Veleni palermitani ne Il Maestro e Margherita di Bulgakov

 

Di Antonina Nocera

Nel capitolo XXIII del  romanzo di Michail Bulgakov, Il Maestro e Margherita, quest’ultima, dopo aver  incontrato Woland, ricevuto il battesimo satanico,  conosciuto i suoi comprimari, il grottesco Begemoth con i suoi travestimenti  e le sue risate sardoniche, Korov’ëv e  Azazello,  viene invitata a una festa di ballo cui prendono parte personaggi eccentrici e a dir poco inquietanti. Questi si muovono all’interno di uno scenario che sfida ogni legge della verosimiglianza: uomini in frac  e donne in abito da sera che spuntano dalle cenere, nobiluomini coinvolti in curiose storie di avvelenamenti. Tra questi spicca una donna:

A Margherita stava accostando, zoppicando con uno strano stivale di legno sulla gamba sinistra, una signora con gli occhi bassi come una monaca, magrolina , ritrosa,  e per un qualche motivo, con una larga fascia verde al collo. Chi è questa…verde?  Domando macchinalmente Margherita. «Una signora incantevolissima e posatissima, » gliela presento: la signora Tofana. Era estremamente popolare tra le napoletane giovani e graziose, e anche tra le abitanti di Palermo , e in particolare tra quelle che si erano stufate dei loro mariti.  [….]

Così, dunque,  la nostra signora Tofana entrava nei panni di quelle poverette  e vendeva loro una certa acqua in boccetta. La moglie versava  quest’acqua nella minestra del marito , quello se la mangiava, ringraziava per la gentilezza e stava benone, Vero è che alcune ore dopo gli veniva una gran voglia di bere, poi si stendeva a letto, e il giorno dopo la splendida napoletana che aveva dato da mangiare al marito la minestra era libera come il vento di  primavera»

Quando  mi sono imbattuta in questo brano, ho cominciato a intrecciare una serie di associazioni mentali: Palermo…acqua tofana, l’avvelenatrice. Era chiaro che il riferimento bulgakoviano aveva smosso una casella della memoria. Mi è subito balenata un’espressione popolare palermitana usata  nei confronti di donne machiavelliche e avanti con l’età, di aspetto sgradevole :a vecchia r’acitu”, tradotto “la vecchia dell’aceto”. Somigliare o essere paragonata alla vecchia dell’aceto, insomma non era proprio un complimento, anzi un’ingiuria.

Da piccola mi chiedevo chi potesse essere questa signora che immaginavo piegata in due, con un bastone a sorreggerla, un naso bitorzoluto, una gonna lunga e logora e in mano una boccettina di aceto, di cui però ignoravo la funzione.  Da grande venni a scoprire  che la figura di questa donna era legata a una leggenda ben precisa che rientrava a diritto nei “cunti” della Palermo  misterica, quella sotterranea  di cui oggi sono visibili le tracce nelle carceri segrete, nei luoghi dell’inquisizione, nei vicoli , nei selciati che ancora oggi di notte si screziano alla luce gialla dei lampioni della città antica.  Non viene difficile immaginare la vecchia dell’aceto aggirarsi per le strade del Cassaro, di via Maqueda e dei Quattro canti. Prima di Luigi Natoli, della vecchia ci parla Antonio Linares, scrittore agrigentino nato nel 1804,  in una novella dal titolo : L’avvelenatrice  del 1836.

Giovanna Bonanno, la “vecchia dell’aceto”

In questa novella la protagonista è lei Giovanna Bonanno, l’avvelenatrice, autrice della famosa acqua tofana una mistura di acqua e arsenico che  veniva utilizzata per avvelenare i mariti delle donne oppresse da gelosie, prepotenze, violenze  Erano tempi di cambiamento, alla fine del ‘700, Napoli e Palermo capitali del regno delle sue Sicilie, si portavano ancora dietro i segni di un governo autoritario e centralista in cui i vecchi baroni spadroneggiavano a piacimento nelle città. Nonostante ciò,  l’Inquisizione ancora mieteva vittime: le fattucchiere e le maliarde come Giovanna Bonanno venivano punite con la morte.  Nella novella, una giovane fanciulla, angosciata da un fidanzato gelosissimo fino alla paranoia, si reca disperata presso l’abitazione della vecchia dell’aceto: “. L’età sua pareva quasi cadere col secolo  che allora era giunto all’86 , di sembianze orride, del colore del rame, con occhi incavernati e rossi come bragia.” A lei toccherà in sorte la boccetta magica.

 Giovanna Bonanno fu giustiziata in piazza Vigliena, oggi Quattro canti, nel luglio 1789. 

Resta da capire come questa leggenda abbia varcato il tempo e lo spazio e sia giunta alla lettura di Michail Bulgakov che la recupera e la rigenera artisticamente nella scena del ballo satanico. Il russo venne a contatto con la leggenda più antica, quella risalente a Tofania d’Adamo, antecedente napoletana,   considerata la prima inventrice della formula, ripresa dalla bella  e giovane nipote Giulia. Questa prima versione fu ritrovata  nel Dizionario enciclopedico Brockaus-Efron, (Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза и Ефрона) che riporta  la voce Ackva Tofana  (Acqua tofana)

In Europa la leggenda era nota a Stendhal e Dumas e molto probabilmente Bulgakov ne venne a conoscenza grazie ai suoi interessi di medicina e soprattutto agli studi di demonologia che si svilupparono dagli anni venti in Russia e che il padre, Afanasij Ivanovič Bulgakov, eruditissimo uomo, dottore in teologia,  apprese a sua volta da Jankovič, esperto di magia e leggende popolari.

Da lì a  Palermo fu un volo, come quello magico di Margherita.

 

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