THE VENETIAN CONSPIRACY
by Webster Griffin Tarpley
Address delivered to the ICLC Conference near Wiesbaden, Germany, Easter Sunday, 1981; (appeared in Campaigner, September, 1981)
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Periods of history marked, like the one we are living through, by the convulsive instability of human institutions pose a special challenge for those who seek to base their actions on adequate and authentic knowledge of historical process. Such knowledge can come only through viewing history as the lawful interplay of contending conspiracies pitting Platonists against their epistemological and political adversaries.
There is no better way to gain insight into such matters than through the study of the history of the Venetian oligarchy, the classic example of oligarchical despotism and evil outside of the Far East.
Venice called itself the Serenissima Republica (Serene Republic), but it was no republic in any sense comprehensible to an American, as James Fenimore Cooper points out in the preface to his novel The Bravo. But its sinister institutions do provide an unmatched continuity of the most hideous oligarchical rule for fifteen centuries and more, from the years of the moribund Roman Empire in the West to the Napoleonic Wars, only yesterday in historical terms. Venice can best be thought of as a kind of conveyor belt, transporting the Babylonian contagions of decadent antiquity smack dab into the world of modern states.
The more than one and one-half millennia of Venetian continuity is first of all that of the oligarchical families and the government that was their stooge, but it is even more the relentless application of a characteristic method of statecraft and political intelligence. Venice, never exceeding a few hundred thousand in population, rose to the status of Great Power in the thirteenth century, and kept that status until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, thanks to the most highly developed system of embassies, of domestic and foreign intelligence, and related operational potentials.
As the following story details, Venice was at the center of the efforts to destroy the advanced European civilization of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and bears a crushing burden of guilt for the ascendancy of the Black Guelphs and the coming of the black plague. The Venetians were the intelligencers for the Mongol army of Ghengis Khan and his heirs, and had a hand in guiding them to the sack of Baghdad and the obliteration of its renaissance in the thirteenth century.
The Venetians were the mortal enemies of the humanist Paleologue dynasty in Byzantium. They were the implacable foes of Gemisthos Plethon, Cosimo de' Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli, and the entirety of the Florentine Golden Renaissance, which they conspired -- successfully -- to destroy. Venetian influence was decisive in cutting off the Elizabethan epoch in England, and in opening the door to the lugubrious Jacobean era.
Venetian public relations specialists were responsible for picking up the small-time German provincial heretic Martin Luther and raising him to the big-time status of heresiarch among a whole herd of total-predestination divines. Not content with this wrecking operation against the Church, Venice was thereafter the "mother" for the unsavory, itinerant Ignatius of Loyola and his Jesuit order. After the Council of Trent, Venice was also the matrix for the Philosophe-Libertin ferment of the delphic, anti-Leibniz Enlightenment. Venice beat Thomas Malthus and Jeremy Bentham to the punch in inflicting British political economy and philosophical radicalism on the whole world.
Although Napoleon Bonaparte had the merit of forcing the formal liquidation of this loathsome organism during his Italian campaign of 1797, his action did not have the effect we would have desired. The cancer, so to speak, had already had ample time for metastasis -- into Geneva, Amsterdam, London, and elsewhere. Thus, though the sovereign political power of Venice had been extinguished, its characteristic method lived on, serving as the incubator of what the twentieth century knows as fascism, first in its role as a breeding ground for the protofascist productions of Wagner and Nietzsche, later in the sponsorship of fascist politicians like Gabriele D'Annunzio and Benito Mussolini. The Venetians ran a large chunk of the action associated with the Parvus Plan to dismember Russia, and may well have been the ones who surprised everyone, including London, by unleashing World War 1 in the Balkans.
Most important, Venice is today through its Cini Foundation and its Societé Europeenne de Culture the think tank and staging area for the Club of Rome and related deployments. Venice is the supranational homeland of the New Dark Ages gang, the unifying symbol for the most extreme Utopian lunatic fringe in the international intelligence community today.
