Posts filed under 'Italy'

1599: Celestino da Verona

Add comment September 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1599, a heretical Franciscan named Fra Celestino of Verona burned at the stake at Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori.

For posterity he is a secondary character in the passion play of Giordano Bruno, who followed him to the same stake just a few months later.

Celestino had been imprisoned with Bruno in the early 1590s — the Inquisition’s legal gears took years to spin — and wrote up for his jailers a denunciation of his Bruno’s deviant doctrines. This might have been precisely what was hoped or demanded: turn the man’s fear of the fagot into an engine for incriminating the heresiarch.

It’s purely speculative whether this viperous intervention really made any difference in Bruno’s case. The rat vanishes from the documentary trail, only resurfacing in early 1599 when the Inquisition takes a sudden and intense look at this loose end. No record remains of Celestino’s specific doctrines, only that interrogators operated under a pall of silence mandated by the Pope himself.

He was condemned as a relapsed heretic, although we can only guess at his heresies. A few days later, an ambassador’s letter made reference to the burned man “who insisted that Christ Our Lord did not redeem mankind.”

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Italy,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1497: Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Florentine nobleman

Add comment August 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1497, five Florentines were beheaded for a seditious conspiracy, headlined by the scion of one of the city’s leading families.

Our scene is the Italian city-state of Florence, during the 20-year intrregnum with the Medici family out of power. Lorenzo the Magnificent had died in 1492; his much less magnificent son and successor Piero the Unfortunate was expelled in 1494. For the time being the Dominican cleric Savonarola holds sway; after his fall a few months hence, it would briefly be Machiavelli’s humanist republic.

For these years the Medici schemed from exile, and Florentines guarded warily against their prospective restoration … the circumstance that will bring five heads to the block here. Earlier that same month of August 1497, the Florentine apothecary Luca Landucci noted the arrest of a man who “when flogged … confessed to a certain plot with Piero de’ Medici, and accused many, who were sent for and detained n the Palagio and the Bargello, and put to the rack. Amongst these were Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Gianozzo Pucci, Bernardo Del Nero, Niccolo Ridolfi, and others who fled.”

Landucci’s diary records the speedy progress of this investigation.

6th August. Signore Rinuccio and other leaders were sent for, and soldiers were hired in the Piazza.

10th August. There was much talk in the city as to what would be done with them (these prisoners); some said they were not guilty, and some said they were.

13th August. It was said that the Tornabuoni had despatched an estafette to the King of France, to beg that he should request the liberation of Lorenzo.

This Tornabuoni family were powerful bankers and their name is preserved to this day on one of Florence’s major city streets. The elderly patriarch Giovanni Tornabuoni was Piero de’ Medici’s great-uncle and had long been tight with that family — and it’s due to their prominence as well as the unexpected extremity of political execution that we’re drawn to gawk in particular here at Giovanni’s son Lorenzo.

As a matter of fact, art lovers can still gawk at him thanks to his doting wealthy dad.

Look for Lorenzo mugging for the viewer as he beholds the expulsion of Joachim in a Domenico Ghirlandaio fresco at the Tornabuoni Chapel at the church of Santa Maria Novella.


Detail view; click for the full image

And a pair of Botticelli frescos now held at the Louvre are thought to model bride and groom on the occasion of Lorenzo’s sensational marriage to the beautiful daughter of a rival noble house, Giovanna degli Albizzi.


A Young Man Being Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts (likely modeled on Lorenzo Tornabuoni)


Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman (likely modeled on Giovanna degli Albizzi)

All the brushwork in the world couldn’t save even this strapling oligarch when events tied him to a prospective Medici restoration, even though it broke soft republican hearts. Our apothecary Luca Landucci “could not refrain from weeping when I saw that young Lorenzo carried past the Canto d’ Tornaquinci on a bier” and if his diary is to be believed the dry eyes were few and far between.

17th August. The Practica [Court] met and sat in the Palagio from the morning till midnight. There were more than 180 men. And the five prisoners were condemned by word of mouth to be put to death and their property to be confiscated according to law. The five men condemned were Bernardo Del Nero, Niccolo Ridolfi, Giovanni Canbi, Gianozzo Pucci, and Lorenzo Tornabuoni, for whom all Florence was sorry.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Florence,History,Italy,Mass Executions,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Torture,Treason

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1469: Andrea Viarani

1 comment August 12th, 2020 Headsman

The August 12, 1469 beheading of a Ferrara nobleman named Andrea Viarani is the subject of a chapter in the very fine volume The Art of Executing Well: Rituals of Execution in Renaissance Italy.

