Sunday, April 29, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Gesualdo

Having studied music, I was a little familiar with the madrigals of the late renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, but somehow missed his backstory as a psychopathic murderer until I stumbled upon this New Yorker article, which unfortunately is not available in its full text.  Here are selections from the abstract:

On the night of October 16, 1590, a palace apartment near Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, in Naples, was the scene of a double murder so extravagantly vicious that people are still sifting through the evidence, more than four centuries later. The most reliable account of the crime comes from a delegation of Neapolitan officials, who inspected the apartment the following day. On the floor of the bedroom, they found the body of Don Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria, whom a contemporary described as a “model of beauty,” one of the handsomest young men of his time. The officials’ report stated that the Duke was wearing only “a woman’s nightdress with fringes at the bottom, with ruffs of black silk.” The corpse was “covered with blood and pierced with many wounds,” 

Lying on the bed was the body of Donna Maria d’Avalos, the famously alluring wife of Don Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa. Her throat had been cut and her nightshirt was drenched in blood. Interviews with eyewitnesses left no doubt about who was responsible for the murders. Gesualdo had been seen entering the apartment with three men, shouting, “Kill that scoundrel, along with this harlot!” The report ended with the observation that Gesualdo had left town. 

A prince being a prince, there matters rested. Yet Gesualdo paid a posthumous price for the killings. In the decades after his death, he became a semi-mythical, even vampiric figure, about whom ever more lurid tales were told. 

Gesualdo also wrote music, publishing six books of madrigals and three books of sacred pieces. He turned out to be one of the most complexly imaginative composers of the late Renaissance, indeed of all musical history. The works of his mature period—he died in 1613, at the age of forty-seven—bend the rules of harmony to a degree that remained unmatched until the advent of Wagner. There have been no fewer than eleven operatic works on the subject of Gesualdo’s life, not to mention a fantastical 1995 pseudo-documentary, by Werner Herzog, called “Death for Five Voices.” 

The origins of “Gesualdo fever” are not hard to discern. The lingering question is whether it is the life or the work that perpetuates the phenomenon. If Gesualdo had not committed such shocking acts, we might not pay such close attention to his music. But if he had not written such shocking music we would not care so much about his deeds.

Although, as the article notes, some scholars "reject[] the picture of Gesualdo as a 'violent psychopath'," he certainly has plenty to recommend him as one.  I know that these sorts of guesses about whether or not a historical figure was a sociopath are as ridiculous as the aspie's claiming that half the famous scientists from history had Asperger's.  But, I find Gesualdo to be a particularly fun historical candidate for sociopathy not just because of how well it explains his violence and flouting moral conventions, but also how well it explains the experimental aspects of his music, which have managed to sound utterly modern and cutting age in every time period.   The article continues from the above quoted selections in the abstract:

Many bloodier crimes have been forgotten; it's the nexus of high art and foul play that catches our fancy.  As with Gesualdo's contemporary Caravaggio, who killed a man by stabbing him near the groin, we wonder whether the violence of the art and the violence of the man emanated from the same demoniac source.  



92 comments:

  1. Each voice pulls in different directions.
    Guy could have been a borderline.

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  2. His wife cheated on him, so he killed her. Seems reasonable. However this might indicate high empathy. Because as a sociopath he would do it only if he would be able to gain something. Maybe he decided that this way he can regain pride, maybe he made a coclusion that other, non-sociopathic people would act this way. Anyway he had to leave the town, so he lost more then he gained.
    Oh, I should mention that I like your current blogging - "sociopaths and music", it gives a big plot for pondering, I am a music lover more or less.

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    1. I am not sure if they would do something only if they would gain something. I think it's more that killing someone has no cost - it is the punishment that comes with it that has the cost. This particular guy knew he would lose nothing by having these people slain, as it was very likely that he would not get punished.

      Also, never try to anger a sociopath. I know at least that I get quite vengeful - mainly because I think it is arrogant of the offender to think they can get away with it. So if I can, in turn, get away with a vengeful act then I am all the more likely to perform that act. "Getting away with it" encompasses many things, and not just direct punishment but also loss in social standing etc.

      It's interesting that this came up actually as I was planning to write a blog post later today about anger and an even which happened to me fairly recently.

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    2. That seems logical too, but still I don't know if I would risk killing someone even if I knew that I would be able to avoid punishment, as I imagine, he had a nice living place...

      But I never participated in a situation like this, so it's hard for me to tell how would I act. Right now I think that I would only murder someone if I wouldn't loose anything, but time while doing it and I would gain something by doing it. Oh, I forgot that all people are different...

      However I agree with what you wrote about vengeance. I am looking forward to read your blog post :)

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    3. It's a nice story you wrote there, I can recall with most of it. Maybe I control myself a little bit more, well it depends on situation.

