professional stage debut in serious music.  Caruso had changed his first name to the Italian “Enrico” six years earlier at the suggestion of his then-music teacher Guglielmo Vergine.  He appeared in a now-forgotten opera entitled “L’Amico Francesco” by an amateur composer named Domenico Morelli.  His performance was so good that other appearances in a succession of provincial opera houses followed.  In addition, he was given advanced voice instruction by the composer and voice teacher Vincenzo Lombardi.  
During a performance early in his career in his native Naples Caruso was booed by a section of the audience because he failed to pay a “claque” (a group of professional applauders).  This incident hurt his pride and as a result Enrico Caruso vowed never to sing again in Naples.  It was a promise he would keep for the rest of his life.
In spite of this he continued to sing around Italy.  By the beginning of the 20th century his hard work and perseverance paid off – he was awarded a contract to sing at the prestigious Teatro alla Scala, Italy’s premier opera house!  He premiered there on December 26th, 1900 playing the part of Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème” with Arturo Toscanini conducting.  A legend has it that when Caruso first auditioned for the part, Toscanini was so impressed the maestro was said to have audibly mumbled “Who sent you to me?  God himself?”
By this time he was placed among first-class Italian opera singers and toured with them to opera companies as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia (where he performed before the Czar himself) and Buenos Aires, Argentina!  
Caruso with phonograph
Courtesy of The Enrico Caruso Museum
Enrico Caruso excelled in many other endeavors besides singing.  He was among the first to recognize the potential lucrativeness of the new technology known as the phonograph.  He signed his first recording contract in April, 1902 with The Gramophone and Typewriter Company.  He recorded 10 arias at the Grand Hotel i Milano over a period of two hours for which he was paid 10 pounds each.  The arias he recorded were released to the public a month later when he made debut at the Covent Garden Opera in Verdi’s “Rigoletto”.  Other opera legends of the time initially rejected offers to record their voices owing to the inferior quality of early discs.  When word spread of financial returns Caruso was reaping however, some of them including highly acclaimed Sicilian soprano Adelina Patti (1843-1919) changed their minds.  It is only because of this we have any idea what some of these greats sounded like!
His later recording of the aria “Vesti la giubba” (It: “Put on the costume”) from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s famous opera “Pagliacci” (“Clowns”) in 1904 was the first record in history to sell at least a million copies.
In 1903 with the help of his friend and banker Pasquale Simonelli he traveled to New York City where he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on November 23rd that same year. Over the next 16 seasons he performed a total of 607 times in 37 different operas at “the MET”.  
Caruso became a figure larger than life not only due to his fame but to the force of his highly charismatic personality.  A number of people who met him commented on how whenever he would speak to someone he would give them his full attention.  Caruso avoided critiquing his fellow singers.  If he performed a duet with someone and was asked to comment on it, he would reply “I don’t know – I didn’t hear it.”
He was scrupulous and meticulous in all his dealings.  He was known to bathe and change his clothes several times a day.  He planned his daily routines down to the last detail.  Everything he collected was put in order.  His honesty also was well-known.  Once, he attended a Red Cross benefit for soldiers and sailors at the Manhattan Opera House.  When those in attendance recognized him shouts went up for him to sing “Over There”.  Unbeknownst to the crowd, though, Caruso, who was under contract with the MET, was forbidden to sing publicly except at concerts mentioned in the contract.  
The press of bodies begging him to sing was too great, however, and he acquiesced at last, taking to the stage and singing “Over There” while everyone in the crowd joined in.  After he finished he contacted Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the director of the Metropolitan Opera to inform him he had broken his contract.  He was promptly forgiven.  
If Caruso had two faults the first was his temper, which caused him to have fiery outbursts at the drop of a hat.  Almost always, though, he would apologize and express regret.  The other was his being a “soft touch” when it came to his generosity.  Enrico Caruso was one of the earliest entertainers to achieve a substantial amount of personal wealth.  As a result, many would come to him asking for help of a financial nature.  He was never known to refuse.
With some of the monies he made from his singing career he bought for himself the Villa di Bellosguardo, a palatial estate outside the city of Florence, Italy.  It was here he would retreat when the pressures of travel and fame would become too much for him.  When residing in New York City his preferred address was a suite at the famed Knickerbocker Hotel on the corner of Broadway and 42nd St. in Manhattan.
Though Enrico Caruso’s biography was a genuine “rags to riches” story it was not without scandal.  Several sordid episodes marred an otherwise illustrious career.  In the interests of historical truth and accuracy they should be mentioned!
Enrico Caruso in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci
Courtesy of The Enrico Caruso Museum
Between the years 1897 to 1908 he was known to have been romantically involved with a married soprano, Ada Giachetti, who was several years older than him.  She would bear him four sons, two of whom would survive infancy: Rodolfo Caruso (born 1898) and singer/actor Enrico Caruso Jr. (born 1904).  When Caruso broke up with Giachetti she attempted to sue him for damages but the case was dismissed by the courts.
