Bill Bucko

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  • Gender Male
  • Location Mt Clemens, Michigan
  • Interests Aesthetics

    I'm the author of three novels set in the Italian Renaissance, "Bring Me Giants!", "The Outcasts," and "Raphaella di Piero." I translated the French adventure story that inspired the young Ayn Rand, "The Mysterious Valley" (Atlantean Press, 1994). My fiction and non-fiction have appeared in "The Atlantean Press Review" and "The Intellectual Activist." Student of Objectivism since 1966; had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Ayn Rand in 1971! I recently discovered--and donated to the Ayn Rand Archives--both French children's magazines that the young Ayn Rand subscribed to.

    Here's a sneak preview of my 5th book, to appear this spring: BLURB: An unbeliever at the court of the pope NICHOLAS V, first Renaissance pope, founded the Vatican Library, hired an army of scribes to copy ancient manuscripts, and summoned Europe's greatest scholars to Rome. His purpose: to foster learning. But he had another goal as well: to tame unruly freethinkers. There was one who wouldn't be tamed: GIULIANO DA FIRENZE BRING ME GIANTS! by BILL BUCKO Preface Bring Me Giants! was my first novel, an apprentice work written in 1972-1974. As such, it will be of interest chiefly to those who have read my mature works, The Outcasts and Raphaella di Piero, and would like to see how I learned my craft. It’s a good, rousing story, with an interesting setting, large-scale characters, surprising plot twists, and Hugoesque clash of dramatically opposed values. Its flaws are as apparent as its virtues. The characters are not as deep as those I was later able to create, and occasionally the plot events are not as realistic. See, for instance, Giuliano’s decision not to run away from his enemies. And a girl like Caterina could not have freely roamed the lawless streets of Rome in the 1400s. I’ve made minor stylistic changes, mostly by omitting unnecessary words, but have made no changes to plot or characters. I hope you’ll agree this novel has a charm of its own (as well as foreshadowing The Outcasts in its theme). MARCH 2, 1451 Filiis a malis parentibus a quibus geniti sunt fugere licet … Sons may flee from vicious parents who brought them into the world ... Lorenzo Valla, Treatise on the Donation of Constantine Chapter 1 — The Monument Giuliano stood outside the church of St. John Lateran, knowing that in another minute he might be fighting for his life. He shook his head. He knew he could run; but that would merely postpone it. The showdown had to come. He raised his head; the breeze stirred strands of brown hair, faintly, in imitation of a wayward caress. Slowly he fought down the tension of his body. He balled his hands into fists, then let them hang open at his sides. What did you do, years ago, when you had to fight other boys starving in the streets? He walked across the square to the shadow of the monument. The bronze figure towered over him like a colossus. A thousand years had worn off most of its gilding. He paused, half within the shadow of the horse and its imperial rider. One hoof was raised, pawing the air, with the man’s arm outstretched in an effortless, commanding gesture. He glanced around. Last year thousands of pilgrims had plodded into Rome for the Jubilee of 1450. But now there were just a few townspeople and peasants going about their business. The Lateran stood at the edge of the city, in the sparsely settled region away from the Tiber. Beyond it, outside the city wall stretched an empty countryside of poor farms and villages, crossed by aqueducts—broken and unused. Rome under the popes could support only a fraction of the population of Rome under the emperors. He turned back to the Lateran. No, he wouldn’t run. Sooner or later, his enemies would fall on him. And he wouldn’t live under that threat. He’d face them now, when he felt ready for them. He stood on the broad, unpaved square as morning sunlight flooded across, creating no warmth. The church’s facade was in shadow, made indistinct by the glare of the sun behind it. But the piazza around him stood out startlingly clear, as though the air had become a lens of crystal, bringing all things closer, making them sharper. Tall stone buttresses to his left were thick with dirt and decay—that was the Lateran palace, the pope’s residence in past centuries. The church of St. John Lateran to his right was the official cathedral of Rome. By ancient custom every pope rode here with the cardinals, at the beginning of his reign, to throw a handful of coins to the people, saying, “Gold and silver are not for me.” Then he rode back across the city to St. Peter’s, to begin his years as temporal sovereign of central Italy and spiritual ruler of the world. Giuliano shook his head. He had come here this morning with his sketchbook. Drawing was the only pastime he allowed himself, whenever he could spare a few hours from his work. He had sketched the sculptures and frescoes. Then came the confrontation with the cardinal, the white-haired prince of the Church who thought he held the power of life or death over him. He had managed to slip out the side door before the cardinal’s men could close in on him. The last words he’d heard still rang in his ears: “Wait! What will the pope say?” and the mocking reply: “What can he say? Even the pope can’t raise a dead man.” He turned. An oxcart was crossing the square, slowly rumbling past the dome of the baptistery. Peasants from the Campagna sat stolidly among sacks of grain, in their rags and broad-brimmed hats, whistling to the oxen as they flicked the reins. He turned back to the Lateran. His eyes were a deep brown, always darting, always insatiable. He crouched for a moment to loosen up his body, then straightened, hand coming to rest on the hilt of his knife. He was tall, thinly built, with long arms and legs: a body that could move quickly, charged with energy. His youthful, square-cut face had a look of determination shaping the mouth, inspiring the eyes, setting the angle of the chin. He wiped his brow. He’d expected problems when he came to Rome. He’d known the dangers. But this kind of problem he hadn’t thought about—at least, not since his days as a starving lad in the streets of Florence. Perhaps he should have taken refuge in a corner inside, to fight them off one by one. Out here he could be surrounded. But somehow he liked his chances better under the open sky –free and unrestrained. There was a sudden movement above his shoulder. He turned quickly. “What in the—?” The girl eyed him with a grin on her round, untroubled face, dangling her legs over the statue’s stone base. She was perched between the bronze horse’s legs. “Hello!” she called, saucy as a kitten that’s climbed dangerously higher than was ever expected of it. For a moment he was too surprised to speak. She fidgeted like a child, her brow wrinkled, she seemed almost ready to stamp her foot. “Hello.” “I’m Caterina.” She scrambled down quickly, using the projections of the statue’s base, her soles grating on the rough stone. She dropped lightly onto all fours, was up immediately, and was upon him. “My name’s Caterina,” she repeated. She seemed a jumble of motion; hands and feet could not hold still. She had no doubt that he’d want to talk with her, get to know her. Then she stopped. She had the sudden impression he was judging her or weighing her, in some way. “They call me ... Giuliano da Firenze, ‘Giuliano of Florence,’” he answered. He reached out to wipe a streak of dirt from her shoulder. She stretched her legs, smiling up at him. The girl seemed about fourteen, roughly half his age. She had wide-open eyes of crystal blue, a freckled snub nose and wide, crookedly-grinning mouth. “What were you doing up there?” She was delighted to be asked. “I’m a street urchin. I make it my business to go everywhere and see everything. Now I’ve met you, Giuliano. I’m glad.” “A street urchin?” The question was an obvious one; for under the short, battered cloak wrapped around her slight figure he caught a glimpse of the most exquisite gown he’d yet seen in Rome, made of black silk striped with gold, cut by slashes that let rich crimson show through. “Oh, that,” she laughed, pulling her cloak shut to hide the dress. “When I go out I wear my street urchin’s clothes. People take me for a beggar, and leave me alone. But once in a while I like to dress up, underneath ... You know, I love to wander through the city, looking at the buildings and ruins and statues and people ... I won’t be kept inside. Not when there’s so much to do!” “Don’t you have a … family?” She shook her head. “I guess I’m an orphan.” She leaned back against the cold stone pedestal, then straightened, standing as tall as she could. The top of her head, with its light brown curls bared to the wind, almost reached the level of his chin. “Tell me, little Caterina. How did you become a ... street urchin?” “Little” Caterina wrinkled her nose at the