Italian American Rosaria has written on Facebook today:
“To our veterans:
You were willing to pay the ultimate price to defend the principles your country stands on. We are glad you came back to your home and friends. We are glad your life was spared, so that we can hear your story, of combat, of living away from the familiar, of worrying each minute of each day if you, or your comrades were going to make it out alive, if the war was worth all the pain and resources and damages it caused.
It is that story of courage and fear and …”
I had replied in my usual dialectic-moronic way:
[paraprased, since I can't find the original words in Facebook, MoR]:
“Stai parlando dello sbarco in Normandia, oggi, credo. Anche io come italiano sono contento di quello sbarco anche se noi eravamo i nemici. In realtà gli italiani capirono molto prima dei tedeschi che Mussolini era diventato lo schiavo di un pazzo e fu per questo che se ne liberarono. Molti criticarono l’Italia per aver lasciato l’alleato germanico. Ma chi fu più etico, i tedeschi che obbedirono al male fino alle fine, o gli italiani, che rifiutarono il male?
Forse è un dilemma etico insolubile …[e poi un antico romano avrebbe fatto la stessa cosa dei tedeschi, ndr]“
“Only one thing, Rosaria Williams, since the Romans are stubborn. I’ll speak in your maternal language.
“This post brings a new perspective to the problem of 9/11″
What is so new (I raise my voice for the sake of a discussion that will not occur, I shoot too many posts) dear Italian American woman?
For heaven’s sake, is it THAT hard to see things placing ourselves into the others’ boots?
Gli Americani pensano ai loro caduti, ok, ma perché non ai caduti (to name just a few) inglesi, canadesi, indiani, tedeschi, marocchini ecc. ? E RUSSI? The Russians? 20 milioni di morti! Non saranno loro, forse, ad aver sconfitto Hitler, mi domando? PLus, why don’t Americans care too about the deaths of the losers? (Italians, most of the French, the Germans, the Japanese?) Because, as protestants, the losers are in hell? [changing the text altogether, MoR]
Speaking of Italy, my country was accepted this year in Normandy for the first time.
Category Archives: ethics
καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσονται ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι
in vobis erunt magistri mendaces
2 Peter 2.1
Mentors are important for a young person’s mind, in Academia and elsewhere.
Like all of us, made poorer by a fraudulent economy, a youth’s mind can be treated similarly by toxic mentors
This post is about them.
Originally posted on Tenure, She Wrote:
Unfortunately for potential scientists, professors don’t receive any formal training in mentoring – and a disastrous mentoring situation can derail a trainee’s career. Although some professors go out of their way to think about mentoring (see Acclimatrix’s post), and many want to be good mentors, the truth is there are some downright awful ones out there. So what creates a ‘toxic’ mentoring relationship? To me, the worst relationships happen when the person in power (the mentor) takes advantage of the mentee’s work without sufficient regard for their career and mental health. Unfortunately, I’ve never been part of a department where there wasn’t at least one professor that “everyone” knew was a toxic mentor. Some examples include:
- One who drags out a student’s defense date for years because of limited resources for that type of research (doesn’t want the competition)
- One who blocks mentee publications or degrees by putting up…
View original 1,592 more words
Here’s the promised conversation between Douglas and myself about the Greeks, the ‘dark side’ of the ancients and much much more.
He’s innocently unaware he’s like a perfect-to-me specimen from the German Roman Limes area … ;-) A great point of observation, kidding apart, for a blog like mine (read Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds.)
No big deal, just a small place of comfort to test the effects of cold and hot water (& steam showers plus gymnastics,) and where many of the things I ponder get unexpected solutions (see Relax & Creativity.)
The Ancients, Do We Idealize Them?
Andreas: “Cheri speaks as though from my own heart in lamenting the Greeks. How, oh how, to reconcile their ancient grandeur with their Euro-busting, book-cooking financial profligacy of today?”
