For centuries the humblest classes have been subjected to all kinds of harassment, especially women. The volume «Dangerous Classes» (Laterza) gives impressive examples of misery and rebellion
“The parish priest of Andreis in the province of Udine in mid-1815” reported that the population ateused of ground corn on the cob and seasoned with grass without salt and in some cases even dung “”, the scholar Franco Della Peruta recalled years ago, and “in the surroundings of Verona the mountaineers” began to bite the grass in the fields, like goats, and with the grass between ‘ teeth were dying ”».
Bad thing, hunger. Not just in times of famine. She tells it in Dangerous classes. A social history of poverty from the modern age to todaypublished by Laterza, Enzo Ciconte. Which starts from the practice of abandonment “widespread even in ancient times” including ancient Rome where there was the custom “of abandoning the infant at the foot of a column, the lactating columnand anyone could take him, feed him and then use him as a slave, except to set him free if he or another person paid the ransom “and goes back from there down the centuries, from pain to pain, from revolt to revolt, from hypocrisy in hypocrisy to this day and the brazen but true claim of Warren Buffett, among the richest men in the world: “In fact, one has been fought in the last twenty years class warfareand my class won it. ”
Not just in the last twenty years. On the contrary. The whole human story, explains the Calabrian historian, is marked by this contrast. And if “the age of piety is the medieval one when the poor were the object of charity because the figure of Christ was represented in him” (as confirmed by St. Augustine: “There are poor people without resources who barely survive the day, so in need of the help of others that they are not ashamed of begging”) the cornerstone of the system remains the one summarized by Michele Mollat in The poor in the Middle Ages where it mentions the Life of Sant’Eligio of Noyon where it is written that “God could have created all rich men, but he wanted the poor to exist in the world as well, to offer the rich an opportunity for redemption from their sins”. Thesis gradually reaffirmed over a millennium later even in a decree of June 22, 1817 from the Lombard-Venetian government under Austrian domination: “In the plan of divine Providence, poverty is necessary for the Order of the Universe”.
An order, moreover, already exacerbated by Martin Luther who, writes Ciconte, was so distrustful of certain poor people that he thought they acted “in league with the devil”, and that indeed it was the devil himself who “used them to prevent alms from ending up in the hands of real beggars”. A decisive distrust to change “in depth the conception and perception of the poor and of poverty” not only in the Protestant world. In short: from “Images of Christ” the poor would gradually become for many those who do not commit themselves enough or take advantage of the charity of others. The result: an unstoppable crescendo of prohibitions that will eventually affect the Franciscans and hermits “who had made poverty a choice of life”.
A radical reversal of the words of the Gospel. Worse still: “The seventeenth-century plague epidemics or the recurring famines that drove huge masses of hungry people to move from the countryside to the cities” sowed new fears. And the obsession with separating “the real poor” from the “false poor” did the rest. With flurries of notices, wandering bans, street sheets. Gypsies, wanderers, lost women … Up to astonishing cases such as the exile in Ventotene in 1768 by the Bourbon government of “200 thieves and 200 prostitutes”. Category in which, however, it was easy to be categorized: “The police could arrest a woman with the infamous accusation just because she was homeless and unemployed.” It was enough for her to have been left by an emigrant husband. To have ended up on the sidelines. Or having succumbed to the advice of a wrong parish priest convinced that “the honor of a poor man was little.”
That was the moral for endless times. To the point that, even nurses forced by misery to neglect their newborns to give milk to those of others, perhaps in Switzerland or in Prussia (like thousands and thousands of our grandmothers who emigrated in the nineteenth century) were dismissed in a medical journal as follows: “The nurse is nothing more than a pitiless and lazy woman than in the child entrusted to her, she sees only a means of earning money ». Not to mention Anagni where the Scuola Pia della Carità accepted only “virgins, of honorable fathers and mothers, with honest customs and fame” who did not “harvest in the countryside in the presence of other men, even in their own vineyards, so that they did not learned malice ».
No one, Ciconte demonstrates, has suffered for centuries the miseries, humiliations, loneliness of poor women. Starting precisely (without the comfort of men who are too absent) from the torment of the abandonment of children. Innocent and sacrificial victims of society where children were often an unbearable burden for the most miserable families. Do you remember some black fairy tales like that of Tom Thumb and his six brothers left in a wood? No less unfortunate, we read in Ciconte’s essay, were the little ones who ended up at the “Pietà” in Venice where, in order not to be confused, a “P” was imprinted on their heels “with red-hot iron” or at the orphanage in Rome where they were branded in focus with «a ladder or the double-armed cross». Nor those welcomed at the Cremona orphanage, which went from six thousand “exhibits” in the second half of the eighteenth century to over 22,000 in the first half of the nineteenth century, even if “the most impressive data are those of Milan, where the annual average went from 790 in 1785- 89 to 3,300 in 1841-50 and finally to 4,384 in 1851-60 ». Not to mention the thrilling mortality that continued until the last century. As in Padua: «Still in 1902, 92% of the little ones died».
From the poor, for too many centuries, “it was taken away even the hope of being able to change their condition. Even in the future, in a more or less distant day, things would not have changed. It was a prison for life from which one could not escape », observes the Calabrian historian. How could those starving, crushed, enslaved mobs not rebel? And he reconstructs in fact, from the earliest times, dozens of revolts even before the nineteenth-century brigandage. Like those of the Val di Non and Val di Sole where “for almost fifty years nothing happens that deserves to be remembered in the civil news of the country” until 1525 “when the wind of revolt arrives from Germany and riots break out against the nobles and against the clergy who do not stop within the borders of that state “. Stories, stories, stories … “Few historiographical feats can be more tormenting or frustrating,” explains British historian Brian Pullan, “than the task of writing the history of the poor.” “Fault” of the poor, one would bitterly say, silent for too long. Dig, dig, though …
May 24, 2022 (change May 24, 2022 | 20:30)