During the 20th Century, Trieste’s flag shimmered iridescent from Austro-Hungarian to Italian, became an independent city-state’s banner, emerged Italian again. It came, at last, to be as cosmopolitan a city as any in Europe. Across the closed end of the Adriatic lies Venice, a dozen miles further west brings the traveler to Padua, PA-dough-vah to the peninsulate Italian, educational capital to Italy and perhaps to the world.
Three of Italy’s greatest geniuses, Giotto, Galileo, and Dante (“silence, cunning, and exile”) owed shares of their glories to Padua and its university. One introduced Humanism to painting. The second discovered natural laws to replace the universe’s old theological clockwork. The third proved that suffering is more interesting than either purification or beatification. Joyce traveled there like an unholy family to this Bethlehem of learning with his specter virgin love and absent perfect child. He vacillated between the roles of Carpenter Joseph and King Herod in a “slaughter of innocence.”
On arrival, Joyce does not visit the university; rather, he attends the night commerce of the Herb Market, where prostitutes are bundles of sage and parsley, commodities cheap and insubstantial. Old demons haunt Joyce. The light of love that lit his way past the old “Dark love, dark longing” flickers. He is tempted as he was habitually in Dante’s Circle of Nighttown. If he resisted temptation in Padua, his resistance is ambiguous. “Again. No more,” he writes. Does this signal that he is tempted but refuses or that he falls but rededicates himself? Even if he holds to his vow, dark motives are lurking. He may be faithful for Nora’s sake or to promises he never spoke to Amalia.
In the grey shadows, the poet falls into a trance. Nora and Lucia appear as mare and foal. The description is sexual but without a definite subject. Does he describe mother or daughter, mare or filly? “She follows her mother with ungainly grace, the mare leading her filly foal. Grey twilight molds softly the slim and shapely haunches, the meek supple tendonous neck, the fine-boned skull.” Joyce becomes the ostler who tends the two.
For a moment, Amalia is a distraction from his taboo feelings for Lucia, attraction to an adolescent student less disturbing than sexual feelings for his blue-veined child.
don ward July 9, 2020