Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


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Diomedes Don't Get No Respect


This was inspired by—and is a comment and fantasy on—Travels in Daunia, a marvelous essay by the Neapolitan archaeologist and historian, Amedeo Mauri. The original Maiuri essay was dated 1954 from the town of Foggia. It appeared in Italian as "Viaggio in Daunia" in a collection entitled Passeggiate in Magna Grecia in 1963, ed. L'arte Tipografica, Naples, pp.191-193.)

Diomedes- a Roman copy from the
2nd-3rd century of a Greek original
from 5th century BC- in the Louvre

Guided tours in this neck of the boot are always trying to put you in the wake of Ulysses or Aeneas (as told by Homer and Virgil, respectively), or on the trail of Hercules or hook you up with the Sirens on the Amalfi coast. Much of all that will take place near Sicily and then to the north, up the Tyrrhenean coast from the strait bounded by the mythological deadly whirlpools of Scylla and Charybdis—the Straits of Messina—up through the Campania region, past Naples to the southernmost part of the adjacent region of Lazio. You will then be at Cape (or Mt.) Circeo near the town of Gaeta. If you hug the coastline from Messina to Circeo, it's a distance of some 450 km/280 miles.

On the other hand—and other side of Italy—along the Adriatic coast, you find the long single region of modern Apulia, home in ancient times to quite another hero: Diomedes, a stalwart in Greek mythology, known for his part in the Trojan War. In Homer's Iliad, Diomedes is placed alongside Ajax and Achilles as one of the greatest warriors. Even without his own epic (such as The Odyssey or the The Aeneid) to sing his praises, Diomedes was a grand hero of land and sea with nothing to be shy about in comparison even with Ulysses. Besides, as Maiuri points out, Ulysses was a womanizer, or at least a sirenizer, as a result of which a lot of his men were turned into cannibal yum-yums or at least swine. Indeed, he wasted a lot of time on his voyage “beyond the sunset and the baths of all the western stars. [Tennyson]”
 
                watercolor by W. &  J. Blaeu from 1645
Not so, Diomedes. He returned from Troy to Argos, escaped an evil plot by his wife, Aegiale, to murder him, and went west to seek refuge with King Daunus, ruler of the ancient kingdom of Daunia (today's Italian region of Puglia/Apulia). Daunus and his people, too, are said to have fled from Greece to Italy, but earlier than Diomedes, in the late Bronze Age (11th-10th centuries BC) and become inextricably mixed with even earlier Italic peoples. Today “Daunia” is an historical reference to an area corresponding roughly to the “spur” of the boot of Italy and extending about halfway across the peninsula (pictured, left). Today, it's easier simply to say “the Gargano,” the name of that peninsula. Maiuri reminds us that Diomedes, instead of lounging with his own local versions of Circe and Calypso, used all that stone taken from the shattered walls of Troy to lay the foundations for cities in eastern Italy, cities such as modern Benevento, Brindisi, Venafro, and many others, even sailing out to settle what today are the Trèmiti islands (in the Italian region of Puglia and province of Foggia); to the Romans they were known as the Diomedean islands. Diomedes was the great mythological protector and hero of that part of Italy, says Maiuri, well before the advent of the divine protector, Michael the Archangel and well well before the medieval father and son team of Frederick II and Manfred, who dotted the ancient Daunian landscape with a few structures of their own.

If you are inclined to give mythology the benefit of the doubt
—and I do not discourage that—recall that many sources (including Pausanias, Virgil, and Strabo) say that Diomedes, out of gratitude for refuge, helped Daunus mop up the local inhabitants, the Messapians, high-handedly dismissed (above) as "earlier Italic peoples." There is another tale of Diomedes' military prowess. It has to do with Turnus, who became king when his father Dauno abdicated. With a little really free translation from the sources mentioned above, the story goes something like this (maestro, Dorian B-flat 7, please...):
Turnus: Hey, so you were one of the guys in that big Trojan cow? Holy mackerel!
Diomedes: Holy mackerel? What, you worship fish now? Oh, it was a horse...a big Trojan horse...not a cow. Yes, you bet I was there. First one out of the horse. Gung-ho.

Turnus: Horse. Right. What I meant was 'Holy Cow'! You were in that big Trojan horse?

Diomedes: What's your point?

Turnus: I have just heard on Grapevinepedia that there is this Trojan refugee moving up the west coast of Italy...Aeneas something..maybe...

Diomedes: I remember him. What a loser. Not to worry. I used to bench-press punks like him before breakfast.

Turnus: Well, he might be a problem. What say you and me just go over and clean his sun-dial once and for all, real good?!

Diomedes: I'm telling you, he's a loser. What is he going to do, found a city that will rule the known world or something? Leave it alone...you know, I'm tired of fighting Trojans, anyway. I came here to live in peace and build cities. Hand me that boulder.
[Scholarly note and spoiler alert: According to Virgil's Aeneid, Turnus decided to go it alone and met Aeneas on the field of battle. Luca Giordano (1634-1705) painted the results (image, above). It did not end well for the king of Daunia. For the future of Rome, however, it worked out fine.]

Maiuri passes on to modern times and notes that the city of Foggia has miraculously come back from the ruins of World War II, in which it lost 29,000 citizens (either from Allied air-raids or from wartime losses elsewhere—those who never returned). He comments favorably on local efforts to document the history of ancient Daunia with a museum the way they have done in other parts of southern Italy with their own ancient traditions and archaeology. He hopes that they do this and that they do that—well, they've done it! Maiuri did not live to witness it but would be pleased with the news that there is now (since 2014) a National Archaeological Museum of Daunia in the city of Manfredonia on the southern side of the Gargano peninsula.

In his last paragraph, Amedeo Maiuri fondly mentions the town of Ordona, ancient Herdònea—founded by Diomedes—on the Tavoliere, the high plain to the west of the Gargano spur. Here Maiuri was welcomed to the premises of a rural establishment where they raise horses; he toured the stables, admired the colts, spoke with the hands—all this on a site that had ceased to exist after resisting Hannibal two thousand years earlier. The Romans resurrected the city and it's still here and they are raising horses. That is good, says Maiuri; we are, after all, in the land of Diomedes. They say he was quite a horse breeder, too, you know. He deserves the respect.



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