Saturday, 3 December 2011
The Temple of Diana - at Siena
A very long time ago a Duke of Siena wished to marry a beautiful young woman by the name of Laura. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant and was much sought after by many of the young men of Siena. She however wished only to play her mandolin and read the books in her father's house. She soon left the mandolin when her careful study of her father's many books gave her an interest in art and the making of beautiful things.
It might be thought that the Duke himself would prefer a more genteel woman for a wife rather than this artisan, beautiful and wise though she was. Yet it seemed that the more she made herself an artisan - to the shame of her parents who did not understand her at all, the more the Duke was smitten with her. He gave her father all kinds of offers in return for Laura's hand in marriage, dowries of considerable sum and value. To them all Laura refused saying that she preferred to marry only the man she loved and while she respected the Duke up to a point, she was not in love with him in the least.
"Surely his grace would prefer a woman with more pleasure in keeping her Lord's house and bearing his children," she said.
"Would you not wish to be that woman, the helpmeet of my days and the love of my life, beautiful Laura?" the Duke asked her.
"I respect my Lord and love him as a citizen should, but I am not in love nor do I wish to be an accessory either to a Duke or even a King," she answered, adding "I'm no good for that, there's a mind inside this head and I have too much I want to do of my own."
Still the Duke persisted, believing that she wished only to be wooed. He sent her flowers; she planted them in public gardens. He sent her sonnets, she gave them to her mother. He sent her fine jewellery; she gave them to her sister. He sent her a fine mandolin, she sent it back to him. He sent her dresses of fine fabrics, she sent them to his mother who said nothing, but smiled, for she liked the spirit of the young woman.
Now it happened one day that the Duke, coming home from hunting and having caught nothing came very near to falling from his horse and down the side of a steep hill. Should he have fallen, he would undoubtedly have been killed and it occurred to him that he had no heir to his throne. This thought filled his thoughts until he took himself to the house of the di Monti and demanded that Laura should marry him that very Saturday.
Laura was furious. She knew that until now the Duke had indulged her for he wished her to love him. But she knew also that his word in Siena was law and none dare oppose him. She was but one woman in the city and she could not resist the law of the city. So she shut herself up in her workshop and made many plans all of which gave her no satisfaction at all. She could not leave the centre of Siena for the Duke's men were everywhere and would not disobey him.
That evening, the Duke told his mother everything and she frowned. She liked Laura and she of course, loved her son, but she did not want any wife of his not to love him.
"I am the Duke of Siena by order of the King himself. In this city I will have obedience from all my subjects. Besides which I do her a great service marrying her into the ducal family of Siena. She will obey and I will have heirs to continue my family line," the Duke told his mother who shook her head and threw up her hands in despair.
That night, there was a new moon, the Maiden Moon as the Siennese called it. Laura struggled to sleep and so rose from her bed to work on her flying machine. She did several equations and wished she had lighter materials to work with, but her machine would not fly. It must either be bigger and so heavier or smaller and therefore too heavy to fly.
The Duke's mother quietly left Siena that night for the hills around the city and changed from her rich red velvet dress to a white silk shift. She would no doubt at all have been hung for a witch had she been seen, but she wore a mask of silver and gloves of grey silk. She was no witch but a follower of Diana, an ancient order.
Clouds drifted across the new crescent moon and veiled the woods and ancient mountains around Siena as the Duke's mother Giulietta rode her palfrey through a thick forest accompanied only by six women similarly clad in the pale colours of her order. These six women were armed and ready to defend Giulietta to their last drops of blood. In a clearing in the woods was a ruined building. A great hall, it's roof fallen in a long time ago let in the night jewelled with stars and the crescent moon. Through this hall, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Giulietta and her acolytes drifted, a faint breeze plucking tenderly at their pale shifts.
At the other end of the hall lay an antechamber through which the women went before descending a stone stair until they came to a high vaulted chamber that was lit by other similarly dressed women bearing lanterns. Giulietta bowed and took her place. That night many prayers were said to the goddess Diana whose pale crescent was once again in the sky. Giulietta's prayer was one of those. She prayed to the goddess to advise her, for fear that her son might do something he should later come to regret.
The following day, the Duke went out to hunt. He found himself a little way ahead of his fellows when a white hart appeared before him and ran away through the wood. The Duke blew his horn and pursued the hart. No matter how fast his horse ran the hart remained always in view but beyond his crossbow quarrel's reach. It is said that he went deep into the wood and what happened to him there is unknown but some hours later he appeared to his fellows. They had been searching for him for some time with great anxiety but he would say nothing only preferring to return to Siena.
That afternoon he proclaimed that all the woman of Siena should be free to marry who they wished and that his own marriage to Laura di Monti was off. Laura was amazed though grateful and recommended to Bianca Casareggio that she might persuade the Duke to marry her. Bianca blushed and thanked Laura. The Duke's mother visited Laura that evening and ordered a thousand ceramic tiles; diamond shaped with the crescent moon on a blue ground. Laura was happy to oblige.
The Duke of Siena was married that Saturday to Bianca Casareggio a lady of some quiet, gentle beauty. And the temple of Diana in the Wood was proud to initiate Laura di Monti that night into the order of the Goddess. That is why the crescent moon features in Siena, for quietly behind all the men is the order of Diana in the Wood.