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France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome

The Roman Empire at its peak. Rome, via dei Fori Imperiali

Rome’s legacy is greater than we think – “language, literature, legal codes, government, architecture, engineering, medicine, sports, arts, etc.” – and the Roman Empire has been a powerful myth in the course of the centuries.

After Rome’s fall in 476 CE, the Holy Roman Empire, thus called since 962 CE, started to develop in 800 CE when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne in Rome as ‘Emperor and Augustus of the Romans’.

Such Empire, Frankish, Germanic (and later Austrian, dissolved in 1806 only) considered itself as the heir of the “First Rome” (the Western Roman Empire,) while the Hellenized Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, was called the “Second Rome” and remained unconquered until 1453 CE.

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When also Byzantium (Constantinople) fell, even the Islamic conqueror Ottoman Mehmed II thought he was continuing the power (and idea) of Rome and tried to “re-unite the Empire” although his march towards Italy was stopped in 1480 CE by both the Papal and Neapolitan armies.

After the fall of the Second Rome someone began to refer to Moscow as the “Third Rome“, since the Russian Tsars felt they were the inheritors of the Byzantine Empire’s Orthodox Christian tradition.

[2014 update: allow us to remind that the sovereigns of the two great continental empires dissolved in WWI, the German and the Russian, both bore the name of Kaiser and Tsar, id est Caesar.

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So many heirs of Rome! Seems like a futile historical game.

It is not.

Let us see how other nations went on claiming the Roman heritage.

The Victorians, the Italians and the USA

Benito Mussolini. Wikimedia. Public Domain

The British Victorians, for example, who felt they were somewhat the spiritual successors of the Romans.

Or both the Italian patriots, who unified Italy, and later the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

They felt like the heirs of ancient Rome and the creators (again) of a “Third Rome”: after the capital of the Pagan world – they argued – and after the capital of Catholicism, Rome was now to become the capital of a totally New World.

A disproportionate idea, without a doubt.

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And the Americans? They also like today to find similarities between their might and the superpower of the ancient times (try to google America, new, Rome: you’ll get an interesting number of results.)

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We will though today talk about France (skipping Spain for the sake of brevity.)

Can’t France in fact lay claims as well?

The First French Empire

France inherited many elements from Rome, after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar: language, food habits, behaviours, genes, technologies and a fundamental aestheticism, among the rest.

We have already mentioned the connection between Charlemagne and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. Less obvious are similarities like that between the French Foreign legion and the Roman legions as for training, combat habits, management of terrain (construction of roads etc.) and so on.

Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Wikimedia

Much more significant though is the state tradition of Rome which, according to some scholars, has been preserved in the French monarchic centralism and in the state national spirit of the French people.

The person who shaped this centralism (later continued by Napoleon) was probably Louis XIV (1638 –  1715, see image above,) one of the greatest kings ever. He was called the Sun King (le Roi Soleil) and was associated with Apollo Helios, the Greco-Roman god of the Sun. He also encouraged classicism in the arts and Voltaire compared him to the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Other great personages such as Napoleon Bonaparte (or even Charles de Gaulle, why not) bear the traces of the Roman heritage. Napoleon was inspired first by the Roman Republic. Roman-like, he became First Consul of the French Republic.

Then, after receiving the crown from Pope Pius VII (in Paris, this time) on December 2 1804, he became Emperor of the French people and encouraged a classicist Empire style in architecture, decorative arts, furniture and women’s dresses based on Ancient Hellenic attire (see below,) a style soon popular in most parts of Europe and its colonies.

Napoleon identified himself with Caesar, was continuously studying his works and succeeded in becoming one of the greatest generals ever, like Caesar and Alexander.

Empire silhouette Dresses. 1804. Metropolitan M. of Art. Fair use

Two dresses, ca. 1810. Courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org

The French and the Italians.
Who Envies Who?

Antonio Gramsci, in Notebook IX of his Prison Notebooks, reflects on some words written by Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) in Histoire d’un crime:

“Every man of heart has two fatherlands in this century: the Rome of the past and the Paris of today … This ancient fatherland – Gramsci argues – associated with the modern one supposes that France is the heir of Rome. Something that was said, and is especially said, today, to displease no small number of people.”

Well, something said to displease whom? Our philosopher probably referred mainly to the Britons and to the Italians.

Focusing on the Italians, one can wander and wonder with Gramsci whether a real francophilia ever existed in our country (Notebook XXVIII.)

France was always admired in Italy – Gramsci observes. France meant the French Revolution, the participation of a large share of the population to the political cultural and state life, it meant a decorous parliamentary activity and many other things that the young Italian state could not exhibit. The Italian francophiles have often concealed a strong dislike and a substantial envy.

I would add that some envy is also felt today by our French cousins when they behold our historical richness, the beauties of our towns etc.

This envy surfaces every time we do something better: with soccer, Ferrari, with the world-wide diffusion of our cuisine & fashion – and so forth.

But let us do ourselves a favour. Let us be honest.

If the French may envy us, we envy them more.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Related posts:

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When West / North Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog, manofroma.wordpress.com, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

76 responses »

  1. Wonderful history lesson… I always admired that map when I am in Roma. They say the territory was even greater than they once thought. tanti saluti! Joe

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  2. @Joe

    Thanks Joe. Happy you popped in. I’ll check what you are telling me. Saluti!