unfair epithet. “Well ...” she sighed, with a wry grin, staring at the distant hills to the north. “My father was lord of a few castles, near Spoleto. He fought the Church, and even beheaded a papal governor or two. But finally he had to come to terms. He sent Ginevra and myself to Rome, as hostages.” “Ginevra?” “My sister. An old Roman family took custody of us. Or at least, they lodged us in a corner of their palazzo, and then seemed to forgot about us … Father kept several of his castles. I saw him once when I was six, and again when I was ten.” She grimaced, turning back to him. “Well ... he’s dead now ... So we grew up as we pleased, with no one telling us what to do. When I want to see the sights, I just climb out the window.” She threw up her arms in girlish enthusiasm. “Good clothes, more money than you can spend, and only yourself to talk to, as your best friend! ... You should try it.” She saw the gleam in his eye. “Only yourself? I thought you knew everyone in Rome.” “Oh, I do! I suppose it’s just that I pay most attention to myself (Don’t you?). I like being by myself. And I like meeting people, too.” She grew thoughtful, running a strand of hair through her fingers. “I don’t think we’re hostages anymore. Nobody’s checked on us for years.” She shrugged, scratching her cheek with a grubby finger. “So my sister married a nobleman’s son. She lives in Perugia now. And me ...” “Yes, what about you?” “Why, I told you. From the Forum to the Tiber, from St. Peter’s to the Capitol: I see what I can see.” He laughed, shaking his head. He could picture this impish girl sallying forth on Rome, butting her way into everyone’s affairs, seeking excitement and adventure wherever she went. He looked past her to the great tarnished monument, which she had graced shortly before. She looked up to follow his glance. The horseman’s face was in shadow. But the pose of the group was eloquent. “I like that old statue, don’t you?” He nodded. Perhaps the sculptor had studied this master of the world in the Forum or on the battlefield; he had certainly managed to capture a sense of regal calm, of self-control, of steadfast virtue. “What are you smiling at?” “Nothing, Caterina.” He reached up to run a hand over the cold stone of the base. The Christians of the Dark Ages destroyed most pagan statues; but they had spared this one, thinking it was Constantine, the first Christian emperor. In fact, though, the emperor was the pagan Marcus Aurelius, who believed it his firm duty to rule for the good of his subjects. So when he saw the followers of a new superstition, who worshipped a certain Christus or Christ, attack their neighbors with bigotry and intolerance—he threw them to the lions. Caterina interrupted his thoughts: “Do you know what I saw? A cardinal and his retinue. See, their horses are tied over there.” She pointed to the right of the cathedral, where a few stable hands were visible in the distance. “I want to watch them when they leave. I climbed up there to wait.” That brought Giuliano back to his own situation; and the events of the past hour became real again. He suddenly realized this girl shouldn’t be here with him, she should leave at once. It wasn’t fair to endanger her. * * * Earlier that morning they had filed into the chapel: Cardinal Vicenza first, stately and dignified and aged; and then Sandro Crepuscolo, his protégé, followed by all the others. One of the attendants, watching the old man and the youthful flatterer, thought to himself: the lion followed by the jackal. Sandro knelt at the cardinal’s side, bowing his head. The air was filled with incense and a vague odor of decay, as though the bones of the men who had built this church, three hundred years after Christ, were still here under the pavement. The mosaics were faded, and dirt streaked the walls. Yes, I’ll pretend to pray, Sandro told himself, waiting for Vicenza to finish. But the minutes dragged on like hours, passing in a haze through his mind, as pain throbbed through his knees. He looked up at the tall candles that flickered around the altar, casting their light on a painting of a mother holding a child. A virgin mother, he thought wryly ... What fools men were! Vicenza was done at last. Sandro sprang up to help him. The cardinal leaned on his arm, then straightened with a grunt. “Thank you, my son.” Sandro bowed, and followed the old man back to the main aisle. He paused to tighten the cord at his waist. It was done now, with the laying on of hands, the vows, the first tonsure, and he was committed. He was started on the ladder of Church advancement, on the lowest rung, as a deacon who helped the priest to celebrate the Mass. Still, he hadn’t intended this, and he felt a venomous hatred at being maneuvered into it. Cardinal Vicenza had taken him at his word. That was more than he’d expected. The more Sandro spoke of his devotion to the Church and his deep religious feelings, the more convinced Vicenza had become that he had a vocation for the priesthood. It was damnably obtuse of the old man. Couldn’t he realize it was a position in the government Sandro wanted? the power that went with that? That an appointment at the court of Pope Nicholas, prompted by a word from the cardinal, would have suited him far better? And that wasn’t all. While the attendants were falling into line, Vicenza led him aside. “Sandro, a word with you.” He bowed. Vicenza’s voice was cold and harsh, with an authority that made Sandro tremble. “From now on, in Holy Orders, you must live in absolute chastity.” Sandro froze; he couldn’t take his eyes off the old man’s face. “God commanded it. You cannot live as you have been living.” That was all; Vicenza turned and walked away, expecting no answer or reaction. Sandro bit his lip. If he knew that much, then how much else did he know? Did he know of his disrespect? lying? hypocrisy? In fact, Cardinal Vicenza knew nothing whatever of Sandro’s private life. He had in mind only one thing: that Sandro was a human being—with all that that implied. As far as he could see, Sandro was a devout, devoted young man. But however strongly Sandro’s divine part longed for heaven, surely his earthly part still yearned to lie between a girl’s legs. That was the depravity of human nature. But now that he was in Holy Orders, that sin couldn’t be tolerated any longer. They walked down the aisle, pausing to cross themselves before the altar. “So much for that.” The servant tried to look dignified, in his black and white livery, but only succeeded in looking envious. “No murmuring, now. Don’t forget who the new favorite is.” “It makes me want to spit. Having to lick this Sandro’s boots. He’s the lowest of any of us.” “That’s why he won.” Vicenza raised his eyes sternly, and they fell silent. The cardinal had felt nothing, during the ceremony, but a sense of awe at the miracle of Holy Orders. The sin of Adam and Eve, he thought, left its mark of corruption on human nature, on all human beings. But now the grace of God had flowed through his hands, into Sandro. What happened when the two forces met—and clashed? Whatever struggle took place in an ordinary man, was magnified a hundred-fold in a priest. He became a battleground of good and evil. Christ chose Peter, the humble fisherman, as the first pope; yet as a weak man, Peter had denied his Master three times. Vicenza’s hair and beard were completely white, with no trace of gray left. He was seventy years old. It had been a hard life, one that—he found himself admitting it—was ending in bitterness. It was a life of sacrifices, renouncing the world and the happiness it gave. He shook his head, surveying the long train of attendants behind him, youthful figures with none of the gravity of this day in their bearing. He had pain-filled eyes, set deep within shadowed hollows. But that was the only hint of a flaw in his armor, in his indomitable will. The face had been shaped, through the years, by a refusal to make any compromise. His only inner struggle was the one that, he thought, all men faced, between soul and body: between the love of God, drawing man on high, and an inescapable and inborn remnant of wickedness, dragging him down. Always he had chosen for the welfare of his soul. That was the reason for the suffering in his eyes, which the tightly shut mouth, prominent cheekbones, and jutting chin tried to deny, by sheer power of will—leaving the struggle mapped in the taut muscles of his face. He knew that chastity didn’t leave a man content. He wondered why the saints praised it, when it left him, after all these years, no more than a pile of ashes ... but still endowed with a soul, that wouldn’t find peace and release from pain until it left the earth forever. While Cardinal Vicenza was brooding about the next world, Sandro was doing some quick thinking about this one. He glanced around. Could one of the others have betrayed him? It seemed unlikely. Why would the cardinal believe their word against his own, when he was practically Vicenza’s adopted son? And then he thought of