Sunday, November 25, 2012


This post-Thanksgiving blog post will be briefer than most - just a nod to the inevitable detritus and discarded verbiage that results from editing a book-length manuscript.

I haven't read a certain famous work of fiction that has been making the rounds of late, but I understand that in it, a certain young woman has a habit of biting her lip.  Frequently.  I understand this from the many spoofs, satires, and good-natured ripoffs that keep cropping up.

So, if a little authorial tic like that can find its way into a wildly popular, um, novel, perhaps it's not too surprising that most authors seem to have favorite "bits of business" with which they tend to pepper their prose, only to have to weed them out later, grumbling all the while.

Mine was nodding.  Any time I wanted a character to do something nonverbal, that character wound up nodding.  It was genuinely alarming to see how often people in my book nodded, sometimes several times to a page.  When I read the work aloud (and thank goodness I did!), I realized I had created a historical novel peopled with medieval bobbleheads.

Medieval bobbleheads

Well, that just wouldn't do.  So I made use of a wonderful editing tool, which I call the "Search and Destroy" feature.  I searched for "nod" and ruthlessly deleted it, substituted other things, rewrote sentences or entire paragraphs, and eradicated nodding from my characters' nonverbal lexicon.  Mostly.

A writer friend tells me her particular tic is pausing.  When her characters need something to do, they pause.  I've never noticed this in the drafts of her work that I've read, so she must weed it out early, but I can imagine that left in place, such a habit would result in a sort of stop-action, amateur claymation effect for the reader.

That Search and Destroy feature is handy for other things, too.  I let too many sentences begin with "There is" or "There are."  I know better, but it's a careless habit that still sneaks into my writing.  A global search both reveals the scope of the problem, and gives the author a chance to do something about it, before the manuscript sees the light of day.

It's also great for renaming.  I had a "placeholder" name for a character; I liked it, and I thought it suited her, but I hadn't yet checked to see if it was in use in my period.  It wasn't, or at least I couldn't document it.  So I picked a new name and globally replaced the old one.  Very useful, though I tend to forget I've done it and wonder who this stranger in my book might be. 

And when additional research revealed that I needed to change the heraldic colors of one family I was writing about, Search and Destroy did the job, wiping out the old colors and replacing them with the new ones.  (I did accidentally change the color of the wall hangings at the same time, but I went back and fixed it.)

But the most puzzling habit I've found in my own writing is my tendency to have a character in two places at once.  This is an artifact of rewriting; you rewrite a scene, or a part of a scene, and forget that something also needs to change in what goes before it or comes after it.  Thus, I wound up with a young woman in my book sitting on a window seat and sewing - directly across from herself, sitting on the other window seat and sewing.  Oops.

And I had a poor fellow, a secondary character, who I needed to use in a particularly dramatic scene, but I kept reworking it, trying to get it the way I wanted it.  The result?  Bicci was at the side of my protagonist as they walked toward Bicci, all the while Bicci was off somewhere else trying to find Anselmo.  Bicci was a talented sort of guy, but being in three places at once was too much, even for him. 

I found more systemic problems, many of them, but these are enough to give you a taste.  I've promised myself that I will never attempt to give advice to other writers - I firmly believe that there are as many right ways to write as there are writers, or maybe even as many right ways as there are individual writing projects - but just this once, I'll break that rule:  read your stuff out loud.  You'll be appalled, but you'll be glad you did it.

Images in this post include a photo of mine, and two public-domain images altered slightly by my husband.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

La Compiuta Donzella: 13th c. Poet, or Legend?

La Computer Donzella

First, let me explain.

The above image was the result of one of those misheard comments, when I was chattering away about La Compiuta Donzella and my listener thought I said La Computer Donzella.  It was a rather irresistible thought; hence this picture.  (All credit--or is it blame?--is due to my husband Tim for this one.)

But she was not La Computer Donzella.  She was - or possibly wasn't - a woman who lived in the 13th century in Florence and who wrote poetry.   And what do we know about her?


We don't even know if she really existed.  Some scholars have thought that she was nothing more than the fanciful creation of male poets, while others believe she was a real woman (though Compiuta may have been a pseudonym rather than her actual name) who did write the three surviving poems ascribed to her.  If she did exist, she is the first woman known to have written poetry in the Italian vernacular.

Playing music

And me?  I think she was real.  Otherwise, I find it difficult to imagine why several well-known (and male) poets of her day wrote poetry and letters to her.  But perhaps they were even more fanciful than we know, and the whole thing was an elaborate setup.