    Reply
  3. Paul Costopoulos

    Romane Homine, ave,
    L’héritage de Rome, en effet, demeure parmi nous. Nos langues romanes et notre amour de la bonne chaire, de la musique et de la culture, en générale, nous viennent de la Rome antique, avec une petite contribution d’Athènes, bien sûr.
    The Mussolini photo is well chosen, it changes from the military ones we usually see. Did you know that in what is called Little Italy in Montreal, there is an Italian Catholic church, La Madonna de la Diffesa, where, on the domed ceiling, Mussolini is painted amid angels sitting on a horse and in full miltary regalia? From 1940 to 1946, the painting was covered by a piece of cloth. For history, and art sake it is now visible to all.

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  4. @Paul

    Mon cher amis canadien, vous avez bien décrit l’héritage romain que nous partageons, a part la petite contribution d’Athènes, pas de tout petite, en vérité.

    Car, if Rome didn’t meet Greece and Hellenism in its way (discovering beauty, yes, but also science and technology) this city would have probably been wiped out by the barbarians.

    And you are both Greek and Roman (French)! I really have to thank the Commentator for the pleasure you are giving me!

    What you are saying about that painting amuses and surprises me. It is interesting this behaviour of my fellow countrymen abroad. Yes, now that these political passions fortunately belong to the past, such things should be preserved for the generations to come.

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  5. We taught them how to cook. Why should we envy them? LOL Of course I don’t know if this is really true, but I read it somewhere and I suspect it is ;)
    Life, to me, is about gathering around the table, you see. We have our priorities in order around here.
    xox

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  6. @Maryann

    Ah ah, well yes, wonderful priorities, I agree! Plus I think you are right. Until the Renaissance and later the Italians were influential in Europe. Caterina dei Medici from Florence, becoming Queen of France, took her chefs there who taught Paris the art of good food, it seems. The Commentator wrote an interesting post about it:

    *The Florentine Factor in French cuisine*

    The French have today another Italienne, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the First Lady. Wonder what will happen (she seems a decent and nice person: saw a TV interview recently.)

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  7. Paul Costopoulos

    Right, Italian cuisine is at the root of French cuisine…but Pasta came from China via Marco Polo. I’ll have vitello picatta al limone anytime.

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  8. @Paul

    Who invented pasta? The Chinese? The Greeks? The Romans? The Arabs? The Jews? The Italians?

    I’d have an Arabic cake with French Pastis or Ricard anytime.
    I have experienced the sweet francophonie de Tunis and I cannot forget it.

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  9. The gods gave us pasta! I thought that was a known fact! ;)

    MoR: Weird, as Man of Roma I should know it… :-)

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  10. Paul Costopoulos

    I’d say there is a Mediterranean cuisine with local differences according to country and basic food available. Since Man and his World in Montreal in 1967, you can have a world cooking tour anytime you wish, all by metro. Most enjoyable.

    MoR: You mean the Expo 67? A great success, if I’m not wrong. By metro I guess you mean the subway. I’d love to have that cooking tour! Since the day some of my French-speaking black pupils told me that Montreal is like a hub of *francophonie*, with a mixture of all francophone sub cultures, I have a strong desire to go there.

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  11. Wonderful post!

    Of course, Gibbon ended his Decline and Fall with the conquest of Constantinople, not Rome!

    I have always been amazed and fascinated by the power of the Idea as shown by the persistence of Rome in Europe’s politics. The Holy Roman Empire – what a notion, and not just a notion. It was REAL to them. The Empire had NOT died. Fantastic!

    I think today, we refer to Rome only metaphorically, e.g., America, the new Rome, or America, a declining empire, etc. We don’t REALLY believe we ARE Rome, not the way the Holy Romans did!

    Do ideas persist in this way, now that we have a news cycle that moves so fast, I wonder? I suspect they do, underneath it all. Americans still think there is a Frontier, somewhere, despite its ‘official’ closing around 1893.

    See: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/frontier_theory/9259

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  12. Paul Costopoulos

    Niniveh, Athens, Rome are mileposts in human development and history. They remain symbols of accomplishment just as mythic Jerusalem is a symbol of faith and manifest destiny. These cities transcend ages and political systems and ideologies. We must remember them, they tell us where we are from hence show the way to the future.
    As for the American «frontier», it is now in space and the new slogan could become:«Go to Mars young man».

    MoR: “They tell us where we are from hence show the way to the future.”

    I think this is a good indication of why history is so important, something many people don’t quite understand. They say: “Oh, interesting, but it hasn’t got much to do with the present life.” I think *Rome*, *the Frontier* etc. can greatly encourage the American path. And yes, the real frontier is now outer space (I replied to you also in my following response to Lichanos).

    Btw, in my teen years I read a lot of British but mostly American Science fiction, the real good stuff, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. van Vogt, Philip K. Dick. I wanted to become an astronomer, but then music and humanities have perverted me. :-)

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  13. @Lichanos

    Yes, the power of the Idea is amazing, of great ideas such as Liberty, Rome, Athens, the Frontier etc. Very complicated stuff, philosophically. Let me play a bit.

    I don’t of course believe in Ideas which exist independently of men, such as Plato conceived them. But definitely there are ideas which have a special power. These mental images are felt as REAL, as you say, but they are also linked to behaviours, language, mentality, legal and moral traditions and so on, such as the Idea of Rome.

    Ideas – or symbols, as Paul says – that are also non rational, in a good sense, having an affinity with Myth, or something having a deep inspirational force. Rome, Athens, Jerusalem, the Frontier (or the Classical world for the Renaissance men) have pushed people into action and have changed the world.

    We use the term idea-forza (forza=force) in Italian, don’t know the equivalent in English.

    I think we both believe these ideas still persist in this way, despite the speed etc. They are in my view anthropological, they belong to the way our mind works. We need them.

