Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pythagoras was Calabrian

Italians often maintain that they have invented everything. I thought that my husband, Salvatore wsa going too far when one day he said that Pythagoras was a Calabrian. It just so happened that the whole south of Italy was part of "greater greece". The beautiful temples at Agrigento, Sicily are testimony to that.

Magna Graecia was the settlement of southern Italy by Greeks from the eighth century BC. From the tenth century AD mainland Greeks were fleeing from the Ottomans. In the eleventh century Normans settled in southern Italy and latinized religion. The Greek clergy also adopted Latin for the mass. The prestige of the Greek language and culture waned in the thirteenth century as the Byzantine Empire declined. From the fifteenth century the Greek communities were increasingly influenced by other nationalities, and the language increasingly romanized. In remote towns and villages Grico survived as an oral language of the peasantry and the uneducated, but even here bilingualism increased from the seventeenth century. There were only about 12 villages where Grico was still in common use at the start of the nineteenth century, and only seven in Calabria, with a total population of 8,000 people, in the first general census conducted after Italian unification in 1861. However, interest in folklore increased in the nineteenth century and Griko songs were collected and published.
In 1901 the Italian government set up an Emigration Commission with funds to help people emigrate. This led to mass emigration from southern Italy to escape poverty, with the peak year in 1911. When the Fascists gained power in 1922, they discouraged emigration. They also persecuted the Greek-speakers. However, until the agrarian reforms of 1950–1, Grico-speaking peasants were virtually self-sufficient on the huge landed estates (masserie), and were able to keep their language intact.
Universal schooling in Italian after the Second World War, compulsory military service and the depopulation of the countryside with migration to the cities undermined this self-sufficiency. Initiatives to promote the language were launched in the late 1950s, spearheaded by middle-class intellectuals in Reggio di Calabria and Bova Marina, and by foreign researchers such as Rohlfs from Germany. A group of university students from Bovesia published a pamphlet entitled La Ionica.
In 1970 the group set up La Ionica Cultural Circle, and the pamphlet became a periodical with poetry and prose in Italian and Greek. La Ionica Cultural Circle and Greek-speakers of Grecia Salentina set up the UGIM (Unione dei Greci dell’Italia Meridionale). UGIM unsuccessfully petitioned the Regional Tourist Office for the introduction of bilingual road signs and five minutes’ broadcasting time on Radio Cosenza. The private radio stations Radio Bova, Radio Mélito and Radio San Paolo in Reggio di Calabria agreed to broadcast some programmes in Greek. 

But what about Pythagoras?

After his travels, Pythagoras moved (around 530 BC) to Croton, in Italy (Magna Graecia). Possibly the tyranny of Polycrates in Samos made it difficult for him to achieve his schemes there. His later admirers claimed that Pythagoras was so overburdened with public duties in Samos, because of the high estimation in which he was held by his fellow-citizens, that he moved to Croton.[36] On his arrival in Croton, he quickly attained extensive influence, and many people began to follow him. Later biographers tell fantastical stories of the effects of his eloquent speech in leading the people of Croton to abandon their luxurious and corrupt way of life and devote themselves to the purer system which he came to introduce.[37]
His followers established a select brotherhood or club for the purpose of pursuing the religious and ascetic practices developed by their master. The accounts agree that what was done and taught among the members was kept a profound secret. The esoteric teachings may have concerned the secret religious doctrines and usages, which were undoubtedly prominent in the Pythagorean system, and may have been connected with the worship of Apollo.[38] Temperance of all kinds seems to have been strictly urged. There is disagreement among the biographers as to whether Pythagoras forbade all animal food,[39] or only certain types.[40] The club was in practice at once "a philosophical school, a religious brotherhood, and a political association."[41]

Pythagoras, depicted on a 3rd-century coin
Such an aristocratic and exclusive club could easily have made many people in Croton jealous and hostile, and this seems to have led to its destruction. The circumstances, however, are uncertain. Conflict seems to have broken out between the towns of Sybaris and Croton. The forces of Croton were headed by the PythagoreanMilo, and it is likely that the members of the brotherhood took a prominent part. After the decisive victory by Croton, a proposal for establishing a more democratic constitution, was unsuccessfully resisted by the Pythagoreans. Their enemies, headed by Cylon and Ninon, the former of whom is said to have been irritated by his exclusion from the brotherhood, roused the populace against them. An attack was made upon them while assembled either in the house of Milo, or in some other meeting-place. The building was set on fire, and many of the assembled members perished; only the younger and more active escaping.[42] Similar commotions ensued in the other cities of Magna Graecia in which Pythagorean clubs had been formed.
As an active and organised brotherhood the Pythagorean order was everywhere suppressed, and did not again revive. Still the Pythagoreans continued to exist as a sect, the members of which kept up among themselves their religious observances and scientific pursuits, while individuals, as in the case of Archytas, acquired now and then great political influence. Concerning the fate of Pythagoras himself, the accounts varied. Some say that he perished in the temple with his disciples,[43] others that he fled first to Tarentum, and that, being driven from there, he escaped to Metapontum, and there starved himself to death.[44] His tomb was shown at Metapontum in the time of Cicero.[45]
According to some accounts Pythagoras married Theano, a lady of Croton. Their children are variously stated to have included a son, Telauges, and three daughters, DamoArignote, and Myia.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Calabria and Malaria

