SICILY, in the centre of the Mediterranean, has been through-out all history the meeting-place and battle-ground of the races that contributed to civilize the West. It was here that the Greeks measured their strength against Phoenicia, and that Carthage fought her first duel with Rome. Here the bravery of Hellenes triumphed over barbarian force in the victories of Gelon and Timoleon. Here, in the harbor of Syracuse, the Athenian Empire succumbed to its own intemperate ambition. Here, in the end, Rome laid her mortmain upon Greek, Phoenician, and Sikeliot alike, turning the island into a granary and reducing its inhabitants to serfdom. When the classic age had closed, when Belisarius had vainly reconquered from the Goths for the empire of the East the fair island of Persephone and Zeus Olympius, then came the Mussulman, filling up with an interval of Oriental luxury and Arabian culture the period of utter deadness between the ancient and the modern world. To Islam succeeded the conquerors of the house of Hauteville, Norman knights who had but lately left their Scandinavian shores, and settled in the northern provinces of France. The Normans flourished for a season, and were merged in a line of Suabian princes, old Barbarossa’s progeny. German rulers thus came to sway the corn-lands of Trinacria, until the bitter hatred of the popes extinguished the house of Hohenstauffen upon the battle-field of Grandella and the scaffold of Naples. Frenchmen had the next turnfor a brief space only ; since Palermo cried to the sound of her tocsins, ” Mora, Mora,” and the tyranny of Anjou was expunged with blood. Spain, the tardy and patient power which inherited so much from the failure of more brilliant races, came at last, and tightened so firm a hold upon the island that, from the end of the thirteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century, with one brief exception, Sicily belonged to the princes of Aragon, Castile, and Bourbon. These vicissitudes have left their traces everywhere. The Greek temples of Segeste and Girgenti and Selinus, the Roman amphitheatre of Syracuse, the Byzantine mosaics and Saracenic villas of Palermo, the Norman cathedrals of Monreale and Cefahi, and the Spanish habits which still characterize the life of Sicilian cities, testify to the successive strata of races which have been de-posited upon the island. Amid its anarchy of tongues, the Latin alone has triumphed. In the time of the Greek colonists Sicily was polyglot. During the Saracenic occupation it was trilingual. It is now, and during modern history it has always been, Italian. Differences of language and of nationality have gradually been fused into one substance by the spirit which emanates from Rome, and vivifies the Latin race.
The geographical position of Sicily has always influenced its history in a very marked way. The eastern coast, which is turned towards Greece and Italy, has been the centre of Arian civilization in the island, so that during Greek and Roman ascendency Syracuse was held the capital. The western end, which projects into the African sea, was occupied in the time of the Relines by Phoenicians, and afterwards by Mussulmans : consequently Panormus, the ancient seat of Punic colonists, now called Palermo, became the centre of the Moslem rule, which, inherited entire by the Norman chieftains, was transmitted eventually to Spain. Palerno, devoid of classic monuments, and unknown except as a name to the historians of Greek civilization, is therefore the mod-ern capital of the island. ” Prima sedes, corona regis, et regni caput” is the motto inscribed upon the cathedral porch and the archiepiscopal throne of Palermo : nor has any other city, except Messina,* presumed to contest this title.
Perhaps there are few spots upon the surface of the globe more beautiful than Palermo. The hills on either hand descend upon the sea with long-drawn delicately-broken outlines, so exquisitely tinted with aerial hues that at early dawn or beneath the blue light of a full moon the panorama seems to be some fabric of the fancy, that must fade away, “like shapes of clouds we form,” to nothing. Within the cradle of these hills, and close upon the tideless water, lies the city. Behind and around on every side stretches the famous Conca d’ Oro, or golden shell, a plain of marvellous fertility, so called because of its richness and also because of its shape; for it tapers to a fine point where the mountains meet, and spreads abroad, where they diverge, Iike a cornucopia, towards the sea. The whole of this long vega is a garden, thick with olive-groves and orange-trees, with orchards of nespole and palms and almonds, with fig-trees and locust-trees, with judas-trees that blush in spring, and with flowers as multitudinously brilliant as the fretwork of sunset clouds. It was here that in the days of the Kelbite dynasty, the sugar-cane and cotton-tree and mulberry supplied both East and West with produce for the banquet and the paper-mill and the silk-loom ; and though these industries are. now neglected, vast gardens of cactuses still give a strangely Oriental character to the scenery of Palermo, while the land flows with honey-sweet wine instead of sugar. The language in which Arabian poets extolled the charms of this fair land is even now nowise extravagant : ” Oh how beautiful is the lakelet of the twin palms and the island where the spacious palace stands ! The limpid water of the double springs resembles liquid pearls, and their basin is a sea : you would say that the branches of the trees stretched down to see the fishes in the pool and smile at them. The great fishes swim in those clear waters, and the birds among the gardens tune their songs. The ripe oranges of the island are like fire that burns on boughs of emerald ; the pale lemon re-minds me of a lover who has passed the night in weeping for his absent darling. The two palms may be compared to lovers who have gained an inaccessible retreat against their enemies, or raise themselves erect in pride to confound the murmurs and ill thoughts of jealous men. O palms of the two lakelets of Palermo, may ceaseless, undisturbed, and plenteous dews forever keep your freshness !” Such is the poetry which suits the environs of Palermo, where the Moorish villas of La Zisa and La Cuba and La Favara still stand, and where the modern gardens, though wilder, are scarcely less delightful than those beneath which King Roger discoursed with Edrisi, and Gian da Procida surprised his sleeping mistress.* The groves of oranges and lemons are an inexhaustible source of joy : not only because of their ” golden lamps in a green night,” but also because of their silvery constellations, nebulm, and drifts of stars, in the saine green night, and milky ways of blossoms on the ground beneath. As in all Southern scenery, the transition from these perfumed thickly-clustering gardens to the bare unirrigated hill-sides is very striking. There the dwarf-palm tufts with its spiky foliage the clefts of limestone rock, and the lizards run in and out among bushes of tree-spurge and wild cactus and gray asphodels. The sea-shore is a tangle of lilac and oleander and laurustinus and myrtle and lentisk and cytisus and geranium. The flowering plants that make our shrubberies gay in spring with blossoms are here wild, running riot upon the sand-heaps of Mondello or beneath the barren slopes of Monte Pellegrino.