Another sordid episode that occurred in his life happened in November, 1906 at the Monkey House of New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The zoo was one of Caruso’s favorite retreats in his adopted hometown of New York City.  A married woman alleged he pinched her bottom.  He vociferously denied the allegation, claiming instead one of the monkeys must have done it.  In spite of this, a policeman at the scene arrested him and charged him with an indecent act.  In spite of the fact the woman failed to appear at Caruso’s trial, and it was revealed the arresting officer was best man at her wedding he was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $10.  To this day suspicions linger he may have been entrapped by the woman and the officer.  In any event the incident did not appear to have any effect on his popularity with the public.
Perhaps the most infamous episode in his life was his becoming a victim of the notorious Black Hand (It. Mano Nera).  Contrary to popular belief (no doubt fostered by the American media), the Black Hand was not an actual organization but rather an extortion practice.  
It went like this. Gangsters (usually but not always members of the Neapolitan Camorra or Sicilian Cosa Nostra) would single out a potential victim who was almost always an immigrant from Italy. This was done because the gangsters knew these people would be least likely to talk due to language and cultural barriers. The victim would be sent an anonymous letter demanding money and threatening arson, kidnapping, assault or even murder if the victim failed to pay. The letter would be decorated with various threatening symbols including a skull, a smoking gun, etc and almost always signed with a black hand.  The letter would include instructions on where the victim was to drop off the money.
Caruso received a Black Hand letter demanding $2,000 and decided to pay.  When this fact became public knowledge he subsequently received a slew of new Black Hand letters, including another from the original extortionists now demanding $15,000. Realizing he would be paying this criminal scum for the rest of his life he instead decided to go to the police. A “police sting” was set for the racketeers with the help of legendary New York City super-cop Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino who like Caruso was a native of Naples!  The police captured two local Italian businessmen.  Caruso was never bothered by black handers again.  
Dorothy and Gloria
Courtesy of The Enrico Caruso Museum
One of the brightest spots of Caruso’s life, aside from his illustrious singing career occurred near the end of World War I when he met a young socialite named Dorothy Park Benjamin, the daughter of a wealthy Manhattan patent attorney.  Despite the disapproval of her father (who disdained Caruso for his peasant background and Southern Italian ethnicity) the two dated and eventually wed on August 20th, 1918.  Theirs would be a happy union that produced a daughter, Gloria (1919-1999).  Caruso gave his wife the pet name of “Doro” while she affectionately referred to him as “Rico”.  Dorothy Caruso would live until 1955 and write two biographies about her husband.
Three negative habits Enrico Caruso possessed which undoubtedly played a significant role in his later poor health were his love of smoking Egyptian cigarettes, which he did heavily.  In addition, he never exercised and kept a grueling schedule at the MET.  
One of his favorite hobbies was drawing, and a number of his sketches survive (including self-portraits).  It must be mentioned again a large part of adulation by the public came not just from his astounding singing voice, but his personality as well.  He frequently gave charity concerts, donated large sums of money to the poor and raised millions for the Allied cause during World War I.  He was even known to pay his taxes early, fearing that if he waited something bad might happen to him and then it would be difficult for the government to collect.  
Caruso’s deleterious lifestyle finally began to catch up with him in late 1920 after he concluded a lengthy North American concert tour.  His son Enrico Caruso Jr. reported that during a rendition of “Samson and Delilah” a pillar fell and struck him on the back, just over his left kidney (and not on his chest as the media reported).  The following day he suffered a chill and developed a cough and what he described as “a dull pain in his side.”  
He suffered a throat hemorrhage while performing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on December 11th, 1920.  His health began to noticeably decline after this and he gave just three more performances at the MET, the last one as Eleazar in Fromental Halevy’s grand opera “La Juive” on December 24th, 1920.  By the next day the pain in his side was so excruciating he kept screaming!  Several doctors examined him before the correct diagnosis was made – purulent pleurisy and empyema.
He subsequently received seven operations including one that removed part of a rib. He traveled to Naples, Italy to recuperate but while there allowed himself to be examined by a local doctor of questionable competency and his health quickly deteriorated after that, probably as a result of developing an infection.
He was scheduled to go to Rome to have surgery for removal of his left kidney when he did an overnight stay at the Hotel Vesuvio in Naples.  He died at 9:00 AM on August 2nd, 1921 at the age of 48.  Physicians in Rome attributed the most likely cause of death to peritonitis that developed from a burst subrenal abscess.
Caruso mausoleum in Naples
Courtesy of The Enrico Caruso Museum
King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy opened the Royal Basilica of the Church of San Francesco di Paolo for Caruso’s funeral.  Though this was usually only reserved for royalty the King insisted because Enrico Caruso was “The King of Tenors”.  Thousands attended the funeral.  His embalmed body was placed in a glass sarcophagus and displayed at Del Pianto Cemetery in Naples for mourners to view.  In 1929 his wife had his body permanently interred in an ornate stone tomb in his native Naples, Italy.
Enrico Caruso received many honors in his lifetime and subsequent to his death.  Among the most notable of the latter was a postage stamp issued in his honor by the U.S. Postal Service on February 27th, 1987, the same year he was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  Decades after his death his influence on the world of music is still acknowledged.  Gramophone, a prestigious London magazine devoted to Classical music, inducted Enrico Caruso into its Hall of Fame which it launched in its May, 2012 issue.
Further reading:
• Dorothy Caruso: Enrico Caruso – His Life and Death; Grant Press, 2007
• Andrew Farkas and Enrico Caruso Jr.: Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family (Opera Biographies (Amadeus)); Amadeus Press, 2003

