Read CHAPTER XX - THE PINETA of Ravenna‚ A Study, free online book, by Edward Hutton, on

Ravenna has so much that is rare and precious to show us that few among the many who spend a day or two within her walls have the inclination to explore the melancholy marshes in which she stands. No doubt most of us drive out to S. Apollinare in Classe , but the road thither does not encourage a further journey, for it is rude and rough and the country over which it passes is among the most featureless in Italy. Nevertheless he does himself a wrong who leaves Ravenna for good without having spent one day at any rate in the Pineta which, ruined though it now be, is still one of the loveliest and most mysterious places in the Romagna.

But lovely though it is, and full of memories, what can be said of this vast ruined forest of stone pines with its mystery of mere and fen, its coolness and shadow, its astonishing silence? Only this I think, that if once you find it, nothing else in Ravenna will seem half so precious as this green wood. You will love it always and for its own sake more than anything else in Ravenna, and in this you will not be alone; every one who has come to it these thousand years has felt the same, Dante, Boccaccio, Byron, Carducci, the Pineta knows the footsteps of them all and they seem to haunt it still.

Dante would seem to have loved it best in the morning; out of it he conjures his Paradiso Terrestre in the twenty-eighth canto of the Purgatorio :

“Through that celestial forest, whose thick shade
With lively greenness the new-springing day
Attemper’d, eager now to roam, and search
Its limits round, forthwith I left the bank;
Along the champain leisurely my way
Pursuing, o’er the ground, that on all sides
Delicious odour breathed. A pleasant air
That intermitted never, never veer’d,
Smote on my temples, gently as a wind
Of softest influence, at which the sprays,
Obedient all, lean’d trembling to that part
Where first the holy mountain casts his shade,
Yet were not so disordered, but that still
Upon their top the feathered quiristers
Applied their wonted art, and with full joy
Welcomed those hours of prime, and warbled shrill
Amid the leaves that to their jocund lays
Kept tenour; even as from branch to branch
Along the piny forests on the shore
Of Chiassi rolls the gathering melody
When Eolus hath from his cavern loosed
The dripping south. Already had my steps,
Though slow, so far into that ancient wood
Transported me, I could not ken the place
Where I had entered; when, behold, my path
Was bounded by a rill which to the left
With little rippling waters bent the grass
That issued from its brink. On earth no wave
How clear so’er that would not seem to have
Some mixture in itself, compared with this
Transpicuous clear; yet darkly on it rolled,
Darkly beneath perpetual gloom, which ne’er
Admits or sun or moon-light there to shine.”

Well, is not it the very place? And did not Dante, who knew Italy as few have known it, do well to remember it when he would describe for us the Earthly Paradise? In the forest the morning is sacred to him and there one should turn, with less misunderstanding than anywhere else, the precious pages of that poem which is in itself a universe.

But if the clear morning there is Dante’s, when we may still hear the voice he heard pass by there, in the stillness, singing, Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata , the long noon belongs to Boccaccio, for it is full of the most tragic and pitiful of his tales.

“Ravenna being a very ancient City in Romania, there dwelt sometime a great number of worthy Gentlemen, among whom I am to speake of one more especially, named Anastasio, descended from the Family of the Honesti, who by the death of his Father, and an Unckle of his, was left extraordinarily abounding in riches, and growing to yeares fitting for marriage, (as young Gallants are easily apt enough to do) he became enamored of a very bountifull Gentlewoman, who was Daughter to Signior Paulo Traversario, one of the most ancient and noble Families in all the Countrey. Nor made he any doubt, but by his meanes and industrious endeavour, to derive affection from her againe; for he carried himselfe like a brave-minded Gentleman, liberall in his expences, honest and affable in all his actions, which commonly are the true notes of a good nature, and highly to be commended in any man. But, howsoever Fortune became his enemy, these laudable parts of manhood did not any way friend him, but rather appeared hurtfull to himselfe: so cruell, unkind, and almost meerely savage did she shew her self to him; perhaps in pride of her singular beauty, or presuming on her nobility by birth, both which are rather blemishes, then ornaments in a woman, especially when they be abused.

“The harsh and uncivill usage in her, grew very distastefull to Anastasio, and so unsufferable, that after a long time of fruitlesse service, requited still with nothing but coy disdaine; desperate resolutions entred into his brain, and often he was minded to kill himselfe. But better thoughts supplanting those furious passions, he abstained from any such violent act; and governed by more manly consideration, determined, that as shee hated him, he would requite her with the like, if he could: wherein he became altogether deceived, because as his hopes grew to a dayly decaying, yet his love enlarged it selfe more and more.

