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Obesssion and balance in creativity. Greeks’ and Romans’ Golden Mean (& Paolo Buonvino’s, a Sicilian composer.) Dialectics (5b)

diary

Read the original non pruned post and discussion.

Draft. Pictures might be changed /added.

Notice. I’ll stop posting until April 23rd. Easter reflection (a notion you can expand chez Tarot psychologique.)

ψ

James Evershed Agate (1877 – 1947), British diarist and critic, once wrote:

“Now that I am finishing the damned thing I realise that diary-writing isn’t wholly good for one, that too much of it leads to living for one’s diary instead of living for the fun of living as ordinary people do.”

What is said above applies equally to blog-writing / writing tout court since, when dealing with passions the challenge is always the right measure.

The ancient Romans developed the fine art of cuisine so that the delights of life were augmented, but there was undeniably gluttony in some milieus.

I remember that, much younger, I stopped composing music since it had become an obsessive pastime that basically swallowed me up.

Life should be harmonious. A single part should not devour the rest (as Benedetto Croce, master of harmony, reminds us.)

Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce (1866 – 1952), filosofo italiano

Christopher: You wrote: “Life should be harmonious. A single part should not devour the rest”
If everyone lived according to this precept there would be no civilisation and we would all be living short and brutish lives.

MoR: “Hard to say, although my post regards happiness more than creativity in the arts & sciences. Besides, creativity seems related to both balance and unbalance (take Vincent van Gogh etc.).

You possibly suggest that big creators lived disharmony in their life. Frank Lloyd Wright devoted *most* of his time to architecture, Einstein to physics etc.

Ok, but one has to see how these people actually spent their days.

I remember a Roman top advertising agency, at the end of the 80’s, where extremely well-paid copywriters and art directors were walking around in robes and were sunbathing on an elegant terrace overlooking the Parioli district’s skyline (where the rich and famous live, or lived).

I was puzzled at first because these creativi seemed to do everything except what they were paid for. The agency’s output was though brilliant and rivalled Milan’s creativi (the best we’ve got in this country).

One often needs quiet and relaxation to produce ideas, which suggests ‘balance’.

Moving to bigger examples, Beethoven’s music conveys to me the image of ​​an unhappy person.

There are many elements of anger, of obsession, in his music. His life was almost certainly disharmonious: Beethoven’s father was an alcoholic; Karl, the composer’s nephew, whose custody Beethoven had obtained, attempted suicide. And so forth.

Johann Sebastian Bach aged 61 (1685 – 1750). Click for source

Johann Sebastian Bach aged 61 (1685 – 1750). Click for source

 

Bach’s music on the contrary (with its powerfully abstract architectures that unfold like a majestic river flowing) is much more enriching consoling, imo, and well fits the image of ​​the patient German artisan, whose methodical, quiet work was conceived as a service to God. Bach was a musician but also a good Christian, a good father, a good husband and a good teacher – which suggests harmony of life.

Which doesn’t mean many breakthroughs weren’t the product of unbalanced lives. The commonplace of the deranged genius is more than a commonplace imo, though it’s not my post’s point.

Cheri: “Your point is well taken. My grandfather always told me that moderation is the key to a balanced and contented life.”

MoR: “Hi Cheri! I like roots (as you probably like your Jewish or whatever roots), this blog being a search for roots from a past that, I believe, is still working on us Latins, though not only on us.

Enjoying the pleasures of life without excess, drinking without getting drunk, a life outside compulsions or obsessions – I am often obsessing / obsessed – is not only wise, it is part of a lifestyle, and an element of grace.

To me this is particularly evident in the French, the Latin people I possibly love most.

Neapolitan Benedetto Croce, ‘master of harmony’ …

Incidentally, the Olympian beauty seeping through his works is probably of Hellenic origin, and, like the Hellenic miracle arose from formidable difficulties (if we may compare a huge thing to a small one) Croce’s serene attitude and sharp mind came at a hard price: at 17, on vacation with his parents and his sole sister, their house being wiped out by an earthquake he barely survived and remained alone.

Claudia (my daughter): “Croce’s picture doesn’t exactly conjure up Hellenic beauty!?!?”

Potsoc: “I agree with Cheri. Many creators were, indeed, unhappy people but as many had a relatively simple and happy life. The examples given speak by themselves.”

MoR: “Someone must have already done it, Potsoc le Canadien, but it’d be interesting to systematically analyse the biographies of creators (in both arts & sciences) in search of a correlation between creative intelligence and lifestyles.

My post was more about the gratification from a life with nicely distributed, non compulsive, activities, but one can blabber a bit and wonder if Balzac, for example, was compulsive in his writing.

He may have been, but his work – so vital, energetic & rich with an immense number of vividly depicted characters – suggests a life not spent exclusively on a desk with a pen in his hand.

A correlation between scientists’ lifestyles and their innovation level seems much harder to establish. They (seem to me to) reveal less about themselves.

ALL this, in any case, is a-blowing in the wind, Paul.”

Potsoc: “I guess nobody wrote a Ph.D thesis on the subject and I will not write it.”

MoR: “Ah ah ah, right Paul :-) Getting stuffy, I know.”

Sledpress: “The need for quiet and mental space in which to be creative can’t be denied, but does that support an argument against being too obsessional as a creative person?

I can only write fiction (or songs, or music) when I’m in an obsessional fugue, and it is bitter for me, because I want to have at least something of a life otherwise — probably few people are willing to have their spouse or friend snarl “GO AWAY!” should they be so unfortunate as to come ask about dinner or the water bill when one is creating.

But if I put the chisel down, it’s cold when I pick it back up, and what I wrote mocks me. (Blog posts and so on don’t count; those are five finger exercises.) I can’t start the fire again if I’ve let myself be jollied into putting it out so as to make nice on the rest of the human race. And if I don’t create something, who cares if I lived? It won’t matter.

I’ve already lost the thread of so many good ideas (maybe not lightning genius, but worth something) that I could spend the rest of my life in mourning, and for what in the end? People who really were only bored or wanted me to do them something. I vote for the obsessed people, myself.”

