A couple of year’s ago, at a Bloomsday reading I was enthralled at the idea that the ever-prescient James Joyce had foreseen Berlusconi’s arrival and his friendship with Karima al Mahroug aka Ruby .
Berlusconi appears in Ulysses as the Commendatore Bacibaci Beninobenone, the doyen of the Friends of the Emerald Isle. The indication is almost explicit apart from the mistake in his title – Berlusconi is cavaliere not commendatore (a few rungs higher). But he is or would like to be full of kisses (baci) and for him everything is fine (benino) or even better (benone). Even the Friends of the Emerald Isle is full of significance (if you, like Joyce, have a dirty mind). FOTEI is the passato remoto of fottere (in Triestino as Joyce wrote Ulysses in Trieste, of course, which abhors double consonants), translated more or less politely as “I have screwed”.
As for the object of the verb, we have the reference in a book which Leopold finds Molly reading a book entitled
Ruby: the Pride of the Ring. Hello. Illustration. Fierce Italian with carriagewhip. Must be Ruby pride of the on the floor naked. Sheet kindly lent. The monster Maffei desisted and flung his victim from him with an oath. Cruelty behind it all. Doped animals. Trapeze at Hengler's. Had to look the other way. Mob gaping. Break your neck and we'll break our sides. Families of them.
Berlusconi’s parties did not reveal any sado-masochistic pastimes (apart from a girl apparently dressed up as Ilda Boccassini, the prosecutor in the Ruby case), but a circus they certainly are as is the rest of the political scene. The double meaning of “ring” is something that B himself would appreciate but rather more crudely, and the “doped animals” are, I suppose, the longsuffering Italian electorate who are part of the spectacle. There are plenty of illustrations on the cellphones of the girls who took part in the parties and you can take your pick of who plays the “fierce Italian with the carriagewhip” or the “monster Maffei”. It could be the three defendants in the parallel Ruby case against the alleged organisers of the prostitution ring. Another performer in the circus is “Leo ferox, the Libyan maneater”, surely a reference to B’s erstwhile friend Qaddafi, who, according to Berlusconi introduced him to bunga-bunga. There is even a sinister reference to the end of Qaddafi “Block tackle and a strangling pulley will bring your lion to heel, no matter how fractious”
The conclusive proof that Joyce was referring to Berlusconi is in the passage where the members of the FOTEI have a fight (over whether St. Patrick’s day should be 8 or 9 March – after a major battle, they compromise on 17), the Commendatore is extricated from the wreckage and his “his legal adviser Avvocato Pagamimi” (a clear reference to his lawyer Nicolò Ghedini) gives “several hundred gold and silver watches” to the assembled company, a reference to Berlusconi’s habit of distributing Rolexes to friends and followers.
A couple of days after Bloomsday, Rupert Murdoch’s Irish Sun took advantage of the G8 north of the border to run their story, a scoop, they said, that Silvio Berlusconi is under investigation by the Garda for possible tax evasion. If that leads to a trial, we might have more Berlusconi in Ireland.