      How would you imagine an emphat acting in a similar situation?

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    4. I think it hugely depends on the emotional levels & stability of the empath. For those that would have reacted in the same aggressive manner I think it would have taken the form of the following:

      1) It would have taken longer for them to get to the point where they would flip out.
      2) If they smash one item of furniture they would probably then have gone on to break more things.
      3) Anything they did during a fit of anger would be less calculated and thought out - less clarity to their thoughts I guess.
      4) They would actually have some sort of angry facial expression (which I forgot to mention in the blog post) - but because I did not feel it inside, so to speak, I did not look all angry and red-faced.

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    6. But in relation to #4 - I do fake a lot of emotions rather well. But I guess the point I'm trying to make is that anger is somewhat different for me. I don't know what it's like for other socios. But it is certainly different for me in comparison to other emotions in fakeability, and it is experienced in differently to empaths.

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    7. So the music man might be a socio then.

      As I recall while I am angry I feel the need to destroy everything around (but I can refuse) or atleast know how can I do it, also I start to think faster, better. Sometimes I feel like I am a little alien controling this body of mine, I think before I frown or say something and so on. Well but it depends on how angry I am, most of the time I just don't care or pretend to care if I really have to.

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    8. I read your blog, Julian. You sound like a little girl throwing a tantrum.

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    9. I read that young children have sociopathic traits, later they grow from it, while some don't. So aguess it's okay for a socio to sound like a child : )

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    10. Elicious - How wonderfully sexist of you :)

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  3. You touch us where we live, ME.

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  4. Does anyone know about the concept of "subtext"? I was thinking that aspies don't have it, all all. However, sociopaths have it a lot.

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    1. do you mean context, Monica? my father doesn't pick up on it. he has a lot of the traits of Alexithymia or Asperger's. so no picking up on tone or facial expression of others, or even verbal context such as understanding that "it" refers to what was discussed three statements earlier. and poor eye contact. he also insists he has no imagination.

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    2. Yes, Zoe. Subtext is the name of the theory, I think. I have not studied it for awhile but I always was fascinated by it and remembered it. I think we are talking about the same thing <3

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    3. Context, not Subtext.

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    4. Well, subtext means that people"get" things by picking them up. It is like a form of emotional intelligence. I have not studied it for awhile but the name is subtext *sigh*

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    5. Examples of Subtext in writing

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    6. okay did a little googling and i think i see. subtext is the underlying meaning, beyond the literal and would take into consideration intent, tone and body language etc., the overall context of the message in other words. you can't easily get the subtext if you can't take into account the context... the background of the message. the message alone really is meaningless. you have to consider how it is delivered and also what's missing... what isn't being said.

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    7. In other words, subtext involves reading between the lines. Not reading what people are literally saying.

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    8. so anyway, when i talk to someone, i not only hear what they're saying but there is this myriad of information, the tone, facial expression, body language that i'm also hearing and it's as hard to shut it out as it is to stop hearing. to some extent it still amazes me that not everyone sees these things, but they don't. i can only imagine that to them these body twitches and tone changes are a kind of background noise that gets discarded during prfcesssing.

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    9. i see we're all on the same page with respect to subtext/context then?

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    10. @Monica
      Can you help me better understand why you are calling subtext a theory? I don't understand that. How is it a theory?

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    11. This is interesting. The autism spectrum person (not aspie) I know doesn't get subtext easily. We can watch the same movie, read the same book, and it's like she only gets the basic story. She is also clueless when it comes to people too. Luckily she has my steady hand to guide her :-)

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    12. Elicious gets it. He is describing what subtext looks like. I studied subtext a long time ago. Someone should Google it and put some information up.

      I remembered it so vividly because it was so powerful and so true. I think it holds the keys for healing of damaged persons. I think the name for the damage is incidental. Only Western Medicine "names" and honors the name with such obeisance.

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    13. Mr Subtext 7:24
      Yes

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    14. this wiki link provides a good overview of nonverbal communication.

      studies have shown that only about 10% of communication is determined by the words used and the rest is nonverbal. i'm not sure subtext is the best term to use as it refers specifically to the underlying or implied meaning in words, and doesn't cover inability to read expressions and body language, tone etc.

      someone ;)

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    15. individuals with right hemisphere aphasia also have a tendency toward literal interpretations, as well as difficulty identifying relevant information, inability to identify body language and facial expressions, flat affect, issues with conversational rules, impulsivity and confabulation.

      me again

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    16. finally...

      difficulty with subtext then is an indication that something is up and the person may have autism. but it's a symptom rather than a root cause. if viewed as the key to healing damaged individuals you have to first identify the cause. is it illness stroke or injury, were they born that way, or are they new to the country/culture?

      there is also the range in between NT and Aspergers individuals who don't excel in communication skills and may have trouble with subtext. my guess is Aspies don't consider themselves damaged or in need of a cure. they may not be able to pick up on social cues but can solve problems and see the world in ways other people might not.