MoR: “You say, Sled:

“I can only write fiction (songs, music) when I’m in an obsessional fugue, and it is bitter for me, because I want to have at least something of a life otherwise …”

“If I don’t create something, who cares if I lived? It won’t matter”

Well, if creation & obsession necessarily go together with us, and creativity is our top priority, let us embrace obsession, why not.

Besides, obsession, as far as I can tell, may produce compellingly emotional results etc.

As for my experience, the insignificant (though much important to me) things I have written or composed were produced in both situations: within a quiet, balanced routine of life; or via obsession, pain, sacrificing the rest.

I sometimes think that, had I more discipline, I’d be able to kill two birds with a stone and reach a synthesis.

Paolo Buonvino 001

What I mean, I’m witnessing an example of creative discipline in my neighborhood, where a certain Paolo Buonvino is leaving a couple of blocks away from my home (it, en wikies.)

Italian from Sicily, conductor, composer of film scores, Buonvino’s music is extremely good, Sicilian-sunny and much appreciated. I exchanged a few words with him. He gave me some inspired advice on related-to-music stuff. Flavia and I have visited him once at his home.

In short, he’s the classic example of one who, compelled to compose scores at appalling speed, is nonetheless able to enhance productivity by finding the right breaks, walking about the rione, enjoying something at a bar (an ice-cream, a coffee, a cake) or watching trees or the sky on a park bench.

You see him around, always relaxed, a mobile at his ear, talking quietly with loads of people (this amazing ease with human relationships being typical of many Italian from the Mezzogiorno.)

So Paolo Buonvino, despite high productivity rates, manages to live quite well. A gift from heaven? Hard to say but some creative discipline should be taught when very young, I believe.”

Sledpress: “There is a trapdoor when someone has asked a creative person to produce something. I say this from experience.
Somehow it frees you to be both creative and human. I don’t know how this works. Only that knowing someone *wants* what you can create substitutes for the energy that otherwise only comes from obsession and a sort of rage against the people who don’t understand why you are working so hard to produce a composition or poem or story, however minor.”

Potsoc: “I moderate a group called “Imaginations”, each week we meet around a theme, different each week, and we write a short piece on the week’s theme that we will read to the group the following week. It’s much fun…and work but we all enjoy it and it has been going for most of ten years with a core of 5 steady participants and another 5 or 6 that come and go.”

MoR: “Sledpress, Paul, you two imply that creating for someone ‘waiting’ for your production can release the pressure?

I agree, an act of communication, then, almost always good. When I was writing the Manius so-to-say novel my motivation were you, the bloggers of my circle, ‘waiting’ (so I felt) for each new installment and the resulting fun, as Paul says, the jokes that we shared etc.

When a publisher told me one day that he was interested, the magic vanished. I tried to continue, but felt only the obsession (plus depression for my failure, lack of discipline.) I quit writing.

Potsoc: “Being approached by a publisher is an altogether other proposition, I agree. Sharing with friends is just plain fun.”

Sledpress: “Yes! You are touching on something that I meant.
If a publisher dangled money in front of me I might still be motivated. Because money is something squeezed out of one’s bloodstream (unless one is one of the one-per-cent who wallow in it), so it is like enthusiasm.

However the biggest fun was an experience like yours, of people hanging on for the next installment to find out what happened!!!

Stephen King writes of something like this in his classic novella “The Body” which became the film Stand By Me.

The pathetically young kid with the gun in this clip — earlier the film shows him telling stories around a kids’ camp fire with everyone asking him what comes next, what comes next. King later called this “the *gotta.*” “I gotta find out what happens.”
I miss having people who cared about that, which happened to me for five minutes.”

MoR: “You’ve said, Sled:

“the biggest fun was an experience like yours, of people hanging on for the next installment to find out what happened!!!
I miss having people who cared about that, which happened to me for five minutes.”

When was that and where? Can we reach it?”

Sledpress: “Oh, that was my silly detective novel, an inner circle read every chapter as I wrote it — the way Dickens used to work, releasing installments before the story was all set down. Then as I wrote, with caricatures of everyone who is politically active around here, I looked forward to the public consternation it would cause, another incentive.

And oh yes, I made it look as if the author was a local newspaper editor who had been a real jerk to me a couple of times — it was easy to lift little quirks of style from his editorials. People pestered him about it for years.

It got one good review even. A lot of it is free.

Along the way it let me say and even discover a lot about my outlook on the whole “res publica”, the “public thing” that constitutes local political life, which both attracts and repels me — so many people trying to be important, yet actually doing important things despite their flaws. It is really the only thing I ever finished.

Everything else I ever did disappointed me and I threw it over or put it in the drawer, but I had people asking for this, so I had to finish it, amateurish as it may be. I wrote like hell for two months and was burned-out for two more but I wish I could do it again. Only I’m afraid to yell GO AWAY at the few friends I really have.”

MoR: “Wow. Quite a good review. I’ll read the book as soon as I can, or rather buy it (I also missed your poems over at your blog: my next comment)
In the meanwhile, a portion of the review, to the benefit of readers:

“Is this story (MURDER ACROSS THE BOARD by *******) of local interest? Sure. But the writing here is so good it is irrelevant. This is just as good a murder mystery as you will find anywhere, with a compelling story and clever writing to match. The story is truly twisted [...] and the murder-mystery here is fun and energetic. No one is who they seem in this fast read, and as the story unfolds, the plot rolls along like a freight-train. What may have started as a goof on some friends or a dig at local politics has turned into a clever, engaging page-turner.”

Sledpress: “Mind you, another reader said it was cliched and awful. Then again, the point was to throw every trope of gritty detective stories into a story about local politics. Looking back I thought it needed tightening, but I’ve always hugged that one rave review to my heart.
I’m editing the pseudonym in your comment just because it really did piss off a number of people, one of whom is a habitual troll, and I’d prefer they didn’t find this blog too easily.”

Sledpress: “Oops, I was on a dashboard when I wrote the above reply and thought we were talking on my page. Oh well — if you wouldn’t mind “asterisking” the author name. Trolls shouldn’t find you either. ”

MoR: “Well, there are good and there are bad reviews, always. Who the hell cares?
I have ‘asterisked’ the author’s name, as you asked me.
And, tell this troll I am ready here waiting.”

