La morte è la vita. Il perfetto è l’imperfetto. Devinez (ἀληθινὴ ὃρασις)

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“Una bellezza perfetta è più imperfetta”
“E una bellezza imperfetta?”

ψ

“La morte è la vita”
“E la vita?”

ψ

“καὶ ἡ κάμμυσιϛ τῶν ὁφθαλμῶν?”
[e il chiudere gli occhi?]

ψ

Devinez.

The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign. Harsher Criticism on Caesar(ism) (4)

19th-century statue of Vercingétorix (by Aimé Millet)

19th-century statue of Vercingétorix (by Aimé Millet) near the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine, Burgundy, France. Wikipedia. Click for source and larger view

Caesar‘s contemporaries were not overly happy about his Gallic campaign – Luciano Canfora observes.

[Luciano Canfora, Giulio Cesare, Mondadori 2010, XV, p. 132; English translation]

“This must be taken into account – he argues – when assessing the long-term effects of the conquest of Gaul, whose ‘inevitability’ is often teleologically overestimated. There is doubtless a risk of adopting a colonialist view.”

“A campaign unprovoked, with no real menace lurking, led to the destruction of the previous civilisation gradually supplanted by Romanisation, a genocide of monstrous proportions according to the convergent testimonies of Pliny the Elder and of Plutarch.”

Sources of a genocide

Let us then have a look at Pliny’s and Plutarch’s words.

Pliny the Elder: [Naturalis Historia; English: 7, 25; Latin: 7,92]

“For, outside (praeter) his victories in the Civil Wars [therefore in his Gallic wars only, MoR] Caesar slew in battle 1,192,000 of his enemies; but this, for my own part, I hold no special glory of his (non equidem in gloria posuerim), considering the great injury so inflicted on Humankind (coactam humani generis iniuriam): and this crime, indeed, he hath himself confessed, by avoiding to set down (non prodendo) the slaughter that occurred during the Civil Wars.”

Pliny’s moral indignation is unambiguous. His accusation, that Caesar hid his figures, harsh (Canfora.)

From the frontispiece of Plutarch's Lives by John Langhorne and William Langhorne. Baltimore: W. & J. Neal, 1836

From the frontispiece of Plutarch’s Lives by John Langhorne and William Langhorne. Baltimore: W. & J. Neal, 1836

Plutarch, Parallel Lives:

“Although it was not full ten years that he waged war in Gaul, Caesar took by storm more than 800 cities, subdued 300 nations, and fought pitched battles at different times with 3 million men, of whom he slew 1 million in hand to hand fighting and took as many more prisoners. (Life of Caesar 15, 5; English; Greek)

In the Life of Cato the younger (51, 1; English; Greek) Plutarch reveals the number of Germani slaughtered by Caesar by treachery and Cato’s proposal ‘to surrender Caesar to those whom he had wronged’:

“When it was believed that Caesar had attacked the Germans even during a truce (σπονδή) and slain 300,000 of them, there was a general demand at Rome that the people should offer sacrifices of good tidings (εὐαγγέλια θύειν; supplicatio, in Latin), but Cato urged them to surrender Caesar to those whom he had wronged (ἐκδιδόναι τὸν Καίσαρα τοῖς παρανομηθεῖσι), and not to turn upon themselves, or allow to fall upon their city (εἰς τὴν πόλιν), the pollution of his crime (τὸ ἄγος).”

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th-century portrait

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th-century portrait. Wikipedia

Pessimism of Aristocrats
defeated by Caesarism

Pliny the Elder was a member of those senatorial aristocrats nostalgic for the Republic and set aside by the new ‘monarchy‘ favoured by Caesar’s course.

Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall…, vol. I, Chap 3, part 2) seems sympathetic to their ideals:

“The education of Helvidius and Thrasea, of Tacitus and Pliny, was the same as that of Cato and Cicero. From Grecian philosophy, they had imbibed the justest and most liberal notions of the dignity of human nature, and the origin of civil society. The history of their own country had taught them to revere a free, a virtuous, and a victorious commonwealth; to abhor the successful crimes of Caesar and Augustus; and inwardly to despise those tyrants whom they adored with the most abject flattery.”