[Cheri, another great blogger and about to go to Athens, had expressed preoccupation for the riots etc. See the picture at the top, MoR]
Thomas Stazyk: “One of the Greek protesters was interviewed on BBC and said: “They [gov't officials] stole all the money. Then they borrowed more money and stole that!”
MoR: “Allow me to disagree a bit here. I won’t discuss here the Greek failure – linked to Greek sins surely, but also to problems created elsewhere.
As I said over at Cheri’s, the beauty of going to Greece, to parts of Southern Italy (even to Rome), Turkey, Northern Africa etc. is the time machine thing. We don’t go there to see things working – if we want just that we should keep going to Sweden, North Germany or the US. When we go to the Med – or even more to India etc. – we go to see places and especially people – not only monuments – caught in the past, living remnants of an ancient world we are not always satisfied to admire from a library. This is the beauty of such trips. Of course there is a price to be paid. My daughter, 26, is now working in Mumbai for a month. She has started to love Mumbai immensely, but she is also paying a price for it.
This for today’s survivals of the past. As for the ancients themselves, Cheri suspects she is idealizing them a bit. I do it often too. But if we read attentively the ancient Greek texts (the Roman ones are no different) we don’t have only Pericles or Aristotle, but horrible poverty, thousands of slaves abused or, even worse, dying slowly in the Athenian silver mines, child prostitution widespread in ways not easily imaginable, the Macedonians (Alexander and his father included) ending up their dinners in wild and drunken orgies most of the time.
In the oration against Neaira, [pseudo] Demosthenes reconstructs with horrifying details 50 years of the life of a prostitute. It is a depiction of what could have been the life of an outcast in 4th century BCE Greece.”
Life of the Common Citizen
Douglas: “MoR, it is always the elites we are told of in the histories. Those who ruled, who were influential, who owned property, who were the ‘movers and shakers’ of whatever society (or culture) we delve into. The life of the common citizen is seldom mentioned.”
MoR: “Douglas, there’s not only the histories (and often even the histories are non conventional, like Herodotus and Suetonius, or even Plutarch) but all sorts of comedies, and novels, Greek and Roman, that depict everyday life (upper and lower classes and slaves too), plus, as I said, the speeches of the lawyers full of realistic details, & satires mocking follies (Juvenal etc.) or epigrams like Martial’s, so colourful but also shocking for their details on brutality in Rome. I mean, there’s plenty of records of the ancients’ everyday life, which may sounds often disgusting to us (they had different ethical codes) and totally non puritanical. I am not that expert in any case, I am just a dilettante having fun connecting the modern and ancient – a very ‘edgy’ place antiquity. My problem is this language. I write in English with all sort of dictionaries. Fascinating, but painful.”
Douglas: “Please do not misunderstand me but who wrote those histories? All writing, all observations, reflects the perspective of the writer. In that, they are written as they are seen, not as they perhaps are.
Take any given incident, collect the witnesses, ask them what happened. Only by a collection of perspectives can one gain a knowledge of what actually occurred. Even in that there is an element of bias on the part of the one piecing it together.
So, yes, I am sure the life of an average Roman was not all orgies, high living, and wine-soaked afternoons at the Colosseum. Life was cruel for those who had no family connections, money, or position of power. It does not take a genius to figure this out.
But histories do not reflect the average person’s life. They reflect the life of those in power, those with influence, and those who achieved.
Or, put another way, you do not learn how the scribe lived but how his patron did.
I could ask you, what is the life of the average Roman today? You would answer from your perspective. You might not understand how life is for the people who deliver the goods to the market or keep the phones working or whose family must all work in order to pay the bills.
In the end, it comes down to what is the ‘average person’ and how that status is determined.”
“But histories do not reflect the average person’s life.
Of course they don’t, although I don’t get what you mean by histories. Surely life of the ancients was not all orgies or wine soaked days spent at the Colosseum, but it seems likely it did not know the sexual repression of Christianity [see above Augustine, too an 'open-minded' Pagan first, too a strict Christian later], at least at certain periods, conditions, places. And, frankly, I don’t see what’s the big deal about it.