    (I read the article you link to: “From the absence of frontiers comes the dread of just about everything. It is a kind of death.”)

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  14. Louis the XIV.. now that was a king!

    The French and the Italians. Who Envies Who?
    Or rather Who’s Fooling Who? Aren’t we all made of flesh and bone? ;)

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  15. @Ashish

    Hi dude!!! Ah yes, everybody is fooling everybody in this world, but who the hell cares? It’s fun, and Italians are masters of fool…ishness. ;-)

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  16. I guess what tickles me about the idea of the Roman Empire is that it is, or was, a PLACE. Sure, political entities have no physical nature…or do they. Sometimes I think cities are like the exo-skeleton of our political/economic ideas…but the idea that people in the 17th century in Europe would say of themselves, “I live in the Roman Empire…” Weird! Not quite the same as saying, “I am free,” but maybe not so different.

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  17. Bonjour Paul,

    I’m late to the party but the Polo/China/pasta thing is more myth and romanticism. It’s more likely it was the Arabs who were transmitters. Another theory, I forget where I read it, is that the Venetians were making a type of pasta well before any introduction. Some even think the Etruscans. But drum wheat pasta is indeed indigenous to Italy:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEFD91630F934A35751C1A96E948260

    http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/FOOD_IS_ART/pasta/historypasta.html

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  18. Paul Costopoulos

    Salute Commentator,
    I also read about the evolution of pasta. I agree with your comment. But Marco is such a romantic character that it’s fun to imagine him bringing pasta back from China although some even question whether he really went over there.

    Kaire Lichanos,
    Freedom in Athens as in Rome was for citizens only…and not many were. That the erudites and nobles of the Renaissance fancied themselves as living in the Holy Roman Empire figures: they were the only free men, the others were by and large serfs or indentured laborers.

    MoR: Of course, citizens were very few and the Ancient World was based on slavery. A bad example that had consequences until the American civil war. But feeling part of the Roman Empire cannot be reduced to slavery etc.
    Now I need to reply to Lichanos, mon cherr amis Franco-Canadiens … oppps….Canadien ;-)

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  19. @Lichanos

    what tickles me about the idea of the Roman Empire is that it is, or was, a PLACE

    Well, a place, I’d say, like a central location (oddly, the Roman empire was not created by a vast region, like Persia, but by a single city) and like a large area with frontiers, as we can see in the stone map above. Within this “place”, patterns of culture were recognizable all over the empire, since provincials aspired to be as Roman as possible etc., sometimes being more Roman than the Romans themselves, as it usually happens (see the Spanish or Illyrian emperors etc.), a centre-periphery cultural type of thing (like for example now people in Southern Germany or Romania listen to opera more than we do).

    Sometimes I think cities are like the exo-skeleton of our political/economic ideas…

    Ah yes, like Alexandria of Egypt, or Rome, a product of the Romans, who built Rome and its myth with the patience of the hardy peasant.

    the idea that people in the 17th century in Europe would say of themselves, “I live in the Roman Empire…”

    Maybe that is too much lol. I would rather say that those said patterns of culture partially survived, and partially were recreated because of the inspirational idea of Rome, as we said. A very concrete idea though.

    As an example, the way of life of the Roman landowning classes of the late Roman empire (as described for example by the letters of Symmacus, a rich Roman landowner of the IV century AD) has been a concrete and detailed model for the European elites and gentry for 17 centuries. Buying and selling plots, economic-oriented marriages outside any romanticism, wills disputed, hunting, pleasurable villas … it is the world described by Jane Austen, where people didn’t wear togas any more, but the lifestyle was still more or less a Roman lifestyle. When Gibbon published his book on Rome, it was soon avidly read by the upper classes, I don’t think it was by chance.

    Of course, the industrial revolution changed things a bit.

    PS
    A nice description of this Roman model for the European gentry – and I’ll add for the New World elites as well, let me extend my vainglory to you guys – can be found in The Fall of the Roman Empire – A New History, by Peter Heather, Pan Books, 2005. Excellent book in my view.

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  20. @Commentator
    @Paul

    This pasta thing I’ll leave it to you guys from Canada. I’ll just eat it A LOT and rather concentrate on the Romans, who certainly didn’t invent it.

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  21. Paul Costopoulos

    Buon appetito.

    Grazie Paul.

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  22. Nice informative post about history.

    MoR: Dhanyawaad, Reema

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  23. Maybe that is too much lol.

    What is LOL? Lots of Luck??

    Symmachus – new to me. A perfect example!!

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  24. @Lichanos

    LOL? Love of licence.

    Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (340 – 402 AD), not much known though. From the gens Aurelia, he was proconsul of Africa in 373, urban prefect of Rome in 384 and 385, and consul in 391 (Wikipedia). He was a pagan at a time when most of the upper classes were converted / converting to Christianity. Almost all his works survived, among which nine books of letters, of some influence in later ages. A model for the upper classes was inspired by of course Cicero, Pliny the younger, and all Roman literature (Horace etc.), but Symmachus’ influence is little known, and was not little.

    In my country until my father’s time there were people who lived like that. I had a grand uncle (can one say that?) who lived in his villa in the countryside, was not married but slept with his female servant (like Horace preferred his women slaves to the much demanding Roman matrons), wrote literature, took care of his land, loved hunting. I have read in James A. Michener’s outstanding novel Chesapeake that landowners in Virginia and Maryland lived more or less like that too. They had their plantations, their slaves, they read Aristotle (who justified slavery etc.). Don’t want to chat too much as usual, but I’ll write a post on all this.