It was into this terrestrial paradise, cultivated through two preceding centuries by the Arabs, who of all races were wisest in the arts of irrigation and landscape-gardening, that the Norsemen entered as conquerors, and lay down to pass their lives.
No chapter of history more resembles a romance than that which records the sudden rise and brief splendor of the house of Hauteville. In one generation the sons of Tancred passed from the condition of squires in the Norman vale of Cotentin, to king-hood in the richest island of the Southern sea. The Norse ad-venturers became sultans of an Oriental capital. The sea-robbers assumed, together with the sceptre, the culture of an Arabian court. The marauders whose armies burned Rome received at papal hands the mitre and dalmatic as symbols of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.* The brigands who on their first appearance in Italy had pillaged stables and farm-yards to supply their needs, lived to mate their daughters with princes and to sway the politics of Europe with gold. The freebooters, whose skill consisted in the use of sword and shield, whose brains were vigorous in strategy or state-craft, and whose pleasures were confined to the hunting-field and the wine-cup, raised villas like the Zisa and incrusted the cathedral of Monreale with mosaics. Finally, while the race was yet vigorous, after giving two heroes to the first Crusade, it transmitted its titles, its temper, and its blood to the great emperor who was des-tined to fight out upon the battle-field of Italy the strife of empire against papacy, and to bequeath to medieval Europe the tradition of cosmopolitan culture. The physical energy of this brood of heroes was such as can scarcely be paralleled in history. Tancred de Hauteville begat, two families by different wives. Of his children twelve were sons : two of whom stayed with their father in Normandy, while ten sought fame and found a kingdom in the south. Of these, William Iron Arm, the first Count of Apulia ; Robert Guiscard, who united Calabria and Apulia under one dukedom, and carried victorious arms against both emperors of East and West ; and Roger the Great Count, who added Sicily to the conquests of the Normans and bequeathed the kingdom of South Italy to his son, rose to the highest name. But all the brothers shared the great qualities of the house ; and two of them, Humphrey and Drogo, also wore a coronet. Large of limb and stout of heart, persevering under difficulties, crafty yet gifted with the semblance of sincerity, combining the piety of pilgrims with the morals of highwaymen, the sturdiness of barbarians with the plasticity of culture, eloquent in the council-chamber and the field, dear to their soldiers for their bravery and to women for their beauty, equally eminent as generals and as rulers, restrained by no scruples but such as policy suggested, restless in their energy, yet neither fickle nor rash, comprehensive in their views, but indefatigable in detail, these lions among men were made to conquer in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and to hold their con-quests with a grasp of iron. What they wrought, whether wisely or not for the ultimate advantage of Italy, endures to this day ; while the work of so many emperors, republics, and princes has passed and shifted like the scenes in a pantomime. Through them the Greeks, the Lombards, and the Moors were extinguished in the south. The papacy was checked in its attempt to found a province of St. Peter below the Tiber. The republics of Naples, Gaeta, Amalfi, which might have rivalled, perchance, with Milan, Genoa, and Florence, were subdued to a master’s hand. In short, to the Normans Italy owed that kingdom of the Two Sicilies which formed one third of her political balance, and which proved the cause of all her most serious revolutions.
Roger, the youngest of the Hauteville family, and the founder of the kingdom of Sicily, showed by his untamable spirit and sound intellect that his father’s vigor remained unexhausted. Each of Tancred’s sons was, physically speaking, a masterpiece, and the last was the prime work of all. This Roger, styled the Great Count, begat a second Roger, the first king of Sicily, whose son and grandson, both named William, ruled in succession at Palermo. With them the direct line of the house of Hauteville expired. It would seem as if the energy and fertility of the stock had been drained by its efforts in the first three generations. Con-stance, the heiress of the family, who married Henry VI. and gave birth to the Emperor Frederick II., was daughter of King Roger, and, therefore, third in descent from Tancred. Drawing her blood more immediately from the parent stem, she thus transmitted to the princes of the race of Hohenstauffen the vigor of her Norman ancestry unweakened. This was a circumstance of no small moment in the history of Europe. Upon the fierce and daring Suabian stem were grafted the pertinacity, the cunning, the versatility of the Norman adventurers. Young Frederick, while strong and subtle enough to stand for himself against the world, was so finely tempered by the blended strains of his parentage that he received the polish of an Oriental education with-out effeminacy. Called upon to administer the affairs of Germany, to govern Italy, to contend with the papacy, and to settle by arms and treaties the great Oriental question of his days, Frederick, cosmopolitan from the cradle, was equal to the task. Had Europe been but ready, the Renaissance would have dated from his reign, and a universal empire, if not of political government, yet of intellectual culture, might have been firmly instituted.
