Pasquino greets Hitler

Pasquino was once a king. He was called Menelaus, and he carried the body of Patroclus from under the walls of Troy, killed by Hector, as it is seen in the Roman copy made after the original of Pergamum, under the arcades of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence.


Rome, however, does not tolerate the kings, and the statue of Menelaus that is to be found here was much less lucky. By the time it came to light during the foundation works of the Orsini palace – at whose wall it stands until this day –, the land of the Brutus had deprived it of its members, its face and its identity.


The people of Rome, however, which nestles on its own history just as comfortably as it does under the arcades of the ancient monuments, gave him a new identity. They called him Pasquino – or in Latin Pasquillus, “Small Pasquale” – after the local tailor, who was just as small and curved as the statue, and whose chief merit was – as described by his contemporary, Lodovico Castelvetro – that due to his Vatican clientele, he came home day after day with the juiciest gossip, and passed it on with the most biting commentary to the local community. After his death, this function was taken over by Pasquino, on whose pedestal, night after night, savagely biting political pamphlets in verse – pasquinades or pasquils – saw the moonlight, and Rome’s people happily got up before sunrise to read, memorize and pass them on, before they were ripped down by the morning patrol.

Pasquino throughout the centuries





Piazza Navona and its environment on Giambattista Nolli’s 1748 map. Number 620 is Piazza Pasquino (at that time still Piazza Parione), and 621 the Orsini palace, with the statue of Pasquino marked in red at its corner. Below: Pasquino statue in Google Street View


The pasquils, these early Romaleaks, were obviously leaked by well-informed and educated courtiers from the papal court and cast in artistic form in the Roman vernacular, and they were also published in regularly updated volumes beyond the Alps. They clearly irritated their main target, the leaders of the city and the papal state. The Netherlandish Adrian VI, the last northern pope before John Paul II, who in the early 16th century hoped to create order in Rome, wanted to throw the statue in the Tiber, but his advisers – among them certainly a good number of authors – convinced him that this is still the most effective safety valve for draining the dissatisfaction of the people of Rome. Two centuries later, Benedict XIII inflicted the death penalty on the authors of the poems, but to no avail. Pasquino became the uncrowned king of Rome, a dreaded tyrant of popes, politicians and celebrities.

Hitler and Victor Emmanuel III are driven to the ceremonial reception in the Capitol, 8 May 1938

In 1938, Hitler, who reached the summit of his international recognition, had a solemn visit to allied Italy, including Rome, Florence, and Naples. At the railway station in Rome he was received by King Victor Emmanuel III and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. Hitler took a seat on the King’s side in the ceremonial carriage, and the procession drove under the papier maché triumphal arches along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, next to the Colosseum. This zone hd only just a little while before been “cleaned” by Fascist town planning from every living medieval and Renaissance addition, and converted into that solemn and dead zone of ancient monuments in the middle of Rome, that we see today, as it is graphically described by the popular name for this process: lo sventramento di Roma, “the disembowelment of Rome”.


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But if rulers meet in Rome, Pasquino must also be there. On the morning of the visit, the uncrowned king of Rome greeted his colleague in a verse on his pedestal:

Roma, de travertino
vestita de cartone,
saluta l’imbianchino
suo prossimo padrone!

Rome, from marble
converted to paper,
greets the house-painter,
her future master.

We do not know how Hitler returned the greeting. We also do not know how Pasquino foresaw the events of September 1943. But in two thousand years he must have seen enough of the past to glimpse into the future even without a face, like his companion, the two-faced Janus on the bridge over the Tiber, at the entrance to the ghetto. About whom we will discuss in a new post.

2 comentarios:

Catherine Darley dijo...

A story which resounds strangely to my Parisian ears, tonight.

eti peleg dijo...

In the ultra religious Jewish quarters of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, there is a widespread use of pamphlets. Such a pamphlet is called Pashquevill, פשקוויל. It is usually written in archaic and dramatic Hebrew, usually harshly condemning an idea or a person. I never knew the source of this word. Thanks Rio Wang!