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A rhyming chronicler of Pisa compared the battles of the burghersagainst the Saracens with the Punic wars. The tomb of Virgil at Napleswas an object for pilgrimage, and one of the few spots round which agroup of local legends clustered. The memory of Livy added luster toPadua, and Mussato boasted that her walls, like those of Troy, hermother-city, were sacrosanct. The memory of the Plinies ennobled Como,that of Ovid gave glory to Sulmona, that of Tully to Arpino. Florenceclung to the mutilated statue of Mars upon her bridge with almostsuperstitious reverence, as proof of Roman origin; while Siena adoptedfor her ensign the she-wolf and the Roman twins. Pagan customs survived,and were jealously maintained in the central and southern provinces; andthe name of the Republic sufficed to stir Arnold's -13-revolution in Rome,long before the days of Rienzi. To the mighty German potentate, KingFrederick Barbarossa, attended with his Northern chivalry, a handful ofRomans dared to say: \"Thou wast a stranger; I, the City, gave thee civicrights. Thou camest from transalpine regions; I have conferred on theethe principality.\" It would be easy to multiply these instances.Enough, however, has been said to show that through the gloom ofmedieval history, before humanism had begun to dawn, and while the othernations were creating legends and popular epics, Italy maintained a dimbut tenacious sense of her Roman past. This consciousness has here to beinsisted on, not merely because it stood in the way of mythopœicactivity, but because it found full and proper satisfaction in thatRevival of Learning which decided the Renaissance.
Returning to the Rappresentazioni, we are forced to admit that thedefect of the Italian fancy is more apparent than its quality, in aspecies of dramatic art which, being childish, needed some magic spellto reconcile an adult taste to its puerility. They were written atthe most prosaic moment of the national development, by men who couldnot afford to substitute the true Italian poetry of irony and idyllicsensuousness for the ancient religious spirit. The bondage of the middleages was upon them. They were forced to take the extravagance of themonastic imagination for fact. But they did not really believe; and sothe fact was apprehended frigidly, prosaically. Instead of poetry we getrhetoric; instead of marvels, gross incredibilities are forced upon usin the lives of men and women fashioned like the-347- folk who crowd thestreets we know. Another step in the realistic direction would havetransformed all these religious myths into novelle; and then a newbeauty, the beauty of the Decameron and Novellino, would have beenshed upon them. But it was precisely this step that Castellani andBelcari dared not take, since their purpose remained religiousedification. Nay, their instinct led them in the opposite direction.Unable to escape the influence of the novella, which was the truestliterary form peculiar to Italy in that age, they converted it into asacred legend and treated it with the same rhetorical and insincerepietism as the stories of the Saints. From S. Barbara to the third-classRappresentazioni the transition is easy. 59ce067264