Seven centuries was a long time to wait.
The most recent book by Lou Mendola is a
translation of the memoir of John of Procida written as a chronicle in Middle Sicilian around 1290 as Lu
Rebellamentu di Sichilia contra Re Carlu, with accompanying commentary.
The chronicle of John of Procida brings us the spy story, the swashbuckler,
the wartime saga and the morality play in a work that transcends any single
genre. For historians, the chronicle is a key source in the study of the
Sicilian Vespers uprising of 1282, an event that changed the course of European
and Mediterranean history.
It is also the earliest known narrative prose (rather than poetry) in
a vernacular Italian language, pre-dating by decades the first works of
this kind written in Tuscan. Most medieval chronicles were written in Latin,
but this one was meant for ordinary people. Middle Sicilian is the language
that was spoken in Sicily, southern Calabria and parts of Apulia until around
1370. (So little has ever been published in English about this medieval
tongue that, until now, it was rarely even identified by a specific name,
yet it differs from modern Sicilian almost as much as Chaucer's English
differs from what is spoken today.) This chronicle is the longest work in
Middle Sicilian to find its way into English translation.
John of Procida was a leader of the revolt that sparked the war of 1282.
The chronicle recounts his efforts to plan the fall of King Charles I of
Naples, culminating in the monarch's loss of Sicily.
Largely overlooked until now, this most remarkable chronicle offers us
timeless lessons that transcend languages and centuries. Issues like achieving
justice for rape victims (Procida's daughter) leap from its pages.
Presented by the author of some of the most readable histories of Sicily,
the telling of Procida's story in these pages never lacks for style. Mendola's
translation, while faithful to the medieval manuscript, makes for an interesting
read. Indeed, the chronicle has been suggested as an early example of what
today is known as narrative journalism, or creative nonfiction.
Useful to students of literature as well as those studying medieval history,
the book also includes the original Middle Sicilian text (with a glossary),
a chronology, five pages of genealogical tables, ten pages of clear maps,
concise biographies of persons mentioned in the narrative, an engaging prologue,
an introductory chapter setting forth the history of the Kingdom of Sicily
up to the time the chronicle begins, heraldic information (the coats of
arms of Sicilian families of the Vespers era), and dozens of photographs
of historical sites in Sicily, Aragon and Catalonia. It presents notes on
the Sicilian language and the background of the chronicle and its manuscripts.
Based largely on original research, the commentary is the lengthiest
examination of the chronicle ever published in English. Not only is Mendola
familiar with the history of the Vespers and the Mediterranean, his knowledge
of medieval Romance languages shines as he cites examples in Catalan, Norman-French,
Italian and Sicilian, along with Latin. His research in contemporary sources
(like the royal decrees of King Peter III from 1282 conserved in Barcelona)
reveals that the telling of Procida's adventures, despite the obvious fictionalizing
of certain details, relies overwhelmingly on historical facts.
The Middle Sicilian text is the first complete transcription of the Spinelli
Codex, the chronicle's earliest surviving manuscript, to feature clear quotations
and orthography (for example the letters u and v are clearly
distinguished). The Spinelli Codex itself came to light only in the nineteenth
Among the extensive supplementary material included is Ciullo of Alcamo's
poem The Dialogue (il Contrasto) with an English translation; composed
before 1240, this is the longest complete work in an Italian language known
to survive from the reign of Frederick II. It is the lengthiest poem of
the Sicilian School and a classic of the courtly romantic genre of its era.
(Even Wikipedia doesn't present the full text of Ciullo's poem with an English
There is enough material in this book to make it a useful study guide
on the War of the Vespers, and a fine introduction to two of the most important
works in the Middle Sicilian canon. Lou Mendola, whose first scholarly article
dealing with the Sicilian Vespers was published in an academic journal in
1985, is intimately familiar with Sicily, Calabria, Aragon and Catalonia,
the regions that are the story's focus. Research for this book was conducted
in Italy, Spain and the Vatican. Considering the knowledge of history and
languages required to bring this work to us, Mendola is one of just a few
people in the world who could have written it.
Destined to become a literary and historical reference, this book will
appeal to scholars as well as casual readers interested in the kinds of
sources consulted in the writing of history. Its appeal will be found on
every level. Whether the reader's interest is thirteenth-century history,
medieval storytelling, the expressive language once spoken in southern Italy,
the chronicle's unique literary form, or its timely message, it will be
found in these 328 pages.
The chronicle is a singular work. Its publication in English, after 725
years, is a milestone in the study of medieval European literature. It's
available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and other vendors
(here in Sicily at the Libreria del Corso, Via Vittorio Emanuele 332 in
About the Author: Palermo native Vincenzo Salerno has written biographies of
several famous Sicilians, including Frederick II and Giuseppe di Lampedusa.