Of the personal appearance of the Norman, chiefstheir fair hair, clear eyes, and broad shoulderswe hear much from the chroniclers. One minutely studied portrait will serve to bring the whole race vividly before us. Bohemond, Prince of Tarenturn, the son of Robert Guiscard, and first cousin to Tancred of Montferrat, was thus described by Anna Comnena, who saw him at her father’s court during the first Crusade : “Neither among our own nation (the Greeks) nor among foreigners is there in our age a man equal to Bohemond. His presence dazzled the eyes, as his reputation the fancy. He was one cubit taller than the tallest man known. In his waist he was thin, but broad in his shoulders and chest, without being either too thin or too fat. His arms were strong, his hands full and large, his feet firm and solid. He stooped a little, but through habit only, and not on account of any deformity. He was fair, but on his cheeks there was an agreeable mixture of vermilion. His hair was not loose over his shoulders, according to the fashion of the barbarians, but was cut above his ears. His eyes were blue, and full of wrath and fierceness. His nostrils were large, inasmuch as, having a wide chest and a great heart, his lungs required an unusual quantity of air to moderate the warmth of his blood. His handsome face had in itself something gentle and softening, but the height of his person and the fierceness of his looks had something wild and terrible. Ile was more dreadful in his smiles than others in their rage.” When we read this description, remembering the romance of Bohemond’s ancestry and his own life, we do not wonder at the tales of chivalry. Those ” knights of Logres and of Lyoness, Lancelot or Pelleas or Pellenore,” with whose adventures our tawny-haired magnificent Plantagenets amused their leisure, become realities. The manly beauty described by the Byzantine princess in words which seem to betray a more than common interest in her handsome foe was hereditary in the house of Hauteville. They transmitted it to the last of the Swabian dynasty, to Manfred and Conradin, and to the king Enzio, whose long golden hair fell down from his shoulders to his saddle-bow as he rode, a captive, into Bologna.
The story of the Norman conquest is told by two chroniclersWilliam of Apulia, who received his materials from Robert Guis-card, and Godfrey Malaterra, who wrote down the oral narrative of Roger. Thus we possess what is tantamount to personal memoirs of the Norman chiefs. Nevertheless, a veil of legendary romance obscures the first appearance of the Scandinavian warriors upon the scene of history. William of Apulia tells how, in the course of a pilgrimage to St. Michael’s shrine on Monte Gargano, certain knights of Normandy were accosted by a stranger of imposing aspect, who persuaded them to draw their swords in the quarrel of the Lombard towns of South Italy against the Greeks. This man was Melo of Bari. Whether his invitation were so theatrically conveyed or not, it is probable that the Norsemen made their first acquaintance with Apulia on a pilgrim-age to the Italian Michael’s mount; and it is certain that Melo, whom we dimly descry as a patriot of enlarged views and indomitable constancy, provided them with arms and horses, raised troops in Salerno and Benevento to assist them, and directed them against the Greeks. This happened in 1017. Twelve years later we find the town of Aversa built and occupied by Normans under the control of their Count Rainulf ; while another band, headed by Ardoin, a Lombard of Milan, lived at large upon the country, selling its services to the Byzantine Greeks. In the anarchy of Southern Italy at this epoch, when the decaying Empire of the East was relaxing its hold upon the Apulian provinces, when the papacy was beginning to lift up its head after the ignominy of Theodora and Marozia, and the Lombard power was slowly dissolving upon its ill-established foundations, the Norman adventurers pursued a policy which, however changeful, was invariably self-advantageous. On whatever side they fought, they took care that the profits of war should accrue to their own colony. Quarrel as they might among themselves, they were always found at one against a common foe. And such was their reputation in the field that the hardiest soldiers errant of all nations joined their standard. Thus it fell out that when Ardoin and his Normans had helped Maniaces to wrest the eastern districts of Sicily from the Moors, they returned, upon an insult offered by the Greek general, to extend the right hand of fellowship to Rainulf and his Normans of Aversa. ” Why should you stay here like a rat in his hole, when with our help you might rule those fertile plains, expelling the women in armor who keep guard over them ?” The agreement of Ardoin and Rainulf formed the basis of the future Norman power. Their companies joined forces. Melfi was chosen as the centre of their federal government. The united Norman colony elected twelve chiefs or counts of equal authority ; and henceforth they thought only of consolidating their ascendency over the effete races which had hitherto pretended to employ their arms. The genius of their race and age, however, was unfavorable to federations. In a short time the ablest man among them, the true king, by right of personal vigor and mental cunning, showed himself. It was at this point that the house of Hauteville rose to the altitude of its romantic destiny. William Iron Arm was proclaimed Count of Apulia. Two of his brothers succeeded him in the same dignity. His half-brother, Robert Guiscard, imprisoned one Pope, Leo, and wrested from another, Nicholas II., the title of Duke of Apulia and Calabria. By the help of his youngest brother, Roger, he gradually completed the conquest of Italy below the Tiber, and then addressed himself to the task of subduing Sicily. The papacy, incapable of opposing the military vigor of the Northmen, was distracted between jealousy ‘of their growing importance and desire to utilize them for its own advantage.