February 17, 2014

The Samnites: Rome’s Implacable Enemies

Guerriero Sannita di Pietrabbondante
War monument depicting
Samnite Warrior
Photo courtesy of www.locandamammi.it
By Niccolò Graffio
“Nothing exists but what has its enemy; one species pursue and live upon the other.” – St. John De Crevecoeur: “Letters from an American Farmer”, II, 1782
The Romans found it no easy task to conquer the Italian peninsula and the island of Sicily in their drive towards regional expansion.  In fact, a number of times in their early history if things had gone just a little differently the Romans would have found themselves the conquered instead of the conquerors.

Other peoples (some of them mentioned in previous articles) gave the Romans a run for their money in their march towards empire-building. The Etruscans, for example, never in their history managed to create a single polity.  Instead, they were always divided up into smaller city-states that would cooperate with each other in cultural and religious matters but more often than not would balk when it came to military ones.  As a result, the Romans were able to pick them off one at a time. The same fate befell the Greeks of Magna Graecia.

The Senones, a Celtic people from Gaul, probably came as close as anyone to destroying the early Romans.  In 390/387 BC they routed a much larger Roman army at the Battle of the Allia River.  This route basically left the city of Rome wide open to a Senone assault. The Senones obliged by sacking the city. Only reinforcements led by the Roman dictator and general Marcus Furius Camillus succeeded in repelling the Celtic invaders, and then only barely. Nevertheless, the city was almost completely destroyed.

The Romans were badly shaken by this military disaster and many historians believe the reforms instituted by them to prevent a future one were what set them on the road to hegemony. The genius of Roman military commanders was their ability to learn from those they fought and adapt their techniques (and technology) to suit their own purposes.

Yet as ferocious as the Senones and other Celtic tribes may have been, even they never achieved the distinction of being regarded as the archenemies of Rome. That honor would go to another Italic people – the Samnites.

Historians are unsure of the origins of the Samnites but it is believed they were an offshoot of the Sabines, one of the early ethnic stocks that fused into what would become known as the Roman people. As such, the Samnites would have been cousins of the Romans. The Samnites never created for themselves a single polity as did the Romans, but rather the principal tribes (Caraceni, Caudini, Frentani, Hirpini and Pentri) were united for purposes of warfare in a confederacy.  “Samnium” and “Samnites” were Latin words, the Samnites referred to their country as “Safinin” and to themselves as “Safineis”.

The Samnites spoke an Oscan tongue, a family of languages spoken in ancient times in central and southern Italy. The earliest mention of them as a distinct people occurred (as reported by the Roman historian Livy) in 354 BC when they concluded a treaty with the Romans. Sometime after this, hordes of Samnite warrior-herdsmen swarmed into Campania where they began to encroach on the territories of the native Campani.  Simultaneously, Lucanians and Bruttians, other Oscan speakers, began to harass the cities of Magna Graecia.  The Greeks of Magna Graecia appealed to Epirus, a city-state located just north of modern Greece.  The Campanians in turn appealed to Rome, which sent them aid.
Terracotta hydria (water jar) Greek, Campanian, red-figure, ca. 350-320 B.C.
Italic warrior, wearing plumed helmet, greeted by woman and attendant
Metropolitan Museum of Art collection (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
The result of all this was the so-called First Samnite War (343 to 341 BC). Livy is the sole source of information on this campaign. According to him, ambassadors from the wealthy Campani city of Capua appealed directly to the Roman Senate for aid against the much stronger Samnites.  The Roman senators heard their appeal but declined to aid them due to their treaty with the Samnites.  Upon hearing this, the Campani ambassadors, acting on instructions from their rulers, unconditionally surrendered their city to the Romans.

The Romans, startled by this turn of events, nevertheless accepted, and subsequently sent envoys to the Samnites to apprise them of the situation and ask that they refrain from any further encroachment on Campani territory, which was now Roman territory. The Samnites not only refused to accept this, but announced their intentions of ravaging the whole of Campania. Further attempts by the Romans to seek redress were rebuffed, and the Roman Senate as a result declared war on Samnium.

Modern historians have problems with Livy’s account for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how such a rich city like Capua would need to surrender everything to Rome in order to avoid conquest by the Samnites. The Capuans were known to have sided with Carthage during the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BC) and the Romans, after having subdued them, punished them mercilessly. Most modern historians are of the belief Livy’s account was nothing more than an attempt to whitewash Rome’s expansion into the region.

