Monday, June 26, 2006

How legends begin: Romeo and Juliet and Francis of Assisi

I'm subscribed to a long-established and valuable e-mail list called MEDIEV-L. It's not all serious stuff there -- in fact, some think that there is too much discussion of, for instance, movies set in the Middle Ages and how bad they are.

Today, however a story on the subject of guides and the tales they tell really caught my fancy.
Gotthard von Manteuffel tells the story:

As a student in Italy in the 60s, I tried to make some money as guide (I had to pass a pretty stiff exam to do it), but the stories I collected then were all of funny questions by tourists. On the steep side ("Tarpeian Rock") of the Roman Campidoglio [or Capitoline] Hill there are (were ?) two cages for animals, who are supposed to have some symbolic connection with this place : One with an old bedraggled eagle and one with some mangy wolves. An American lady asked "Are these the actual descendants of the wolves, who tore Romeo and Juliet to pieces in the Colosseum ?" A quick-witted girl-colleague answered "Yes. But they repented and kissed the hand of St. Francis of Asissi afterwards !"
If you ever wondered how odd stories start...

Thanks to Gotthard for permission to retell this one.

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