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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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approach to it.  Laborers were busy spading up the heavy, wet ground,
or digging trenches, which instantly filled with water, for the whole
country was afloat.  The frogs greeted us with clamorous chorus out
of their slimy pools, and the mosquitoes attacked us as we rode
along.  I noticed about on the bogs, wherever they could find
standing-room, half-naked wretches, with long spears, having several
prongs like tridents, which they thrust into the grass and shallow
water.  Calling one of them to us, we found that his business was
fishing, and that he forked out very fat and edible-looking fish with
his trident.  Shaggy, undersized horses were wading in the water,
nipping off the thin spears of grass.  Close to the church is a
rickety farmhouse.  If I lived there, I would as lief be a fish as a
horse.

The interior of this primitive old basilica is lofty and imposing,
with twenty-four handsome columns of the gray Cippolino marble, and
an elevated high altar and tribune, decorated with splendid mosaics
of the sixth century,--biblical subjects, in all the stiff
faithfulness of the holy old times.  The marble floor is green and
damp and slippery.  Under the tribune is the crypt, where the body of
St. Apollinaris used to lie (it is now under the high altar above);
and as I desired to see where he used to rest, I walked in.  I also
walked into about six inches of water, in the dim, irreligious light;
and so made a cold-water Baptist devotee of myself.  In the side
aisles are wonderful old sarcophagi, containing the ashes of
archbishops of Ravenna, so old that the owners' names are forgotten
of two of them, which shows that a man may build a tomb more enduring
than his memory.  The sculptured bas-reliefs are very interesting,
being early Christian emblems and curious devices,--symbols of sheep,
palms, peacocks, crosses, and the four rivers of Paradise flowing
down in stony streams from stony sources, and monograms, and pious
rebuses.  At the entrance of the crypt is an open stone book, called
the Breviary of Gregory the Great.  Detached from the church is the
Bell Tower, a circular campanile of a sort peculiar to Ravenna, which
adds to the picturesqueness of the pile, and suggests the notion that
it is a mast unshipped from its vessel, the church, which
consequently stands there water-logged, with no power to catch any
wind, of doctrine or other, and move.  I forgot to say that the
basilica was launched in the year 534.

A little weary with the good but damp old Christians, we ordered our
driver to continue across the marsh to the Pineta, whose dark fringe
bounded all our horizon toward the Adriatic.  It is the largest
unbroken forest in Italy, and by all odds the most poetic in itself
and its associations.  It is twenty-five miles long, and from one to
three in breadth, a free growth of stately pines, whose boughs are
full of music and sweet odors,--a succession of lovely glades and
avenues, with miles and miles of drives over the springy turf.  At
the point where we entered is a farmhouse.  Laborers had been
gathering the cones, which were heaped up in immense windrows,
hundreds of feet in length.  Boys and men were busy pounding out the
seeds from the cones.  The latter are used for fuel, and the former
are pressed for their oil.  They are also eaten: we have often had
them served at hotel tables, and found them rather tasteless, but not
unpleasant.  The turf, as we drove into the recesses of the forest,
was thickly covered with wild flowers, of many colors and delicate
forms; but we liked best the violets, for they reminded us of home,
though the driver seemed to think them less valuable than the seeds
of the pine-cones.  A lovely day and history and romance united to
fascinate us with the place.  We were driving over the spot where,
eighteen centuries ago, the Roman fleet used to ride at anchor.
Here, it is certain, the gloomy spirit of Dante found congenial place
for meditation, and the gay Boccaccio material for fiction.  Here for
hours, day after day, Byron used to gallop his horse, giving vent to
that restless impatience which could not all escape from his fiery
pen, hearing those voices of a past and dead Italy which he, more
truthfully and pathetically than any other poet, has put into living
verse.  The driver pointed out what is called Byron's Path, where he
was wont to ride.  Everybody here, indeed, knows of Byron; and I
think his memory is more secure than any saint of them all in their
stone boxes, partly because his poetry has celebrated the region,
perhaps rather from the perpetuated tradition of his generosity.  No
foreigner was ever so popular as he while he lived at Ravenna.  At
least, the people say so now, since they find it so profitable to
keep his memory alive and to point out his haunts.  The Italians) to
be sure, know how to make capital out of poets and heroes, and are
quick to learn the curiosity of foreigners, and to gratify it for a
compensation.  But the evident esteem in which Byron's memory is held
in the Armenian monastery of St. Lazzaro, at Venice, must be
otherwise accounted for.  The monks keep his library-room and table
as they were when he wrote there, and like to show his portrait, and
tell of his quick mastery of the difficult Armenian tongue.  We have
a notable example of a Person who became a monk when he was sick; but
Byron accomplished too much work during the few months he was on the
Island of St. Lazzaro, both in original composition and in
translating English into Armenian, for one physically ruined and
broken.