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    17. not to rain on your subtext theory, but people can and sometimes have to live without it, and may not wish to be considered damaged. with respect to personality disorders, you can be damaged and still a genius with respect to subtext.

      but it's an indicator that something may be off.

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    18. and one more comment. i've noticed narcissists can be really good with subtext but poor with nonverbal communication. sometimes they seem to pick up on it but dismiss it, and other times miss it. maybe because they are just too focused in on themselves?

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    19. Zoe, you never have to worry about raining on my parade. I am not like Dr Fomentile who tells people what they are like. I like to discuss theories and see how/if they apply to personal experience.

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    20. I can talk from my own experience. I was such an aware and perceptive kid. I could almost read minds. My Mal narc mother told me I was crazy. I was picking up on what I call subtext. I knew the truth of people. I could not retain in the face of my environment so I let it all blow away until I was just like she---- a stupid idiot.

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    21. she may have picked up on it too but preferred to pretend it did not exist.

      families are like mini cultures within the main culture and have their own unwritten rules and socially acceptable ways that depend on abilities and personalities and generation gaps.

      my mother once remarked that i spoke to her as if she was a child, and asked that i talk to her in the same way i talked to my friends. when i did, she had a hard time following, but it sort of worked when i slowed down and reduced the complexity of points being made.

      you learned the ways of the mal narc, Monica, because that was your first culture so to speak, but if that's not your true nature, you can learn other ways, that are more in line with who you are.

      i never once doubted what i was seeing and almost envy that you were able to adapt, although obviously that wasn't good thing. i didn't adapt but learned to kind of accept it as a kid and live with it, like you might accept living in a cage or prison of sorts. that actually enhanced my perceptive abilities.

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    22. you shouldn't refer to yourself as a stupid idiot.

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    23. Thanks Zoe. Yes. I snapped, one day. I didn't snap and go crazy. I snapped and went numb. Then, everything was like it was happening under water.

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    24. I guess, it is disassociation. I got a program for it by a Phd who cured herself of it. It is getting better but it is slow.

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    25. your mother was a strong personality. if you thought you had a good childhood and looked up to her, you may only now be seeing what was missing and not right. so accepting that it was in some ways a crappy childhood is going to be tough because part of you has a vested interest in maintaining the illusion. giving up the illusion is like erasing a part of yourself, a kind of suicide.

      if your mother was right, then it's only a matter of fixing yourself. if she was wrong, then it's impossible to fix anything, see?

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    26. I don't understand the last sentence, Zoe.

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    27. i'll use me as an example...

      my parents were really strong personalities. i had the option to live within their opinions and define myself solely from within that and take on their opinions, positions and belief systems. in many cultures that's how things are done. in such a case, if you have problems then it's only a matter of fixing yourself as your identity is clearly defined by family.

      by challenging their values and adopting some of them and developing some on my own, there is nothing to fix in myself. and i don't mean i'm perfect and don't have problems. but there is nothing to fix in relation to my family, their way is not my way, and while it is the right way for them, it is the wrong way for me.

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    28. so you say you're working yourself, but all this is in relation to how your mother was and what your mother did. at some point thought, the growth has to be not about your mother, otherwise deep down maybe you still believe she;s right and hold her values?

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    29. lol sorry for the typos... my contractor's coming over and i'm rushing!

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    30. Thanks Zoe. I will think about what you said. I want you to know that I think you are truly an independent thinker and they are a rarity. <3

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    31. I'm reading a book on BPD atm, and it goes into the cognitive and neurological difficulties that can occur with pd's. It's very interesting and shows that these issues are very complex, and talking therapy can only go so far in addressing them.

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    32. thanks Monica. good point El.

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    33. Elicious I am glad to hear someone who can think beyond traditional scientific or psychological ways. It gets frustrating how brainwashed people are.

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    34. How is subtext a theory?
      It describes a phenomena would be a better way to say it.

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    35. sometimes you just have to say fuck it and go have a beer :)

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    36. " Insight, the holy grail of many psychotherapies, is too often overvalued at the patient’s expense, prompting exploration and interpretations that disorganize the already brittle patient"

      from A Developmental Model of Borderline Personality Disorder

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    37. Dr Franklin Fomentile PhdMay 1, 2012 at 4:47 AM

      I agree.

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  5. Is the real monica there, not the imitation?

