VII. THE BANDUSIAN FOUNT
The traveller in these parts is everlastingly half-starved. Here, at Venosa, the wine is good - excellent, in fact; but the food monotonous and insufficient. This improper dieting is responsible for much mischief; it induces a state of chronic exacerbation. Nobody would believe how nobly I struggle, day and night, against its evil suggestions. A man's worst enemy is his own empty stomach. None knew it better than Horace.
And yet he declared that lettuces and such-like stuff sufficed him. No doubt, no doubt. "Olives nourish me." Just so! One does not grow up in the school of Maecenas without learning the subtle delights of the simple life. But I would wager that after a week of such feeding as I have now undergone at his native place, he would quickly have remembered some urgent business to be transacted in the capital - Caesar Augustus, me-thinks, would have desired his company. And even so, I have suddenly woke up to the fact that Taranto, my next resting-place, besides possessing an agreeably warm climate, has some passable restaurants. I will pack without delay. Mount Vulture must wait. The wind alone, the Vulturnus or south-easterly wind, is quite enough to make one despair of climbing hills. It has blown with objectionable persistency ever since my arrival at Venosa.
To escape from its attentions, I have been wandering about the secluded valleys that seam this region. Streamlets meander here amid rustling canes and a luxuriant growth of mares' tails and creepers; their banks are shaded by elms and poplars - Horatian trees; the thickets are loud with songs of nightingale, black-cap and oriole. These humid dells are a different country from the uplands, wind-swept and thriftily cultivated.
It was here, yesterday, that I came upon an unexpected sight - an army of workmen engaged in burrowing furiously into the bowels of Mother Earth. They told me that this tunnel would presently become one of the arteries of that vast system, the Apulian Aqueduct. The discovery accorded with my Roman mood, for the conception and execution alike of this grandiose project are worthy of the Romans. Three provinces where, in years of drought, wine is cheaper than water, are being irrigated - in the teeth of great difficulties of engineering and finance. Among other things, there are 213 kilometres of subterranean tunnellings to be built; eleven thousand workmen are employed; the cost is estimated at 125 million francs. The Italian government is erecting to its glory a monument more durable than brass. This is their heritage from the Romans - this talent for dealing with rocks and waters; for bridling a destructive environment and making it subservient to purposes of human intercourse. It is a part of that practical Roman genius for "pacification." Wild nature, to the Latin, ever remains an obstacle to be overcome - an enemy.
Such was Horace's point of view. The fruitful fields and their hardy brood of tillers appealed to him; [Footnote: See next chapter.] the ocean and snowy Alps were beyond the range of his affections. His love of nature was heartfelt, but his nature was not ours; it was nature as we see it in those Roman landscapes at Pompeii; nature ancillary to human needs, in her benignant and comfortable moods. Virgil'slachrymae rerum hints at mystic and extra-human yearnings; to the troubadours nature was conventionally stereotyped - a scenic decoration to set off sentiments more or less sincere; the roman-ticists wallow in her rugged aspects. Horace never allowed phantasy to outrun intelligence; he kept his feet on earth; man was the measure of his universe, and a sober mind his highest attribute. Nature must be kept "in her place." Her extrava-gances are not to be admired. This anthropocentric spirit has made him what he is - the ideal anti-sentimentalist and anti-vulgarian. For excess of sentiment, like all other intemperance, is the mark of that unsober and unsteady beast - the crowd.
Things have changed since those days; in proportion as the world has grown narrower and the element of fear and mystery diluted, our sympathies have broadened; the Goth, in particular, has learnt the knack of detecting natural charm where the Latin, to this day, beholds nothing but confusion and strife.
On the spot, I observe, one is liable to return to the antique outlook; to see the beauty of fields and rivers, yet only when subsidiary to man's personal convenience; to appreciate a fair landscape - with a shrewd worldly sense of its potential uses. "The garden that I love," said an Italian once to me, "contains good vegetables." This utilitarian flavour of the south has become very intelligible to me during the last few days. I, too, am thinking less of calceolarias than of cauliflowers.
A pilgrimage to the Bandusian Fount (if such it be) is no great undertaking - a morning's trip. The village of San Gervasio is the next station to Venosa, lying on an eminence only thirteen kilometres from there.
Here once ran a fountain which was known as late as the twelfth century as the Fons Bandusinus, and Ughelli, in his "Italia Sacra," cites a deed of the year 1103 speaking of a church "at the Bandusian Fount near Venosa." Church and fountain have now disappeared; but the site of the former, they say, is known, and close to it there once issued a copious spring called "Fontana Grande." This is probably the Horatian one; and is also, I doubt not, that referred to in Cenna's chronicle of Venosa: "At Torre San Gervasio are the ruins of a castle and an abundant spring of water colder than all the waters of Venosa,"Frigus amabile. . . .
I could discover no one in the place to show me where this now vanished church stood. I rather think it occupied the site of the present church of Saint Anthony, the oldest in San Gervasio.