    Not that I condone slavery, of course. This is just history.

    PS
    I love Michener. I read many of his VERY THICK and realistic novels, depicting entire social milieus of the different American states (Colorado, Texas, Alaska, Maryland etc.) from the first European settlements until today. Amazing. A sort of American Tolstoy, in my view, on a smaller level, of course, but nonetheless outstanding. For a European, a gold mine of information (and entertainment).

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  25. I’d like to add to Paul’s La Diffesa. Mussolini used to send money to the Italian community here. It led to some “fascist” organizations and caused some problems when the Canadian government interned Italians,

    La Casa d’Italia has a fascist emblem at its entrance. They have no plans to change it. The president of La Casa believes – rightly I trust – that’s it’s a part of its history. They don’t want to erase something because they disagreed with it.

    ====
    MoR: Amazing. Many Italians that cross the ocean are surprised when they see such things. America, Canada seem to us so future oriented, but as far as the roots history seems frozen. Mussolini, our Savoia Kings, remnants of XVII century English and French, the Hamish etc. Of course La Casa and all history must be preserved.

    That I am very tender with Mussolini and all that is linked to him, that I cannot say. Ironically, he has saved us from Communism (like later the CIA, in the 70s).

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  26. I’m tempted to bite into the Italy/France rivalry. Suffice to say, I don’t envy France – I just admire their contributions to history and culture.

    Italians have nothing to be envy of. They’ve done their bit to the advancement of civilization. And their impact on the new world no less impressive.

    But history is littered with condescending remarks on both sides. And yes, France didn’t like losing to Italy one bit in soccer- Raymond Domenech was most unsporting with his comments. I think they take “honor” a tad too seriously with hypocritical effect to boot.

    Too bad. They play (and always played) an excellent brand of soccer.

    There was a famous French bon vivant, diplomat and philosopher who once said, “Italian women and French history were over rated.” Does anyone know what his name was?

    ====

    MoR’s reply:

    No, I don’t remember. Maybe Paul does. But I heard that the Italian women are most desired by French men. While to me – and to my friend Wolfgang – the French women are extraordinaire (not the only ones though).

    Raymond Domenech was most unsporting with his comments.

    They cannot stand to lose, especially with Italians. But I forgive them.
    En plus je ne voulais pas déchainer une petite guerre entre la France et l’Italie :-)

    And I have always admired Michel Platini. Maybe Commentator you are too young to have seen his classy playing.

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  27. Paul Costopoulos

    Commentator,
    From 1948 to 1950, I was assistant and subsequently scoutmaster of the boy scout troup at la Diffesa. The founder was Gaetanno de la Penna. Il Corriere was then distributed from La Casa and I, several time, helped with the expedition.
    The diocese was then extending the movement to Neo-Canadians and they found no better, just after the war, than to name a half-Greek to an Italian troop. It was great fun and I learned a lot about Italian cuisine.

    ======

    MoR:

    Interesting. Italian Corriere della sera?
    By the way, what kind of food do you usually eat? French? Greek?

    (You know Paul, when I thanked the Commentator in his blog for introducing you to me, he said: “Call me the Matchmaker.”)

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  28. Paul Costopoulos

    That’s out of the Jewish tradition.
    The paper was known only as Il Corriere and was written, edited and printed in Montreal. Of course it was meant to remind the readers of the original thing. If I recall well it was a one man show by Antonio Gagliardi, who was also a Montreal city councillor.
    As for food, my family eats an eclectic mix of cuisine and some time a mix of several cooking in one dish. We try to be creative. For instance our french fries are fried in greek olive oil, no less.

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  29. @Paul

    I’ve checked in the wiki, so he’s been like a Shadchan, if I am not wrong.

    If someone around knows how to cook, eclectic cuisine can be a delight. I have wonderful souvenirs of Greek oil. Which brings me to Woman of Roma. She is Roman but she looks a bit Greek, or Indian.

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  30. The Commentator said that Canadians interned Italians during WWII. I hadn’t known that. What about Germans? If not them, why not?

    Of course, the giant blot on FDR’s reputation is that he locked up the entire Japanese-American population of the west coast, a capitulation to racism, greed, and war hysteria.

    As for Michener, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve read him, but I’d take his stuff with a large grain of salt!

    MoR: I think the Germans were interned too, and also the Japs. But he can tell you better. The Japanese on the US West coast? I know, I was at the Japanese Centre in San Francisco recently. As for Michener, I understand, but nonetheless he surely knows America more than me. As the replicants in Blade Runner I was given by him like an artificial memory of how all happened.

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  31. See? Paul has led an interesting experience. He’s more Italian than I am! Scoutmaster? I better make sure I sit straight will I type.

    France and Italy is a friendly, heated rivalry. I hope Domenech was just the exception rather than the norm. I read French football soccer mags and find them to be excellent.

    Oh, I remember Platini, Mr. MOR. My soccer viewing career began in 1979.

    I don’t want to boast, but I was often told I played with a certain Platini flair and elegance. Even when I was in Italy I won some friends there – and that’s no easy task.

    MoR: Wow. Instead I am a disaster as football player, Mr. Matchmaker. A friendly, heated rivalry, well said. Platini was a bit close to Maradona, not that much, though, just a bit. One can say Platini was of Italian origin though ah ah ah. I am bad, I know.