Get to know Venice. Then look back to the monetarist imbecility of Paul Volker, at the ideological fanaticism that radiates forth from the Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, the Bank for International Settlements and the rest. You will recognize the unmistakable putrid stench of a Venetian canal, where the rotting marble palaces of generations of parasites are corroded by the greatest cynicism and cruelty the world has ever known.
Three of the four 9/11 pilots learned to fly at two flight schools at the tiny Venice Airport. A terrorist trifecta out at the Venice Airport. Venice, Florida is the biggest 9/11 crime scene that wasn't reduced to rubble. But it hasn't been treated that way. And no one has offered any reason why....
Venice, Florida, is an unlikely center of intrigue. But the Venice Airport, set beside an unsuspecting population of golf-playing retirees, is another story, we discovered. It has a history as a free-booting port of call for an international cast of Lear jet-setting rogues, spies, villains and terrorists.
-- Chapter 1: Welcome to Venice, from Welcome to Terrorland, by Daniel Hopsicker
In the Middle Ages the Venetians were known as the archetypes of the parasite, the people who "neither sow nor reap." For the Greeks, they were the hated "frogs of the marshes." In Germany, a folk tale describes the merchant of Venice as an aged Pantaloon who makes his rounds robbing men of their human hearts and leaving a cold stone in their place.
Closer to the essence of Venice is the city's symbol, the winged lion of St. Mark, bearing the misleading inscription, Pax Tibi Marce, Evangelista Meus ("Peace be with you Mark, my evangelist.") The chimerical winged lion comes out of the East, either from Persia or from China. The symbol is thus blatantly pagan, with St. Mark being added as an afterthought because of his alleged visit to the Venetian lagoons. To buttress the story, the Venetians stole St. Mark's body from Alexandria in Egypt, and Tintoretto has a painting celebrating this feat.
The point is that Venice looks East, toward the Levant, Asia Minor, central Asia, and the Far East, toward its allies among the Asian and especially Chinese oligarchies which were its partners in trade and war. This is reflected in a whole range of weird, semi-oriental features of Venetian life, most notably the secluded, oriental status of women, with Doges like Mocenigo proudly exhibiting a personal harem well into modern times.
Venice today sits close to the line from Lubeck to Trieste, the demarcation between NATO and Warsaw Pact Europe, roughly corresponding to the boundary between Turks in the East and Christians in the West, and still earlier between the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires. Into this part of the northern Adriatic flow the rivers of the southern side of the Dolomites and the Julian Alps. The greatest of these is the Po. These rivers, around 300 A.D., made the northern Adriatic a continuous belt of marshes and lagoons about fifteen kilometers wide, and extending from the city of Ravenna around to the base of the Istrian Peninsula, where the Italian-Yugoslavian border lies today.
In the center of this system was Aquileia, starting point of an important north-south trade route across the Brenner Pass to the Danube Valley and Bohemia. Aquileia was the seat of a patriarch of the Christian Church, but its tradition was overwhelmingly pagan, and typified by rituals of the Ancient Egyptian Isis cult. For a time after the year 404, Ravenna and not Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire in the West. After the extinction of the western empire, Ravenna was the seat of government of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, the court visited by Boethius. Later Ravenna was the capital of a part of Italy ruled by the Byzantines.
The islands of the lagoons provided an invulnerable refuge, comparable to Switzerland during World War II, for Roman aristocrats and others fleeing the paths of Goth, Hun, and Langobard armies. Already between 300 and 400 A.D. there are traces of families whose names will later become infamous: Candiano, Faliero, Dandolo. Legend has it that the big influx of refugees came during the raids of Attila the Hun in 452 A.D. Various areas of the lagoons were colonized, including the present site of Torcello, before the seat of administration was fixed at a group of islands known as Rivus Altus ("the highest bank"), later the Rialto, the present location of the city of Venice. The official Ab Urbe Condita is March 25, 721 A.D. Paoluccio Anafesto, the first ruler of the lagoon communities, called the doge (the Venetian equivalent of Latin dux or Florentine duca/duce, meaning leader or duke), is said to have been elected in the year 697.
