THE TUMULT OF BOLOGNA
A dramatic monologue by Dario Fo
translated by Ed Emery
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Original text copyright © Dario Fo
Translation copyright © Ed Emery
Antonio Gramsci used to say about history that "If you don’t know where you come from, it’s going to be hard for you to know where you can go." Even though they keep promising us that our future is going to be wonderful, the truth is that we live in times that are full of confusion, violence and massacres in every part of the planet. Those is power speak of "humanitarian wars"; even the Pope assures us that there is such a thing as "just wars". The divide between rich people and those forced into a life of hunger and poverty is growing all the time. However, if we go and dig around in the history of humanity, we find that countless times the weak and the oppressed have succeeded in reversing that situation with ingenuity* and incredible strokes of genius, thereby regaining for themselves dignity and the right to live as free people.
That is precisely what happens in the fabulazzo that we are about to perform for you, in the hopes that you will find it useful as a lesson. The story is based on an extraordinary event that really did happen. In Bologna in the fourteenth century. In fact, to be precise, in 1334. That is the date we are given in the chronicles of the anonymous author of the "History of Cola di Rienzo", the history of the famous tribune of the Roman Republic [in the time of Dante]. The anonymous Roman writer tells us not only of things that were happening in Rome during that century, but also of struggles, upheavals and wars that were exploding all over Northern Italy, especially in regions that were subject to the Pope’s papal rule, such as Romagna (where Bologna is located).
Bologna was the administrative and military centre for control of the papal lands in the North. In that period, the Pope did not have his base in Rome… but, together with his entire Court, had transferred to Avignon (in France). In Bologna he had a delegate… or "Legate", in the form of a cardinal archbishop, who was appointed with full powers.
In those years, the papal "Legate" decided to declare war on Ferrara. The backbone of his army consisted of Provençal troops, supported by Bretons under the command of a famous French general, the Count d’Armeniac. D’Armeniac also had a sizeable quantity of cavalry with him, made up of his fellow countrymen, and he could count on between 10,000 and 15,000 troops from the Romagna region, who could be engaged if occasion demanded.
Ferrara was ne of the outposts of the Venetian Republic. It was positioned on vital – not to mention profitable – trade and travel routes. Among the the most important of these was its total control of communications throughout the estuary of the River Po.
However, from the point of view of the papal legate, this war on Ferrara also served as a diversion. In other words, it created a pretext to divert the popular discontent that was arising out of a major economic crisis, a result of misgovernment and continual over-taxation.
D’Armeniac’s men organised press-gang conscription among the young men of Bologna. This led to scuffles and bad feelings. The military quarters to which the conscripts were taken were attacked. By way of a warning lesson, some of the "troublemakers" were hanged.
For their part, d’Armeniac and the papal Legate promised that the war would be rapid, and would not involve the population of Bologna in sacrifices or inconveniences. On the contrary, they said, it would produce great advantage for all.
The army, with upwards of 15,000 Bolognesi, a few thousand Bretons and an equal number of Provençal troops, was under the command of d’Armeniac. It easily broke through the Ferrara lines and then spread across the plain until it reached the banks of the River Po.
In order to cross the Po and reach Ferrara, they needed to build a bridge. Carpenters were brought up, and they used large quantities of wood to build a sufficiently solid bridge, which was held in place with ropes moored to the banks of the river. The army crossed on this bridge. The first to cross were the Provençal troops... then came the Bolognesi. At that moment, they were attacked by the Ferrara troops, supported by 2,000 Venetian horsemen that had come to the aid of their allies. The battle turned into a disaster for the papal army. Count d’Armeniac found himself cut off. He went down on his knees and surrendered, promising a huge sum of money for his ransom. All the Provençal troops who had crossed the river surrendered with him. The rearguard of Breton troops and the other Provençal troops who were still on the facing bank made their escape. The Bolognesi found themselves trapped on the bridge. Those who were still trying to get onto the Ferrara bank retreated... But at their rear were arriving other Venetian troops who made it impossible for them to retreat. The bridge began to oscillate as a result of the number of armed men, because by now there were something like 8,000 men on it, almost all from Bologna.
The Ferrarans cut the ropes which anchored the bridge... The arches of the bridge collapsed with a crash into the river, hurling down all the poor wretches who were on it. Only half the Bolognesi got back to their city... and they were in poor shape. When the survivors reached the city, the people came out to meet them. There was tremendous anger. The women in particular cursed the Pope’s men angrily.
The Legate and his men had good reason to expect an outbreak of rioting at any moment. The surviving Provençal and Breton troops retreated into the Bon Castello, an imposing fortress which at that time stood right at the centre of Bologna. The Bon Castello was surrounded by deep moats, which were kept permanently full of water, surmounted by enormous bastions.