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  6. The real--Subtext is a fascinating concept. The fake Monica messes with people and is a jerk. That is how you can know the difference'

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    1. can i change the subject, or do you have email? I have some questions that are not relevant to today. i don't mind talking about it in the open, but others will try to make me feel small, and then i will want to bash their heads in and i don't feel like that today.

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    2. I use subtext when I speak because i am afraid to use the language of anger directly. it would come out very violent.

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    3. Subtext is picking up what is below words. Aspies can't do this, I think. That is why they are poor with social situations.

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    4. are you an aspie, monica? i'm being serious.

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    5. No, I am very social. I just think about this stuff in my down time :P

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    6. do you think it is possible for a person with the false self to love another for real? Without questioning it, or resenting having to give? This is my mind. I think people can sense there issomethig wrong with me. I have to lie.

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    7. Good question Anon 10:56
      I think the situation is complicated, but not impossible.

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    8. I think intimacy is very complicated. However, if you throw psychology away and all the multi layered crap that goes with it, intimacy might not be so hard.

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    9. "Very social" you say? How can you tell? You never leave your house.

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    10. One of my close friend says she finds it strange that I say I have intimacy problems when she believes my truthfulness about myself (to her, anyway) is very intimate.

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    11. Yes, intimacy is a multi-layered phenomena. Perhaps, it is like a blow fish with all those spikes. As I heal, though, it seems to become more understandable. The thing is you have to understand it with your heart. You can't get there in the ways that are proposed by psychology. It won't happen. You are traveling on the wrong street. You end up in the ditch with everyone else, so you are in good company but it won't work.

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  7. whose e mail do you want?

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    1. i want the one who talks about crying and "curing". I want the one who is truly nice, not just trying to have access for a sinister or very selfish end.

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    2. no forget it, i dont trust any of you

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  8. I think you'd be hard-pressed finding a 16th century Italian prince who wouldn't kill his cheating wife, especially if he knew he could get away with it. Doesn't mean all 16th century Italian princes are 'spaths.

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    1. What have you been up to, Wheatley? You disappeared off the face of the planet!

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    2. Abigail is back.

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  9. The forum is boring.

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  10. Why it is so slow in here like this?

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  11. I'm sorry, but I still don't see why Gesualdo is labelled a socio. Big deal, he killed his cheating wife and her lover. He knew he would get away with it, and it doesn't even sound as if he made her suffer much. A lot of empaths would do the same thing if they knew there would be no real repercussions.
    Besides, who knows how much was fact and how much was simply sensationalism. Who doesn't love a good, gory story about a young, handsome, musically talented prince that finds his wife in bed with another man and slaughters them both in a fit of rage... then goes into exile (of sorts) to write beautiful, mournful music for the rest of his days? It's all so very romantic you just know it would have made those 16th century women swoon. The added gore gives it an edginess that few people can resist.
    Besides, for all they know, the witnesses, investigators, etc lied. The cross dressing Duke might have taken the knife foreplay a little too far and Gesualdo might have just been avenging his beloved harlot... so much potential for juicy gossip. Lets face facts, life in the 16th century court would have been unbearably dull if not for all the gossiping, innuendo and fucking around.
    Facsinating character, though, M.E. and lovely music too, so thanks.

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  12. i wish dr fomentile would come back. he was the most interesting thing to happen to SW in some time.

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  13. From Paul Young to Gesualdo? Really?

    Alright, you're forgiven, but I've not forgotten.

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  14. Did I read this right- the duke was murdered in a woman's night gown??

    ...Yes!!

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    1. What a strange crime scene. I can only imagine what was taking place minutes before. Perhaps I'm missing something implied in the report? But, murdering your cheating wife was kind of standard practice for that era. I guess I'm failing to see how he earned such a wicked reputation.

      The report is vague and its hard to tell how pre-meditated this is. Regardless, this is personal enough that it could be seen as a 'crime of passion' Which could fit either a sociopath, or a neuro-typical, for the jealousy factor. I would be more convinced of his psychopathy if these were distant victims.

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    2. Yeah, the nightgown on the guy stood out to me too. Then I thought maybe he just grabbed the nearest item of clothing when the prince burst in

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  15. If you read Glenn Watkins' 'The Gesualdo Hex', not only does he place the double murder in social context ( it was "normal" for Renaissance-era Italian male nobles to kill their wives if found in such circumstances, to preserve honour) but the contemporary accounts Watkins provides of the Prince of Venosa's strange social behaviour (highly ego-centric, bored people to tears talking endlessly about music, which was his life-long monomaniac obsession) actually suggests he was on the autism spectrum, and not psychopathic at all. Remember that a cardinal trait of aspies is to have poor mood modulation including 'meltdowns' (apopleptic rages) and to bear long standing grudges)

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