At the outbreak of hostilities (in 343 B.C., according to Livy) both Roman consuls marched at the head of armies into hostile territory, Marcus Valerius Corvus went into Samnite-held Campania and Aulus Cornelius Cossus marched into Samnium proper.  Livy then relates how the Romans won three important battles against the Samnites over the next two years, forcing them to sue for peace.  Modern historians seriously doubt the veracity of Livy’s accounts of these battles (too lengthy to relate in such a short article as this).  Suffice to say at the very least they believe his detailing of the casualties suffered by the Samnites, plus the booty taken by the Romans, are clearly exaggerated!

The most common complaint is that Livy was guilty of writing doublets.  His description of events during some of these exchanges matches later ones of clashes between Roman and Carthaginian armies during the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.).  Whatever the truth, what is believed by modern historians is Livy’s claim that by 341 B.C. the Samnites appealed to the Romans for peace, which was granted (on terms favorable to the Romans, of course).  The war ended as a negotiated peace, with the Romans allowing the Samnites to continue their struggle against the Sidicini (whom the Romans didn’t care for, anyway).  In return, though, the Romans gained the greater prize – recognition by the Samnites that the Campani were now in the Roman sphere of influence!
Bronze belt and clasps, Samnite, late 5th–early 4th century B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art collection (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Within 15 years of the conclusion of the First Samnite War the Romans, having sufficiently recovered from the conflict, began establishing colonies in Samnium in the hopes this would provoke the Samnites into reigniting the conflict.  In this way the Romans sought to reduce the power of the Samnites in that area of Italy.  The Samnites, however, were busy establishing a garrison (327 B.C.) in the city of Neapolis (modern Naples), a city of Magna Graecia, in the hopes of using it as a base to expand into surrounding Campani territory.  Once again, the Campani sought aid from Rome and the Romans responded by declaring war on the Samnites.  This sparked the conflagration known as The Second (or Great) Samnite War (326 to 304 BC).  

What started out as what would seem to have been an easy venture for the Romans quickly degenerated and nearly turned into a disaster for them.  At the outset the people of Neapolis were divided in their opinion of a Samnite military presence in their city.  The upper classes were against it but the populace was in favor it.  The upper classes prevailed, however and eventually the Samnites were forced out!  Five years after the start of the conflict the Samnites had suffered so many defeats they sued for peace.  The terms the Romans offered them, however, were so severe the Samnites rejected them and decided to fight on.

That same year (321 BC, according to Livy) two Roman consuls led a large force into an area known as the Caudine Forks.  Here the Romans realized, to their horror, they could neither advance nor retreat.  The Samnites, under the leadership of Gaius Pontius, came upon them and would have slaughtered them.  Pontius had the option of either freeing them all (as originally advised by his father, Herennius, who believed such an act would gain for the Samnites the friendship of the Romans) or else slaughter them all.  Instead, he chose a middle path – forcing the Romans to accept humiliating terms of defeat before letting most of them go.  Livy’s account is of questionable veracity but remains as a powerful parable that the middle road is not always the best choice.  The Romans agreed to a five-year truce with the Samnites.  However, during that time they greatly increased the size of their army through conscription.

The end of the truce brought with it the end of the peace.  The Romans, aching for revenge over their humiliation, invaded Samnium and initially met with success.  All that changed a year later when the Romans met a crushing defeat at the Battle of Lautulae (315 BC).  Thereafter the Samnites picked up a number of additional victories to the point the Campani seriously toyed with deserting Rome and going over to the Samnite standard.  In that year the Etruscans allied themselves with the Samnites in the hopes of avenging themselves for earlier defeats suffered at the hands of the Romans.
Bronze clasp in the shape of palmettes, Samnite, late 5th–early 4th cent. B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art collection (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Shortly after this, though, Fortuna smiled once again on the Romans.  Between 311 and 304 BC much of central and southern Italy was plunged into open warfare.  Rome and her allies succeeded in forcing the Etruscans to sue for peace in 308 BC.  The Samnites finally threw in the towel four years later.  Both were given harsh terms by their Roman victors.

The Romans made sure they would not be put into any precarious situations again, as far as the Samnites were concerned.  During this time they established colonies in annexed Samnite territory and founded the beginnings of what would become the Roman navy.  They also discarded the hoplite system of fighting (learned from the Etruscans) in favor of the manipular system of the Samnites.  Under this system, soldiers would march into battle in a checkerboard formation, allowing easier manipulation of forces over rough terrain.  The successful conclusion of The Second Samnite War greatly increased Rome’s power and prestige throughout Italy, forcing a number of cities to become her allies.

Peace would not last long, however.  In 302 BC the Etruscans once again picked up arms against the Romans. Other Italic peoples quickly joined their side.  This conflict, the Third Samnite War (298 to 290 BC) became the first real attempt by the peoples of Italy to check the growing power of Rome and her allies.  In addition to Etruscans and Samnites, Umbrians and Gauls likewise joined the fray.  Rome found itself fighting determined foes on a number of fronts.  Rome’s enemies, on the other hand, now realized the very real threat Rome was to their sovereignty.

