The Shame of Motley

Being the memoir of certain transactions in the life of Lazzaro Biancomonte, of Biancomonte, sometime Fool of the Court of Pesaro

Publication date: 1908

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We know that the novel opens in 1497 through its connections with a number of events attested in other sources.  We also are told explicitly that Chapter I begins in January.  But on what day?

We have only two clues:  When Lazzaro and Paolo are at Cagli, some of the residents are at Pesaro for the Feast of the Epiphany [Chapter IV], and when they leave Fossombrone later that evening "a moon rode at the full" [Chapter V].  But Epiphany at the time was celebrated from January 6 to January 13, and the full moon occurred early in the evening of January 18.  How can this be?

Could the landlady of the Full Moon inn simply have been making excuses for the lack of men?  This seems unlikely, since Lazzaro would have known perfectly well when the feast took place.

Here is a proposed solution.  January 13, the last day of the feast, was a Friday.  Obviously travel on Friday the 13th was not to be thought of, and quite possibly the men desired to stay through Sunday just to be certain.  Suppose Lazzaro and Paolo visited Cagli on Monday evening and that the men of Cagli—starting their travel that very day—had not yet arrived.  The moon seen by Lazzaro would then have been less than two days from full, quite close enough to be described as full.

If we date the visits to Cagli and Fossombrone to Monday, January 16, then the novel opens in Rome on January 13.

(Had the novel been set more recently, it would be easy to conclude that after the Feast of the Epiphany the men of Cagli simply extended their vacation through the long weekend of Martin Luther King Day.  But Martin Luther King was not even born at the time.  Indeed, Martin Luther himself was only thirteen years old.)

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Copyright © 2007 Larry Denenberg