The most significant fact of this entire period is that the whelp of what was later to become Venice survived and grew thanks to its close alliance with the evil Emperor Justinian in Constantinople, an alliance that was underlined in later years by intermarriage of doge and other leading Venetian oligarchs with the nobility of Byzantium, where a faction embodying the sinister traditions of the Roman Senate lived on for a thousand years after the fall of Rome in 476.
Venetian families are divided into two categories. First come the oldest families, or Longhi, who can claim to prove their nobility substantially before the year 1000. The Longhi include many names that are sadly familiar to the student of European history: Dandolo, Michiel, Morosini, Contarini, Giustinian (perhaps related to the just-mentioned Byzantine emperor), Zeno, Corner (or Cornaro), Gradenigo, Tiepolo, and Falier. These old families held a monopoly of the dogeship until 1382, at which time they were forced to admit the parvenu newcomers, or Curti, to the highest honor of the state. After this time new families like Mocenigo, Foscari, Malipiero, Vendramin, Loredano, Gritti, Dona, and Trevisan came into the ascendancy.
These families and the state they built grew rich through their parasitizing of trade, especially East-West trade, which came to flow overwhelmingly through the Rialto markets. But there is a deeper reality, one which even derogatory stories about spice merchants are designed to mask. The primary basis for Venetian opulence was slavery. This slavery was practiced as a matter of course against Saracens, Mongols, Turks, and other non-Christians. In addition, it is conclusively documented that it was a matter of standard Venetian practice to sell Christians into slavery. This included Italians and Greeks, who were most highly valued as galley slaves. It included Germans and Russians, the latter being shipped in from Tana, the Venetian outpost at the mouth of the Don, in the farthest corner of the Sea of Azov. At a later time, black Africans were added to the list and rapidly became a fad among the nobility of the republic.
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF SLAVERY
During the years of the Venetian overseas empire, islands like Crete, Cyprus, Corfu, Naxos, and smaller holdings in the Aegean were routinely worked by slave labor, either directly under the Venetian regime, or under the private administration of a Venetian oligarchical clan like the Corner, who owed their riches to such slavery. In later centuries, the harems of the entire Ottoman Empire, from the Balkans to Morocco, were stocked by Venetian slaves. The shock troops of the Ottoman Turkish armies, the Janissaries, were also largely provided by Venetian merchants. A section of the Venetian waterfront is still called Riva Degli Schiavoni -- slaves' dock.
Around 1500, the Venetian oligarch Cristofor da Canal, the leading admiral of the Serenissima Repubblica at that time, composed what he described as a Platonic dialogue concerning the relative merits of galley slaves: the Italians the worst, Dalmatians better, the Greeks the best and toughest of all, although personally filthy and repulsive. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Venice had treaty relations with other states, like Bavaria, by which convicts were delivered to the Serenissima to work as life-long galley slaves.
Indistinguishable from slave gathering operation were piracy and buccaneering, the other staples of the Venetian economy. Wars with Genoa or with other powers were eagerly sought-after opportunities to loot the enemy's shipping with clouds of corsairs, and victory or defeat usually depended more on the success of the privateering than on the direct combat of the galleys, cogs, and soldiers of the battle fleets.
Piracy shades over imperceptibly into routine commerce. Through decades of treachery and mayhem, the Venetians were able to establish themselves as the leading entrepot port of the Mediterranean world, where, as in London up to 1914, the vast bulk of the world's strategic commodities were brought for sale, warehousing, and transshipment. The most significant commodities were spices and silks from India and China, destined for markets in Central and Western Europe. Europe in turn produced textiles and metals, especially precious metals, for export to the East.
Venetian production from the earliest period until the end was essentially nil, apart from salt and the glass manufactures of Murano. The role of the Venetian merchant is that of the profiteering middleman who rooks both buyer and seller, backing up his monopolization of the distribution and transportation systems with the war galleys of the battle fleet.
