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May 11, 2011 at 02:34 PM
The late Raffaele Bendandi
Many Italians are not particularly fond of their Roman brethren and one long-standing  in-joke is that the SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus, or "the Senate and the people of Rome") that the ancient Romans wrote on everything remotely public really means "Sono Porci Quei Romani" (Those Romans are Pigs).  If you consider the earthquake fear that in the last few weeks has affected a good part of the city's population, you might think it means "Sono Pazzi quei Romani" (those Romans are crazy).

Yes, indeed. For weeks now many Romans, especially those prone to superstition have been quaking in their boots because of a prediction made almost a half a century ago by an erstwhile seismologist that TODAY, May 11, 2011, Rome will be razed to the ground by one of the most massive earthquakes ever. Never mind that the city is not built on any major geological fault nor is it at the center of an area of frequent or significant seismic activity. There was, nevertheless,  spiralling fear. I myself heard these concerns expressed primarily whenever I was at the hairdresser. But I read in the press that for weeks now the phones have been ringing off the hook in the offices of Italy's Civil Protection office with requests for clarification or instructions as to protection.

In recent days, the city government  finally stepped in with attempts to quell the fears that reportedly have led some people to leave the city or plan to keep their children out of school for the day. The city phone number, 060606, prepared a set of answers to anyone phoning in to express fears or other concerns, explaining that the astronomer Raffaele Bendandi's prediction has no basis in science. The president of the Roma province  cancelled all out of town appointments to make it clear with his presence that there is nothing to fear. And Lazio governor Renata Polverini has done more or less the same.

Bendandi, who died in 1979, was a self-taught scientist who believed that earthquakes had to do with the gravitational pull exerted on the earth's crust by the moon in the same way that tides are affected by it. His idea was that gravity shifted the geographic poles, producing an "equatorial swelling" that to his mind may have caused the destruction of Atlantis and somewhat later the Flood of which the Bible speaks.

Regarding more recent times, he claimed to have predicted, although not publicly, a 1915 earthquake in the Marsica area of the Abruzzo, and then in 1924 was hailed by Italy's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera (so much for Italian journalism) as "the man who can predict earthquakes" when a quake he predicted on Senigallia in the Marche region on January 2 of that year did occur, although two days later. He subsequently developed an international reputation even though his alleged discovery of several new planets was never corroborated by anyone else. He also claimed to have predicted the 1976 earthquake in Friuli, saying that no one had heeded his warnings.

The "La Bendaniana" association of his followers have said that it is not true that a May 11 earthquake was among his 160 odd predictions of earthquakes throughout the world. But never mind. Some people clearly prefer to be frightened and hopefully they won't be too disappointed when today passes and Rome is still standing.

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