Early on Rome succeeded in smashing a large Samnite force, allowing them to turn their attention to their Etruscan and Gallic enemies farther north.  In 295 BC the Romans and their allies defeated a large allied coalition at the Battle of Sentinum.  According to Livy the number of combatants on the field was greater than at any other time in Italian history.
Bronze belt, Samnite, Late Classical or Hellenistic, ca. 350-325 B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art collection (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Unlike in the two earlier conflicts, the Romans granted the Samnites favorable terms in the new treaty (or so said Livy), hoping to force them into an alliance as a vassal people.  In actuality since Livy admitted the terms were imposed upon the Samnites, rather than negotiated, we cannot accept his statement as truthful.  Among other things it was admitted the Romans demanded troops, rations and clothing from Samnium for their armies.  In addition, new Latin colonies were established on Samnite territory.  The war ended with Rome the undisputed master of most of Italy, with surrounding cities closely allied with it while keeping only varied degrees of independence.  The political consequences of the war were that the Samnites would never again be able to present a united front against Rome’s hegemony.

The irascible Samnites chafed under the terms of this treaty and almost immediately began looking for ways to get out from under it and Rome’s yoke.  That opportunity would come scarcely 15 years later during the so-called Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC).

The war began as a minor conflict between Rome and the Greek city-state of Tarentum in Magna Graecia.  Tarentum had been growing in power and influence in southern Italy, becoming a major commercial center in the region.  Rome naturally began to view them as a threat to its own expansion into the area.  A naval violation in Tarentum territory by a Roman consul sparked the war.  He had brought a large Roman navy into Tarentum territorial waters to aid a Roman ally in their war against another city.  The Tarentum navy responded by attacking the Roman fleet and sinking several ships.  The Romans sent a delegation to Tarentum angrily demanding redress but things quickly went south and the Romans declared war on Tarentum.

The rulers of Tarentum, fearing Roman military might, petitioned Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, for aid, citing their earlier aid to him in his war against Korkyra, a Greek city-state on the island of Corfu.  

Pyrrhus, seeing an opportunity to expand his empire overseas responded by honoring his military obligations to the people of Tarentum.  He arrived with a force of 25,000 men.  His army included 20 war elephants.  The Romans in turn, amassed a force of about 80,000 men divided into four armies.  One was left behind to guard Rome itself, one was sent to keep the Samnites and the Lucanians honest, one was sent north to attack the Etruscans in order to prevent them from aiding Pyrrhus and the fourth was sent to meet Pyrrhus himself.
Fragment of a bronze belt, Samnite, 4th—3rd century B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art collection (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
The first engagement, the Battle of Heraclea, ended in a sound defeat for the Romans.  Pyrrhus’ force killed anywhere from 7,000-15,000 of them (depending on sources) and had thousands of others captured.  Upon hearing the news of Rome’s defeat many towns and cities in Magna Graecia flocked to Epirus’ standard.  Bolstered by this turn of events, He began to march towards Etruria, sacking many towns and cities in Campania and Latium along the way.  He stopped at Anagni, a town two days ride from Rome, when he saw another Roman army under the command of Corunciatus.  Knowing two other Roman armies were in hot pursuit of him, he decided not to engage them and withdrew.  The Romans, in turn, decided not to follow him; Corunciatus wisely deciding to wait to hook up with the other two Roman armies before taking off after him.

While all this was going on the Samnites, seeing an opportunity to rid themselves of their hated Roman taskmasters, managed to send word to him they wished to join his side.  He gladly accepted their aid.  Samnite infantry and cavalry were present alongside Pyrrhus’ Macedonian and Italian-Greek forces at the second great battle of the Pyrrhic War – the Battle of Asculum (279 BC).

According to ancient sources both sides had about 40,000 men.  The battle ended in another defeat for the Romans.  However, Pyrrhus lost a goodly amount of his best officers beating them.  According to one source, when congratulated on his victory he famously responded, “Victory?  One more such victory and we shall be undone!”  From this comes the term ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ – victory won at great cost.

Terracotta column-krater (mixing bowl),
Greek, Apulian, red-figure, ca. 375-350 B.C.
Woman and two Oscan youths with trays
and nestoris (an Italic type of jar) 
Metropolitan Museum of Art collection
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Though he was winning victories, the Romans were bleeding him. Unable to replenish them on Italian soil, he decided to go to Sicily to aid the Greeks there against the Carthaginians, who had decided to ally with Rome against him.  The Romans decided to use this opportunity to punish the Samnites for their treachery.  Two Roman consuls, Junius and Rufinus, combined their forces and invaded deep into Samnite territory. The Samnites in turn kept retreating high into the hills, luring the Romans into a trap.  The result was the Battle of the Cranita Hills (277 BC) which ended in a defeat of the combined Roman forces.  

Though defeated, the Romans still held the advantage Junius’ army continued to ravage Samnium after the Roman withdrawal from the Cranita Hills. When word reached them that Pyrrhus had thrown in the towel and returned to Epirus, the Samnites, realizing they could not hold out against the Roman monolith on their own, were forced to sue the Romans for peace.  It would come at a terrible price.

Though constantly beaten and humiliated by the Romans these most redoubtable of their enemies could not resist the clarion call of battle when it came again in the person of Hannibal, general of the Carthaginians who invaded Italy during the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC).  

