Monday, July 26, 2004

The Allegrezza ficcione, Part 4 - an interlude

Umberto was sixteen when Nestore died. He had never thought about his future before, had accepted that he would enter one of the narrow range of professions his side of the family considered appropriate; military, law or finance. His conversation with Gemma – he refused to think of her as Sister Raffaela – didn't change that but it did offer an outside interest, with some romanticism to it, something to soften the rigidity of whatever profession he decided to follow.

He saw her perhaps three times over the next two years, exchanged possibly six letters with her in the same time. She kept him up to date with her quest for further information "del Allegrezza", or rather her failure to find further information. "If there is anything," she wrote "it is further East. Istanbul perhaps, or Tehran, or Bukhara. Perhaps even in Beijing. It is not where I have access to it, but I have asked my Brothers in God in those places to look for me. Faith will be our servant."

Umberto was not so sure about that. He was disappointed that nothing more had been forthcoming, but he hadn't discarded all hope. It stayed with him, like a small uncut & unpolished diamond, wrapped away in a youthful drawer.

He enrolled at University. Still under his parents' influence he embarked on a double degree in law & economics; but in his second semester, in a lecture on the history & signage of money, he came across for the first time the term "paradigm shifts".

It was a concept that trapped his thoughts, this gradual overthrowing of a body of established beliefs that is replaced by a competing body of thought sufficiently unprecedented & open-ended enough to gather an ever-increasing & enduring number of adherents until it becomes predominant. He changed to a history degree. Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" became a kind of bible. He read Popper & Cohen, studied Mandarin as an elective stream & Arabic outside his degree structure. He completed his B.A. & went to the University of Padua to do his honours, a revisiting of the influence on contemporary medicine of one of the University's most famous alumni, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus.

His Doctoral dissertation was called "The Catalogue of the Library of Alexandria". In it he posited what books would have been in the library &, by extrapolation, what books should have been in the library. He listed previously unknown plays by Aeschylus & Euripides, a whole school of poetry from Asia Minor written in colloquial language & with lines reflecting the length of a breath, new work by Pindar, an unfinished work by Homer where Odysseus comes out of self-imposed exile to battle a barbaric invasion, the third part of a trilogy that included the Iliad & the Odyssey.

There was also a book by Ptolemy, that seemed to be made up of footnotes to another work of his, a kind of growing self-doubt about his own beliefs, that finishes with a small poem
Sun – the
Universe’s true centre?
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