I could ask you, what is the life of the average Roman today? You would answer from your perspective.
The ancients we will probably never know who they really were but what is certain is, they were VERY different. Take a god like Dionysus Bacchus, worshipped by the poor and the rich alike, almost all around ritual madness, ecstasy and, basically, eroticism: it is painted sculpted carved EVERYWHERE in both Rome and Greece.
The term ’the ancients’ is of course too vague. There are plenty of scholars’ books depicting everyday life – for different classes – in 5th century Athens or Augustus’ Rome or Alexandria at the times of this or that monarch. They are just guesses based on the sources we have which is not much but it is growing because research is progressing (for example we see the reasons of the Fall of Rome quite differently now from what we thought, say, 50 years ago, but I am shifting).
We will never know what was the real life of a Roman at Caesar’s time, for example, like, even for today, you are right, my testimony of contemporary Rome is certainly subjective and partial, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
Douglas: “Let me put it another way, my friend… What do you suppose the literacy rate was in, say, ancient Rome?
Of current times and high (comparatively to ancient times) literacy rates, what percentage of people visit our vast array of museums, operas, ballets, and such?I say we can only know what we are told and what we are told is dictated by the mindsets, biases, and consciences of those that can pass the knowledge on. We cannot know what is true.”
[to be continued; read part 2]
The rap is captivating, the insertion of Totò (a great Italian actor) is exhilarating, and the song time is beat with the syllables of “Ber-lus-co-ni di-me-tti-ti”, i.e. ‘Berlusconi resign.’
a cui teneva un discorso
Poi emanava un editto
chi chiedeva giustizia,
E si vantava Tiberio
con gli aneddoti sconci
Ma sfuggiva i giudizi
Whom he used to lecture
He then issued an edict
Of those who asked for justice,
And bragging was Tiberius
With anecdotes obscene
But he escaped verdicts
By hiding his mess
Related posts from our blog:
UPDATE: Just a few hours ago Berlusconi was hit in the face with a model of Milan’s cathedral and knocked to the ground.
He had just finished a speech during a political rally in the centre of the Italian Northern city. According to ANSA the alleged attacker had received many years of treatment for mental disease. Berlusconi is now being taken care of in a Milan hospital and his condition doesn’t seem serious.
A signal of how harsh the political climate is getting in our country, and a horrible gesture to be firmly condemned whatever opinion we may have of Berlusconi and his policy.
I’ll postpone the final part of the Roman Jews writing and will speak about Pedro today.
Pedro is a 49-year-old Peruvian emigrated to Italy long ago. He has created a small construction firm that takes care of everything – masonry, electrical and plumbing infrastructure etc. The work done is professional and accurate.
I find Pedro’s personality impressive. Here are bits of his life story, told trying to use his own words.
His father died when he was 8 so his mother had to roll up her sleeves. She has been a great woman. Pedro as a boy was busy doing any possible job in the streets of Lima, washing windscreens, polishing shoes – he had to be ingenious in many ways.
When coming back to Lima years later and meeting again his former street pals he found out many had ended up in drugs and some had died.
In Peru too, he says, there’s this street children problem and the cleanup squads that murder them. But he committed no crime on the street. It’s his mother – he says. She raised him the hard way. Iron-willed she borne them all completely by herself, tied to a rope fastened to a beam, with the babies being brought to the world and she cutting the umbilical cord with her bare hands.
She is over 80 and sick now. Pedro’s brother phoned him to ask him to come back for next Christmas or he won’t see her again.
Pedro’s parents were from the Andes. They weren’t native Liman. You’ve got the plains over the ocean, the big mountains and the jungle in Peru [see the picture on the right.]
