Your RDA of Irony

What is the Latin for Bada Bing?

Watching the HBO series “Rome” and “The Sopranos” makes me wonder, when did the Italians stop sounding like the Royal Shakespeare Company and starting sounding like Chico Marx? Consider the ethnic probability: wouldn’t Cicero have seemed more like James Gandolfini than Jeremy Irons?

Ironically, the forebears of the Sopranii at the time of Julius Caesar actually would have thought of themselves as Greeks (if I may use the Latin misnomer for the Hellenes). Sicily and Southern Italy were part of the Hellenistic world. Naples originally was Neopolis, and Athens lost the Peloponnesian War because of its disastrous campaign in Sicily.

This Hellenic identification continued in the Middle Ages. The Byzantines held Sicily until the Arabs invaded in 827; and the Greeks and Sicilians put up such a tenacious resistance that the Moslem conquest of the island took more than a century. Indeed, the Moslems were too exhausted to effectively threaten the Italian mainland.

Southern Italy remained Byzantine until the 11th century, when a less heralded but equally profitable Norman invasion conquered the region. Even then, the Byzantines maintained their covert ties to the Sicilians and Southern Italians. In the 13th century, Constantinople could no longer reconquer its lost lands but it could help determine who would rule them. A French dynasty in Southern Italy seemed more hostile than its Aragonese rival. Demonstrating a genius for conspiracy that our CIA would envy, in 1282 the Byzantines helped organize an uprising against the French that we know as “The Sicilian Vespers.” The French were driven out, and the Aragonese moved in.

If I recall, as late as the 18th century, in isolated areas of Southern Italy the populace spoke a dialect of Greek. So Southern Italy and Sicily could be regarded as Western Greece. However, my Greek friends do seem to be good losers about Palermo and Naples. (Constantinople is another matter!)

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    Hey, even a wild-eyed Scots/English/Welshman like me occasionally rues 1453. Seems like Constantinople ought to be Constantinople, and not Istabbul. Of course, there’s nothing new in that. See: George Gordon, Lord Byron.

    I beg to differ with you, however, on M. Tullius Cicero. He knew full well he was a provincial and worked his butt off to shed that Picenese accent, to the point of spending a year at Rhodes (was it?) studying not only rhetoric, but decent elocution, as well. Oddly enough, the biggest part of building his voice turned out to be building his body. He was a scrawny one, that Cicero: so scrawny, in fact, that it was probably part of what kept him out of the military, to his eternal scorn.

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