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one hundred tragic heroes

A case for the Black Corsair (Tragic Hero #048)

"Men of the sea! Hear me! I swear by God and by the waves that are our trusted companions, and by my own soul that I will know no good on this earth until I avenge my brothers, murdered by Wan Guld. May fire consume my ship, may the waves cover us all, may I be cursed by the two Corsairs that sleep under those waters, in the abyss of the Great Gulf, may my soul be damned if I don’t kill Wan Guld and exterminate his whole family, as he has destroyed mine! Men of the sea! Have you heard me?" So does the Black Corsair swear in the first novel of the saga, my own translation. The pic is from the 1976 movie.

This profile is an homage to youth –probably mine! – and to adventure, and to a writer by the name of Emilio Salgari, whose two best known works are the Tigers of Malaysia saga, better known simply as Sandokan, and the Pirates saga, better known as The Black Corsair. Those are superb adventure novels, very much in the line of the turn of the century masterworks I listed with Rudolph Rassendyll. I maintain this is the best reading list in history: the first Sandokan novel was published in 1898, and the first  Corsair novel in 1900. Today, you will likely find them in the shelves of youth fiction: just declare yourselves young at heart and give them a try.
So who is this Black Corsair? Nothing less than an Italian nobleman with the elegant name of Emilio di Roccanera, lord of Ventimiglia. He is a handsome man, dark haired and with a short dark beard, dressed entirely in black. From the description, he has breeding built into his every fiber, from his "pale, almost marble white face" to his "carbuncle black bright eyes, of a perfect form, with long lashes" and I do not give you the rest of it because neither my Italian nor my English are up to the description. Captain of his own ship, called Folgore (" Lightning"), he is a pirate, or rather, he turned pirate just to freely pursue revenge against a man called Wan Guld.

This man, Wan Guld, was a traitor to his cause on a Flanders war, and caused  the death of the elder Ventimiglia brother. Wan Guld was paid for his treason with the plush position of colonial Governor in the Antilles. The three surviving siblings, knowing where the enemy has taken refuge,  turn pirate: the Red, Green and Black Corsairs are born, each on his ship, operating mostly as a privateers, and each bound on revenge. But with his own cunning, the rule of law and the power of the Spanish fleet on his side, Wan Guld has quite an advantage, and since his rivals must necessarily come to him in his position of strength –he is Governor of the city of Maracaibo–, the duels are unequal, and Wan Guld wins the first two, leaving the Black Corsair as the only survivor. With the burden of this revenge upon him, the lord of Ventimiglia is often described as grim, almost never smiles and is usually lost in his own gloomy thoughts.
The Black Corsair relentless pursuit carries as much drama and adventure as can be desired: sword duels and dangerous journeys, daring assaults and my very personal favorite: a ship-to-ship cannon engagement in the middle of a tropical storm. In all his dealings, the Black Corsair never forgets who he is, and as long as booty is obtained, his unruly crew follows him even when he insists in acting quite nobly: his second is a man called Morgan –yes, that Morgan– and his loyal followers are fellow buccaneers Carmaux, Wan Stiller and Moko; with those three, he carries of most of his adventures, and they provide a welcome daring perspective and teh required humorous contrast to their dark master.
But the Black Corsair's revenge tale takes an unexpected turn on the day he meets a hostage from a ship he has taken: a beautiful woman called Honorata Willerman, duchess of Weltrendrem. And his own oath is invoked as he discovers that, besides all that, she is also the daughter of his sworn enemy. Honor demands that he keeps his word, and so he becomes a terrible mix of the tragic hero and the romantic one: his own acts –his promise– carry his terrible consequences and he is full aware of them...
The Black Corsair was the original pirate for me –not charming Jack! – although I did gloss then, as I do now, the less charming aspects of his... profession. Read with older eyes, I find the world of pirates very much less... attractive than it used to be. You only have to read the tale of the sacking of Maracaibo by Howard Pyle and by Salgari to know which one is fiction, although the Italian author does not cheat on the blood. But I've cheated on this small profile, and I have not spoken of the superb drama and reversals of fortune that are the trademark of Salgari stories. Just in hope you will care to try it for yourselves: no spoilers.
  • Where to find him? Despite the lapse of copyright, I have been unable to find the digital text of the novels in English. The only language I've found them is in Italian, at this site, and the audio book of the first one is at this other site. This has made me happy, as I will have a chance to rediscover it in the original, but... Oh, well, go for the books: there's nothing like turning the pages anyway. The reading order of the saga is:  The Black Corsair (Il Corsaro Nero), Queen of The Caribbean (La regina dei Caraibi), Yolanda Daughter of The Black Corsair (Jolanda, la figlia del Corsaro Nero), Son of the Red Corsair (Il figlio del Corsaro Rosso)The Last Pirates (Gli ultimi filibustieri). But I only recommend the first two, as those are the ones I've read. As the story ends very satisfactorily, I fail to see the need to go further.
  • Where to find another side of him? Ahem. In English, go to Roh Press Site, which is very well informed. In Italian, a fine page to consider is Il Covo dei Pirati.
  • If you insist... It does not exist! This is a very, very obscure fandom.
  • The guy who looks like him... Yes, there are films, and in one of them classical Indian handsome man Kabir Bedi plays the title role (that's him). I am not convinced –there's that detailed description to consider– but I do not have a better option. There's also an animation series, to be avoided unless fond of parrots (!). Avoid also the Bud Spencer movie. Please.
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Oh, piratas...

Sorry, es muy pronto y aún no puedo pensar en inglés. Pero ¡hey! me gusta mucho el LJ!! Aunque yo, sinceramente, aún espero a Mark... (ahora SEGURO que ya sabes quién soy!!)


Re: Oh, piratas...

Je. ¿Mark Vorkosigan...? naahh. ¿Miles Vorkosigan...? Nahhh... ¿Aral Vorkosigan...? Mmhhh.... naahh, que es feliz consigo mismo. ¡Ya sé! ¡Ivan Vorpatril! ¡Eso sí es una tragedia!