Giuliano. Of course, that must be it. Giuliano was an outsider. Vicenza hated him; but he might very well believe him; Giuliano was like that. He was straightforward, his words carried conviction—and who else would have the courage to tell Vicenza anything of the gossip about town? It had probably started that day last winter. Perhaps he had offended Giuliano; or maybe the scholar had some reason of his own for undermining his position. At any rate, Sandro had already acknowledged defeat: he knew he would have to enter the Church he despised, or face Vicenza’s wrath. Then—since he knew everything that went on in the Palazzo Vicenza—he heard that the cardinal wanted to buy him a gift for the occasion. Sandro sought out Giuliano at his desk in the Vatican and asked whether he knew where to get medals, jewels, and art works from pagan times. “Yes, I do,” Giuliano had answered. “I know several traders in antiquities. And my friend Cyriac of Ancona brings back art works from Greece, every now and then.” Sandro eyed him slyly. “Tell me. Do you count yourself a friend of Cardinal Vicenza’s?” Giuliano stared, surprised. “No, I don’t.” Sandro nodded, content. “Then here’s what we’ll do. You get something of small value, and sell it to Vicenza for a great price; then you and I can pocket the difference.” “No.” “But—” “I won’t.” He wasn’t angry when Giuliano refused, merely, for one brief moment, afraid; he couldn’t tell why. Then he turned to Oddone of Viterbo, a copyist at the Vatican, who, he supposed, hung about Vicenza for reasons similar to his own. Oddone readily agreed to help. But they had failed; Vicenza brushed aside Oddone’s advances ... Vicenza laid a firm hand on Sandro’s arm, recalling him from these thoughts. “Here, my son. I want you to have this.” He held out a small manuscript. “I obtained it through Giuliano, who ordered it from Vespasiano da Bisticci, the noted bookseller of Florence.” He saw Sandro’s expression, and added, “True, it isn’t a relic or memento of the saints. But this, I trust, will serve to fix your mind on divine things, more than ever.” Sandro took the book in his hands, cursing under his breath. He would have much preferred a gem, a cameo, something of that sort, that he could sell someday for a good price. The manuscript was small, about eighty pages bound in thin wooden covers, fastened with silver clasps. He weighed it in his hands, then opened it. “Though I hate all worldly things,” the cardinal was saying, “it would show a lack of respect to house this treasure in lesser form. Look at the illuminations, Sandro. And the cursive hand. And the rich parchment.” “Thank you, your Excellency,” he said mechanically, though with becoming respect. As he thumbed through the book, mind racing, suddenly he saw how to do it. He couldn’t be sure how much Giuliano had given away yet; but he could neutralize anything he might tell Vicenza, if he did it carefully. And for a moment he could hardly keep from laughing. This book, before which Vicenza wanted to go down on his knees, was a rank forgery—the supposed letters of Paul the Apostle to the philosopher Seneca! Unfortunately the letters were written in a Latin dating from centuries after either man’s time; their composition had beguiled the idle hours of some devout but ignorant monk of the sixth or seventh centuries. His pious fraud gained currency, copies of the work were made, and up until the present day the letters had been regarded as genuine ... Until the forgery was exposed by Lorenzo Valla. The cardinal watched as Sandro closed the book, fastened the clasps, and kissed it. He saw the narrow brows contract, in thought or concentration; and the cool green eyes seemed to avoid his own. “Sandro?” The youth shook his head. “It’s nothing, your Excellency. I was just thinking for a moment.” “Of what?” “Of ... Lorenzo Valla.” The cardinal glared at the hated name, clenching his fists. For a moment he looked like a gnarled satyr. His beard, to his regret, matched the pagan image, which the rest of his person contradicted or tried to repress Attendants gathered around, hiding smirks or winking to each other, as Sandro went on, “Lorenzo Valla claims these letters are forgeries ...” “I’ve heard of that.” “And do you know what they’re saying at the Vatican? It troubles me, your Excellency, it really does. It was about Giuliano da Firenze ... You know how influential he is; the pope takes his word, on such matters. Now he’s gone and confirmed Lorenzo, just for the mischief of it ... out of his own hatred of God. Those scholars are trying to convince the world that holy old books like this are without value.” “Go on.” “That being the case,” Sandro continued, “he probably bought the manuscript for a trifle, far less than it was worth. And then, knowing that in your holiness you wouldn’t suspect such a worldly deception, the pagan said to himself: take advantage of the old man. He is (—I beg your pardon, but I know Giuliano and what he would say—) he is a fool. He can be trusted not to know the worthlessness of this ... old rag.” He paused, satisfied at the anger on the cardinal’s face. His confidence was now quite recovered from the reprimand he’d received earlier. He thought: the precipice is steep; but my footing is sure. This man can’t defend himself. I shall pick his bones clean. He was too cool-headed, himself, to feel any rancor toward Giuliano. These things happened; you did what you had to, to get ahead. The important thing, now, was removing the present danger. “Your Excellency?” an attendant stammered. “I saw Giuliano, just a moment ago.” “Here?” The cardinal’s brows arched cruelly. Sandro grinned. “That’s too much to hope for.” “I swear I did. That way. See for yourself.” They followed the servant to the side-aisle, a narrow lane of chapels whose ancient stained glass was darkened by soot. Unlit lamps hung from rusted chains far overhead, over a few forgotten, dried flowers surrounding an altar. There were long streaks of dust on the polished marble columns, which had been looted from pagan temples a thousand years before They found Giuliano sitting on a bench, long legs stretched before him, looking up at the frescoes with sketchbook propped on one knee. He turned at the sound of footsteps. The cardinal paused, then his voice rang out: “Giuliano.” “Yes?” The scholar rose slowly to his feet, dressed in plain brown doublet laced across his chest, coarse linen hose, and leather boots, without ornament. He stood looking quietly at the cardinal and his men: no submission, no humility, as though a scholar and a prince of the church were on equal terms. “Yes, your Excellency?” “I regret that I employed a man of your ... suspected ways, to obtain this book for me.” He motioned to the manuscript in Sandro’s hands. “I’m told you deny the value of this work.” “Any good scholar could tell you it’s a forgery. I tried to explain—” “And yet I could obtain a copy from Vespasiano, through you, only at great cost.” “Copying manuscripts, even worthless manuscripts, is slow work. It takes weeks or months, and painstaking care is necessary.” “Is that your excuse?” “My excuse for what?” “Do you still claim this work is a fraud?” “It’s obvious.” “Have you been truthful with me?” “What makes you think I haven’t?” It was Giuliano’s indifference that drove Vicenza to fury. Damn the man to hell! Why, he had been making popes when Giuliano was still a boy playing in the dirty streets of Florence! He said in a low voice, barely controlled, “Punish this disrespect. In offending me, he offends the majesty of the Church.” He turned and walked away, not looking back. “But ... what have I done?” Giuliano called after him. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” “You don’t need to have done anything,” a servant laughed. “Right or wrong doesn’t enter into it.” Giuliano stared, astonished, then saw that speech was useless. He edged toward the main aisle. “No, you don’t,” said a man, blocking his way. He was pinned against the outer wall of the chapel. There were echoes from other corners of the church, far away, but no one would help. He edged along the wall, heart pounding, but outwardly calm, facing the crowd that pressed toward him. Several of them drew knives. He recognized two men: Sandro Crepuscolo, the cardinal’s favorite, and Oddone of Viterbo, one of Giuliano’s subordinates at the Vatican. It was Oddone who cried, “Wait! What will the pope say?” Someone answered, with a laugh, “What can he say? Even the pope can’t raise a dead man.” They began to close in. “Where are you going, atheist?” “Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you.” He had placed himself before a narrow recess, flanked by dark drapery. It was an old side entrance to the Lateran, not much used any more. He felt behind his back, facing the men. Nothing. He moved a pace farther. Still nothing. He reached to the right, groping. Then his hand found the latch. He tried it, and felt it turn reluctantly under his fingers. Before the men could stop him he threw his shoulder against the door, thrust it open, and disappeared outside. “Come on, before he—” “Wait!” Sandro held up a hand. “Tommaso, Benedetto ... put your knives away, for the moment.” After all, he reflected, the pope probably would avenge Giuliano’s death, if it came to that. “I’m sure the cardinal will want to give us more precise instructions, now that he’s had a chance to think about it. Don’t worry about this Giuliano, he won’t go far.” “But—” “You’d better think what would happen if you angered the pope. Who’s master of Rome—Vicenza or the pope?” He gathered up his priestly robes (he felt like a fool in them), and led the way back to the nave. Their boots echoed across the inlaid marble floor. The old man stood waiting for them, in robe, cope, and hat of bright scarlet; calmer, now, but still with an air of affronted dignity. “Yes, Sandro?” He stepped forward, bowed, and started to explain. As he talked—the shrewd adviser now, no longer the obsequious servant—he did have time to feel something genuine and unfeigned. His hatred wasn’t for Giuliano. It wasn’t so much for the other attendants, the members of the cardinal’s “family;” most of them were indifferent to Vicenza’s values and were merely playing a role, as he was himself. It was for Vicenza, for Pope Nicholas, and for all the others who made the world what it was, that he reserved his deadly enmity. He felt a sullen anger at the lack of freedom this kind of life forced upon him. Well, he would see that his enemies paid for it. * ^ * It was too late. Giuliano had no sooner decided to send Caterina away, than he saw the men spread out from the steps of the Lateran, to either side, to encircle him. The cardinal came onto the piazza and halted within speaking distance. Attendants brought his white mare from the side of the church and held the bridle, waiting. Giuliano hoped there was still a chance to stop the fight. Before he could speak, Vicenza began: “Listen, Giuliano. I don’t want to know if you’ve wronged me. Earthly wrongs die away. I’m insignificant, I’ll dismiss all that. The Church is everything; and, as I love her, I compel you to answer. Do you make submission to her, and promise future obedience in all your deeds? Or do you count yourself her enemy? Whatever evil has been in your heart, that can be forgiven. Become a loyal and humble servant to her ... If you love her, you may go your way. I shall take your word.” There was a long pause, during which no one moved. Giuliano shook his head. “I mean no disrespect. But I prefer not to answer. His Holiness the pope is satisfied to employ me; what more can you ask? ... I don’t understand what you have against me. I’ve done nothing wrong.” The cardinal laughed. Nothing wrong! ... It was strange to hear the bitter sound, which rang across the piazza. Sandro thought: has there ever been such hatred? Vicenza had been forced to watch these men—the impious, profane ones, enemies of the Church, whom he wanted to crush and destroy—forced to watch the pope advance them, shower the riches and wealth of the Church upon them, give them honor and position. It was something to wonder at. What surprised Sandro more, though, was why it should matter to the cardinal. What made him like that? Sandro couldn’t imagine why a matter of principle should mean so much, to anyone. The morning was far advanced, the shadows on the piazza had shortened and were nearly gone. A small crowd gathered to watch. No one was likely to interfere, though, not even the city police, should they happen by: Vicenza was a prince of the Church. One didn’t interfere when a prince was dispensing justice. Caterina, in the shadow of the monument, had been watching breathlessly. Giuliano turned to her with a frown. “Caterina, please leave me.” “No.” “You don’t belong here!” “I’m staying with you.” He sensed that the time had come. Before she grasped what was happening, he seized her by the hips and swung her up to the base of the monument. As she grabbed the horse’s legs to steady herself, he boosted her up. He wanted her out of the way. He turned to hear Vicenza address his men: “Put your knives away. I will not have you kill him. Beat him, then drag him to Sant’ Angelo. I’ll answer to the pope.” The Castel Sant’ Angelo was a massive round structure on the banks of the Tiber, the fortress and dungeon of the popes. A brutish man stripped off his doublet, eyeing Giuliano. “He won’t be hard to manage.” He waved a hand and led the group as they moved forward. Giuliano retreated till he felt the monument at his back. “See, he’s afraid,” the brute taunted. Giuliano crouched and said nothing. “We’ll teach him a lesson. Come on.” But he had a surprise for them, as they sprang like a pack of animals. He was not, as they had supposed, unarmed. They didn’t see where the knife came from; but their leader felt it, as his arm was torn open. “Look out, he’s got a knife!” They fell back for a moment. “Oh, God ...” the wounded man moaned, clutching his arm as blood spurted through his fingers. He sank to his knees to lie panting, teeth clenched, in his own blood. Vicenza snorted. Wasn’tthat presumptuous of the scholar? He had offered him a merciful way out, a way to escape with his life. And Giuliano had rejected it. “Oh, God,” came from the wounded man, again. The others ignored him. Now, of course, thecardinal’s command not to use knives meant nothing to them. But, though set free of that restraint, many found an armed opponent not to their liking. They were secretaries, valets, hangers-on—the miscellany of people who made up a cardinal’s household. Most stayed back, leaving only three or four to face Giuliano. A stable hand was first to build up his courage. He crept forward, then jumped, knife extended. Giuliano side-stepped and hit it away with his own. Unexpectedly he moved in close, slashed at the man’s chest, and tore his doublet. A second attacker came from the side with his fists. Giuliano couldn’t turn in time, and was struck on the jaw before lunging back. The man retreated. Giuliano followed, caught him off balance, and shoved him into the first man. They fell back. Another lackey circled around the monument. Giuliano saw him coming. He struck out, missed, but movedaway as the other’s knife tried to find him. He kicked at the man’s knee, missed, then followed as he dodged away. Giuliano lunged at his throat. The man caught his wrist, but a line of red appeared across his face. He yelled, stumbling out of reach. Giuliano’s breath was coming in quick gasps. He glanced up at Caterina. She was still safely out of the way. The bronze emperor extended his arm over the scene of bloodshed, like a solemn admonition. “Don’t let him catch his breath.” “We’ll make him beg for mercy, your Excellency.” They came at him again. He didn’t wait for them. He darted forward in an unexpected direction, putting the leader between himself and the rest of the pack. He struck out, coming within an inch of the other man’s heart. Just as quickly he sprang back. A man with a sneer on his face came forward. They faced each other. Giuliano feinted, the man moved clumsily to meet the attack, and Giuliano landed a fist in his stomach. He was careful to keep the monument at his back, for protection. He leaped to the side again; now two men were coming at him at once. He was moving toward the nearer with his dagger when something struck the other to the ground. Caterina lay sprawled over him. She had leaped onto his head. What was she doing? She should have stayed out of the way! He was running to protect her, when he saw her kick the man in the face, kick him again, and stamp on his fingers to free the dagger. “Look out, Giuliano!” He spun around, almost too late, and caught the knife on his own, striking a spark from it. They grappled. Giuliano caught the man off balance, drew back his leg, and kneed him as hard as he could. Then he ran to Caterina’s side and threw an arm around her shoulders. “Are you all right?” “Umhm,” she gulped, eyes very wide. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” He drew her back to stand against the monument with him. The cardinal’s servants kept their distance. Three prone figures on the ground stirred, but didn’t rise. Giuliano glanced around in triumph. The air was still, pierced with sunrays in the dust that had been raised. The sun hit the monument. The arm seemed to be dripping fire: stretched out almost languidly, but with hidden power. He tasted blood in his mouth. With disdain in his eyes, he spat toward his enemies. No one said anything. He led Caterina across the dirt piazza, glancing back at the cardinal and his men. They didn’t follow. He pulled her cloak more tightly about her, he thrust his dagger into his belt, and wiped the hair from his forehead with the back of a hand. They entered a street of small houses and vineyards, turned a corner, and were gone. They had won. Copyright © 2013 by Bill Bucko Revised from the original version of 1972-1974 All rights reserved.
  2. Book: The Art of Robert Tracy