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  32. @Commentator

    (superseded by your last comment)

    It seems I’m the only Italian to really love France. I don’t see what’s the problem of recognizing that France had a richer history for at least 3-4 centuries (I meant this by ‘envy’). This doesn’t diminish the overall Italian contribution to world civilization, which is substantial. On the contrary, since Italy and France are linked, are cousins. When the French say: “Ah, les Italiens!” it is a complex phrase that means many things, it is not only criticism. I’ve read many times in their writings the phrase ‘L’Italie éternelle’, which means something to them, like ‘la France éternelle’ means something to us as well.

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  33. Paul Costopoulos

    At ease Commentator.
    As for France, I guess it’s cultural beacon like Italy is and Greece also. However, they are all eclipsed by Arabia in the Middle Ages.

    MoR: Paul, allow me to redirect you *here*, where I try to explain a bit what you’ve said in the last sentence.

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  34. To your last comment: Quoted for truth.

    You’re not alone in your appreciation for France.

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  35. Platini was a midfielder. Maradona a striker. Thus, two different players.

    Maradona was…well…pure genius. As was Platini. Both, as it were, have Italian blood. Like Napoleon. Yes, we can’t help ourselves. ;<)

    Many Brazilian and Argentina greats (players and coaches) were of Italian origin – or at least had Italian blood.

    MoR: The two said players had different roles, but they both could ‘invent’ something at any time with extreme elegance. My soccer knowledge is that of a 3-year-old child.

    This Italian mania must stop, Mr. Matchmaker. I recognize only a Roman mania in this blog, or my name would be Man of Italy.

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  36. With all due respect to our Spanish and Portuguese cousins of course!

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  37. Paul Costopoulos

    Man of Roma, your post on Islam is very well informed. Thank you for making me aware of it.
    To all I recommend to suscribe, gratos, to Saudi Aramco World magazine. It’s free and can be suscribed to online. It’s delivered by mail 6 times a year.

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  38. @Paul

    I certainly will subscribe. Thanks for the information.
    One thing I like about you Greeks is that you feel the East much more than people here.

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  39. Hi MoR, I think that if we Italians are honest about ourselves, we must admit that it is our greatest blessing and merit to be one of the less chauvinist people in the world, although we might have good reasons to show very different attitudes. I suppose that the reason why we are not chauvinist—and on the contrary we are often hypercritical towards ourselves—is that we know too well what “greatness” (or “beauty”) really is, and cannot be proud of something less than that …

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  40. Rob, we are not that chauvinistic, true, but I think the real reason is that we lost WWII and that for at least 3 or more centuries Italians didn’t have such a splendid history as instead the French or the British had. If we had, we’d probably be chauvinists as well, or even worse.

    Nationalism is an outdated ideology at least here in Europe, where a tighter unification is necessary in my opinion to better face world challenges.

    I wrote something about it in *this post*, although the debate around it clarified a bit that the Britons unfortunately do not feel European enough.

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  41. Paul Costopoulos

    MoR, I guess that in WWI and WWII, Italy both lost and won since it started on one side and finished on the other. After Benito’s hanging by the heels after having been shot, the fight went on, with the Allies, against what was left of the Germans.

    You would probably enjoy an old film titled «What did you do in the war, dady?» You have an isolated Italian army company in a small village. The commander has organized a nice little life for his men and himself arranging mock fights against fictitious enemies whose uniforms change according to nationality of overflying aircrafts. At one point he even asks the prostitutes standing half naked on a balcony to go back inside to avoid being detected as staging a phony war. Lots of laughs, at least in Canadian movie houses in the 50s, I believe. At the end when the Americans arrive, all his troop is in american uniforms waving American flags.

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  42. @Paul

    LOL Paul, you had me roll on the floor laughing! Such a funny and mostly true picture of us, pas trop de doute là-dessus.

    Was it a Canadian or an Italian movie?

    Update: a mostly true picture of us, but a caricature. To Italians overseas: Italians from here like me love to laugh about themselves. :-)

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  43. Paul Costopoulos

    I believe it was an American movie with Italian actors, I’m not sure but I think a young Mastroiani was the Commander.

    MoR: Molto divertente. Amusing. I’ve subscribed to the Arabic magazine you said.

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  44. Paul Costopoulos

    Io capisco un poco italiano, ma non troppo, (music again).

    MoR: I have translated for other possible readers, not for you.

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  45. MOR, I don’t know. It feels as though neo-nationalism is on the rise.

    MoR: I said ‘outdated’ in the sense that nationalism is not intelligent, or useful, here in the EU. I know it is on the rise. But I mean, are Poland, France or Spain going to compete *on their own* politically with the big powers? Absurd. Even UK … but that’s more like a charade to me. Wonderful (and surreal) people over there. Islanders.

    Paul, it reminds me of the movie “Mediterraneo.” A comedy about Italian soldiers sent to Greece but were soon forgotten by the army and government. It was a superb movie.

    Reply
  46. Question: On the topic of chauvinism. Where is nationalism at its strongest in Europe and weakest?

    MoR: Hard to say. Weakest? Italy, parts of Germany (WWII, again). Strongest, probably Eastern Europe, Poland, for example (not to mention Russia: direct knowledge of that, great people, but VERY patriotic). It is understandable though. Eastern Europe makes me despair for a tighter European unity. Guys, I’ll go out for a while with wifey. Statemi bene! Ci vediamo dopo, se vorrete.

    Superficial. I have to rethink it all.