Initially the Carthaginians could not find any aid from Italian peoples against Rome, but eventually some Samnites threw their lot in with Rome’s enemies, especially among the Hirpini and Caudini.  Once again there were initial victories against them with the promise of victory but once again it ended in a disastrous and humbling defeat.  After the defeat and withdrawal of the Carthaginians the Romans severely punished the rebellious Samnites by drastically reducing their territory.

The last time the Samnites turned out in force against Rome was during the Social or Marsic War (91 to 88 BC).  This war was a rebellion of Rome’s traditional Italic and Gallic allies against the Roman policy of land and wealth redistribution which, of course, greatly favored Romans over their allies.  The cause of the allies was taken up by the plebeian Marcus Livius Drusus, who proposed a number of reforms including granting Roman citizenship to Rome’s Italian allies. His reforms were rejected and Drusus himself was ultimately assassinated in 91 BC.  Allied outrage over these events led to armed insurrection.

Funerary slab from Paestum depicting
mounted Samnite warrior wearing
characteristic helmet with aigrettes,
bronze belt and cuirass.
Paestum National Archaeological Museum
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
One would have thought that Rome would have had a natural advantage in this war but such was not the case.  For decades Rome had sent its allies into battle to spare its own citizens.  As a result the allies had many battle hardened veterans in its ranks.  What the Romans did have was naval supremacy.  This insured no overseas aid to the rebels.

The Samnites, true to their nature and their irreversible hatred of Rome, joined the rebellion and in fact were among its leaders. Diodorus, in fact, places their name first among the rebel peoples.  Unfortunately for the Samnites, however, the Romans (or rather, the Roman patricians) found their savior in the person of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138 – 78 BC).  Sulla, as he was known, was a champion of the patricians against the plebs. These two groups were at odds with each other even while they were battling the rebels.  Sulla won over the hearts and minds of many Romans by convincing them of the threat of a Samnite menace and proposing his own version of a Final Solution to the Samnite problem.

Sulla won great acclaim for himself by bringing the Social War to a successful conclusion.  Even though the Romans won, they made a number of concessions to their erstwhile allies, the Samnites notwithstanding.  As the last holdouts in the Social War they felt the full extent of Sulla’s genocidal campaign.  Though not physically exterminated, after the Social War and later Sulla’s civil war the name of Samnium was effectively erased from the pages of history.  As the Greco-Roman historian Strabo (63 BC to 24 AD) would later record in his book Geographica “…the towns of Samnium have become villages, and most have vanished altogether.”

Thus passed away from the pages of history perhaps Rome’s greatest and most stubborn enemy – the Samnites!
Next chapter: Hellenic Dawn

Further reading:
E.T. Salmon: Samnium and the Samnites: Cambridge University Publishing; 1967

February 12, 2014

Rosa Ponselle Returns to Times Square

Rosa Ponselle as Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma"
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
I’m pleased to see that the statue of opera singer Rosa Ponselle was returned to it’s niche on the I. Miller building at Broadway and West 46th Street, in Manhattan’s Times Square. Her statue is one of four “best-loved actresses” sculpted by Alexander Stirling Calder, and were unveiled at this location in 1929. The others being Ethel Barrymore, Marylyn Miller and Mary Pickford. The building is an official landmark and an important piece of New York history.

Rosa was an American opera soprano of Neapolitan descent who was originally from a southern Italian neighborhood in Meriden Connecticut. She was well loved and considered one of the best. For more information about Rosa Ponselle, please see The Most Glorious Voice: Rosa Ponselle — La Magnifica.

February 11, 2014

Download Hundreds of Free Art Publications from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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February 8, 2014

The Greek Anthesteria in Southern Italy

Map of Magna Graecia Courtesy of Napoli Unplugged
By Lucian

The Greek settlements in southern Italy, collectively known as Magna Graecia, are an important part of our culture and history. More so than many other cultural influences, because these Greeks are also the direct ancestors of the southern Italian people. Along with several indigenous populations, such as the Sicani, Samnites, Messapians (among others), they form the base of our ethnicity. There were, of course, a few Greek settlements elsewhere in Italy (e.g. Ancona), and some blending with the various northern Italian peoples during and after the long lived Roman Empire, but it has been said that one of the main differences between the people of northern and southern Italy is the southerner's Greek ancestry.

Long before the Roman Empire spread through the entire peninsula to encompass the sea, there were prominent Greek cities and settlements throughout southern Italy and Sicily. These areas were well populated and centers of trade. The Greeks brought their religious and cultural practices with them. Some of these traditions continued after the Roman subjugation, and were actually similar to the Roman's own way of doing things. This isn't surprising because these cultures had already been influencing each other for centuries. Rituals of spiritual purification were common in ancient times, and both the Romans and the Greeks had feasts to honor their ancestors and placate the dead. The Greek tradition was called Anthesteria. 
"Though some of the Baccic scenes of sirens and maenads are not in the spirit of the Attic choes (for instance the naked dancing maenad), there is no indication that the Anthesteria in Southern Italy differed essentially from the Athenian." Choes and Anthesteria, by G. Van Hoorn p51
Terracotta oinochoe (jug)
Greek, Attic, red-figure, mid-4th century B.C.
Pompe, the female personification of a
procession, between Eros and Dionysos,
probably in honor of the Anthesteria

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Not all Greeks celebrated the same holidays, they were not a singular people in ancient times, but groups of related peoples connected through blood and similar language. The various city states of Greece established settlements in different places in Italy. Anthesteria was an Athenian celebration, but evidence of its practice has been found throughout the entire Ionian region (in Greece) and several areas of Magna Graecia.