Which were these ideals?

Ettore Paratore (1907 - 2000) in his studyroom. One of the major scholars of Latin literature

Ettore Paratore (1907 – 2000) in his study-room. He was one of the major scholars of Latin literature after World War II. Courtesy of RAI

According to Ettore Paratore such ideals had been well expressed centuries earlier by the Scipionic circle (Cornelia, Caius Laelius Sapiens, Scipio Aemilianus, Polybius, Panaetius, Lucilius, Terence etc.): a group of eminent people [whose 'structured circle' some scholars now call into question, MoR] open to Greek philosophy and Roman humanitas where power was transfigured as a message of civilization and fraternity, whose spiritual reasons had been sung by Virgil.

[E. Paratore, Profilo della Letteratura Latina, Sansoni, 1964, p. 351.]

According to Tacitus (who “internalized the senatorial ethic as only a newcomer can”: livius.org) the first Roman emperors had not lived up to these ideals because of Tyranny and its gloomy trail of crimes, blood, empty feelings (Paratore.)

[From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, from the American and French Revolutions to 19th-century romanticism –any 'yearning for liberty' will condemn Caesarism & the Roman Empire and will see in Tacitus - see image below - their historian; MoR]

Tacitus. A modern statue outside the Austrian Parliament Building. Wikipedia. Click for source

Tacitus. A modern statue outside the Austrian Parliament Building. Wikipedia. Click for source

Vercingetorix, national hero
of Gaul (and of France)

Mario: “You got carried away and forgot about Caesar’s conquest of Gaul”.
MoR: “Well, many French will also see in Vercingetorix their national hero, and in Camille Jullian (1859 – 1933) their bard.”

ψ

Camille Jullian is a great historian and a great writer. I very much enjoyed his Vercingétorix (1902), available in French as Gutenberg text.

A coin depicting an idealised Vercingetorix

A coin depicting an idealised Vercingetorix

Here is a patchwork from Jullian’s book (assembled and translated by MoR):

“The Celts had a sense of moral unity and this feeling survived their rivalries. Among them traditions had formed and legends, a spiritual heritage. There were poets, bards, who sang the deeds of the kings and the vast empire they once possessed. Their priests, the Druids, taught that all Gauls were descended from the same god.”

“The Arverni were the people designated to profit from these aspirations. Their land was the ‘navel’ of the Celtic world: the Puy de Dôme, where the powerful god Teutates lived, was at an equal distance from the main frontiers of Gaul. The Arverni were the bravest and the most numerous, they had the richest lands and they obeyed to the god who could speak from the highest peak.

Puy de Dôme, a volcanoe in the region of Massif Central in south-central France Auvergne)

Puy de Dôme, a volcano in the region of Massif Central in south-central France (Auvergne). It served for centuries as an assembly place for spiritual ceremonies. Click for source

We almost see these Arvernian kings thanks to Posidonius, a Greek philosopher who traveled about the country soon after their passing. He was dazzled by the spectacle offered by the person and by the procession of the most powerful king of the West, surprised to find in Gaul the pompous custom of the military monarchies of the East. Luern distributed down from his chariot gold and silver to the crowd. He held for many days banquets of stupendous luxury. The Arverni had a taste for the colossal, Puy de Dôme inspired them to greatness.”

“Even shinier was the vision of the Arvernian king at war, advancing in the halo of his necklace and golden bracelets, on a chariot plated in silver, followed by the bronze boars of the tribes. Not far, the formidable pack of his hunting dogs. Beside him, finally, the poet, a lyre in his hand, singing the glorious feats of arms of the king and his nation. And the men, their senses impregnated with the royal glory, the eyes affected by the gold, the ears by the clamour, the thinking by the verses, they imagined that perhaps they had just seen a god.”