Conversation with Christopher & Sledpress on Bach, Vivaldi, Glenn Gould, the Russians. Dialectics (5a)

MoR: “…. What I mean is that we all have our obsessions, themes, leitmotivs (read the 2008/2014 original unabridged conversation]

This seems evident in people we know well – close friends, family members, colleagues. We are aware of their fixations … It can be a father (or mother) figure obsession, a pervading mental escapism that comes out in many occasions, behaviours – it can be anything.

Leitmotivs are also present in the works of writers, musicians, scientists etc., more complex to detect it being the big part of a critic’s job to probe their works in search of elements which make the stylistic imprint of an author.

Take Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. We often recognize his music because of this bizarre Arabic-scale leaning he had and that may related to some profound experience … had he Tartar ancestors? Was he desperately in love with a Muslim girl?”

Christopher: “I think I also detect jazz influences in Rachmaninov’s music. Was he, then, also once in love with an American jazz-loving girl?!!
… [Besides] these influences may also have affected other Russian composers, like Rimsky-Korsakov (Scherezade) and Tschaikovsky (4th movement, 6th symphony). I think also of Borodin …”

MoR:

I also detect jazz influences in Rachmaninov. Was he, then, also once in love with an American … girl?”

He was. And the girl was black. Which brings to mind Bach and his clear penchant for black boys (not over the age of twelve though!). It explains why his music is so ‘dancing’.

“… melancholic oriental/Arabic influences … in Rachmaninov … Rimsky-Korsakov ….Tschaikovsky”

Right, ok, Rachmaninov was simply Russian, and Russia is partly Asiatic.
You seem to like Russian music, Cristo. I do too (Shostakovich, Prokofiev) but most of the time I need Bach, Rossini or Busoni.

Sentimental music like Rachmaninov’s (his pianism though, wow!) … enough.

The Russians
‘encounter’ Bach via Gould

Russian Sokolov is my favourite Bach performer at this moment though your compatriot, Glenn Gould, has opened the path. He btw went to Moscow in the 50′s and made communist Russians ‘encounter’ Bach’s works (until then neglected as ‘religious music’.)

You might enjoy Gould’s Russian journey and its consequences on the Russians.

And, some Bach dancing by Grigory Sokolov (‘dance’ lol starts at 2:20).

Cristopher: “I watched these videos – particularly the Glenn Gould Russia one – with much interest.

Gould’s youth, pianistic brilliance, and his coming into their midst suddenly and from so far, Russians, from their awed reception of him, may have seen him as a Redeemer, the One who would lead them away, who would transport them to a Paradise, far, far removed from the drab Socialist Realism from which they could bodily never flee.

Was Gould deserving of all this reverence, not just in Russia but everywhere?

This is explored in this provocative piece written some twenty years ago by another concert pianist, a fellow Canadian, who knew Gould well.
When I read of the extremely eccentric Gould I think of the extremely eccentric Bobby Fischer – equally a genius, albeit in another skill entirely. Both appeared to reside somewhere within the continuum of Autism.

In the matter of Bach, while I appreciate his brilliance, and surmise he would be the preferred musical taste for mathematicians, I have always found him as a result, cold.
Far more my cup of tea is the warmth and sunniness of Bach’s contemporary (and your fellow countryman) Antonio Vivaldi.”

MoR: “Awesome, Christopher.

[The Russians] may have seen [Gould] as a Redeemer, the One who would … transport them to a Paradise, far, far removed from the drab Socialist Realism from which they could bodily never flee.

I agree. Generally, a good knowledge of Bach is important, as far as my music comprehension, to any professional musician and possibly to the Russians of that time even more.

“Russian art: sensuous, intuitive,
mystically powerful”

An English philosopher (Last and First Men, 3, rephrased) wrote:

The Russian mode of art is blended with a passion of iconoclasm, sensuousness and a remarkable, mystical, intuitive power that can profit a lot from German discipline and rational mind

Adapted to Gould’s trip tp Russia, they need(ed) Bach like bread (who doesn’t need bits of German discipline btw? We do.]

Metaphorically – I’m getting confused – Bach is like a gym where one works out up to sheer power – made more (mystically) vigorous by doses of Ashtanga (excruciating lol) Yoga. Although, playing Bach well can be learned via toil.

Classical music: pureness,
clarity, proportion

Italian music plus Mozart, Haydn, Schubert etc instead – since you’ve mentioned Vivaldi- reaches beauty through the alternative paths of pureness, clarity and proportion – things from a certain heritage (Classical Antiquity), not easily learned.

I may dig Bach more than Rossini or Italian opera, although yes, it takes some training to appreciate Bach’s music (I studied it at the Conservatory.)

An exotic thing, probably, like when German radio stations are so full of Italian Bel Canto (try NDR Kultur Belcanto.)

I read your article.

Indeed, an Elvis-type cult has grown up around Glenn Gould. But I don’t quite agree with the article points. Gould operated two miracles imo: 1) made a large number of people appreciate Bach (no small feat) and 2) he taught pianists to squeeze Bach beauty out of a piano. Now much-better-than-Gould Bach pianists exist imo (Sokolov etc) but it was Gould who opened a path. Sokolov himself said he was heavily influenced by GG.

So Canadian Gould was in my view a genius.

Sledpress: “My Transgender Ex, back in high school days, played Bach obsessively — the Goldberg Variations and the Well Tempered Klavier. He (I guess it is now she though I am not sure of the stage of progression) could neck seamlessly while playing the Inventions. A person of Russian Jewish provenance as it happens. It left me with a lifelong impression of Bach’s keyboard work as an almost violent synthesis of erotic and cerebral energy.

I always sensed it, nonetheless, as a sort of Tantric energy that never actually grounded itself. The classical idioms, Mozart and Schubert cases in point, touch the earth in a way that reaches my heart.

