While I was taking a shower this morning something I had accidentally read last night on the web hit me like a rock:
Did Rome really fall?
Well, since Rome still exists, it actually never fell.
It rather adapted.
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I like the gentle touch of many Indian thinkers. I also like their profundity. We need both nowadays and we need more than ever different paths to love.
“It is easy to hate, and hate brings people together after a fashion; it creates all kinds of fantasies, it brings about various types of co-operation, as in war. But love is much more difficult. You cannot learn how to love, but what you can do is to observe hate and put it gently aside. Don’t battle against hate, don’t say how terrible it is to hate people, but see hate for what it is and let it drop away; brush it aside, it is not important. What is important is not to let hate take root in your mind. Do you understand? Your mind is like rich soil, and if given sufficient time any problem that comes along takes root like a weed, and then you have the trouble of pulling it out; but if you do not give the problem sufficient time to take root, then it has no place to grow and it will wither away. If you encourage hate, give it time to take root, to grow, to mature, it becomes an enormous problem. But if each time hate arises you let it go by, then you will find that your mind becomes very sensitive without being sentimental; therefore it will know love.”
[I met J. Krishnamurti at Café Philos, a good Internet café where Paul Sunstone - living "along the Front Range of the Rockies, near Cheyenne Mountain" - stirs discussions on philosophy and other thought-provoking stuff]
As a digression, I wonder why media today pander so much to the basest emotions of the public, thus favouring them to ‘take root’. Panem et circenses? An intrinsic flaw of capitalism? – the list could be long. A cui bono serious analysis here would be needed, though it could lead nowhere, societies being complex. For a discussion around this see the links below.
I also found a very interesting [Australian] post on the subject of how we accustom our children to virtual murder and crime via media and computer games:
When I started this blog I partly drew on some ideas from a diary I had kept for no specific purpose. I had been writing leisurely on it while listening to lovely music and had cherished every moment I was able to get back to it, editing sentences and musing on my pages.
Those mysterious yellow characters on a black background! And the music! What a delightful experience, my imagination flying without any obligation and only for the sake of it!
After starting the Man of Roma blog, most of this diary ideas having been used up after a few months, I began writing and thinking directly for my web log. I though gradually realised that the two experiences – my totally purposeless diary and this blog, a man-of-the-street research on all that is Roman – were very different.
My blogging activity in fact implied compulsion and purpose, readers had started to appear with their feedback, I felt I had to be up to their expectations (real or imaginary,) up to my expectations, and so on.
On the contrary my diary had been the realm of playful freedom.
I wish I could get back to that state of mind, but I don’t know if I can.
It could be I am at my best in totally purposeless activities – something my family is in the mood to remind me, now and then (and probably the reason I couldn’t make a steady profession out of my writing or musical inclinations.)
Let me play with giants a bit. Cicero [see image above,] even in his letters to his family, wrote in order to acquire fame. Montaigne instead wrote just for the hell of it. An interesting comparison – fame, or any other purpose, such as money; and mere pleasure, art for art’s sake – which can correspond to two categories of writers, bloggers etc. Although one cannot say Montaigne had absolutely no purpose.
Magister would certainly exclaim: “Playful freedom? Yours is the typical attitude of the spineless bohemian. Discipline is all, and any creative activity is a careful, painful, purposeful construction.”
I remember once Maryann (together with the Commentator, recently) pushed me in this way:
“Back to work Man of Roma!
Cloppete cloppete cloppete …”
[One of the funniest comments I've ever received]
Back from my blog vacation, problem being I don’t know what to write. The heat is hampering my thoughts. At the end of the week the weather should be cooler, they say.
I’ll try to write shorter posts and make like a personal diary out of this blog. I’ve seen bloggers who write one-sentence posts. On va voir. We will see.
Count Calcagni’s memoirs cannot devour my blog. I’ll post Calcagni at wider intervals, then I will create a page where all excerpts can be read as one.
Readers keep on clicking my “Sex and the city (of Rome)” series, which is therefore always on the ‘Top Posts’ list on the right column. People coming here will think I am a maniac. I’d like them to know I write mostly about other stuff, so I’ll add a ‘Posts I like’ list.
Woodstock. Lots of mistakes and stupid ideas in those days [mid August 1969.] But the good part of it all was the concept of a society in which people love each other and are tolerant. It seems to me the world is evolving in the opposite direction.
[Getting old we all become a bit laudatores temporis acti.]
These are confusing days in my life for no apparent reason. A project started a few years ago, possibly one of the most important in my life, is now finally reaching its conclusion. I should feel happy, I should feel like one with a stronger grip on reality, but I feel vague instead, with things to do escaping my control and piling up in messy ways while quake aftershocks accompany our days and nights.
A few days ago, in Destination Infinity‘s stimulating blog, I read about 5 Japanese concepts (the 5 Jap Ss) useful for managing anything, from our storeroom to our daily work. I’ll quote DI and highlight the words I found more beneficial to my present state of mind:
“Seiri – Put things in order. Arrange, sort. Keep only the essential items – Discard the unessential ones.
Seiton – Proper arrangement. Set in order. There should be a place for everything and everything should be in their place. They should be reached easily when needed.
Seiso – Clean. Keep things clean and polished so that you would love to work with them. This cleaning should be a part of daily work – not after things get messed up!
Seiketsu – Purity and Standardization. Operate in consistent fashion to yield consistent results.
Shitsuke – Sustaining the discipline. Maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4 Ss have been established, they become a new way to operate. But if there is a suggested improvement or a new tool, then a review of the 4 Ss is appropriate.”