    Reply
  47. Paul Costopoulos

    I researched this movie as an afterthought. So it is an american movie from 1966. The Charlie Company is an American army detachment sent, but very reluctant to do so, to attack a small village in Sicily, Valermo. They find the enemy in the midst of a soccer match. The Italians are no more spoiling for a fight than the Americans. They «organize» a skirmish to fool the American planes flying overhead and report minor resistance…but no aid required.
    After dark, they have a party, Asti Spumante flows abundantly and all are very happy.
    The next morning, the American Colonel is missing. He is found in bed with the mayor’s daughter. When the roll call is done all his men are in Italian uniforms won in a strip poker game from the Italians. Sergio Fantoni (unknown to me) was the Italian officer.
    The 7m$ film was a flop when it got out because deemed to stereotypical of both the lazy GI and the battle shy Italians.
    So both sides were lampooned. Ecco la justizia.

    Reply
  48. Paul Costopoulos

    And I forgot the end. When the Italians find out that the American officer slept with the Mayor’s daughter, all hell breaks lose and they attack the Italian uniformed GIs as the main American force arrives. The Americans make their own men prisoners and congratulate the Italian freedom fighters for their courage.

    Reply
  49. ”We are not that chauvinistic, true, but I think the real reason is that we lost WWII ….”

    True, nonetheless the lack of chauvinism in Italy is much older than the end of WWII …

    ”… and that for at least 3 centuries Italians didn’t have such a splendid history as instead the French or the British had.”

    That’s also true, but only politically (and economically) speaking, and we might say quite the same about Germany (both Italy and Germany achieved national unity on 1870). Seventeenth century was the age of Galileo (and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli), while the Eighteenth was the time of Carlo Goldoni, Alessandro Volta, Antonio Canova and Cesare Beccaria, and the Nineteenth was the century of Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Leopardi, Ugo Foscolo, Alessandro Manzoni, and Gioacchino Rossini …

    Reply
  50. @Rob

    A complex matter, Rob, it can’t be said in two words.

    (allow me this sfogo and pardon me)

    I don’t mean we didn’t have valuable intellectuals in the various centuries, but first of all many of them where cosmopolitan more than national (from Columbus, Da Vinci, up to Rossini, who mainly lived in Paris etc.). This was due to a long tradition of universalism started with Pagan Rome first and with the Catholic Church later, a factor that will play a role in hindering the creation of an Italian nation.

    (Btw, according to Suetonius, it seems that Caesar, this great visionary, brought the intellectuals to Rome to prepare them for their universal imperial role, but maybe this happened later, with the Antonines emperors)

    In any case, this universalism was a factor of the lack of unification in the Renaissance, a great handicap indeed, which brought Spain and France to invade us and which created a progressive general decadence, I don’t think it can be denied – of course, Italy not being on the Atlantic ocean, this also contributed to our decline. Thence an increase of a cynical survival-at-any-cost attitude (‘Francia o Spagna purché se magna’), which explains a bit why we start a war on one side and we end it on the other side. Masters of survival in hard times we are – which makes me hope in our future, ironically.

    A decadence, I was saying, to the extent that in the XIX century, for example, and restricting the focus on literature only – arts mirroring society in some way – Giacomo Leopardi, Ugo Foscolo, Alessandro Manzoni etc. cannot be compared to the splendid flourishing of the French literature (or even the German one) of that same period, while centuries earlier our literature was unparalleled in Europe, suffice it to think of Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio and Ariosto (but even just Dante is enough).

    Summarising, our negligible chauvinism today is linked to the fragility of our national conscience, which comes in my view 1) from the said universalism – Rome today is still too large a capital for Italy, for example, being like Mecca, or Jerusalem; 2) from the lack of unification in 1400-1500 and 3) from the lost WW2, a wound to what was left of our pride – which Mussolini tried to wake up, creating in the end though only disaster).

    You should have some knowledge of this national fragility, Rob, coming from Veneto, a region a lot pro Lega Nord which strongly dislikes both Rome and the South (the roots of our civilization!) and which aim(ed) at separating again this nation.

    We are still divided, Rob, after 150 years of unification. These all are the complex reasons which in my view explain why we are not that chauvinistic (or a bit, but disillusioned) – and not as you say because “we Italians know too well what “greatness” (or “beauty”) really is, and cannot be proud of something less than that …”.

    Or maybe I got it all wrong, and I just caught some fire. :-)

    Reply
  51. We often (correctly) group Italy and Germany together on these matters. But I’m curious about another European nation’s “chauvinism.” Spain has had a weak nationalist heritage – it was unified far earlier(16th century) than the aforementioned yet ethnic cleavages remain. Which exists in most countries anyway. It seems it’s caught between a monarchistic past and a fragmented contemporary one – with a dictatorship thrown in there.

    MOR: Nah, Spain had a much older and prompt unity than we had, plus Spain attained a HUGE worldwide Empire (‘where the sun never set’) during the Renaissance and later. Which makes Spaniards proud and different in their attitude.

    As for Italian nationalism/chauvinism I’m torn between two Italians: Italy and the new world. I have to think about this. I think Italians are fairweather nationalists at the end of the day. Italians are a highly practical people. “Dying for the flag as it were is not Italy’s thing. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of unrealized expectations since unification?I’m sure it’s highly complex. Of the ancient cultures, Greece, Egypt, Middle-East, Iran (Persia) China and India, Italy seems extremely hard to get a hold of. Of course, I probably speak out of ignorance. India and China are remarkably deep and diverse in their cultural existence. Even a nation like Iraq has had many civilizations pass through it.

    That being said they (don’t know about India and China) all seem to share one common thread: great hospitable peoples. I generalize to spark a debate I guess.

    Sorry for the scattered application of the musings.

    Reply
  52. @exposrip

    I’m torn between two Italians: Italy and the new world. I have to think about this.