The temptation to employ these filial pirates as a cat’s-paw for restoring Sicily to the bosom of the Church was too strong to be resisted. In spite of many ebbs and flows of policy, the favor which the Popes accorded to the Normans gilded the might and cunning of the adventurers with the specious splendor of acknowledged sanctity. The time might come for casting off these powerful allies and adding their conquests to the patrimony of St. Peter. Meanwhile it costs nothing to give away what does not belong to one, particularly when by doing so a title to the same is gradually formed. So the Popes reckoned. Robert and Roger went forth with banners blessed by Rome to subjugate the island of the Greek and Moor.
The honors of this conquest, paralleled for boldness only by the achievements of Cortez and Pizarro, belong to Roger. It is true that since the fall of the Kelbite dynasty Sicily had been shaken by anarchy and despotism, by the petty quarrels of princes and party leaders, and to some extent also by the invasion of Maniaces. Yet on the approach of Roger with a handful of Norman knights, “the island was guarded,” to quote Gibbon’s energetic phrase, “to the water’s edge.” For some years be had to content himself with raids and harrying excursions, making Messina, which he won from the Moors by the aid of their Christian serfs and vassals, the basis of his operations, and retiring from time to time across the Faro with booty to ‘Reggio. The Mussulmans had never thoroughly subdued the northeastern highlands of Sicily. Satisfied with occupying the whole western and southern sections of the island, with planting their government firmly at Palermo, destroying Syracuse, and establishing a military post on the heights of Castro Giovanni, they had somewhat neglected the Christian population of the Val Demone. Thus the key to Sicily upon the Italian side fell into the hands of the invaders. From Messina Roger advanced by Rametta and Centorbi to Troina, a hill-town raised high above the level of the sea, within view of the solemn blue-black pyramid of Aetna. There he planted a garrison in 1062, two years after his first incursion into the island. The interval had been employed in marches and countermarches, descents upon the vale of Catania, and hurried expeditions as far as Girgenti, on the southern coast. One great battle is recorded beneath the walls of Castro Giovanni, when six hundred Norman knights, so say the chroniclers, engaged with fifteen thousand of the Arabian chivalry and one hundred thousand foot-soldiers. However great the exaggeration of these numbers, it is certain that the Christians fought at fearful odds that day, and that all the eloquence of Roger, who wrought on their fanaticism in his speech before the battle, was needed to raise their courage to the sticking-point. The scene of the great rout of Saracens which followed is in every respect memorable. Castro Giovanni, the old Enna of the Greeks and Romans, stands on the top of a precipitous mountain, two thousand feet above a plain which waves with corn. A sister height, Calascibetta, raised nearly to an equal altitude, keeps ward over the saine valley ; and from their summits the whole of Sicily is visible. Here in old days Demeter from her rock-built temple could survey vast tracts of hill and dale, breaking downward to the sea and undulating everywhere with harvest. The much-praised lake and vale of Enna are now a desolate sulphur district, void of beauty, with no flowers to tempt Proserpine. Yet the landscape is eminently noble because of its breadthbare, naked hills stretching in every direction to the sea that girdles Sicily, peak rising above peak and town-capped eyrie above eyriewhile Etna, wreathed with snow, and purple with the peculiar color of its coal-black lava seen through light-irradiated air, sleeps far off beneath a crown of clouds. Upon the corn-fields in the centre of this landscape the multitudes of the infidels were smitten hip and thigh by the handful of Christian warriors. Yet the victory was by no means a decisive one. The Saracens swarmed round the Norman fortress of Troina; where, during a severe winter, Roger and his young wife, Judith of Evreux, whom he had loved in Normandy, and who journeyed to marry him amid the din of battles, bad but one cloak to protect them both from the cold. The traveller who even in April bas experienced the chill of a high-set Sicilian village will not be inclined to laugh at the hardships revealed by this little incident. Yet the Normans, one and all, were stanch. A victory over their assailants in the spring gave them courage to push their arms as far as the river Himera and beyond the Simeto, while a defeat of fifty thousand Saracens by four hundred Normans at Cerami opened the way at last to Palermo. Reading of these engagements, we are led to remember how Gelon smote his Punic foes upon the Himera, and Timoleon arrayed Greeks by the ten against Carthaginians by the thousand on the Crimisus. The battle-fields are scarcely altered; the combatants are as unequally matched, and represent analogous races. It is still the combat of a few heroic Europeans against the hordes of Asia. In the battle of Cerami it is said that St. George fought visibly on horseback before the Christian band, like that wide-winged chivalrous arch-angel whom Spinello Aretino painted beside Sant’ Efeso in the press of men upon the walls of the Pisan Campo Santo.
