The Corniolo, when clothes do not make the man

For the contemporary walker, the Corniolo is a pretty little tree found in the glades of the pre-Alps. It is well known for its sweet and sour berries, a source of antioxidants and used to make delicious liqueurs. Yet, the Corniolo is "complicit" in one of the least cheerful tales in Western history.

The Corniolo tree, with its sweet and sour berriesknown to be a precious source of antioxidants, has a cheerful appearance: not very tall, it stains the edge of the pre-Alps with its spring yellows and autumn reds. Seen like this, it's hard to imagine what it has to tell us.

No Iliad without the Cornolio

Persians, Greeks and Romans used its smooth and compact wood to make javelin shafts, spears and arrows. It is a material that the Hellenes, lurking under the walls of Troy in the vague presentiment of having to abandon the enterprise, were very familiar. And when the ingenious idea of Ulysses spread among the camp, the eye of the soldiers fell o at once upon the expanse of Corniolo trees which covered  the Mount Ida. Although it was sacred to Apollo, the wood of that small red-berry tree had to be theirs, as soon as possible. In order to conquer Troy, the Greeks had to work it, polish it, and shape it into the most famous deception in Western history. And when at last it was introduced into the Trojan walls, the horse sent forth reddish gleams which were a warning solely to Cassandra.

The grisly encounter with Aeneas

But the tale of the Corniolo isn't yet over. It also affects another famous protagonist: Aeneas. For when, years after his flight from Troy, the hero landed in Thrace, he came upon its smooth wood. He needed its branches to cover an altar, now haunted by an obsession to gain the favor of the gods. But as soon as he plucked the first twig, a black stain of blood opened up on the dusty ground. Incredulous, he continued to tear, and a groan rose from the ground. It was the voice of one of his countryman, the voice of Polidoro. Sent by his father Priam to Thrace during the raging battle, King Polymestone betrayed his innocence and his father's friendship: he killed him to get the gold he had brought with him, even denying him a proper burial.  But as often happens in myths in the presence of such heinous injustices, nature takes over. The arrows that struck Polidoro's young body turned into the twigs of the Corniolo tree that Aeneas, unaware, had torn off, and the body remained trapped in the world of the living under the cheerful robes of the tree itself: the horrible image of human life deprived of its will, from which Dante took inspiration for the forest of suicides in the seventh circle of the Hell. 

From the Greeks to the present day, the Cornelian becomes Cornà

But for the unsuspecting contemporary walker, to whom the imposing tones of the Greek tragedyperhaps come only come as echoes of hidden scholastic teachings, the Corniolo remains a graceful sapling happily spread over the broadleaf glades of the Prealps, where it grows tenaciously and quite independently. Far from the imaginary world to which it was destined by the Greek and Latin poets, it grows wild in Mesolcina, where the Boldini winery collects the precious vitamin-rich berries to macerate them in grappa and obtain the sweet-and-sour red Cornà.

To get a taste of its full story, click here.