The Anthesteria takes place on the 11th through 13th of the Greek month Anthesterion, which roughly corresponds to February. The name of the month is actually derived from the name of the festival, signifying how important the tradition was to our ancestors. A cursory look will show a wine-festival in honor of the Greek god Dionysus, similar to the Roman Bacchanal, but an underlying tone of gloom and certain rituals speak of a deeper and older meaning to the holiday. It is believed that Anthesteria was originally a feast of the dead which, over time, was overlaid with the wine festival of Dionysus, yet retained elements of both. This is not as strange as it might sound, the dual nature of some of the rituals fit very neatly into both categories, and is not uncommon for a "Day of the Dead" to be festive. Although the purpose of each of the three feast days is distinct, elements of the three days seem to overlap or blend together during the actual festivities. One reason for this is that the days of the Athenian calendar did not end at midnight, but at sunset. The rituals of the second day began immediately when evening fell, not on the next morning.
"...Anthesteria, rites of Greek origin that were very popular in southern Italy. In their later, Olympian form, these three days were dedicated to Dionysus: the casks of new wine were opened on the Day of the Casks, the Day of the Cups was devoted to drunken revelry, and the festival ended with the dramatic contests held on the day of the Pots. In the archaic period, however, this may have been a festival of all souls, in which the casks were grave jars and the cups signified the pouring out of libations to the souls of the dead, who, once feasted, were bidden to depart on the third day through the natural, chtonic potholes of the earth." On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal, by Mary Taylor Simeti
The first day of Anthesteria was called Pithoigia (The opening of Jars), and was held on the 11th of Anthesterion. It was the day they opened casks, or great clay jars containing new wine, a popular event which is often celebrated in other cultures (Saturnalia, St. Martin's day, etc.). The people prayed that the wine would be healthy for them and not harm them in any way, a reminder of the dangerous and uncertain times in which our ancestors lived. A drinking contest was presided over by the King, and the man who drained his cup first received a cake; "each man crowns his cup with a garland and deposits the wreath in keeping of the priestess of the sanctuary of Dionysos in the Marshes." (Harrison p33). Slaves and servants were allowed to participate in the drinking at some point during the rituals, it was prohibited to stop them, and from the evidence nearly everyone involved ended up inebriated to some degree. One would think a drinking contest to be at least as merry as the surrounding festivities, but other than the necessary ritual interactions it is thought that the men in the contest drank alone and in silence, creating a more sober, reflective mood.
Terracotta skyphos (deep drinking cup) Greek, Attic, red-figure, ca. 350 B.C.
Three women with an openwork basket used in religious processions.
The presence of a satyr and Eros suggests that the festival is the Anthesteria

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
The rituals of the following two days (Choes & Chytroi) bear unmistakable evidence that they served as festivals of ghosts, but there was little evidence to link the first day, Pithoigia, to the dead. The exception was the existence of vase paintings that remind us that wine jars were not the only type of jars that were ritualistically opened.
"The vase-painting in [the image below] must not be regarded as an actual conscious representation of the Athenian rite performed on the first day of the Anthesteria. It is more general in content; it is in fact simply a representation of ideas familiar to every Greek, that the pithos was a grave-jar, that from such grave-jars souls escaped and to them necessarily returned, and that Hermes was Psychopompos, Evoker and Revoker of souls. The vase-painting is in fact only another form of the scene so often represented on Athenian white lekythoi, in which the souls flutter round the grave-stele. The grave jar is but the earlier form of sepulture; the little winged figures, the Keres, are identical in both classes of vase-painting."  Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, by Jane Harrison, p43-44
Vase-painting from a lekythos
in the University Museum of Jena
showing Keres (in this case the
souls of the dead), escaping 
and returning to a grave jar
After sunset Pithoigia became Choes (cups), the second day of Anthesteria. The temple of Dionysus was opened for the symbolic marriage of the Kings wife to the god. It was the only day of the year this temple was open to the public, and on this day all the other temples were closed. The drinking and celebrations of the previous day continued. Choes was an important rite of passage for children of the age of three. They were no longer considered babies after the ceremony, but adolescents. A small pitcher of wine was given to them to drink. If a child died before the age of three, one of these little pitchers was buried with them so they could complete the ritual symbolically in the afterlife (Burkert p221).