    People, this is good. Buy it! I just ordered the softcover edition, for $22.95. Can't wait till it arrives!
  3. Les Misérables (2012)

    I'm not a Verdi fan, but I love Puccini's operas and I admire the way the composer demanded his librettists stretch themselves and keep doing it over till they got it right--coming up with the most dramatic work possible. The brilliant dramatist Victorien Sardou himself, author of the original play "La Tosca," admitted that the opera version was BETTER than his original -- which it clearly is. But no Puccini has come forward, capable of even doing justice to Victor Hugo (much less improving upon him). As I said before: Victor Hugo created his characters, his way, in the quiet and solitude of his study. He did NOT create brash, noisy extroverts eager to bellow their lungs out to the balconies. Consider my favorite character, Éponine: A very young girl was standing in the half-open door. The dormer window of the garret, through which the light fell, was precisely opposite the door, and illuminated the figure with a wan light. She was a frail, emaciated, slender creature; there was nothing but a chemise and a petticoat upon that chilled and shivering nakedness. Her girdle was a string, her head ribbon a string, her pointed shoulders emerged from her chemise, a blond and lymphatic pallor, earth-colored collar-bones, red hands, a half-open and degraded mouth, missing teeth, dull, bold, base eyes; she had the form of a young girl who has missed her youth, and the look of a corrupt old woman; fifty years mingled with fifteen; one of those beings which are both feeble and horrible, and which cause those to shudder whom they do not cause to weep. Marius had risen, and was staring in a sort of stupor at this being, who was almost like the forms of the shadows which traverse dreams. The most heart-breaking thing of all was, that this young girl had not come into the world to be homely. In her early childhood she must even have been pretty. The grace of her age was still struggling against the hideous, premature decrepitude of debauchery and poverty. The remains of beauty were dying away in that face of sixteen, like the pale sunlight which is extinguished under hideous clouds at dawn on a winter's day. That face was not wholly unknown to Marius. He thought he remembered having seen it somewhere. "What do you wish, Mademoiselle?" he asked. The young girl replied in her voice of a drunken convict:-- "Here is a letter for you, Monsieur Marius." She called Marius by his name; he could not doubt that he was the person whom she wanted; but who was this girl? How did she know his name? Without waiting for him to tell her to advance, she entered. She entered resolutely, staring, with a sort of assurance that made the heart bleed, at the whole room and the unmade bed. Her feet were bare. Large holes in her petticoat permitted glimpses of her long legs and her thin knees. She was shivering. She held a letter in her hand, which she presented to Marius. ... Nevertheless, while Marius bent a pained and astonished gaze on her, the young girl was wandering back and forth in the garret with the audacity of a spectre. She kicked about, without troubling herself as to her nakedness. Occasionally her chemise, which was untied and torn, fell almost to her waist. She moved the chairs about, she disarranged the toilet articles which stood on the commode, she handled Marius' clothes, she rummaged about to see what there was in the corners. "Hullo!" said she, "you have a mirror!" And she hummed scraps of vaudevilles, as though she had been alone, frolicsome refrains which her hoarse and guttural voice rendered lugubrious. An indescribable constraint, weariness, and humiliation were perceptible beneath this hardihood. Effrontery is a disgrace. Nothing could be more melancholy than to see her sport about the room, and, so to speak, flit with the movements of a bird which is frightened by the daylight, or which has broken its wing. One felt that under other conditions of education and destiny, the gay and over-free mien of this young girl might have turned out sweet and charming. Never, even among animals, does the creature born to be a dove change into an osprey. That is only to be seen among men. Marius reflected, and allowed her to have her way. She approached the table. "Ah!" said she, "books!" A flash pierced her glassy eye. She resumed, and her accent expressed the happiness which she felt in boasting of something, to which no human creature is insensible:-- "I know how to read, I do!" She eagerly seized a book which lay open on the table, and read with tolerable fluency:-- "--General Bauduin received orders to take the chateau of Hougomont which stands in the middle of the plain of Waterloo, with five battalions of his brigade." She paused. "Ah! Waterloo! I know about that. It was a battle long ago. My father was there. My father has served in the armies. We are fine Bonapartists in our house, that we are! Waterloo was against the English." She laid down the book, caught up a pen, and exclaimed:-- "And I know how to write, too!" She dipped her pen in the ink, and turning to Marius:-- "Do you want to see? Look here, I'm going to write a word to show you." And before he had time to answer, she wrote on a sheet of white paper, which lay in the middle of the table: "The bobbies are here." Then throwing down the pen:-- "There are no faults of orthography. You can look. We have received an education, my sister and I. We have not always been as we are now. We were not made--" Here she paused, fixed her dull eyes on Marius, and burst out laughing, saying, with an intonation which contained every form of anguish, stifled by every form of cynicism:-- "Bah!" ... Then she scrutinized Marius, assumed a singular air and said:-- "Do you know, Mr. Marius, that you are a very handsome fellow?" And at the same moment the same idea occurred to them both, and made her smile and him blush. She stepped up to him, and laid her hand on his shoulder: "You pay no heed to me, but I know you, Mr. Marius. I meet you here on the staircase, and then I often see you going to a person named Father Mabeuf who lives in the direction of Austerlitz, sometimes when I have been strolling in that quarter. It is very becoming to you to have your hair tumbled thus." She tried to render her voice soft, but only succeeded in making it very deep. A portion of her words was lost in the transit from her larynx to her lips, as though on a piano where some notes are missing. DARE any of you assert that any of the well-fed, buxom ladies bellowing their lungs out on the stage pretending to be Éponine come within light-years of what Hugo intended?
  4. Les Misérables (2012)