This scholarly tome explores via six chapters with different authors and several translated texts the spiritual and ritual experience of execution, particularly as mediated by confraternities of lay comforters who worked to steady the condemned for their ordeal and — as they prayed — their salvation.

Notably, The Art of Executing Well favors the reader with a 100-page translation of a Bolognese Comforters’ Manual and its associated hymnal. This resource was used by the Compagnia di Santa Maria della Morte to train its brethren for their weighty task of counseling the doomed.

This manual is, in the first place, a philosophical text for the counselor — to get his mind right, fully versed in Church doctrine concerning the afterlife and approaching his somber task full of contrition, humility, and piety.

Those doing this work must put their heart in it and act only out of love for God, and also out of charity for and the salvation of the neighbor. And they must make a great effort to do this, otherwise it would be displeasing to God. And take note that it will not gain you anything for eternal life if it is done for any vain reasons: any aspect of glory or mundane pomp, or to be held in high esteem by the people of this world, or to avoid disrespect of your fellow man, or for any worldly gain, or to be on everyone’s lips, or to be praised, or to be able to learn the secrets or the deeds of those people, or out of revenge, or out of ill will, or for faction, or for reward. But you should only do it out of reverence for God and to observe his commandment.

And in the second place, it’s a practical handbook for navigating the many reactions and considerations that people in their last hours might have, as part of guiding the sufferer towards reconciliation with God. “You must not tire of speaking” to those who wish to listen and pray with you, but also bring several enumerated volumes for those who prefer to read; in many other cases, “you will find those who do not willingly accept their death and for whom it is a very big thing” and who must be guided empathetically when their thoughts are preoccupied by concern for their family, or by writing their will, or by their raw resistance to death. At times the guidance reads strikingly modern; set aside the figure of the executioner and words like these would not be amiss to aid you or I in a 21st century personal crisis:

There are those whom you will find hard-hearted in the beginning and who do not want to hear anything you say … Be very careful not to unsettle him with words or harshness. Because sometimes those who are so hardened and miserable may react quite violently against one word they don’t like, with the result that you risk never being able to say anything that they do like, and this leads to worse. And if you see that in spite of your words he doesn’t wish to repent and remains hard-hearted, let it be and say nothing to him. Rather, let him say what he wants. And then tell some appropriate story or some example to your companion [i.e., a brother emissary from the confraternity -ed.] or with whoever is around, and tell in such a way that he who is to die hears you. And when his anger subsides and he is just there not doing anything, then go and put your hand on his back and ever so gently reprove him for his folly and place him on the proper road.

We’ve previously seen in these annals an example of lay brother and condemned prisoner working together to ready a soul for the block, in the person of Niccolo Machiavelli associate Pietro Boscoli, who was involved in (or perhaps merely adjacent to) an anti-Medici plot.

That’s not dissimilar from the situation of our day’s principal. Andrea Viarani came from a cultured noble family numbering diplomats, doctors, and astrologers among its ranks — and he came to his grief by his involvement in a conspiracy against the local tyrant, Borso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.*

Not much is really known about this man’s life, but he comes alive in Alfredo Troiano’s examination of three poems that the man wrote while awaiting execution. These poems later made their way to Bologna, where the aforementioned Compagnia di Santa Maria della Morte incorporated them into its own corpus and for Troiano, that’s no coincidence: they exhort the reader to attitudes characteristic of confraternities, revealing the unrecorded exertions these lay brethren must have made in Viarani’s cell.

If the blind, false, and treasonous world,
full of injustice, betrayal, and deception
has held you many years
far from your Maker and the Supreme Good,

Shows now both the shadowy and the fleeting nature
of hoping for vain pleasures, which
that foolish desire inclines towards
never thinking of its true salvation:

Now that heaven has given you much grace
and you are brought back to the point,
Andrea, that God has made you
repentant of the wrong committed.

Lift your mind to God, move your hard heart
and do not be so obstinate with him
but with devout tears,
repentant of having erred, ask for forgiveness.

Ah! Don’t wish to abandon your soul,
being diffident of eternal grace,
for it never is tired of gathering
he who, repentant, so asks.

This sirvente runs to 35 stanzas, and the translation is original to The Art of Executing Well where the reader may peruse it at length; Viarani also wrote two sonnets, one addressed to the Eternal Father and the other the Eternal Queen (that is, to God and to the Virgin Mary), which also appear in that book.

* The son of Niccolo d’Este, a name distinguished in execution annals by meting that fate out to his young wife and his son for their shocking affair. (The lovers weren’t kin themselves.)