Did Protestant Bach, with his two wives and twenty children, represent a kind of creative energy that had to keep climbing to heaven because the ground seemed like the wrong place to be? Not cold, but ruthlessly contained, scooped up at every level and taken to a higher one. It says Come Find Me If You Have The Chops. Schubert’s lieder or the Mozart Clarinet Quintet hold out a gift instead.

As for Vivaldi, I fear I cannot bear him. My late and ex once spoke sighingly to me of “deedle music,” meaning Vivaldi and his ilk, and it was one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

Repeated minor seconds or octaves in OCD splendor. Auditory equivalent of a handwashing fetish.

Both that and Bach would speak to an autistic type of exponent. I’m glad that Gould pumped for Bach.”

ψ

Awesome Sledpress too.

More with Dialectcs 5b where some incandescence will glow too within a discussion on how to reach creativity outside any obsession (by following the Romano-Greek golden mean).

See you soon then.

Giorgio

Chansons françaises, italiennes et américaines: Aznavour’s Ave Maria. 1

Les greniers de la mémoire : Les Italiens de la chanson française

Les Italiens de la chanson française. Charles Aznavour, au contraire, est un auteur-compositeur-interprète, acteur, écrivain franco-arménien (né le 22 mai 1924 à Paris). Click for credits

Il y a un temps pour tout.

Pour la guerre,

pour rire,
pour guerire
(et pour la prière)

 

 

 

Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Ceux qui souffrent viennent à toi
Toi qui as tant souffert
Tu comprends leurs misères
Et les partages
Marie courage
Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Ceux qui pleurent sont tes enfants
Toi qui donnas le tien
Pour laver les humains
De leurs souillures
Marie la pure

Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Ceux qui doutent sont dans la nuit
Maria
Éclaire leur chemin
Et prends-les par la main
Ave Maria

Ave Maria, Ave Maria
Amen

ψ

Other installments:

French, Italian, and American Great Songs. Lucio Dalla’s Caruso (plus Lara Fabian’s English-subtitled version).2

French, Italian, and American Great Songs. Rio Bravo’s ‘My Rifle, My Pony, and Me’ / ‘Cindy’. Ricky Nelson & Dean Martin. 3

ψ

Resources:

Les greniers de la mémoire : Les Italiens de la chanson française (by Ina.fr)

Radio Douce France (Les plus belles et les plus douces chansons françaises); try also here.

Notes.

1. Charles Aznavour. Sometimes described as ‘France’s Frank Sinatra’, French and Armenian Aznavour sings frequently about love. He’s one of France’s most popular (and enduring) singers (English Wikipedia.)

2. Jesus of Nazareth (Italian: Gesù di Nazareth) is a 1977 British-Italian television miniseries co-written (with Anthony Burgess and Suso Cecchi d’Amico) and directed by Franco Zeffirelli which dramatizes the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (English Wikipedia.)

Giulio Cesare conquista la Gallia. E l’Europa nord-occidentale ‘abbraccia’ la civiltà greco-romana (1)

Statue of Vercingetorix in Burgundy

Monumento ottocentesco a Vercingetorige (Aimé Millet) vicino a Alise-Sainte-Reine, Borgogna, Francia. © T. Clarté. Click for credits

English original

Come sarebbe oggi il mondo senza Giulio Cesare e senza il varco che egli aprì per i greco-romani verso l’Europa occidentale e settentrionale?

Analogamente, come sarebbe oggi il mondo senza Colombo, Cortés e Pizarro, senza gli insediamenti europei nel Nord e Sud America (e altrove)?

Conquista militare e culturale

Entrambi gli esempi hanno in comune il fenomeno della conquista militare e culturale. Nel primo caso abbiamo l’espansione della civiltà greco romana nell’Europa centrale e settentrionale. Nel secondo l’espansione della civiltà europea nelle due Americhe.

Entrambi gli eventi storici hanno comportato costi umani elevatissimi tra le popolazioni sottomesse e la tragica estinzione di numerose culture.

Dying Gaul. Musei Capitolini, Rome

Gallo morente (più precisamente un gallo o galata della Galazia, chiamata ‘la Gallia dell’est’). Musei Capitolini, Roma. Click for credits

Figura controversa

Quanto a Giulio Cesare, poiché questo è un blog su Roma, ci troviamo di fronte a una figura senza dubbio controversa.

Un carnefice che vide nella Gallia solo l’arena per prepararsi all’imminente guerra civile, un imperialista sia pure con un grande disegno, un genio mosso da ‘necessità storica’ (se una cosa del genere ha un senso) … si potrebbero scrivere interi libri sull’argomento (e che difatti sono stati scritti).

Varco a nord e a ovest

Considerata oggi non vi è dubbio che la conquista della Gallia (vasta e fertile zona riccamente popolata, corrispondente alla moderna Francia, al Belgio, alle terre tedesche a ovest del Reno, all’Olanda meridionale e a gran parte della Svizzera) realizzata da Giulio Cesare dal 58 a.C. al 50 a.C. abbia creato un notevole ampliamento dell’orizzonte storico del Mediterraneo.

Caesar added areas of West and North Europe to the Roman world

Estensione romana nel 40 a.C. (Wikipedia). Dal 58 al 50 a.C. regioni dell’ovest e del nord Europa vennere aggiunte da Cesare al dominio di Roma

Attraverso quel ‘passaggio’ aperto da Cesare un numero molto elevato di popoli (celtici, germanici, del mare del Nord e successivamente del Baltico) abbracceranno gradualmente la civiltà greco-romana fino a formare con essa un corpo unico anche se con anime diverse, un’apertura il cui effetto durevole andrà oltre lo spostamento del baricentro dal Mediterraneo verso il Nord Europa e poi oltre Atlantico.

“L’opera di Cesare”

Lo storico tedesco Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), capofila degli estimatori del generale romano, così scrisse nella sua monumentale Storia di Roma che gli valse il premio Nobel nel 1902 (VII, 6, Principi dello sviluppo romano):

“Ciò che riuscì successivamente a fare il gotico Teodorico [più di 5 secoli dopo, MoR] poco mancò che già non lo facesse il germanico Ariovisto“, sconfitto da Cesare.