“The Arvernian empire resembled no regular state, made as it was by a league of tribes. The Arverni of Bituit fairly correspond in the history of Gaul to the Romans of Servius Tullius and his Latin league in the history of Rome. But the advantage is all on the side of the Gauls: their gold, light and bright coins were infinitely more precious than this square bronze, dark and massive coin which is the Roman as of the early times, and I don’t think that at the court of Servius one was delighted by the long chansons de geste dear to our ancestors. Gaul debuted merrily into civilized life, and partly according to the Greek rite.”

Coins from Gaul

Coins from ancient Gaul. Coinage had started in Gaul a few centuries BC. Courtesy of ‘Le blog de Lutèce’ (www.e-stoire.net), a good site about the French celts (in French)

[The Arverni were defeated by the Romans in 121 BC and Roman Gallia Narbonensis was established. Called 'Provincia', it later evolved into Provence, MoR.]

A new Arvernian chieftain

“Nearly a century later, Caesar having appeared on the Rhone, it seemed natural that, after numerous bloody battles, a new Arvernian chieftain unified the scattered tribes into a single command. This man was Vercingetorix.”

“The Gallic fatherland, as Vercingetorix imagined it, I believe, was the practice of this community of blood, of this original identity that the Druids had taught.”

“Vercingetorix identified his life with that of the Gallic homeland and with the liberty of its people to the extent that, the day the gods condemned his dream, he thought only to disappear.”

“He had been defeated not only by a man but by the gods. Having begun the war with human sacrifices, he would end it much in the same way, resolved to offer himself as an expiatory victim.”

A Gallic human sacrifice

A Gallic human sacrifice. Courtesy of ‘Le blog de Lutèce’ (www.e-stoire.net)

Ceremony of surrender

“The Romans were admirable directors. They always staged the shows which struck the imagination of both the allied and the vanquished, which at times served as much as a victory to ensure their command. Julius Caesar, the day after his victory, presented to the gods of his country the same king and leader of those he had defeated.”

“Before the camp, within the lines of defense, the high platform of the proconsul had been erected, isolated and preceded by steps, like a sanctuary. On top, Caesar sat on the imperial seat, wearing his purple robe. Around him, the eagles of the legions and the cohorts’ emblems as symbols of the protective deities of the Roman army. In front of him, the mountain that crowned the ramparts of Alesia, its flanks covered with corpses. Spectators of the show, 40,000 legionaries, standing on the terraces and towers that surrounded Caesar as an armed crown. On the horizon, the immense frame of the hills.”

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar by Henri Paul Motte

Vercingetorix before Caesar (by Henri Paul Motte, 1886)

“Alone, on horseback, Vercingetorix was the first to exit the gates of the city, no herald preceding his coming. He came down the mountain trails and appeared suddenly before Caesar.”

“He wore his finest weapons, his gold phalerae gleaming on his chest. Straightening his tall figure he got near the platform with the attitude of the proud winner going to triumph. Fierce expression, superb stature, his body sparkling with gold and silver, he must have looked bigger than a human being, and as august as a hero.”

ψ

[The above patchwork in French]

ψ

Previous installments:

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)
“Caesar was like the wind. Can we condemn the wind? And yet what scourge can it bring forth!” (3)

See also:

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
Caesar, Great Man and Don Juan

The Old Man and the Water Flowing

An old man in Crete

An old man in a café, Crete, Greece. Click for credits

“I saw an old man kneeling on the stones. He was leaning over a channel, and watching the water run, his face bathed in inexpressible ecstasy. It seemed as though his nose, mouth, and cheeks had vanished; nothing remained but the two eyes which followed the water as it flowed between the rocks. I went up to him.

‘What do you see there, old man ?’ I asked him.

And he, without lifting his head or removing his eyes from the water, replied:

‘My life, my life which is running out…’  “

ψ

[From Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis (translation by P.A. Bien)]

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm  Comments (19)  
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Calcagni’s Memoirs. Illness and a Thought, in Great Secrecy (14)

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

14th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni – see the original text in Italian -, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text

ψ

My mother had looked after and cured her husband since he was 50, because of a chronic catarrh of the bladder and urine retention that also caused him perineum abscesses.

