Friday, June 27, 2014

Chapter 4 - To Rome: Part 5 - "A Roma"

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

After perhaps a year in Rome, Alfred left to see some of the rest of Italy including Florence, Pisa, and Milan, in the north. South of Rome, he visited Naples but on his way further south towards Sicily, an earthquake occurred, his train was stopped, and he was forced to make his way back to Rome. While he’d been gone, Pope Leo had died (in July 1903) and Pius X, the new Pope had come into office (August 1903). Alfred was not impressed with Pius, whom he considered an ignorant peasant compared to Leo. But by this time, issues of the church or the romantic intrigues of the Italian court may have ceased to have much interest. Alfred was preparing to return home. It would have made sense for him to spend the winter of 1903 in the milder climate of Rome. But whether he waited until sometime in the spring of 1904 to return to Poland or left Rome somewhat earlier, he tried to enjoy the remainder of his time in the “Eternal City”.

Probably in this last period in Italy, Korzybski met a Polish journalist through a friend, a cousin of the famous Polish author Henryk Sinkiewicz. The journalist took Alfred to see an Italian theatre production of Sinkiewicz’s novel, Quo Vadis, which had been published to international acclaim in 1895. The play, about the early days of Christianity  in Nero’s Italy, ended with one of the characters having a vision of Christ, who though unseen could be heard to speak. The character asks, “Quo Vadis, Domine?” (Where are you going, Lord?). In the final line of the play, the voice of Christ answers, "A Roma." (“To Rome.”) (10) The beautiful, deep, rich baritone voice of the actor portraying Christ particularly impressed Alfred. For him, this final scene and that memorable last line ‘made’ the play. The journalist took Alfred backstage afterwards, introducing him to the actors as Sinkiewicz's cousin. Alfred found it difficult to correct this misconception and, besides, the actors seemed impressed—the man playing Nero removed the golden crown from his head when introduced to ‘the cousin of the famous author’. Alfred made use of his 'in' with the actors later when he came back for another performance of the play.

Despite the pinching and kicking battle during Alfred’s speech to the Cardinals, Prince Radizwill, along with his wife, had shown considerable hospitality to Alfred during his time in Rome. He decided to show his gratitude to them by treating them to a performance of Quo Vadis and he purchased a box in the theatre for the three of them. In the previous performance, the actors playing “St. Peter” and a female character named “Eunice”, stood so close to each other during their onstage dialogue that they rubbed bellies. Alfred thought the prim Radizwills might get offended seeing this, so before the performance he talked to ‘St. Peter’ and ‘Eunice’ asking them if they could back away from each other during the show. Happily for Alfred, “St. Peter and Eunice behaved.” He anticipated with relish the final scene and the last line of the play. He hoped this would impress his guests as much as it had impressed him.

Little did he know that the actor doing the voice of Christ had gotten too drunk to say even his small part. In the final scene, the question camer: "Quo Vadis, Domine?" Instead of the beautiful, deep, rich voice Alfred expected, the vocal stand-in for Christ screeched “A Roma.” in a grating falsetto. One can imagine the collective wincing in the audience. As Korzybski said later, “…it’s a bad thing for a Christ to get drunk.”(11)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
10. Korzybski 1947, p. 469.

11. Korzybski 1947, p. 471.

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