[Mommsen si riferisce ad Ariovisto, leader germanico degli Svevi e di altre tribù, che, penetrato nella Gallia attraverso il Reno, aveva sottomesso numerose tribù galliche a partire dal 60 a.C. Lo stesso Cesare giustificò la sua conquista come guerra preventiva]

“Se ciò fosse successo, lo nostra civiltà [germanica, nordica, MoR] si troverebbe di fronte alla civiltà romano-greca difficilmente in rapporti più intimi di quello che lo sia con la civiltà assira e indiana.

E’ opera di Cesare dunque se, dalla passata grandezza della Grecia e dell’Italia, un ponte conduce all’edificio più vasto della moderna storia del mondo, se l’Europa occidentale s’è fatta romana, se l’Europa germanica è divenuta classica; se i nomi di Temistocle e di Scipione mandano alle nostre orecchie un suono diverso da quelli di Asoka e di Salmanassar, se Omero e Sofocle non si limitano, come fanno i Veda e i Kalidasa, ad attirare il dotto botanico, ma fioriscono per noi nel nostro giardino”.

Gaius Julius Caesar, Art History Museum, Vienna, Austria

Busto di Cesare, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Ora, nessuno storico è imparziale, riflettendo il tempo e luogo in cui è vissuto (oltre che le proprie scelte personali).

Mommsen era un liberale tedesco dell’Ottocento, intriso di cultura classica, che detestava gli Junker prussiani (nobiltà terriera conservatrice e spina dorsale dell’esercito tedesco) ed era in sintonia con la lotta di Cesare contro l’oligarchia senatoria, il che può averne influenzato il giudizio sul generale romano.

Nei prossimi post indagheremo un poco su motivazioni e conseguenze delle azioni di Cesare considerando le parole sia di ammiratori che di detrattori.

Senso di perdita

Tra questi ultimi, Goethe parlò di ripugnanza per i trionfi di Cesare; Camille Jullian, il maggiore storico francese della Gallia e capofila di chi lamenta la spoliazione della cultura gallica, sostenne che i Galli, prima di essere sottomessi, stavano per unirsi in qualcosa di superiore alle tribù sparse in competizione l’una con l’altra.

Il dolore per la perdita di una civiltà che non ha potuto esprimersi è bene espresso da Olbodala, commentatore francese (o belga?) del nostro blog:

“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.”

Ceremonial Celtic Helmet from III century BC Gaul

Elmo cerimoniale gallico del III secolo a.C. Wikipedia. Click for credits

“Alcuni di noi (e io sono tra essi) biasimano il passato bellicoso dell’Italia e ciò che i vostri antenati romani hanno fatto ai nostri (celti e germani).

I romani hanno distrutto la nostra cultura (celtica e germanica) e civiltà, e l’hanno sostituita con la loro (greca e latina).

E’ una tragedia avere un aspetto celtico e germanico ma una lingua e una cultura incompatibili con le nostre origini settentrionali”.

ψ

Post correlati:

Stress e gioia. Conquista e dolore
France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)

Statue of Vercingetorix in Burgundy

19th century statue of Vercingétorix (by Aimé Millet) near the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine, Burgundy, France. © T. Clarté. Click for credits

Italian version

What kind of world would we live in today without Julius Caesar and the “boundless home” he created in West and North Europe for Greco-Roman conquest, migration and influence?

Similarly, what kind of world would we live in today without Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro? Without the settlements of Europeans in North and South America (plus Australia, New Zealand etc.)?

Military & Cultural Conquest

What both examples have in common is military and cultural conquest.

The former regards the expansion of the Greco-Roman civilization towards West and North Europe.

The latter the expansion of the European civilization in South and North America (etc.).

Both historical events resulted in massive human cost among the conquered and in the tragic extinction of numerous cultures.

Dying Gaul. Musei Capitolini, Rome

Dying Gaul (actually a Celt from Galatia, called ‘Gaul of the East’). Capitoline Museums on Capitoline hill, Rome. Click for attribution

Controversial

With regard to Caesar, since this is a blog about Rome, the Roman general is a controversial figure without a doubt.

A butcher who regarded Gaul only “as the parade ground” on which to gain experience for the approaching civil war, an imperialist albeit with a great design in mind, a genius moved by ‘historical necessity’ (if such a thing exists) … one could write books on it (which in fact have been written.)

North & West Passage

Seen from today there is little doubt that the conquest of Gaul carried out by Julius Caesar from 58 BC to 50 BC (a vast, fertile, richly populated area, Gaul, corresponding to modern France, Belgium, the German lands west of the Rhine, South Holland and much of Switzerland) created a remarkable extension of the historical horizon of the Mediterranean.

Caesar added areas of West and North Europe to the Roman world

The extent of Roman rule in 40 BC (Wikipedia). From 58 BC to 50 BC areas of West and North Europe had been added to Rome by Caesar

Through that ‘passage’ opened up by Caesar a very large number of folks (Celtic, Germanic, from the North sea and later Baltic sea) will gradually embrace the Greco-Roman civilization up to form one body albeit with different souls, a passage or channel whose durable effect goes beyond the shifting of focal point from the Mediterranean to North Europe and elsewhere.

“The work of Caesar”

The German historian Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), the leader of Caesar’s estimators, thus argues in his monumental History of Rome, (V,7. The Subjugation of the West) which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1902:

“What the Gothic Theodoric afterwards succeeded in [e.g. more than 5 centuries later, MoR,] came very near to being already carried out by Germanic Ariovistus,” defeated by Caesar.

[Mommsen refers to the Germanic leader of the Suevi, Ariovistus, who had entered Gaul by crossing the Rhine and had subdued many Gallic tribes in 60 BC. Caesar himself justified his conquest as preemptive action to protect Rome]

“Had it so happened, our civilization [eg Germanic, Northern, MoR] would have hardly stood in any more intimate relation to the Romano-Greek than to the Indian and Assyrian culture.”

“That there is a bridge connecting the past glory of Hellas and Rome with the prouder fabric of modern history; that Western Europe is Romanic, and Germanic Europe classic; that the names of Themistocles and Scipio have to us a very different sound from those of Ashoka and Shalmanaser; that Homer and Sophocles are not merely, like the Vedas and Kalidasa, attractive to the literary botanist, but bloom for us in our own garden—all this is the work of Caesar.”