He, who held in low esteem doctors & medicines, refused any treatment and only when he could not take it anymore and was forced to urinate lest his bladder would burst, he went to an emergency ward where he got syringed or cut, depending on the circumstances: then with open wounds he was imprudent enough to get back home on foot.

“Nature must follow its course when an imminent danger of death has been avoided.”

I remember having gone through all the hospitals of Rome in order to accompany my father to the various emergency wards. He used to stay a few hours, then he started shouting so he was discharged.

[…] Had my father taken a bit of care of himself he could have turned 100, since at 70, when he died, he still had the arteries of a young man. And he suffered no other inconvenience than this urine retention […] which was his continuous worry, his fixation, so that when […] he heard someone say “that man is very ill” he asked:

“Can he micturate?”
“Yes”
“Nothing serious then.”

Mum was at times ill because of that blessed liver of hers but he didn’t worry since my mother suffered no bladder inconvenience.

“Nothing to worry about,” said my father, “such things have no real consequences. What is fundamental is to be able to urinate, like that, naturally, happily.”

The Church of San Francesco a Ripa, in Trastevere. Click for attribution

A Thought, in Great Secrecy

When I, as a higher-level clerk, was better set up financially the idea came to my mind to rent a piano so that my father could enjoy himself a bit given his very great passion for music.

My father got wind of it and objected, saying:

“Tell Carlo not to bring the piano here otherwise I will p*** into it.”

Much perplexed as I was by this very strange eventuality, I however decided to try and, taken the necessary arrangements with the shopkeeper, I had the piano arrive in great secrecy to our house, and closed it into a room.

My father came home and went to bed at 9 o’clock as usual, without having seen the piano.

When I arrived home at night I said to my mother:

“How did it go?”
“All’s well. He didn’t notice anything yet.”

At about 5 am, however, we are awakened by discreet, very much discreet piano chords. We get up to our great surprise and approach the piano room in our nightdresses. There we see my father who, in his nightdress too, was blissfully tickling the piano keys.

He had not p*** into it … my battle was won, to the great delight of the poor man who was in truth very much pleased by my thought and my boldness.

All Efforts were Hopeless

My father died of a fever, as a result of absorption, that had been dragging on for several days, but disaster was caused by a pneumonic fact, as it usually happens. I was nursing him that night and I perceived the end approaching by the fact that he, almost in a coma, did not call Rachele anymore, but his mother … mamma mia, mamma mia […]

He passed away peacefully, assisted by the comforts of religion and by a special blessing from the Holy Father. He had confessed himself a few days earlier.

ψ

On the 23rd of September 1909 Il Giornale d’Italia published this obituary notice in the local news:

“Count Calcagni’s death, General Brigadier of the Pope’s noble guards.

This morning (Wednesday 22nd, 4:20 AM) Count Giovanni Calcagni, retired Brigadier of his Holiness’ noble guards, died in Rome. He was one of the most respected and characteristic figures of the Roman Catholic patriciate.

Count Calcagni was a likable gentleman of the old school: although seventy-year-old he still retained an exceptionally vigorous body which led him not to care about the assaults of the illness which has now brought him to the grave. His health had rapidly worsened in the last few days until all efforts to save him became hopeless.

He passed away assisted by the comforts of religion and by a special blessing that the Pontiff wanted to send him.

Although Count Calcagni had retired several years earlier from the active life that he had led as a result of his duties at the Papal Court, his demise however will be felt with deep regret by all who could appreciate the rectitude of his character and the originality of his spirit.

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated in honour of the extinct in the Parish Church of S. Francesco a Ripa at 10 AM. Our deep condolences go to the desolate family.”

Original text in Italian

ψ

Related posts:

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Poverty and Father’s Funeral in Trastevere (4)

Pictures from Tuscany (skip blah blah)

A view. Click for a larger picture

Some pictures from our last week end.

ψ

This post is again dedicated to Tuscany, to ‘sposa‘ and to my ‘eldest brother’.

