Spaghettoni alla chitarra e ragù. Wikimedia. Click for credits
After aperitivo at the bar the conversation continues to unwind at our home while we consume a simple dinner made of spaghettoni al ragù, cheese with a side dish of boiled vegetables, all washed down with Chianti and some Grappa as digestivo.
Classicus and King Servius Tullius
Servius Tullius, 6th Roman King. Image via Wikipedia
Extropian: “In my Calonghi Latin dictionary classis means both ‘fleet’ and ‘social class’; classicus is both a ‘sailor’ and ‘a member of the first Servian class of citizens’, out of the five tax classes set up by the Roman King Servius Tullius.
So why do we say today that Herman Melville is a classic and that Dan Brown (or our Giorgio Faletti) will probably never be?”
Giorgio: “It implies some timeless worth, it is known. Less known perhaps the origin of the notion. In the 2nd century CE Aulus Gellius, a Roman grammarian, [see image below] in his Noctes Atticae (Attic nights) – I just found out – was the first to mean by classicus ‘a writer of the first Servian class’ (classicus scriptor). He was the first to connect via a metaphor 1) literary and 2) social excellence. Classicus to him was a first-class & exemplary writer.
English: Frontispiece to the 1706 edition of Auli Gellii Noctium Atticarum (Aulus Gellius Attic Nights) libri xx. prout supersunt, quos ad libros Mss. novo et multo labore exegerunt, perpetuis notis et emendationibus illustrarunt Joannes Fridericus et Jacobus Gronovii. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Extropian: “Well, it somewhat reflected the elitism of antiquity.”
Flavia: “Yes, but I’d say excellence is excellence. Horace and Virgil were of humble background (Horace – read a reply to Sledpress on him – was even the son of a freed slave,) but were revered as excellent (and timeless) as soon as their works came out.”
Giorgio: “Horace himself refers to his Odes as timeless. But people didn’t call them classici. The new meaning didn’t immediately spread. In the 5th and 6th centuries CE authors such as Martianus Capella, Fulgentius and Boethius began to reconsider earlier pagan authors as models of style and thought, although again no use was made of the term classicus in the sense Gellius did.”
Extropian: “I see.”
Villa Rotonda, Veneto, Italy, by Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580). Click for attribution
Classicus to Renaissance People
Giorgio: “And throughout the Middle Ages too we have the concept but not the word for it. Until we get to the Renaissance men, in 1400s-1500s CE.
In their Latin classicus refers again to something seen as timeless and as a standard of excellence: to the people of the Renaissance [see a Palladian villa above] the Greek and Roman past was THE classicus exemplary model in all fields.”
Mario: “In fact we still say ‘Classical Antiquity’. Of course the Renaissance is neoclassical ante litteram since it found inspiration in Antiquity and looked down upon the Middle Ages.
By the way, wasn’t the second half of the 18th century labelled as neoclassical?”
Rome and the Grand Tour
Goethe in the Roman countryside as painted in 1787 by his friend Tischbein. Click to enlarge
Flavia: “It was. Giorgio and I recently visited the exhibition Rome and Antiquity. Reality and vision in the 18th century.
At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1748) a long period of peace ensued in Europe. Winckelmann arrived in Rome in 1755. He there conceived his master-work History of Ancient Art (1764) which influenced the entire neoclassical attitude from that year onwards and basically blew the minds (to mention the Germans only) of people like Hölderlin, Goethe, Lessing, Herder, Heine, Nietzsche etc. The marriage and the tyranny of Greece over Germany started with him.”
Giorgio: Those were the days of the Grand Tour. People flocked to Italy and especially to Rome to study classical culture. Rome with all her statues etc. also became a huge workshop of copies purchased worldwide. Bartolomeo Cavaceppi was the best sculptor to make casts, copies and fakes.
Caffè Greco – 86, via Condotti -, possibly the oldest caffè in Rome, frequented by Goethe, Byron, Stendhal, Liszt, Keats, Mendelssohn etc. Click to enter the Caffè Greco web site
Cavaceppi’s studio was in via del Babbuino, close to Caffè Greco (opened in 1760, see above,) to via del Corso (where Goethe lived at num 18 between 1786 & 1788,) to Piazza di Spagna: all popular places among the expatriates of the time. Cavaceppi’s shop was a must-see. Goethe was there and Canova himself was greatly impressed by Cavaceppi’s atelier. Goethe bought a cast of the Juno Ludovisi [see the last big picture below] but I forgot from whom though.
Anton Raphael Mengs, Jacques-Louis David, the Scottish architect Robert Adam, Canova, Piranesi with his efforts to build a map of Ancient Rome: surely a great period for our city.”
[The exhibition catalog is now on the living room table. Grappa is unfortunately served. Art and Bacchus are a perfect match since Homer, what did you think ...]
Giorgio: “Last (but least) Italians played the guitar quite a lot during the 18th c. before the Spanish took over. I am studying Mauro Giuliani and Ferdinando Carulli who composed delightful classical pieces for this instrument, mixing sober taste (Giuliani) or brilliant grace (Carulli) with rationality.”
Jeu des dames, by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845). Click to enlarge. Elegance, sobriety, classical décor and Hellenic attire (and face features) of the women
Extropian (reading the catalog): “New archaeological discoveries fuelled the Roman and Greek frenzy. A great number of statues and mosaics were unearthed and reproduced. Décor and clothes were created in the neoclassical style in Europe and in the New World. Also Nero’s Domus Aurea wall paintings – at that time thought to belong to Titus’ thermae – were reproduced on mansions, on decorative furniture etc.
[Hope you can reach this great 3d reconstruction of Roman Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea (see another movie below too:) you'll think you are in a 18th century rich palace!]
The spirit of the Ancients and of the Enlightenment (Age of reason) splendidly matched. Classical triumphed and influenced the French and American Revolutions.”
Roman Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea fresco. 1rst century CE
Classicism as a Concept. Mere Chance?
Extropian: “Classic, more generic for valuable, is related to classical … Wait a minute. Such fundamental concept going back to this Aulus Gellius, an almost unknown, second-rate Roman writer? Something is wrong here.”
Giorgio: “Weird in fact. I now read in Google what Ernst Robert Curtius observed (in his European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages):
What would modern aesthetics have done for a single general concept that could embrace Raphael, Racine, Mozart, and Goethe, if Gellius never lived?
Extropian: “Or if Servius Tullius didn’t divide Rome into 5 classes! I wonder whether we know the exact connection Gellius-Renaissance, but certainly goddess Fortune plays her tricks when making ideas successful or not, as Curtius also suggests.”
A cast of Juno Ludovisi (ie Antonia minor, Mark Antony’s daughter), similar to the one bought by Goethe. Antonia became a model of junoesque, imposing beauty
Grappa is making all blurred at this point.
That is, we have traced some origins but couldn’t define that general concept that can embrace Horace, Mozart, Mauro Giuliani, Haydn, Raphael, Schubert, Pindar, Canova, Racine, Goethe, Jane Austen and many elements of British and American Georgian culture.
Grappa. Click for attribution
Next time Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Busoni‘s aphorisms (big name, I know) on Mozart might help us hopefully.
Busoni’s aphorisms are in German since Busoni was Italian & somewhat German too [following Philippe's advice we try to expand language variety in this blog.]
See you then.
A vase made for the foreign market. Italians found it too rich.