The Venetian approach to trade was ironically dirigistic. Venice asserted a monopoly of all trade and shipping in the northern Adriatic. The Serenissima's own functionaries organized merchant galley fleets that were sent out one or two times a year to key ports. The galleys were built by the regime in its shipyards, known as the Arsenal, for many centuries the largest factory in the world. They were leased to oligarchs and consortia of oligarchs at a type of auction. Every detail of the operation of these galley fleets, including the obligation to travel in convoy, was stipulated by peremptory state regulation.
In the heyday of Venice, galley fleets were sent to Tana and to Trebizond in the Black Sea, to Crete, Rhodes, and Cyprus on the way to Beirut in the Levant, to Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, Oran, and Alexandria in North Africa, as well as to Spanish, French, and west coast Italian cities. Especially well-served was "Romania," the area roughly corresponding to modern Greece. Another galley route passed through Gibraltar on the way to Southampton, London, Antwerp, and Bruges.
Many of these galley ports correspond to continuing Venetian influence today. In every instance the Venetians sought to skim the cream off the top of world trade. Their profit margins had to be sufficient to cover a "traditional" twenty percent interest rate, the financing of frequent wars, and maritime insurance premiums, in which they were pioneers.
THE VENETIAN STATE
The tremendous stability of the Venetian state has fascinated historians. How is it possible to maintain the great power of Venice for more than a millennium and a half without being conquered from the outside, and without significant upheavals from within?
Venice remained impervious to foreign invasion from the first settlement until 1797. The monolithic iniquity of Venetian state institutions was seriously disturbed no more than a half dozen times from within the city, and such incidents were speedily terminated by bloodbaths that restored stability rather than spurring more violence. This feature of the Venetian oligarchical system contrasts sharply with that of its rival, Genoa, where each regime from 1300 to 1500 had the life expectancy of an Italian government today. It contrasts sharply with the papacy, where the highest office was up for grabs every dozen years or less, and where humanist factions could sometimes prevail.
In Venice, the bloody resolution of internal faction fights within the oligarchy was suppressed to a minimum, and these energies were effectively sublimated in the depredation of the outside world. The raging heteronomy of each oligarch was directed outward, not at his factional rivals. In the typology of Plato's Republic, Venice is an oligarchy, "a constitution according to property, in which the rich govern and the poor man has no share in government," "the rule of the few, constitution full of many evils." This oligarchy has a residue of timocracy, of rule based on honor. But at the same time the Venetian regime was perversely aware of Plato's description of the swift transition from oligarchy to democracy and thence to tyranny, and against this evolution the patriciate took measures.
Plato notes in Book VIII of The Republic that a "change in a constitution always begins from the governing class when there is a faction within; but so long as they are of one mind, even if they be a very small class, it is impossible to disturb them." The threat of factionalization is located in the "storehouse full of gold, which every man has," and which "destroys such a constitution." The oligarchs "lay a sum of money, greater or less, according as the oligarchy is more or less complete, and proclaim that no one may share in the government unless his property comes up to the assessment. This they carry out by force of arms, or they have used terror before this to establish such a constitution."
Venice lasted as long as it did because of the effective subordination of the oligarchs and families to the needs of the oligarchy as a whole, by the ironclad delimitation of noble status to those already noble in 1297 and their male descendants, and by continuous terror against the masses and against the nobility itself.
All male members of the approximately one hundred fifty noble families had the permanent right to a seat in the Gran Consiglio, or Great Council, which grew to 2000 members around 1500 and thereafter slowly declined. The seat in the Gran Consiglio and the vote it brought were thus independent of which faction happened to be calling the shots at a given moment. The ins might be in, but the outs were sure of their place in the Gran Consiglio, and this body elected the key governing bodies of the regime.