“Thus Anastasio persevering still in his bootlesse affection, and his expences not limited within any compasse ; it appeared in the judgement of his Kindred and Friends, that he was falne into a mighty consumption, both of his body and meanes. In which respect, many times they advised him to leave the City of Ravenna, and live in some other place for such a while; as might set a more moderate stint upon his spendings, and bridle the indiscreete course of his love, the onely fuell which fed this furious fire.

“Anastasio held out thus a long time, without lending an eare to such friendly counsell: but in the end, he was so neerely followed by them, as being no longer able to deny them, he promised to accomplish their request. Whereupon, making such extraordinary preparation, as if he were to set thence for France or Spaine, or else into some further distant countrey: he mounted on horsebacke, and accompanied with some few of his familiar friends, departed from Ravenna, and rode to a countrey dwelling house of his owne, about three or foure miles distant from the Cittie, which was called Chiasso , and there (upon a very goodly greene) erecting divers Tents and Pavillions, such as great persons make use of in the time of a Progresse : he said to his friends, which came with him thither, that there he determined to make his abiding, they all returning backe unto Ravenna, and might come to visite him againe so often as they pleased.

“Now, it came to passe, that about the beginning of May, it being then a very milde and serrene season, and he leading there a much more magnificent life, then ever hee had done before, inviting divers to dine with him this day, and as many to morrow, and not to leave him till after supper: upon the sodaine, falling into remembrance of his cruell Mistris, hee commanded all his servants to forbeare his company, and suffer him to walke alone by himselfe awhile, because he had occasion of private meditations, wherein he would not (by any meanes) be troubled. It was then about the ninth houre of the day, and he walking on solitary all alone, having gone some halfe miles distance from his Tents, entred into a Grove of Pine-trees, never minding dinner time, or any thing else, but onely the unkind requitall of his love.

“Sodainly he heard the voice of a woman, seeming to make most mournfull complaints, which breaking off his silent considerations, made him to lift up his head, to know the reason of this noise. When he saw himselfe so farre entred into the Grove, before he could imagine where he was; hee looked amazedly round about him, and out of a little thicket of bushes and briars, round engirt with spreading trees, hee espyed a young Damosell come running towards him, naked from the middle upward, her haire dishevelled on her shoulders, and her faire skinne rent and torne with the briars and brambles, so that the blood ran trickling downe mainely; she weeping, wringing her hands, and crying out for mercy so lowde as she could. Two fierce Blood-hounds also followed swiftly after, and where their teeth tooke hold, did most cruelly bite her. Last of all (mounted on a lusty blacke Courser) came galloping a Knight, with a very sterne and angry countenance, holding a drawne short Sword in his hand, giving her very vile and dreadful speeches, and threatning every minute to kill her.

“This strange and uncouth sight, bred in him no meane admiration, as also kinde compassion to the unfortunate woman; out of which compassion, sprung an earnest desire, to deliver her (if he could) from a death so full of anguish and horror: but seeing himselfe to be without Armes, he ran and pluckt up the plant of a Tree, which handling as if it had bene a staffe , he opposed himselfe against the Dogges and the Knight, who seeing him comming, cryed out in this manner to him. Anastasio, put not thy selfe in any opposition, but referre to my Hounds and me, to punish this wicked woman as she hath justly deserved. And in speaking these words, the Hounds tooke fast hold on her body, so staying her, untill the Knight was come neerer to her, and alighted from his horse: when Anastasio (after some other angry speeches) spake thus unto him: I cannot tell what or who thou art, albeit thou takest such knowledge of me, yet I must say, that it is meere cowardize in a Knight, being armed as thou art, to offer to kill a naked woman, and make thy dogges thus to seize on her, as if she were a savage beast; therefore beleeve me, I will defend her so farre as I am able.

“Anastasio, answered the Knight, I am of the same City as thou art, and do well remember, that thou wast a little Ladde, when I (who was then named Guido Anastasio, and thine Unckle) became as intirely in love with this woman, as now thou art of Paulo Traversarioes daughter. But through her coy disdaine and cruelty, such was my heavy fate, that desperately I slew my selfe with this short sword which thou beholdest in mine hand: for which rash sinfull deede, I was, and am condemned to eternall punishment. This wicked woman, rejoycing immeasurably in mine unhappy death, remained no long time alive after me, and for her mercilesse sinne of cruelty, and taking pleasure in my oppressing torments; dying unrepentant, and in pride of her scorne, she had the like sentence of condemnation pronounced on her, and sent to the same place where I was tormented.