Gaius Julius Caesar, Art History Museum, Vienna, Austria

Gaius Julius Caesar, Art History Museum, Vienna, Austria

Now, no historian is impartial, he reflecting his time, place and personal choices.

Mommsen was a 19th century German liberal, imbued with classical learning, who hated the Prussian Junkers (conservative landed nobility and backbone of the German army) and was sympathetic to Caesar’s fight against the senatorial oligarchy—which may have influenced his judgement on the Roman general.

In the next posts we will investigate a bit on Caesar’s actions, motives & consequences by listening to some of his admirers and detractors.

A Feeling Of Loss

Among the latter, Goethe spoke of repugnance for the triumphs of Caesar; Camille Jullian, the main French historian of Gaul and leader of those who lament the despoliation of Gallic culture, argued that the Gauls, before being crushed, were about to unite into something superior to the scattered tribes in competition with one another.

The feeling of loss from a Celtic civilization that could not express itself is well phrased by Olbodala, a French (or Belgian?) commentator to our blog:

“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.”

Ceremonial Celtic Helmet from III century BC Gaul

Ceremonial Celtic Helmet from III century BC Gaul. Wikipedia

["Some of us (I being among this number) blame Italy's warlike past and what their Roman ancestors did to ours (Celts and Germans).

The Romans destroyed our culture (Celtic and Germanic) and civilization, and replaced it with theirs (Greek and Latin).

It is a tragedy to have a Celtic and Germanic physical appearance but to possess a language and a culture incompatible with our Northern origins."]

ψ

Related posts:

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)
The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign (4)

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

Contemporary ‘Romans’? World’s Folks May Tread On US, We’ll Survive

Posted on

November 11, 1940. With Operation “Judgment” in WW2 half of the Italian fleet at Taranto was sunk by a raid of British torpedo planes from a carrier. The image shows the Italian Conte di Cavour, a great ship, sunk. Click for credits and further infos

This post is about the Italian peculiar case of ‘survival through cynicism’ (Italians & WWII.)

The next post will be about ‘survival through quality’ in times of economic globalization. A bit of a survival kit for any folk.

ψ

The following playful exchanges occurred at a London café where Richardus, the café owner, was present together with Chaerie (California,) Paul Costopoulos (Quebec, Canada) and others we’ll omit since their comments were outside the chosen theme.

The spirit world
(and the silly male)

Richardus (Britannia): “A breathless bolt, a high-pitched arrow of sound pierces the night and cleaves my skull.”

Man of Roma (Roma): “At times we don’t sleep well, do we. Very similar we are, Britannia.”

Britannia: “We are. But also we have to keep watch for wild animals and itinerant males.”

Roma: “Yes we have. That is why I bought a real Roman gladius. By the way, a new chapter of the ‘last Roman soldier in Britannia’ soap has just been posted.”

Paul Costopoulos (his blog): “The primal scream can be such a relief… it does disturb, fleetingly, our bed companion.”

Cheri (her blog): “Have you tried opening your window at night to let the night sounds into the room?
Those in the spirit world might come in, deep in the dark of sleepless night, and rest with you.”

Britannia: “I shall listen for the sounds of the Klamath River.”

Roma: “I am eager to read about your spirits’ world Cherie … We all are at a phase of our life where we need that … I envy your power of communication with Mother Nature. Here we live just the life of the city people (see image below) surrounded by the world of man rather than by the spirits’ world. [although ...]”

Via dei Serpenti, with the Colosseum at the end. Photo by MoR. Given to the people!

[Then something happened. Cheri said she would visit me in Roma. Richard pulled out a Norman helmet. The silly male in me hence made me exclaim:]

Roma: “Richardus, what’s that helmet for? I’ve got my gladius, don’t forget!”

Roma: “And I know our apple of discord c’est Chaerie.

Elle vaut la peine de se battre. Mais soyez prudent. Les Italiens ne sont pas des lâches (cowards), ils sont indifférents, which is another thing entirely.

And Chaerie, elle vaut absolument la paine de ne pas être indifférents ;-) id est, she deserves absolute non indifference.

Hey, where’s my darn gladius?

*He falls while looking for it and breaks his left leg*

Chaerie. Apple of discord?

Cheri: “Good jokes, Roma. I get it…Remember, I have been having lunch with a lusty Italian for years. Ahhh….I miss Joe so much.

Roma: “Joe a lusty Italian? Ah ah ah ah. Now ‘I’ get it. You so intelligent, beautiful and hyperborean. He, Sicilian and all. Not surprising. Not at all surprising. Cannot blame him though. May he rest in peace, Cherie.”

Britannia:

Roma: Richardus, that lento played by the Quartetto Italiano: is that supposed to mean a requiem to my hopes about Cheri because you’ll kill me in battle?

Wrong move, man. I’ll explain why.

Battle of the
Mediterranean. Reloaded

The beautiful Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) was sunk by the British Royal navy in the Mediterranean. Ok, the famous WW2 ‘battle of the Mediterranean’ – we lacked radar, proper fleet air arm (and fuel.) OK. OK.

BUT, only a few years after that defeat two Mediterranean people, my sister and my bro-in-law, got married.

Look into their eyes, Homo Britannicus. Do they look defeated?

They do not.

What the hell. Are they morally superior?

They are not.

It’s …

It’s just they don’t give a damn, Richardus. Italians don’t give a damn.

[I call Italians 'Romans' in the title: nothing more appropriate ...]

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

Methinks a foolish chant is taking shape …
[may readers pardon me]

Like a warm-fleshed woman
lying languidly on the Mediterranean,
Here’s Italy, motionless, statue-like.
World folks may tread on her body,

(Oh yes! she utters)

from the German barbarians,
from Hitler TBBM
(The Big Big Maniac)
to the Allied Forces.

(Oh yeah yeah! she moans)

Partenope (1905) by Arnarlo de Lisio (1869-1949), a painter from Molise

Although, in her sluttish nature,
she will not disappear, Britannia.
She will stay. And survive.
And will continue to be beautiful,
rising eternally up from her ashes.