The first of these were the one hundred twenty members, or Pregadi, of the Senate, the upper house which oversaw foreign affairs by choosing the Venetian ambassadors. In the middle of the fifteenth century, Venice was the first and only power which regularly maintained permanent legations in all principal courts and capitals. The Senate also chose five war ministers, five naval ministers (all called Savi), and six Savii Grandi, ministers of still higher rank.
The Gran Consiglio elected a Council of Forty, which was first devoted to budget and finance matters, later more to criminal prosecution. The Gran Consiglio chose three state prosecutors, who could and did sue any official of the state for malfeasance, although the doge was accorded the privilege of being tried after his death, with his family paying any fines levied. The Gran Consiglio also elected the doge himself, through an incredible Byzantine procedure designed to assure a representative choice. First, thirty members of the Gran Consiglio were chosen at random, using colored balls whose Venetian name is the origin of the American word ballot. These thirty drew lots to cut their number down to nine, who then nominated and elected a new group of forty electors. These were then cut down by drawing lots to a group of twelve. This procedure was repeated several times, terminating with a group of forty-one electors of whom twenty-five could nominate a doge for the approval of the Gran Consiglio. Somewhat less complicated procedures were used to select a group of six advisors for the doge.
Most typical of the Venetian system is the Council of Ten, established in 1310 as the coordinating body for foreign and domestic political intelligence operations. Meeting in secret session together with the doge and his six advisors, the Ten had the power to issue a bill of capital attainder against any person inside Venetian jurisdiction, or abroad. If in Venice, that person was generally strangled the same night and the body thrown into the Canale degli Orfani.
The Ten had at their disposal a very extensive foreign intelligence network, but it was inside Venetian territory that their surveillance powers became pervasive: the contents of any discussion among oligarchs or citizens was routinely known to the Ten within twenty- four hours or less, thanks to the ubiquity of its informers and spies. Visitors to the Doge's Palace today can see mail slots around the outside of the building in the shape of lion's mouths marked Per Denontie Segrete ("For Secret Denunciations") for those who wished to call to the attention of the Ten and their monstrous bureaucracy individuals stealing from the state or otherwise violating the law. Death sentences from the Ten were without appeal, and their proceedings were never made public. Offenders simply disappeared from view.
The Venetian regime is a perverse example of the "checks and balances" theory of statecraft, and there were indeed a myriad of such feedback mechanisms. The Savii Grandi balanced the powers of the doge, who was also checked by his six advisors, while more and more power passed to the state inquisitors and the chiefs of the Ten. The state attorneys acted as watchdogs on most matters, as did the Senate, and in times of crises the Gran Consiglio would also assert its powers. The Ten were constantly lurking in the background.
Almost all officials except the doge were elected for terms averaging between six months and one year, with stringent provision against being reelected to an office until a number of months had passed equal to the oligarch's previous tenure in that post. This meant that leading oligarchs were constantly being rotated and shunted from one stop on the Cursus Honorum to another: to Savio Grande to ducal advisor to state inquisitor and so forth. There was no continuity of the population of Venice; the continuity was located only in the oligarchy. In fact, the population of the city seemed unable to reproduce itself. Venice suffered astronomical rates of mortality from malaria and the plague -- its canals, it must be remembered, were first and foremost its sewer system. The decimated natives were continually replenished by waves of immigration, so much so that the Frenchman Philippe de Comynes, an adversary of Machiavelli, could report that the population was mostly foreigners.
Internal order was entrusted to an intricate system of local control in each of the city's sixty parishes, meshing with an elaborate apparatus of corporatist guilds called the Scuole. This was supplemented by an unending parade of festivals, spectacles, and carnivals. Very few troops were usually stationed in the city.
So much for the phenomena. Reality was located in the fact that an elite of ten to fifteen families out of the one hundred fifty effectively ruled with an iron hand. Various Venetian diarists let the cat out of the bag in their descriptions of corruption and vote-buying, especially the bribery of the impoverished decadent nobility, called Barnabotti, who were increasingly numerous in the Gran Consiglio. The regime ran everything, and offices of all types were routinely sold.