“There the three impartiall Judges, imposed this further infliction on us both; namely, that she should flye in this manner before me, and I (who loved her so deerely while I lived) must pursue her as my deadly enemy, not like a woman that had a taste of love in her. And so often as I can overtake her, I am to kill her with this sword, the same Weapon wherewith I slew my selfe. Then am I enjoyned, therewith to open her accursed body, and teare out her hard and frozen heart, with her other inwards, as now thou seest me doe, which I give unto my Hounds to feede on. Afterward, such is the appointment of the supreame powers, that she reassumeth life againe, even as if she had not bene dead at all, and falling to the same kinde of flight, I with my Hounds am still to follow her; without any respite or intermission. Every Friday, and just at this houre, our course is this way, where she suffereth the just punishment inflicted on her. Nor do we rest any of the other dayes, but are appointed unto other places, where she cruelly executed her malice against me, being now (of her deare affectionate friend) ordained to be her endlesse enemy, and to pursue her in this manner for so many yeares, as she exercised moneths of cruelty towards me. Hinder me not then, in being the executioner of divine justice; for all thy interposition is but in vaine , in seeking to crosse the appointment of supreame powers.

“Anastasio having attentively heard all this discourse, his haire stood upright like Porcupines quils, and his soule was so shaken with the terror, that he stept backe to suffer the Knight to do what he was enjoyned, looking yet with milde commisseration on the poore woman. Who kneeling most humbly before the Knight, and stearnely seized on by the two blood-hounds, he opened her brest with his weapon, drawing foorth her heart and bowels, which instantly he threw to the dogges, and they devoured them very greedily. Soone after, the Damosell (as if none of this punishment had bene inflicted on her) started up sodainly, running amaine towards the Sea shore, and the Hounds swiftly following her, as the Knight did the like, after he had taken his sword, and was mounted on horse-backe; so that Anastasio had soone lost all sight of them, and could not gesse what was become of them.

“After he had heard and observed all these things, he stoode a while as confounded with feare and pitty, like a simple silly man, hoodwinkt with his owne passions, not knowing the subtle enemies cunning illusions in offering false suggestions to the sight, to worke his owne ends thereby, and encrease the number of his deceived servants. Forthwith he perswaded himselfe, that he might make good use of this womans tormenting, so justly imposed on the Knight to prosecute, if thus it should continue still every Friday. Wherefore, setting a good note or marke upon the place, he returned backe to his owne people, and at such time as he thought convenient, sent for divers of his kindred and friends from Ravenna, who being present with him, thus he spake to them.

“Deare Kinsmen and Friends, ye have a long while importuned me, to discontinue my over-doating love to her, whom you all thinke, and I find to be my mortall enemy: as also, to give over my lavish expences, wherein I confesse my selfe too prodigall; both which requests of yours, I will condiscend to, provided, that you will performe one gracious favour for me; Namely, that on Friday next, Signior Paulo Traversario, his wife, daughter, with all other women linked in linage to them, and such beside onely as you shall please to appoint, will vouchsafe to accept a dinner heere with me; as for the reason thereto mooving me, you shall then more at large be acquainted withall. This appeared no difficult matter for them to accomplish: wherefore, being returned to Ravenna, and as they found the time answerable to their purpose, they invited such as Anastasio had appointed them. And although they found it some-what an hard matter, to gaine her company whom he so deerely affected; yet notwithstanding, the other women won her along with them.

“A most magnificent dinner had Anastasio provided, and the tables were covered under the Pine-trees, where he saw the cruell Lady so pursued and slaine: directing the guests so in their seating, that the yong Gentlewoman his unkinde Mistresse, sate with her face opposite unto the place, where the dismall spectacle was to be seen. About the closing up of dinner, they beganne to heare the noise of the poore prosecuted Woman, which drove them all to much admiration; desiring to know what it was, and no one resolving them, they arose from the Tables, and looking directly as the noise came to them, they espyed the wofull Woman, the Dogges eagerly pursuing her; and the armed Knight on horsebacke, gallopping fiercely after them with his drawne weapon, and came very nere unto the company, who cryed out with lowd exclaimes against the dogs and the Knight, stepping forth in assistance of the injured woman.

