Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta in Renaissance Italy Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:24:05
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Written by Edward Muir, this powerful microhistory analyses the events during 1511 in the town of Friuli, Italy at the time of the carnival. Muirs thesis for his book, Mad Blood Stirring comes together in separate parts throughout his introduction. Firstly, Muir attempts to establish the importance of the Venetian rule over the province and people of Friuli and its capital city, Udine. Due to its geographical location, this part of Italy was essential to the country to protect due to risk of invasion and trading posts. Muir emphasises Friulis larger place in the politics of Italy, as well as an important part of the European principalities developed in the early modern period. The population of Friuli faced many obstacles in their daily life, such as the Venetian wartime taxation, oppression from local lords, the strain of a mixed group of people, as well as a broad financial decline.

During this time Friuli became the birthplace of the type of feud known as the vendetta, which involved a blood feud between families or factions. Particularly in Friuli politics were divided between the two major family factions of the Savorgnan family and the Della Torre family. With all these different factors contributing to the wide scale outbreak of violence, Muir takes them all into consideration while conducting a systematic analysis of the social structure, economy, institutional and political history, and particularly the riot at the carnival of 1511. Overall, Muir sets out to answer the question of why the carnival was so explosive and what caused its events to be so cruel and revolting.

Muirs microhistory looks at many broad themes in its mission to examine the role of vendetta and factions in Italian and family politics, contributing to peasant revolt, the nature of the culture of population within the state and the incidents at the Carnival. To begin, Muir offers an anaylsis of the change in aristocratic behaviour from widespread uncontrolled violence to controlled duels subjecting only the two participants in harm. Next Muir attempts to explain the new workings in which Venice ruled its subject provinces such as Friuli. Also contributing to the peasants distress was the Italian wars involving imperial forces threatening to invade Friuli. Muir finally forms an understanding of the peasants revolts who wished to destroy the records of their debt and gain control over their own local affairs.

By using historical methods such as narrative, social history and even anthropology in attempts to gain a keener sense of how vendetta operated in Renaissance Italy, how factions dominated political life and how contemporaries understood their own violence (p.12) Because of the important role vendettas have during the Renaissance in both city and family politics they appeared to be the most logical solution to failed political institutions. Muir uncovers underlying connections between the theme of the carnival, vendetta rituals and hunting traditions. Muir states the idea that the carnival massacre was the defining moment where the people of Friuli moved from the mentality of vendetta towards that of funnelled expression of anger in the form of duels.

The wide range of sources used by Muir dates back to the Iliad and references feuds in the nineteenth and twentieth century, however he is always able to connect them to his Friuli situation. An important factor in analyzing Mad Blood Stirring is how the observers and participants retold their story in both written and oral history. By using a wide range of sources which mention the type of life the peasants and aristocrats were living, Muir is able to paint a colourful picture of the type of poverty and hard times many were experiencing.

In Muirs analysis of the Friulian social and political structures and their indifferences while in vendetta is based largely on the most recently available Italian historians as well as some primary sources. Through the use of his sources he is able to show that the Savorgnan taking on the duty of protecting the peasant population in Udine and attempting to build the relationship with Venice instead of diminishing it like their enemies.

Although the author tries notably to give as much evidence as possible to bring forward connections regarding the carnival and the larger concept of the massacre, Muir fails to bring forward an example of who normally organizes carnivals and what carnivals are generally like in Udine. In order to consciously recognize this carnival as one that went horribly wrong, an comparison between two would make a far better justification as to why this carnival was so notable. In another example of Muir failing to fully justify his thesis, he states the carnival was one of the main instigators of the massacre in 1511, however his evidence to support this claim is very thin and questionable. Although Muir is excellent in his collection of sources, when it comes to simplifications he sometimes uses to broad of a source. This leaves Muirs claim that the pattern of killing evolved out of the carnival itself appearing not completely proven.

Like almost every piece of historical work, Muirs book has room for debate, questions and more answers.

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