The capture of Palermo cost the Normans another eight years, part of which was spent according to their national tactics in plundering expeditions, part in the subjugation of Catania and other districts, part in the blockade of the capital by sea and land. After the fall of Palermo, it only remained for Roger to reduce isolated citiesTaormina, Syracuse,* Girgenti, and Castro Giovannito his sway. The last-named and strongest hold of the Saracens fell into his hands by the treason of Ibn-Hamûd in 1087, and thus, after thirty years’ continual effort, the two brothers were at last able to divide the island between them. The lion’s share, as was due, fell to Roger, who styled himself Great Count of Sicily and Calabria. In 1098, Urban II., a politician of the school of Cluny, who well understood the scope of Hildebrand’s plan for subjecting Europe to the court of Rome, rewarded Roger for his zeal in the service of the Church with the title of Hereditary Apostolical Legate. The Great Count was now on a par with the most powerful monarchs of Europe. In riches he exceeded all; so that he was able to wed one daughter to the King of Hungary, another to Conrad, King of Italy, a third to Raimond, Count of Provence and Toulouse, dowering them all with imperial splendor and munificence.
Hale and vigorous, his life was prolonged through a green old-age until his seventieth year. When he died, in 1101, he left two sons by his third wife, Adelaide. Roger, the younger of the two, destined to succeed his father, and (on the death of his cousin, William, Duke of Apulia, in 1127) to unite South Italy and Sicily under one crown, was only four years old at the death of the Great Count. Inheriting all the valor and intellectual qualities of his family, he rose to even higher honor than his predecessors. In 1130 he assumed the style of King of Sicily, no doubt with the political purpose of impressing his Mussulman subjects ; and nine years later, when he took Innocent captive at San Germano, he forced from the half-willing pontiff a confirmation of this title as well as the investiture of Apulia, Calabria, and Capua. The extent of his sway is recorded in the line engraved upon his sword :
“Appulus et Calaber Siculus mihi servit et Afer.”
King Roger died in 11M, and bequeathed his kingdoms to his son William, surnamed the Bad ; who in his turn left them to a William called the Good, in 1166. The second William died in 1189, transmitting his possessions by will to Constance, wife of the Suabian emperor. These two Williams, the last of the Hauteville monarchs of Sicily, were not altogether unworthy of their Norman origin. William the Bad could rouse himself from the sloth of his seraglio to head an army ; William the Good, though feeble in foreign policy and no general, administered the State with clemency and wisdom.
Sicily under the Normans offered the spectacle of a singularly hybrid civilization. Christians and Northmen, adopting the habits and imbibing the culture of their Mussulman subjects, ruled a Palermo. 23 mixed population of Greeks, Arabs, Berbers, and Italians. The language of the princes was French ; that of the Christians in their territory, Greek and Latin; that of their Mohammedan subjects, Arabic. At the same time the Scandinavian Sultans of Palermo did not cease to play an active part in the affairs, both civil and ecclesiastical, of Europe. The children of the Vikings, though they spent their leisure in harems, exercised, as hereditary Legates of the Holy See, a peculiar jurisdiction in the Church of Sicily. They dispensed benefices to the clergy, and assumed the mitre and dalmatic, together with the sceptre and the crown, as symbols of their authority in Church as well as State. As a consequence of this confusion of nationalities in Sicily, we find French and English ecclesiastics* mingling at court with Moorish freedmen and Oriental odalisques, Apulian captains fraternizing with Greek corsairs, Jewish physicians in attendance on the person of the prince, and Arabian poets eloquent in his praises. The very money with which Roger subsidized his Italian allies was stamped with Cuphic letters, f and there’ is reason to believe that the reproach against Frederick of being a false coiner arose from his adopting the Eastern device of plating copper pieces to pass for silver. The commander of Roger’s navies and his chief minister of State was styled, according to Oriental usage, Emir or Ammiraglio. George of Antioch, who swept the shores of Africa, the Morea, and the Black Sea, in his service, was a Christian of the Greek Church, who had previously held an office of finance under Temin, Prince of Mehdia. The workers in his silk-factories were slaves from Thebes and Corinth. The pages of his palace were Sicilian or African eunuchs. His charters ran in Arabic as well as Greek and Latin. His jewellers engraved the rough gems of the Orient with Christian mottoes in Semitic characters.* His architects were Mussulmans, who adapted their native style to the requirements of Christian ritual, and inscribed the walls of cathedrals with Catholic legends in the Cuphic language. The predominant characteristic of Palermo was Orientalism. Religious toleration was extended to the Mussulmans, so that the two creeds, Christian and Mohammedan, flourished side by side. The Saracens had their own quarters in the towns, their mosques and schools, and cadis for the administration of petty justice. French and Italian women in Palermo adopted the Oriental fashions of dress. The administration of law and government was conducted on Eastern principles. In nothing had the Mussulmans shown greater genius than in their system of internal state-craft. Count Roger found a machinery of taxation in full working order, officers acquainted with the resources of the country, books and schedules constructed on the principles of strictest accuracy, a whole bureaucracy, in fact, ready to his use. By applying this machinery he became the richest potentate in Europe, at a time when the Northern monarchs were dependent upon feudal aids and precarious revenues from crown lands. In the same way the Saracens bequeathed to the Normans the court system, which they in turn had derived from the princes of Persia and the example of Constantinople. Roger found it convenient to continue that organization of pages, chamberlains, ushers, secretaries, viziers, and masters of the wardrobe, invested each with some authority of State according to his rank, which confined the administration of an Eastern kingdom to the walls of the palace. At Palermo, Europe saw the first instance of a court not wholly unlike that which Versailles afterwards became. The intrigues which endangered the throne and liberty of William the Bad, and which perplexed the policy of William the Good, were court-conspiracies of a kind common enough at Constantinople. In this court life men of letters and erudition played a first part three centuries before Petrarch taught the princes of Italy to respect the pen of a poet.