One of the main reasons for the flood of migrants from Sothern Italy was the dreadful poverty which to a large extent was caused by the devastation from widespread malaria.

Many factors contributed to the spread of malaria in Calabria, some of them were due to man’s work, others to the land constitution and to natural events deeply altering Calabrian territory, and creating favourable conditions to the diffusion of malarial.

From the geological point of view, Calabria shows very crumbly grounds easily attacked by atmospheric agents (rain-water erosion, frost and thaws) and crossed by several rivers, streams and typical water-courses, the "fiumare"; they are usually dry in summer, but water-swelling at the first autumn rains and often overflowing. Past chronicles have often recorded such calamities. Marls and clays melted and carried away by the fury of water, depositing in the plains made even sandy shores watertight, producing marshes and bogs. More abundant rains caused the landslide of whole hills which produced large alluvial cones, river beds uplifting, floods and marshlands.

A further contribution to the diffusion of malaria was given by seismic movements, both disastrophic (earthquakes) and slow (bradyseisms). Calabrian territory has always been exposed to various entity earthquakes, some of which had very serious consequences. One of the most ruinous was the earthquake occurred on February 5th, 1783, which altered the aspect of large areas giving rise to lakes, ponds and sometimes diverting the course of rivers. Owing to such bradyseisms, some marshy areas dried up because of the ground lifting (positive bradyseisms), while others underwent a slow but constant plunge (negative bradyseisms). Some of the first cases took place on the Tyrrhenian Sea, in particular in the area between Gioia and Palmi, where some small islands near the beach joined the mainland. Instead, the Ionian Coast underwent a slow negative movement which turned it into such a marsh as to become unhealthy and deserted.

 The diffusion of malaria in Calabria was due not only to the hydrogeological structure of its territory and to extraordinary natural events, but also to man’s work.

Since distant times Calabria has always been covered with wide and thick woods. Classic literature celebrated pine woods in northern Calabria and in the Sila plateau extending for 700 stadium (129 km), whose wood was also used to build Roman churches. The invaders coming from the sea and from inner areas, contributed to take people far off the coasts and the lands, to reach high hills or mountains. Here these populations started to cut off the wood in order to obtain wider areas proper to cultivation. In that period the damages were limited enough, but later they will become invaluable.
 Calabria’s deforestation was given a strong impulse by the fall of the feudal system (with the law of August 12, 1806) which brought the abolition of feudal rights and the breaking up of large landed estates: rivers and woods became a public property. After the issue of this law the mountains’ peaks and sides changed their owners; many wide and almost untouched lands were put up at auction, divided in lots and sold up. The new owners, were soon in need of exploiting their purchases, so that a lot of woods were cut down both for wood’s use and for the conversion of lands into more profitable cultivations. With the cutting down of forests, the natural system sheltering the land from the damages caused by torrential rains was broken.

Trees in fact have a double function against ruinous rains: their foliages soften the strength of water, and their roots form a thick net supporting the ground against the outburst of rain. As a result, a general hydrogeological desorder took place; because of the remarkable slope and the lack of trees, the water divids were soon crossed by whirling streams dragging with them a huge amount of silts which upraised the river beds and diverted their courses. This irregular water system upward and downward caused the formation of many stagnant puddles, nourishing paludism and consequently anopheles and malaria.

Other causes of stagnation were the railways works, whose building material had to be taken from the so-called "quarry" in order to bank up and support their route. The banking up works were in many ways real barriers preventing a full downflow. Therefore, along a good portion of the railways route, stagnant puddles soon became centers of infection.

