Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Megollo Lercari Incident post-Senarega

These next two texts follow along the same lines as my previous one on the letter by Bartholomeo Senarega to Giovanni Pontano on the Megollo Lercari incident. While that letter is the earliest recorded copy we have of the story, the two accounts that follow by Agostino Giustiniani (1537) and Uberto Foglietta (1585) were the two most often consulted and best known accounts of the story by later historian. Senarega’s letter was not even known until 1879 when Cornelio Desmoni discovered and published it, so almost all of the later artistic and dramatic representations of Megollo Lercari in the centuries to come were based on one or both of these accounts. Both of the original texts are now available via Google books unlike when I first went in search of them a couple years ago. Giustiniani can be found here, while Foglietta can be found here. Enjoy!!

1. Annals of the Republic of Genoa by Agostino Giustianiani, Book 4

There was in those times at the court of the Emperor of Trebizond a Genoese Megollo Lercari, a man without compare, very ardent for his honor and endowed with greatness and magnanimity for which noble qualities he was very dear to the Emperor and envied by the chief men of the court. It happened that a courtier high in favor, who it had not gone unnoted was shown unseemly favor by the Emperor, spoke words of great insolence to Megollo while playing chess with him though Megollo remained impassive to the insult patiently bearing it. Seeing then that he had not taken offense, the courtier continued to hurl abuse at him. Finally, he responded by seeking an apology for his honor for all that the courtier had said had greatly troubled him. Much more than before the courtir without the least consideration continued sparing contempt not even for the Genoese name, at which Megollo became angry and responded to him that he was lying, so the courtier slapped him on the face and Megollo unable to satisfy his honor being held back by those around him sought it out from the Emperor for whom alone he had fair words. Unable to obtain remedy for what had so enraged him, with the permission of the Emperor, Megollo departed and came to Genoa clothed in red with his beard and hair long (which at that time did not mean anything good) set completely on revenge.

There he assembled the Lercari family along with his relatives and friends and revealed to them the injury he had received and his intention to avenge himself asking them both by the affection they bore him and their honor to help in this venture. In this terrible case, they came together and helped him fit out two galleys with which Megollo set sail for Trebizond and coasting along the sea did a great amount of damage both by land and sea. Any person that fell into his hands he ordered to have their nose and ears cut off, salted, and conserved in a jar. Hearing of this, the Emperor many times fitted out lots of vessels not inferior to the great speed and valor of the Genoese, though always his forces suffered losses or remained without any profit, while Megollo and his companions sometimes increasing in boldness set fire to the galleys and other vessels on land and other times took them by force on the sea. One of these days, with just his two galleys, he took four of them, to which Megollo cunningly gave the illusion of fleeing, so they split into two parts to box him in. Cunningly, Megollo stopped them from coming together so that he had time to fight two of them before the others could come to their aid so that he was able to take them in succession.

After his victory, it happened that there was an old man before Megollo with his two young sons and the old man seeing that Megollo was going to have his nose cut off and his sons ears, he fell to his feet in tears and with entreaties earnestly and humbly begged Megollo to content himself with putting him to death and spare his sons' noses and ears. The tears and entreaties of the old man extinguished Megollo's rancor and the father's love moved him with compassion, so much so placated he responded that the Emperor was the cause of their misfortunes and losses because, he, Megollo had been unjustly treated and dishonored in his house as well as the Genoese name. He had not wanted make this display, so, nonetheless, he was content to pardon him and his sons on the condition that he bring that vase already full of noses and ears to the Emperor and explain to him that there would be no end to this destruction of his country unless he, by whom he had been injured was surrendered to him. Once freed, the old man carried out diligently his charge.

Seeing this and hearing this, the Emperor both due to the great amount of damage that had come of this and out of fear that the people would rise up, he decided to give satisfaction to Megollo and to better give satisfaction to him he resolved to personally to the sea shore to speak with him bringing with him the offending courtier, who he made go into the water up to the waist and ask Megollo's pardon. Then the Emperor said after a couple of words, "Megollo, let this be enough for you." To this, Megollo replied that he wanted his offender in his hands, and so without much resistance he got him. The man on mounting the galley's ladder was given a kick in the face by Megollo with his foot and flung at Megollo's feet he begged him for his life. Megollo stood him up on his feet and said to him, "Don't you know? Genoese men never act cruelly towards women." It was alluding not so much to his tears so much as what he had just said. And so he sent him back again free to his kin, who were all grieving thinking that he would be put cruelly to death. The Emperor sent many gifts to Megollo and made him great offers, which Megollo declined saying that neither for bloodlust nor material gain he had come from distant lands, but only to satisfy his honor and the Genoese name, and that having satisfied it he had no need of such offers. Yet, the Emperor continued insistently making offers, so Megollo asked that the Emperor have a warehouse built at Trebizond for the Genoese for their benefit along with ample privileges. On the gate of the warehouse was to be both written and engraved all that had happened in this affair. All of this was peremptorily promised by the Emperor and fully carried out. Besides that, that the emperor always keep the Genoese as his dear friends and keep optimal relations with the Genoese consul at Caffa.