    Victor Hugo created his characters, his way, in the quiet and solitude of his study. He did NOT create brash, noisy extroverts eager to bellow their lungs out to the balconies. It’s a difference of style. I don’t expect people to agree with me, since there are more lovers of Broadway than there are lovers of Victor Hugo. (And yes, I realize there are some who love both -- such as Betsy. But that does not mean that Broadway captures the essence of Hugo. It doesn't.)
  5. Les Misérables (2012)

    The characters in VICTOR HUGO'S novel do NOT sing (well, except for Gavroche). Excerpts I've heard of the musical "version" appalled me; i heard 100% Hollywood and 0% Victor Hugo. Artistically, this offends me enormously. I believe Victor Hugo himself would disown the musical, as only a few levels above Disney's desecration of Hunchback of Notre Dame What would you think of a musical "version" of Atlas Shrugged? Of The Fountainhead? Of The Man Who Laughs? Of Quo Vadis? There WAS a 1973 musical version of "Cyrano de Bergerac," worth hearing not for Christopher Plummer's interpretation of the title role (disrespectful), Anthony Burgess's "translation" adding existentialist Angst (disgraceful), but for Michael J. Lewis's music -- though that music is an ODD mixture, half of it appropriate for the original 1600s Cyrano's madcap antics, the other half appropriate for Rostand's exalted lover. Of the 5 film versions of "Les Miserables" I've seen, undoubtedly the best is the 1935 version starring Charles Laughton as Javert. All 5 versions were disfigured in various ways by pretentious mediocrities who thought they could "improve" on Victor Hugo. They couldn't.
  6. Where did Freud's Id come from?