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Ferrara,History,Italy,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1855: Pietro Fortunato Calvi, the last Belfiore Martyr

Add comment July 4th, 2020 Headsman

Italian Risorgimento martyr Pietro Fortunato Calvi was hanged on this date in 1855 in Mantua.

The son of a Paduan police commissioner when that province rested in Austrian hands, Calvi — that’s an Italian link, as are almost all in this post — was an army lieutenant who was drawn by the swirl of patriotism into the Revolutions of 1848. He commanded a 4,600-strong militia in Venice where the abortive proclamation of a republic was suppressed by Austria.

He fled to exile in Turin, then part of the mainland remit of the independent Kingdom of Sardinia. But his sympathy for an attempted Milanese insurrection in those parts wore out his welcome with his new hosts, and he was obliged to find refuge in Switzerland.

From there, he and four companions launched a romantic, doomed expedition to sound out the alpine north for patriotism that might be stirred into revolution anew. Their mission was compromised by a spy, however, and the quintet was soon arrested.

Transported to Mantua for trial, Calvi successfully protected his companions by throwing all the responsibility upon himself and went to the gallows with a stirring declaration as he ought.

what I have done I have done of my own free will, that I would do it again, in order to expel Austria from the States it so infamously usurped … Pietro Fortunato Calvi, rather than betraying his homeland, offers his corpse.

The place of his execution, the valley of Belfiore, has conferred its name upon a host of Italian patriots who hanged there in the 1850s. Our guy Calvi was the last of these Belfiore martyrs.

Belfiore, Mantua, Padua, Venice, Turin, and all the rest were part of a united Italy within a generation.

Italian speakers might enjoy this biography of Pietro.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason

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1790: Seven officers of Papal Avignon

Add comment June 11th, 2020 Headsman

Charles Souvay in “The French Papal States during the Revolution” (The Catholic Historical Review, January 1923) describes the violent reunion to the French nation of the Papal States enclave around Avignon where popes had formerly reigned. This June 11 lynching was as nothing for mob violence compared to the Massacres of La Glacière later in 1790.

In 1789 the French Papal possessions included the two Counties respectively called in Roman Chancery style the Comitatus Avennicinus, or High County, the principal city of which was Carpentras, and the Comitatus Avenionensis, or Low County, named after its capital Avignon; both together having in all an area of less than a thousand square miles. Since 1274, by donation of King Philip III to Pope Gregory X, they belonged to the Popes; and even though several times (1663, 1688 and 1768) the French kings attempted to wrest them from their legitimate sovereign, there was, in 1789, no question of disputing the Papacy’s rights. A Legate administered the two Counties, continuing in the old Papal Castle the moral presence of the popes who had resided there from 1309 to 1378.

The Counties were comparatively an earthly paradise: taxes insignificant; no imposts; living wonderfully cheap — “for one or two sous one could hve a meal of bread, meat and wine”; no militia, scarcely any privileges of nobility; no restrictions on fishing and hunting and to cap it all a miniature representative Assembly. However, the rank and file of the population had a bad name, and it deserved it. In the course of time the country had become the secure haven of all the scoundrels of France, Italy and Genoa: smugglers, fences, vagabonds, swindlers, crooks, convicts escaped from the galleys of Toulon and Marseilles, all flocked there and soon fraternized in debauchery and crime.

Such ingredients constituted a soil admirably adapted for the rapid growth of the revolutionary seed. No wonder, therefore, that towards the end of 1789 rebellion broke out in Avignon, where minds were easily wrought up. Before long it spread beyond the ramparts of the City of the Popes. The high County, however, remained loyal; hence timid: fear of the violence of the demagogues — a fear but too well founded — increased the numbers of the anti-papal faction; and soon the noise they raised was such that the Pope had to intervene. He did it in a fatherly way, promised all the reforms deemed opportune (Briefs of February and April 1790) and sent a Commissary with the charge of trying every possible way to restore order and peace. At Carpentras the pontifical Commissary was shown he was unwelcome; at Avignon he was positively refused admittance.

Then in the papal city Jacobinism, preached by ranting advocates like Tournal, Rovere, the two Duprats, the two Mainvielles, Lecuyer, multiplied its proselytes and stopped at no violence. Within a short while seven or eight riots broke out. On June 10, 1790, at the instigation of the leaders, all the rabble of the city and the suburbs, churls adverse to excise, rapscallions adverse to order, stevedores and longshoremen, armed with scythes, pikes and cudgels, rose up tumultuously, served on the Vice-Legate Casoni notice to quit, turned out of the city the Archbishop Giovio, ousted the Italian officials, obliged the Consuls to resign, hanged the officers of the National Guard and the principal loyalists (June 11)* and possessed themselves of the town hall. For efficiency trust the preachers of the revolutionary gospel.