2. Uberto Foglietta’s History of the Genoese Book VIII pp 159-160

At this point, we introduce into our annals a deed of bravery and boldness, as well as of singular magnanimity, accomplished by private Genoese citizen on private initiatives with private arms. Although it had nothing to do with the Commune, nevertheless, because it brought glory to our city to have produced such citizens who were strong enough to bear enmity and wage war with kings themselves and sovereign princes, I could by no means omit it.

There was one Megollo Lercari living at the court of the Emperor of Trebizond, who on account of his rare virtues, his fine manners, and pleasant temperament was extremely dear to the Emperor as well as to many chief men at the court. One day, he was playing chess by chance with a youth, who (so it was said) in the flower of his youth had obtained a position of favor and authority with the Emperor for the foul and obscene services he rendered him. An argument broke out between the two of them and after exchanging many heated words, they started to fight. The youth in a moment of arrogance and anger slapped Megollo on the face. At that moment, many people there jumped up and interjected themselves in the fight. A large part of the lords and courtiers present held back the youth (as it was necessary). Megollo could not avenge the insult, since the Emperor did not offer Megollo any redress for this injury. So Megollo, with his wrath now turned on the emperor, was possessed by such animosity against the emperor that he decided to take his revenge through difficult and precipitous endeavors.

And so, he returned immediately to Genoa in dirty and gloomy dress with his beard and hair unkempt showing his great melancholy. He gathered together his relatives and extended family as well as any one that was in any way connected with him and revealed to them what had happened to him. He asked them to stand by him in so pious and just a business. They did not hesitate to provide him with two galleys, which were suitably armed for war.

Megollo, without losing a moment, set out for the Black Sea over so great an expanse of water until he reached the shores of the Empire of Trebizond, which he ravaged in land and sea raids producing wonderful examples of his implacable spirit and inhuman cruelty by cutting off the noses and ears of his captives and then releasing them as his desire for revenge was fixed in his mind and would not tolerate any other thought. Since Megollo would not stop, the Emperor armed four galleys and sent them against Megollo to put an end to such a disgrace and arrest the constant damages being done to him. When Megollo caught sight of them sailing towards him from afar, he employed a stratagem to strengthen his forces and pretended to take flight. Two of the Trapezuntine ships followed him with a great flurry of rowing. When Megollo caught sight of this, he noticed that two enemy vessels were separated from the rest by a large distance. He then, just as he had planned to get them away from the rest to fight them, roused his ships to turn around and attack the two closest ships, which he took with hardly any effort. Then hastening to go forward so that the remaining ships which had rushed up to help the other ships and had come upon him would be unable to get away. He took them without a fight and began mutilating his captives in the usual horrible manner. Among the captives, there was a venerable old man, who had brought his two innocent and handsome young sons along with him, who flung himself at Megollo’s knees and said, “I beg you, Megollo, by your faith to spare these two sons of mine and direct all your anger at me. Take not only my ears and nose from me, but also my life.” Megollo was moved by the prayers of the old man and by sympathy for the innocent youths. He not only spared the boys, but also the old man, to whom he gave a barrel full of salted noses to bring them before the Emperor and instructed him to tell the Emperor that Megollo would never stop or leave his shores in peace until the man that had so atrociously injured him was handed over to him.

The Emperor sighed and sadly was forced to do it. When the youth having mounted Megollo’s ship stood before Megollo, he fell at his feet in tears and said, “I beg you, Megollo, to not torture me before you kill me.” Megollo responded to him, “Don’t you know that brave men are not wont to torture women.” Then, after such a careful response, he rebuked not so much the young man’s tears as his reputation. He then sent him away unharmed and ordered him to tell the Emperor that his private injury had been satisfied, but that he had not yet been consoled of the glory of his home city and the Genoese name. He would not for this reason go away until the Emperor promised in his own hand-writing to build at Trebizond an large warehouse for the Genoese nation and to give them certain privileges and rights. Having had this story painted on the walls [of the warehouse], the emperor issued a new treaty. Peace was made between the two parties and the warehouse was built.

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