The view that the wine was also used for funeral libations clarifies the meaning of some of the rituals (Harrison p41), and in the Mediterranean wine was known to be symbolic substitute to blood sacrifice (Burkert p224). On Choes, despite the joyous festivities, there was also an underlying apprehension. People would practice rituals to protect themselves and their homes against ghosts or evil spirits.
“[T]he Choes was a dies nefastus, an unlucky day, a day to be observed with apotropaic precautions."..."such a day occurred 'in the Choes in the month of Anthesterion, in which (i.e. during the Choes) they believed that the spirits of the dead rose up again. From early morning they used to chew buckthorn and anointed their doors with pitch.' Pitch is a plant of purgative properties and was believed to ward off evil spirits or eject them from the possessed.” Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, by Jane Harrison p39
Terracotta lekythos (oil flask)
Apulian, red-figure, ca. 375-350 B.C.
Woman pushing girl on a swing, 
depicting the Apulian counterpart
of the Anthesteria

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
The third day of Anthesteria was called Chytroi (Pots). A feast was prepared with many types of food cooked together in a pot until soft and sweetened with honey. Some scholars believe that the feast was untouched by the people and prepared solely as libations, but it is generally accepted that the food was eaten by everyone except the priests, whose portion was offered not to Dionysus or the Olympian gods, but to Hermes. "Hermes is the mediator between this world and the next, the god who carries Dionysus away and brings him back." (Burkert p239) A story is told of an ancient flood, where those who could save themselves did so by throwing all the food that could be found into a pot of grains to be cooked; and "those who then survived tried to appease Hermes on behalf of the dead." (Burkert p240)

This began the returning of things to normal. The social order was restored and the slaves and laborers were sent back to their usual stations. The interweaving of joyous themes with those of death occurred on this day as well. Children and virgins would swing on swings much as children would in a playground today, and have as much fun; but, as some say about the nursery rhyme "Ring around the Rosie," the symbolism behind the swinging was tied to death. (Burkert p241) On the day of Chytroi, the ghosts of the dead were ritually banished back to the underworld after being feasted and appeased in an act of spiritual purification.
"The clue to the real gist of the Anthesteria is afforded by a piece of ritual performed on the last day, the Chytroi. The Greeks had a proverbial expression spoken, we are told, of those who 'on all occasions demand a repetition of favours received.' It ran as follows: 'Out of the doors! ye Keres; it is no longer Anthesteria.' Suidas has preserved for us its true signification; it was spoken, he says, 'implying that in the Anthesteria the ghosts are going about in the city.' From this fragmentary statement the mandate, it is clear, must have been spoken at the close of the festival, so we cannot be wrong in placing it as the last act of the Chytroi." .... "The formula used at the close of the Anthesteria is in itself ample proof that the Anthesteria was a festival of All Souls; here at last we know for certain what was dimly shadowed in the Diasia, that some portion at least of the ritual of the month Anthesterion was addressed to the powers of the underworld, and that these powers were primarily the ghosts of the dead. The evidence is not however confined to an isolated proverbial formulary. The remaining ritual of the Chytroi confirms it. Before they were bidden to depart the ghosts were feasted and after significant fashion." Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, by Jane Harrison, p34—36
Terracotta oinochoe (jug) Greek, Attic, red-figure, ca. 420-410 B.C.
Two women making preparations for the Anthesteria

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
It is not surprising that Anthesteria occurred around February. In the Mediterranean this is the time when winter is retreating and the first flowers begin to bloom. In the ancient world rituals for fertility and spiritual purification often go together, and involved the spirits of the underworld. The Romans saw the entire month of February as a month of the dead. The feast on Chytroi and the participation of slaves in the festival is reminiscent of the Roman Parentalia and the banishment of the Keres is very similar to a ritual during Lemuria, which occurs later in the spring. (Harrison p35-36). During Anthesteria, and both the Roman festivals, no mortal marriages or important business could take place and, with one exception (Dionysus), the temples were closed.
"The winter drew to an end, and the first flowers sprang from the ground, sometimes though the snow; hense -from the verb anthein, 'to flower'- come the names of the festival and the month, 'Anthesteria' and 'Anthesterion.' There now began a time for which the Romans coined the expression mundus patet: for some days the lower world was open." Dionysos, Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life Vol 2, by Carl Kerenyi, p300
Spring is still a special time for mankind. We continue to celebrate it and we should; we still survive because of the food that the seasonal cycles brings us. The fear and awe of death is also still with us, as is our fascination with the afterlife. The Christian feast of All Souls Day is one contemporary equivalent to our ancient feasts of the dead, and people from most cultures and all eras seem to have a spiritual need for a holiday of this type. Our ancestors will always be part of us. We owe them our very existence and we continue to build on their foundation, reminding us of the famous words of Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This February I will drink to my ancestors, and feast in their memory.

• On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal, by Mary Taylor Simeti eISBN 978-0-307-77311-1
• Choes and Anthesteria, by G. Van Hoorn 
• Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, by Jane Harrison  ISBN: 0850362636
• Dionysos, Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life Vol 2, by Carl Kerenyi (Translation by Ralph Manheim) ISBN: 0-691-09863-8
• Homo Necans, The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, by Walter Burkert, 1972 (translated by Peter Bing)  ISBN 0-520-03650-6

* Photos taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City