In lieu of a portrait, let's look at the best known of her sonnets, in which she begins by writing (with what one editor, Luciano Rebay, calls "moving simplicity and consummate poetic skill") of the beauties of spring and of love.  But in the eighth line she changes her tone, and the poem becomes a complaint, a lament.  Here's a translation by Rebay:

In the season when the world leafs and flowers,
Joy grows in all gentle lovers,
They go together to the gardens, while
Little birds make sweet song,
All free-hearted people fall inlove,
And every man steps forth to serve,
And every maiden lives in joy.
As for me, miseries and tears abound.

For my father has put me in a quandary,
And keeps me often in terrible pain:
He wants to give me--forcing me--a husband.
and I have neither wish nor will for this,
And in great torment I live every hour:
So that neither flower nor leaf rejoices me.

Defending the castle

Who was she?  "Donzella" suggests that she was a maiden, a damsel, an unmarried woman.  "Compiuta," which was actually in use at the time as a female name, means something like Capable or Competent, with a suggestion, too, of learned skill; maybe Accomplished would come closest.  And that is why I've sprinkled this post with images of other compiute donzelle from the middle ages, since it is not possible to offer you a portrait of the poet herself.

When and where did she live?  The "where" is a little easier than the "when."  Her Tuscan dialect places her in or near Florence.  The "when" is trickier, though.  It appears that she was active in the latter part of the 13th century, and some have guessed that she died around 1300.  But that still leaves us guessing.  Did she die young, possibly in childbirth?  Did she live to a ripe old age?  When was she writing her sonnets, which speak of the plight of a young woman whose fate is in someone else's hands?


We can hazard some guesses based on what we know of the men who corresponded with her.

First was Guittone d'Arezzo, who many consider the most prolific and influential poet of the Italian vernacular before Dante.  We have a surviving letter from Guittone to the "Donna Compiuta," praising her poetic gifts and offering her his devotion and admiration.

Teaching geometry
Guittone, a Guelf (the minority party in Arezzo), fought and lost at the battle of Montaperti in 1260, after which he chose to exile himself from his native city.  In the mid 1260s he underwent a religious conversion, left his wife and children, and joined a new religious order (the Milites Beatae Virginis Mariae, or Frati Godenti, a lay order founded to promote civic harmony in a time when such was a rare commodity).  If we assume that his letter to La Compiuta Donzella was written before his conversion, that means she was known for her poetry by, say, 1262-1263.  It also means she was married; he wrote Compiuta Donna rather than Donzella.

Maestro Torrigiano wrote her two letters.  In one, he dubbed her the "divine Sybil" and wondered whether the presence of such talents in a woman was unnatural, or possibly miraculous (but he probably meant that in a nice way).

But figuring out dates on Torrigiano is tricky.  Some historians say he was the prominent physician and medical scholar from Florence who was often known by the Latin version of his name:  Turisanus.  If so, he was a student of Taddeo Alderotti (see last blog post) in Bologna, and he had a reputation as a formidable scholar, albeit one who had really bad luck in actually curing patients.  But biographical information, including dates, is a bit garbled.  Filippo Villani, Florentine chronicler and Torrigiano's biographer, appears to equate him with a master who taught medicine in Paris as late as 1350, yet Taddeo Alderotti's student Turisanus died in 1319.  If the doctor was indeed La Compiuta Donzella's admirer, he may have been born somewhere in the 1240-1250 range.


The third man is even harder to pin down.  We have an anonymous poem which addresses her (this time as "Compiuta Donzella," so, not yet married) in a manner consistent with the conventions of courtly love, and to which she replied with pleasant courtesies and compliments.  Some historians believe this anonymous poet was Chiaro Davanzati, a member of a prominent Florentine family (the Palazzo Davanzati still stands in Florence, now a museum to the medieval Florentine home, with wonderful displays of furnishings and textiles).

Chiaro, too, fought in the battle of Montaperti (1260), so he must have been born not much later than about 1240.  He died in 1303.

Taking all this into account, I believe that La Compiuta Donzella was probably born in the 1240s, and that she was married by around 1263 or thereabouts.  But it's all guesswork.