This weird period of stress is probably the reason why almost every evening, on our small terrace overlooking the roofs of Rome, I have one or two shots of limoncello. As Lola put it, “it is Italy’s most famous after dinner liqueur. I like mine tart, zesty, not too sugary, ice cold and dreamy – she says, and adds:
“The homemade booze is always a million times better than the bottled, so here’s the secret to lavish limoncello.”
I’ll let you read her recipe and post on limoncello. Learn the art of Italian cooking from a creative woman whose roots are both from Italy and the US.
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.
I am on a trip around California. Having no time for writing, I’ll propose again a few lines from my method post that express the initial inspiration of this blog.
A sort of naïve enthusiasm is to be noted. Well, nothing can be achieved without enthousiasmos, a Greek word meaning “a rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god.” Big words, I know.
“Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Life should be fun! Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is so delightful. I’m inviting you all from every civilization, country, era space location. I am inviting you ALL to this virtual Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city’s magnificent skyline.
Rome, loose woman and she-wolf, is watching attentive. Is she smiling?
Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and aromas from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were – and are – diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …
… here, sweet guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit! Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe. Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another guest of ours, of course) and plenty of delicious wine and, naturally, no real objection to a pot of good beer (or cervesia), once in a while.
Playing being simple, playing being easy: all it takes is good food, good music, and good good company, most of all!
While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.”
See you soon.
Other related posts:
We’ll muse on solitude today with scattered thoughts. By solitude we mean the state of living alone and a bit secluded from society. We prefer the Latin term to loneliness because it sounds less negative and more neutral to us.
Can solitude be a positive choice? In a world where singles are growing, it doesn’t seem such an absurd question. Well, one should first know if the majority of those who live without a partner (which doesn’t imply seclusion from society, of course) are willing singles or not.
In any case, and apart from singles who are a special case, what we see are people who can live a good or decent life alone, while others just can’t. It’s like there were a creative solitude and a destructive one. Another point is that some people seem capable of governing their solitude while others do not. Complicated (and interesting) topic, in any case.
The symbol of extreme solitude seems to me that of the hermit, of a person who confines himself to a hermitage. Nikos Kazantzakis went to visit various hermitages where monks lived alone and he noticed that some looked serene, while others instead were like destroyed by their loneliness. They were not human beings any more. They were like larvae. It was as if their brain had been digested by its own juices.
Well, solitude exerts its charm on us, no doubt. It could be an inclination, it could be the myth of self-sufficiency, the myth of the sage of antiquity who has everything he needs within himself, of the wise old man who has “like unsinkable goods in his soul that can float out of any shipwreck”, like Antisthenes said. According to Roman Seneca, a certain Stilpo, a philosopher, lost his family and all his goods and, when asked if he had suffered any harm, he replied: no, I haven’t.
Well, this strength seems inhuman to us and it is not by chance that in Antiquity such cases were cited as examples, and in any case belonged to a minority of supermen who were members of the upper classes.
So, even though we have chosen not to live alone, we are kind of fascinated by solitude and this is probably also why we are fond of Michel de Montaigne who in 1571 retired from public life to his lands living in the tower of his château which had a library with 1,500 books. There he wrote down all his musings, seeming to him that “the greatest favour I could do for my mind was to leave it in total idleness, caring for itself, concerned only with itself, calmly thinking of itself.”
So he let his mind dance and care for its dancing only, which can be a dangerous thing indeed. I think though he clearly perceived this danger, since in fact he wrote that our mind is like a garden, with thousands of different weeds that we have to subdue “with seeds specifically sown for our service”, for, “when the soul is without a definite aim she gets lost”: being everywhere is like being nowhere (I:8. On idleness).
In other words, I would add, a good aid in governing our solitude could surely be one or more projects, one or more goals. This is why people who retire and live in slack inertia die sooner (or become lunatics).
People around me say: « Je-sus, cut out this fable about solitude, will you for Chrissake? Aren’t love, affection and company always better than living alone? ».
Well, yes, of course, and yet … darn, what I’m sure about is that, in a city like Rome, where everybody is sociable, loners do not have a place in truth and are seen like weird birds. Even just eating alone in a restaurant makes you sometimes a freak. This doesn’t happen in Germany or in the UK.
Magister kept saying we need to fight against any anti-social impulse that we have in us. I can agree, but loads of things can be achieved only if we retire to our own shell: writing, reading, composing music, meditating etc. And these are things on whose positiveness everyone agrees.
Solitude however must be a free choice. If we are often alone because we are afraid of others, because of complexes or any possible feeling of inadequacy, this falls back within the ambit of those mentioned anti-social impulses we’ve got to fight against.
Living alone can be furthermore associated with the idea of a departure from all, with the idea of cutting any tie we have. Here comes back the archetype of the sage, of the wise man who leaves family and friends in order to go on a spiritual journey. See Herman Hesse‘s Siddhartha; or Jesus’ disciples, whom he called to leave their families and follow him.
However, cutting all ties and going on our own can sometimes mean an escape from our problems and responsibilities. We leave in search of enlightenment though deep inside we are only running away from our obligations, from our fears and anxieties.
We decide to live hundreds of miles from home without thinking that, as Roman Horace put it, post equitem sedet atra cura, “behind the departing horseman sits black care.”
Montaigne refers that Socrates thus replied to a person who told him that a man had not been improved by travelling away: “I am sure he was not: he went with himself.”
(I:39 On Solitude – where we found inspiration and quotes, though our mind took different paths.)
Wherever we go, we cannot flee from ourselves. Only when we set our heart free from any burden or problem (or obligation) are we free to decide whether to live alone or not; whether to stay or to leave on a journey for a new life.
Selfishness and cowardice are always to be condemned.