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L'intrigo dell'Onore: Poteri e isstituzioni nella Republica di Venezia tra Cinque e Seicento Verona: Cierre, 1997.

Claudio Povolo. 477 pp. IL 48,000. ISBN: 88-86654-46-4.

Following the distinguished tradition of legal historiography exemplified by Gaetano Cozzi, several Italian historians (Furio Bianco, Marco Bellabarba, and Gigi Corazzol) have recently moved to the study of rural feuding and banditry in the mainland territories of the Venetian Republic. In this vein Claudio Povolo's new book unravels in exquisite detail the vendetta background to a single sensational case, the 1605 investigation of the aristocrat Paolo Orgiano on multiple charges of raping and sodomizing young women and assaulting their male relatives in his homonymic village. In a previous book, Il romanziere e l'archivista: Da un processo veneziano del '600 all'anonimo manoscritto dei Promessi Sposi (Venice, 1993), Povolo argued that this same case provided the historical prototype for the famous Renzo and Lucia narrative in Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi.

Whereas Il romanziere e l'archivista investigates the relationship between the historical record and historical fiction, L'intrigo dell'Onore analyzes the two "contexts" of the trial. First, the community of Orgiano was in a state of virulent social conflict as a result of profound changes that had begun more than two decades before. The presiding struggle took the form of a feud between the members of the local aristocratic consorteria and the small proprietors who had traditionally held communal offices and was ostensibly over the usual rural issues: water rights, land reclamation projects, alienation of the commons, and managing city-contado relations. The penetration of Venetian capital into the local land market further exacerbated feuding among the local aristocrats, revealing profound divisions within the noble consorteria. Second, during this same period Venice began to criminalize traditional forms of conflict resolution among rural aristocrats, especially vendetta and the employment of bravos. Contrary to the guarantees Venice made in the fifteenth century to respect the jurisdictional autonomy of rural communities, the criminalization of aristocratic feuding inserted Venetian law into local power disputes to the advantage of the small proprietors.

At the hands of an alliance between Venetian capital and Venetian jurisprudence, on the one hand, and local non-noble citizen elites, on the other, rural aristocrats lost their political legitimacy. Povolo is especially effective in decoding the language of honor to show how the image of the aristocratic tyrant replaced the presiding rhetoric of collective aristocratic honor. As he puts it, "the preliminary penal investigation against Paolo Orgiano puts into relief the evocative power of the word, its expressive force and its capacity to encapsulate memory in order to remold and transform lived experience" (355). The testimony Povolo cites depicts a war of words over competing conceptions of feminine and masculine honor. Oblivious to his own criminal responsibility, Orgiano did not so much deny what he had done as insist that no one's honor had been lost because the village women were all "whores" anyway. He was, as the judges noted, clueless.

Povolo's masterful analysis demonstrates exactly how the civic values of Venetian criminal justice encroached on rural conceptions of honor. Nevertheless, by slighting the broader civilizing processes that delegitimated aristocratic violence, especially those eminating from the princely courts, he sometimes credits Venetian law rather too much. Although Povolo has written two books about one criminal case, he refuses to describe these studies as microhistories, and his reasons provide a telling methodological footnote. Whereas microhistory characteristically seeks the exceptional and abnormal through the intensive study of individual sources, Povolo insists that this case represents the normative process in the Veneto, at least, for civilizing rural violence. At a time when the origins of civil society are being so widely discussed, historians and political scientists should pay careful attention to the judicial sources of social capital analyzed by Claudio Povolo and his colleagues.

EDWARD MUIR Northwestern University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Muir, Edward
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1998
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