A bit of historical context:  the battle of Montaperti was fought between the Ghibelline (imperial) forces and the Guelf (papal).  The Ghibellines won, inflicting great damage on the Guelf army and, it was said, making the river Arbia run red with blood.  Prominent Guelf families were exiled from Florence, and the triumphant Ghibellines took over, destroying Guelf palaces and towers and seizing other property.  It was, however, the Ghibellines' last hurrah in Florence.  A mere six years later, one year after Dante's birth (his Guelf family had apparently not been prominent enough to suffer exile), the battle of Benevento restored Guelf supremacy and the tables were turned - Ghibellines were exiled, and the formerly exiled Guelfs returned in triumph and began wreaking havoc on the Ghibellines' property.  The Ghibellines were never again to prevail in Florence, which remained staunchly Guelf, although the Guelf party split into two warring factions toward the end of the thirteenth century.

One wonders:  was La Compiuta Donzella's family Guelf or Ghibelline?  Were they exiled, either after Montaperti or after Benevento?  If, as we surmise, she was in her prime when Dante was born (1265), did she live long enough to see him transform Italian poetry?


La Compiuta Donzella's second surviving poem, by the way, also concerns marriage, only this time she is expressing a desire to leave the world and to enter a convent and serve God, but her father is having none of it.  She complains that the world is full of corruption and of falseness.  It is "the world of lies" where all is "mad and false and vile," in the translation by Leonard Cottrell.

We have no idea whether these few graceful works of poetry are truly autobiographical, or whether they simply represent poetic conventions.  The "malmaritate" (badly married) songs were very popular, some tragic, some quite funny.  It's certainly possible that the lady's father was in reality a very nice man, wanting only the best for his daughter.  Maybe.

We don't know much more about La Compiuta Donzella than we did when we began exploring the possibilities, but looking at her life does provide a good example of scholars making educated guesses.  It makes you wonder, though--how many other women wrote about their lives, in prose or in verse, only to have their words disappear with time?  She can't have been the only one.

After all, as it's often said, "Anonymous was a woman."

Images in this post are in the public domain because more than 100 years has passed since any possible copyright expired, except for the oddity at the top, which is property of Tim Heath.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Medieval Doctor and His Career

Taddeo Alderotti was something of a rock star among 13th century physicians.  A brilliant teacher and a skilled medical practitioner, Taddeo was also well versed in philosophy.  He held that medicine derived its principles from (and was there a subdivision of) natural science, and thus natural science and logic were a necessary foundation for the study of medicine.

Much in demand for his medical skills, Taddeo demonstrated another formidable skill as well:  the art of making money.  It was this latter talent that earned him a mention by Dante, who in his Paradiso 12:82-85, put these words into the mouth of Saint Bonaventura, speaking of Saint Dominic: 

Non per lo mondo, per cui mo s'affanna di retro ad Ostiense ed a Taddeo,     ma per amor della verace manna
 in picciol tempo gran dottor si feo...

Not for the world, for whose sake they labor now, following the man from Ostia and Taddeo, but for love of the true manna,
in short time he became a great teacher...
(trans. Robert M. Durling)

 (The Ostian in the quote above is Enrico di Susa, a very successful scholar of canon law who became Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and Velletri in 1262.)

Taddeo taught students who became the next generation of rock star doctors, and he treated patients ranging from a blacksmith to the pope, with stops in between at Florentine noblemen, a Venetian doge, a natural son of Emperor Frederick the Second, and a bishop who was himself an eminent physician, thus making Taddeo a physician's physician.  He treated men and women, old and young, all over Italy, both in person and as a consultant to their own physicians.  (Most of them did have in common a certain amount of wealth, for Taddeo did not come cheap.)  He wrote health regimens and consilia, detailing his recommendations for living a healthy life.

Two well-known anecdotes about Taddeo may give a little of the flavor of his time, and possibly also of the man.  One pertains to his teaching, the other to his medical practice.

First, there was the time that Taddeo cautioned his students against eating petronciani (eggplant, probably) on the grounds that it would cause madness.  One of his students disagreed, and, to prove his point, ingested eggplant and returned to class to announce that he was not at all mad.  And then he raised his garments and mooned Taddeo.  So - whose point did he prove, exactly?  (I think the usual conclusion here is that such behavior was not standard in a 13th century medical school classroom.)

And secondly, a chronicler reports that Taddeo had been called in on a difficult case, that of a nobleman who was seriously ill.  Taddeo believed that his patient was on the mend, so over the protests of his assistants, who were less sure of the outcome, he went home to get a good night's sleep.  When he returned the next morning, the patient was at death's door, and distraught family members were making wild threats, such as - horror of horrors - withholding the fee.  Taddeo looked around the sickroom, spotted an open window, and rounded on them:  had he not told everyone present that the windows had to be kept closed?  Therefore, the unfortunate change in the patient's condition was no fault of his.