King Roger, of whom the court geographer, Edrisi, writes that ” he did more sleeping than any other man waking,” was sur-rounded during his leisure moments, beneath the palm-groves of Favara, with musicians, historians, travellers, mathematicians, poets, and astrologers of Oriental breeding. At his command Ptolemy’s Optics were translated into Latin from the Arabic. The prophecies of the Erythrean Sibyl were rendered accessible in the same way. His respect for the occult sciences was proved by his disinterring the bones of Virgil from their resting-place at Posilippo, and placing them in the Castel dell’ Uovo, in order that he might have access through necromancy to the spirit of the Roman wizard. It may be remembered, in passing, that Palermo, in one of her mosques, already held suspended between earth and air the supposed relics of Aristotle. Such were the saints of modern culture in its earliest dawning. While Venice was robbing Alexandria of the body of St. Mark, Palermo and Naples placed them-selves beneath the protection of a philosopher and a poet. But Roger’s greatest literary work was the compilation of a treatise of universal geography. Fifteen years were devoted to the task ; and the manuscript, in Arabic, drawn up by the philosopher Edrisi, appeared only six weeks before the king’s death in 1154. This book, called The Rook of Roger, or the Delight of Whoso Loves to Make the Circuit of the World, was based upon the previous labors of twelve geographers, classical and Mussulman. But aiming at greater accuracy than could be obtained by a merely literary compilation, Roger caused pilgrims, travellers, and merchants of all countries to be assembled for conference and examination before him. Their accounts were sifted and collated. Edrisi held the pen while Roger questioned. Measurements and distances were carefully compared ; and a vast silver disk was constructed, on which all the seas, islands, continents, plains, rivers, mountain-ranges, cities, roads, and harbors of the known world were delineated. The text supplied an explanatory description of this map, with tables of the products, habits, races, religions, and qualities, both physical and moral, of all climates. The precious metal upon which the map was drawn proved its ruin, and the Geography remained in the libraries of Arab scholars. Yet this was one of the first great essays of practical exploration and methodical statistic, to which the genius of the Norseman and the Arab each contributed a quota. The Arabians, by their primitive nomadic habits, by the necessities of their system of taxation, by their predilection for astrology, by their experience as pilgrims, merchants, and poets errant, were specially qualified for the labor of geographical investigation. Roger supplied the unbounded curiosity and restless energy of his Scandinavian temper, the kingly comprehensive intellect of his race, and the authority of a prince who was powerful enough to compel the service of qualified collaborators.
The architectural works of the Normans in Palermo reveal the same ascendency of Arab culture. San Giovanni degli Eremiti, with its low white rounded domes, is nothing more or less than a little mosque adapted to the rites of Christians.* The country palaces of the Zisa and the Cuba, built by the two Williams, retain their ancient Moorish character. Standing beneath the fretted arches of the hall of the Zisa, through which a fountain flows within a margin of carved marble, and looking on the landscape from its open porch, we only need to reconstruct in fancy the green gardens and orange-groves, where fair-haired Normans whiled away their hours among black-eyed odalisques and graceful singing boys from Persia. Amid a wild tangle of orange and lemon trees overgrown with scarlet passion-flowers, the pavilion of the Cubola, built of hewn stone and open at each of its four sides, still stands much as it stood when William H. paced through flowers from his palace of the Cuba, to enjoy the freshness of the evening by the side of its fountain. The views from all these Saracenic villas over the fruitful valley of the Golden Horn and the turrets of Palermo and the mountains and the distant sea are ineffably delightful. When the palaces were newwhen the gilding and the frescos still shone upon their honey-combed ceilings, when their mosaics glittered in noonday twilight, and their amber-colored masonry was set in shade of pines and palms, and the cool sound of rivulets made music in their courts and gardens, they must have well deserved their Arab titles of ” Sweet Waters ” and ” The Glory ” and ” The Paradise of Earth.”
