The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees


Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

Battista and the young Count d’Estomac leave just in time to escape capture by the Republican Army, and Ombrosa sets up a government in the French style. Cosimo joins the provisional council despite many still believing he’s mad, but Cosimo’s wonderful work of the time, a plan for a constitution for a republican city, is never considered. Once the people set up a new Republic, Cosimo isn’t a part of the administration. He spends most of his time in the woods with the French Army’s Engineer Corps, which builds a road. They tell stories at night and during the day, Cosimo helps them plan a road that works best for French artillery and for the needs of towns without roads.
Cosimo’s choice to go work with the Engineer Corps and specifically, the aside that he helped them to help towns without roads shows again that Cosimo cares, more than anything, about helping others. Specifically, getting these towns roads means that those towns will be able to connect with the wider world—and in that sense, they’ll be able to engage more easily with the flow of ideas that led to the French Revolution in the first place.
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Resentment for the troops grows, so Cosimo points out that they at least are funding the road. Napoleon’s men take animals and taxes, and they introduce conscription. Young men hide in the woods, and Cosimo helps by guarding released livestock and keeping a lookout. In all ways he tries to defend the people from Napoleon’s abuses. “Bearded outlaws” begin to make life difficult for the French and Cosimo, feeling as though he has to be loyal to the French, does little in support of either side. This is also because he’s getting old.
At this point, it becomes difficult for Cosimo to separate his ideals from the group that initially espoused those ideals, hence why he never really denounces Napoleon. This shows that Cosimo is still focused on a time period that, even now, doesn’t exist anymore—the Enlightenment is over, and individuals like Napoleon are corrupting those ideas for their own gain.
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After being crowned in Milan, Napoleon travels in Italy. The Ombrosotti arrange for him to visit Cosimo, and they choose a beautiful walnut tree and decorate it with ribbons. Napoleon arrives hours after the appointed time and begins to speak several times, but he moves around so that Cosimo blocks the sun from his eyes. Cosimo politely asks if he can do something for Napoleon, and Napoleon turns to a viceroy and says that this is just like something he’s experienced before. Cosimo pipes up that this is just like the meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes in Plutarch’s Alexander the Great, but Cosimo points out a slight difference. Napoleon says in Italian that if he weren’t himself, he’d like to be Cosimo. He leaves, but never bestows any honors on Cosimo. Cosimo doesn’t care, but Biagio says the family would’ve been pleased.
When Cosimo and Napoleon discuss having both read Plutarch, it makes the case that these are both educated and enlightened men, even if Napoleon is now abusing his power. Biagio’s aside that the family would’ve been happy had Napoleon honored Cosimo shows that the di Rondò family as a whole still accepts Cosimo and wants to see their family do well in the eyes of others. An honor from Napoleon would’ve also helped Cosimo seem more like one of the group, rather than the rebel who took to the trees.
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