This reality of graft was also known to Dante. The poetical geometry of Canto 21 of the Inferno, the canto of the grafters or Barattieri, is established by a reference to the Venetian Arsenal and the pitch used to caulk the hulls of the galleys:
.As in the Arsenal of the Venetians
Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their leaky vessels over again,
For sail they cannot
The souls of the grafters are immersed in the boiling pitch, where they are guarded by the Malebranche, grotesque winged monsters armed with spears and hooks: a fitting allegory for the souls of the Venetians.
Dante visited Venice in 1321, acting in his capacity as diplomatic representative of the nearby city of Ravenna, whose overlord was for a time his protector. He died shortly after leaving Venice. The two explanations of his death converge on murder: one version state that he was denied a boat in which to travel south across the lagoon. He was forced to follow a path through the swamps, caught malaria, and died. Another version says that a boat was available, but that to board it would have meant certain assassination. Venetian records regarding this matter have conveniently disappeared.
PETRARCH VERSUS ARISTOTLE
The Venetian method of statecraft is based on Aristotle -- the deepest Aristotelian tradition in the West. Long before the era of Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Venice had established itself as the chief center for the translation and teaching of Aristotle's works.
In the year 1135, the Senate sent Giacomo da Venezia to Byzantium, where he was trained in post-Justinian Aristotelian orthodoxy, returning to Venice after two years to begin lectures on Aristotle and to prepare Latin versions of the Greek texts he had brought back with him. A school of Aristotelian doctrine was set up at the Rialto market, the heart of the business and commercial activity of the city. When Venice conquered Padua at the beginning of the fifteenth century, Aristotelian hegemony was imposed on the University of Padua, which became the only one where Venetian nobility were allowed international clientele, especially from Germany.
The inveterate Aristotelianism of Venice is the starting point for a major literary attack on that city by Francesco Petrarch, son of Dante's personal secretary, who took up the responsibility of servicing Dante's humanist networks during the disastrous years around the middle of the fourteenth century. Although these were the years of the Black Death, Petrarch ("Fraunces Petrak the laureate poet" as Chaucer knew him) was the soul of a tenacious humanist rearguard action, with spirited counterattacks at every opportunity, that made the later Italian Renaissance possible.
Petrarch was a contemporary of the Ciompi revolt against oligarchical rule in Florence; he was certainly involved in Cola di Rienzo's seizure of power in Rome in May, 1347. The real story of Petrarch's literary and political achievements has yet to be told. Nonetheless, the fact that he was a determined foe of Venice and its ideology is abundantly clear.
In 1355 Venice had just passed through one of its infrequent internal crises, usually explained as the attempt of the Doge Marin Faliero to overthrow the regime and establish a Signoria, or personal dictatorship, of the type common in Italy at the time. Marin Faliero was publicly decapitated by the Council of Ten.
Petrarch might have had a hand in this operation; during this period he was a frequent guest at the court of the Da Carrara rulers of Padua, about thirty kilometers from the Venetian lagoon. Petrarch may have developed plans for injecting a dose of Platonism into the intellectual life of the Serenissima. Petrarch proposed that he be allowed to take up residence in Venice and locate his library there; the books would remain as a bequest to the city after his death, forming the nucleus of what would have been the first public library in Europe. The Venice authorities accepted, and Petrarch, the most celebrated intellectual of his times, took up his residence on the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Soon he began to receive the visits of four Venetian Aristotelians, whom he later referred to as "my four famous friends." These four oligarchs were Tommaso Talenti, Guido da Bagnolo, Leonardo Dandolo, and Zaccaria Contarini, the latter two of the most exalted lineage. After several discussions with Petrarch, these four began to circulate the slander that Petrarch was "a good man, but without any education."
Petrarch shortly abandoned the library project and soon thereafter left Venice permanently. His answer to the slanderers is contained in his treatise "De Sui Ipsius et Multorum Ignorantia" (1367) (with a swipe at Aristotle in the title), his most powerful piece of invective-polemical writing.