But the true splendor of Palermo, that which makes this city one of the most glorious of the South, is to be sought in its churchesin the mosaics of the Cappella Palatina, founded by King Roger; in the vast aisles and cloisters of Monreale, built by King William the Good at the instance of his Chancellor Matteo ;’ in the Cathedral of Palermo, begun by Offamilio ; and in the Martorana, dedicated by George the Admiral. These triumphs of ecclesiastical architecture, none the less splendid because they can-not be reduced to rule or assigned to any single style, were the work of Saracen builders assisted by Byzantine, Italian, and Nor-man craftsmen. The genius of Latin Christianity determined the basilica shape of the Cathedral of Monreale. Its bronze doors were wrought by smiths. of Trani and Pisa. Its walls were incrusted with the mosaics of Constantinople. The wood-work of its roof, and the emblazoned patterns in porphyry and serpentine and glass and smalto which cover its whole surface, were designed by Oriental decorators. Norman sculptors added their dog-tooth and chevron to the mouldings of its porches ; Greeks, Frenchmen, and Arabs may have tried their skill in turn upon the multitudinous ornaments of its cloister capitals. ” The like of which church,” said Lucius III., in 1182, “bath not been constructed by any king even from ancient times, and such an one as must compel all men to admiration.” These words remain literally and emphatically true. Other cathedrals may surpass that of Monreale in sublimity, simplicity, bulk, strength, or unity of plan. None can surpass it in the strange romance with which the memory of its many artificers invests it. None again can exceed it in richness and glory, in the gorgeousness of a thousand decorative elements subservient to one controlling thought. ” It is evident,” says Fergusson in his History of Architecture,” that all the architectural features in the building were subordinate in the eyes of the builders to the mosaic decorations, which cover every part of the interior, and are, in fact, the glory and the pride of the edifice, and alone entitle it to rank among the finest of mediaeval church-es.” The whole of the Christian history is depicted in this series of mosaics ; but on first entering one form alone compels attention. The semi-dome of the eastern apse above the high-altar is entirely filled with a gigantic half-length figure of Christ. He raises his right hand to bless, and with his left holds an open book on which is written in Greek and Latin, ” I am the light of the world.” His face is solemn and severe, rather than mild or piteous; and round his nimbus runs the legend below him, on a smaller scale, are ranged the arch-angels and the mother of the Lord, who holds the child upon her knees. Thus Christ appears twice upon this wall, once as the Omnipotent Wisdom, the Word by whom all things were made, and once as God deigning to assume a shape of flesh and dwell with men. The magnificent image of supreme deity seems to fill with a single influence and to dominate the whole building. The house with all its glory is his. He dwells there like Pallas in her Parthenon or Zeus in his Olympian temple. To left and right over every square inch of the cathedral blaze mosaics, which portray the story of God’s dealings with the human race from the creation downward, together with those angelic beings and saints who symbolize each in his own degree some special virtue granted to mankind. The walls of the fane are therefore an open book of history, theology, and ethics for all men to read.
The superiority of mosaics over fresco as an architectural adjunct on this gigantic scale is apparent at a glance in Monreale. Permanency of splendor and glowing richness of tone are all on the side of the mosaics. Their true rival is painted glass. The jewelled churches of the South are constructed for the display of colored surfaces illuminated by sunlight falling on them from narrow windows, just as those of the NorthRheims, for example, or Le Mansare built for the transmission of light through a variegated medium of transparent hues. The painted windows of a Northern cathedral find their proper counterpart in the mosaics of the South. The Gothic architect strove to obtain the greatest amount of translucent surface. The Byzantine builder directed his attention to securing just enough light for the illumination of his glistening walls. The radiance of the Northern church was similar to that of flowers or sunset clouds or jewels. The glory of the Southern temple was that of dusky gold and gorgeous needlework. The North needed acute brilliancy as a contrast to external grayness. The South found rest from the glare and glow of noonday in these sombre splendors. Thus Christianity, both of the South and of the North, decked her shrines with color. Not so the paganism of Hellas. With the Greeks, color, though used in architecture, was severely subordinated to sculpture. Toned and modified to a calculated harmony with actual nature, it did not, as in a Christian church, create a world beyond the world, a paradise of supersensual ecstasy, but remained within the limits of the known. Light falling upon carved forms of gods and heroes, bathing clear-cut columns and sharp bass-reliefs in simple lustre, was enough for the Phoebean rites of Hellas. Though we know that red and blue and green and gilding were employed to accentuate the mouldings of Greek temples, yet neither the gloomy glory of mosaics nor the gemmed fretwork of storied windows was needed to attune the souls of Hellenic worshippers to devotion.
Less vast than Monreale, but even more beautiful, because the charm of mosaic increases in proportion as the surface it covers may be compared to the interior of a casket, is the Cappella Palatina of the royal palace in Palermo. Here, again, the whole de-sign and ornament are Arabo-Byzantine. Saracenic pendentives with Cuphic legends incrust the richly painted ceiling of the nave. The roofs of the apses and the walls are coated with mosaics, in which the Bible history, from the dove that brooded over Chaos to the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul, receives a grand though formal presentation. Beneath the mosaics are ranged slabs of gray marble, edged and divided with delicate patterns of inserted glass resembling drapery with richly embroidered fringes. The floor is inlaid with circles of serpentine and porphyry en-cased in white marble, and surrounded by winding bands of Alexandrine work. Some of these patterns are restricted to the five tones of red, green, white, black, and pale yellow. Others add turquoise blue and emerald and scarlet and gold. Not a square inch of the surfacefloor, roof, walls, or cupolais free from exquisite gemmed work of precious marbles. A candelabrum of fanciful design, combining lions devouring men and beasts, cranes, flowers, and winged genii, stands by the pulpit. Lamps of chased silver hang from the roof. The cupola blazes with gigantic arch-angels, stationed in a ring beneath the supreme figure and face of Christ. Some of the Ravenna churches are more historically interesting, perhaps, than this little masterpiece of the mosaic art. But none is so rich in detail and lustrous in effect. It should be seen at night, when the lamps are lighted in a pyramid around the sepulchre of the dead Christ on Holy Thursday, when partial gleams strike athwart the tawny gold of the arches and fall upon the profile of a priest declaiming in voluble Italian to a listening crowd.