    Freud's id was both a secularized version of Original Sin and medieval demonology, and a reflection of his own sick, twisted, festering soul. (As a child he wanted to make love to his own mother. He then proceeded to claim, without evidence, that everybody does.) As for Golding's Lord of the Flies, the claims made for it by its author are laughable. Golding claims it's a demonstration of Original Sin. But it's no such thing. Throughout its pages, his characters are shown choosing to originate their own actions--good in some cases, evil in others--not forced by some power beyond their control. Golding certainly wrote well (in a sensuous, anti-conceptual style) but he was not a very good thinker. At the end, the appearance of the British naval officer is supposed to remind the reader of the nuclear war, presumably involving Great Britain and Soviet Russia--who he, as a modern "liberal," apparently held were morally equivalent. As a Montessori teacher I spent over a decade surrounded by children, mostly 2-6 year olds but some younger and some older. Out of hundreds of children, I knew only one who I would say had developed an evil moral character.(hyperactive and aggressive). Most of the others almost literally glowed with virtue. I would even be tempted to say there's such a thing as Original Virtue; but of course people are volitional. What I think is true is that nature gives children a head start toward being virtuous -- read what Miss Rand wrote about infants, in "The Comprachicos."
  7. What did you think of the Atlas Shrugged Part II movie?

    I'm BOYCOTTING the movie (and recommend that everyone who values Ayn Rand do likewise), since its makers chose to make common cause with Objectivism's two worst enemies: self-admitted serial liar and sexual predator Nathaniel Branden and the unspeakable Barbara Branden, who has made a pathetic career of viciously smearing Miss Rand, becoming a real-life Lilian Rearden. [see the “bonus material” on the Part I DVDs.] Do the makers of the film not get it that Lilian Rearden was a VILLAIN, not someone to be emulated?? So I’ll wait until used DVDs appear on Amazon and Ebay. One man associated with the film, who appeared on Hannity yesterday (I believe it was the scriptwriter), hasn’t even learned how to pronounce Miss Rand’s name. In Part I they threw out Miss Rand’s carefully-crafted dialog and substituted embarrassingly inferior soap-opera language. And cluelessly shuffled several plot events, to give away the story's secret far too early--thus spoiling the original's incredible sense of drama, suspense, mystery and intrigue.
  8. The DIM Hypothesis by Leonard Peikoff

    I agree that Dr. Peikoff is a great man (or close to it); that is chiefly evidenced by OPAR, and the decades of study and questioning of Miss Rand, and systematizing, that he put into it. However, I have to admit that those who are questioning the DIM hypothesis have made some good points. Miss Rand once said that a novelist, while writing a book, necessarily believes it's the greatest ever written. Probably something similar happens to philosophers coming up with a new theory. The general principle, that how people integrate or fail to integrate affects the course of civilization, is undoubtedly true. You don't have to be a seer to grasp that civilization is deteriorating. But there are specifics, in The DIM Hypothesis, that are open to question in a way that was not true of OPAR. Still, given what Dr. Peikoff has contributed to Objectivism, all criticism should be respectful.
  9. The DIM Hypothesis by Leonard Peikoff

    The soundness of Dr. Peikoff's judgement of contemporary politics in America has been questioned. I have sometimes respectfully disagreed with him in the past; but I think my post shows that his judgment on a current life-or-death issue is light-years ahead of some Objectivists (or alleged Objectivists).
  10. The DIM Hypothesis by Leonard Peikoff

    My first impression, browsing through the book, is that the theory definitely has value. However, if a flawed view of e.g. the current political situation is put into it, the conclusions will of course be faulty. (May I say that I believe all criticism of Dr. Peikoff and his book should be thoroughly respectful?) From my own standpoint, Dr Peikoff does have the great merit of recognizing a CRUCIAL fact—which numerous alleged “Objectivists” have been evading, to the point of massive dishonesty and injustice on their part: to inject a personal note, their health care is going going to blossom with death squads [i.e. Death Panels] and that means they are going to very soon be killing off people like me who are over 65, so that becomes a personal reason. ...As some of you know, I have been viciously smeared as an alleged advocate of vigilante murder, by such people as Klaus Nordby, his “Checking Premises” gang, and (most appallingly) by someone who certainly should know better, Harry Binswanger. Based on everything I have seen of their writings, they regard obamacare as a simple, mildly objectionable instance of … socialized medicine. I, by contrast, have been screaming at the top of my lungs (on Facebook) that the crucial issue is NOT “socialized medicine” (which sounds almost innocuous). The crucial issue is: MURDER. obamacare = Death Panels = MURDER. When congresswoman Giffords was shot by a madman, I made the simple observation (which should not be controversial to anyone who’s read and accepted the philosophy of The Virtue of Selfishness) that Giffords was worse than the madman. Why? Because she acted to force Death Panels on my loved ones, and on a whole country of helpless victims, “legally” bound hand and foot ; she (along with her accomplices) will soon be killing literally thousands of people per year, for every person killed by the madman. As those who have slandered me should have remembered (but didn’t), Ayn Rand made the same point I did—it was on her expressed view that I was relying: “In fact, the private hoodlum [who gunned down two people] has a slight edge of moral superiority: he has no power to devastate an entire nation and his victims are not legally disarmed.“ [“Collectivized Ethics”]She was speaking there merely of Medicare, not of Death Panels! Saying that Obama and his accomplices in Congress (such as Giffords) who ACTED to establish Death Panels, are NOT murderers, since their victims will die of disease without their actually laying a hand on them, is like saying the Nazis did not murder Anne Frank, since she died of disease; or like saying Stalin and Khrushchev did not murder five million peasants whose food they took away, it was their own hunger that killed them.
  11. Rachmaninoff Biography