Petrarch scored Aristotelian scholastic philosophy as "a prostitute who delights to worry about vain questions of words." Real philosophy, with the clear purpose of advancing morality, he said, is to be found in St. Augustine. All that Aristotle is capable of doing is providing a delphic description of what the external attributes of morality might look like. To the authority of Aristotle, Petrarch counterposed the Platonism of the New Testament, saying that Christ, not Aristotle, was for him the decisive guide. His "four friends," he asserted, were not Christian, but preferred to follow their favorite philosopher in their sophistry, blasphemy, and impiety. They mocked Christ, and were so pretentious that they could not even understand their own arguments.
Petrarch pointed out that Aristotle provided his followers with all sorts of strange and curious lore, like the number of hairs on a lion's head or of feathers in a hawk's tail, how elephants copulate backwards, how the phoenix arises out of his own ashes, how the only animal that can move its upper jaw is the crocodile. But these facts are not only useless, he said, they are false. "How could Aristotle know such facts, since neither reason nor experience reveal them? Concerning the ultimate objects of philosophy, Aristotle is more ignorant than an old peasant woman.
Venetian nominalism went hand in hand with the most vicious avarice. In a play written in Venetian dialect by Carlo Goldoni in the eighteenth century, a Pantalone-type miser comes home to find wife and daughter busily engaged in needlework. The two women look up briefly and say hello. The miser flies into a rage screaming "What? You quit working to pay me compliments!"
An eminent witness of this typical Venetian vice was Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was to the years after 1500 what Petrarch had been in his own time: Leader of the Platonic humanist faction. Erasmus came to Venice in 1508, on the eve, interestingly enough, of the attempt to annihilate Venice in the War of the League of Cambrai. Erasmus came to get in touch with Aldo Manunzio, the Aldus who owned what was at that time the largest and most famous publishing house in the world.
Venice had reacted to the invention of moveable-type printing by Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz in a way that foreshadowed the reaction of the British oligarchy in this century to radio, the movies, and television. They had immediately attempted to seize control of the new medium. Dozens of Gutenberg's apprentices from the Rhein-Main area were bought up and brought to Venice, where the production of books up to 1500 and beyond was frequently a multiple of the number of titles published in the rest of the world combined.
Aldus was the William Paley and Jack Warner of the industry. Martin Luther was one of that industry's later creations. Aldus brought out the works of Aristotle in Greek shortly after he began operations in 1495. Plato had to wait for almost twenty years.
One of Erasmus' goals in visiting Venice was to accelerate the publication of Plato. He stayed at the home of Aldus' brother-in-law. Erasmus writes about his Venetian sojourn some time later, in the dialogue titled "Opulentia Sordida" of the Colloquia Familiaria. The Urbs Opulenta referred to is of course the wealthiest of all cities, Venice. Aldus appears as Antronius ("the caveman"), described as a multi-millionaire in today's terms.
Erasmus had been away, and is asked by a friend how he got so skinny. Has he been working as a galley slave? Erasmus replies that he has undergone something far worse: ten months of starvation in the home of Antronius. Here people freeze in the winter because there is no wood to burn. Wine was a strategic commodity in Erasmus' opinion, as indeed it was in a time when water was often very unsafe to drink. To save money on wine, Antronius took water and faeces annorum decem miscebat (mixed it with ten year old shit), stirring it up so it would look like the real thing. His bread was made not with flour, but with clay, and was so hard it would break even a bear's teeth. A groaning board on the holidays for a houseful of people and servants was centered around three rotten eggs. There was never meat or fish, but the usual fare was sometimes supplemented by shellfish from a colony that Antronius cultivated in his latrine. When Erasmus consulted a physician, he was told that he was endangering his life by overeating. Erasmus' friend in the dialogue concludes that at this rate, all Germans, Englishmen, Danes, and Poles are about to die. Finally, Erasmus takes his leave, to head for the nearest French restaurant.