I hope you won’t think my life is so sparkling.

It isn’t.

And I have visited Tuscany seldom in the last 15 years.

The reasons are not related to the people I mention here.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time before a screen or reading or playing my guitar or walking.

A very stupid thing to do, perhaps.

I won’t say more, since dum loquor hora fugit.

ψ

Lilla when very young

[Necessary update :-( Skip to pics below]

Mario: “You sometimes try to make your life big. And this post proves you wanted to blow your readers’ mind with ‘your Tuscany’. Besides let’s face it Campania’s culture is greater than Toscana’s.”

MoR: “As for the last point I may partially agree though it’s hard to say and in any case Campania is today at risk (due possibly to capricious Greek influence?)

I mean, this everybody-screwing-everybody attitude come on. And you, and what you’ve done to Flavia especially, and to me. We loved you. You are and will ever remain a moron.”

Mario: *keeping silent for a moment*

“You didn’t reply to my first point.”

Buds in Tuscany 34 years ago. Mario on the right and I on the left

MoR: “There may be some narcissism (see 1, 2), or this ‘wanting to show them’ thing.”

Extropian: “The usual ‘attraction-repulsion between North and South, between hyperboreans non-hyperboreans’ thing? Interesting but boring now.

I am thinking about us, more than 30 years ago, when we used to spend so many week ends in Tuscany all together, our group of school mates. It was beautiful. And your eldest brother, terrific.”

MoR: “Lilla my female dog has just died this morning. So what can I say. Life is short. Let us live.

But I kind of believe in reincarnation.

For both humans and animals, of course.”

ψ

Tuscan friends

'Sposa' (spouse) and 'il mio fratello maggiore' (my eldest brother)

Very good natured and intelligent, he makes everybody happy in parties. Click to enlarge

Very intelligent, strong willed, simpaticissima... click for a larger image. Btw I don't know why Italian women are so strong willed. They 'grind' us

I insisted on the feather. I obsessed all with my small E63. Click for a larger image

Click for a bigger pic. In Tuscany people love (and have great) meat and steaks

Well, well ,well ... sposa is sposa. click for a larger picture

End with rain. Click to enlarge

Il soffio della morte può rinfrescare?

Rewriting a bit in my mother tongue, since after more than three years of blogging in English I am starting to look for words when I speak in Italian. English-speaking readers may use an automatic translator if they will.

Riscrivere un poco nella lingua madre perché dopo più di tre anni di blog in inglese quando parlo in italiano cominciano a mancarmi le parole. I lettori di lingua inglese possono usare un traduttore automatico se vogliono.

A Brush With Death

Non so. Forse scrivo questo avendo letto un testo di Richard sull’argomento.

Incontrai tempo fa in aereo un tizio di Trieste che era stato anche assessore della città per alcuni anni e con il quale instaurai una di quelle amicizie intense che nascono (e muoiono) nello spazio di un’ora. Mi disse che la sua vita cambiò dopo aver avuto due infarti.

“A brush with death always helps us to live our lives better”. L’avevo appuntato nel mio diario ma non so più chi l’ha scritto. Tradotto liberamente: quando la morte ti sfiora ti aiuta sempre a vivere meglio.

In fondo, e lo dico senza alcuno spirito macabro e in tutta serenità, quest’ultima fase della vita dovrebbe essere tutta un ‘brush with death’, il che dovrebbe renderla la più preziosa di tutte, giorno per giorno, accorgendoci di quanto è bello ciò che stiamo per lasciare, per cui molte preoccupazioni di fronte a una tale prospettiva dovrebbe scomparire, o attenuarsi di molto.

Dovrebbero. Ma quasi sempre non è così. It doesn’t work that way most of the time.

Ecco che forse può giovare dirigere, quasi spingere, la mente verso pensieri del genere, come quando cerchiamo di recitare versi o parole che danno forza.