“Why this folk is like that
Mario TBM (the big moron) will exclaim.

MOR: “Oh Mario, I’m so surprised,
you should know better.

In any case they’re like that because they are:

THEDONTGIVEADAMNERS

[by now the London customers shake their heads in disapproval and turn to their drinks]

And an old post,
That Pride Which Is Actually Blindness,
explains why we are all like Joe,
why we are all Sicilians (which is good.)

While, this other post,
why we’re all like Mario too a bit
(less good :-( )

[*Mario the deceiver rejoicing in silence (though biting his nails)*]

ψ

Britannia: “That lento, requiem or not, is gentle fulfillment for all, dear Giovanni. Let us relish it.”

Roma: “Of course, dear Richard, of course. Gentle fulfillment. Thank you for these two words.

A la prochaine, really, amico mio …”

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

Julius Caesar’s bronze statue on the via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome. Click for credits and to enlarge

At the Core of Roman & Greek Society

As we said in our previous installment this exchange of favours is important to establish a network based on reciprocal dependence.

Now in the last 3 decades scholars have focused their attention on ancient gift societies and on client-patron relations in ancient Rome and Greece. Based on the mutual exchange of benefits such relations were at the core of the social fabric in Greece and Rome, although we will here speak of Rome only.

Brazil and Livy

As I said to Paul I got excited that some scholars of ancient Rome seek to better interpret passages by Livy, Plautus or Cicero via the analysis of the social networks of Latin America or of Mediterranean villages.

[An inspiring study by Molly Ann Rosser Dauster, Sine Legem Fide: Clientage In Ancient Rome ..., Texas Tech University 2001, provides a brilliant overview of scholarly debate on the matter]

Brazil is interesting because the native cultures were not much developed hence some archaic Portuguese traits were preserved.

Surveys of clientage in 19th century Brazil are thought to shed light on Livy’s use of clientes. Also amigos (friends) in Brazilian, and amici in Latin, seem to be used in exactly the same way, different from our modern way but still present in Malta and southern Italy.

[see R. Graham, Patronage and Politics in 19th Century Brazil, Stanford, Ca., 1990]

The Roman Senate House (Curia) as it was rebuit by Julius Caesar. A ‘Rome reborn’ 3d image. (IATH) University of Virginia. The real-life Curia stands within the Forum

Clientes Preferred to be Called Amici

Almost everyone was a client in ancient Rome. A person could be client and patron at the same time. Entire provinces and nations could be clients.

But clients didn’t like to be called clientes. They preferred to be called amici (friends) since cliens implied subordination.

Now the term amicus is ambiguous. It could mean a disinterested relation (see Cicero’s ideal friendship in Laelius de amicitia) but also a relation of ‘mutual serviceability’ where benefits of any kind, called beneficia, were exchanged. Seneca analyses beneficia with all its implications in his De Beneficiis.

Through amicitiae (friendships) anything could be attained in the Roman society: land, safety, magistracies, jobs, money etc. Personalised relationships ruled and merit counted little.

[For example the nobility clique hated and ousted talented non-nobles. A super general but newcomer like Gaius Marius had chance to be elected consul on very special occasions only, for example when inept noble generals had made Rome vulnerable to the Cimbri and Teutons]

The real-life Curia Julia, the Senate House of Rome, standing within the ruins of the Forum Romanum. Click for credits and to enlarge

No Contacts, no Future

The common person with no contacts in Rome (or in Athens) basically starved. On another social level, if the politician didn’t build a solid network by ‘treating’ his voters with banquets favours gifts money etc., ie if he didn’t ‘corrupt them’ (practised but frowned upon today; part of an ‘ethical’ system in ancient times instead: grasping such cultural differences is crucial) he had no political future.

It’d be interesting to well analyse how Julius Caesar reached power.

Most of Cicero’s letters relate to favour exchanges. They also reveal how Caesar’s attitude towards Cicero was mafioso in the sense that he tried to entice him into a mutual exchange of favours in order to manipulate him.

The Mos Maiorum ‘Was’ The Clientage

The client-patron networks had their origin in the ‘customs of the ancestors’ (mos majorum.) According to Theodore Mommsen (summarized; see original text):

Originally we had a number of strictly closed unities – the household under the control of a master and the clan originated out of the breaking-up of such households. To these unities there further belonged the dependents or “listeners” (-clientes-, from -cluere-), not guests or slaves but those individuals who lived in one of such unity in a condition of protected, dependant freedom: refugees, freedmen, poor people. These were the clients.

To most scholars the clients made up the ‘plebeians’, while the original clans or gentes (the Aemilii, Valerii, Claudii, Fabii, Cornelii, Manlii etc. ) corresponded to the ‘patricians’ (both patronus and patricius come from pater, father.)

The relation between the two orders was a client-patron relationship and it was originally sacred.

The Case of the Fabii’s Private Army

Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator fought against Hannibal and was a member of the gens Flavia

The gentes were important especially during the Republic. The Fabii for example were so powerful as to conduct a personal, family war with Veii (velut familiare bellum, notes Livy in II, 48-49.) Trapped though by the Etruscans they were all cut down to a man in 479 BCE.

How many were the Fabii?

According to Livy “sex et trecenti milites [306 soldiers,] omnes patricii [all patricians,] omnes unius gentis [all from the same gens]…sequebantur turba propria alia cognatorum sodaliumque [followed by a crowd made up partly of their own relatives and friends]…. alia publica sollicitudine excitata, favore et admiratione stupens [... partly of those who shared the public anxiety, and could not find words to express their affection and admiration].”

Not very clear but I guess ‘friends’ (sodales is close to amici) were clientes and the rest sympathisers ie clientes too possibly. An army, it has been calculated, of 4000-5000 people wholly, with the clients clearly outnumbering the patricians.

Were Caesar and Pompey Godfathers?

Clans will undergo big changes in the course of time and it seems very likely to me that late-Republic big patrons such as Caesar and Pompey, apart from the great number of clients, were also capable of controlling a certain amount of organized thugs by indirectly controlling numerous collegia (criminal and non criminal organizations) in Rome. Caesar, through Clodius perhaps, controlled many collegia probably. Incidentally, Clodius was killed on the via Appia by Milo‘s mob.