DANTE AND BYRON

The pilgrim to Ravenna, who has any idea of what is due to the genius
of Dante, will be disappointed when he approaches his tomb.  Its
situation is in a not very conspicuous corner, at the foot of a
narrow street, bearing the poet's name, and beside the Church of San
Francisco, which is interesting as containing the tombs of the
Polenta family, whose hospitality to the wandering exile has rescued
their names from oblivion.  Opposite the tomb is the shabby old brick
house of the Polentas, where Dante passed many years of his life.  It
is tenanted now by all sorts of people, and a dirty carriage-shop in
the courtyard kills the poetry of it.  Dante died in 1321, and was at
first buried in the neighboring church; but this tomb, since twice
renewed, was erected, and his body removed here, in 1482.  It is a
square stuccoed structure, stained light green, and covered by a
dome,--a tasteless monument, embellished with stucco medallions,
inside, of the poet, of Virgil, of Brunetto Latini, the poet's
master, and of his patron, Guido da Polenta.  On the sarcophagus is
the epitaph, composed in Latin by Dante himself, who seems to have
thought, with Shakespeare, that for a poet to make his own epitaph
was the safest thing to do.  Notwithstanding the mean appearance of
this sepulcher, there is none in all the soil of Italy that the
traveler from America will visit with deeper interest.  Near by is
the house where Byron first resided in Ravenna, as a tablet records.

The people here preserve all the memorials of Byron; and, I should
judge, hold his memory in something like affection.  The Palace
Guiccioli, in which he subsequently resided, is in another part of
the town.  He spent over two years in Ravenna, and said he preferred
it to any place in Italy.  Why I cannot see, unless it was remote
from the route of travel, and the desolation of it was congenial to
him.  Doubtless he loved these wide, marshy expanses on the Adriatic,
and especially the great forest of pines on its shore; but Byron was
apt to be governed in his choice of a residence by the woman with
whom he was intimate.  The palace was certainly pleasanter than his
gloomy house in the Strada di Porta Sisi, and the society of the
Countess Guiccioli was rather a stimulus than otherwise to his
literary activity.  At her suggestion he wrote the "Prophecy of
Dante;" and the translation of "Francesca da Rimini" was "executed at
Ravenna, where, five centuries before, and in the very house in which
the unfortunate lady was born, Dante's poem had been composed."  Some
of his finest poems were also produced here, poems for which Venice
is as grateful as Ravenna.  Here he wrote "Marino Faliero," "The Two
Foscari," "Morganti Maggiore," "Sardanapalus," "The Blues," "The
fifth canto of Don Juan," " Cain," "Heaven and Earth," and "The
Vision of Judgment."  I looked in at the court of the palace,--a
pleasant, quiet place,--where he used to work, and tried to guess
which were the windows of his apartments.  The sun was shining
brightly, and a bird was singing in the court; but there was no other
sign of life, nor anything to remind one of the profligate genius who
was so long a guest here.




RESTING-PLACE OF CAESARS--PICTURE OF A BEAUTIFUL HERETIC

Very different from the tomb of Dante, and different in the
associations it awakes, is the Rotunda or Mausoleum of Theodoric the
Goth,  outside the Porta Serrata, whose daughter, Amalasuntha, as it
is supposed, about the year 530, erected this imposing structure as a
certain place "to keep his memory whole and mummy hid" for ever.  But
the Goth had not lain in it long before Arianism went out of fashion
quite, and the zealous Roman Catholics despoiled his costly
sleeping-place, and scattered his ashes abroad.  I do not know that
any dead person has lived in it since.  The tomb is still a  very
solid affair,--a rotunda built of solid blocks  of limestone, and
resting on a ten-sided base, each side having a recess surmounted by
an arch. The upper story is also decagonal, and is reached by a
flight of modern stone steps.  The roof is composed of a single block
of Istrian limestone, scooped out like a shallow bowl inside; and,
being the biggest roof-stone I ever saw, I will give you the
dimensions.  It is thirty-six feet in diameter, hollowed out to the
depth of ten feet, four feet thick at the center, and two feet nine
inches at the edges, and is estimated to weigh two hundred tons.
Amalasuntha must have had help in getting it up there.  The lower

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