The papal Legate gave orders that they should prepare for a possible long-term siege, in case they came under attack from the Bolognesi.
So the papal troops went out on sorties. Looting, where they could, any animal that could be killed and eaten, including draught horses and donkeys. They laid in stock of grain and looted the "fodero", in other words the community’s emergency supplies, which were only used in case of famine, as a way of helping the more needy parts of the population.
One night, all the noblemen and clergy of the city, including those from the priory, withdrew into the Castle. Included among the monks and nuns in the procession were also a few prostitutes, presumably devotees of the mystic life.
A papal chronicler of the period tells us that in that castle there were sufficient supplies accumulated for a siege to be easily survived for at least two years.
Furthermore, the castle’s defensive potential was tremendous. Not even an army of professional assault troops could have imagined getting anywhere near the bastions of that fortress.
At this point, however, something truly unforeseeable happened. A stroke of genius on the part of those who were organising the siege. It is related in all its detail in the chronicle written by our anonymous Roman.
In my attempt to find further historical information from the period which would enable me to fill out this particular story, I have been to look at history books written by university researchers, and collections of ancient chronicles: nothing! Total censorship!
A veil of silence has descended on the facts which I am about to relate. Why is that? How? After all, it is a tremendous page from our history. Tremendous, yes, but also rather gross... The key element is obscenity. Academics are full of mealy-mouthed stupidity based on idiot conventionality.
Anyway, enough! You can work it out for yourselves... I’ll end my introduction here, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise in the story. So now I begin.
What language will I be using in order to perform this gross story, of gross Bologna, which, by the way, has already been told in the popular language by story-tellers in mediaeval times?
Well, obviously, I’m going to use the same style of speech that you will have heard in my Mistero Buffo. In other words, a combination of dozens of dialects from throughout the Po Valley, a kind of "passepartout" language invented by the travelling players of the very times in which the facts that I am about to relate actually happened.
[End of Introduction]
THE TUMULT OF BOLOGNA
[The Performance Text]
D’Armeniac, d’Armeniac, coming forward with all his banners, forward with the trumpets, beating on the drums: "Pursue the enemy, everyone forward, towards Ferrara! Bring up the Provençals and the Bretons! Bring up the Romagnoli, and the men from Bologna. Cross the bridge...! Come on! Come on! We have won! We have won! Ferrara is ours!"
Damn! All of a sudden, large numbers of horsemen appear, like a cloud... They come forward with their visors over their eyes... Lances with the insignia of San Marco, and banners with the lion of Venice! And all of them, a thousand or so, advancing like a flood... Immediately they fall upon the troops from Provence, with d’Armeniac at their head, and in no time at all he holds up his sword in surrender and shouts: "We give up! Stop. Enough!"
"All the florins that you desire, for my ransom! Let us live!"
On their knees, and their banners strewn on the ground... Jesus, those who are on the other side of the river, who haven’t yet come up on the bridge, make their escape. A thousand of them from Provence, and two thousand from Brittany, running off. And the Bolognesi stuck in the middle: trapped on the bridge built with beams of wood lashed together, they don’t know where to go. They’re blocked in front and blocked behind, by an armed band of Venetians, so they can’t get off. The bridge begins to wobble, and crashes!
"Ye gods! Anyone who knows how to swim, dive in!" And the bridge collapses!
"There you go.... And good riddance to you!"
The Ferrara troops cut the ropes which anchor the bridge arches to the bank. "In they go: Vraam!" Into the Po! And the Po was in flood! What a mighty crash of men!
How many drowned! Some of them went down crushed by the timbers... Eight thousand, eight thousand washed down with their bellies swollen, they found them in the sea... Another eight thousand were saved.... but they were barely even alive... All hacked to pieces, they were. They went back to Bologna, swearing and cursing! The Provençal troops who had already escaped had arrived in the city the same morning. The people, the women, the men, the old people, the children, already knew that they had been defeated, and were awaiting their men’s return.
They returned two days later. And when they arrived at the gates, they were wounded, crippled, shattered... People losing blood from wounds that were infected. A tremendous anger burst out! Tumult on every side... People shouted:
"Enough! We can no longer go on with this Papacy... The Pope, living in Avignon, having a fancy time... scratching his belly! We’ve had enough, now!"
And from the palace, the papal officials, who had heard the hubbub, had placed in front a whole row of Provençal troops in front, in order to hold the fort, and to hold back the people who were coming forward, wanting to go and talk with the papal Legate, who was inside Castel Bono. Inside the Castello, they began peering out of half-shut windows, rather afraid, and getting increasingly worried: "What’s happening?"
The people of the town saw horses and carts, wagons and mules, heading for the bridge which led into the Castel Bono.
