History is long, and potentially very confusing!
Which is one of the reasons, perhaps the chief one, that I made every effort to avoid the Middle Ages while ‘reading’ the subject at a British university, thirty-five years back.
While the themes of history – the conquest of power, the movement of peoples, developments in institutions and cultures – are universal, and so simple for a student to grasp, the mass of confusing detail can be very off-putting.
I say this, having just proof-read, then listened to, then scratched my head over, Episode 6 in our Medievo series: Il Medioevo, Episodio 06, Splendore e declino dei Longobardi (VII- VIII secolo).
The title contains a clue as to why this one might be ‘un osso duro’ (an expression from today’s text – literally ‘a hard bone’, meaning a tough cookie, a hard nut to crack) – in just a few paragraphs we cover a significant chunk of each of two successive centuries.
Reading and listening to it all, I got pretty much lost trying to connect one king up with the next – so and so married so and so, who adopted so and so, who was related to so and so, but trying to steal the job of so and so, who was never heard of again…
So I sneaked a look at Wikipedia’s Kings of Italy page, which cleared things up, somewhat.
Rather obviously, our writer is picking out the highlights and skipping the boring bits. Think of it as being like just watching the highlights of a soccer match on the telly – the most creative fouls, the arguments, the goals – rather than the whole tedious ninety minutes.
Anyway, thanks to Wikipedia, between one mentioned monarch and the next I counted TWELVE OTHERS Francesca, our writer, chose to skip over. Oops, I just missed out twelve Lombard kings! Never mind, there’ll be another along soon.
To the fair, I guess only their royal mothers could have told them apart, but more importantly, none of them were around for that long.
Take a look at that Kings of Italy page again (section 4, Kingdom of the Lombards, 568 – 814), and you’ll observe that in the sixty, presumably bloody and tumultuous, years that passed between the first of today’s royal guest stars, Rothari, and the next, Liutprand, the dozen lucky fellows who scored the top job lasted an average of just five years. In fact many of them ruled for just a year, or less – my rough and ready five-year average is wildly skewed by the fact that two or three of the rulers were either luckier than your typical barbarian king, or were brutally efficient in a way that was historically uninteresting, or both, and so clung to power for a decade or more.
Beh, anyway, don’t get fazed if all the detail flies right on past you, as it has done for me. Detail is overrated. And the Kings of Italy page tells me that the famous Charlemagne (Carlo Magno to Italians) is on soon, and he ruled for forty years, so has to be easier to remember!
Besides, I take this opportunity to remind you that the purpose of the exercise isn’t, in fact, that we all become medievalists who know our Grimoalds (662 – 671) from our Garibalds (671), but to provide Italian reading and listening practice, and so build those vital comprehension ‘skills’!
In doing so, perhaps you’ll also pick up a few useful expressions (tough cookie?) For instance, in today’s episode, there’s a King, Rotari, who, having married his perfect bride, Gudeperga, is disappointed to discover that she takes her religion all too seriously, and so isn’t much fun to have around…
Rotari, dopo aver giurato fedeltà e amore eterno a Gundeperga, nota che la moglie passa la vita a pregare. Che noia! Dunque, per levarla di mezzo, la rinchiude in una stanza del castello.
(‘Che noia!’ = ‘what a drag, what a bore, what a bummer!’ / ‘levarla di mezzo’, literally ‘remove her from the middle of things’ = get rid of)
Do stuff, even if it’s hard or might not seem very relevant, and who knows what positive side effects might result?