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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wincing in #Ravenna by John von Daler

                 I'm too fussy. My sense of order just does not allow much leeway for Good and Evil to occupy adjacent and nonchalant places on life's little merry-go-round.
                 Take Ravenna, the beautiful ancient city about an hour by train east of Bologna.
                Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths (who lack a stable and safe place to live), travels from Germany/Austria to Italy and wages war there for some years. In 493 he defeats King Odoacer at Ravenna and marches into town with about one hundred thousand followers (You can just hear the staff whispering to King Odoacer's chamberlain, Do you think they will be staying for dinner??). Theodoric and his army have laid siege to Ravenna for three odd years and in answer to the staff's implicit question he declares that he likes the place and will be moving in with one hundred thousand people. (Again, one hears the staff, We should have washed the linen yesterday!)
                No hard feelings, though, says Theodoric. Odoacer and I can rule together, I over mine, he over his. We'll iron out who gets what tomorrow. Let's celebrate our great new union with a banquet tonight. (Applause all around.)
                Everyone gets dudded up, the cooks find a truffle or two in the pantry and they all sit down to dinner. That is everyone but Theodoric. He walks into the room, strides over to Odoacer and cleaves him in two. (See startled staff running in with cloths and buckets of water. The head chef cries out in dismay, knowing that now his wild boar will be over-cooked. Generally there is turmoil because the people in the back cannot really see what is going on; rumors circulate that the antipasta will be delayed.)
                Now why am I telling this crude story?
                Because Theodoric proceeds to lead his country for a couple of decades in the most magnificent way with religious freedom (his people were Arian Christians, the Ravennians were probably loyal to either Byzantine or Roman Christianity), with great equality and with a fair but firm hand. He even hires as his counselor the great Roman philosopher, Boethius, a righteous man and for a thousand years the greatest authority on music in Europe.
                One story has it that when a local synagogue burns down, Theodoric has it rebuilt at his own expense. He allows the Romans in Ravenna to live by their laws and the Ostrogoths to live by theirs. He keeps enemies at bay. And of course he and his compatriots bring some blond hair to Italy, mixing it in beautifully with the darker-skinned Italians.
                The story has an unhappy ending, though. Theodoric imprisons and kills Boethius on suspicion of being in league with Justinian in Constantinople. The Ravenna kingdom eventually crumbles shortly before his death.
                Now I am no historian. Please do not read this blog to get the facts. But I would like to ask you just for a moment to consider this astounding, grotesque marriage of Good and Evil. I guess I am almost calling them bedfellows.
                That may be too simple, though. Consider, perhaps while you are holding a mirror in front of you, how the face of Theodoric could look at itself in the same way, taking in the great moral kaleidoscope we all are, piecemeal, without a wince. 



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