* Seven men were murdered that day; some were nobles, others priests and others artisans.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,France,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Papal States,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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1571: Sigismondo Arquer, Sardinian scholar

Add comment June 4th, 2020 Headsman

Sardinian scholar Sigismondo Arquer was burned at the stake in Toledo, Spain, on this date in 1571.

Born in the capital of Spanish-governed Sardinia, this gentleman had a hereditary imperial knighthood but also an interest in humanism and religious heterodoxy well-calculated to annoy in Counter-Reformation Spain.


Arquer’s map of his native city of Cagliari, for the Cosmographia universalis, for which compendium he also composed an entry on “dark Sardinia” that “in its blend of ancient sources, personal observations and original narrative structure … played a critical role, even when not explicitly acknowledged, in the development of the image of Sardinia in European culture.” (Source) Today, one of the streets in this very historical core the man once sketched is called Via Sigismondo Arquer.

Exploiting Arquer’s associations with Swiss Protestants as well as his talent for making powerful enemies — skewering clergy in the Cosmographia, nettlesome lawsuits against Spanish oligarchs — the Inquisition bagged him for heresy in 1563. He was 33.

In between bouts of interrogation, Arquer used his long confinement to knock out a Passion in Catalan, heavy with personal resonance. The Christ parallels ran all the way to the Plaza de Zocodover, where a soldier — motivated by anger at the heretic or pity for the sufferer, only God can say — speared him through the side during his death throes.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Public Executions,Spain,Torture

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1831: Ciro Menotti, hero to Garibaldi

Add comment May 26th, 2020 Headsman

Italian patriotic hero Ciro Menotti was hanged on this date* in 1831.


Marker in Modena to the martyrdom of Ciro Menotti and Vincenzo Borelli. (cc) image from Filippo Fabbri.

Menotti (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a member of the revolutionary carbonari who stood at the fore of an insurrection in northern Italy in 1831. The plot was sponsored by the Duke of Modena and quashed by the same when he realized its premature exposure compromised its utility as a vehicle for expanding his dominions. The arrival of Austrian troops in March of 1831 swiftly pacified the risings.

In tribute of Menotti, national patron saint Giuseppe Garibaldi named one of his sons for him — Menotti Garibaldi, later a deputy in the parliament of the independent and unified Italy whose realization had been the common quest of both his namesakes.

* There are some citations out there for May 23, rather than May 26. This appears unambiguously mistaken to me (witness the date on the monument pictured in this post); I haven’t been able to determine the initial source of the discrepancy.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1327: Beomondo di San Severo

Add comment April 15th, 2020 Headsman

An Italian friar known as Beomondo di San Severo was flogged to death in Naples on this date in 1327 at the behest of the Inquisition.

Little is known of him; the case was unearthed from the Neapolitan archives in the 20th century, striking to audiences of that period for the man’s surprising presagement of … evolutionary biology?

Man therefore, in his original and primordial condition, was immersed almost in a mixture of elements, and came to light by chance, as [writes] Augustine in the books of the Trinity: for this reason God is called only Conditor ac Administrator, because man did not arise from the mud of the earth by the will of God. For this reason also the psalms say that man was born from the earth. Therefore, so men descend from men as God descends from God.

In context this can’t have been merely an idea about the origins of life on earth, however heretical: the whiff of radical egalitarianism is clear enough here, and would be right at home in these years of a many-headed bottom-up challenge to pontifical authority — the Friars Minor (to which Beomondo belonged), the Beghards and Beguines, and millenarian rebels like Fra Dolcino. 1327 is the very hear in which Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose unfolds.

Alas, the scanty documentary trail means that a similarly perspicacious novelist will be required to imagine Beomondo’s own life and thought in full. One question that volume have to grapple with is the reason for the anomalous and very brutal execution by lash, when the pyre would ordinarily be anticipated for heresy.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,Heresy,History,Italy,Naples,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Whipped

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1560: Giambatista Cardano, “crowning misfortune”

Add comment April 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1560, the son of Renaissance polymath Gerolamo Cardano was beheaded for murdering his — the son’s — wife.

While Cardano pere was one of the great intellectuals of his era, and has been covered in these grim annals via his interest in a genius composer executed for sodomy, the fils earns notice merely for his famous relations.