ψ

Related posts:

Young People vs Life

I giovani e la vita

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Comments (36)  
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Do We Have Balls To Live Withouth Religion? INVICTUS

Inner Bravery and Endurance

The film INVICTUS should be watched by the young and the less young.

It is an inspiring message on the inner bravery we can find in ourselves in order to endure any deep sorrow or big problem life can hurl at us.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, INVICTUS is based on John Carlin‘s book ‘Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation. Invictus‘.

The film is a tribute to Nelson Mandela and to the South African people – blacks and whites alike – and it reveals the complex fragments of the souls of 3 men.

The Victorians, Mandela, the Afrikaans

Nelson Mandela in 2008

N. Mandela in 2008. Click for credits and to enlarge

1) A Victorian poet – William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) we never see in the film – who bravely faced life deprived of his left leg since the age of 12 and who wrote INVICTUS (see below,) an inspired poem on endurance.

2) Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years imprisoned in a quasi cubicle and who was resilient enough to survive and fight also because inspired by the poem INVICTUS.

3) The South African (Afrikaan) captain of the Springboks‘ – the country’s rugby union team – who, inspired by Mandela in his turn and by that same poem, brings the Springboks to victory, in the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa, by defeating the All Blacks 15-12 in the final.

An event that possibly helped the South African black and white people to better understand each other along the hard path towards a society where racial hate and mistrust may be progressively banned.

Morgan Freeman‘s (starring Mandela, and Mandela’s friend btw); Clint Eastwood; the solid plot-script – these in my opinion the elements that make the film compelling.

I forgot someone. Nelson Mandela.

Invictus

William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903). R. L. Stevenson’s ‘Long John Silver’ character was inspired by his real-life friend Henley, ‘a glowing, massive-shouldered fellow’

OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade
,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid
.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley, 1875

Note on Man & Religion

So beautiful, inspiring.

Henley’s position on religion seems pre-Christian to me and close to epicureanism and stoicismSir Bertrand Russell had declared:

“My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.” [read more ]

Henley’s position is also that of the Renaissance and of humanism, when Western man – a truly reborn dantesque Ulysses – found the guts to build his own destiny again (and regrettably to conquer the rest of the planet destroying other cultures etc.)

“Man can find all the force he needs within his own human soul and reason, within his character and will,” said many Greek and Roman wise men plus several humanists, no god really helping, no religion really helping.

[The italic text in INVICTUS is mine. It is where I believe the poet mostly expresses the said classic attitude.]

Ψ

Now, what do readers think about all this? Can we live without religion, without a help from ‘someone’ up there?

Can we too – the simple men in the street – be the ‘captains of our soul’? Or is it only possible to the master, to the ‘real tough’?

So in the end:

Is religion basically a question of lack of balls? Or is there more than that?

ψ

Related posts:

Religion, Fear, Power
Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind (on Magister’s teachings on bravery and inner force)
On Solitude (where the totally self-sufficient Greco-Roman sage is analysed, a quasi-superman, like many Victorians were also)

A final note.

(I know, I’ll lose ALL my readers …)

INVICTUS attitude is classical. It reminds the Greco-Roman sage who has “like unsinkable goods in his soul that can float out of any shipwreck.”

Stilpon (Στίλπων) who according to Seneca lost his family and all his goods, when asked if he had suffered any harm, replied: “No, I haven’t.”

Compare now this classical attitude with a passage from the Old Testament (Psalm 91,9.) [the New Testament is identical in this].

You’ll measure the total overturning of many classical values Christianity carried out.

ψ

Here in fact man totally entrusts himself to God’s divine pro-vidence:

Because thou hast made the LORD,
which is my refuge, even the most High,
thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee,
neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
to keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee up in their hands,
lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Because he hath set his love upon me,
therefore will I deliver him:

I will set him on high,
because he hath known my name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
[exactly what Christ says in the New Testament, MoR]

I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him,
and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him,
and shew him my salvation.

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)

Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II

Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II. Click for credits

The theme of the Mafia has come out in many discussions. While reading up on it I was surprised how well the Mafia seems to fit into the topics of this blog.