They teach humility, honesty and hard work in the Andean mountains, he says. That is why when this folk get down to the plains they are too naive and get easily cheated. These people meet a world where cunning and dishonesty are winning. This creates confusion in their heads, he says.
The Andean is more active, has a tougher character and is most resistant to fatigue. At the big markets in Lima lots of them manage the stands. Their bodies are smaller and their skin darker. The native Liman has lighter skin and a bigger body instead.
The Peruvian from the Andes in Italy aren’t usually working in the Italian families for housework. They set up construction, cleaning or transportation firms. Pedro always tells his compatriots to learn a job well instead of trying to figure out how to make money quickly. “It’ll be your wealth” he says.
He is happy when there’s problems to solve. “I love le grane! [trouble]” he keeps saying while shaking a head a bit too large compared to the body. Difficulties do not discourage him. They make him more resourceful instead.
He has learned both from his mother and from the street.
His mother Maria was a strict woman and when she wanted to punish her children and they fled away like lightning she caught them while asleep in the deep of the night and beat them up soundly. I didn’t ask him whether his mother remarried or not. He told me that, with the years passing, life had become a bit easier for his family. This made his brothers different. They didn’t have to fight as much as he did.
Having a good head is all that matters in life, he says.
He regrets not having had any education, nor having read enough – he saw the piles of books in our apartment. He’s glad his children had the opportunity to study. One of them will soon be an engineer.
His sons and daughters ask him:
“Papà, had you been born again, what job would you do?”
“Papà, the mason again?”
“Yes, the mason. That’s the thing I love most.”
[to be continued]
The whole world is chatting about the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s lifestyle. The news are full of details regarding alleged wild parties in his luxurious residences (see below Villa Certosa in Sardinia.) According to these reports all sorts of women attended these festas, including alleged under-age girls and paid escorts (see above Patrizia D’Addario) attracted to a possible career in TV or in politics (see Wikipedia for details.)
Berlusconi, sometimes depicted as a decadent Roman emperor (Mary Beard in the UK Times compared him to Tiberius,) is seen by many as possessing in ways grotesque the flaws usually ascribed to Italians, a lack of sexual restraint and a loose morality, among the rest.
And in fact many Italians voting for him say they like his way of life and admire him for being rich, powerful and for the number of women in his court. This is the way I am – he said replying to journalists asking if he was planning on changing his lifestyle after the scandals – and I cannot change at my age. Italians want me like that and support me.
Other Italians however vote for him because they prefer the right-wing coalition program to a left deprived of ideas and of real leadership. The opinion of a right-wing Italian fellow blogger, Wind Rose hotel, is that being a conservative doesn’t necessarily mean to be a fan of Berlusconi. I’m sure these Italians would prefer a more prudent behaviour by our Prime Minister, although it is to be noted that Berlusconi’s success owes a lot to his frankness which makes him different from the average byzantine Italian politician.
Traditionally Italians care little about a politician’s private life, his private vices being easily forgiven whenever his political action is deemed effective (we have discussed Italian cynicism and some possible historical causes.)
Many Italians are though starting to get embarrassed, to say the least. The line between the private and public sphere seems blurred to them if it is true that women’s sexual favours were /are later rewarded with a political career in the Italian or the European parliament. Someone is talking of Berlusconi’s possible resignation.
“Mr Berlusconi’s court – writes the British Independent – has no soothsayers to warn him of the Ides of March, but the sudden emergence of hostile noises from the Catholic Church is the modern Italian equivalent of that – especially as the Catholic Church continues to hold immense sway over public opinion.”
We are going to see how far Italian cynical indifference will go. Personally I don’t think Berlusconi will resign easily, unless something unprecedented occurs. He is still very powerful, though weakened, and he controls much of the Italian media, plus a lot depends on whether he will succeed in keeping the Italian economy going.
Whether these scandals are doing any real damage to him or not, the uneasiness of the Catholic Church – whose realpolitik is hard put to it – should not be under evaluated, although an additional element has to be considered in my opinion.