Taddeo was largely responsible for taking medical education out of dusty translations of ancient texts and into the sickroom, teaching at the patient's bedside. He believed in taking a patient's medical history.  He advocated a scholastic and dialectical approach to medical teaching, and his methods to a large extent shaped medical education at Bologna, a curriculum which was in its infancy at the time he arrived there.

He got wildly excited about the medicinal benefits of distilled alcohol, including its use as an antiseptic, which to the modern mind seems like good sense indeed.  However, if you were his patient and you were suffering from epilepsy, his prescription might have been a concoction of burned human bones, wine, and peony juice, along with pills which included the gallbladder of a beaver and bear's testicles.  If that didn't appeal, you could try an alternative:  the liver of a wolf, burned and powdered asses' hooves, and the blood of a tortoise.  Bear in mind, he lived in a time when physicians believed in the evil eye (especially among elderly women, whose humors were considered to be cold and dry), and when people believed that the glance of a menstruating woman could cloud a mirror. 

Taddeo's Life

We have wildly divergent birthdates given for Taddeo.  I've seen dates as early as 1206 and as late as 1223, which means that when he died in 1295 (that one we do know), he was somewhere between 72 and 89.  He was a Florentine, probably from a family of modest means - it's said that as a child he sold church candles. 

He was teaching at the university in Bologna by the early 1260s.  Since in 1260 he would have been at least 37 and possibly as old as 54, this suggests that he may have begun his medical training later than most.

We'll take a closer look at both his teaching and his practice in a moment, but first I'll tell you what little we know about his life. 

He never lost his connection to his native Florence, although he spent his entire career based in Bologna and died there.  His wife, Adela, came from a Florentine family; they were wed in 1274 (when he was somewhere between 51 and 68).  They had a daughter, Mina, born around 1280, who married into the prominent Pulci family in Florence, bringing with her a sumptuous dowry of 1000 gold florins.  Taddeo also had a natural son, Taddeolo, who he legitimated in 1290.

It appears that he may have suffered some incapacitation in the last couple of years of his life, during which time he quarreled bitterly with one of his students (see Students, below).  He may have grown "manipulative and suspicious" in those years, as historian Nancy Siraisi surmises based on his numerous wills and the secrecy with which he surrounded his final will.

That will left large charitable bequests to the inform, sick, and aged poor, as well as a legacy to every hospital in Bologna.  His library of medical and philosophical books he left to the Franciscans and the Servites, and his body was laid to rest in the Franciscan church.

Taddeo's Students

We know the names of six of Taddeo's students, because each of them made a name for himself in his own right.  Here, as a sampling, I give you brief descriptions of the careers of two of these men, both of whom were noted for their contributions to anatomy.  A third student, Dino del Garbo, will merit a separate blog post for some of the odd and mysterious twists and turns his life took.

Bartolomeo da Varignana, the well-to-do son of a physician, did some forensic work for the city of Bologna, including (with four other physicians) conducting an autopsy to shed light on the suspicious death of a nobleman in 1302 - one of the first forensic dissections of the middle ages.  Caught up in the politics of his time, Bartolomeo, a White Guelf, was banned from Bologna in 1311 and joined Emperor Henry VII in his Italian travels.  Upon Henry's sudden death in 1313, Bartolomeo defended Henry's confessor against charges that the emperor had been slain by a poisoned host.

Mondino de'Luzzi, 1275-1326, was the son of an apothecary.  His family was Florentine but moved to Bologna while Mondino was a small child.  Mondino was a major figure in the history of anatomy, and may have performed dissections with his own hands, instead of looking on and directing his assistants, as had been the practice.  Known as "the restorer of anatomy," he played a major role in reintroducing the practice of public dissection.

Taddeo's Teaching Career

Taddeo's teaching at Bologna was so successful that he and his students were granted the same privileges afforded Bologna's elite, the students of law.  Although he was not a citizen of Bologna, the city granted him tax exemption and allowed him to purchase property.  One account states that he was even granted citizenship in 1289.  There is considerable evidence that his teaching colleagues respected him and valued him as a colleague, and chose him on various occasions to serve as arbitrator of their disagreements or guarantor of their agreements. 

Although the city of Bologna valued his teaching, it also liked having him practice medicine there; he may have been part of a team of forensic physicians called on when legal proceedings required a professional evaluation of a wound or the determination of cause of death.  Both Perugia and Venice vied with Bologna for his services, but unsuccessfully.  (He did agree to go to Perugia for a huge salary, but once there demanded even more.  Perugia's rulers refused, so he returned to Bologna.)  Bologna paid him well, his students paid him even better, and he had the freedom to travel to distant places at his pleasure, there to collect still more substantial fees.