    That's good to hear! I hope they get lots of business! (Unfortunately, I am already up to my ears in music, CDs and scores ... more than I will ever be able to study ... so can't give such people the support they deserve.)
  12. Rachmaninoff Biography

    Sorry to hear that Liberty Music is defunct. Though I haven't been to Ann Arbor in over a decade; books, CDs and music scores that used to be hard to obtain and that required a trip out of town are now available online. NOT TO BE MISSED: 1st Symphony: - Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra 2nd Symphony - Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra; Previn, London Symphony; Boult, London Philharmonic 3rd Symphony - Previn, London Symphony 1st and 3rd Concertos - Byron Janis 2nd Concerto - Rubinstein
  13. Raphaella di Piero by Bill Bucko

    I hope I will be permitted to pass on this review by Objectivist businessman Peter Murphy: From opening scene to astonishing conclusion, Raphaella di Piero's ingenious plot riveted this reader's attention and provided 100% pure enjoyment! Mr. Bucko's comprehensive historical scholarship (detailed in an afterword section) engenders smooth, vivid transport into houses, streets and lives of late 14th century Florence - all while remaining properly as rich backdrop for the even richer insights and choices his timeless characters face. And unlike much modern fiction, there is not a single extraneous word, fact or idea here - just a flowing procession of rich elements (including some delightful poetry) efficiently building to climax and wonderful totality! Adolescent girls and boys struggling with newfound awareness of adult irrationality will find the lead characters especially inspiring, but this book deserves to be read by everyone who values integrity, independence, the human spirit, and happiness on earth.
  14. Is it rational to HATE those who threaten your loved ones?

    A firm show of manly resistance NOW, rather than cowardly appeasement--plainly showing those criminals in Washington that we WILL RESIST, we will NOT be “raped quitely”—isn’t that the best way to avoid violence (if that is your first priority)? Psychopaths like obama and pelosi, drooling for more power, will never be stopped by anything less. You will certainly not stop them by making excuses for them—by crying that obamacare was foisted on us by a “legally objective vote,” or claiming those who forced it on us are not criminals—as though perjury, sedition and conspiracy are not crimes, and they have a blank check to commit them! Would-be dictators take advantage of every sign of weakness, every failure to stand up to their depredations. Real Americans will FIGHT them, every step of the way. If you don’t care for my choice of words, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
  15. Is it rational to HATE those who threaten your loved ones?

    Thank you very much, evw, for your eloquent words. Since some people (innocently or otherwise) are misinterpreting/misrepresenting my views, let me set the record straight: The current political situation in America is one of extreme gravity: of aggravated usurpation on the part of executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. There are countless signs of this usurpation, including numerous instances of ignoring or bypassing the Constitution, and of rule by decree; to quote the Declaration of Independence,” all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” The most vicious attack against U.S. citizens is obamacare, surpassing by far the British “Intolerable Acts” of the 1770s. Its Death Panels threaten us with murder. Let us not mince words: they threaten us with murder. Strenuous resistance is necessary to avoid collapse into dictatorship (which is clearly the goal of the current president, a lifelong Marxist who consistently demonstrates a virulent hatred for America and for freedom). Observe that the current regime openly encourages voter fraud, and openly attacks state governments when they legitimately attempt to guard against it. Only one thing can bind us to the government in Washington: the Constitution that created it. But since the current regime in Washington has discarded the Constitution and the rule of law, in doing so they have absolved us of all allegiance to them. It is no longer a legitimate government but a gangster regime, in a state of unlawful rebellion against the U.S. Constitution. Its members are criminals, guilty of perjury (in violating their oaths of office) and sedition (in overturning constitutional government and making government our master, rather than our servant)—as well as, in some instances, a vast range of further crimes (theft, bribery, conspiracy, corruption, obstruction of justice,.etc.) If you need any further evidence of the regime’s attitude toward us, observe that it has forcibly divided the nation into two classes: the rulers and the ruled, the former who are exempt from Death Panels (as well as many other “laws”) and the latter who are even denied the right to appeal against Death Panels in a court of law. We must act as the Founding Fathers intended, and FIGHT BACK, to restore limited constitutional government. It is the regime that is in a state of revolt, not us. Citizens who respect individual rights are currently justified in resisting the gangster regime by all peaceful means: education, protests, attempts to vote the criminals out of office, passive resistance, a general strike -- above all by clearly and explicitly denying the regime the moral sanction it has so blatantly forfeited.. Its members have earned our righteous hatred and unstinting resistance. My principal means of fighting back, right now, is by spreading the above ideas. Toward that end, I support a number of organizations morally and financially: the Ayn Rand Institute, Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express, Americans for Prosperity, the Tenth Amendment Center, and Oathkeepers. The latter is a group of military and law enforcement professionals who pledge to obey no unconstitutional orders. In spite of the grim situation, I am optimistic. As Dr. Hurd stated a year or so ago, the age of big government is coming to a close: they are running out of victims. I am greatly encouraged by the economic slowdown caused by business owners, most of whom have not read “Atlas Shrugged,” “going Galt” to one degree or another on their own, as a natural reaction to tyranny. I have never advocated acts of violence against the members of the gangster regime. But I most certainly do advocate putting them on trial and punishing them to the full extent of the law for their crimes. They have earned harsh punishment indeed. I strongly support state governments that are resisting the imposition of obamacare, just as I approve of those state governments in the 1850s who acted against federal tyranny by resisting the Fugitive Slave laws. And I certainly support rights-respecting individuals arming themselves. We are not yet at the point where individuals would be justified in taking up arms against the regime; but we are not terribly far removed from that point, either. And the regime seems hell-bent on reaching that point and going beyond: they want no limits on their power. But as far as I can see, there is currently enough resistance to the regime to vote the principal culprits out of office next November – as the saying goes, “they can’t steal the election if it isn’t close.” If that does not suffice to remove the criminals, then let all good citizens “go Galt.” We have the means to, as Ayn Rand put it, “put an end to this once and for all.”