From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 66
Bury My Heart in Missolonghi
When I told Sue that the name of the next chapter that I was going to write would be named “Bury My Heart In Missolonghi”, she said, “Missolonghi is in Greece, isn’t it? What does that have to do with Gioviano?”

I replied, “Just wait and see. Somehow I’ve got to get Lord Byron to Gioviano, and this is my lead.”

Way back around 1964, my family decided that we should to go to Greece to work on a series of filmstrips about “The Origins of the Drama”, “Delphi”, “The Parthenon and the Acropolis of Athens,” and other classical subjects. I wanted to learn enough simple Greek to get along, so purchased what I thought would be a book of useful phrases, such as: “I’m hungry. Is there a restaurant nearby?”; “How much does that cost?”; and “Where is the bathroom?”

The book turned out to be of no practical use. The sentences to be learned in Greek were crazy beyond belief. My favorite was “Bury my heart in Missolonghi.” It made me laugh about the silliness of desperately needing to find a toilet and only being able to say in Greek, “Bury my heart in Missolonghi”. (More about that later.)

With my curiosity piqued about where Missolonghi was and the origins of the phrase, I discovered that Lord Byron died there in 1824 at the age of 36. Being 19 years old at the time, I was fascinated with his exploits and conquests, especially of the 200 or so women he is said to have seduced.

During the trip of 1964, I convinced my father that we should drive to Missolonghi and find the tree under which Byron’s heart had been buried after his body had been embalmed and shipped back to England. When his body arrived, burial was refused by Westminster Abbey because of his reputation for drinking from a skull and because of his licentiousness and depravity, which made him all the more interesting to me.

On the road to Missolonghi, my father spied a fruit salesman by the side of the road. We stopped the car, and he bought a kilo of delicious looking tree-ripened cherries. We told him not to eat them until they had been washed, but he didn’t listen then just as he doesn’t listen now.

By the time we reached Missolonghi, he was suffering from extreme gastric distress, and he needed desperately to have been able to ask in Greek where the nearest toilet was, rather than “Bury my heart in Missolonghi.” Actually from the way he looked and obviously felt, we thought we might have to bury more than his heart there.

Only two years before his death, Byron had stayed in Bagni di Lucca along with his closest friends, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. While there, I must naturally assume that Byron did not give up his pursuit of beautiful women. Thus, his wanderlust and lustful ways would have taken him to nearby villages where he might meet and seduce a new conquest.

I have noticed over the last 33 years that the soil and fresh air, coupled with the high quality DNA of the local inhabitants have produced dozens of beautiful young women. I can naturally assume that this is not a new phenomenon. Gioviano’s palaces in the 1820’s were inhabited by well-educated and somewhat aristocratic families including the Bertoli, Barsanti, Braccini, Comastri, Dominici, Toti, Pierotti, and Andreoni families. The Barsantis during that period were even sending their children to Paris to study art, for example.

Lord Byron participated in the cremation of his dear friend Shelley in Viareggio, after Shelley’s drowning off the coast of Lerici. Byron, due to his inherent depressive nature even in the best of times, would have sought solace from some young woman. I can close my eyes and imagine him consoling himself by wooing a beautiful daughter of the Pierottis on the upper loggia of Palazzo Margherita, while watching the sunset. He would later watch the candles shining in the windows of nearby villages accompanied by the flickering of the fireflies in the grassy fields down below.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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