Berlusconi’s ambition of playing as a separate negotiator with Russia, Iran and the Middle East is irritating both the EU and the USA. An example is Berlusconi’s support of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline, seen as a rival to the planned Nabucco pipeline backed by the USA and the EU. The South Stream (see image below) is in fact considered dangerous by them since it would extend Russia’s blackmail influence over Europe.
A good example of Berlusconi’s foreign politics. He is so proud of being a personal friend of Putin, although it remains to be seen whether this friendship (or any other independent move) will prove profitable in the long (or even short) run.
If you want to know more:
Sex and the City (of Rome) which regards Italian sexuality and links to posts on this matter.
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”, on the possible roots of Italian cynicism.
Rape and death of Roman Lucretia
To her husband’s question, “Is all well?,” Lucretia replied:
“Far from it; for what can be well with a woman when she has lost her honour?
The print of a strange man is in your bed. Yet my body only has been violated;
my heart is guiltless, as death shall be my witness.” …
Taking a knife which she had concealed beneath her dress, she plunged it into her heart,
and sinking forward upon the wound, died as she fell.
(Livy Book I. 57-60)
A discussion about the acceptable reasons for ending one’s life (see our previous post) can profit from the opinion of our forefathers, the Ancients, and from that of the Renaissance men, who channelled ancient thought into modernity.
Most of the quotes are taken from the French Renaissance writer Montaigne (II:3), whose Gutenberg English text is available in the translation of Charles Cotton (1630 – 1687). See also the original French text.
Note to readers
To many, old writings are a terrible bore.
They are wrong in my view.
Ancient writings, actual time machines connecting the past to the present, are mind expanding and one of the pleasures of life.
“The wise man lives as long as he should, not as long as he can” said Seneca, who nobly committed suicide when accused of an attempt on emperor Nero’s life. And Cicero said that while “life depended upon the will of others, death depended upon our own.”
Greco-Roman writers like Plutarch expressed great appreciation for anyone who showed this kind of ultimate dignity.
Tacitus admires Boiocalus, a German chief, “who said to the Romans that he and his tribe might lack enough land to live upon, but land sufficient to die upon could never be wanting.”
Plutarch tells us of this Spartan boy “sold as a slave and by his master commanded to some abject employment, who said: ‘You shall see whom you have bought; it would be a shame for me to serve, when freedom is at reach,’ and having so said, threw himself from the top of the house.”
Ancient thought didn’t always condone suicide. Plato didn’t accept it and the Roman poet Virgil (Aeneid, IV, 434-437) destined those who committed suicide to a region of the afterlife where they were overwhelmed by sadness (tenent maesti loca).
But the prevalent Roman ideal was that of the stoic sage who counted on reason and self-control and who was not afraid of pain or misfortune (see our post ‘On solitude‘). Should life become unbearable, or should one face great dishonour, the Romans of both sexes were not hesitant to commit suicide.
Death was considered an act of ultimate freedom and this was deeply ingrained in the Roman tradition. “Nature has ordained only one entrance to life – said Cicero – but a hundred thousand exits.”
Death was less important than the way of death, which had to be decent, full of dignity, rational (and sometimes theatrical,) while to the Christian mind, self-killing being a sin, suicide is often a desperate, irrational action fruit of depression.
Among famous examples of suicide are Lucretia, Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony (and Cleopatra,) Cato the younger (see picture below), Seneca, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter etc. plus a good number of emperors, Nero, Maximian, Otho, Quintillus etc.
Common people as well considered dignity more important than life in many cases.
Roman stoicism deeply influenced the West despite the victory of Christianity. “For much of modern Western history, Stoic ideas of moral virtue have been second to none in influence” (Ecole Initiative, Early Church On-Line Encyclopedia.)