Other factors concerning the sanitary conditions of the population contributed to the spreading of malaria. Statistics about deceases caused by malaria reveal that it was more spread among poor and especially country people, forced to live and work in the country with inadequate food and sanitary conditions. Calabrian peasant’s food was essentially made of corn beans, potatoes, chestnuts and vegetables; meat was almost completely lacking. Inadequate food caused a chronic undernourishment, favouring the lowering of the body’s defences to all infections, malaria included. Moreover work, not yet regulated by law,usually went on (with a short midday break) from sunrise to sunset, both in summer and in winter.

Since some anopheles species reveal domestic habits and sting man especially inside the house, the kind of house and its location greatly influenced the diffusion of malaria. Often workers were forced to stay in the fields even by night, since their houses were far from the working places. In these cases their living conditions were worse than urban and rural ones. In fact, while village houses were made of tufa, sandstone or bricks, the shelters built in the fields were made of wood or branches, with thatch or reed roofs, without a real defence against malaria.

Peasants used to live in these huts especially in harvest and threshing time, when the transmission of the parasite was fairly probable. Under these circumstances, the only defence was represented by a fireplace put in the centre of the hut, whose smoke kept mosquito away at last by night.

Large landed estates too contributed to spread the infection. Their fields were not exploited in a rational manner: in fact the owners wanted manpower to work only in small cultivated areas, leaving large pieces of land wild and deserted. In this way workers were exposed to the infection. Once ended the working period, the day labourers went away taking malaria also to places not exposed to it thanks to their geographical location.

Case di contadini Case di contadini
 Case di contadini

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Italian or Australian?

Salvatore never really identified with being an Australian. As a teenager he hung around with the Italian boys in Five Dock, a suburb of Sydney where the Italian migrants started to move to. He spent time in the local pool halls and always played a mean game of pool. A lot of his friends drifted into trades such as mechanics as a way to follow the Italian boy’s obsession with cars. Salvatore was different ( although always enjoyed Italian cars) and stayed at school and eventually went to university.

Salvatore and his brother had desperately tried to 'fit in' with the idea of being Australian. The obvious manifestation of being different was the food. They begged their mother, a sensational cook, to buy TV dinners which were frozen prepared dinners wrapped in alfoil with a little section for mashed potato, another for peas and possibly carrots and finally a chop or steak. All this could be easily heated in the oven. It was the frozen version of meat and three veg.

One night sitting down to a mountain of delicious pasta Salvatore told me the story of wanting TV dinners to be the same as his Aussie friends. Savoring the pasta et polpetti  (Pasta and ball meats!), I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Another distinctive difference to every other Italian male I know is that Salvatore couldn’t care less about soccer. However every World Cup he would always take the Italian side.

I learnt from him that Aussies were called “Skips”, after the television personality Skippy the kangaroo. Every migrant child knows the term Skips but unlike the reciprocal “Wog” or “dago” they kept it much more to themselves.

Francesco Ricatti , in his article 'First love and Italian postwar migration' said 

‘The way I looked to others was another surprise. I had never realised that I was classified as different because I didn’t know that blonde hair and blue eyes was seen as normal...As I noticed these differences, and I was hurt, I tried to change myself in order to be accepted. The first thing I learnt was no salami sandwiches for lunch, and instead I wanted to order a meat pie or a vegemite sandwich. I also realised that my mum didn’t use Kraft cheese in my sandwiches but the smelly one. In the classroom situation, when it came time to tell the class ‘news’ I’d find myself changing the stories so that mine wouldn’t sound so different from the others. The day we spent making salami at Zio Rocco’s turned into a family barbecue and watching a soccer game became an afternoon at the footy.’ 

 Being called 'wog' or 'dago' was commonplace in the sixties and seventies and was often the cause of scuffles between boys It was not unusual for scuffles to break out when young Italians were called names such as ‘wog’ or ‘dago’. A group of Italo-Australian boys interviewed in a Brisbane boys’
high school in 1979, made the point that the worst kind of name calling which they could offer back to their Anglo-Australian peers were words such as ‘convict’ or ‘skippy’, did not have the same derogatory value as ‘wog’ and ‘dago’. 

Clearly, the power to define cultural symbols lay in the hands of the Anglo-Australians, even when the majority of boys including the dux of the college, happened to be Italo-Australian. 
On his Italo/Australain identity, Francesco Ricatti further states that that  

‘My Italianess stood out in me as if I were wearing a constant sign. I even started believing the images they [Australians] had of my culture, and if they made fun of it, I’d find myself laughing with them rather than defending myself. To be  accepted, I was agreeing with their comments and ideas about my culture and family: my Grandmother wore black; my parents had an accent; I had garlic breath; I only washed once a week; I had spaghetti for breakfast; my father was a mafia godfather; my Uncle owned a fruitshop...'