The latter, Giambatista Cardano by name, committed nothing but a shabby domestic murder, dosing his wife Brandonia di Seroni — “a worthless, shameless woman” in Gerolamo’s estimation — with arsenic when he had tired of her infidelities.

Still, it is the burden of a father to love his firstborn no matter how undistinguished and homicidal. Cardano poured his sorrow into a long funerary verse, not neglecting therein to defend the prerogatives of a jealous husband’s “avenging right hand”; we obtain it from the old man’s autobiography.

A Lament on the Death of My Son

Who has snatched thee away from me —
O, my son, my sweetest son?
Who had the power to bring to my age
Sorrows more than I can count?
Wrath in whose soul or what stern fate
Willed to reap thy youth’s fair flower?
Not Calliope, not Apollo,
Served thee in thine hour of need!
Cithara, now, and all song be still;
Measures of threnodies shall renew
Mourning and sighs for my dear son.
— Strains of his singing haunt me still —
Laurels, alas, in the healing art,
Knowledge of things, and a facile gift
Of Latin tongue—what profit these
Labors long if they swiftly die?
Service rendered Spanish prince,
Duty done to the noblest of men
Help thee naught if with these for thy judge
Death with his scythe doth seek thy blood.

What, ah me, shall I do? My soul
Swoons to remember thee, gentle son;
Silent, I brood on thy destiny grim;
Tears that I dare not give to words,
Shall I not shed for my stricken son?
Lasting encomium had I reserved,
Fitting reward to thine ashes paid;
Silence — O shame — must my tongue now guard,
Death unjust nor its cause announce.
Grave are the ills thou hast borne, mild son.
Prince and Senate and ancient law
Ordered thy doom whilst thou in rash haste,
Brought an adultress the wage of her crime.
Safely adultery now in our homes
Mocks and insults when punishment swift
Stays the avenging right hand of the youth.

Son — the reflection true of the good
Strong in my father — worthy to live
Long through the years — Alas, my beloved!
Fates have forbidden and swept all that good
Far past the stars, and removed from gray earth
Every bright and illustrious thing.
Hail thee, child, for thy spirit high!
Clear is thy blood from ignoble stain;
Honor of forefather’s hast thou sought.
Far stands the king, and hope of safety,
Phoebus denies the lands his beams,
Light from Diana passes and dies,
Stars in the calm sky glance no more
Lest they look down on a palace foul,
Stained with the reeking blood of the slain.

Where lies my way? What land now claims
Body and limbs disfigured by death?
Son, is there naught but this to return?
Thee have I followed on sea and on land!
Fix me — if mercy is anywhere found —
Pierce me with weapons, O ye mad Gods!
Take with thy first blow my dreary life.
Pity me thou, oh great father of Gods,
Thrust with thy spear my hated head
Deep into Tartara; else am I bound
Hardly to burst this life’s bitter chains.
This, O my son, was not pledged to thy sire,
Love so unholy to trust with thine all —
Love that has ruined thee, son of my heart!

Wife of a memory blessed and true,
Happy thy death, nor spared for this grief!
I, through this crime, have myself brought disgrace,
O son to our name, for by envy compelled,
Homeland and Lares paternal I left.
Death had I sought for my innocent soul,
But surviving and living I vanquished my fate.

Ages to come will know, son, thy name,
Orient lands will hear of thy fame;
Dead to us thou art indeed —
Life hast thou won through all the earth!

It would be fair to say that this last vow of the grieving father was not kept. Indeed, the misery of losing his son to the executioner cast an enervating pall over the elder Cardano’s remaining years. “My supreme, my crowning misfortune,” he bewailed. “Because of this, it was neither becoming for me to be retained in my office [a professor of medicine at Pavia], nor could I justly be dismissed. I could neither continue to live in my native city with any peace, nor in security move elsewhere. I walked abroad an object of scorn; I conversed with my fellows abjectly, as one despised, and, as one of unwelcome presence, avoided my friends.”

A couple of years on and the unwelcomeness had become overwhelming; he relocated to a professorship in Bologna — nowise happy but at least clear of the omnipresent, suffocating shame associated with his name. The man’s woes were in no way alleviated by his surviving son Aldo, a thief and all-around lowlife whom Cardano ended up disinheriting. (Lone daughter Chiara was A-OK by pops apart from being unable to bear him grandchildren: “from my daughter alone have I suffered no vexations beyond the getting together of her dowry.”)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Murder,Sex,Torture

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