    This is really so interesting. I sort of felt you could feel like that, and was about to blabber on it. But Rob arrived first. We’d better both reflect. Now it is time for bed.
    (pls read, if you will, my response to Rob)

    Reply
  53. MoR, it’s very interesting (and I agree with) what you said about “universalism,” which is in my opinion a convincing argument to explain why Italians are not that chauvinist, and why Italy achieved national unity only in 1870 instead of in the middle ages, alike France and England. Once again Germany and Italy—since both of them have an “imperial background”—are (paradoxically) as alike as two twins.

    MoR: interesting your observation on Germany as a twin.

    Yet, I don’t agree with you when you maintain that “Giacomo Leopardi, Ugo Foscolo, and Alessandro Manzoni etc. cannot be compared to the splendid flourishing of the French literature (or even the German one) of that same period.” As for prose, I think it’s a matter of quantity vs quality: we had just Manzoni in front of the flourishing of the French, English, and, above all, Russian literature, but “I promessi sposi” is an absolute masterpiece, though a bit “solitary.” As for poetry Leopardi is a giant, and Foscolo is only one step below.

    As for the Lega Nord, its foolish separatist aspirations are in my view the consequence of a national unity which was conceived and realized without acknowledging the differences existing between Northern and Southern Italy, which were and still are evident to everyone. A German-style federal system would have been ideal for Italy, but the Savoia dynasty chose differently for self-interest, as you certainly know.

    Reply
  54. @Rob

    As for the Lega Nord, its foolish separatist aspirations are in my view the consequence of a national unity which was conceived and realized without acknowledging the differences existing between Northern and Southern Italy.

    I agree, Rob, I agree. This whole thing has not been well conducted, also for the fact that Italy (Piedmont) followed again the example of France, centralism.

    PS
    Manzoni’s I promessi sposi? Won’t say it’s not a deep work but (now you’ll jump off your chair) I much preferred to teach Tolstoj and ALL great European literature instead. Anna Karenina was for example mandatory in my classes. Of course I flooded them also with Dante and Ariosto. Dante, especially. Dante is Dante.

    Reply
  55. Paul Costopoulos

    Separatist tendencies in one or more regions of most every country in the world has been, is and will be a fact of political life until Armagheddon. We all live in artificial countries conceived, most of the time, out of wedlock by adventurous or incestuous parents who very often abandonned their offsprings in the middle of nowhere. Even in the USA you have a separatist movement in Texas and another one in Puerto Rico not to mention the various extreme right militias, particularly in Michigan, that do not recognize the legitimacy of any US adminstration and are armed to the teeth, although they seldom use their weapons

    Reply
  56. @Paul

    Yes, true Paul. Amazing this Michigan thing. A propos, Paul, I wonder what happened in Canada when De Gaulle arrived in Quebec and said he was for a free Quebec. I remember my father was impressed (he liked that, he loved France and francophonie, although he also admired the Anglo-Saxons and Great Britain).

    I always saw Sergio Fantoni in American and British movies. He apparently mostly played l’italiano in many foreign movies. Good actor, but I preferred Mastroianni.

    @Commentator
    I could not reply to your point (two Italians etc.). I care for it though. I hope tomorrow.

    Update: Not that this chatter-box cannot shoot some lines on that, but I need some reflection.

    Reply
  57. Paul Costopoulos

    MoR, DeGaule’s declaration from Montreal’s City Hall balcony was acclaimed by our separatists but was so badly commented by the federalists and our federal government that he went straight back to France without paying the official visit he was scheduled to make in Ottawa. Relations between Canada and France remained very cold for decades afterwards, but Québec, up to Sarkosy, enjoyed a privileged relation with France. Now Sarko has brought both relations on an equal footing much to our separatists chagrin.
    Almost bed time in Rome, so have a good night and pleasant dreams.

    Reply
  58. I don’t know if Paul would agree, but De Gaulle’s “vive le Quebec libre” was more designed to piss off the Americans. De Gaulle was always out to upset America and what better way to do it than in a place like Quebec? Personally, I wonder if he meant a word of it. I mean, he always spoke from afar. Recall he rallied France in Britain – a nation he loathed. I’m not a fan.

    Free Quebec? Free from what? Canada is the most docile most decentralized federal state in the world! Quebec is far better off within the confederacy – d’apres moi.

    In Quebec, his words resonated with nationalists. And not with the ethnic communities.

    Reply
  59. @Paul
    @Commentator

    Well, my father was not for fragmenting Canada or for Quebec separatism. He just admired le personnage De Gaulle, and what he had done for France. All this tickled him and his almost 19th century way of seeing things (the great powers of Europe blah blah blah).

    As far as I know, De Gaulle probably disliked the Anglo-Saxons on the whole. In my experience many French from France do, probably because the UK was more successful than them, a lack of sporting spirit by the French shown also during the last soccer World Cup (or maybe also in Renault’s fight with Ferrari). Wonder if the Italians ever had a sporting spirit. Their weak nationalism makes things more complicated although it cannot be denied that the Italian nation, despite its sluggishness, is now in place. I prefer to talk about cultures, civilizations – nationalism being today globally very dangerous and, as Comm. said, on the rise.

    PS
    By the way Paul, Italy won WWI and that time didn’t have to change side during the war. :-)
    Just saying this in case some Italian-American reads this discussion. They might think I’m too cynical, or pro defeatism, or that I don’t love Italy, which is not the case.

    Reply
  60. Paul Costopoulos

    MoR, I stand corrected for WWI. The rivalry between France and the U.K existed even before the countries existed «in se». Remember Guillaume le Conquérant and all those wars? «Nihil novi sub sole».
    Just a rhetorical question: does loving one’s country mean not seeing it’s warts?