Taddeo's Patients

In addition to the patients he saw in person, Taddeo offered his advice via letter to many other Italian physicians.  He traveled, when the price was right, to other cities to see patients in person.  As I mentioned above, he treated a wide range of people, but I'd like to take a closer look at two of his patients:  Pope Honorius IV, and Corso Donati.

Pope Honorius IV, born Giacomo Savelli, held the papacy for only two years.  Born in 1210 in Rome, he died in 1287.  Even at the point where he became pope, gout had incapacitated him, and he was unable to stand or to walk.  In fact, when he said mass he was unable to elevate the host without the help of a mechanical device to lift his hands.  Thus, when Taddeo was called to come to Rome and treat the ailing pope during what proved to be his final illness, no one would necessarily have expected a miraculous cure; the pope's health had been too poor for too long.  Taddeo went, and he commanded the princely sum of 100 ducats a day for his services.  My source says he eventually walked away with 10,000 ducats, a huge amount of money, so he must have been in attendance on the pope for 100 days.  Although Taddeo was probably not the only physician summoned, it was a signal honor to be called.

Honorius IV

Corso Donati, the turbulent Florentine nobleman who was distantly related to Dante by marriage, apparently was both friend and patron to Taddeo, who wrote a health regimen especially for him.  It incorporated much of the same sorts of advice Taddeo proffered to others in his many written consilia, but was specifically tailored to Corso's needs.  The regimen was probably prepared for Corso during one of his tenures as podestà (a city's chief magistrate, hired from outside the city for a short term, typically a half year).  Corso held that position more than once, and also served as Capitano (another high city office, similarly filled from outside the city in the interest of avoiding bias).  Corso served in one or the other of those offices in 1283, 1284, 1285, 1288, and 1293.  Historians suggest the latest of those dates as the likeliest for the creation of this remarkable book of health advice.  Corso in 1293 would have been in his low forties; he suffered from gout. 

And what did Taddeo advise Corso to do?  Well, among other things, he was advised to wear fine clothing, because the soul rejoices in it; to drink a "subtle and fragrant" white wine; to surround himself with pleasant aromas; to look at beautiful things; to remember pleasant experiences; and to strive for a cheerful disposition.  He also offered general hygiene advice:  stretch in the morning after waking, clean face and teeth, comb hair, walk 1000 steps after eating.

He offered dietary advice as well.  His usual included avoiding bread hot from the oven, and also avoiding cheese, some (if not all) fruit, and fish taken from still water.  Diet should consist of poultry and veal, with moderate amounts of herbs and vegetables.  He generally favored dry cooking methods (though in Corso's case he did advise soup), and he even prescribed specific mixtures of spices.

(Corso may have been less pleased at being told to avoid overeating and overindulgence in sexual intercourse during the summer, practices which Taddeo apparently thought Corso likely to engage in.)

Taddeo on Distillation

And last but not least, we should take a look at Taddeo's extraordinary devotion to the art of distillation.  He wrote a treatise on distillation of wine, a process that had been known since the 12th century but which Taddeo was the first to use medicinally.  And he used it a lot.

A 17th century distillation manual

Here's Taddeo on distillation:
Its glory is inestimable; it is the parent and lord of all medicines, and its effects are marvelous against all cold affections.
 Aqua vitae had endless uses, according to Taddeo.  It could prevent grey hairs and restore youth.  You could drink it, apply it topically, or sniff it.  It could be used to treat eye problems, toothache, facial tics, certain headaches, bronchitis, sciatica, dysentery, quartan fever, gout, and sterility of cold origin.  Not to mention cancer and fistula, plus it has the ability to expel poisons.  Here's his recipe against melancholy and sadness:
A half spoonful (of aqua vitae) every morning, taken on an empty stomach, together with a small dipper of fragrant wine, makes a man glad, merry, and happy, and strengthens all the animal virtues against all thick and turbid spirits.

 One might wonder just how big a spoon he was talking about, and how big a dipper, but hey - it could work.  And on that note, we'll leave Taddeo Alderotti, rock star doctor of the 13th century.

Images in this post are in the public domain, either by virtue of being sufficiently old or of having been placed there by the copyright holder.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

So - what's it about?

