10 April 2020

10 April

NEW - Jacopo Mazzoni – philosopher


Brilliant scholar could recite long passages from Dante

Jacopo Mazzoni, a University professor with a phenomenal memory who was a friend of Galileo Galilei, died on this day in 1598 in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.  Mazzoni, also sometimes referred to as Giacomo Mazzoni, was regarded as one of the most eminent scholars of his period. His excellent powers of recall made him adept at recalling passages from Dante, Lucretius, Virgil and other writers during his regular debates with prominent academics. He relished taking part in memory contests, which he usually won.  Mazzoni was born in Cesena in Emilia-Romagna in 1548 and was educated at Bologna in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, rhetoric and poetics. He later attended the University of Padua where he studied philosophy and jurisprudence.  He became an authority on ancient languages and philology and promoted the scientific study of the Italian language.  Although Mazzoni wrote a major work on philosophy, he became well known for his works on literary criticism, in particular for his writing in defence of Dante’s Divine Comedy - Discorso in Difesa Della Commedia della Divina Poeta Dante - published in 1572.  Read more…

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From Rome to the North Pole


Aeronautical history launched from Ciampino airport

On this day in 1926, an airship took off from Ciampino airport in Rome on the first leg of what would be an historic journey culminating in the first flight over the North Pole.  The expedition was the brainchild of the Norwegian polar explorer and expedition leader Roald Amundsen, but the pilot was the airship's designer, aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile, who had an Italian crew.  They were joined in the project by millionaire American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth who, along with the Aero Club of Norway, financed the trip which was known as the Amundsen-Ellsworth 1926 Transpolar Flight.  Nobile - born in Lauro, near Avellino in Campania - designed the 160metres long craft on behalf of the Italian State Airship factory, who sold it to Ellsworth for $75,000.  Amundsen named the airship Norge, which means Norway in his native tongue.  The first leg of the flight north was due to have left Rome on 6 April but was delayed due to strong winds until the 10th.  The first stop-off point was at the Pulham Airship Station in England, from where it took off again for Oslo on 12 April. Three days later Nobile, Amundsen, Ellsworth and the crew flew on to Gatchina, near Leningrad, the journey taking 17 hours because of dense fog.  Read more…

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Agostino Bertani – physician and politician


Compassionate doctor was Garibaldi’s friend and strategist

Agostino Bertani, who worked with Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi to liberate Italy, died on this day in 1886 in Rome.  He had been a surgeon in Garibaldi’s corps in the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 and personally treated Garibaldi’s wounds after the military leader lost the Battle of Aspromonte in 1862.  Bertani became a hero to the Italian people for his work organising ambulances and medical services during Garibaldi’s campaigns and he became a close friend and strategist to the military leader.  Born in Milan in 1812, Bertani's family had many friends with liberal ideals and his mother took part in anti-Austrian conspiracies.  At the age of 23, Bertani graduated from the faculty of medicine at the Borromeo College in Pavia and became an assistant to the professor of surgery there.  He took part in the 1848 uprising in Milan and directed a military hospital for Italian casualties. He organised an ambulance service for soldiers defending Rome in 1849 and distinguished himself by his service in Genoa with Mazzini during the cholera epidemic of 1854.  In 1860 Bertani was one of the strategists who planned the attack on Sicily and Naples known as the Expedition of the Thousand.  Read more…

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The Moby Prince disaster


Tragic toll of collision between ferry and tanker

The worst maritime catastrophe to occur in Italian waters in peacetime took place on this day in 1991 when a car ferry collided with an oil tanker near the harbour entrance at Livorno on the coast of Tuscany.  The collision sparked a fire that claimed the lives of 140 passengers and crew and left only one survivor.  The vessels involved were the MV Moby Prince, a car ferry en route from Livorno to Olbia, the coastal city in north-east Sardinia, and the 330-metres long oil tanker, Agip Abruzzo.  The ferry departed Livorno shortly after 22.00 for a journey scheduled to last eight and a half hours but had been under way for only a few minutes when it struck the Agip Abruzzo, which was at anchor near the harbour mouth.  The ferry’s prow sliced into one of the Agip Abruzzo's tanks, which contained 2,700 tonnes of crude oil.  The impact caused some oil to spill into the sea and a large amount to be sprayed over the ferry.  A fire broke out, which set light to the oil both on the surface of the water and on the ferry itself.  Within moments, the Moby Prince was engulfed in flames.  Although the loss of life was so tragically large the toll might have been much worse.  Read more…

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Giovanni Aldini - physicist


Professor thought to given Mary Shelley the idea for Frankenstein

The physicist and professor Giovanni Aldini, whose experiment in trying to bring life to a human corpse is thought to have inspired Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, was born on this day in 1762 in Bologna.  The nephew of Luigi Galvani, who discovered the phenomenon that became known as galvanism, one of Aldini’s goals in life was to build on his uncle’s work in the field of bioelectricity.   Galvani’s discovery that the limbs of a dead frog could be made to move by the stimulation of electricity sparked an intellectual argument with his rival physicist Alessandro Volta that he found uncomfortable. When he was then removed from his academic and public positions after Bologna became part of the French Cisalpine Republic in the late 18th century, Galvani was unable to progress his experiments as he would have liked.  Aldini essentially picked up his uncle’s mantle and was determined to discover whether the effect of an electrical impulse on the body of a frog could be reproduced in a human being.  His most famous experiment came in 1803, when he was given permission to test his electrical equipment on the corpse of George Forster shortly after he had been hanged at Newgate Prison in London.  Read more…


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