    Reply
  61. @Paul
    Yes, the Norman conquest of England, when the English had to learn some French lol.
    Well, rhetorical questions shouldn’t require an answer, but yes, love is said to be blind.

    Reply
  62. Paul Costopoulos

    @MoR: True love does not need to be blind.

    Reply
  63. Italy did change sides in WWII, but was it “only” because they went to the “winning” side or were they just doing what they should have done in the first play and be an allied country? Mussolini made the decision to be part of the axis but if I’m not mistaken didn’t this surprise the majority of Italians?

    ===
    MoR:

    I think both reasons. Let us not forget that Mussolini had a lot of consensus. Loads of people, thinking he was a genius, followed him and his war, he couldn’t be mistaken. The cultivated people only trembled at the idea of fighting against Great Britain and France. And Hitler, not many realised what a real monster he was.

    *Warning*: if I can say stupidities in ancient stuff, might get worse with modern & contemporary stuff.
    ===

    Italians good sports in soccer? There’s a great book titled, “Winning at all cost: A Scandalous History Of Italian Soccer” by John Foot.

    MoR: Bad, very bad indeed and a moronic behaviour.

    Reply
  64. @Paul

    True love does not need to be blind.

    Ok, but one thing is loving a woman, another thing loving one’s country. Les peuples parfois … folks sometimes are stupid when it comes to their fatherland. In some French 19th century paintings the Romans are depicted as total idiots (see *here*), while Vercingetorix looks like an inspired medieval Lord. Or the Germans, with their monuments of *Arminius* (Herman), the guy who defeated Varo’s legions in the Teutoburg Forest and made Augustus close to distraction.

    (Or Man of Roma, when it comes to Rome) ;-)

    Reply
  65. Paul Costopoulos

    @MoR, bon, vu comme cela, il est peut-être mieux, en effet, que l’amour soit aveugle.

    Reply
  66. En fait, certain(e)s d’entre nous (et je fais parti du lot) reprochent à l’Italie son passé belliqueux, et ce que leurs ancêtres romains ont fait aux nôtres (celtes et germains). Les romains ont détruit notre culture (celtique et germanique) et civilisation, et l’on remplacé par la leur (greco-latine).

    C’est un drame d’avoir une apparence physique celtique et germanique, mais d’avoir une langue et une culture incompatible avec nos origines septentrionales.

    Reply
  67. @olbodala

    Grazie. Sei il primo francese del mio blog!

    Je comprends, and I am sorry. Pour votre commentaire, il faudrait un livre pour répondre!

    Les Romains étaient des vainqueurs. En plus, même si la culture celtique était plus complexe qu’on y pense, la Méditerranéen était généralement plus civilisée a cette époque la.

    Aux Italiens du nord (mon père était de là) est arrivé exactement la même chose: celtiques, ils ont perdu leur civilisation.

    Selon plusieurs savants (Braudel, Gramsci etc.), lorsque deux cultures se heurtent il y a deux éléments au moins qui jouent: la force et la séduction (= due à la complexité, à la richesse de la culture même etc.), la première n’étant pas suffisante.

    Simplifiant, un cas classique est celui des Romains et des Grecs. Les Romains ont gagné avec la force, mais les Grecs ont gagné sur eux avec la séduction de leur richesse culturelle.

    Cela n’a pas été le cas quand les Romains et les Celtes se sont heurtés. Si les Celtes ont perdu leur culture, cela veut quand même dire quelque chose.

    Et, inversement, si la civilisation gréco-romaine n’a presque pas laissé des traces en Afrique du Nord ou au Moyen Orient, cela veut aussi dire quelque chose.

    Ce qui ne veut pas dire que la quasi totale destruction de la civilisation celtique ne soit pas une tragédie.

    J’ai oublié les Francs, un peuple germanique qui conquit la Gaule ou France. Évidement, ils exerçant de la force mais pas assez de la séduction, ils sont étés latinisés.

    Reply
    • Intéressant point de vue, Giovanni. Doit-on comprendre que les britanniques ont manqué de séduction pour les Québécois puisque la culture française reste florissante au Québec malgré notre immersion dans un océan anglophone?
      Paul Costopoulos

      Reply
  68. Pingback: Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When West / North Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1) | Man of Roma

  69. Reblogged this on Man of Roma and commented:

    Ce poste n’est pas daté, j’espère, et en tout cas il exprime l’amour des Italiens pour les Français.

    Reply
  70. Il primo francese del tuo blog è il tuo sottoscritto cugino… Spero di leggerlo presto in italiano poiché il mio inglese è troppo “rusty” per capire tutto.

    Reply
    • Grazie cugino Christian Calcagni! Felice di risentirti. Un Calcagni francesem ma pansa tu … (lo dico ai lettori, io già fui sorpreso, in passato).

      Beh, usa Google Translate. Voi Francesi ve dovete nu poco apri’ anche all’inglese, no? Ho preparato un file audio da inserire qui che piega (in un mio francese ‘in rianimazione’) la modesta opinione personale che i francesi se devono un po’ aprì ;-)

      Saluti da Roma a Milano.

      Reply
  71. Pingback: Un berbero di Monti (oggi) fabbrica gioielli. Il berbero Agostino (due millenni fa) scuote l’antichità e Roma. Che cambiano (per non cambiare mai) | Man of Roma

  72. Pingback: A Berber from the Monti rione makes (today) jewels. The Berber Augustine (2000 years ago) shook Antiquity & Rome. Both changed (never to change) | Man of Roma

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