I'm delighted to announce that A Thing Done is now a thing published.  The people at Fireship Press have been a joy to work with.  I love the cover, and I've had all the support and editorial expertise anyone could ask for.  And now it's available for purchase - Kindle and Nook versions first, other ebooks and paperback to follow soon. 

Naturally, the first thing everyone asks is, "What's it about?"  That question isn't as easy to answer as you might think.  Here, then, is the blurb on the back cover of the book:
In 1216 the noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily.  Tensions simmer just below the surface.  When a Jester's prank-for-hire sets off a brawl, those tensions erupt violently, dividing Florence into hostile factions.  A marriage is brokered to make peace, but that fragile alliance crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, a scorned bride, and an outraged cry for revenge.  At the center of the conflict is Corrado, the Jester, whose prank began it and who is now pressed into unwilling service by both sides.  It will take all his wit and ingenuity to keep himself alive, to protect those dear to him, and to prevent the unbridled ambitions of the nobles from destroying the city in a brutal civil war.
Yes.  That is what the book is about.  But in addition, it is about several remarkable human beings; it is about a complex political situation; it is about some very human conflicts and emotions.  If I had to find a single pithy phrase to nail down the theme of the book, it would probably be "human resilience."

Nothing in what I've just added, though, distinguishes it from a novel set in 2012.  What else is A Thing Done about, that makes it a historical novel?

Here are a few thoughts on that.  They may seem trivial, but I think they add up to something that readers of historical fiction are looking for.

It's about the food they ate.  Roast mutton in January and roast lamb at Easter.  Onions, baked in the coals and eaten with salt and vinegar.  Feast meals and fast meals.  A delicate ricotta pie.  Chickpea fritters purchased from a street vendor.  Soups and stews, and a frittata that scorched while its cook was listening in on an interesting conversation.  Sausages and eel pies.  Quince paste and almonds.

Cooking dinner

It's about the clothes they wore.  A jester's hat.  A chicory-flower blue dress purchased from a used-clothing vendor and lovingly refurbished.  White garments for a baptism, even if they had to be rented.  A fool's motley.  A magnificent scarlet overdress.  A much-mended red tunic.  Boots and cloaks and purses and rings.

Men's and women's clothing

It's about the animals they encountered every day.  A flea-bitten dog who loves to chase rats.  A gray cat who is an expert mouser.  A horse with attitude.  An owl.  Hunting dogs.  Mice in the kitchen.

Horses with attitude

It's about the homes people lived in.  Central hearths, and portable braziers for heating other rooms.  Windows covered with stretched and treated cloth.  Faded frescoes on walls.  Candles for lighting.  Loggias.  Forbidding stone towers, looming over the city.  Makeshift additions to upper floors, jutting out and blocking the sunlight from the street below.  Privies flushed with kitchen waste water. 


It's about daily chores.  Buying food in the market, and cooking it.  Sewing, spinning thread, mending, and embroidering.  Laundering garments and linens and hanging them to dry.  Fetching water, from a well or a fountain. 

Making garments

It's about the role of the church.  Holy Week rituals.  Processions of penitents.  Mass baptisms on the day before Easter.  Funerals.  The role of the parish church in the life of the city.  Pervasive beliefs and assumptions.

Penitential procession

It's about entertainment and pleasure.  Juggling and jesting.  Storytelling.  Music, sung and played.  Acrobats and stilt-walkers.  A portative organ, a harp, a flute, a vielle, a pipe and tabor.  Neighborhood taverns.  Feasts and games of skill. 


It's about young people.  Children at their lessons.  Children listening to stories from Aesop.  A spotted-faced adolescent already in training for the church.  A baby lulled to sleep in a cradle that rocked her from head to foot, rather than side to side.  Infants awaiting baptism, fed goats' milk through hollowed cow horns.

Children with their parents

And it's about the city of Florence.  Crowded streets, overhanging bits of buildings, narrow dark alleys.  People forced out of the way by others passing on horseback.  The ancient Baptistery.  Beggars on the streets and in the porches of churches.  The bridge across the Arno, shops lining either side.  The battered statue of Mars.  The cathedral, Santa Reparata.  Church bells measuring and dividing the day.  Streets bristling with soaring towers, vital to both defensive and offensive urban warfare.  A bustling marketplace.  Small parish churches, nestled in the neighborhoods where their patrons had their palaces.


These are some of the things that it's been my pleasure to learn and write about, and I hope they add something to the book for its readers.

And now that A Thing Done is indeed done, it's time for me to move on to the next project, which takes place about two generations later.  Onward!

Images in this post are in the public domain by virtue of long-expired copyright (if there ever was one).