“The Knight spake unto them, as formerly he had done to Anastasio, (which made them draw backe, possessed with feare and admiration) acting the same cruelty as he did the Friday before, not differing in the least degree. Most of the Gentlewomen there present, being neere allyed to the unfortunate Woman, and likewise to the Knight, remembring well both his love and death, did shed teares as plentifully, as if it had bin to the very persons themselves, in usuall performance of the action indeede. Which tragicall Scoene being passed over, and the Woman and Knight gone out of their sight: all that had seene this straunge accident, fell into diversity of confused opinions, yet not daring to disclose them, as doubting some further danger to ensue thereon.

“But beyond all the rest, none could compare in feare and astonishment with the cruell yong Maide affected by Anastasio, who both saw and observed all with a more inward apprehension, knowing very well, that the morall of this dismall spectacle, carried a much neerer application to her then any other in all the company. For now she could call to mind, how unkinde and cruell she had shewne her selfe to Anastasio, even as the other Gentlewoman formerly did to her Lover, still flying from him in great contempt and scorne: for which, she thought the Blood-hounds also pursued her at the heeles already, and a sword of vengeance to mangle her body. This feare grew so powerfull in her, that to prevent the like heavy doome from falling on her, she studied (by all her best and commendable meanes, and therein bestowed all the night season) how to change her hatred into kinde love, which at the length she fully obtained, and then purposed to prosecute in this manner.

“Secretly she sent a faithfull Chamber-maide of her owne, to greete Anastasio on her behalfe; humbly entreating him to come see her: because now she was absolutely determined, to give him satisfaction in all which (with honour) he could request of her. Whereto Anastasio answered, that he accepted her message thankfully, and desired no other favour at her hand, but that which stood with her owne offer, namely, to be his Wife in honourable marriage. The Maide knowing sufficiently, that he could not be more desirous of the match, then her Mistresse shewed her selfe to be, made answer in her name, that this motion would be most welcome to her.

“Heereupon, the Gentlewoman her selfe, became the solicitour to her Father and Mother, telling them plainly, that she was willing to be the Wife of Anastasio: which newes did so highly content them, that upon the Sunday next following, the marriage was very worthily solemnized, and they lived and loved together very kindly. Thus the divine bounty, out of the malignant enemies secret machinations, can cause good effects to arise and succeede. For, from this conceite of fearfull imagination in her, not onely happened this long desired conversion, of a Maide so obstinately scornfull and proud; but likewise all the women of Ravenna (being admonished by her example) grew afterward more kind and tractable to mens honest motions, then ever they shewed themselves before. And let me make some use hereof ( faire Ladies ) to you, not to stand over-nicely conceited of your beauty and good parts, when men (growing enamored of you by them) solicite you with their best and humblest services. Remember then this disdainfull Gentlewoman, but more especially her, who being the death of so kinde a Lover, was therefore condemned to perpetuall punishment, and he made the minister thereof, whom she had cast off with coy disdaine, from which I wish your minds to be as free, as mine is ready to do you any acceptable service."

To Dante and to Boccaccio belong of right morning and noon in the Pineta; but the evening is ours for it belongs to Byron:

“Sweet hour of twilight’ in the solitude
Of the pine forest, and the silent shore
Which bounds Ravenna’s immemorial wood,
Rooted where once the Adrian wave flowed o’er,
To where the last Caesarean fortress stood,
Evergreen forest I which Boccaccio’s lore
And Dryden’s lay made haunted ground to me
How have I loved the twilight hour and thee;

“The shrill cicalas, people of the pine,
Making their summer lives one ceaseless song,
Were the sole echoes, save my steed’s and mine,
And vesper bells that rose the boughs along,
The spectre huntsman of Onesti’s line,
His hell-dogs, and their chase, and the fair throng
Which learn’d from this example not to fly
From a true lover shadow’d my mind’s eye

“Soft hour! which wakes the wish and melts the heart
Of those who sail the seas, on the first day
When they from their sweet friends are torn apart.
Or fills with love the pilgrim on his way
As the far bell of vesper makes him start,
Seeming to weep the dying day’s decay,
Is this a fancy which our reason scorns?
Ah, surely nothing dies but something mourns!”

That “sweet hour of twilight” in the Pineta is the most precious hour of the day, when far off across the marsh softly, softly comes the Ave Maria....

“ O tu rinnovellata
itala gente da lé molte vite
rendi la voce

“ de ta preghiera , la campana squilli ammonitrice, il campanil risorto canti di clivo in clivo a la campagna Ave Maria.

“Ave Maria! Quando su l’aure corre l’umil saluto , i piccioh mortali scovrono il capo , curvano la fronte Dante ed Aroldo_”