ψ

Which doesn’t mean Caesar or Pompey were like the modern godfathers, but only that there are similarities in the respective cultural backgrounds.

ψ

Related posts:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)
The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)
A Cultural Battle

See also:

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

Democracy, Liberty & the Necessity of a Solid Education of the People

Posted on

An interesting discussion over the dangers menacing our democracies was kicked off by our latest postWill Fascism Come Back? Easy, a Bit is There Already.

Most participants asked themselves whether democracy is at a turning point in many countries.

I am fortunate to have such great commentators.  I’m also glad I received additional insight on the American mind I always found fascinating also because elements of it are not that easy to be grasped by Europeans (the collectivism vs individualism thing, for example.)

I’ll freely transcribe here a few sentences of the said dialogue where the dear-to-me topic education in a democracy stands out a bit.

A scene from Videocracy, by Erik Gandini, an Italian Swedish film director

The idea behind this is a follow-up post on a work experience I had in Russia where I was sent in the year 2000 in order to carry out a TACIS* financed educational project for the integration of military personnel into civil society.

It seems very much to the point since it regards the topics discussed in the said conversation, ie individualism, collectivism, education in democracies or in flawed (or almost non existent) democracies.

[*TACIS was a programme financed by the EU for "grant-financed technical assistance to 12 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia"]

MoR: Is fascism coming back in a way or another? We see “the contempt for the composed reason replaced by the reason of those who shout louder, by the hubbub that rages every evening in the televised debates etc.”

Paul: I’m afraid [fascism] has never been very far below the surface. [Paul's blog]

Douglas: “I cannot think of any true democracies. Republics, yes, but democracies, no. [Douglas' blog]

MoR: I agree. Demo-cracies are often aristo-cracies, ie the rule of the happy few. There is in fact a prerequisite imo for a democracy to work correctly: a solidly educated people. Without such prerequisite, demo-cracy degenerates into dem-agogy, ie a rule manipulative of the people via their emotions, fears, bias etc. The health care debate in America is an example of that I presume. Berlusconian Italy a much bigger one.

Andreas: Nobody actually fears fascism will win in America. But the rancor, the shrillness, the animosity obscuring reason and thought: that is everywhere. [Andreas's blog]

Cheri: On both sides of the aisle, I might observe. [Cheri's blog]

[Everybody seems to agree that it is not a Left or Right thing. The attack to freedom after all has historical roots in political 'churches' of any colour, and often in churches tout court (and, alas, especially in one Church)]:

ZeusIsWatching: Fascism is the kissing cousin of communism, the similarities are clear enough. [Zeus' blog]

Sledpress: Fascism [will live] with us as long as authority and submission are considered vital components of human culture … conditioning from birth onward … [cult of] “strong leadership” … We’ve all seen people bounce from Catholicism to Communism or whatever. [Sledpress' blog]

Douglas: [he gets back to the educational thing] Do you really believe, MoR, that any country will produce a solidly educated people? …I think that as long as education is in the hands of the government ….there will only be people educated to support that government.

An image from the Italian TV. Click for credits

MoR: I understand America is suspicious of any state intervention in society …continental Europe, and possibly French Canada, have a rationalist, non empiricist, tradition (‘reason’ moulds society or kinda) so that a state should be ethical enough to try help the ‘losers’ of societal Darwinian competition, ie the poor, the uneducated etc

Portions of the sotosay winners’ income – a widespread mentality here, not necessarily leftist – should go to the less wealthy, without condoning tho those who take advantage of such a system (many of course do, tons of money gets wasted to the extent of foolishness).

While (almost) not spending a euro I have an excellent medical care, I myself once was a state school teacher trying to do something for the uneducated in the poorest districts of Rome.

And in Russia, a great but nightmarish place where I worked in 2000 (a moment when ALL was crumbling down there,) the masses were nonetheless amazingly educated in S&T and were reading Tolstoy, Pushkin in second class trains. Education didn’t save them from many forms of tyranny, big and small, which they accepted as their tradition, but I’m sure after these 10 years they are still bearing their tyrannies but must have copied the worst from us and are now reading crap in trains as well, as we do in moronic Berlusconian Italy.

Ana Téran: [a Mexican writer I just met at Andreas'.] Public will is a powerful weapon. Why in the hell don’t we use it MoR?

Lichanos: The “masses?” I wonder what percentage of people were reading Tolstoy and Pushkin. On the other hand, I meet lots of technically educated Russians who are surprised to find that I, an American engineer, know their history and literature, as they know ours. So, clearly there is a difference. [Lichanos' blog]

Ψ

The final twist of the conversation brings me then to talk about Russia a bit. A marvellous (but puzzling) place from any point of view. See you soon then.

Ψ

Related posts:

[The 3 posts below illustrate - with really ample discussions - the notion of 'personal knowledge' related to what I mean by 'solid education', ie specialisation plus general knowledge. There is for example a difference (diminishing, alas) between the Latin countries plus Germany and Austria, on one hand, and the Anglo-Saxon countries on the other hand.

As Magister wrote, before the young are inserted into specialised activities they should first attain "a certain amount of maturity, of capacity of autonomy, orientation, initiative." The last 30 years have seen in Italy the debacle of any effective education - both the Left and the Right having responsibilities, but Berlusconi added a big cherry on the pie by the propagation of a degrading culture in which he sincerely believes, it seems. I invite you all to get a copy of Videocracy. Here is the film's official web site.

We had good ‘general culture’ orientation according to Italian traditions (but less specialization, a flaw, ok,) but now we have none of the two. AND Berlusconi has now convinced many Italians that priority num 1 is a reform of the constitution that will give him the power of a French (or American) President without any French or US counterbalance. And the economy? And unemployment? If this is not manipulation ....]

Culture, Kultur, Paideia

The Last Days of the Polymath

American Engineer, German Philosopher & French Politician: Gramsci’s Ideal Blend for the Modern Leonardo da Vinci

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