We see examples of noble death in Shakespeare, who, like all his contemporaries from Renaissance, felt the influence of ancient thought. The imagination of the Victorian British was captured by Cato’s death (see image on the right), «clawing out his own entrails to avoid Caesar’s despotism — as a courageous and noble death.”
Montaigne, imbued with Roman stoicism, refers how “Alexander laying siege to a city in India, those within, finding themselves very hardly set, put on a vigorous resolution to deprive him of the pleasure of his victory, and accordingly burned themselves together with their city, despite his humanity.” He seems to praise that the Indians preferred a death with honour rather than a life without it.
Montaigne adds a moving example:
“Nothing can be added to the beauty of the death of the wife of Fulvius, a good friend of Augustus. Augustus having discovered that his friend had vented an important secret he had entrusted him withal, one morning that he came to make his court, received him very coldly and looked frowningly upon him. Fulvius returned home full of despair, where he sorrowfully told his wife that, having fallen into this misfortune, he was resolved to kill himself.
To whom she frankly replied, ‘Tis right, seeing that having so often experienced the indiscipline of my tongue, you could not take warning: but let me kill myself first,’ and without more ado she ran herself through the body with a sword.”
Montaigne, quoting Pliny the elder, observes that the mythical Hyperboreans, “when weary and satiated with living, had the custom, at a very old age, after having made good cheer, to precipitate themselves into the sea from the top of a certain rock, assigned for that service” (see our series on the Hyperboreans.)
“Unbearable pain and the fear of a worse death seem to me the most excusable incitements for suicide” is Montaigne’s conclusion.
He was a sincere Christian. But he found inspiration and solace in the teachings of antiquity.
The case of Eluana has again sparked a heated debate in Italy about the right to end one’s life. Eluana Englaro’s sufferings ended on Feb 9 2009. Her family had requested the omission of treatment since their daughter had been kept artificially alive for 17 years.
Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi first tried to ‘save’ Eluana with a decree rejected by our President Napolitano. Thence he desperately tried to pass a bill before Eluana’s death. He arrived late. Now he’s about to pass a bill that will impose ‘artificial life’ indefinitely, despite the prior will of the person (the so-called ‘living will’, pre formulated in the event of incapacity) or the desire of the person’s family. This bill will be voted tonight at the Senate and at the lower house in the next days, despite the hostility of the Italian High Court and of the President of the Italian Republic.
(I’m translating Italian labyrinthine politics: this bill was about the ‘living will’ but a last minute prearranged amendment de facto nullified this will. Classic)
I wonder how many people in Italy (or abroad) really believe that Berlusconi and many politicians of his coalition are so religious. Many think – me included – that this is the umpteenth occasion they found to strengthen their grip on power and on institutions, since Berlusconi plans to change the Constitution and the support of the Catholic church in this country is always a powerful political factor.
The Church and strict Catholics applaud. ‘Life’ to them must be saved at any cost. I respect this belief and I respect the Catholic Church, which is somewhat a remnant of what was Rome, and the Pontifex Maximus, or Pope, the last surviving magistrate of ancient Rome.
But, if I respect Catholic beliefs, are strict Catholics respecting the beliefs of others?
I mean, in a free democratic state, how can a religion or a government impose their will on an individual or his family in such private matters? How can they trample on what is, to few (or to many,) their ultimate freedom, death? In name of what? Of so to say absolute truths believed only by a part of the population?
(We’ll skip the historical fact that the first Christians condoned suicide)
What if one belongs to another religion? What if one has no religion? Shouldn’t people be free thinking (and given free choice) and isn’t personal freedom enshrined in the Italian constitution? (art. 13, inviolability of individual freedom)
Isn’t this an expropriation of our civil rights?
This is the problem with some people: all they want is power. This is also the problem with decent people who believe in absolute truths: these truths escape doubt and inquiry and, seen as undeniable, are considered by them mandatory also for those who don’t believe in them.
This I’m thinking while watching on TV all these politicians, some sincere and some not, cheering about the upcoming victory of ‘life’.