Workshop of Perugino, Study of the Head of a Youth Gazing Upward, late fifteenth–early sixteenth century.
Throughout history, people have often gouged out each other’s eyes, and they still do, only in secret. Through history, the plucking out of eyes then moves from life into literature and painting, where it still lives. As with Dante’s harpies, those winged monsters with the head and torso of a woman, and the tail and talons of a bird of prey, which feed on the leaves of oak trees where suicides crouch, where one such tree preserves the body of the jurist and diplomat Pietro della Vigna (1190–1249), who did kill himself by beating his head against the walls of his prison, but only after the Emperor Frederick II had ordered, Gouge his eyes out.
All right, an eye can fall out or someone can pluck it out, but there are cases of someone gouging out his own eye, or eyes. It happens in various delusional states, particularly religious ones. In 1876, Gastone Galetti works as a waiter in Vienna and Trieste, and, when he does not work, he visits churches to which he invites his friends and acquaintances and interprets the Bible for them. In July of that same year, 1876, Gastone Galetti is on his way to Herzegovina to fight the Turks, but he is arrested and interned. One morning, the warden is startled by an unusually loud prayer coming from Gastone Galetti’s room. On opening the door, he sees the unfortunate man completely covered in blood, his right eye lying on the floor and the left one hanging down his cheek. Gastone Galetti is immediately taken to the Trieste mental hospital, where he seems to have stayed until his death many years later. This unfortunate episode took place on July 25, 1876. By the end of September, Gastone Galetti’s eye sockets completely heal and Gastone assures the doctors that God had ordered him to do what he did and that he does not at all regret having obeyed God and that he hopes he will soon be able to see again.
Another known case is that of Albina Krota, who believed literally in the gospel according to Mark or Matthew, it does not matter which, because they both reel off the same horrors: and if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and if thy hand offend thee, cut it off, and if thy foot offend thee, cut it off (Mark 9: 43, 45, 47); and if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee (Matthew 18: 9). So Albina Krota gouged out both her eyes. Albina Krota’s wounds also heal quickly, but unlike Gastone Galetti, she is released from the madhouse as cured and as such, cured, she carries on roaming through the world for a long time, interpreting the New Testament to people. It is interesting that both Gastone Galetti and Albina Krota, in a state of total exaltation, often repeated, Oh, nothing hurts, nothing hurts at all.
The above is a selection from Dasa Drndic’s forthcoming novel, Belladonna, translated by Celia Hawkesworth, out in October from New Directions.
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