They were transporting pigs, carrying goats, they’d loaded up calves and cows...
"What’s going on...? Why are they transferring all this stuff inside...? That’s our stuff too...! From the community storehouse! They’re carrying it all inside...! And what are we supposed to eat?"
And they, well protected by their French hired troops, were going to and fro, pushing carts, dragging in live animals, carrying sacks and baskets.
"How much stuff they’ve carried off! They’ve even stolen our wine, our oil.... our lard... They’ve taken everything: live animals and butchered meat alike...! They’ve filled their whole storehouse with ice up to the brim, to preserve it!"
"For heaven’s sake..." All the people looked at each other, stunned:
"They’ve all locked themselves in...! The whole princely delegation, together with the cardinals, the counts and their soldiers... their women, their strumpets, even their prostitutes. The nuns and monks, everyone inside! And here we are, without so much as a turnip root to eat! What are we supposed to die? Crawl off and die?!"
The word went around, and all the great men of the town, the old ones, and the young ones who were respected for their qualities, held a "parliament", and in the end they said:
"We must attack the castle. We can’t leave them all nice and cosy, to enjoy themselves inside!"
"What do you mean? When? How? With weapons?"
And they talked, discussed, launched a whole raft of proposals, and in the end they reached a decision. They brought into play all the firing implements that they had: crossbows, stone-throwers with giant slings, ballistas with twisted ropes, catapults etc.
And they lined up all these firing machines around the Castello. They went to ask weapons also from Modena, from Fidenza, even from Craie and Bisonta, all of which towns were within the League of the Senzabraghe, against the papal Legate and his kind. And they returned with ballistas and catapults. When it was all ready, they lined up the machines ready for firing.
They were all round the castle, and up above, on the towers and bastions, there were French soldiers, standing up there and laughing:
"Ha, ha... You can fire as many rocks as you like... Greek fire... for two years on end, before you’ll get us... What d’you think you’re going to do with ballistas and catapults against this castle, which never surrendered even to the German emperor!"
And they made gestures with their fingers as if to show their contempt for the rough people on the ground cranking up the machines in order to load their launching platforms.
How angry they were! All of a sudden, however, carpenters and stonemasons arrived with the tools of their trade. There were conduits, which carried the water into the castle. They cut the pipes so as to divert the water to the irrigation channel which led to the river, and instead they connected the town sewer to the conduit. So into the castle they sent all the discharge of the city’s sewers.
And the people inside came rushing like mad to brick it all up, but too late. It was like trying to stop a flood... Glug, glug, glug... And it filled the whole courtyard with vile stinking sludge.
But then, all of a sudden, you heard a yell from the people who were standing up on high, on the tower. They saw peasants arriving with loads of buckets... They weren’t bringing stones, but buckets, small carts, wheelbarrows and barrels. All together they started loading up stuff, which was hard to see what it was. All of a sudden, they poured into the big ladles of the ballistas huge amounts of shit.
"They’re firing shit at us???"
"They’re firing shit!" Blam!
Inside the castle shit was arriving all over the place!
Catapults firing great gobs of dung, ballistas spraying the stuff in the air like a fireworks display!
And from that day, every day, starting early in the morning, the whole population, young and old alike, arrived carrying their shit so that it could be catapulted into the castle. It was a kind of social duty.
And those who had made a particularly large amount of shit – their families were looked upon with respect and applauded.
"Well done, fellow citizens!"
"Now that’s what I call patriotism!"
People from out of town, who were coming down even from the mountains to enjoy the spectacle, were stopped on the road:
"Where d’you think you’re going?"
"We want to see shit being thrown at the papal legates!"
"Admission only for people carrying shit!"
And the people of Ferrara arrived too, because by now they’d made peace.
"Do you need any help?"
And the people of Modena too:
"Bring us a dollop of shit!"
And you could see them, from early morning onwards, popping up on the roads that led to Bologna from the surrounding villages, wagons with big baskets on board.
There was everything around the castle: barrels, and a variety of overflowing carts waiting for their turn. The really good idea was to offer a prize for anyone inventing more efficient mechanisms for firing the shit. And here the ingenuity of the common people came into its own. Everyone was inventing. There were some who had used cow or ox guts, and had pumped liquid shit into them, so as to make a big balloon. All this was tied to a rope, and then four of them would get into a tight group, whirling it round and round like a sling. They would spin, and spin, letting the rope out bit by bit, and then let it go like a sling.
"Let go the rope!"
When this big stuffed pudding was high up in the air, over the castle, they gave a tug on the rope, and Schloop! The balloon burst and all the filth rained down! And everybody clapped and cheered:
Day and night, in those parts, they spent their time hurling this stinky stuff, which exploded and splattered all over.