Here just a few notes freely based 1) on the book Padrini, by Roberto Olla, Mondadori 2003, Milano [translated into English with the title Godfathers], and 2) on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Men of Respect, Intelligent and Cynical

The word “Don” is used in Italian when referring to a priest or to an aristocrat. A godfather is in fact a man of respect. He is an aristocrat of crime, a prince of evil, no matter his appearance or his clothes – this may be one reason why Hollywood movie-goers have found the Mafiosi so attractive.

One common mistake – argues Roberto Olla – is in fact that of considering the Mafiosi as simple gunmen to defeat. Don Vito Cascio Ferro had no guns. He was one of the first godfathers who operated both in Sicily and in the United States. His force lay in his cynicism and intelligence and in the network he was able to create thanks to well ingrained traditions. He distributed favori, favours, to everybody, but something was asked in return.

In short, mafia had/has history. How a Mafia network was / is built is well expressed by Mario Puzo in The Godfather:

“Don Vito Corleone [Puzo’s fictitious character] was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promise (…) Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart (…) His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don” (…) some humble gift – a gallon of home-made wine etc.
It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.”

This network implied protection, various forms of exchange but also ruthless exploitation (for example the pizzo or protection money one could not escape).

Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery

Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery

Long centuries of oppression or absence of the state had favoured in Sicily a kind of anti-state or alternative organization. The American police officers and the ‘nordic’ Italian state found themselves unprepared – Olla continues.

Focusing on America, “the US policemen were searching in the underworld. But it was in the upper world that they should have searched. They should have searched among the ‘similar’ and not the ‘unlike’, since those men came from an ancient culture.”

How to Face Aliens From an Ancient World?

Let us try to better understand. America at that time – Olla observes – distinguished between the good guys and the bad guys, and reacted severely to the latter. When though meeting the ‘men of respect’ the US found themselves facing unheard-of souls. They were unprepared when fighting these mafiosi who were too similar to the people from the upper world. It was not a matter of jacket and tie or of wearing a social mask.

“It was a blend of morality and immorality which produced people able to commit the most ferocious crimes and, at the same time, to show respect for religion. People capable to plan a massacre while in everyday life they defended the good principles and healthy traditions.”

An unheard-of humanity? Well, my readers know well what I mean: we are dealing here in my opinion with alien moral codes stemming from pre-Christian, Greco-Roman antiquity, something more or less unknown to [more truly Christian] northern Europe where the American culture mostly came from.

The mafioso had to be seen – as  Giovanni Falcone, a famous Sicilian magistrate killed by the mafia in 1992, once said – like the old sage who administered justice sitting under the big oak tree in the name of a non-existent state.

The Irish had no Chance

“Morality and immorality, respect and abuse, honour and violence.” When the Italian and the Irish organized crime faced each other in the American ports [Olla, again], the latter didn’t have any chance, regardless of the many advantages the Irish had had – they had migrated earlier, they spoke the language, and some of them were perfectly integrated: Irish crime had to face a more ancient and mysterious culture.

Surprise attacks, great speed and extreme determination in their raids – behind the big godfathers I remember Mario Puzo flashing the shadow of the Roman emperors [imperatores], with their ruthlessness and organization. It is exaggerated, but certainly the Mafia the Americans had to fight had already in its genes some formidable military qualities, among the rest.

Different from the Irish is the case of the Jewish criminals, some of which (like Meyer Lansky associated with Lucky Luciano) well integrated themselves into the Italian Mafia (due to their common Mediterranean origins? It is tempting to think so.)

Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer and pioneer in the fight against Mafia

Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer, pioneer in the fight against the Mafia (1860 – 1909)

It is not by chance that the first serious blows to the Mafia were given by Italians, like the police officer Joe Petrosino and many others, who were able to understand the intricacies of the Italian mind.

Related posts and blog themes:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)
A Cultural Battle
The Mafia and the Italian Mind. Was Julius Caesar a Godfather? (3)

Is The Human Mind Like a Museum?
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Traces of Paganism in Italians

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