Well, well... several days ago I arrived safely at the next farm on my itinerary, in Castropignano (Castrum Expugnatum), Molise. Mario and Carmela have a bunch of sheep, maybe 200; I've taken them out to the meadows twice so far. This is real shepherding: strolling down tiny roads and turning onto overgrown dirt trails, the sheep strung out behind in a great white, rolling mass, or coming home at the end of the day along the "shortcut," a dry streambed, as thick fog settles over everything and you think that people will speak your name in whispered tones around campfires for centuries to come... looking out from the pastures, I can see the towns all around, perched on hilltops: Frosolone, Torella del Sannio, Castropignano itself. Today we went out along a stretch of tratturo, the system of transhumance trails that used to crisscross Italy, predating even the Samnites and Romans. Only in Molise are substantial sections of these ancient highways preserved, and even fewer of those are actually used for the movement of animals. I generally go out around noon and stay the whole afternoon, affording me the opportunity to do a lot of reading. It turns out by felicitous coincidence that Mario's father Pietro Borraro was Lucanian historian, so there are a lot of very interesting books to be found here. At the moment, though, I'm making my way through one of the books I recently purchased, Safinim -- actually the acts of a convention held in 1992 on the Samnites and the Table of Agnone.
I bought it at the archaeological museum in Isernia three days ago. When I left Giovanni's farm, I took the train from Boiano to Isernia, the ancient Aesernia, and checked out the museum. Their claim to fame seems to be the so-called Homo aeserniensis, although no human remains have been found -- only evidence of a 400,000-year-old human encampment, with elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and lion bones, along with other less exotic things. I much preferred the lapidary section, where there are housed many fine inscriptions and some fabulous relief sculpture, including a bit of a funerary monument decorated with a naval battle. (Pictures from the last several months should be appearing over the next week or so... ) I saw some other ancient traces around the town: the cathedral is built directly over the foundation of a Roman temple, for instance.
Later that day I took the train to Venafro, ancient Venafrum, but I have to say it left me disappointed, at least coming from Isernia. The museum had a no photography policy, but there truthfully wasn't all that much to photograph in the first place. Just a couple of inscriptions (besides a nice big one on the regulation of aqueducts), plus many fragments of frescos, which, although nice enough, weren't spectacular. I guess I've grown picky when it comes to antiquities. There is more to say, but for now it's time to sleep. A hundred thank-yous to all of my correspondents, keeping me informed via letters and e-mail.