Others had set up "see-saws" made out of big beams of timber rested over a barrel to act as a pivot.
They would drop a big rock on one end of the thing, and the other end shot up into the air... Blam! Whoosh! Splat! Huge dollops of dung, which penetrated the broken windows, high up in the battlements. In the Castle there was a monk, a scribe, who wrote the chronicle of all this, and he tells us:
"Hell has arrived here, and it seems as if Christ in person, with the Holy Father and all the saints and angels, have got together in the skies above us to shit on us!"
These people in the Castle, they had everything... They had food, they had drink; but they couldn’t take a drink, because it smelt of stinky stuff! They went to make love: like kissing a sewer! Then one day, a great wind blew up. It made a whirlwind in the courtyard, and lifted dung and straw into the air all around.
An appalling situation! The nuns began to weep... They recited their rosaries, and vomited up at every "Ora pro nobis".
The mothers and fathers among the peasans would keep their children in order by telling them:
"If you’re good, on Sunday we’ll take you to see shit being thrown against the Pope’s men!"
And imagine, that in that Castle they had been prepared and ready to hold out for two years!
After only a fortnight, by order of the Papal Legate, the Captain raised the white flag! "White" in a manner of speaking, of course! And he asked to parley.
"We’re coming out, but if the Legates come, those from Florence to act as guarantors for us. If they come here to protect our exit, we will leave the city."
They go to summon those from Florence, who arrive with their banner... And then they parley:
"Give your word that you will let them come out, and you won’t throw any more shit. Swear it on oath."
"We accompany them as far as Pisa, and you set aside warlike intentions, and don’t do anything else aggressive. Agreed? You swear?"
So, they all came out: first the Bretons, with their standards, which were pretty filthy with shit.
Then came the chaplains, then the nuns, and then the monks. Finally, out comes the Pope’s Legate, who was a cardinal, together with all the other big prelates. In order to protect themselves, they had taken shelter beneath a large awning. There was the grand Cardinal, the Legate in person, who had protected himself with a white umbrella, even if this too was "white" only in a manner of speaking. He was carrying the "santissimo", the blessed Host, as if to say:
"I’d like to see if they have the courage to throw shit at Christ!"
Outside, the whole city square was empty, and people had gone up onto balconies, terraces and roofs. There were people on the house-tops all around.
All of a sudden, a voice called out:
"If Christ can bear to stay in the midst of so many shits, then he’ll be able to stand a bit of our shit too!"
Broooom! A storm of shite! As if the day of universal judgement had arrived.
The Legate from Florence raised his arm and shouted:
"This was not in our agreement!"
But he didn’t manage to complete "agreement"... Only "ag...", because a great gob of shite arrived and blocked his mouth!
And then all the papal troops went running off, scuttling off on all fours, way up to the mountains, to the Alps.
And they didn’t pass through villages, for fear of having to put up with some further "blessings".
Finally they made their way down into Tuscany.
At least they reached Pisa. But they didn’t enter Pisa, into the city, because it was well known that the people of Pisa were shit-flingers extraordinary! So they went round by the back way, until they reached the port, where they found a ship provided by the Provençals, ready to take them all on board. They found armed French soldiers, all around, to defend them.
About time too!
They washed themselves, washed themselves in the sea. Wonderful! Having dried their clothes, they boarded the ships that were ready to catch the wind that would carry them to Avignon.
They hoist the anchor.
The wind is set fair.
They leave the port, heading for the open sea. Now, as is traditional when an important ship leaves, a lot of the ships that were moored at the quaysides came to escort them, with flags and banners streaming. Up in the rigging and the crows nests, the sailors clambered up to send them on their way.
"Hey there! Bon voyage! Have a good trip!"
The ship provided by the Provençals sailed off, with all its sails hoisted, passing right through the middle of them.
All of a sudden they heard a thud, and a loud snigger: Blam!
Shit from all the masts, landing on their ship!
"No! That’s too much!"
In the end they arrived at Avignon.
The chronicles tell that for the whole duration of the voyage, the Delegate was unable to eat a thing. He hadn’t eaten so much as a grape, during the whole crossing.
Having landed, they finally got him to eat... a bit of fruit, a bit of bread soaked in milk, a couple of bites... an egg... they began to feed him.
Then, a few days later, the time came when he had to attend to nature’s needs. He squatted down, sat on the toilet, and produced a great dollop of shit... He looked at it, saw what he’d produced, and fell down dead!
[Note: First published by Edizioni F.R. La Comune, Milan, 1982. Dario Fo sent this text out as his New Year’s present to the world at the start of 2001.]
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Please be aware that this translation can only be performed with explicit permission in writing from the agency representing Dario Fo and Franca Rame, the Danesi-Tolnay agency in Rome.
Last updated: 3.viii.2012