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The Antiquary, Vol. 11

Excerpt from The Antiquary, Vol. 11 Even the intelligent traveller, who disembarks at Venice to-day, and brings with him a knowledge that the earliest history of the Republic was one of humble endeavours, severe trials, and slow evolution from barbarism and insignificance into wealth, splendour, and power, even such a person as this is apt to form a fallacious estimate of what Venice and the Venetians anciently were: how far removed from the picture which fancy draws of them both in their prime of life, yet possessing within already in adolescence all the elements which made them strong, and nearly all those which took that strength afterward away. The Lagoon has been described as a vast morass, of about a hundred miles in circuit, irrigated by the sea through five channels or Ports, namely, commencing at the eastern extremity, Tre-porti, S.Erasmo, S.Nicolo. Malamocco, and Chioggia. Each entrance or Port has, says Temanza, its own particular lagoon, which it alone waters and feeds, and according to the same author, who is seldom so imaginative, the current which flows through the respective channels has a special colour or tint, which it preserves with its own individuality, so as to be easily distinguishable for a considerable distance. Hence Tre-porti was known as the yellow, S. Erasmo as the azure, S. Nicolo as the red, Malamocco as the green, and Chioggia as the purple. Such phenomena are far from unusual, either where fresh and salt water come into contact, as at the confluence of the Adige with the Adriatic, or even where two rivers of different tidal and other conditions meet (like the Ganges and the Jumna); but there is no apparent physical agency by which any permanent peculiarities of the kind could have been produced at Venice itself. It would be of course worth a good deal to be able to recall, even for a few moments (as it were) the city and the surrounding islands, while primaeval types of building still abounded, to be enabled to approach within sight of the domestic life and housing of the remote forefathers and foremothers of that strange new tribal community, which gathered itself together in the fifth century on the accumulated silt, and there unconsciously commenced a work of preparation for an inscrutable future. Both body and soul, mediaeval Venice has disappeared; foralthough from local exigencies the modern city stands approximately on the lines of the ancient, yet politically and socially it is not less distinct from it than the London of to-day is distinct from the London on which the eyes of the Norman first rested, or than the Paris of Philip Augustus differs from the place for which the same name now passes current. For a few valuable hints illustrative of the subject we are indebted to two of the wellknown letters of Cassiodorus, written between 520 and 523. The Minister, who, as Praefectus Praetorio, occupied a position of the highest dignity and authority, speaks, in one of these addresses to the Maritime Tribunes, of a famine which had visited the locality, and which was averted by the hberality of his master, in allowing the Venetians, and perhaps their near neighbours, to apply to their own use the stores which they had collected for the royal larder or wardrobe. In the second Cassiodorus indicates the trade in salt, and the carrying business, as two of the staple industries of the sea-borderers. He refers to their dwellings, a Ubuilt alike, he reminds them, and scattered here and there over the wide terraqueous expanse. He specifies their method of resisting the incursions of the ocean by dykes and fascines of interlaced vine-stems; and he acquaints us that the inland navigation, when the wind blew heavily, was conducted by means of towage. About the Publisher Forgotten Books publishes hundreds of thousands of rare and classic books. Find more at
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