Anatomy of a Vendetta in Renaissance Italy
Edward W. Muir, Jr., Syracuse University (now at Northwestern University)
Vendetta in Renaissance Italy constituted a rich body of cultural lore, and the pursuit of revenge often defined a family’s kinship and clientage obligations. On the level of culture or collective meaning, vendetta shared with Carnival festivity and carnivalesque literature a preoccupation with the human body, both literally and figuratively, and with animals, their characteristics and behavior, and their relationships with human beings. Avegners gloried in the dishonor of enemies’ bodies and explained themselves by comparing men to animals, esepciall to pigs and dogs. On the sociologocal level, vendetta became highly elastic, easily distorted to fit circumstances, often greatly contracted or expanded by political events and conditions.Vendetta could be the exclusive mania of a few individuals who failed even to infect their own kin, the excessive fascination of an entire clan, or the means by which whole clientage networks of artisans and peasants were mobilized for violent factional confrontations.
By examining one long and particularly bloody vendetta that dominated life in Friuli during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a vendetta that probably provided the historical prototype for Alvise da Porto’s Giulietta e Romeo, and by comparing that vendetta with others in Italy, this series of four seminars illustrated the vast cultural range of vendetta-related concepts of honor and shame, the pliancy of vendetta-based groups and coalitions, and the value of vendetta as a system of justice.
Supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
May 20: A Carnival Slogan: “Say It with Meat”
May 22: Vendetta and Clientage: The Cruel Carnival in Friuli, 1511
May 27: Dogs at the Kill: The Assassination of Antonio Savorgnan, 1512
May 29: From Feuding to Dueling: Considerations on Manners and the Control of Violence
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