Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Of the first twenty-five [Doges of Venice], according to the chroniclers, three were murdered, one was executed for treason, three were judicially blinded, four were deposed, one was exiled, four abdicated, one became a saint and one was killed in a battle with pirates."

"It was essential to the Venetian system that any citizen showing signs of self-importance or dangerous popularity should at once be humiliated, to prevent the emergence of dictators and pour encourager les autres. If you refused a command, you were disgraced. If you lost a battle, you were impeached for treason. If you won it, and became a public hero, you would probably be charged, sooner or later, with some trumped-up offence against the State. The fifteenth-century general Antonio da Lezze, for example, defended Scutari for nearly a year against Turkish assaults so ferocious that a cat, stealing out one day across an exposed roof-top, was instantly transfixed by eleven arrows at once, and so sustained that afterwards the expended arrow-shafts kept the place in firewood for several months; but when at last he surrendered the city to overwhelmingly superior forces, and returned honourably to Venice, he was immediately charged with treason, imprisoned for a year and banished for ten more. In Venice a great commander was always a bad risk, and he was seldom left for long to enjoy his gouty retirement."

"In 1649 a Venetian doctor offered the State an 'essence of plague' to be spread among the Turks by infusing it into textiles sold in enemy territory: the Republic did not use his invention, but to prevent anyone else getting hold of it, instantly locked the poor man up in prison."

All from Venice by Jan Morris. This book is a good demonstration of why I do not believe that a novel in which nothing happens is more "true to life".

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