Such are a few of the monuments which still remain to show of what sort was the mixed culture of Normans, Saracens, Italians, and Greeks at Palermo. In scenes like these the youth of Frederick II. was passed :for at the end, while treating of Palermo, we are bound to think again of the emperor who inherited from his German father the ambition of the Hohenstauffens, and from his Norman mother the fair fields and Oriental traditions of Sicily. The strange history of Frederickan intellect of the eighteenth century born out of date, a cosmopolitan spirit in the age of St. Louis, the crusader who conversed with Moslem sages on the threshold of the Holy Sepulchre, the Sultan of Lutera who persecuted Paterini while he respected the superstition of Saracens, the anointed successor of Charlemagne, who carried his harem with him to the battle-fields of Lombardy and turned infidels loose upon the provinces of Christ’s Vicarwould be inexplicable were it not that Palermo still reveals in all her monuments the genius loci which gave spiritual nurture to this phoenix among kings. From his Mussulman teachers Frederick derived the philosophy to which he gave a vogue in Europe. From his Arabian predecessors he learned the arts of internal administration and finance which he transmitted to the princes of Italy. In imitation of Oriental courts, he adopted the practice of verse composition, which gave the first impulse to Italian literature. His Grand Vizier, Piero Delle Vigne, set an example to Petrarch, not only by composing the first sonnet in Italian, but also by showing to what height a low-born secretary versed in art and law might rise. In a word, the zeal for liberal studies, the luxury of life, the religions indifferentism, the bureaucratic system of State government, which mark the age of the Italian Renaissance, found their first manifestation within the bosom of the Middle Ages in Frederick. While our King John was signing Magna Charta, Frederick had already lived long enough to comprehend, at least in outline, what is meant by the spirit of modern culture. It is true that the so-called Renaissance followed slowly and by tortuous paths upon the death of Frederick. The Church obtained a complete victory over his family and succeeded in extinguishing the civilization of Sicily. Yet the fame of the emperor who transmitted questions of sceptical philosophy to Arab sages, who conversed familiarly with men of letters, who loved splendor and understood the arts of refined living, survived both long and late in Italy. His power, his wealth, his liberality of soul and lofty aspirations, formed the theme of many a tale and poem. Dante places him in hell among the heresiarchs ; and truly the splendor of his supposed infidelity found for him a goodly following. Yet Dante dated the rise of Italian literature from the blooming period of the Sicilian court. Frederick’s unorthodoxy proved no drawback to his intellectual influence. More than any other man of mediæval times, he contributed, if only as the memory of a mighty name, to the progress of civilized humanity.
Let us take leave both of Frederick and of Palermo, that centre of converging influences which was his cradle, in the cathedral where he lies gathered to his fathers. This church, though its rich sunbrowned yellow t reminds one of the tone of Spanish buildings, is like nothing one has seen elsewhere. Here, even more than at Monreale, the eye is struck with a fusion of styles. The western towers are grouped into something like the clustered sheafs of the Caen churches ; the windows present Saracenic arches; the southern porch is covered with foliated incrustations of a late and decorative Gothic style; the exterior of the apse combines Arabic inlaid patterns of black and yellow with the Greek honeysuckle ; the western door adds Norman dog-tooth and chevron to the Saracenic billet. Nowhere is any one tradition firmly followed. The whole wavers, and yet is beautifullike the immature eclecticism of the culture which Frederick him-self endeavored to establish in his Southern kingdoms. Inside there is no such harmony of blended voices : all the strange tongues which speak together on the outside, making up a music in which the far North and ancient Byzance and the delicate East sound each a note, are hushed. The frigid silence of the Palladian style reigns theresimple, indeed, and dignified, but lifeless as the century in which it flourished.
Yet there, in a side chapel near the western door, stand the porphyry sarcophagi which shrine the bones of the Hautevilles and their representatives. There sleeps King Roger” Dux strenuus et primus Rex Siciliae “with his daughter Constance in her purple chest beside him. Henry VI. and Frederick II. and Constance of Aragon complete the group, which surpasses for interest all sepulchral monumentseven the tombs of the Scaligers at Veronaexcept only, perhaps, the statues of the nave of Innspruck. Very sombre and stately are these porphyry resting-places of princes born in the purple, assembled here from lands so distantfrom the craggy heights of Hohenstauffen, from the green orchards of Cotentin, from the dry hills of Aragon. They sleep, and the centuries pass by. Rude hands break open the granite lids of their sepulchres to find tresses of yellow hair and fragments of imperial mantles embroidered with the hawks and stags the royal hunter loved. The church in which they lie changes with the change of taste in architecture and the manners of successive ages. But the huge stone arks remain unmoved, guarding their freight of mouldering dust beneath gloomy canopies of stone that temper the sunlight as it streams from the chapel windows.