The Discovery of Oedipus

Written by  Francesco Montanari e Giuseppe Malaguti

The Poggio Renatico estate in an 18th century manuscript.

We are in the library of an illustrious Bologna family when the host hands us a carefully preserved parcel. We open it and are deeply moved when we realise that we are holding a handwritten register dating from the 1700s (the author calls it a Summary), containing thousands of documentary references to one of the most famous Bologna families over a time span that dates back to the beginning of the 12th century. As far as we are concerned the register is definitely unpublished. Since we are puzzle enthusiasts, we call it “OEDIPUS”. In three volumes, it registers 3315 individual documents, the oldest dating back to 15 May 1116, and the most recent dated 21 January 1739. In addition to OEDIPUS, we are given a similarly dated manuscript, an Index of the Summary…Second Volume, which only seems to be incomplete as it contains all the names of the family in question. Both register and index are arranged in strict chronological order, and, in a letter “to the reader and heirs” the author notes that they were drawn up in two copies as they were associated with an inheritance to be divided between two families.

If any expert on the history of Bologna hears the names of two beatified men, a Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna, then Supreme Pontiff, and Ercole di Alfonso Lombardi, of Sala d’Ercole in the Municipal Building, they will immediately identify the Lambertini family as the main characters of this newly re-discovered, preciousregister. Thanks to the owner’s kindness, we were able to consult OEDIPUS frequently, thereby making an initial comparative analysis with what was available in the Lambertini Archive in the State Archives of Bologna (ASBo). This was all in aid of researching elements regarding the history of our village, Poggio Renatico, a centuries-old estate of the Lambertini family, which became part of the Province of Ferrara at the same time as the whole of the region Emilia Romagna became unified with the rest of Italy. It turns out that the Lambertini Archive at the ASBo contains only a third of the documents mentioned in OEDIPUS, in addition to containing over 300 that are not mentioned in the register, resulting in a total of over 3600 sources to be consulted: a veritable goldmine.

We then consulted the register to look for answers to two main questions we had. The first we decided on was related to the origin of the Poggio Renatico Castle. And this first piece of research has already yielded a nugget of information: the Poggio Renatico Castle was not built by the Guastavillani family, since they received land in the Poggio area as part of an exchange in 1301, but “in front of the Door of the Castle” which means that the castle already existed, and backing this up, the documentary results confirm that the family did not own land in the Poggio area until the end of the 1200s.

The second question that we put to OEDIPUS regarded a letter signed by San Carlo Borromeo and kept in the Parish Archive of Poggio Renatico. The letter was sent from Rome on 14 November 1561, and addressed “to the very Reverend as Brother Monsignor the bishop of Narni Vice-Legate our Lordship in Bologna”. Borromeo asks the Vice-Legate to get the Judge at the Criminal Court of Bologna to deal with a water problem on behalf of Count Annibale Lambertini and his brothers.

There were no documents referring to this in the Lambertini Archive, but there were actually eleven references to the matter in OEDIPUS in the three year period 1565-1567. They regard meetings held between the parties, the appointment of representatives, and approval by Ginevra, the widow of Count Cornelio Lambertini. These first inquiries are certainly very indicative of how valuable this unpublished register will be as an instrument to stimulate rigorous historical research in order to reconstruct the history and origins of our area. Along with its associated documents, OEDIPUS will certainly constitute a practically inexhaustible source of ideas for the newly formed Poggio Historical-Cultural Association which aims at researching and retrieving the history of Poggio Renatico among other things.

Finally we would like to conclude this brief essay by thanking the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara for giving us space in its prestigious magazine, and hoping that we will be able to repeat the experience in the near future to share with the general public any further findings resulting from OEDIPUS.